I allow gravity to pull my car down the newly refurbished blacktop, following the curvature of the road, until I reach the bottom of the sizeable hill. I park in the small lot next to the bridge which spans the lake at its narrowest point. I exit my car, reaching back to collect my water bottle and fanny pack.
I enjoy the work of hiking around the picturesque lake, welcoming the challenge provided by the moderately difficult trail. If I’m fortunate, I fail to come across anyone else, so, for a time, it’s easy to imagine I’m the only person alive. I soak up the solitude, and the electrifying feeling it brings, relishing the invigorating breeze as it winds its way through the leaves on the trees.
If I walk at a two-mph pace, it takes thirty minutes to navigate the twisty inclines while dodging odd rocks, and various sized tree roots erupting through the soil. Someone in better shape could make better time, or maybe, someone with longer legs, but thirty minutes gives me a worthwhile workout without any concern for the health of my heart.
Despite my visor, I find it occasionally necessary to avert my eyes from a blinding glare as the lake water catches the morning sunlight. Intermittently, I come across a random squirrel or resting bird which I startle into flight. A time or two, I’ve come upon a woodland frog whose species I didn’t know. More than once, I’ve sent deer fleeing for their lives as my path-oriented steps intersected their peaceful grazing. Their brilliant white tails flag and bob in response to the motion caused by their surprisingly strong, spindly legs.
My favorite spot of the entire lake trail is at the apex of a little arched bridge. It spans a small tributary which runs from the top of the hill and empties into the lake. Right here, with the breeze blowing wisps of hair around my face, and the dappled sunlight giving off a fairy tale vibe, I see before me the most peaceful place in this world. It’s a singular spot where happiness manifests in trees, bushy undergrowth and the occasional talkative goose seeking to land on the small lake. I could happily live here the rest of my life. Time spent at the park is born of serenity, filled with the beauty of nature and the peace which comes from time spent with God. It’s an incredible chance to step outside the pressures of everyday life and simply enjoy the gift of being present.
I began availing myself of the park several years ago. Enjoying its benefits doesn’t mean I’m naïve about the dangers it presents. The solitude I enjoy could certainly be used against me by some nefarious infrequent passerby. The park has no cell service, so it’s impossible to call for help should I fall or otherwise need it. For these reasons I carry a handgun with me. It’s a snub-nose shotgun, and I keep it, and a box of ammo, tucked inside my fanny pack. If I come across someone who means me harm, I’m able and ready to defend myself. Should I become injured in a fall, I can fire my weapon into the ground around me and alert park officials of my need for assistance. Thankfully, I’ve never needed to use it my gun as I’ve never required assistance, and anyone I’ve ever met while hiking, got a cheerful “hello” from me. That being said, I’m a practical person who strives to be prepared.
There have only been a handful of times when I’ve hiked with someone else. Generally, when he can spare the time and energy, it’s my husband who hikes with me. On two or three occasions, it’s been my friend Loralei who’s made the trek with me.
Loralei and I go ‘way back.’ Three decades ago, each of us had twin babies. Hers were girls, mine were boys. One of her little girls died from cancer at the age of two. As one would expect, the lives of Loralei and her husband were shattered, but the lone little twin soon had other sisters to love and watch over. Both Loralei and I ended up with a total of three kids. Hers were all girls. Mine were all boys. Being in the same church and having twins connected us in a unique manner. As far as I know, our twins are the only sets to have been born into our congregation in the last seventy years. Also, we’ve both struggled with chronic health problems, so that commonality kept us in touch as well. We’d share news of a new supplement or a compassionate doctor we’d come across. We weren’t the kind of friends who did lunch and went shopping together. We were busy raising babies, working jobs, keeping house, caring for our husbands, and doing all sorts of service work in the church. All in all, I knew Loralei as a solid Christian, much like myself. We were everyday women, doing everyday things to the best of our abilities.
