Category Archives: Fear

Turn This World Around

I tugged several of my old college literature anthologies from the bottom bookshelf yesterday. No, not to do any serious study, but to use as weight for a gluing project! A paper filled with my handwriting fell from one of the books. The writing was in verse form, so I thought perhaps an old poem I had written and tucked away.  I have a tendency to do that – start a writing project and put it away not to be found until years later, if at all. But this was not my “writing.” It was the lyrics to an old Amy Grant song, “Turn This World Around.” Apparently the song had some special meaning for me in 1997 since I had taken the time and effort to record the lyrics. The song was included in her Behind The Eyes album released in September 1997 and written by Amy Grant, Beverly Darnall, and Keith Thomas.

Reflecting back on my 1997, in and of itself, it was not a good year, and September was particularly difficult. It was a year of losses and reversals in every area of life – professional, relationship, financial, and health. I could certainly relate to the melancholic melody and many passages in the lyrics of “Turn This World Around.” I was living in the midst of “broken promises and dreams” even as I struggled to carry on “in good disguise.” I needed “somewhere safe and warm” and was thankful for the shelter of friends during this stormy time in my life. I had to “turn and face (my) fears”– the fear of more losses and rejection from family, friends, and the church as I began to acknowledge my same-sex orientation after decades of living in hiding and pretense. I learned to “reach out through (my) tears” and discovered “it’s really not that far to where Hope can be found.”

After finding the paper I dug through my old CD’s. I found it! I had bought it which was something I rarely did. As I listened I recalled the solace and encouragement I had found in other songs in the album such as “I Will Be Your Friend,” “It Takes a Little Time,” Missing You,” and “Somewhere Down the Road.” Today I look at this decades old piece of paper, read these words, and am thankful for how my world was turned around in 1997, albeit after it was turned upside down. Today I hear a more universal and much needed message for our world. The message that behind our eyes “we are all the same it seems.” We all want to be safe and warm and find shelter with others through the storms of our lives. We all need to face our fears and reach out to the other in the midst of suffering—ours and theirs. It is the reaching out and acknowledging the “hunger and longing” that we all know inside that “could be the bridge between us if we tried.”

We all know our world needs to turn around. We are headed in the wrong direction. Look no further than the death and destruction resulting from the numerous and lengthy armed conflicts throughout the world. Grasp the magnitude  of gun violence, the global refugee crisis, increased human trafficking, and world hunger levels rising. We are the world! Only we, working individually and corporately with one another throughout our communities, cities, states, provinces, districts and countries, can turn this world around. Maybe one day we will turn and see behind the eyes of all our brothers and sisters regardless of race, religion, culture, nationality, sexual orientation or gender identity and see our sameness, reach out to one another, and experience the will and kingdom of God “on earth as it is in heaven.” Yes, maybe one day – maybe in this New Year!

When Nothing (Else) Seems to Matter!

I had projects waiting to be completed, letters to write, and activities to plan. I was eager to get started or get back at them. Today, I don’t seem to care. They are trivial and seemingly unimportant. What has changed?

I got the call a week ago on Thursday evening. I had waited for it all day. After nearly two weeks of symptoms—headache, vomiting, and general fatigue and feel bad—numerous doctor’s appointments, and countless medical tests, we were waiting to hear the results from the MRI. The ENT doctor had discovered the nystagmus, uncontrolled eye movements, Tuesday afternoon and immediately set up an appointment with the pediatric neurologist for Wednesday afternoon. The neurologist saying, “Let’s not wait until tomorrow,” scheduled the MRI for 9:30 that night. Prayer mode kicked into higher gear!

After learning of the nystagmus, I did some googling—not necessarily a good thing to do. While praying for the best outcome, an old “what if,” worst-case scenario habit, kept haunting me. She, my ten-year-od great niece, was exhibiting five of the six symptoms of a brain tumor! The call came. “It’s a brain tumor.” Okay, I was somewhat prepared for that. What came next had never entered my mind. “It is inoperable, on the brain stem and too large and entangled with other tissue. They will do some radiation to hopefully shrink and stop the tumors growth.” The projected prognosis is the worst imaginable. The emotions came quick and hard even while I said my goodbyes, “We are praying. Keep in touch. I love you,” and clicked off the phone.

