Answers

“I am intellectually empty and vacant.” Those are the words one minister spoke to his congregation last Sunday. Not as a man without hope, but as one honestly acknowledging that he had come to the end of himself. There was nothing that the intellectual, rational part of his being could do with the tragedy of Newtown, Connecticut.

We are all a little desperate today.

The following, somewhat paraphrased, quote from the movie Love Comes Softly, keeps running through my mind:

“When we’re hurting, we spend an awful lot of time looking for answers, when what we really need is comfort.”

I believe we need that truth now more than ever.

Now, as the shock wears off and the anger surfaces. Now, while we search for someone to punish. Now, when we are grasping for reason. Clinging to frayed hopes for humanity. Now, as we race to protect our children and ourselves. As we try to control the uncontrollable, rationalize the irrational and console the inconsolable.

Now – when we are searching, desperately searching for answers, we must remember where to look.

I have wrestled with pain before – pain that the world can do nothing to ease. I have searched for answers.  I have railed against God. Pounded on His chest and screamed, “WHY?!!!”

Then God asked me: “What answer would satisfy you?”

So, I imagined the God of the universe standing before me and saying, “Nichole, you have suffered because ______.” But every word I used to fill in the blank fell short of my expectations. No answer sufficed. Every time – every time – my response was, “Well, you’re God. Surely you could have done it another way.”

Some pain is too deep, some things too extraordinary to understand.

20 children shot dead and hundreds more traumatized, scarred for life. Surely there was another way!

When Job lost everything he had – family, health, business, friends, position in society – he cried out to the Lord for an answer. The Lord answered out of the storm. But probably not in the way Job expected:

“Brace yourself like a man;
    I [God] will question you [Job],
    and you shall answer me.

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
    Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
    or who laid its cornerstone—
 while the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels shouted for joy?”

Can you just imagine His booming voice, like the rushing wind or crackling thunder? Continuing like that for several more chapters, (Job 38-41) God’s answer hardly seems like an answer at all. It rather seems like…a rebuke.

But what answer would have satisfied Job? Would he have actually found comfort in knowing that God allowed Satan to sift him like wheat?

God is so good. He knew what Job needed better than Job himself.

Instead of speaking to Job’s intellect, God reveals Himself to Job’s heart. And Job responds:

“Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me to know….

My ears had heard of you
    but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
    and repent in dust and ashes.”

God didn’t give Job an answer. God WAS the answer.

Finally, Job surrenders. He stops his frantic search. He lays down his quiver of accusations. Throws himself on the ground and vomits up the bile of his bitter, grieving heart. He has seen the Lord and at last, he rests. At last, he finds comfort.

Grief, sorrow, pain. Harbor these waters of affliction and your wells will turn bitter and run dry. But let them flow, let your tears rain down, seek comfort in the arms of your Father, and there you will find the waters of life. (Oddly enough my blog last month was about grieving. You can read it here if you would like to explore this topic further.)

To my grieving fellow Connecticutians and Americans, what arrows are in your quiver? Strung on your bow? Acts of retribution? Making someone pay? Judgment? Or acts of morality? Giving financially to victims? Social activism? Or acts of self-protection? Fear? Isolation?  Not all of these things are bad, but do them – even the “good” ones – without receiving comfort and you will be like Job, like I once was, perhaps even like the perpetrators you despise – weary, bitter, empty and isolated.

Can you admit, like the minister did, that you are intellectually vacant? Can you fall at the feet of the One and Only Answer you will ever need? Can you let Him be enough? Because He Is. He Was. He Will Always Be, the only Answer that satisfies. The One in whom all questions fade away.

This is one of my favorite songs and as music often does, it says more in 3 minutes than I could in a thousand years.

In Memory

     My grandparents didn’t live a flashy life. They grew up here in Connecticut – my grandpa helping his father on the railroad in Torrington, my grandma helping out on her parent’s farm in Granby and working tobacco in the summers. During high school they both lived in Granby and went to school in Simsbury. Neither really loved school and both remembered being treated as second class citizens because they were “Country Bumpkins” attending Simsbury schools. Some things never change.

