Life Lesson #190 ~ I'll Lead You Home

"There is a point where you no longer care if there's a light at the end of the tunnel or not. You're just sick of the tunnel." ~ Ranata Suzuki

The year was 1979 and I was not quite six years old. We were living in Bossier City, Louisiana at the time. We were literally two skips and a jump away, or in non southern speak, about a mile right outside of Barksdale Airforce Base. My dad however was stationed in Osan, South Korea, attached to the Air Force Base there. He called it the bucket site. This pretty much translates to cold, cold and colder. It also meant for the first time in my life my dad  was on the opposite and complete other side of the world from me. In the military this is what's known as a hardship tour. Which basically meant for us our family was going to be separated for a year by thousands and thousands of miles. For my dad it meant he was going to live in a remote, frozen region of the world for as long as Uncle Sam deeded appropriate. This was the first time in my life I'd ever been apart from either one of my parents. I didn't fully understand what was going on or why for that matter. I was confused, I felt lost, abandoned and uncertain of my surroundings. My mom and I had suddenly been dropped off in the middle of nowhere and in an unfamiliar town surrounded by folks I really didn't know from Adam. We were no longer living on post or in military quarters. We were set up in a small apartment literally just a mile down the road from the Air Force base. The kicker? We were Army. Believe me the irony did not escape me. Even if I tried, life was not about to let me be normal, to step inside the lines or stop living as an oddball, an outsider or any sort of regular, everyday, ordinary resident. The other side of this coin was almost everyone around us in that particular complex was divorced, separated and living without one parent. This was a completely new concept for me. I had no idea what divorce was more or less what parent weekends and custody was really all about. All I knew was my dad was gone, my mom was there and my life had somehow taken a turn into the Tulgey Wood where tales of a real life Jabberwocky resided. A what? Seriously, I had plans to be back directly from this mission. But this adventure of ours decided to go off course,  going off road at that.

As the days drug by my mom struggled with depression.  Something I had never seen before. At first she didn't want to cook, to clean or even do much more than sleep. Our dinners went from home cooked meals to pot pies and frozen mini pizza's. We heard from my dad as often as possible. Letters came back and forth, phones calls weren't often or long enough and our family photographs always seemed lonely, minus one. I felt lonely, alone, abandoned, deserted and isolated. I wanted nothing more honestly than to find my way, and our way back home, to the place I felt not only safe but secure. I often thought I'd wake up one day with our car packed up, dog in tow, dropped off and checked in at my Granny's house, my mom on a plane outbound to South Korea. I wondered how I'd feel about that or if I'd find a way to sneak on the plane myself. I'd reasoned this out in my six year old imagination. I'd stowaway, and return triumphantly, sitting right where I the middle seat, between my parents. And of course I'd  have a  whopper of a tale to tell too, right? But that was not to be. My life had currently seemed to suit Alice you know?  "If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn't.  And contrary-wise what it is wouldn't be, and what it wouldn't be would. You see?" But I didn't see, not really. Somehow  even though I hadn't given my consent and without warning I'd found my six year old self physically residing inside the bizarre and unexplainable world of Wonderland.  And "for reals this time" too.