A couple of years back my husband got the urge to join a small study group from church. He’s a social guy, always has been. Me, not so much. I’m awkward in social settings, so I generally keep my distance from other people. I love the peace and quiet of home, but I knew this was important to him, so I agreed to try. Loralei and her husband hosted the nearest group, so it was a logical fit. Also, Loralei was already aware of my struggle to fit in with people, so she understood my difficulty in trusting others.
Hey, I admit I’ve got issues just like everyone else. I don’t run from them or hide them. They’re a part of me and what you see is what you get. Unknown to me, I was about to get a first-rate lesson in how my trust issues were probably well deserved.
Anyway, on the night of our first February attendance, the meeting opened with a pitch-in meal. Everyone sat and told stories from their childhoods or work experiences. I enjoyed listening to everyone else but didn’t say much myself. Most of the stories were funny and we laughed a good deal. After dinner, we convened in the living room to read and discuss the scripture lesson for that meeting.
I finally began to relax. The ‘social’ aspect of the evening was over and I’m always at ease when I talk about the Bible and the work God has done in my life. I was less anxious about this part of the evening because I knew I could contribute to the discussion. It was less stressful for me because its structure was not comprised of random social interaction. There was a subject in place and the comments would center around that. The evening closed with a short prayer, one during which we took our cares to God because He’s the One who can truly help.
The meeting ended, and everyone gathered their leftovers, coats, and Bibles. I was surprised to realize I’d enjoyed myself. It was a low-key event, and everyone else was pleasant and accepting of our presence within their group. I felt as if I’d accomplished something worthwhile. I’d contributed several comments without feeling uncomfortable. I knew my husband was pleased with my efforts to make him happy, but my nerves were stressed, and I was ready to call it an evening. We bid farewell to everyone and went downstairs to exit the house, through the basement, to the large drive where the cars were parked. As I entered the garage, stepping down onto my right foot, I felt something on the left side of my body push me sideways. The sideways influence made my right ankle turn outward, twisting it horribly. I dropped our Bibles and fell, my head landing against a barrel which stood just right of the door. The impact turned my head and sent my eyeglasses flying. Over and over, I cried out to God for help. I was in terrible pain, and I knew the twist in my ankle was epic. My husband came up behind me, followed by most everyone else. They’d heard my screams and were curious about what had happened.
Loralei ran to get an ice pack and her husband offered to carry me to the truck. For the life of me, I don’t know why, but I declined his offer. So, he asked if I could use some crutches. Surprised he had crutches to offer, I looked up at him and told him crutches would be great. He fetched them for me and helped me get on my feet. He asked if I needed help getting up into the truck. I told him I’d spent a lot of time on crutches and was completely comfortable maneuvering on them. He stood watch while I anchored myself on one crutch and launched myself into the passenger seat. My hubby did his best to collect all the stuff I’d dropped, joined me in the truck and drove us home.
I spent more than two months icing my foot and resting it. It was a serious sprain and it took time to heal. Loralei and her husband offered to make a claim against their home-owner’s insurance to pay for medical expenses. I declined. I’d been here before and I knew it wasn’t broken. I refused to involve a doctor and all the expenses which accompany them. I wasn’t going to make an unnecessary claim against their insurance. That’s not who I am.
As crazy as it sounds, I knew a sinister force was responsible for my fall because I’d been pushed. However, I wasn’t going to let the devil get the best of me, so injured or not, I was at Bible study every week, pot-luck contribution in hand. The very next week, I told everyone at group something had pushed me and caused me to twist my ankle. Before I could get the next word out of my mouth, Loralei interrupted me and made the comment that she was concerned that Satan might have been at work to discourage my attendance. I agreed with her, and, at the time, it occurred to me it was an odd thing for her to say. However, she was aware of my social anxiety, so it made sense that Satan wouldn’t want me present to encourage others or to find encouragement myself. I knew it wasn’t a matter of my own clumsiness because of the push I’d felt against my left arm. Besides, there was no other flesh and blood person present in the garage when I entered it. For these reasons, I had no doubt that something sinister was involved.