I fell into the sofa crying. I wailed, “Oh, God, no!” I cried more. My wife held me. We held each other. We cried. My chest hurts, I can’t get my breath. Am I having a heart attack? The sobs and pain lessened momentarily only to come roaring back again and again. It felt like a vise was tightening around my chest. Just breathe. Just breathe! Is this what a broken heart feels like?  My heart breaks for my sweet little niece and her family—her mama, daddy, big brother and big sister. My heart breaks for her grandmother, my sister. I am heartbroken.

In the week since the call, I am not crying as much, but there are still times that I feel myself “going down” and tears welling up. I have asked “Why, God!” No answers other than we live in a fallen imperfect world in flesh and bone imperfect bodies. Don’t know if that is God’s answer or mine. I haven’t been able to focus on much other than staying in touch with the family, keeping others posted on what is happening, joining the wonderful “tribe” of folks who have come together to support my niece and her family, and reaching out to friends asking their prayers. I have learned a lot—more than I would want to know–about Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), a rare and the most devastating pediatric brain tumor. I have researched numerous clinical trials. We are hopeful and thankful that she has seen the doctors at MD Anderson, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has called, and there seem to be some options for clinical trial participation. Outside physical labor has provided some respite and distraction. I have weeded and spread 60+ bags of mulch in various beds this week. Good sleep seems to only come with total exhaustion. I could retreat into total aloneness. I know that would not be a healthy choice for me so I try to balance alone time and being with friends that I care about and I know care for me. I continue to pray even as I have no words. I am reminded of James Montgomery’s hymn “Prayer is the Soul’s Sincere Desire.”

 Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire
     Uttered or unexpressed
The motion of a hidden fire
    That trembles in the breast
Prayer is the burden of a sigh,
   The falling of a tear;
The upward glancing of an eye
   When none but God is near.

Yet, every time I turn to other interest that I have been passionate about—social justice issues, civic organizations, ministry and advocacy work—they just don’t seem to be important or matter anymore. My head tells me they are important and maybe the passion will return in time, or maybe not.

In my heart right now, nothing else matters!

 

 

REL Name Change – I Get it! (Updated)

Through these past months I have listened carefully to all those speaking and sharing their opinions and positions on the issue of changing the name of Robert E. Lee High School. I wanted to hear what those opposing the change are saying and thinking. I wanted to hear what they are feeling. I wanted to hear from those in favor of the change. What are they feeling and what are their motives for change? I have stated earlier what my initial thoughts and feelings were on this issue, and I was struggling. I was not “on the bandwagon” for changing the name!
     Through my personal processes of questioning and consideration, I have moved to a position supporting the name change. As I have listened to the speakers opposing the name change,I consistently hear arguments defending the traditions of REL High School and how important those traditions are to its alumni – in some cases two to three family generations of alumni. I hear defenses of the life, legacy, and character of General Robert E. Lee. I hear admonitions that we can’t erase or forget our history. And, I hear the often-used “slippery-slope” defense. “If we change Lee’s name, what’s next – John Tyler, the City of Tyler, Hubbard Middle School, etc.? Where does it stop?” Amidst all the words I hear feelings of loss, fear, and anger. And, you know what, I get that! I hear and understand those feelings.
      For now, let’s consider the feelings of loss-an intense core emotion that can fuel fear and anger. Robert E. Lee High School has a storied history that has often been stellar even though dogged at times by the legacy and accouterments of its namesake.images-1

But more importantly, tens of thousands of students have walked it corridors and filled its classrooms. They played on athletic teams, marched and performed with the band, sang in the choirs, participated on debate teams, performed in dramatic productions, danced with the drill team, cheered in the cheer squad, and so much more.They made friends and sometimes enemies. They excelled academically, and they sometimes faltered.

 

They made memories. Maybe that first kiss came while secreted in a hallway corner or leaning against SMIL_090613_REL_Lufkin_02-Sa locker. Maybe that high school sweetheart is now one’s spouse. Who ever forgets the first Belles Dance, Junior-Senior Prom, or the excitement of Homecoming Week? Yes, Robert E Lee High School is a place that has molded and influenced so many young lives, and the traditions and stalwart school spirit lives on in each of these lives even if they are not so young anymore.

