Editor’s Note: Yesterday I stumbled upon an old piece of writing. I mean way old. Like, mid-1980s. Yes, I said the 80s – the dark ages for many of you. I read this deep, poignant piece that was full of innocence, idealism and insecurities. Written around age of 15, I had only small tastes of the cruelness of the world, and yet most of my thoughts are full of such truth and wisdom. Now at age 43, I feel as though I meander in and out of the “game of pretend.” How about you?
A conglomeration of stars and a mysterious black scope.
All awaiting me, the eyes and mind of a fourth-grade girl.
My teacher, Mr. Latzer, stood before the class in his shy blue shirt messily tucked into his polyester pants. To me, it was a regular, dull school day.
But then something happened.
“Today class, we are going to travel somewhere,” he explained. “Somewhere called imagination.”
He then held up a flimsy poster with large, hand-sized planets, which were set on a pitch-dark background. Tiny clusters of stars twinkled.
He explained our assignment was to write using our imagination. In fourth grade, this was my first creative writing assignment.
I thought the only stories are read or wrote were: “Dick and Sally play ball. Watch Dick and Sally run.”
He continued, “Explore, pretend you are going into space and into another galaxy. Describe what you see on paper.”
I got out a fresh piece of paper and gripped my fat red pencil. I didn’t know what to write. Insecurities began to surface.
“What would kids say if they thought my story was stupid? I wonder if they would laugh and tease me?” I thought to myself.
I stared at the dark, mysterious poster for a while. Raising my brow, I noticed the other kids writing.
“How are they doing it?” I wondered.
I tried to concentrate on what Mr. Latzer had said earlier, “Explore, pretend…”
So, I pretended.
In this life you must pretend. Pretending is part of the game of life. Even as a nine-year-old, I learned to fake it.
If one is afraid to give a speech what does one give advise, “Oh, pretend their not there.”
And yet, I’m still scared. I think we’re all scared so let’s all pretend.
In class when I want to raise my hand, or make a comment, I am scared. I try to pretend. Pretend that I don’t care what others think, and I try to bottle up those lurking insecurities.
In this life we try too much to pretend.
Or, do we pretend in order to keep going? To keep surviving?
We are all scared of failure. We are just people vs. people. But people can hurt and kill each other. So if we all pretend, everything will be okay, right? The politicians, the government, churches, advertisers…they all pretend and so do we.
The lies, the contradictions.
We pretend other countries aren’t there, and we are the only ones on the planet. I think some of it has to do with selfishness. “Well, if I succeed (even though I didn’t win fairly), I still won.” That’s all that counts.
That is the American ideal.
In early life we are taught that only the ones with the “gold medals” are the real “winners.”
But I do not agree with that statement.
Try to be yourself. Don’t be afraid to raise your hand, or give a speech.
But that human instinct creeps, and screams, “No! They might laugh. You will be hurt!”
Even in the fourth grade I realized this truth. Deep down inside I knew one must “explore and pretend.” That human instinct is locked up inside of me; maybe you could see it on my face and maybe you still can. But I looked up at the planets and stars, and knew I wasn’t the only one pretending.Follow
I remember the ugliness of it. The loneliness. The desperation. The loss. The pain.
She acted out to fill the hole now permanently left in her heart. She began to smoke and drink alcohol. Took pills. She snuck out her bedroom window at night to find anyone or anything to fill that void.
Kim and I were neighborhood “friends,” but I tried to keep my distance. Even though her pain was spilling over, and I wanted to be there. I feared that she’d bring me down with her.
I had enough of my own problems.
As teen girls, we were neighbors for a short time. She was new to our junior high school. Her parents were “newly divorced.”
And there was the catch: Divorce.
Praying for Divorce
Even as a child, I prayed my parents would divorce. The fights at night could be unbearable at times. I would hide under my covers in the top bunk bed and pray they would just end it. “Why God? Please!” I would plead.
Divorce at the time seemed to be the better of two evils for my parents. And yet, my parents stuck it out for 44 years.
They didn’t give up on their marriage in the darkest of times.
And here was my lost, pained neighbor friend who was a casualty of divorce. The worst part of divorce is how it effects the children.