As the weeks progressed, Loralei and I began to fine-tune our friendship. She served as the director of a not-for-profit charity center and often discussed its needs with the group. They were bursting at the seams, so they needed a larger facility. They needed more volunteers for the same reason. They needed increased donations to fund their expansion. Like I said, the center, and Loralei, had many needs.
On a personal level, I listened to Loralei speak of how her father emotionally abused her mom. Interestingly, within the timespan of the same heartbeat, Loralei would assure me that her father was a ‘good man.’ I let her talk because she needed to vent. Of course, she knew, deep within herself that ‘good men’ don’t emotionally abuse their wives, but after decades of bearing witness to their dysfunction, she was still trying to reconcile her dad’s abusive behavior with her belief that he was a ‘good man.’ She was unwilling to admit her dad wasn’t such a good guy. This was the reason she felt compelled to talk about it. I simply listened to her talk because she needed a friend.
I didn’t offer advice for two reasons. First, nothing I could say would effect change in the marriage of people I didn’t even know. Second, it wasn’t my place to fuss at Loralei for believing what she wanted about her parents. I prayed for them several times because I know firsthand what is to be a child raised in the confines of an unhappy marriage.
The difference between Loralei and me was that I wasn’t delusional about my dad. He was petty and selfish on his good days. On the not so good days he’d throw mean into the mix. It was never anything physical, and don’t get me wrong, my mom gave as good as she got. They lived in co-dependent misery for decades. The one thing I learned from my parents’ marriage was that I wanted better for myself. With God’s guidance and blessing, I got it. God is simply able to do what we can’t.
Loralei would also gush about her new granddaughter. She was over the moon with joy and pride in the little one. I was happy for her and listened to her talk about the new bundle of joy, oohing and aahhing over the pictures she gleefully shared.
As time went on, I began to confide some of my burdens to Loralei. I shared with her about our three prodigal sons and the clinical depression which plagued me because of them. After they left for college, each of our boys thanked us repeatedly for the awesome childhoods they’d had. They told us that meeting kids from different walks of life had made them aware of how seriously we took the job of parenting and how they’d benefitted from our efforts. We’d been determined to give our kids the childhoods we wish we’d had, and, with God’s help, we’d succeeded.
Soon, though, that gratitude disappeared and was replaced by entitlement. Before they graduated from college, two of our boys turned their backs on the faith we’d taught them. The third, kept the faith, for which we were grateful, but moved to the city and married a girl he met there. In no time, he outgrew his country bumpkin parents and began edging us out of his life. We were puzzled and hurt and tried repeatedly to figure out what was wrong, what had happened, but our son would claim that he didn’t remember certain events which needed discussing. He refused to take responsibility for any of his behavior; failure to call or otherwise acknowledge us on our birthdays or Mother’s/Father’s Day, make promises regarding holiday get-togethers and then cancel or change them with little notice. He repeatedly accused us of disrespecting him and treating him like a child. We reminded him that we’d done nothing but support him in his new life as a husband, by giving him and his new wife time and privacy to get their feet up under themselves. In short, we’d done nothing but respect him and treat him as an adult. I pointed out that asking him to work with us toward a resolution was, in fact, treating him with respect, like an adult. Our words meant nothing. He had an excuse, a justification, a rationale for everything.
Gone was the wonderful young man we’d raised. It was like we were talking to a completely different person. Finally, after several failed attempts to work through the newly developed dysfunction of our relationship, we gave him the freedom he so obviously craved. A short time later, he and his wife had a little boy, whom we’ve never met and probably never will.
God honors the free will He places within people. He won’t make our sons show us kindness or respect. They’re free to live as they want and treating us well as their parents is either in them or it isn’t. That two of them choose not to is simply a heart-breaking fact of life. We are peripherally involved in our third son’s life. He is, for the most part, respectful and considerate, but refuses to live the life God calls him to, the life he pledged to Jesus of his own free will.
As parents, we follow the example of the father in the story of the prodigal son. That heartbroken father didn’t go chasing after his boy but allowed God to teach the lessons needed by his wayward son. The father simply went on with his life the best he could, and, eventually, having learned his lesson, his son returned home contrite and respectful. We pray for a similar resolution before we pass from this earth but have no assurance of it.
