Everything… and Nothing At All

A handful of felty-gray days pressed and pulled at the fringes of my heart giving off the sense that something was wrong. I couldn’t put my finger on it. Not exactly. You know that feeling: the low hum of a yet, undefined anxiousness blending with a slightly ominous overtone that starts to mute the true sounds of life.

When the message came delivering that bittersweet news, those fuzzy fragments came together giving final form to the feeling.  Strangely, I was relieved because now there was a place to put it all….a place to go and sort from. It was news that explained everything and at the same time…  nothing at all.

Everything and Nothing at All

There is an appropriate response for situations like this which is somehow altogether inappropriate now. I know what I should feel except… I don’t.  Instead, instinct cautions me to stand back, detached and observant as it all plays out many miles away in Louisiana. It’s not really my place to do more than this: acknowledge the life of the man who, at least biologically, was my father.

For whatever Ransol James Hebert could have been to me in the span of his 77 years, the fact remains— he largely was not.  Reading back over that last sentence, I realize it sounds a little bitter but no…it’s just a fact and one I happen to have in common with three other souls here on earth. It seems strange to share nothing but a bit of DNA and hazy memories with 3 complete strangers but this is our truth: our common thread was a man who was able to become the father of each of us while remaining a daddy to none. We are simply the “milestones” or deposits  left over the course of his tumultuous lifetime and one by one, we’ve come to realize— that’s OK.

It’s difficult to say when, but at some point, I stopped needing answers.  Ransol James Hebert was simply one half of an equation that never really balanced out as long as I was the one trying to do the figuring. The death of my mother 13 years ago assured that I was going to have to live with the remaining mysteries.  So I have.

I had no idea he existed until I was a 10-year-old trapped in the midst of a bitter divorce and custody battle between my mother and (then assumed) father. The news broke over me and lay crumpled at my feet along with many other shattered expectations. It may sound melodramatic but I was the only kid I knew at the time with divorced parents and then to suddenly find out that one of them wasn’t even real…well, it was a bomb.  That was almost 38 years ago and l today I gladly testify that God heals the broken hearts of 10-year-olds needing a Daddy.

Navy Ransol 1956

They met in Florida. He was a Navy man and she was running from her Indiana past and trying to make a life as far different from the one she’d known as possible. This crazy cajun from “down da bayou” was absolutely different.  “Charisma” was the word to describe him— you couldn’t help but like Ransol. His presence filled the room in a bigger-than-life fashion compounded by the fact that he was always bigger in his own mind. Harmless really— Ransol was a booming bear of a man with a heart fully gilded in 14-karat fools gold.

Baby Lorrie

I entered the picture in 1968.  With a wife and two children back home, let’s just agree– things were  complicated. That never changed . I think he met me a month or two after I was born. I have this picture and her story of how he snatched me from her arms and marched me up and down the deck showing me off to everyone he knew.

After that the story gets hole-pocked and hollow.
Mental illness?
A  changed man.
A “jumped ship” in a North Korean bay.
A.W.O.L and a discharge?

Any more…for certain…. I do not know. My mother would never tell me more.

Me and Ransol

I spent a brief 6 or so months with him during the summer of my 14th year. Quite possibly, I lived more life in those few months than in all the years before.

I met “my people”.
I got on a boat for the first time and trawled for shrimp and crab.
I tasted crawfish, gumbo and jambalaya.
I learned to make a roux.

But by that time I’d already developed a few problems of my own and had my hand on the brush, ready to color the world with a few shades of my own rebellion. All I can say is that God’s hand was bigger than mine and He pushed it away.   I’m so thankful.

That’s mostly all the history there is between me and Ransol James Hebert, aged 77, who departed this earth on May 10, 2016.  As I’ve had the chance to talk to family before and since, there’s this sense of resolution being passed around like a common cup. It is what it is… honestly what it always was no matter which scenario we’re talking about. He was consistent.

Sadly, there’s only a mild, dull ache for this loss here and now simply because it’s an ache  each of us spent a lifetime knowing. We made our peace with it— some of us, at the foot of the cross. In testimony to the healing and resurrection power of God and in spite of the brokenness out of which we were born, grace has allowed us to chose the path of healing and wholeness.   We are OK.

Surely, there is grief.

For my part I suppose I grieve the loss of so much potential. I can’t grieve a father but I can grieve the void between us that was never overcome and the resulting distance that was necessary. Although, for every moment of grief there is an equal and overflowing amount of grace. Four complete strangers have now stepped into the circle of family.

