A WALK IN THE PARK:
Autumn is here. It is my favorite time of year.
When I was a child, I would go out into the backyard of the little brick house my grandpa built on 28th street, and I would rake the leaves of the big ash trees into a pile and more often than not, just lay there in the leaves like they were a bed. I loved the way those leaves smelled and the sound of the crunch, and crackle every time I moved around in them. The huge field of corn or soybeans, depending on the rotation, was right across the street on Monroe Avenue. A special day every year was being able to look out one of the West facing windows at night and watch the farmer in his or her combine harvesting the crop for the year. The corn and soybeans also each had their own smells at harvest time, and I even appreciated the dust of the crops and dirt in the air.
My childhood was not a walk in the park. Most of the time, I would compare it to a long-term battle of discovering new ways to survive it. In fact, my memories of my childhood are at times quite blurry, as my brain did an efficient job of repressing things for my survival. However, memories do bleed through now and again, and I prefer the pleasant memories far more than the other alternative.
As I grew older, I remember my teenage years and my interest in boys. I had one particular young man who I was quite smitten with my senior year. I was a little older than him, and he was dreamy. He got my sense of humor, and he loved music. We shared those songs with each other, the ones that touched our souls and ripped our guts out. This relationship bloomed in the fall, with a kiss through the fence at the MCHS Homecoming game. Yet the thing I treasure the most is the memory of walking in East Park with him, holding his hand, the brisk air hitting my cheeks, kicking a path through the crispy oak leaves and acorns, we were laughing and talking about what our lives would be like as adults. For the first time in my young life, I felt special and wanted, and I will go so far as saying loved. Although this adventure of ours would not last ‘til the Spring, this feeling of that one particular day would last my whole life and the fact that he will always carry a special place in my heart.
To say that I spent a decent portion of my lifetime trying to attain my walk in the park again, would be the truth. I did not have a good example of relationship love to look up to in my childhood. My own assessment of love in my childhood was tainted with betrayal and no boundaries. I honestly did not really know what love was. However, I knew what that feeling was, and it was so special. I bounced from one, to another, to another – searching for this love that I felt on one day in the fall, in a park in Mason City, Iowa.
This quest with no map led me to a lot of different places, some dark, miserable and foreboding. Then there were other places filled with hope, warmth and the shelter of peace. Boy were some of those paths rocky as all heck. Sometimes I twisted an ankle, and sometimes I got a fist to my stomach. Sometimes those ankle twists were self-inflicted and those punches were quite literally coming at me from the hands of someone I was seeking to find this perplexing feeling of love with. Those years brought with it a failed marriage but a beautiful son born, as well as another beautiful son born and taken straight to heaven. Those years also included the loss of my mother, who you might consider my compass, my confidant, my cheerleader. I wandered after these losses, for more time than I would like to admit. All the time seeking from outside myself, this feeling of cutting a path through the fallen oak leaves and this ever-mysterious concept of love.
My flailing and floundering helplessly in the abyss, trying to raise my son, and keeping my head above the water never once slowed down the yearning in my soul to find this external solution to this gaping hole in my heart. I WANT LOVE.
It took several more blows, job loss and subsequent loss of identity, repossession of a car, foreclosure of my home, bankruptcy on everything else I had left, and the doom of realization I was headed toward becoming a homeless single mother. God had never seemed so far away to me, but I knew that it was ME that was far away, NOT God. I sure was reaching for connection, however never finding it, but God had a message for me in all of that.
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12, NIV
During my crisis of epic proportions, I leaned in on faith and intuition. I knew God would not abandon me. Somehow I had maintained that belief and that beautiful notion through all the muddy bleakness of my childhood, and through all of the mishaps of my adulthood in seeking what I thought were the right solutions to bring me what I desperately needed and wanted; acceptance and love.
In my joblessness I was suddenly thrust into the opportunity to become a church secretary at a local Lutheran church. Every day, I was surrounded by Jesus and God. Bibles everywhere, reading material everywhere, vicariously listening from my office to Bible studies, and the ability to take things into the sanctuary for Sunday services and kneel down at the altar and pray. My life began to change. I was starting to feel a little something. Was it love?
As time went on there, I decided I needed to go back to college and finish my degree. It was a goal I had set for myself, as I wanted to be the first in my nuclear family to have a college degree. I worked at the church and went back to school full time. During the classes I was taking for my double major of psychology and human services, I started learning more and more about myself. What made me tick, why I had the mental health issues I had, and how trauma impacts the brain of a child for life. I started to give myself grace. I became more patient with myself. I became kinder to myself. I legitimately began for the first time to love myself. LOVE! The elusive “word” I was searching for all of those years. It needed to first begin with me. I needed to love myself fully before I could explore the other realms of relationship love. Funny, but God knew that all along. God had to bring me sweeping changes – SEVERAL times – for me to get the hint. I had to dive in head first to everything scary and new, to be brought kicking and screaming away from everything and everyone who brought me comfort and allowed me to stay in that no growth zone without worry. I had to lose things that I identified my worth with, like my car and my home, before I could be snapped into shape. I had to lose it all to gain everything again, but with new and fresh eyes. I had to love me.
That beautiful, walk in the park, crunching the leaves, laughter, joy, contentment. I now had it all. All because I started to see myself through the loving eyes of God. That is love, that is longing fulfilled. That is so much more than I have ever dreamed of.
- Lori Elbermawy