Another Biblical example is that of God Himself. God doesn’t force us to love Him. If we can’t see Him as worthy of our adoration, time and attention, while recognizing the sacrifice He made on our behalf, He sets us free to live as we want. We’ve always sought to follow God’s lead with regards to everything in our lives, why would our grown kids be an exception?
Loralei’s experience as a mom is that of raising three largely compliant daughters. Mine is that of raising three rebellious sons, two of which are ungrateful and disrespectful. I love my wonderful husband, I thank God for him every single day, but let’s be honest, nobody gets everything they want in life. For some reason, one unknown to us at this time, my husband and I are supposed to live without the presence of our children in our lives. This truth is painful and unfortunate, but to live as if we have control over the decisions of our grown children is to wallow in delusion and additional misery. You can either embrace reality and use it to make good decisions, or you can wallow in perception and languish endlessly. Like I said, I’m a practical person.
Along about the first of June, Loralei called and wanted to take me for a facial at the local beauty college where her daughter was a student. I was surprised, but pleased. I’d never had a facial and it occurred to me that it might boost my sagging spirit. I tried several times to pay for my own facial, but Loralei insisted that she pay. This trip to the salon is important because it’s another piece to a larger puzzle.
One day, on our walk around the lake, about the middle of June, Loralei and I were discussing some aspects of our lives. She failed to grasp the difference between compliant and uncompliant kids because she’s only experienced one type. She failed to grasp how blessed she is to have her girls, and grandchild, in her life because she hasn’t had to do without. She proceeded to tell me how she disagreed with my assessment of my situation without mentioning specifics. I let her talk because talking made her feel better.
Besides, those days, I struggled with finding the will to get out of bed. On top of problems with our kids, my favorite horse died. He’d been with me for 30 years, and his death was one more blow to my brokenness. Loralei was very aware of my depression and that every day was difficult. Some days were a huge burden, while others weren’t so severe, but none were easy. As she told me how she disagreed with the assessment I had of my own life, I had no reservoir of energy from which to draw and put up opposition. I didn’t really feel the need to defend myself. We were just talking, and, I suppose, as my friend, she was entitled to her opinion. I mean, I had my unvoiced opinion of her problems, so what did it matter? I was certainly emotionally mature enough to listen and process her thoughts without letting my world come apart. I simply disagreed with her and stated without hesitation that she failed to mention a single thing which hadn’t already occurred to me. We ended our hike that day and parted as friends.
A couple of days later, Loralei and her husband left on vacation and were gone for nearly two weeks. Upon returning, Loralei called and asked me to go hiking with her. She said she’d been studying the book of Job and wanted to discuss it. She told me we could go to the lake or I could come over to her house and we’d hike on the back side of their property. I agreed to go hiking and chose the lake because it’s one of my favorite places. I told her I’d done a thorough study on the book of Job myself and was up to a discussion. She picked me up and off we went.
As we descended the hill into the park, just short of pulling into the parking lot, Loralei brought up her study on the book of Job. I made one very brief comment, and Loralei changed the subject, stating the she’d forgotten what she was going to say. The entire ‘discussion’ of Job lasted just a few seconds. At the time it struck me as an awkward moment. Why the pretense about a discussion of Job if she didn’t want to discuss Job? Here again, I was completely unaware that the pieces of a puzzle were falling into place and the importance of this ‘discussion’ would soon reveal itself.
Loralei parked the car in the lot next to the nature center. We grabbed our accessories, water bottles, and, for me, my fanny pack, exited the car, and began our hike around the lake. Early conversation centered around her vacation, how beautiful Yosemite was, how refreshing and peaceful it was to get away. By the time we crossed my favorite little bridge, Loralei’s tone began to change. Gone was the conversational tone used to regale me of her vacation. Present was a tone of censure and harshness. By the time we arrived at the far side of the lake, the farthest possible spot from the car, equidistant either direction to return to it, Loralei was admonishing me with great fervor.
