Posted in Mental Health, prayer, Recovery

How God Talks

I’ve often wished that God would just text me.

Hey, girl, turn around and say something to that silent person you just passed. She needs a smile. And while you’re at it, tell her she has beautiful hands, because that will make her think of playing her piano, and she’s been missing her music without realizing it. Oh, and by the way, I’ve lined up your next motorcycle for you—you’ll find out about it when you talk to Carrie during book-study. You’re welcome. Love, God

Wouldn’t that be convenient? None of this praying-for-guidance or listening for subtle answers. I’m a literal-minded person; I want instructions dammit! Surely the Almighty Creator of All Things could tap into my cell-service without any problem.

20140131-003602So okay, God has NOT been blowing up my phone. But you know what? He HAS been blowing up my life lately in all kinds of ways. And the guy can make himself heard!

I found myself telling a total stranger (except now he’s not a total stranger anymore—he’s my friend Anne’s landlord) that “God had told me” to ask him about rental properties. While he was buying tile and I was giving him his veteran’s discount at Home Depot. That’s just crazy. What’s crazier is that he didn’t call me crazy. His response? “I believe.”

Now I’ve just finished saying that I don’t have some special dialed-in bat-channel to God. I’m only just Me.

So Anne asked me yesterday, “HOW does God talk to you? How do you know?” Well, all I have to offer are stories. And she knows some of them—they’re about her.

Anne and I used to hang out two and a half years ago, when Jon and I were just married and she and I were both struggling to get Sober again. Her number has stayed in my phone—but we hadn’t talked, or even messaged, for a couple years. Until I took a nap recently and dreamed she called me. And woke up feeling convicted that I needed to reach out. No logic to that impulse, but I texted her. Got nothing back. Kept texting. Again, no logical reason to keep pinging someone who wasn’t responding—but something was telling me to. It was weeks later that she did call me, checking herself into a crisis center with nowhere to go afterward and no one to pick up her calls.

She’s Clean. But she’s broken. And my text messages were the only recent incoming activity on her phone. Left to myself, I had no reason to contact her. So I can only figure God told me to.

Let me take a moment here to tell you (with her permission) a little about Anne. She’s just 31 years old, a disabled combat vet whose complex PTSD and social anxieties stem from horrific traumas in her childhood and her civilian adult life, some of those very fresh. She has lived under bridges, she has thrown herself off a bridge in Portland, she has drowned in her own life countless times and is still (however reluctantly) here to tell the tale. She jumps out of her skin if anyone touches her or makes a sudden move in her direction, rendering her miserably frazzled and disconnected in settings like our church, where everyone wants to welcome her by hugging. One side of her sports an impish smile and a from-the-gut laugh you can’t help but join, while another side of her manifests in stricken expressions and panicked breathing in the face of the overwhelming requirements of simple daily living. She lives in a constant state of fear and anxiety, and sometimes only her OCD (with its attendant attention-to-details) keeps her going with any semblance of togetherness. Her outlook combines deep thinking and childlike curiosity—when we read Bible together I walk away feeling sheepish that I’d never thought to ask the questions she does.

If I had to pick out one defining characteristic that shapes Anne’s life, it would be the fact that she does NOT. Trust. Anyone. No one feels safe to her. Not counselors. Not pastors. Not medical professionals. Not the VA. Not acquaintances. Not family. It’s not “paranoia” on her part; her life experiences have trained her that not even a mother can be trusted to be safe.

That’s Anne. Traumatized, broken, barely functioning, and absolutely alone. Even her service dog was separated from her when she lost her housing in early July.

So when she asked me yesterday how God “talks” to me, I reminded her of the odd impulse that started me texting her in mid-June. Like God was setting something up when he knew she was about to need it.

Even as she acknowledged the point, she was frowning that she doesn’t think God sends her that kind of message. “You don’t think so?” I challenged her. “Then tell me why you decided to trust me.”

That trust has grown with baby-steps, each promise-from-me coming with a reminder that I haven’t broken a promise yet. They’ve mostly been small promises (“I’ll stay with you in the ER,” “I’ll find out how your dog is doing,” “I’ll call you on my lunch break”) but she started out so sure she couldn’t believe them…

IMG-2408
She won’t let me share her smile… Just her story.

The other day she let me stand behind her and braid her hair. If you know Anne, you know that’s an even bigger deal than the Power of Attorney she signed authorizing me to help her straighten out some issues with the VA. So: “Tell me why you decided to trust me,” I demanded in yesterday’s conversation.

