Reflecting on the last 18 months still causes the smoldering ulcer in the pit of my belly to spark and burn. It is that familiar gut-fire that keeps me moving forward, looking forward, and thinking forward. The internal belly blister is proof that ingesting one’s troubles and making meal after meal of worry and frustration will, in fact, eat a whole in the lining of your alimentary canal. Belly Fire, as I affectionately refer to my nocturnal internal sizzle, is something to which I have become accustomed and has become fast friends with my insomnia. I appreciate the ability to carry my ball of flammable burdens sight unseen, which is why seeing them displayed on the wall of my niece’s school was much like dreaming I was in public without my pants.
Walking into the gym to pick up my niece from her small Catholic school, she informs me that there is a picture of me hanging in the hall and pulls me in the direction of the classrooms. Along the way, she tells me that, Lilly, her older sister had written about me and the paper was hanging on the wall in the hallway outside of her classroom. Sure enough, there was Lilly’s completed assignment with my name in bold type and a picture of me with a giant arrow pointing to my head. Strangely enough, it was entitled “FORTITUDE”. The following is the text from Lilly’s interpretation of my recent struggles:
My aunt, Karri Thurman had courage when she had to lose her house. Her husband lost his job. They were given a house by her husband’s aunt and uncle, but it was torn up and outdated. She had to work her job at the nursing home and finish her home before she had to move. The house was small and they barely fit. Her three kids (13, 16, and 21) had to help. Then her son had anxiety attacks and was constantly at the hospital. She never lost courage and hope when I would have.
Wow. There is nothing like hanging your dirty laundry on the wall of the Catholic Church, especially when it is the heart-felt version of a ten-year-old. Adding insult to injury, not only am I the aunt with a plethora of problems, I also am the aunt who is of the mysterious ‘public protestant school’ variety as opposed to their familiar Catholic private school experience. While I stood reading this snapshot of my life, I couldn’t help to think about what facts the casual reader would probably deduct from this information:
- I didn’t pay my bills and lost my house to foreclosure
- My husband couldn’t keep a job
- We were given a one-room dilapidated shanty in which to live
- We forced our kids to hours of hard labor
- My son has been hospitalized numerous times with exacerbations of mental illness
- My life is so horrendous that the fact that I can still face each day is a feat worthy of admiration
What can I say? Lilly’s version of this last year and a half is accurate, for the most part. There are, however, some details that would have probably helped the reader clarify the events more accurately. I might not have looked quite so much the ‘poor public protestant pariah’ had she included some of the following information:
My husband has been gainfully employed his entire adult life, but was laid off from his job in June 2011. Losing well over 50% of our income, our lives did change abruptly and drastically. We juggled and struggled in an attempt to stay in our large newer five-bedroom house. Nearly a year passed and we had exhausted our resources, retirement funds, etc. and we made the decision to lease out our house and to move into something smaller. Blessed beyond belief, Kevin’s Aunt and Uncle graciously offered up his Grandpa’s house on the farm for our family. It had stood empty since Grandpa’s passing the previous year. While Grandpa’s house is a great deal smaller than what we had been accustomed, it was more than sufficient for our needs. A brick ranch home, with two bathrooms, three bedrooms and a basement, we made it work just fine.
With just a few weeks until our renters moved into our house, we embarked on a round the clock do-it-yourself project at Grandpa’s farm. It required all hands on deck as we redid floors and cabinets, knocked down and rebuilt walls, and painted (lots of painting). The kids did help and so did friends and family. Blood, sweat, tears, and the little money we had all went into transforming this empty house into our home. Unlike Lilly’s version, no young children were harmed or exploited during the rehab project.
That brings us to the part of Lilly’s story, which I consider to be the biggest challenge to my fortitude and that is my son’s struggle with anxiety. Since he was a toddler, anxiety has been Evan’s tormentor. It has stifled nearly every aspect of his life. Its presence and severity have waxed and waned over his lifetime on a course no one can predict or prevent. Shortly after our move to the farm, anxiety reared its ugly head and did so with a vengeance and he brought his buddy, ‘depression’. The loss of a job, a house, and a way of life pales pitifully to watching my only son being engulfed by a darkness I cannot see; held captive by shackles to which I have no keys. Nothing fuels my belly fire like the uncertainty of whether my child will be able to pull out of this nosedive before he crashes full-force into the very world in which he cannot find comfort.
As parents, Kevin and I reached out for any resources we could find to help us to help our boy. As we consulted doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, we scrambled to help Evan find his way to the surface in the anxiety and sadness which were drowning him. We searched his sad eyes for any sign of the sparkle that reflects his spirit, longing desperately for the dark hand that gripped his soul to relinquish its grasp. It has been a long and frustrating road and Evan has come so very far from where he was. I feel like I spend a great deal of my time holding my breath, fearing if I breathe easy he will start to slip back away from me. He isn’t a star athlete or a Rhodes Scholar, but he can make me laugh like no other. In recent days we have shared more laughter than tears and if he has given me anything at all, it is a place to anchor my hope.
I appreciate that Lilly gleaned ‘fortitude’ out of my colorful character palette. It is a far cry from what I know resembles my authentic self. After all, there is nothing courageous about lying awake night after night allowing my worries and fears to feast on the mucosal lining of my stomach. So, Lilly, the truth is Aunt Karri isn’t a good example of fortitude. I am a closet chicken; A worry swallower. If there is anything I can give you in place of my failed fortitude it would be the lessons these experiences have taught me. Tuck them in your pocket or hang them in the hallway outside your classroom, or hide them away for a time when life gets a little bumpy:
- A house is just a house. It doesn’t matter if it is big or small, fancy or plain, if it has one bathroom or seventeen. It is the people inside that make it a home.
- When you grow up, work very hard at whatever job you choose, doing your best is important. Be very careful to not let your work get ahead of your family. Things start to get out of whack when that happens.
- The genuine people in your life will not care about the house you live in, they will only be concerned about the people inside it.
- If God blesses you with children, never look at them as anything other than what God created them to be. Never lose sight of the fact that God does not consult you in such matters.
- Life requires you to be flexible.
- Don’t let your worries chew on the inside of your belly.
- It is much easier to keep two bathrooms clean than four. Bigger isn’t always better.
- Talk to God. He listens…even to us “publics”