Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Floating, and Breathing, and Standing

Last week, my in-laws took care of our kids for three days & nights so Greg and I could attend our denomination's national gathering, and it was fantastic to take part in the larger American Baptist family life.  Hopefully I can get some of my thoughts about that to congeal, but that'll be another post.  This post is about swimming.

On Friday afternoon, while Greg was busy in meetings, I went to the pool.  I was excited about swimming alone, because since I became a mom, trips to the pool are pretty much just jet-fueled freak-outs about my babies drowning mixed with swimsuit chafing and pool hair.  Not great.  I've never been much of an athlete, so serious and strenuous swimming isn't really my thing, but I do love the water, and I really, really love the sensation of floating.  It's so quiet, so peaceful to drift along in the water, the noise around me drowned out by the water, muscles relaxed, nothing but my breath holding me up.

On Thursday morning, we had taken a little road trip to see one of my childhood homes, about an hour east of Kansas City.  It was really cool to see a couple of houses where I used to live and my first two elementary schools.  Higginsville is, to me, the quintessential Midwestern small town: surrounded by farmland, shabby little main street, railroad tracks, and mismatched houses making up quaint little neighborhoods.  It's the town I picture when John Mellencamp sings "I was born in a small town...".

The first place we visited was a little house my mom and I rented when I was in first and second grade.  Greg, knowing my background, asked if this was a happy place or a bad place.  I told him it was both; like so many things in life, the good and the bad are all mashed up together, impossible to separate from one another.  Bad things happened here, but good things, too, and the visit was not uncomfortable in any way.  It was fun to see my old home, abandoned though it has been.

The house was divided; we lived downstairs on the left. 
 It was also fun to visit my old school, too, even though when I was a student here, I was terrified of the secretary because of her crazy, pencilled-in eyebrows.

I remember walking down that brick street in front of the school with my second grade class, on a field trip to the town theater to watch Lady & the Tramp.  Good times.
In fact, the morning was terrifically easy, all remembered streets and intersections, silly stories of grade school antics, and sunshine lighting the big, blue Missouri sky above us.

And then we got here.

"I could be wrong, but I think this highway turns, and a dirt road continues on straight, and the house was just there, at that junction," I said as we drove down the narrow, two-lane highway toward another former home.  And indeed, the highway turned, a dirt road continued on straight ahead, and there it was.  Or wasn't, rather, because the house I'd lived in burned down in 1987.  But I recognized the little plot of land, and I pulled in the drive, knuckles white on the steering wheel, hair standing on end in sudden apprehension, remembering.

Before the fire, a two-story farmhouse stood here.  My mom and I lived there for a year, maybe a little more, with my step-father.  He was horrible, and he did unspeakable things to my mother, my baby brother, and to me, right here, right on this spot where nothing now stands but tall grass blown by the wind. Greg stood, his arm around me, and we stood together, watching the breeze ruffle the grass, the butterflies flitting from one wildflower to the next.

And we stood before the trees that line the remains of the driveway, and I recalled
the day, when I was five years old, that my biological father showed up and, gun in hand, tried to take me away from my mother.  I sat in his car in that driveway, between those very trees, terrified for her life (not for the first time, or the last).

After the initial fight-or-flight response faded, we just stood there, looking around at the lot.  I explained some of the things that had happened here, stories Greg had heard but were now real in a new way.  We stood together, trying to discern where the foundation had been, remarking on how peaceful and beautiful a place it is.  And I felt crazy, because I both witnessed and experienced horrific physical abuse in the house that once stood here, but all I could think was that I wish I had the money to buy this little plot of land.  I'd build a house on it, maybe a halfway house, or a safe house for abuse victims, or a home for runaways.  Maybe I'd live here sometimes, come and spend time in the Missouri sunshine, plant a big garden on the south side, grow flowers and make this place beautiful again.

As we drove away, Greg voiced almost identical thoughts, furthering my theory that we do, indeed, belong together.

And the day showed us other former homes and schools, uncovered other memories both good and bad, and it felt profound and joyful and powerful and I wanted to write about it, and I couldn't.  I had nothing of substance to say, no coalescing thought about the experience, until I found myself floating in that pool the next afternoon.

In the biblical languages, the word for breath (pneuma in Greek and ruach in Hebrew) is also the word translated "spirit" and "wind."  So when I was on my back in the water, only breath/wind/spirit was holding me up.  And as I floated there, buoyed by the air in my lungs, I realized that it isn't just what happens in the water.  Breath, and wind, and spirit -- they are a gift from God, and that holy Breath is what made me able to stand there, staring my past in the face.  Thanks be to God.

Is there someplace you need to stand and breathe?


  1. Thanks be to God. Yes. And the word I need to type in to prove I'm not a robot? Consumed.

    Because of the Lord's great love, we. are. not. consumed.

  2. You are amazing, Christ in you is amazing. Greater is He that was and is and forever will be, in you, than he that is in this world.

  3. "And He will restore what the moth has eaten..." What a testimony to God's sustaining power and redeeming love that you have not only survived such horrific abuses, but also see the possibilities of beauty from ashes. God bless you Lisa.

  4. Tears. This is beautiful. I love how your husband had the same thoughts. Only God.