She drew her eyebrows down and looked at me sideways and admitted, “Something just told me I should trust you.”

“Well there you go. God told me to call you, and told you to trust me, and here we are.”

Where-we-are includes that she’s been living in the garage section of our fifth wheel for several weeks while we’ve been searching high and low for new housing for her. It’s not a “renter’s market” here, and although she has a perfect rental-history and guaranteed income (disability), her credit sucks. We couldn’t find her anything.

Enter Ed, chatting me up while buying tile from me at Home Depot. I inexplicably asked him what he knows about rental properties (thank you, God, for the nudge) and he answered that he has one. He’s just finishing up renovating it (hence the tile) and it would be available in about a week. So I told him about Anne. And I’m thinking God told him something, because the next day we were meeting him at his sweet little rental-house with hardwood floors and bright open windows and sturdy old trees lining the front. No credit-check necessary. She can have her service dog back with her.

Anne is still raw, and fresh to the practice of trusting people (or God, for that matter). She won’t fully believe it until she has the keys in hand. But she’s trying to. And she’s tentatively “letting in” some people besides me. Not all the way in, but she’s opening that door and building a belief that maybe there ARE some people who can be trusted. It wouldn’t take much to make her snap those doors shut… But I’m trusting God has this in hand. I still wish he’d text and TELL me so… But he seems to know what he’s doing.

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Posted in PostaDay

Vacation Metrics (a Blog from the Back of the Bike)

A stop at my favorite lighthouse at Yaquina Head

This week’s metrics might be miles (on the motorcycle) or meters (SCUBA diving)… Or we might just measure the days in smiles! Whatever the maps and the dive tables have to say about it, we’ve been purely enjoying…

Coastal Highway 101

Whenever we get to this part of the country, a requisite stop is Gracie’s Sea Hag for a bread-bowl of their exquisite clam chowder… And since Gracie’s is in Depoe Bay 60 Miles north of our campground, it was the perfect excuse yesterday to climb on the motorcycle and enjoy the delicious curvy coastal highway 101, with its ocean views and salt-tanged air. Sea-spray on my motorcycle visor—that’s definitely one version of heaven.

Gracie’s clam chowder—-can’t beat it

We spent almost six hours taking in the sights and sounds of that 120-mile round-trip, hopping off the bike to walk beaches, poke through tide pools, climb bridges, and visit my favorite lighthouse (same one that’s tattooed on my arm with my daughter’s name, which means “shining light”). And (being the coffee-aholics that we are) to order a “fog lifter” at Espresso 101 in Waldport.

We ducked into a gift shop in Depoe Bay to buy a pair of tourist sweatshirts (mine says “Highway 101”!) which we promptly put on over the sweatshirts we were already wearing. We’d both unthinkingly brought the bike-jackets we’ve been wearing all summer—and while mesh is a blessing in Boise’s 100-degree heat, it’s maybe a bit TOO breezy for here…

High Tide hit around 5:00, at which point we were back in camp industriously duct-taping dollar-store plastic tablecloths over the truck seats so we could drive from one dive site to the next in our squelching wetsuits… The real picture (which I DON’T have) would be the pair of us squishing our way up the campground shower-trail in full get-up to rinse the saltwater out of our dive gear. But I’m getting ahead of myself—first we went diving.

There’s a converted fish ladder on Florence’s North Jetty with cement steps that make for easy entry and exit in dive gear. Let me just stop here and say that the water here is COLD. But oh so worth it. Pulsating jellies, skittering fish, and CRABS all over. If we’d picked up a shellfish license we could have brought home dinner and then some. Then back to camp for hot showers and a roaring fire, with a clothesline full of wetsuits dancing in the lantern-light…

Ready to dive…
This morning we took the motorcycle in the other direction on the 101, south as far as Bandon… where we walked around the waterfront boardwalk with helmet in one hand and a coffee in the other, and where we improbably ran into Jon’s boss! We stopped in Coos Bay on the way back and ordered a clam basket and fish’n’chips at the Floating Fish Market, and I ogled the Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain—tall ships under full sail—as we rode out of the harbor.

Right now Jon is splitting firewood and rolling his eyes at me for sitting here by the fire with my phone (his has been in “airplane mode” the whole trip)… But I’m happy that I can blog from my phone (yes, even from the back of the bike if I want to). I’m happy that my tummy is full of clams and my head is full of ocean views. I’m happy that my bike-jacket pocket is full of wave-worn shell fragments. I’m so happy that my face is full of smile, just sitting here. And THAT’s the proper metric for a vacation.

