His Influence

daddyThe last time I saw my Dad I was 12-years-old. It was eleven days before my thirteenth birthday and my Dad had left for work early in the morning, he had brought my older brother, Jeremiah, with him that day. My Dad didn’t have one of those normal Dad “jobs” that so many of my friends’ parents had. He didn’t clock hours or report to a direct boss. Instead he was his own boss, owning an expedition company that brought scuba divers to explore wreckage all over the ocean. His job took him on many great adventures all over the world, and that day was to be no different, as he headed out to dive the wreckage of the USS Moody which had been sunk off the of coast of Catalina island.

The LA Times wrote this about my Dad:

“By all accounts, Darren Douglass was among the most accomplished scuba divers on the West Coast: underwater photographer, editor of a dive boat magazine, leader of charter excursions to the deep.

It was my Dad who was in charge, when wet-suited explorers splashed overboard from the dive boat Atlantis. It was my Dad who led the way through the murky depths as they dove the wreck of a sunken ship. And when things went tragically wrong in an underwater tangle of anchor line six miles out to sea, it was my Dad who paid the silent, ultimate price.”

You see, toward the end of the expedition it was discovered that the boats anchor was stuck. The divers broke off into pairs to dislodge it, my older brother, who at the young age of 14 was already considered an accomplished diver, was among the pairs. Deep below he discovered a malfunction is his equipment. He was out of air. He began to buddy breath with his partner, but there was not enough air for the two, as they ran out my brother began to sink, his partner shot to the surface unconscious.

When my father realized that my brother was not yet safely to the surface he gathered his gear and went after him.

They were found on their backs at the bottom of the ocean, an arm’s length apart, a father reaching for his son. His arm was outstretched, they said; his palm was up. Most likely they had been touching until my father passed out.

My Dad was remembered that Friday in a standing-room-only memorial service as a devoted father, a devout Christian and a dedicated outdoorsman.

Friend after friend spoke of my Father’s love for his children, his love for Christ, and his kindness.

I remember, coming home from school one afternoon, and my Mom telling me that that day my Dad had brought a homeless man home giving him a shower, a shave, his own clothing and a meal.

I remember my Dad teaching me to ride a bike, he held on to the back of my purple banana seat schwin until I was ready to pedal on my own. I remember him gathering up all of my lamby stuffed animals late one Saturday night as he prepared to teach Sunday school, an illustration on Christ’s love for his little sheep.

I remember him taking us off roading in his Bronco during a rainstorm, trying to make the biggest splashes he could. I remember watching Last of the Mohicans with him, and I’m still traumatized for life.

That was my Dad.

My Dad was far from perfect, my parents fought and struggled. But on July 2, 1995 none of that mattered. Perfect or imperfect, he sacrificed himself out of love. It wasn’t my fathers gear that held him to the bottom of the ocean that day, it was love. It wasn’t nails that held Jesus to the cross, it was love. The symmetry of this is not lost on me.

Even though it has been over 20 years since I last saw my Dad he continues to influence me. His choice, his faith, and his love effects how I love, how I parent, and my faith.

As Father’s Day rolls around again this year. I think of my Father, the man, flesh and blood, an influence on me to this day…a man, a hero, a Daddy: Happy Father’s Day.

***as shared at smccutah.org/westjordan

 

The Lucky Ones

drop-1171438I heard a pop, she let out a little cry and crawled over to me. I picked her up in time to watch her eyes roll back in her head, her body went limp and within a few horrifying seconds her lips turned blue.

I started screaming; the screams of a woman in distress, panic. As I screamed, over and over again, telling my husband to call 911 I rubbed her chest frantically. I called her name and began CPR. “I’m performing CPR on my baby.” I’m still screaming.

She’s still. So very scary still. It’s seconds. Only seconds. And then she’s back. Quiet and limp. Hot tears are burning my face. My little man is sitting next to me crying. We’re praying while Daddy is on the phone with 911.

Then they’re in my home. A horde of them in their blue shirts holding medical equipment. She’s breathing again and their checking her out. They keep saying “good job, mom, you’re okay, mom.” But have I done a job good, am I okay?

I was standing right there when she so quickly got her finger between the outlet and the nightlight. I didn’t even realize it was half-hanging out of the wall. I mean, I WAS RIGHT THERE.

I hold her so very tight the rest of the day, I check on her throughout the night.

“Good job, mom, you’re okay, mom.”

He’s getting to that point where he’s brave, scary brave. Jumping out of trees and off steps, riding his bike and skidding out. His little friends egg him on. They egg each other on and before I know it someone is crying, bleeding, bruised. I hold him tight while cleaning out his “battle wounds”, tears run down his beautiful face, he sits still in my arms until the pain fades. And then he’s off again, jumping, sliding, living. He runs out the door, “be safe, be safe,” I tell him.

We’re at the park. She’s her own little lady now. She walk/runs giggling, thinking she’s on her own. But I’m always right behind her. Her shadow. She’s such a little thing and so set on doing what she wants to do, red-haired and determined. She’s going a little too fast, turns quickly and trips over my toe. She’s down. Her nose starts bleeding. I hold her close and again she exhales out all of her breath. Her eyes roll back in her head and she’s limp. I feel the panic rising up inside me, then she’s back. Someone whisks me under their umbrella, these kind people, they give me cold water, I cool her down, silent tears rolling down my face.