And why is divorce on my mind?
Divorce Rears Its Ugly Head, Again
“He told me it’s over. He doesn’t love me any more. I’m crushed…please pray.”
This is the message I received a few months ago from a good friend.
What’s the collateral divorce damage for her family? One little girl, one little boy, one dog, a parakeet, and a man and a woman who once loved each other…devastated.
Nearly 30 years later, I felt yet again the pain of another friend in the battle of this ugly thing called divorce. Rather than pulling away this time, I’m emotionally strong enough to support her in prayer and lending a listening ear.
My own husband and I are shocked by how many of our friends and neighbors are divorcing. They reach the 10, maybe 12-year mark, and then call it quits.
Phil Donahue Sheds Some Light
There is no single answer. So long as people get married, there will be divorce.
Sadly, the previous 50 percent divorce rate is a distant, lingering memory. In California, divorce rates hover around 75 percent, and even higher in Orange County according to 2012 statistics.
In other words, a mere 25 percent have a chance at marriage in California.
I recall watching a “Phil Donahue Show” television segment that focused on divorce during the 1980s. In his trademarked closing message the camera zoomed toward Donahue’s face. His blue eyes now serious behind the oversized spectacles, he reached into the rooms of viewers to share his painstaking insights about marriage and divorce. One line resonated with me as a teenager: “Marriage takes hard work by both partners.”
Regardless of whether I agree with Mr. Donahue’s political point of view was irrelevant. He knew these words all too well as a liberal divorced Catholic talk show host who was making a go in his second marriage. He had his own five “divorce-damaged kids” to prove it.
What’s Love Got to Do?
Now as a woman married for 13 years, I understand it takes a commitment to another person even when they are driving you crazy. It’s about patience and acceptance of each other’s flaws. Yes, it’s about love. But at the core, we wake up each day, hit the alarm and go about our day. Sometimes our marriages fall by the wayside because life gets in the way. We disconnect from one another. And before we know it, there is a stranger lying next to you. You are next to a person you once loved.
You wonder what happened. Life happened. You both let it get away. You let that love fly right out of your heart. I think Mr. Donahue had it right: It takes hard work to keep the sparks of marriage alive. To my knowledge, he has remained committed in his second marriage for the past 30 years.
After reading this post, I’d like to be all a rah-rah cheerleader and let’s stop this divorce rate in it tracks. I think the first step is admitting that we are broken, and we can’t do this thing called life alone and be happy. I would give anything to avoid the millions of troubled teenage Kim repeats, but I think the first step is admitting we are flawed, and we need to open up the conversation about divorce – it’s just not worth the collateral damage.
I leave you with video from Casting Crowns that speaks perfectly to the topic…”Broken Together.”
For more than 40 years my mom took in people to our eclectic, hippie home.
The pained filled.
Sometimes, the unwanted.
And a vast majority of those who captured my mom’s heart were runaway girls. There seemed to be an unlocked, rotating door with a line of girls every day of the year.
There had been so many girls. Each with a name and a story.
There was Missy, a tiny teenage girl with long, straight brown hair and twinkling hazel eyes. A friend of my younger sister she ran away from her overbearing mother. During those months, it was as if a weight had been taken off her shoulders, and she needed space to breathe. Eventually, she reached a truce with her mother, and returned home.
And then there was Deidre, who was a college friend of my sister. The feisty, petite strawberry blonde was a computer science major and college soccer player. A good student with street smarts, she was bound for a college degree and career. However, her life changed forever when she became pregnant her senior year. My mom being the “cool mom” had talked with her about the options. My mom had pleaded with her to move in and raise the baby at our home. We, once again, welcomed two additional new girls into our home.
Jennifer was an awkward long-legged tween who wore braces. When she first moved in, she was like a timid abused animal. She walked with her head down and slowly slid her feet. If you approached her to quickly, she would startle. Molested by her father, and living with a cold-hearted mother, she lived with us for several months. After awhile, her smile beamed, and a bounce of self confidence and happiness returned. I remember when I heard her laugh aloud for the first time.
I think it was then I realized the gift my mom had given these girls and so many others like her.
It was love. Love does cure and mend wounds. It gives hope in a world that seems lost.
