That We Might Have Joy: Trish's Story

Searching for Honeysuckle in Winter

I firmly believe that my little portion of Heaven, whenever I end up there, will have permanent lilac blossoms lining my home.  (And that home doesn’t even have to be a mansion.)  I fully expect Mimosa trees to be blooming their perfect Truffula-like flowers, and, above all, I’d like to request perpetually blossoming honeysuckle bushes.  

If possible, I’d also like to settle in the mouth of canyon of a glorious mountain that surrenders to an ocean beachfront.  And lastly, of course, an orchard of citrus trees will grow there, promising to bear its juicy fruits for the greatest love of my life, so he can cultivate the trees he loves so much.  And our kids and their children and their children’s children will come and bask in the joy of late nights on top of tree houses underneath a blanket of stars.

This is what Heaven looks like to me.  

In the meantime, I look forward to these late spring and early summer flowers every year.  Each time I find them, I try to stop and savor the moment, because for one reason or another, their blooms are so very brief.  I often, usually while drinking in their perfect fragrances, find myself wondering, ‘Why, oh why, can’t this moment last forever?!’  

I’m no scientist.  I don’t understand botany, and chemistry freaks me out.  But if I could, I would  create the world’s first forever-blooming Lilac-Honeysuckle Mimosa tree.  I’d call it the ‘Honey Limosa’.  Then again, it’d probably smell like social garlic growing next to a garbage can.  Either that or I’d accidentally blow up my garage...and my neighbor’s (sorry in advance, neighbor I love so much.)

The truth is, the perfection I’m seeking is impossible in this existence.  And it’s only now, as I feel the contentment and peace of a quiet moment this afternoon, that I feel such clarity.  I am writing this reminder for me, more than anyone, with the hope that I can remember this simple truth in the inevitable ebbs and flows to come.  I hope I can remember, not just during future victories, but also during the waterfalls of tears, that everything will be okay.  

For now, right now, it qualifies.  And that can be enough if I let it be.

In this today, I recognize how, yes, life is like a box of chocolates but it’s also like the search for  Honeysuckle.  For several years, our family has endured the pain of what feels like winter.  It’s a loneliness others can feel with you, support and love you through, and yet, you still feel alone.  It’s hard, in the midst of carrying cumbersome burdens, to see the joy, the Honeysuckle if you will, that lies before you.  But even if you can’t see it, however deeply it’s hiding, it is still there.

Now, the back story:  
Our winter began 4 ½ years ago.  We were living in a place we’d affectionately come to call ‘Neverland’.  Our home was a few steps from a river that emptied into the ocean nearby, our neighbors grew citrus trees that smelled like pure joy, and our home was part of a circle where little feet ran in between the houses so often that there were paths worn where grass no longer grew.  It was a good life.  We were finally financially comfortable, feeling the promise of paying med school loans off early.  We traveled, we played, we served.  We were happy.

And then, the bottom dropped out.  During the furlough, my husband’s department ran out of money.  Most don’t get 7 months notice their job is disappearing, but we did.  We were grateful, but after weighing our options for several of those months, we realized we had to move.  My husband had been practicing his license under the umbrella of the military out of the state he originally licensed in.  The process of re-licensing and buying a practice in Neverland felt wrong, no matter how much we wanted it to be right.  And so, after much reluctance, we packed up and left.  

We arrived back ‘home.’  We were both scared, and I was pregnant.  Job prospects for many medical professionals are frightening right now.  There’s so much debate and political infighting between the powers-that-be and so many of those within the medical field are left holding the bag.  My husband is among them.  

Gratefully, he’s been blessed by incredible mentors who love and support him, but he had to start over in his late thirties.  Working two jobs that pay less than minimum wage as he builds his practice has been one of the hardest thing we’ve ever done.  During part of his training, he was gone for six months of the year our first son was born.  And I’ve watched him agonize over the pain of feeling like a complete failure.  

Our children have carried the load of being the perpetual ‘new kids’.  They make the most of our relocations as we’ve moved several times during this period, but it has still been very hard.  As many small businesses do during the first couple of years, we hit a very rough patch last summer.  It ended with our family losing the home we intended to buy and settle into.  It wasn’t due to malice, deceit, or anything other than timing for us and our landlord.  But it was a blow our family is still recovering from.  

We were once again leaving our happy, familiar place.  It was a place where lilacs grew in our yard and honeysuckle blossomed every late spring along the path we walked daily.  I finally came to terms with the change while running very early one September morning.  I finally felt the sense of confidence I’d been seeking.  I remember thinking, ‘If this is it, we can handle this.  It can’t be that bad.’  

Two weeks later, I had a generalized seizure, formally known as a ‘grand mal’.  

I became conscious in the hospital.  My body hurt, and my head felt foggy.  I couldn’t understand most of the words people around me were saying.  And the look on my unwavering, level-headed husband was one I’d never seen on him before.  Fear.  I didn’t know it at the time, but he thought I had a stroke.  I remember thinking, ‘This is the last thing he needs right now.’

The following months were a dance between recovering and preparing for the next seizure.  Then finally, a diagnosis.  Epilepsy.  Weird.  I’d never had anything like it before.  Why now?  Right as I was preparing to self-publish my first book that I’d worked so hard and long for.  Why me, why us?  We were trying to do everything right.  Why did crap like this keep happening?