This boat-name says it all! (Coos Bay marina)
Posted in PostaDay

Surprise! It’s the Ocean!

Coffee and a map… and open road!

I usually start any travel with a carefully-planned itinerary, complete with reservations and budgeted activities. My journal pages ahead of a trip will be filled with addresses and prices and confirmation numbers… But yesterday we climbed into our truck with just a map and our coffee and our camping and diving gear, hooked up the motorcycle trailer, and headed for the Oregon Coast!

We’d been planning to spend our vacation-week doing some Idaho camping, but Friday morning Jon told me he’d take me to the ocean instead. WOOHOO!! (Don’t get me wrong—I do love our Idaho… But WOOHOO!!)

So here we are on an entirely UNplanned adventure. Entirely OUT of character for me, but I couldn’t be happier. All week my FaceBook page had been popping up “one year ago” pictures of our LAST trip to the coast, and I’ll admit they were making me wistful…

The view from our campsite…

Even without pre-planning, we scored a first-night campsite with a view of the Florence marina and bridge, and this morning we settled into the state park campground where we got a spot for the rest of the week. Couldn’t have done better if I HAD planned it.

We’ve unloaded the bike and taken her for an exploratory spin across the bridge and through Florence. We’ve scouted the North Jetty and identified our dive entrance. We’ve picked up SCUBA gear on our way through Eugene. We’ve had our first seafood dinner at an off-the-beaten-path diner full of locals (always a good sign for an eating establishment—and it was so good we went back for breakfast). We’ve stood on the sand dunes and breathed in the ocean-air. I’ve probably posted two dozen photos to FaceBook—everything from the sailboats and king heron at the marina to the ripening blackberries growing at our campsite, the view crossing the bridge on the motorcycle… And this one. It’s my “happy camper” face.

My “happy camper” face!
Posted in Mental Health, Motorcycle

Go, Go, Glow

Red Bike Red House
Red bike at the Red House (my AA home group)

I joked in a post last year that “you never see a motorcycle parked outside a psychiatrist’s office,” but last week that’s exactly where I parked my bike. So okay—riding a motorcycle doesn’t actually cancel out my need for mental-health meds, but it sure does put a grin on my face.  A manager said this week that I’ve been glowing since I started showing up to work with helmet in hand.

We made the decision a few months ago to trade in my BMW1200 for a smaller, lighter bike, so I’m the tickled new owner of a shiny red Yamaha V-Star 650. The Beemer (beauty though it was, and as sweet as my hubby was to buy it for me) was just too much bike for this Rookie Rider. I never got over being scared of the bike, and I never “graduated” to riding by myself. Jon tailed after me like a security blanket every time I took it out, and it felt like a big production every time. I was starting to associate a feeling of dread with pulling on my motorcycle boots, which is never how I’d felt about riding before!

bike Starbucks
To Starbucks.

So we posted the BMW on Craigslist this spring, and I was sitting with a friend when a text came in inquiring about it. I apologized for interrupting our conversation to respond, and explained the situation… Whereupon she asked me if I were looking for a bike! She’s a missionary in Thailand, just back in the states to visit her daughters, and her bike has been in storage for a few years. Not running—but hey, I’m married to a mechanic. Long story short, we trailered this bike home from her storage a week later.

I came home from work the next day to find her stripped to her frame, and my kitchen counter strewn with bike-bits.  Mr. Mechanic worked his magic, and days later I was testing her out, up and down the rows of our RV park. Days later we had her registered and I took her out on the road. Days later, after Jon had followed me to church and work, I went to work by myself. Days later I was pulling up across town in front of my AA home group. With a shit-eating grin beneath the helmet.

I’m still a rookie, but I’m riding now! To work. To AA. To the dentist. To church. To Starbucks.  And yes, to the psychiatrist.

Yesterday we hit triple-digit temperatures, and the parking-lot pavement still radiated heat when I came out of Home Depot at ten p.m. The first breath of cool air I’d felt all day was the wind on my face at fifty miles an hour riding home under the moon. I’m just about ready to bet it wasn’t my lights or my reflective gear that made me visible as I rode. I’m pretty sure it was my GLOW.

bike Emmett

 

Posted in IdahoAuthors, writing

Setting Sail: the Launch of a Serial Novel

I’ve been writing “creative nonfiction” for years–-my Master’s thesis in poetry, essays (for introspection), freelance articles (for pay), and  this blog (for joy)… But I haven’t touched fiction-writing since I was a schoolkid.