She told me how I was failing in my life of faith because I wasn’t doing everything God wanted. She told me I was disobedient to Him in some regard, though she never identified any actual disobedience. She was fully aware God had more for me to learn, and I simply needed to do a better job of paying attention. I needed to stop failing and be the Christian God expected me to be.
The revelation which consumed me in that moment was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. I lost all composure when I realized Loralei was taking every ounce of trust I’d placed in her, every vulnerability I’d shared, and was using them to beat the crap out of me. I cried so hard it wasn’t safe to traverse the hilly, rocky, root laden trail. To make matters worse, my breath became lodged in my chest. I gasped for air, while telling myself I had to move forward to return to the car. I had to get away from her, but she had me trapped on the back side of the lake. She was using my place of solitude and peace against me, using it to hold me hostage while she told me over and over what a failure I was.
I knew something inside me was about to snap. I’d been an incredible friend to this woman. I’d supported her in her ministry efforts with prayer, volunteer hours and not a small amount of cash. I’d had a gracious heart, one without censure or criticism when she complained about her parents, while listening to her talk about what a good man her abusive father is. When I was injured at her house, I didn’t see it as an opportunity to take advantage and line my pockets with cash that would come at her expense of higher insurance premiums or a cancelled policy. Last, but certainly not least, I listened to her moan and complain about not getting to see her grandbaby on some given date, while knowing I’d never had the privilege of even meeting mine, and likely never would. I’d been nothing but kind, generous and loving to Loralei, and right here, right now, her betrayal was killing off the last of my will to live.
Since the age of thirteen, I’d spent my life living for God, doing my absolute best to walk the path He has for me. Who the hell did she think she was to speak to me like this? I stopped walking long enough to tell her to shut up and leave me alone. She ignored my warning to back off and continued to rain down condemnation on me. She behaved and spoke as if she’d spent her entire vacation thinking about our previous conversation and had produced a condemning response to my points of disagreement. She behaved as if pummeling me with censure would somehow cause me to agree with her estimation of my failure as a human being. For some reason, she was under the impression that I didn’t see my situation for what it truly was, and she had the right to ‘fix’ me.
This only added to my confusion and anger. I’d been a Christian as long as she, and I’d taken my faith just as seriously as anyone either of us had ever met. There was nothing she knew that I didn’t know. I simply had a broken heart to show for decades of parenting efforts. She couldn’t relate and didn’t understand that. Somehow her inability, or unwillingness, to empathize with me, made me a bad Christian. Such was the depth of her delusion.
I began to walk as quickly as my situation allowed, but Loralei is much taller than me, so she’s one of those people with longs legs who takes large steps. It was impossible for me to outwalk her. She kept telling me over and over how I was failing in my faith. God expected me to do more, He expected me to do better.
I could feel tightness building in the top of my head from an increase in my blood pressure. I knew my face was beet red from rage and the exertion of walking while wracked with sobs. I wasn’t going to last much longer. Some part of me was going to crack wide open. I was so infuriated by her brutality and betrayal it never occurred to me to ask God for His help. I was without the ability to do so, there was too much agony, too much disbelief, clouding my ability to think.
Without warning, an overwhelming sense of calm settled over me. I was still enraged. I was still crying so hard I could barely make out the trail well enough to follow it. I could still barely catch enough air to keep moving forward, but God’s Spirit took hold of me. He calmed my mind and the panic within me subsided enough that I began to think clearly. I give God complete credit because, under my own power, I was incapable of caring for myself.
Next to me, Loralei continued to spew forth her condemnation of my faith, relating to me over and over how I was failing God, but now she added, intermittently, that because she was my friend it was her duty to show me the errors in my life.
By now, I was calm enough to navigate the trail safely. I could still hear Loralei next to me, her verbal attack saturating my broken spirit, but now, my brain was involved. I was able to get past the shock and pain of her assault to begin cranking on the puzzle in front of me. Why was she treating me this way? Did she feel inferior to me for some reason? Had something I’d shared at group, something regarding God’s faithfulness and provision, upset her? Was this an effort to boost her self-esteem? Was she jealous in some regard?