I was angry.  I felt betrayed by my body, by God, by life.  Nothing I’d planned for, nothing I’d prayed for, nothing, seemed to go right, and it just kept getting worse.  I’ve always managed to be happy, to find the silver lining in the hard things.  But this hope began to fade, and I found myself in a very dark, very scary place.

I kept praying for deliverance, but it didn’t seem to come.  I cried.  A lot.  I agonized over how these new challenges were affecting our children.  I couldn’t drive.  I struggled to form complete sentences.  We were in a temporary home, and our creature comforts were in storage for months.  And I finally began to admit to myself:  I was miserable, and that just made me feel guilty.

I can’t say the deliverance I was pleading for came instantaneously.  Quite the contrary, actually.  But the first glimmer came early this year as I read something a wise man once said:

“Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he has been robbed.  Most putts don’t drop.  Most beef is tough.  Most children grow up to be just people.  Most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration.  Most jobs are more often dull than otherwise.  Life is like an old-time rail journey—delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed.  The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.”  (Jenkins Loyd Jones)

An even wiser man I love more than I can put into words added to this:  “Cultivate a spirit of thanksgiving for the blessing of life and for the marvelous gifts and privileges each of us enjoy.  The Lord has said that the meek shall inherit the earth. {Did you hear that?!  Honeysuckle, lilacs, Mimosas, oh my!}  I cannot escape the interpretation that meekness implies a spirit of gratitude as opposed to an attitude of self-sufficiency, an acknowledgment of a greater power beyond oneself, a recognition of God, and an acceptance of his commandments.  This is the beginning of wisdom.  Walk with gratitude before Him who is the giver of life and every good gift.”  (Gordon B. Hinckley)

In the moment I finished reading this, I realized I had forgotten to be thankful.  In the next moment, I remembered I woke up from my seizures.  Two people I love dearly never did.  I remembered, in spite of everything, we had a home, and we were surrounded by people who love us and would do anything for us.  I remembered that my children have always gone to bed at night with full bellies.  They’ve never fallen to sleep frightened for their own safety.  I remembered what a gift it is to be madly in love with someone who loves me just as madly.  I remembered what I had forgotten. 

I also realized, for the first time in my life, it’s okay to admit things are hard.  It’s okay to admit you’re having a hard time keeping it together.  It’s okay to admit you need support.  The people who count in your life will answer the call, whatever it may be.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the deliverance I was praying for was coming, and this was the first thing.  It didn’t happen in an instant.  I’m beginning to suspect it rarely does.  It dawned on me recently that Job lost everything.  EVERYTHING.  Eventually, he was blessed with even greater abundance, including an even larger family, BUT considering we all know how long it takes to bake a baby in our bellies, his deliverance probably took quite a while.  

Hmmmmm.  Lightbulb!

We all have our scenarios.  You know the ones.  They’re the ones we fear the most and plead and pray will never happen.  There are moments, usually on the bad days, we feel terribly guilty because we blew it, and yet feels like we have nothing to complain about, because everyone we love the most is still standing.  Yet, we’re still struggling to find the honeysuckle in a path of weeds.  But here’s the thing:  Life is really hard sometimes.  We get overwhelmed.  We get scared.  We get mad.  It’s okay.  It’s okay that it’s hard to find the joy.  But it’s there.  We just have to keep looking for it.  It may take a few days, weeks or even months, but we can’t give up.

I’m relieved to say, our winter feels like it’s fading.  Reflecting upon the recent past, I’m realizing it wasn’t as long or as harsh as I thought it was.  In those 4 ½ years, we’ve welcomed two sons to our family.  We haven’t had to worry about medical bills, because my husband’s second job (the one he was gone a half a year for) has provided excellent health insurance.  Our kids have been healthy, and the struggles they’ve endured have helped them become very close.  We’ve made dear, life-long friends.  And through years of hard work and late hours (not only mine, but my husband’s too), I am fulfilling my lifelong dream to become an author.

Our deliverance has, indeed, not been instantaneous, but it’s coming, and it’s been exactly what we’ve needed.  We’ve moved into our home and it’s beginning to feel familiar.  My seizures are occurring less and less and are becoming less severe.  My husband’s practice is growing, and his patients love him.  

When we moved here, I began looking for running trails.  I found one to love and began my ritual runs.  Several weeks ago, while there, a familiar scent wafted across my path.  I immediately knew.  I took a detour, running toward the smell.  It was near; I just had to find it.  
Finally, I found it.  There it was, the most glorious hidden pathway.  It was lined with honeysuckle bushes, bursting with blossoms.  It smelled just like my Heaven.  In that moment, I knew God loves me.  I swept away the guilt I felt for forgetting recently and just let myself feel it.  

I’ve run that path several times since.  Each time, there are less and less blossoms, but they still make me smile.  A couple of days ago, I noticed the blossoms were gone, changed into a lush, green bush providing shade to cool me as I ran past.  And yet, as I continued along the trail, I recognized another happy scent as it lingered.  It too, was unmistakable.  

Somewhere close, a Mimosa is beginning its summertime bloom.  
The search is over.  
For now.

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