tattoo tellings. part 1

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The story has been told of how, when I was a little person, I wanted desperately to be a dinosaur. Someone said that I could be absolutely anything I wanted, and that was it, that was what I wanted. What I didn’t tell you was there was a time before that…when I wanted to be a star. (Not a movie star, not a pop star, but a real live twinkle twinkle little star)

Most people never meet their great grandparents. I was beyond blessed to get to spend the majority of my young life with my great grandmother. Ninny. That wasn’t her given name, but it might as well have been. We called her that, people at church called her that, and almost everyone at the hospital where she worked called her that. I don’t really know HOW she got that name, it was probably given by my mother close to 50 years ago, what mattered is that it WAS her name. And she was mine.

Hands weathered by time, a mind full of stories and memories of “the farm”, and a grilled cheese sandwich that would blow. your. mind. She was the whole package. And she loved Jesus. Deeply. Some of my earliest memories are of her. Before I could even read I knew all the words to “Amazing Grace”, “Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus”, and “The Solid Rock”. She talked to me often of hearts that were sick and in desperate need of someone to make them better. She often told me that Jesus was the One who could and would do it.

We worked in her garden often. Looked at the birds. She taught me to crochet. We would eat coffee ice cream until we felt sick. And she would scratch my back at night until I fell asleep. When I woke, I would find her in the living room recliner, bible open in her lap, cup of coffee sitting on the side table next to her. Most days I couldn’t tell if she was sleeping or not. I know now that these moments were times when she was settling her heart and begging Jesus to help her that day. I love her for this.

The years were full of camping every summer, Walton’s episodes before bed, Legos in her den, coffee ice cream by the quart, painting rocks we found in the garden, spearmint gum in the pews on Sunday mornings, fried chicken, and more scratched backs than I can count.

My freshman year in college Ninny had a heart attack. I remember getting the news at church. Collapsing in the hallway. Broken. She was the only tangible thing that held me together through my parents divorce. She was the one who, no matter what time of night, would answer my calls and pray over me. I found myself broken…because she was broken.

This wasn’t the end, but it was the beginning of it. We found out not long after that the cancer was wrapping its filthy tentacles around every one of her major organs. Sucking the life out of her. I have never hated anything so much in my life. Why? Out of everyone in the world…WHY HER?! She had done nothing but walk with Jesus faithfully, love his people well, and proclaim truth louder than the lies. Why…

I didn’t want to go to the hospital. I didn’t want to see her hooked up to all those machines. I didn’t want to say goodbye. I didn’t know how.

She was dozing in and out. I was instructed to talk to her like normal. Tell her I love her. Just talk. This was Ninny…I didn’t know how else to talk to her.

Holding back sobs, I just talked to her. I told her about my day, what I was studying, the latest breaking on my car, and about this cute boy I was hanging out with. I think the last one got a little smile. She talked about having to get the laundry off the line and milk the cows. She told us, or whoever else was in that room, that someone needed to help get the flies out. My heart broke into a million pieces that day. She wasn’t there anymore. The drugs they were pumping into her body had reduced her to a pile of her own memories. She wasn’t here. In her mind she wasn’t even a mother, much less a great grand one. I decided I would leave the pieces of my heart on the sterile floor of that room, but I had to go. It was just too much.

I approached her bed. Grabbed her hand and held it like it would be the last. I ran my fingers over the veins protruding through her skin. I traced the lines that could tell stories for years. And I squeezed. Hard. I wanted her to come back to me. I wanted her to feel alive. I wanted her to know that I was there and that I loved her. I wanted her to have that small connection to the present. So I squeezed. Then I leaned in.

I kissed her cheek. Hugged her tight and placed my mouth directly over her ear so that my words would have less chance of escape.

“Ninny. I love you more than you will ever know. I have to go now, but I will be back. Just wait ’til I get back, ok? And Ninny? Remember that I. Love. You”

As I started to pull back she wouldn’t let go of my hand. She pulled me back down to her. The smell of hospital fresh in my nostrils. She placed her mouth directly over my ear…so that her words had less chance of escape. She was back from her incoherent ramblings…she was lucid again. She was my Ninny and in true Ninny form, when she had something to say, you listened.

“Alison…” deep breath.