So I think I get it! I understand that sense of loss that might come with a name change. The sense of losing a place that holds memories and so much of what was our youth. I get it! I understand! I started my teaching career at REL. I have two sons who graduated from Lee. I have albums of photos and mementos recalling Belle Dances, band performances, choir concerts, and certificates of achievement. I get it! My question is — At this pivotal point in time, and given the current context of our school and community, can we acknowledge our feelings of loss, move through them, and focus on the future of our students, school, and community? What is best for the common good, today? What is best for our future tomorrow and in the years ahead.maxresdefault

      REL High School is no longer about us, the middle-aged plus folks. We will always have our traditions and history with REL. It is true! We cannot erase our history. We carry it with us. Hopefully, we learn from it. Sometimes we love it, sometimes we don’t. We decide, individually, and subsequently corporately, what we do with our history and whether we remain steadfastly stuck in it or allow it to guide us into new eras, new beginnings, and new possibilities. Most histories I have read are written in chapters. What will be the next chapter for our school and our Tyler community?
      Changing the name of Robert E. Lee High School could be like finishing a chapter in a good book. The information and events in this chapter are vital in giving context to what comes next. Hopefully, the reader is excited and eager to keep reading and discover what the next chapter holds. Or, we might want to think in terms of those inevitable “chapters of our lives.” We know them because we have lived them! Some of our life chapters are natural ends followed by new beginnings – CPUR_060217_Robert_E_Lee_Graduation_008-Mhigh school graduation, college perhaps, entering the work force, career moves, getting married, having kids, the empty nest. It is my experience that coming to the close of a life chapter brings some natural feelings of loss and accompanying sorrow. Yet, I move to the next chapter with hope and anticipating the new.
      In moving forward, it is the desire of my heart that all of us with meaningful ties to REL hold on to our personal memories and recall with fondness the traditions we enjoyed even while moving beyond them and focusing on our present and future young folks and our best hopes for our community. We are in a different time and place than we were in 1958. Robert E. Lee is a different school. Tyler is a different, growing, and diverse community.  Can we focus on what is best for our future-for the school and our community? Can we feel our loss and move forward in support of our new school with a new name and all the new possibilities that brings to our community.
      It is my hope and prayer moving forward that our sense of loss will be softened by the promise of a new beginning, a new era, a new chapter for our beloved school and our community.

Late to the Party! A More Perfect Union

     quad-patriotic-democratic-160516-v2 I am a little late to the party with this commentary! I have been caught up in my own ruminating, reflection, and recovery from the last eighteen months of our horrific, unprecedented presidential campaign and election trying to get my perspective and stability refocused and centered. I am not completely there yet, but moving forward. Upfront! I voted for Hillary. Both candidates were/are flawed as all human beings are with some being more so than others. Given Hillary’s upbringing in middle-class America, her decades of national and global public service in both domestic and foreign affairs, her heart for and demonstrated efforts on behalf of all families and children, I truly believe she was, and still is, the most experienced and best qualified person to serve as President of the United States. That being said, Donald Trump is our President-Elect. And, in all honesty, I believe it is a travesty that in our “alleged” democratic nation someone who did not win the popular vote will be elevated to the highest office in the land. Barring defections during the Electoral College vote, that is what will happen on December 19. There are rumblings of such a defection; however, we all know that is unlikely. Yet, given the history of this election – never say never! In the meantime, let us resolve and hear Mr. Trump’s pledge “to be President for all Americans” and remember Hillary’s gracious words and move forward giving Mr. Trump “an open mind and a chance to lead.” I intend to do just that even as I continue to speak out for the values I hold dear, the values our nation was founded upon — justice for all, domestic peace, our common defense, our common good, the blessings of liberty for all, and a more perfect union.

     A more perfect union! Of all the flaws, both individual and as a nation, illuminated by this campaign and election none are more glaring than the deep divides among our people. We (and the media and pollsters) have sliced and diced ourselves into such varied social, racial, cultural, economic, religious, etc. groups that one might ask, “Where are the Americans?” That’s a good question, but an even better question might be “Who are the diverse American people?” If we are to find that “more perfect union,” we must reach out and seek to know one another. We are allowing our “tribalism” and suspicions of the “others” to destroy us – our families, our communities, our nation, and ultimately, ourselves – our souls. We rally around candidates and causes. We protest policy and positions. Yet, we fail when it comes to reaching beyond our tribal groups to embrace, know, understand, and respect those of other groups. When will we learn that foremost we are all of one “tribe,” and at our most basic level need and want the same things – respect, love and acceptance, peace, safety, liberty, happiness, and opportunities for prosperity.