We’re at the pediatrician. “Good job, mom, you’re okay, mom. She’ll grow out of it.” I want to pad the walls of her world, of his world. I want to protect them from everything and everyone. I want to keep my babies safe. My chest literally aches as I watch my heart roaming about outside of my chest.

And I’m one of the lucky ones. My kids are healthy. Our home life is pretty stable. We are surrounded by love. We have an incredible extended family that holds us up and supports us. Life is so, so good. Even when it’s hard and painful, it’s good. Because there’s love. We are the lucky ones.

I know there are momma’s and daddy’s out there whispering prayers as their child’s health fails. I know they are sitting their holding their hands during chemo treatments. I know they are weeping as they let go. I know there are the parent’s scraping by to feed little hungry mouths. I know there are children and parents without a roof over their head tonight. And worst of all I know that there are children out there—and nearer than I’d like to realize—without love. There are the refugees, the marginalized, the trafficked, the impoverished. There are the broken, the beaten, the forgotten.

We are the lucky ones.

I cannot bubble wrap my children. I cannot keep them from the world. I can only do my best to prepare them. And in doing so, I must also prepare myself, for we are the lucky ones.

A Journal and a Jewel CD

journalpenIt was the 90s. My Dad and brother had just died; my little community had been riddled with a string of suicides. The pastor of my tiny church was dying of cancer and I was sneaking Marlboro reds behind the oleanders with the neighbor girl.

I was in the 6th grade and my world was collapsing. I was getting severely bullied in school and was slowly sinking into a deep and dangerous darkness. I liked the skater boys, too much, and wanted their approval. I wanted anyone’s approval. I stayed up late listening to KROQ like so many Southern California girls, chopped my bangs like Gwen Stefani’s, wore torn fishnets and doc martins. I felt like the grunge scene had been invited just for me. I also felt like a poser.

Some nights I’d curl up in my brother’s clothes, pull his beanie over my head and listen to his CD’s. I still can’t listen to the Violent Femmes or Collective Soul without thinking of him. I’d close my eyes and try to remember their faces, it had only been months and they were already fading.

I had a lot of feelings about a lot of different things and yet had no place to put them. Most of the time I felt angry and confused. I felt alone even in the middle of my childhood friends or siblings I felt utterly alone.

It was Eastertime and my Dad’s sister stopped in for a visit. She was one of the many people in my world that would sneak in and in a disarming way rescue me from myself. She had a gift for me, without wrapping paper or frills she handed me my first journal and a CD. The journal was a large lined book with Monet’s Garden at Giverny on the cover and the CD was Jewel’s Pieces of You album, both of which I still have to this day.

Inside the cover she wrote:

Dear Rachel,

Trust your heart and let your fingers work out the pain for you on the written page. I’ve always found a comfort in writing and I know your Dad did as well. I love you and am always here for you. Happy Easter 1996.

The CD went directly into my boombox…

Who will save your soul when it comes to the flowers now
Huh huh who will save your soul after all the lies that you told, boy
And who will save your souls if you won’t save your own?

Thus began my writing career. My fingers ached and cramped from pressing pen to paper. The ring finger on my left hand developed this strange bump from holding my pen so tight. My penmanship was awful and spelling even worse, but some twenty years later I look back and read the words on these pages and find wisdom and therapy within them. I filled the book from front to back with my grief, my pain, and my healing. I notice the penmanship evolve, the words and general tone transition. She’s healing.

Then suddenly I’m not writing pain anymore I’m writing love. I’m in love for the first time. I work out this confusing new feeling in poetry and rhyme. I’m dreaming again. Seeing life again. I’m in High School now, in a new town with new people. They don’t know about my fishnets or doc martins. I’m no longer defined by my losses and tragedies.

I’m just a girl, a little ‘ol me…

It was as she said; a space, empty pages to be filled up, sometimes ranting nonsensical blubbering, but a space to heal and comfort nonetheless. As it was then, it is now.

And when the day weighs too heavy, the grief and gravity of it all too burdensome I pick up my journal, whichever one has empty pages and I write. I write, I write it all, from prayers to laments, and eventually praise and prose.

What about you dear friend, how do you heal from the inescapable? Where do you keep those sacred thoughts and prayers? Whether the page, the gym, the mat, nature and so on,  it doesn’t matter so much what or where you heal, but more so that you do.

 

Watch the Birds 

shunsine-through-clouds-1371791I was in my mid-twenties when my mom remarried. Through this union I gained two new brothers. These boys are different, like night and day, but strangely I love spending time with them, in this weird way they give me comfort. Not because our relationships are so deep-in honesty we’re still getting to know each other-but because they let us become a part of their family, as if it were always meant to be this way. And maybe it was.

For a brief period, while I was pregnant with my daughter, the older brother and my little family overlapped living at our parents house. Our circumstances were different, but we were in a place of transition and needed some breathing room to uncover the next step.

