Sunday, March 29, 2009

Two Stories of Stumps and Storms

I awakened to the unfamiliar sound of silence. The clock's rhythmic blinks offered a plausible explanation and its sincere apology, "Power was out. Don't blame me." I glanced out the window, but the predawn light successfully hid any damage inflicted by the storm that had raged during the night. Reporters for the early morning news offered a more telling assessment. Thousands of homes were without power. Traffic lights were out. Tree limbs littered water logged streets. High winds and a possible tornado had taken their toll.

As the sun rose, I surveyed our newly landscaped yard. Neither limb nor leaf marred the freshly laid sod. What a stark contrast to the after effects of previous storms. Mere months ago a night like this would have left our yard waist high with branches freshly ripped from our ancient trees. (Not that we considered this all bad since downed tree limbs allow for the most manly of all pursuits--the wielding of the mighty chainsaw. Ours holds a privileged place within reach of our bedroom in the unlikely event we will have to cut our way out of the house someday!)

The pristine condition of our lawn was no accident. Neither was it a mighty miracle at the hand of a merciful heavenly Father. No. This particular blessing was the benefit of a tough decision made months ago following Hurricane Gustav. Two of our three largest trees had blown over in the storm. The arborist warned the integrity of our remaining tree was seriously compromised. The next major storm could bring this majestic tree down on our house or a neighbor's. This pecan, a major factor in our decision to purchase our home, had provided shade for our parties, a backdrop for our pictures, pecans for our pies and a sense of peace for our yard. It was a wrenching, tear-filled decision--one we could only hope was right. Until this week.

As pictures of crushed cars and punctured roofs filled the evening news, and as we witnessed the new piles of storm debris on curbs, we clearly recognized the wisdom of our decision to remove the tree and grind its stump.

Lives can be a lot like trees.

Intense pain registered on her face for just a moment before the too bright smile of a practiced, 'I can cope' surfaced. From first-hand experience I recognized that well-rehearsed expression of resigned acceptance--a response so often used it almost convinces the one who hides behind it.

I was an adult when I began to recognize my sunny smile and optimistic disposition had a precarious foundation. I was a successful wife, mother, graduate student and teacher. My over-the-top busy life was characterized by a serene self-sufficiency that worked flawlessly--except for those moments when something (and I seldom figured out what)pushed a button deep inside me, and I erupted. Not that I exploded. No, indeed. To explode would be to admit a flaw. I imploded, shutting down in stony silence, taking long walks on dark streets or driving until I calmed down. (Yes, I did once get to Lafayette before returning to my curious family who was all too accustomed to my disappearing act.)

In time someone suggested my erratic behavior indicated a trail of hurt in my life. I couldn't very well disagree with their diagnosis, but I was convinced I could effectively hold a tighter reign on my emotions. My resolve crumbled when God gently sought my permission to deal with the root of my issues. I, who so longed to be like the tree planted by the streams of water (Psalm 1) was dropping dead branches every time a storm blew in. It was apparent the integrity of my steadfast spirit had been compromised. It was time to let God bring down my self sufficiency.

It was a hard decision and a continually painful process. Pruning the branches of recent development wasn't sufficient. Repeatedly God takes the axe of Truth to spiritual and familial strongholds. Even now He keeps a stump grinder handy as He continues to eradicate everything that is not Him.

Life's storms still come into my life, but the wind damage is less destructive. The hard decision to deal with roots of rejection and anger results in a life that increasingly yields its fruit in its season and it leaf does not wither; and in whatever [s]he does, [s]he prospers (Psalm 1:3)...

and no more does she drive abruptly and unthinkingly to another city.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Real Help From A Back Seat Driver

Yesterday my 'back seat' driver sat boldly in the passenger's seat--a position usually reserved for me. Not that I love riding passively. In fact, the argument over who gets to drive on long trips has caused more friction in our household than any other topic. But yesterday, I was the chosen! Seven glorious hours behind the wheel of a rented Nissan.

From years of riding when I would rather be driving, I have developed my own survival technique. Periodicals, puzzles, a novel, and for a case of serious boredom--a pillow. I studiously avoid watching my husband challenge the other 'idiots' on the road by keeping my eyes focused on my own pursuits.

With our positions reversed, my husband did not reciprocate my studied indifference. Mile after mile, his eyes glued to the road, he offered running commentary. "Watch your speed here. This area's always patrolled." "You will probably want to get into the left lane. The right is bumpy for miles." "You probably have time to pass that truck before you get to the exit..." And on it went from Baton Rouge to Natchitoches to Dallas.

An oft-used "I know that" almost escaped my pursed lips. But with an uncharacteristic outflow of humility, I realized I didn't know the information he offered. He, who travels this road so frequently he could navigate it successfully while finishing a crossword puzzle and simultaneously reading a novel was giving me the benefit of his hard won experience. I was grateful rather than annoyed.

Freed up from trying to figure out the quirks of an unfamiliar highway, I allowed my mind to travel the more recognizable terrain of my daily life. I thought of and prayed for the young women I see regularly--the ones who tell me their stories and want to hear mine. Suddenly I realized my role in their life journey is not unlike the role my husband is playing on this day-long trip. These gifted young women are solidly behind the wheel of their own lives. I couldn't take the wheel even if I wanted to. Yet, in a way that daily humbles me, these women invite me to journey with them for a while. They ask to learn from my experiences along this stretch of life's road. They are eager to know where the potholes are and which is the most expedient route. My comments won't make their journey shorter, but it might make it safer.

I see now I am not so much a mentor as I am a 'back seat driver' in another woman's life. Based on yesterday's experience, I'm okay with that.