     One of grandma’s favorite memories – and my favorite stories to hear – was of her and her friends leaving school for their 30 minute lunch break. They started their break by lighting up a cigarette and then running from Simsbury High (which is now the Simsbury Police Station) to Doyle’s Drugstore, which was located in what is now the Apollo’s Restaurant plaza. The drugstore was also a soda shop and Grandma and her friends, after running half a mile smoking a cigarette, sat down at the counter and quickly scoffed down hot fudge sundaes for lunch. Then they ran all the way back to school, smoking one more cigarette before returning to class. Doesn’t that sound just like Grandma? As for Grandpa, he was apparently smartest guy in school with the highest IQ (he did marry Grandma after all) and if you ever get a look at his old photos, you will probably agree that he was the best looking guy there too!

            My Grandma and Grandpa started dating when they were just 14 and Grandpa loved to tell the story of one of their dates in particular. On that night, Grandpa had brought Grandma back to the house in his car. It was very late and very dark out on those country roads with no street lights and this night must have been a cloudy one, because as he tells it, it was pitch black. Anyway, they apparently parked their car on the street near the house and, as Grandpa tells it, they fell asleep. A few hours later, well past Grandma’s curfew, they woke up to the voices of Grandma’s brothers and sisters calling out “Arlene! Arlene!” as they ran around the farm and street looking for her; only to find that she was right there, on the street in front of the house the whole time! It was so dark, noone ever saw the car.

            Grandma and Grandpa married after Grandpa returned from serving in the Air Corps (I think that is what it was called back then). They married and bought a small home which they later sold because it couldn’t house their growing family. They would never own their own home again. They lived for many years in an old farmhouse at the base of High Meadow. Grandpa worked for the town and then for Hamilton Standard. He helped to build the suits for America’s astronauts and it is rumored that when the men of Apollo 13 were trying to find a way to survive on board their spaceship, Grandpa is the one who recommended they use duct tape to fix…well…whatever that thing was that needed fixing. If you’ve seen the movie, you know it was pretty important!

            Grandma was a stay-at-home mom and housewife and ladies, it wasn’t like it is today. She had a washer and no dryer, even all winter long. Frozen underpants anyone? No disposable diapers. No microwave. She made three meals a day, every day for her whole family. No Subway, McDonald’s or delivery pizza and if there was a restaurant in town, they couldn’t afford to eat at it. No shower, just one bath and 4 teenagers. No heat in much of the house. A vacuum with no rug attachment…just the hose. And on top of all this, she had a garden – that they truly counted on for food – and farm animals to care for. Oh Grandma, you put me to shame!

            They raised their children as best they knew how with the resources they had and as you know, they all turned out pretty great. Sometimes Grandma would lament about what she wished she had done differently ~ that she had read to them more or had not been so harsh. That is just what parents do, I guess. We always wish we could have loved our children better. Funny, now that they are gone, I wish I had loved them better. Anyway, while Grandma sometimes wished she had parented better, she and Grandpa never wished her kids had turned out better. They were both so proud of each of their children – who they had become, the trials they had endured and how they all seem to have come through it better in the end. They loved them to the very end with the care, angst and pride every parent feels for their children, no matter what their age.

            In 1973 they had their first grandchildren, Brigette and me, and 10 more eventually followed. Grandma and Grandpa were, to me, more than Grandparents. Very early on, I lost my first father to what we will call a lack of maturity and then, when I was 12, I lost my second father, my step-father and Derek’s biological father, to a terrible disease. In some ways we lost him many years before he died. My mom did everything she could to keep us going, including working days at CG and waiting tables at night while pregnant with Derek. During those years, Grandma and Grandpa were our rocks in the middle of a stormy sea. To borrow from country singer Sara Evans: “My [Grandpa] he is grounded like the oak tree. My [Grandma] she is steady as the sun.” When everything else in life was uncertain, they were there – steady, dependable, faithful. My Grandma did laundry every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Lunch was at noon every day and dinner at 4:30. Grandpa went to work every day and came home each night in time for dinner. He didn’t go out with the guys or work endlessly to get ahead. He was there. I especially loved it when I would sit on his lap and hold his hands and pretend I was flying a plane. He would tell me “Pull up! Pull up!” or “Make it steady!” What fun for a little girl!

            I know lots of people complain that their dads were never emotionally available, never talked to them much. Well, for someone like me, Grandpa’s just being there meant alot. Grandpa taught me that some men do come home every night, some men do stay,  some men do love their wives forever.