She knew me. Knew who I was. Knew who she was in relation to me.

“Alison…no matter what happens, ok? You hear me? No matter what happens…I want you to forever remember that you have always been the stars in my eyes and I love you.”

Disease stole her voice the next day.
A week later it stole my Ninny.

Suppose I was a star after all. Just not the way I had planned.

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Where do I find Jesus…?

I loaded up in my car with a gift card given to me at christmas by my parents and set out for IKEA to select and purchase a place for stories to be told.

Everyone rants and raves about the amazingness that is IKEA. What they don’t tell you is that it is the worlds largest maze. Created to turn you into a mouse purely for their entertainment. Scores of people wandering aimlessly through aisles. Most searching for a place to welcome guests, or tuck their children in at night, or the comfort of a nice throw, or maybe they are just searching…for the way out.

I laugh when I am nervous. Or uncomfortable. Not necessarily because I find it funny…I just don’t know what else to do. It’s my default. My downshift. So when I walked into that dark makeshift bedroom for the fourth time, I laughed. Out loud. Like a moron. I was trapped. I could not, for the life of me, find a way out of that horrible nightmare.

I asked, almost pleaded, with a sales woman…

“Please, ma’am, tell me that I am getting close to the exit…”

“Yea, just go around that corner.”

LIAR!!

At this point my laughter is ceasing and the tears are welling in my eyes. I had just spent WAY too much time deciding on a desk and now I just wanted to get it and leave. The way it works is this – you don’t just get to pick out what you want, put it in your basket and leave. You have to write down an item number, an aisle number, and a bin number. Then once you make it out of maze #1, it’s on to maze #2. The home goods – where everything is breakable and you are at the point where you just want to break everything.

I finally make it to the “Room of Towering Shelves”. (It’s not really called that, I picked that name out.) 26 aisles of home furnishing. 26. Three stories tall.

So I had it picked out. Get it and go.

“Oh, we’re out of that”

The man walked away. I sat down. Sobbing.

Not because they didn’t have it. That was just an extra kick in the throat.

I sat there for one hour. Crying. Trouble breathing. Chest burning and heaving.
I could not will myself off of that floor. I could not convince myself that I didn’t have to buy a desk today. There was no reasoning with me.

“Get up and find the exit sign.” My phone buzzed.

Simple. No cliche. No “just trust God”.
Just a simple “lets take one thing at a time and right now lets get up off the floor.”

I didn’t buy a desk today.

[But here I am…wondering where to find Jesus in this shit hole of a day. It wasn’t just the panic attack. It was that. And it was feeling unloved, unwelcome, unheard, unimportant…a project…by people who claim to love Jesus and be his church. It was walking into my shower hoping to rinse off the weight of today…hoping it would calm me down, help me breathe, and rest…only to slip, fall, and hit my back and head.

Where do I find Jesus in all of that mess…

Maybe I find him in the message that says “Get up. Find the exit sign.”

Maybe I find him in the text message from my nephew that says “I love you, Aunt Ali.” or the one from a friend letting me know they are praying for me.

Maybe I find him in the phone call from women I have never met, being the living breathing Church of God, asking to pray over me.

Maybe He wasn’t so far after all.
And he promises tomorrow he won’t be far either.]

lies told. lies believed.

Cool air pulsing from the window unit and the hum of a brand new desktop PC were the first friends to visit that night. Katie was the second. And the third…well, the third stayed longer than a visit. And was revealed to be no friend at all.

This had proved to be a rough year. Dad’s affair. Mom’s leaving. Dad’s coming back. Mom saying no. No one ever really paid much attention to the little girl crying in the backseat. All of a sudden the world had become one giant Bugs Bunny cartoon and the rug had just been ripped out from under tiny little feet. Confusion and chaos reigned. Anger visited occasionally. And despair was always close at hand.

Katie. Sure she played the tenor saxophone in the middle school band, but do not be fooled, she also played a mean game of basketball and could run circles around you on the track. Calm, cool, and collected. She had a humor like no one you’ve ever met. Especially for an 11 year old.

“Can I tell you a secret?”
She asked on the basketball court one day after school.

“Sometimes I hurt myself.”