Until last summer, when I did.

Not sure exactly why, but this person called Gayla wanted to go whaling, so I let her. And she turned out pretty stubbornly not to fit in to the century in which I’d placed her, so I threw in a little time travel to explain her. She’s a whaler wearing a sports bra instead of a corset—an anomaly in more ways than one.

Time & Tide by Kana Smith
She’s still growing, and I’m still writing her journey. I’ve been releasing one chapter at a time to a small circle of friends and family who have been reading along (and keeping me writing!) and I got to thinking that it’s the READERS who really make this art form work. If I’m writing in a “black hole” by myself, I’m not going to last for long–and that would be a bummer, because I’d never find out what happens with Gayla.

So I took it into my head to publish as I go, rather than waiting (for what?) to finish this whole tale. Charles Dickens published many of his works as serial stories in the newspapers of his day… I’m no Charles Dickens, but I do have this great medium we call the internet. So here we are.

And I have an idea that blogging about the book as I write it (and as readers receive it) might provide some interesting introspection into my own writing process–so I’m hoping this becomes bigger than just the book.

All that said… I’m launching this book. Before it’s anywhere close to finished. As of this writing I’m at 67,636 words–and I’m not posting all of those today. But I’ll start with Book One and a teaser to Book Two, and I’ll invite you along for the ride. Along for the read.

And none of this is set in stone (I go back to edit as I get to know Gayla and her story) so I very much welcome critique and feedback. In fact, I’m more interested in what doesn’t work than what does–because that’s what’s useful to a writer. I’d love to see my online community function like a larger version of the “workshop” classes I took for my Creative Writing degree. I’d love to grow in my craft and become a better writer. I’d love to see where this story takes me. Will you sail with me? It’s a free book… if you have patience to wait for an ending!

Time & Tide

whale tail

Posted in writing

Playing Sims (and Questions of Free Will)

It’s a little like writing fiction, or at least that’s what I tell myself is appealing about it.  If you haven’t played with Sims (I hadn’t before this week), it’s a simulation game where you get to create and dress up little people, build and furnish their houses, send them to jobs, prompt them to interact, and so on.

Sims
At first glance it seems like a pretty limitless array of options for play, given the many different objects you can place, and the many different ways your little people can interact with those objects… But the inherent limitations to its interest have already become eminently evident.

There’s no creativity, and no content, to the actions and interactions here. I can make a Sim “read fine literature,” but there’s nothing really to be gained from it. (Why am I not picking up my own book instead?) I can make a Sim “phone a friend,” but there’s no content to the conversation. (Why am I not picking up my own phone instead?) I’ve imagined different personalities and proclivities for my various characters, but that’s only in my head. (Why am I not picking up my own piece of unfinished fiction instead?)

In short, the shine has already worn off my little game. It made me think, though, that I understand God a little better. Sometimes people ask why God gave us Free Will when he could have made the world perfect by orchestrating everything himself. Well, I can give you one good reason: it’s tiresome telling your creations to go potty or eat a sandwich so they don’t make a pee-puddle or fall over from malnourishment. It’s not interesting or fulfilling to make them do everything they do.

Okay, that’s the flippant answer, but it’s a peek at the bigger one. Writing fiction is more interesting than playing Sims, because it doesn’t have the limitations—I can create everything about the world, the relationships, the conversations. Having children is more interesting than writing fiction, because (these days) the people I’ve created say and do things without any orchestration from me, and they’re always interesting and surprising.

KermitWhen my daughter squeezes me in one of her long-lasting hugs, it’s rewarding because she did that on her own. I didn’t click a “hug button” to make her do it. Similarly, God made us to love him. Voluntarily. Without being compelled, which would make the “love” meaningless. I know I do a shoddy job of it overall, but I like to think God delights in every moment that I do turn to him (like asking for help against my alcoholism)—the same way I delight in spontaneous affection or requests from my offspring.

Well, the game—and the weird role of “playing god”—got me thinking about all that. But there’s still one more question of free will…

I’ve already determined that this game isn’t rewarding or fulfilling, and yet… I keep orchestrating my little people to meet each consecutive task and challenge presented to them. I can’t seem to put the damn thing down.

