Sunday, June 25, 2017

prescribed burn

It was a couple months ago, I guess.  Judah wasn't feeling good and so I took him out to the arboretum to get some sunshine and fresh air.  We pulled in and there was a large sign warning about a prescribed burn.  Don't call the fire department, the sign warned, this is a controlled fire.  

As Judah and I walked around the park, a memory flickered to the forefront.  Ethiopia, seven years ago.

We were down country.  In a part of the world where there were no city lights to block out the stars.  Sitting outside, listening to drums and hyenas.  I remember looking up at the mountains and noticing they were on fire.  Don't worry, Jake had said.  It's a controlled burn.  They set the mountain on fire on purpose to clear all the dead brush and leaves so that in the dry season there's less danger of a natural fire causing damage.  It's preventative.  It's on purpose.   

If you were to research prescribed burns, you'd learn that after a fire the soil is richer than it was before.  You'd learn it yields greater crops the next time a field is planted there.  You'd learn fires are prescribed as a way to prevent greater destruction.  To heal, to increase vitality.

Our seasons need a name.  Our experiences need a name.  Often I seek metaphors to as a way of coping.  This is my way of identifying a struggle in order to move beyond it, to rise above it.  I've often compared the seasons of my adulthood to the seasons of a garden.  Often woefully complaining about the tilling season or the fallow season.  I latched on to this particular metaphor, probably because at the end of it is a harvest season.  At the end of the cycle is a season of abundance.  So if I'm enduring the weeding and the hoeing and the dormant years, a harvest is coming.  I believe in cycles.  Avidly.  

But I always have felt like my cycle got reset prematurely.  Maybe I had a harvest season or two, but they were short lived.  And there I'd be, right back digging up roots and rocks.  

Last year my sister's neighbor's house burned down.

For months and months this shell of a house sat charred and ghostly on their block.  Catching mine and Judah's eye every time we went to visit.  

Until one day we came and it was gone.

Torn down, there was a hollow space on the block now.  Like a missing tooth.  Foundation dug up.  Dirt turned over.  Debris removed.  Ready to be rebuilt.  

It stopped me dead in my tracks that day.  

I am sitting in our room in the back of the Long Avenue house.  This room hasn't been a bedroom in ten years this month.  Now, what little I have left to my name is stacked on the shelves.  Judah's laying beside me asleep right now, as the window AC unit kicks  on and off.  I think it's sunny outside, but it's dark back here.  And I am just sitting.

For the first time in weeks.  I let myself sit still.  So it all caught up.

Rapidly, engulfing.  I slowed down and the wave crashed down.

I rented out my house this week.  Our first home.  The place we've laid our heads for the last four years.  The safe space I built for us.  I handed the keys to someone else on Friday night.

Friday night, when the skies opened up and the torrential rain poured.

Poetically inconvenient, Larry said, that it would pour the rain again.  It did this when I left the hospital last year, when I left Lighthouse, when I left east end.  Rain came, to wash everything clean.

Before leaving, I sat on the floor of the little townhouse and I thought about praying.  I tried not to cry.  I tried not to imagine other people's belongings filling our old space.  And so I just sat, for less time than I thought I would take, and soaked it all in.

I willed every heartbreak to stay put.  Every tear shed.  Every moment of fear, every moment of lack, every moment of uncertainty, every moment of abandonment, every moment of and rejection. Stay there.  Stay where I leave you, I pleaded.  All the loss, buried there.

I prayed it would remain.

We walked out and locked the door behind us and ran into the rain.  I told the new tenants about the light switch that controls the outlets and the way the back door sticks in the summer time and about the kids in the neighborhood who don't watch for cars.  And we left.

That's the thing about prescribed burns.  In the words of my professor, sometimes we have to experience a measure of pain to preserve our function.  Theoretically as people we live in the tension between enhancement and preservation, and the tension can be painful.  The tension smolders as the flames lick up all the debris left behind by the ones who could not stay, by the fears that bog down our feet, by the dreams fallen heavy from our shoulders.  

It was time to start over.

The intentional deconstruction of our life has depleted me the last few months.  To look at what you've built, and to say definitively it is no longer enough, it no longer serves its purpose, and begin to un-build takes a strength I am still not sure I have.

A methodical deconstruction of every measure of stability and every construct of security I had worked so hard for over the last five years.

But we had to.