Did she feel superior? Was she assaulting the hell out of my emotional health and self-esteem because of some delusion she was a better person, a better Christian? Did her superiority obligate her to show me the myriad ways I’d failed in my walk with God?
Was this happening because she wanted us to stop coming to group and was unaware of a better way to accomplish her objective? I simply couldn’t get my head around her reason for turning on me like this. I thought she was my friend, someone who could offer support and empathy, a kind word, some sensible advice, a judgeless hug, certainly someone who could serve as a safe harbor once in a great while.
As we emerged from the lake trail and began the climb to the parking lot, Loralei wrapped her right arm around my shoulder, and gave me a sideways hug. It was all I could do to keep from slugging her. I told her again to shut-up and leave me alone. She reminded me one more time that she was my friend, and being my friend made this necessary. My mind continued to race, looking for a rational explanation. I was so devastated, still sobbing like my tears were connected to the lake itself, but somehow God’s Spirit kept me calm.
Her words of betrayal and her dominating behavior gutted me like a field dressed deer. They left in their wake utter devastation, but I was calm. To be so enraged, yet peaceful, was a unique experience, to say the least. God’s Spirit simply filled me to the point that I was preoccupied with finding an explanation. I didn’t realize, until later, that God’s Spirit kept my mind busy so I wouldn’t remember that I had an immediate solution to my devastating pain tucked away in my fanny pack.
Like it or not, recognition that Loralei was my ride home settled over me. My phone wouldn’t work in the park, so there was no way to call my husband. Walking home wasn’t an option. It was much too far, especially given my emotional state. I slid into the passenger’s seat, and Loralei maneuvered her car along the winding exit route to the state road. She talked the entire time. She wouldn’t shut up. She spoke of her vacation like we were best friends and I gave a crap. She spoke as if she hadn’t spent the last twenty minutes schooling me in my worthlessness, making sure I understood what a waste my entire life had been.
She pulled her car into my drive. God’s Spirit was still with me. He kept me calm which enabled me to respond instead of reacting in a knee-jerk manner. By now, I was no longer crying because He’d strengthened me to the point of staying my tears. So, as I opened my door, just prior to exiting the vehicle, I looked at Loralei and said with steely resolve, “Lay off me about my kids.”
In the time span of a single heartbeat, Loralei switched personas and played the victim card. She wanted me to know how unfair I was being. Couldn’t I see what a good friend she was? She said I needed to accept her words in the spirit in which they were intended because it wasn’t like she told me I was bad mother.
Instantly, the light in my brain sparked to life. I had the answer to the question which had been knocking around in my brain since her assault began. Without any doubt, I knew this betrayal was rooted in her feelings of superiority. She just admitted it to me with her comment about me being a bad mom.
Loralei was ignorant and arrogant enough to believe she has life all figured out, that she knows everything. She was selfish enough to believe that I could benefit from her “superior” knowledge and character. She was blind enough to her own faults that she felt, not only entitled, but obligated to bring this kind of pain to someone who was already so depressed she didn’t care if she saw tomorrow.
When I confided in her as my friend, I’d been operating on the assumption that someone who’d buried a child of her own could empathize with my heartbreak and debilitating sadness. God help me! Could I have erred to a greater degree?
I didn’t say this to her, but if I had a ‘do over’ I would remind her about the death of her own little girl and of the pain that came with it. To which, she’d respond that I didn’t lose one of my kids. Then, I’d remind her, that for all intents and purposes, I’d lost all three of mine.
As I shut the car door on her condemning, hateful words, Loralei continued to defend herself, reminding me how unfair I was being. As I walked toward the front door of my home, my mind raced with disbelief at her betrayal, and fury at myself for trusting her in the first place. The two emotions vied for dominance in my heart and mind.
I stepped inside my home, and without Loralei’s nasal criticism yammering in my ears, complete and utter failure washed over me. I have never felt so worthless, so defeated in my life. I burst into sobs and fell completely apart, but I was very aware I needed the help of someone who genuinely cared about me because I was in a very dark place.