            I know they have touched the lives of so many people. For me and my brother, they were like the insulation of a house, keeping out the cold on a long winter night; the icing on the cake, holding everything together and sweet besides; the heart of our hearts and breath of our lives.

            No, they never lived a flashy life. They never built a job from the ground up or owned a large home or made millions on a land investment or even owned more than one car at a time. But that wasn’t what made them great. The greatness of Tom and Arlene Creighton was in their day to day living, in the long haul, in their perseverance, dependability, steadiness, love and faithfulness. In the words of one of Grandma’s favorite authors, Jan Karon, they are a perfect example of “the extraordinary beauty of ordinary lives.” What they gave to me, to us, can never be measured or weighed. It is of infinite value and beyond what words can express. I will love them, we will love them, forever.

Cross Country Days 31 & 32 – Ocean City, MD & home

On our Deck

Our two days at the beach were fabulously relaxing and I have a renewed love for the Atlantic Ocean. We slept in(glorious!), had breakfast at 1:00 and walked the boardwalk. Then we returned to our hotel for a swim in our salt water pools! Throughout the entire trip Christina kept trying to make a whirlpool in just about every pool in which we swam. This was difficult because the pools were big and there were just four of us. Imagine her excitement when we found that the children’s pool housed a constantly moving whirlpool all its own! What a treat this was for her and us; we had so much fun!

Late that afternoon we walked along the ocean, played in the waves and buried Christina in the sand. For dinner we ate grinders from a local deli (yummy!); we brought them to Rita’s, ate at their tables and then ordered up some delicious custards and italian ice.

That night we tried to go for a swim in the indoor pool. Doug and Christina dipped their feet in its warm waters the night before and encouraged us all to go. Unforunately, the pool had been drained and refilled that morning and this time the pool was like ICE!!!! Christina was so sad, but I told her, “No worries! We’ll fill the jacuzzi!”

That cheered her up tremendously. Until we began filling the tub and found that the water was yellow. We all stood around the tub, staring into the water, bewildered. As the water level rose, the hue slowly deepened to a rusty green. I kid you not – our feet were in green water! Umm, had we been showering in that? Doug called the front desk and said these words exactly, “Trivia Question. What color is your water?” Without hesitation the man answered, “A brownish, greenish.” What?! He claimed that because of a drought they shipped in water and that, due to the containers, the water is tinted greenish brown. He also said that the water had been tested and is free from any dangerous chemicals or bacteria.

As we continued to fill the jacuzzi, the water turned a deeper shade of brown and eventually, we could not even see our feet. This is not a literary device of any kind – no hyperbole here – just brown water! Testing or no testing, we couldn’t take it anymore. We drained the tub, popped some popcorn, watched the end of Finding Nemo (to which we had all fallen asleep the night before)  and tried to forget that this is the same water with which we brushed our teeth!

 

Our last day was spent swimming in the pools and walking along the shore at high tide. Even thought we all loved the hotel and beach, we were anxious to get home! Our drive back to CT was typical: heavy traffic in Jersey and toward the GW bridge. When traffic stood still, we exited and took the Tappanzee. On the other side of the bridge, our GPS tried to direct us to 95 via the Sawmill Parkway South. Doug nearly threw it out the window! We have learned that while the GPS handles most parts of the country very well, from Virginia to points north, the technological wonder seems a little confused. Maybe it was just tired!

We called a Chili’s in Milford when we were about 20 minutes away, ordered our dinner to go and ate in the car. (Still had some gift cards left!) As Hartford came into sight, I couldn’t help thinking that our little capital, all lit up at dusk, never looked so beautiful. We couldn’t avoid one final rest stop (someone had a lot to drink with dinner) at the McDonald’s on exit 37, and then we enjoyed an amazing light show as we drove north on 189. The giant black clouds hovering over Massachussettes flashed pink and gray with lightning every few seconds.

How strange and wonderful we felt driving into Tariffville. When the girls saw the signature cliffs along 189, just before the stoplight at the bottom of Elm St., they cheered! We pulled into our driveway with a well-lit walkway thanks to our solar powered lights! After 9456.4 miles, 32 days and 27 states we were finally home!

We were most excited to see our pets for the first time in a month! We were also welcomed by food and treats from my mom and a “Welcome Home” sign from our neighbors, Jay and Pam. We didn’t get here by clicking our heels three times, but no matter what, there is no place like home!