The truth was my reality was changing. My world was literally upside down and the view? Well, my outlook, my visibility was a bit blurry. My vision of the landscape was quite honestly sideways and a bit curious to say the least. Like Alice after stumbling into the Tulgey Wood I wanted to go home but I just couldn't seem to find my way. This wasn't a case of not seeing the forest for the trees. I could see the forest. And the trees? They where definitely there too. I just couldn't seem to get a map of the darn place! I couldn't locate the path to lead me out and I most certainly couldn't make heads or tails of these new surroundings. Everywhere I went at first seemed very dark, scary and very unfamiliar. Nothing was as it seemed and no one seemed particularly helpful either. Like Alice, help came to my rescue as the Mome Raths pointing her to a path only then to be swept away by a broom-headed, well meaning dog. I felt alone, and very insecure in this new world of my own suddenly. But as children do, I adapted eventually but not before first asking myself, "what would Alice do?" I thought of the advice she gave herself. "Well, when one's lost, I suppose it's good advice to stay where you are, until someone finds you. But who'd ever think to look for me here?" I thought long and hard about her adventures. Should I go right, should I go left? Or how about simply continuing straight ahead? What would happen if nothing was in either direction? What if I found absolutely nada to the right when I took the left up ahead? Or worse if there was nothing left once I finally made the right turn? Seriously, talk about being as "lost as Alice and as mad as the Hatter!" This was absolutely me and my mom if we're being honest. But looking back now, some 38 years later, I can see it was during this time, going from a six year old to a seven year old my life opened up to new and amazing possibilities. Sure I learned the meaning of uncertainty clearly, but I also learned what it meant to really, truly, and honestly trust God. Isaiah 43:19 became a foundational piece in my faith at a very tender age. That's not to say I didn't struggle understanding the whys, the how's or even the path set before me. Because I did, every day actually. But God's Word kept on assuring me, "God will make a way." And He did. Was it easy? No it wasn't. But was it worth it? Yes!  And why you ask? Well because as my mom and I began transitioning, accepting what God was allowing in our lives and really trusting Him together our relationship became stronger, closer. And God knew exactly what He was doing, even though we had no clue what He was up to. This stop through the Tulgey Wood was not meant to discourage us, but to fortify our bonds, ensuring no matter what the journey held ahead we'd be inseparable. See being raised an only child has nothing to do with the strength of our relationship even now or the ties actually binding us. Our closeness has everything to do with our journey together as mother and daughter...every pitfall, every hurdle, and yes every victory we've shared simultaneously. And together, way back in 1979 as a mother and a daughter we came to fully understand one can actually believe in impossible things if you simply practice. And practice we did, everyday and every step as we walked each other back home. You see for the two of us long before the beautiful Emma Watson even spoke these words aloud, we believed, "It's not the absence  of dear. It's overcoming it."

Now of course we still ate those pot pies, believe you me, but as for those frozen pizza's? Humm, if my memory serves me right they became the ultimate epic, tossed, sauced and baked mini taco pizza we still love today! Instead of sleepless nights and even longer days Mom and I began baking oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies from scratch for my dad, packing up care packages and sending him pictures of all our adventures. We drove to the base every weekend, catching a Disney movie and getting popcorn and a drink just like daddy would. We sat down wrote letters, drew him pictures and developed an even deeper relationship with Jesus together. We sang, we cleaned the house, dusting furniture, vacuuming and sorting laundry side by side.  Mom and I made trips to Pizza Inn every Friday night. Of course you guessed it, we ordered a taco pizza. We sat down after my homework was finished and watched the Dukes of Hazard, Happy Days, Mork and Mindy, Charlie's Angles and Fantasy Island snuggling up on the couch. We developed deeper relationships with my dad's family. I became close with my cousin's Kim and Kiley. Life expanded taking on even bigger meaning. Mom and I made friends around us, in our apartment complex and at the chapel on base. Lord knows I even found the courage to play hooky from school once while living in Bossier City. I had it all planned out, that is until our moms got the call from the school. We made it as far as saying goodbye to my mom at the bus stop, before accidentally missing the bus that is. My best friend Stephanie and I had packed our backpacks with snacks and dolls that morning, with a day of adventure planned. Until that is, our mom's best friends too, found us hiding out. Like I've always said, I'm an adventurous, fearless, curious soul. And at six nothing and  I mean nothing was going to slow me down!