     What are we called to do to seek and nurture that more perfect union? Though admittedly an idealist, I am not naïve enough to believe that a “perfect” union is possible, and if so, it might be a bit boring, but I do believe we can do better. We must do better if we hope to avert greater division and civil disturbances among our people. Maybe we could reach out to one other person outside of our routine tribe and seek to know them better, listen, try to understand and walk in their shoes, build a relationship. Maybe we could begin to speak up when we see or hear someone being ridiculed or demeaned. Let them know that they are worthy of respect. Let the offender know that his/her actions are not acceptable. Or, maybe we could open our homes and host some “get to know you” gatherings. I am sure there are many things that we could do to foster unity among us all. The question I must ask and answer is, “What will I do?” And you, “What will you do?” Let’s do something so we can all enjoy that “more perfect union” and enjoy the party!

Rock Springs Run! I Almost Missed It!!

0924150939-00Since our arrival at Wekiwa Springs State Park in Apopka, FL my desire and intent was to kayak down the Rock Springs Run Paddle Trail, which is touted as the number one paddle trail in Central Florida. I must admit that even with my desire and intent, I felt a nagging anxiety. Yes, I felt nervous, uncertain, scared, and fearful of doing what I wanted to do. I suppose my anxiety was rooted in several things. First, I have never kayaked this particular paddle trail. I would literally be entering unknown and uncharted waters — at least for me. Second, I would be doing the paddle alone. I know, the “rules” of kayaking urge us not to go it alone, but in this instance, I have no choice. Do it alone, or don’t do it at all! Third, it is a long paddle — 8.5 miles — requiring four to five hours minimum paddle time. Fourth, Rock Springs Run is on the Wekiva River which is designated a National Wild and Scenic River. Now, I am fine with scenic. It is the “wild” that causes me pause. In this case one might translate “wild” into alligators. Also, I had been told that the current in the upper run was fairly swift, and the river was definitely not straight — lots of crooks and turns. This combination can be difficult and even treacherous. So, I was anxious. Bottom line – I was scared!

I knew that if I didn’t push through the fear and do the paddle that I would be disappointed with myself and with not getting to experience the river up close. So I shared my feelings with Lou Anne which actually made me feel better and decided that I would go to the launch point, King’s Landing, talk with the folks there about the river conditions, take a look at the water, and then make my decision. Which is exactly what I did and launched the kayak at 9:30 am. I would paddle the 8.5 miles to Wekiva Island, and Lou Anne would meet me at the take-out there at 1:00 – 1:30 pm. I set the launch location as a waypoint on my GPS, set the trip odometer, and paddled out. Still a bit anxious, but ready for the challenge!

I entered the main channel and was greeted by dense water lilies with a paddle trail snaking through their midst. There were also a couple of houses on the right — nothing wild about that. The river was wide bank-to-bank, but the water lilies made the paddling trail much narrower. This was the case intermittently throughout the trail. Toward the end of the trail these plants were blooming a colorful red and blue. When I was not traversing the lilies, the banks were lush and green with large towering oaks, palms (the short, bushy saw palmetto as well as the cabbage palm tree), and the occasional cypress. It was a jungle out there – really!!

0924151012-00 I wasn’t far into the paddle when I spotted my first alligator. It was swimming parallel to the kayak about 8-10 feet to my right. With him being in the water, it was difficult to gauge his size. Given the distance between his eyes (sometimes this is all you see of them) and his wake in the water, I guessed him to be about 4-5 feet. Sorry, no photos! For me, the right action when spotting a gator in the water is to keep moving and not do anything to draw attention to myself.   The presence of alligators in the river forced me to change my paddling patterns. I normally enjoy paddling close to the riverbanks just to get a closer look at the plants and critters. However, with the gators as often-unseen companions and with their propensity to lie quietly in the vegetation along the banks, I opted to keep my paddling path in the middle of the river. This was my first of four alligator sightings this day. All were quite similar, with the exception of one in which the gator was swimming across the river. He spotted me and went under the water. If he stayed on the same path underwater, I floated over him. My only thought was, “I hope he doesn’t come up while under me!” I moved forward with short, quick paddle strokes in hopes of not disturbing him!

About thirty minutes into the paddle, I had a definite decision to make. I came to a sign reading: King’s Landing Blue Band Turn Around. I knew that my destination was still at least eight miles down river. Yet, I launched from King’s Landing and the attendant had placed a blue band on my wrist. Does that sign apply to me? I decided it did not and continued down the river, which became much narrower with more obstructions, fallen trees or branches, in or over the water. I was paddling deeper into the jungle! As the river narrowed, the current was more noticeable, and my river trail became one crook and turn after another. The wild had now merged with the scenic! I had to pay attention and be intentional with my paddle. It became a challenge to place the paddle in the water at the right time and rudder angle to make the upcoming turn, and to make it before the current carried the kayak into the oncoming bank. I maneuvered the kayak left, then right, then right again, then left again consistently. Only once did I have to dig myself out of the bank. No, you won’t see photos of these sections of the river, as I was too busy with the paddle!