What we had built was not big enough for the life God wants for us.  What I had built was not bad.  It was not insufficient.  But it had carried us as far as it could.

So after months of being picked apart by a professional community who did not value me, I took a risk.  I asked to be seen.  I asked for an opportunity.  I asked for the privilege to learn again.

And it was granted.

I was seen.  And heard.  And valued.  And accepted into graduate school.

A one year full time program.

Then I asked for another opportunity.  I stepped up to the plate and advocated for my family and handed over the tools I had obtained over the years, asking quite cautiously if they could be of any use here?

And the door was thrown wide open for me.

Come, they said.  We could use you.

A one year full time program with the College of Social Work at UK.  Accepted into a competitive program for Integrated Behavioral Health and placed at a local pediatricians clinic system to help provide mental health services to young children.

Classes started at the beginning of June.

So I quit my job.  I resigned from the professional community, which had left me worse for wear after  seven or eight short months.  My last day is this Thursday.

I do not have another full time job lined up.

I do not have another part time job lined up.

I sold almost everything we own, except what can fit in a 5x10 storage shed.

I rented out our house to a young married couple.

And Judah and I moved back to Long Avenue Tuesday night.

For one year.

For one year we are going to live as simply as possible and I am going to work as hard as possible.

Because the fire came.

It came and it has been burning everything since.  Smoldering and licking through the forest floor, destroying whatever was of no use.  Whatever served no purpose.  Taking it all, with very little mercy.

To make us safer.  To make us stronger.  To make us more alive.

everything is still hot to the touch.  tendrils of smoke are still rising and the air is heavy with the smoke.  

And then the rain came too.

Friday, June 23, 2017



And here we are.

I didn't think we'd get this far, and there's a small part of my doubting heart that wonders if Thursday will ever come.  But it's Tuesday.  It'll get here.

Our apartment is starting to get boxed up and I'm remembering back to the last time I boxed everything up.  When I was pregnant with Judah.  And all I had was a bed.  And moving to a small apartment with more than one room was an improvement.  The hard, big decisions I had to make to provide for Judah. 

Despite how heavy, chaotic, stressful it all feels, I look at my life and realize we have not regressed.  I say this with trepidation since I don't want to eat my words.  But I think it is ok, from time to time, to be wildly proud of yourself.  To look and see that we have kept moving forward, despite all the harrowing attempts to keep us still.  To pull us down. 

And so last year was a move from a one bedroom studio to an apartment without a washer and dryer.  I will be sad to leave this place, knowing this was Judah's first home.  Fourteen months we lived here, and he won't ever remember it.  Much like I don't remember living on Redding Rd with Larry and Tamera over twenty years ago.  But we were there.  And we are here, for just a few more days. 

Until we go to this new place.  The first place we might stay indefinitely. 

Deep breath, sigh. 

I don't know what comes next.  As do all things in our lives, it teeters precariously and I know one strong wind in the wrong direction and it all comes tumbling down.  But I do know I drove past yesterday, the empty place that waits for us.  And my soul stirred a little.  Maybe I imagined it.  Maybe I made it all up.  But I heard the good things are coming. 

This is entirely counterintuitive for me, because this entire time I have struggled with the idea of making such a huge decision and cementing Judah and myself in our current situation.  We are now immobile.

And there is little to no room for his baby clothes. 


I started writing this a few weeks ago and stopped... ran clean out of words.  We are moved in now, to the new place.  Most of the boxes are unpacked and sit empty by the kitchen door, and it warms my heart a little to know I have a house with a kitchen door.  But I can't quite get rid of the boxes yet because I don't know that we've really accepted this new home.  We're not going anywhere. 

Deep breath, sigh.

Life has hit us hard, fast.  It has been unkind the last few weeks and we have had to fight, scrappy.  If ever I wondered if my character was to have gumption, it has now been tested.  Can my lungs hold that much air, that much survival, can my shoulders bear this much weight?  It has all been tested. 

And here we are, so there's something to be said for that.

It feels a little like pouring brownie batter.  A little like the shaking it takes to even out the chocolate and meet the edges of the pan.  Just a little like that.  Spread thin, all shaken up. 

Or a little like living in someone else's house, in a hotel room.  Except I have to make the beds. 

It doesn't smell like us yet.  And I haven't figured out how to sleep through the night yet, even though Judah has.