Let go and Forgive

For whatever Ransol James Hebert was not able to be for each of us over the course of his 77-year life, we can now choose to be for one another in the ways God allows.  That’s grace. Grace enough to keep walking forward in spite of our own fears and failings and now…grace enough to drape loosely over the tragically misspent life of Ransol James Hebert.  Rest in peace.

Able to dance,Lorretta signature

 

The Fading Signs of Motherhood

Oh these times… they are a’changin.  The signs are everywhere….

Fading Signs

Not long ago, while cleaning an overgrown area in the yard, I spotted them: two pool noodle and pvc-pipe “swords”. Each was wrapped soundly in what had to be an entire roll of duct tape and lay hidden beneath a few seasons of vines and leaves— likely captured in the midst of a neighborhood skirmish or dropped in place at the sound of the dinner bell. Four years? Five? Surely, they had no idea it was their last battle.

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Later, while prepping the bathroom for a long overdue paint job, I was forced to remove this little sign from the shower wall. No longer important but once upon a very real time, it was all a mother could do in this house to ensure she had at least one washcloth with which to wash her face. One that hadn’t been used to wipe mud from a shoe— or worse!

Mom's face cloth

Then… there’s this charming memento of a former time when this gesture only made me feel a little bit better about the situation since it was largely ignored and at least once a week I’d find myself nearly “bottomed out and shrieking” in the wee hours of the dimly lit night.   #word

Toilet Seat

There are no more army men in the refrigerator.
I haven’t stepped on a Lego in ages.
The potted plants haven’t seen a Matchbox car or dinosaur in quite a while.
AirSoft BB’s still haunt the corners only  because I kicked the box  while cleaning the closet.

The  bunker-style holes in the back yard have been filled in and the old tires used for camouflage have recently been stacked and turned into a bird bath. The honeybees like it too.

The American Girl doll is wrapped and safely tucked away along with many dog-eared and well-loved lap books waiting on the next generation of readers to come along. Pointe shoes hang here and there testifying to the countless lessons and lost bobby pins of a chiffon-and-lace girl — now happily married and continuing the legacy many hours of driving away.

A page is turned.
These are the fading signs of Motherhood.

Home schooling only factored in more gravity to the massive responsibility I’ve felt attempting to mother these past 24 years. Twenty-four. Whew. Depending on where you find yourself in the equation, 24 years may or may not seem like a long time. If you’re currently up to your elbows and eyeballs in chaos and bodily fluids, well then it seems near-about eternal!  

However, if you’re like me— who just this very moment heard “number last” call “I love you” while driving off (in YOUR car) to get a haircut he’ll pay for with his own money, well. There is hardly a way to define that tender mix of pleasure and pain — both necessary ingredients in this beautiful recipe of life.

“This is good.” I tell myself.
This is how it’s supposed to be.

With equal amounts of fear and trembling, joy and imagination…you raise them up and hold them close with the goal of somedayletting them go.

I blinked and BAM! My “baby” son is now a senior in high school. In all fairness, it wasn’t really a blink but I’ll straight up tell you:  it’s a bit stunning to think about it now that it’s here. Sometimes sadness, or at the very least melancholy threatens to creep up around the edges of my heart. It’s the feeling that something is flat over and done and I’ll never have it again. With a strange longing, I look back at these memories sweetly colored and draped with nostalgia and it almost overwhelms me.

Until I stop.
Because I must.

Because nostalgia can be a slow, killing disease. Nostalgia can rob you blind of the wonderful here and now and well, let’s be honest— those days were good, but they were equally hard and now this— even the hard stuff– really good too. I’d be a fool to insult the truth by attempting to paint a picture of perfection that really doesn’t exist in any situation. FACT: none of us has it all together. Although together, it’s nice that we try.

It’s one of the first things I noticed when I first started writing: how much support the common Mommy can find out here. Honestly, it floored me. I was drowning in personal crisis back then so it also grieved my heart terribly to find so much affirmation and advice, camaraderie and consolation given and shared so freely.   I didn’t have that.   My heart ached at first because OH!! I wished I could turn back the hands of time and live my Mommy years again in the company of others who might understand that I was an ignorant pioneer in this experience.    I needed mothering myself.

I didn’t stay there long.
Sure, I have my regrets.
There are things I’d do more better.
There are some things I’d do less…..  or not at all.