Most recently, Jennifer, who is now a grown woman returned to the home she began healing as an abused teenager. Looking around the home, she was overcome with emotion. This was one of the few places she considered safe and full of love and hope. This was the place she found hope and light in the dark.
In that moment, she cried while hugging my mom, and was thankful she opened her home and heart at a time she needed it most.
Now that’s love.
You have just read an excerpt from my manuscript…more to come in publication. Read about another sweet girl who lived with us in Ready to Run.
Have you ever ran away from home? How long did it last? Where did you go? As a parent, if your child’s teenage friend asked to live with you because of turbulence and/or abuse in the home would you allow it? Why or why not?Follow
Editor’s Note: Last week, my nine-year-old daughter shared her thoughts about serving with our church at Los Angeles’s Skid Row. In case you missed it, here’s her guest post The Day That Changed My Life. Now it’s my turn to share about this life-changing experience…the day I was rescued.
You read the headline right. Yes, I was rescued from Skid Row just a few weeks ago.
How’d that happen? Well, it all started one Saturday morning..
I could feel the butterflies in my stomach. I began to hold my breath, which is a bad habit when I’m under stress. A sense of fear had settled.
Entering the cement city, my car followed the pace of the caravan. Turning the final corner, I exhaled as if I had just come up from being under water.
My mind raced…
What was I thinking? Why would I leave my bubble of security and comfort? Why would I willingly expose my child to danger? If anything happened to her, it would be my fault.
I knew we had entered “the zone.” We were in Los Angeles’s Skid Row, which has the highest concentration of homeless people in the country. And there was no turning back.
I glanced to the right and left. Groups of people were milling on the sidewalk, while some sat on the ground, or lay on flattened cardboard boxes. I could hear echoes of deep bass music. Momentarily, the clouds passed in front of the sun casting a dark shadow.
I looked back at my daughter. She sat quietly in the backseat scanning this new, foreign scenery. Her eyes alert through the reflection of the glass window. The look on her face was similar to when she intently watches a movie. But this was no movie.
This was real life.
Within seconds of parking our cars, we were asked for clothes and sleeping bags. Popping open our trunk, a group had formed at the trunk of my car. They called out their needs and raised their hand.
“Pants! Do you have any pants?” one man called.
“Jacket? Do you have a jacket?” a lady asked.
This went on for about 10 minutes. We didn’t have enough for the entire crowd.
Closing the trunk, my heart sunk that we could not supply everyone’s needs. I thought of someone being cold tonight. I thought of someone going hungry. That’s why we came.
Meeting with our pastoral street guide in the middle of Skid Row we formed a circle for prayer and discussion. In my head, I began to berate myself for not fulfilling our assignment. “We didn’t bring enough,” I kept repeating.
Raising my hand in the group, I expressed my frustration that we did not have enough for everyone. The guide bluntly responded: “You’ll never have enough…you’ll never have enough. Get that idea out of your mind, okay? You are here to connect with people. You are here to let them know you care. And that God loves them.”
I let his words sink in about our purpose, our mission.
Our group was then led on a brief informational “walk around.” Our street guide explained some of the social, economic and political issues of Skid Row. He also shared some touching, personal stories from his many years of ministering to those on Skid Row.
As we walked, men stood on corners and sidewalks. Down the street, a game of “roll the dice” or Craps was being played. There were plenty of “tweakers” roming the streets either talking to themselves or flinching uncontrollably.
I wondered how these people landed here. I thought about how they couldn’t fend off their demons. Walking farther, the pungent smell of marijuana filled the air. Someone was getting high. Someone was numbing the pain.
Meet Loretta Marie
And then, something incredible happened that changed the entire tone of the morning.
My nine-year-old, who had been by my side throughout the morning, asked if she could give her jacket to someone who needed it.
“Are you sure?” I asked. “Yes, mom. It’s too small for me anyways. Please,” she pleaded.
Walking back towards our car, we noticed a petite, elderly black woman pushing a shopping cart. With no direction, my daughter approached her and asked if she needed a jacket.
The woman looked up and said in a slow, almost flippant voice, “Guess I could use one.”