My addictive personality pops up in far more areas of life than just my alcoholism. I’m an all-or-nothing girl. This week I’m obsessively playing with my Sims. The couple weeks before that, it was “Words With Friends” (a glorified Scrabble set—though at least that has the virtue of requiring some mind-exercise). For a couple months this summer, I was obsessively working on the first 59,000 words of my nascent novel—which has since been sitting virtually untouched while my mind has skittered across other serial obsessions in the intervening months.

writer's blockThis morning my husband challenged me to find a way to get my mind back to the book—“or even a blog-post”—during this rare day-off-both-jobs. So I’m here with laptop open and coffee-cup to hand, with a DVD playing of the “writers’ commentary” on one of the Hobbit movies (I think I’ve mentioned that writer/director Peter Jackson is one of my story-telling heroes—I always feel inspired by the “how-it’s-made” extras on these movies). I Am Writing.

My phone with its insidious Sims-game is out of reach on the charger, and I am determinedly wielding my Free Will against its compulsive draw. (Let’s be honest–the reason it’s on the charger is because I was glued to it all morning.) I Am Writing.

And I’ve just opened up my computer file of “Whaler’s Wife” (working title) to see what I can make happen.

I can be stronger than my addictions (even the silly ones). I Am Writing.

Posted in Lists

Drawing up a gratitude list 

November is a popular month for gratitude, given the holiday that’s named for the emotion, but my motivation this year is a little different. I’m grateful that October is over! “Isn’t that the same thing as being-in-November?” you ask reasonably. Well, not precisely. 

The thing is, almost every major Drama, Trauma, and Tragedy in my life has happened in an October–leaving me with a superstitious fear of a “cursed” month. Add in the fact that those events (ranging from loss of a job to loss of a spouse, from severe complications of childbirth to last year’s vacation in a psych ward) have left me with a lot of unpleasant “anniversaries” in October–and it’s just a rough month. 

I literally spent the month praying that I could get to November 1 without anything awful happening–aware that if I did, it would be the first time in about a decade.

It happened! I broke the streak and got all the way through October without an Awful Event of any kind. I’m very nearly giddy over it. And helping with that reaction is the fact that I got my mental-health meds adjusted a couple weeks ago, after realizing I was on a downward slide toward Depression. I’m emerging from the haze of lethargy and indifference and feeling increasingly like ME again. (Witness the fact that I’m back here writing again–a silent blog is a danger sign with me.)

All that said… I’ve been on a sketching-kick, specifically a gratitude list. So although I’m usually one to express myself with words, today I’m offering my “gratitude album.”


I’m grateful for the man who married me. His voice puts a smile on my face, and his laugh lights my world. He has loved me (and prayed me) through some of my worst. It’s a joy and an honor to be “Mrs. Smith.”


I’m grateful for a job that keeps me challenged and interested, and where there’s room for growth.


I love RV-living, and our cozy little home. I’m grateful to live so comfortably!


I’m grateful for Vertical Church, and my church-family.


I’m grateful that I grew a pair of bright, vibrant, good-hearted people. (Readers, too.)


I’m grateful for modern medicine, and my mental-health meds!


I’m grateful for COFFEE!


I’m grateful to live in Idaho.


I’m grateful for my Ma, who has continued to love me no matter what.


I’m grateful for my teddy bear, Toots, who has been a comfort for more than four decades. (Here with Jon, who sewed Toots an Army outfit.)


I’m grateful for Open Adoption, and that the boy-I-grew has such a fabulous family.


I’m grateful for BOOKS!


I’m grateful to have my driver’s license back, and for the car Jon bought me when I got it back. I so appreciate being able to drive myself to appointments and work rather than hiking everywhere.


I’m grateful for open roads and motorcycles.


I’m grateful to be Sober! This is my owl-sticky-note marking my favorite page of the Big Book. “If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through.”


I’m grateful for my health. Crohn’s Disease has been in remission for 16 years, and I’m healthier than I deserve to be, given my alcoholism. God is good.


I’m grateful for my great Sis, who shares many of my memories (and quite a few of my quirks). And a grand welcome this week to her new daughter!


I admit it–I’m grateful for my iPhone. 


I’m grateful for challenges–like learning to ride.


I’m grateful for seaside vacations!


I’m grateful for a guy who fixes things… and builds things, and COOKS things!


I’m grateful for FUN!


The back of Jon’s helmet is a reminder for the road-of-life… I’m grateful that God has ALWAYS had my back.