I’m not going to preach or pronounce over which is which because there are some things we each must learn in order to fully rely on and freely fall into the arms of Jesus. In this way, we are forever children too.  Besides, how can I regret anything that keeps me on my knees before him?

Letting Go

It was the words of a friend that comforted me most reminding me that God is sovereign especially in this regard: He knows. I was born for such a time as this, no mistake. 

It’s all grace.  Abundantly received and now more to be given beyond those years.

To my today Self.
To you.
To my adult children and future grandchildren .
To my neighbor with a herd of young’uns running around the yard.
To the unwed mother down the street.

Grace:    It’s the most necessary ingredient of motherhood.

Like a well-loved lap book in the hands of God, grace has rubbed smooth most of the sharp edges of my life. He knows my heart so time and again when I stood perched on the edges of making a huge mess of it all and about to topple over into some Mom-crazy abyss, God bridged the gap with Himself and somehow allowed us all to cross safely over, through and beyond to today.   How kind.

How kind that He has given me today. I can almost laugh at my former ignorances because I have the gift and the memories today:

We lived and loved together under this roof out loud.
Clenched fists, hot tears, slammed doors and angry voices.
Many, many precious “I’m-sorry-I-love-you” moments on both sides of the equation.
Kitchen dancing and hide-n-seek.
Night terrors, bad dreams, potty training and puke buckets.
The ebb and flow of motherhood balanced out with forehead kisses of God’s grace.

What a precious, precious gift.   It’s been good.

Dancing into the next season,Lorretta signature

 

Jesus Slept

Scattered, covered and nearly smothered.

Today is the first day most of the pieces of me are in the same place in awhile– have you ever felt that way?     Paper thin and bone tired.     Yeah.

God’s been working on me. Again.  Together  we’ve been wandering on the fringes of the wilderness. As I told my dear, sweet Ms. Jane the other day, I’m at that “Experiencing God” place: “The Crisis of Belief”.   She said, “ah yes… chapter 6!”   Love that crazy woman.

My youngest son and I had this conversation the other night— how in the wrestlings with God or various temptations, it’s important not to give in to the struggle but to call it by it’s rightful name: sin, pride, lack of faith or belief—whatever— and to thank God for the struggle that keeps us holding on to Him– to be thankful that He’s got his strong hands on us.                 Enemy = Defeated

That night, we talked about a lot of things.
You see, my big, soft-hearted teenager was sobbing.

Jesus Slept

Hard news shocked our community as we learned that a childhood friend was dead.  This was hard enough but seeing a family member’s  Facebook post: “I’ll love you forever. I’ll like you for always. As long as I’m living, my brother you’ll be.”—  put my boy over the edge. Suddenly he was overwhelmed by the instant evaporation of this young life and the unimaginable consequences of the void left behind.

Finding me on the sofa, he crumpled into a heap, spilling his tears and heart into my lap.

For his own brother.
For his two closest friends.
How devastating it would be for us if it was ever him.
For wanting to be closer to his own brother and sister.
Over life’s storms and how hard it is hold on and keep your head high and faith strong.

He was struggling. 
My son was in pain.

Cozy Christian cliches weren’t going to cut it for either of us. Good theology was necessary but what he needed in this moment was to understand how it applied to what he was feeling now.

What does it look like?
How is it lived for REAL?

When he mentioned the storms,  I remembered a story about another storm found in the book of Mark chapter 4

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 Mark records that it had been a long day of teaching and beach ministry. The massive crowds were pressing in on all sides so Jesus took a seat in a boat on the water and taught the crowds from there.

He had spent the whole day breaking down  vast kingdom principles into digestible bite-sized bits. Most didn’t understand–even those closest to him.   Now He was exhausted.

At dusk Jesus says, “”Let’s go across to the other side.”  Leaving the crowd,”  (I love this) “they took Him with them in the boat  just as He was.*”   

Then Jesus slept.

The story immediately jumps to the storm, but with a pinch of holy imagination, I can almost picture moments before.  I can imagine Jesus asleep on His cushion and the disciples  discussing the days events—the crowds, the highlights, His words. Wondering aloud what this or that meant…but not for long.  Because soon that storm was all up in there. Waves were breaking over top of them and filling the boat with water….    and Jesus kept on sleeping.