The conversation wasn’t visited again. Until much later. Secrets shared. Secrets kept. Neither knew that those secrets would breathe lies and death into the lungs of a little girl who knew very well the pain on the inside and was suffocating already…she just wanted air.

*BING* An instant message flashed on the screen.

KT1986: hey
AL87: hey. how wuz your day?
KT1986: it wuz ok. i got pissed again & cut
AL87: did it help?
KT1986: yuh. it did. at least i have a reason to be pissed
KT1986: & they didnt tell me how 2 feel

Lies told. Lies believed.

Katie’s words provided a way out
Maybe this could actually work…
If it works for her, maybe…

Little hands, little 11 year old shaking hands, longed for control. Longed for escape and security and for a stop to all the shit inside her head.

Little feet, little 11 year old feet, wanted to run. Wanted to run far from all of the sadness and darkness and pain they were cemented in.

The little girl, the little 11 year old girl crying in the back seat, needed something sure. Needed something tangible and immediate and constant.

Innocent 11 year old fingers frantically searched for a remedy. Through drawers of junk, backpacks filled with incomplete homework assignments, and medicine cabinets filled with all sorts of quick fixes for pain.

It wasn’t until the box of tools that little eyes were captured by the lie. Shining, reflecting the light, almost beckoning her 11 year old grasp. It whispered sweet words of control and escape to a captive and imprisoned heart. It promised to deliver. It promised release.

Sharp edges. Pressed against the skin. Shattered innocence.

Claiming to be a friend, this monster took advantage of a confused and hurting little girl. He overstayed his welcome…

and she is still begging him to leave.

storm.

The Storm

The clouds roll in,
The raindrops fall,
The thunder rolls with light
And behind the clouds,
Amidst the rain
Is shielded power and might

The cold wind howls,
The walls they shake,
The lightning strikes and then,
As winds still blow
And rain still falls
This storm in life begins.

I feel your touch,
But your hand’s not seen,
Why can’t I trust your voice?
The storm rages on
The boat quickly sinks,
And I am left to make a choice.

Do I slowly sink?
Do I swim to shore?
Do I take your hand, trust your will?
Then you stop the rain
You calm the wind
You whisper “peace, be still”

The clouds roll away,
Raindrops slow their fall
The thunder rolls with light.
And after the clouds,
And because of the rain,
Is displayed your power and might.

sitting through suffering.

I sit silently in the dark. The low rumble of the fan and the glow of the computer screen are my only companions at this time of night. It is a welcomed break from the sterile hospital rooms and straight to the point doctors.

This whole mess began with a simple phone call.
“Mom’s had a seizure.”

Deep breath. As if it were my last. My mother wasn’t responsive. I didn’t feel the need to be either. Suddenly it didn’t matter anymore.

After the initial rush to the emergency room, the whirl and panic of busy hallways filled with the sick and dying, the confusion that comes when faced with your own humanness – we were sent home with a cocktail of painkillers and blood thinners. For all the white jackets I talked to in that terrible place, not one had a good answer, no game plan, nothing to comfort or convince us things would be ok. And I hate them for it.

Days passed. Not much change. The days are long and the nights are longer. Sunlight faded from the sky. Darkness somehow won.

My mother lies motionless for the first time in hours and her quiet crying has stopped – for now.
I beg Jesus to lessen her pain and silently hope that she will finally be able to get some rest.

My eyes are as dry and weary as my heart. I need to cry. But can’t.
Providing ’round the clock care for my mother has become my second full-time job. “Sitting through suffering” might as well be the job description.

No one willingly signs on for this.

My eyelids are falling and opening. Falling and opening. Jolting awake, so as not to miss a cry, or whimper, or anything that may signal my mothers need for help. It is still dark, the fan still blows, and the computer screen has dimmed when I hear her stir. She needs something. Her lack of words doesn’t keep me from understanding that she is crying out for medicine and healing.

Only one of which I, as her daughter, can provide.

With tired eyes I reach, turn on the lamp, and search through the medicine on the counter. It takes everything in my being to hold back the tears as I return to my mother with the right amount of sedatives and pain killers. My feeble attempt at providing comfort.

Again, I talk to Jesus. I beg for morning to soon arrive.
And that tomorrow would be a better day.