Meet Loretta Marie. Loretta wore a loosely fitting skirt, top and knit beanie. Parts of her dark hair were faded orange from the sun. Letting go of the cart handle, she slipped on the jacket. Lifting her arms, she inspected the jacket. “The sleeves look a little short,” she said.
We offered to let her keep the jacket if she wanted it. “That’s okay. I don’t wanna to take nothin’ that shouldn’t be mine,” she said.
She agreed to let us pray for her. I placed my hand on her bony back and together we bowed our heads in prayer. I looked at her cart, which only had four or five items in it. These were probably all her belongings in the world.
She then told us how blessed she was in her life. And, how good God was to her during these 80 years of her life. She spoke lovingly about her children. Her level of gratitude was like nothing I had witnessed – ever. I knew at that moment that we were the ones being rescued. She was showing us a true heart of gratitude.
Searching for Answers
All around, there was both a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. Ironically, though, there was a sense of strength and survival. Driving home, I felt exhausted and numb. I thought about the years of serving homeless in my small town with my mother. I thought I knew the destitute and forgotten. I did not.
Like human beings do, I was searching for answers.
Why God? Why allow your people to suffer like this?
Life can be so bittersweet.
Early the next morning, I was prompted to get up and write this passage below, which was straight from the Big Guy himself. I take no credit for the words. I am the messenger.
I AM LISTENING, AGAIN
You thought you knew hopelessness
You did not
Yesterday you saw me in the faces of those people
You thought you saw indignity
But you actually saw hope
I was in their eyes
You felt a sense of despair
But to me there was much more than that
Yesterday you felt a small glimpse of who I am
Who I serve
Who I love
You came with an open heart
And you might have left feeling discouraged
I control all plans, all destinies
These souls are not all lost
For many know Me
I heard your prayers
But I must warn
Do not turn your face
or even shed a tear
For they, too, will see my face
Hear My voice
And we will walk hand in hand
Oh, the joy they will feel
The food they will eat
The bed they will sleep
Fill your heart with love for them
Pray, Pray, Pray
For once again, I am listening
May God bless you and keep you full of gratitude and hope. I have been overflowing with it since this day. And, I couldn’t agree with my daugther more when she described this as “the day that changed my life.”
Spoken from the mouth of babes.Follow
“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”
It has been one year since I launched Clearly Kristal. My blogging journey began with encouragement from mentor and OC Family Editor Suzanne Broughton. “Just do it. And stop talking about it,” she said.
So, with a mix of fear and excitement, I began brainstorming blog names, researching publishing platforms and social media communications. I wrote my first post. And I wrote. And wrote. And wrote.
89 90 posts in all. Along the way…
I have shed tears.
I have had disappointments.
I have laughed out loud.
I have forged friendships.
I have rolled my eyes.
I have stretched and grown.
It’s easy to hide behind our emotions, our pain – even our joy. But I decided to step out into the light. To be seen and heard.
“The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.” ― Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are
In the long term, my blog will continue to evolve with plans to eventually publish my works into book form. With this one-year anniversary, I thought to change up my blog with a new look and feel. There are still a few kinks, and aesthetic issues to address – so I appreciate your patience during my makeover. However, from a content perspective, if there is any particular topic, or area that you’d like me to write more about – please link in your comments. I am also on Twitter @clearlykristal and Facebook.
To those who follow me, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your love and encouragement. A special shout out to my Fiction Friends writing group (tear): YOU GUYS ROCK! Another special mention to Molly Field, Renee Shuls-Jacobson and Jenny Hansen over at More Cowbell. I feel so blessed to “know” you. You inspire me to continue writing and rejecting those negative voices in my head. (Check out my blogroll for some amazing bloggers!)
To my husband, unwavering confidant, supporter and sounding board: thank you for being patient while I wrote on the floor of our walk-in closet until the wee hours of the night, and then quietly slipped into bed. Most of all, I thank you always believing in me.
Finally, to my lovely daughters, you are an endless source of inspiration, joy and love. I truly cherish the lessons you teach me each and every day.
After all, moments matter. I sincerely thank you for continuing to share in those moments with me.
Do you have any general, and/or specific content ideas you’d like me to write more about? Any other feedback?Follow