Bailing, trying to keep their little boat afloat, the disciples are frantic with fear. Incredulous, they wake Jesus and cry: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

Because…..  that’s only why He came.
Because…… that’s only what He’d been teaching about   all.  day.   long.

In the midst of the crisis they forget everything else they know and cry out for Jesus.
He has spent all day teaching about faith and now He shows them application.  Waking, Jesus hushes the wind, calms the sea and in the eerie silence that follows asks them, “Why are you so afraid? Don’t you have any faith?”   

Then maybe, He goes back to His cushion. I don’t know. Stunned…they’re left  asking one another…  “Who is this….?”    Good question.

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Who is this?
Is He in THIS?
NOW?
Doesn’t He care that we are perishing?

These were the unspoken questions buried within my son’s pain-riddled conversation.  In his head, he knows the “right” answers while he wrestles to summon up the necessary faith to reconcile them within his heart and soul. It’s no different for any of us reading this today trying to navigate our own public and private storms.  It’s the leap we must make from espousing “good theology” to courageously applying it when it matters most.

What my son needed was to feel the hush in his soul that Jesus was offering in this storm. I needed to feel it too.   We talked about what we can know and trust to be true no matter how obvious:

  • Jesus was in that boat with them.
  • Jesus was in that storm.
  • And just maybe, Jesus was the storm, sent by God for this moment.God is Good!

There are also some not so obvious things here I believe the Holy Spirit invites us to ponder:

  1. I’m 99.9% certain that when the disciples got ready to launch out to the other side, they were confident in their strength and knowledge of sailing and navigation. Why didn’t they notice the storm? I don’t think it was there. It came up “suddenly” catching them way off guard….without warning.

What if  God is trying to show us that we might actually be the ones asleep…complacent, perhaps secure in what we know and what we do, and needing to be awakened? Reminding us how sometimes it takes a sudden storm to shake us from what we think we’re so secure about causing us to run and “wake the Teacher” — crying out for the help we need and the faith to cling hard and fast. 

My son and I recognized that God wants us to fight to stay alert and strong in and through Him— especially now because these days are certainly getting more evil.

          2.  I am 99.9% positive that Jesus rebuked the storm— but not His disciples. I don’t
               sense  He was upset with them for crying out in the midst of the storm. They
               needed to see their need. They needed to see Jesus and figure out where their
               faith was anchored.

    • Was it in what they knew?
    • Was it in their strength and ability?
    • Was it in the appearance of things?

They needed to answer these questions …not only for this moment and this storm…but for the storms to come. So do we …and people are watching how we answer them too.

They also needed to answer their own question: “Who is this…?” later asked by Jesus himself: “Who do you say that I am?” Likewise, in every situation we face, that’s the question we are ALWAYS answering. That’s the moment we are living our “good theology applied” to a watching world in need. Sometimes it’s hard to keep this answer straight. Sometimes we say that Jesus is our answer but we don’t live or love like it.

There’s no time for that.

This world is in crisis. The storm clouds are gathering. There is a generation —or two— crying out for answers they can SEE and FEEL being applied to all of life  by those of us who say we know Jesus. They’re asking:

  • What do we mean by love, unity, eternity?
  • What does that look like applied practically to every situation?
  • What does biblical marriage look like?
  • How can I push back the darkness and fight the urge to retreat into numbness too?Sail boats

I heard it in the voice of my crying teenager and a quieter conversation I had later with my other son. I heard it back in March as young women testified of the dark struggles in their lives wrestling with attempted suicide, bullying, self-mutilation, eating disorders and molestation. I heard it in a neighbor’s voice yesterday— lost and trying to find a solution she’s not yet ready to receive….

Oh “Teacher… do you not care that we are perishing?”

As the Church we find ourselves in the midst of our own crisis trying to figure out how to truly minister in the name of Christ in all of these places.  Part of my personal struggle is sorting out how to do as much as I can before it’s too late. There are days I feel like a muddle-headed, panic-stricken disciple bailing water from a sinking ship: helpless and inadequate for the task. Because alone… I am.  Then I remember… as I reminded my son… of one more thing:

It’s the simple understanding of something that is NOT recorded in scripture but we can bank on it:  the disciples made it safely to the other side that night.  They made it all the way…together, with Jesus “in the boat” with them… “just as He was”.   We’re gonna make it too.

Somehow, that’s helpful to me.
Standing and wiping his face, I could tell it was helpful to my son as well.
Then together, in THAT faith…we made it to the other side….one more time.

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