The house felt full, it’s not the house I grew up in, but with all the people filling it’s quarters it, for that season, felt like home. A place of refuge.

The pregnancy was difficult, I was confined to a bed or chair, and could only be on my feet for a short amount of time before my legs and feet would burn and swell. The pain would sneak up on me and my mom would send me to lay down. I felt like a child, but was so thankful to have the help.

Some mornings I’d wake up early and aimlessly wander around the house, my body stiff and bruised from being in bed so much. There he would be, sitting with something hot in his hands, staring out in almost a trance like state.

The first time I caught him sitting quietly I shyed away, hoping I hadn’t I interrupted, although I’m sure I had. It became almost ritual, him sitting, me slinking around the kitchen as quietly as an uncomfortable pregnant woman can.

One morning as I made a cup of coffee (yes I drank coffee while pregnant) I awakardly said “so, whatca doin?” He said something to the effect of “just starting my day.”

I remembered those moments, those early mornings before motherhood where I’d meet the morning sun. Where I’d silently drink my coffee and read my Bible. Where I’d journal, reflect, meditate. It felt so long ago.

During my pregnancy I lived in a restless haze, one in which day and night merged together without rhythm. I’d wake still tired, never rested; it’s a fog that is just now lifting.

Even now I wake nonesencally throughout the night; was the baby crying, what was that sound? Sometimes in the middle of the night I spring from the bed, as if it were on fire, I mutter something waking myself up, only to realize I’m dreaming. My head is heavy on my pillow and morning comes too soon.

But it comes…

With birds chirping and trees swaying in the breeze, the babes rest peacefully. I’ve met this day before they have. I make the coffee and sit in my chair. My hands and mind almost don’t know what to do with the silence. I instinctively reach for my phone, and then out loud I say “no, no, watch the birds.” I’m uncomfortable with how unproductive this is, and yet I’m beginning to feel something I haven’t in a long time.

They flit and flutter about. I stare out the large windows, very still, very quiet. So quiet I’m aware of my own breath. Oh hello breath, it’s been a while. I exhale fully, sip my coffee and repeat in my head, “watch the birds.”

And so I sit still, like I watched my step-brother do. I start my day. It feels like the first time I’ve started my day rather than the other way around. It feels good, peaceful, intentional.

Put the phone down, distractions away, and watch the birds.

Life: The Big Event

bokeh-texture-2-1146722My family likes to party. Like really party. We live all over the country and are separated by distance, and yet we see each other on a semi-regular basis. We like each other, despite our quirks and differences, and when we get together the good wine comes out, meals are planned and special, a coffee bar is set up, a comfortable space to rest prepared. We stay up late talking, playing ridiculous games or watching old movies that make us feel nostalgic. We have a blast; I always look forward to these gatherings, although I’m pretty much guaranteed to return from them needing a good three-day nap.

I love these events.

The other morning the house was oddly quiet. The baby slept in later than normal and Little Man was engrossed in his newest Lego build. The grass outside was wet with rain and the sky dark with clouds. It felt familiar, but special. I stood looking at my espresso maker and vacillated over preparing myself a latte. I stopped myself.

“She’ll just wake up the moment you make it, and then by the time you get her settled it will be cold.”

How silly, I almost spent the whole time I calculated I had before the baby woke arguing myself out of making a latte. I was feeling a little cranky. I’d love to say that I’m a morning person, I used to be, but in this season I’m more of a “I’d like to stay in bed and sleep all the time person.” As I stood arguing I was struck by epiphany.

What if I allowed this quiet to be special? To be an event?

I began steaming the milk. The espresso began to drip and I attempted, but failed at adding a little espresso art to the milk. It was special nonetheless.

I’ve been in the active process of Komari’ing my personal possessions. An effort to organize and truly assess my belongings. I recently tackled my closet, and when I was done I was left with things that made me feel special, happy. Getting dressed is more of an event.

What if, I thought, I allowed it all to be an event. The call to my grandmother, a special event, where stories would be traded and shared. The folding of my husbands tee-shirts, a special event, one in which I could think about my love for him and pray over him. The mundane washing of dishes, what if I spent more time being grateful for the food we are able to eat, the warm and clean water spilling over my hands than the resentment I feel for having to clean up.

I remember hearing a story once about a woman who had purchased a special nighty, she was saving it for a special evening with her husband. Before she could use it she was killed in an accident. Only later did her husband find it. Something special saved and never used, because daily life just isn’t special enough.

What if tonight, and every night/day, was that special night? What if I met each day with a sense of whimsy and joy? What if I were just a little bit more thankful? How would I be transformed? How would this attitude change my family life and relationships? If I approached each day like I do those family parties how much more joyful would I be?

I have this stack of cards. Whenever I’m out and see a card that makes me thing of my husband I grab it, they’ve been piling up over the months and years. I always seem to have more cards than I do events to give them. What if I chose this day to celebrate him, our marriage, life? How would it change my marriage?

I have a sense of entitlement, I think most people in the first world do. We expect things and this sense of expectation robs us of our joy, it minimizes the beauty in the little, but life is made up of the little. The little beauties can be the main event.

If we let them…