0924151030-00  I was enjoying the paddle and the challenge of the crooks, turns, and the fallen trees and branches even as I felt I was going “deeper into the jungle.” Maybe an hour to an hour and half in, I encountered an obstacle that would require much more strategy and maneuvering than any of my previous encounters. A large tree, probably 18-24 inches in trunk diameter, had fallen and was blocking the entire span of the river. I considered going to the right, but the still green branches filled the river and even lay upon the bank. The left option looked a bit more promising. The base of the tree was high enough up on the bank that with my 5’ 3” stature there was a possibility of going under the fallen trunk albeit a “duck” would be needed. This plan was complicated by the fact that the tree had fallen across another large tree trunk that obviously had been in the water much longer. The resulting trunk configuration looked like a slightly squeezed “X” lying on its side. The water level barely covered the lower cross trunk, but there was enough for me to push my kayak over it. Actually, as I started the crossing, the current pushed the kayak and me laterally over the lower trunk. Luckily, I was still in the kayak. The next step was to push and paddle the kayak along the trunks toward the bank, make a right turn at the opening, duck, and go under the upper trunk. I did it! My heart was pounding and my hands shaking, no doubt, the result of both the exertion and the fear. I must admit that there was a moment as I struggled to push and paddle the kayak up and through the opening that I thought, “Am I going to make it!”

I relaxed for a bit, basking in the excitement of having met the challenge. As the trail continued to be littered with obstacles and having encountered the large tree blockage, I suddenly recalled something I had read previous to launching to the effect that the staff of King’s Landing does a good job of keeping the Rock Springs Run free of obstacles. Hgh!   I was not experiencing a run “free of obstacles!” I then remembered, “King’s Landing Blue Band Turn Around.” Whoa! My heart was not pounding. It had been grabbed and caught tight in the vise of FEAR. Where am I? Am I lost? Should I have turned around? Do I need to turn around now? I don’t know that I can paddle two hours against this current? How will I get around that tree again?

To counter these questions, my first response was to tell myself, “Just breath, Brenda, just breath.” Is it really possible that I had turned the wrong direction? I kept visualizing a map of the river that did have a side stream; maybe I had turned down that stream. I dug in my wet sack and pulled out a simple map of the paddling trail. No, that side stream was off the lower section of the river. I was in the upper part of the river. I felt somewhat better. I then remembered that the day before when I left Wekiwa Springs for a short paddle I had set a waypoint on my GPS. I also knew that today’s paddle would take me toward Wekiwa Springs and less than a quarter of a mile from that waypoint. I pulled the GPS out. I had traveled almost three miles today already. I located the Wekiwa Springs waypoint and programed the GPS to “Go To” that waypoint. When the screen popped up, I felt a wave of relief. My current location was on the track between this morning’s King’s Landing waypoint and yesterday’s Wekiwa Springs waypoint. I was headed in the right direction! I just needed to keep paddling.

And paddle I did with even greater enjoyment and confidence. My confidence was bolstered even more when I saw the brown state park sign that read, “You are halfway.” I had reached that part of the run within the bounds of Wekiwa Springs State Park. Eventually I passed Otter, Big Buck, and Indian Mound Campsites maintained by the state park. I knew I was doing well on my time so I parked the kayak – lodged it against a tree trunk – pulled out my snacks, rested, and ate a bite of lunch consisting of an apple and mixed nuts. As I sat in the kayak, I remembered my fear and being scared about doing the run. Just think! I almost missed it! I almost missed this adventure – the alligators, the lily pads, the narrow twisting, turning river, the jungle, the heart stopping fear, the satisfaction of rising to the occasion and meeting the challenges.

I finished the run. The river widened. The jungle disappeared – so much so I had to break out the sunscreen. The lily pads returned sporting gorgeous red blooms and so thick they brushed the sides of the kayak as I maneuvered the trail. I saw another alligator or two. They kept moving and so did I. The last half hour or so I actually met some other folks making their way upstream. Not what I would want to do! I arrived at Wekiva Island around 1:30 pm pretty much on schedule feeling both very tired and very content. Lou Anne was walking down to the landing to meet me. What an adventure I had to share! Just think, I almost missed it!        September 24, 2015

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