The truth is that particular year I grew up more than any of us could have imagined. I taught myself to ride a two wheeler, wit no hands at that. I took off the training wheels all by myself too. I sped fearlessly down my first old fashioned roller coaster at Hamel's park that summer. With my mom leading the way I convinced myself we could fly, soaring high above my little world below. Seated of course, but flying just the same on the Yo-Yo. I learned to whistle here, begging my mom relentlessly to show me, to teach me as we sat in the ER together waiting for a base doctor. You've heard the old song whistle while you work? Well I took it a step further than that. I was so obsessed with learning I began whistling in between every other word. I was even whistling in my sleep too, driving my mom crazy I do believe. I think I can safely say this was about the time my sweet mama started to regret training me to sleep through anything as a baby. Ha! And I mean everything! I know Mom most certainly questioned her strategy the night she happened to find herself locked outside of our apartment wearing nothing but a nightgown, her robe, slippers on, curlers in desperately banging on our window. She had to have stood out there the better half of 20 minutes believing she could actually wake me up. Poor thing. From the story my mom tells to this day she yelled my name at the top of her lungs, literally waking the neighbors. And what was I doing prey tell? Do you really have to ask, haha? Let's just say I  was out cold, in my favorite Raggedy Ann nightgown, hair a disheveled mess, feet sticking off the couch and our dog Keno standing on top of me barking  while I sleept blissfully and sound. Yes, this actually happened! And no, unbelievably enough I never woke up. Not even after the night manager eventually let my poor mom in, exasperated and definitely out of breath. Mom and I? Well we've had some pretty big capers, let me tell you. This one, however probably makes our top 10 list to be sure. But, instead of fusising, my mom laughed, and has continued to do so ss she's retold that story over and over again. It simply turned out to be just one of life's many hilarious lessons somewhere between 1979 and 1980.

And once my daddy returned  home? Well, life took on a whole new perspective really.The things we once took for granted now came with a greater appreciation. The little things many of us never ever thought twice about became more meaningful. A family outing to the grocery store or simply eating pizza together meant more than ever before. I found myself considerably more grateful for my daddy's good night kisses, our bedtime prayers and even his friendly reminder to brush my teeth. In my eyes my dad well, he was the bees knees. He could do anything. He was Superman in my eyes. And when I learned Santa was coming again in January my suspicions were confirmed. Seriously, it was a true shut your mouth kind of a moment for me! Which truthfully didn't happen all that often I might add. There was no pretty please about it either, my mom was nothing if not determined. One way or another we were celebrating Christmas together, decorations and all in January.  In all the happiness surrounding our reunion what I didn't know at the time was the reason for my dad's absence the month before. See my dad being the man he has always been took care of his troops before himself. He held down the fort so to speak while  so they could go home stateside with their own families that Christmas of 1979. This is just the kind of man my dad is, humble and selfless, giving and kind. Truthfully, it wasn't until I was much older that I truly understand the gravity of this sacrifice. And though Christmas was late, just like the White Rabbit we had a very important date to keep. 

Now in the middle of all this, Santa delivered a very special package. Was it something big?  You can bet your lil' pea pickin' heart it was! What was it? Well, I'm glad you asked. Sitting in front of me was a wish, a dream, a wonder, a marvel of delight only Santa could deliver. And deliver he did! Before me was the stuff little girl's dreams are made of... a real, honest to goodness Barbie Dream House of my very own. As a child I had no clue my dad had spent all night putting this gift together, getting all the details just right for me. But I will tell you now as an adult I realize just how precious, and how important this gift from 'Santa' really was. See this was the first step towards bringing back the familiar,  a desire to make up for lost time, a key if you like, and a way to unlock the door back home. The reality was not only had I missed my dad, but my dad had missed me too. It wasn't just a hardship on my mom and I but on my dad as well. I realized the sacrifices he was making for us today, but my six year old self had no clue really. All I knew was I missed my dad, he was gone for more than my heart could bear and now he was there with us. I wanted him home, nothing more. After all, our family of three had been minus one for way too long. Looking back now I honestly think I had convinced myself my dad had left. The path behind me was gone.  I was frightened and at times startled. As children do I questioned everything, listening to the lies Satan was telling me. I nearly believed his fabricated storytelling narrative almost completely to his surrounding nonsense. I said almost.. but he underestimated me, and he underestimated God. Sure I felt abandoned, scared my dad was never returning home but at the end of each day I knew I was loved unconditionally. And just like my Father in Heaven, my daddy would never leave me, forsake or renounce or even relinquish custody of my heart. Sure I was angry much like Alice with all the nonsense going on around her for a little while. I has hurt too, upset with my dad for being gone for so long but God knew better. And He hadn't brought us that far, to only bring us that far!

Now, let's pause here and take a deep breath just for a second anyway. We're beginning the last leg of our road home from Wonderland just sitting right here in the middle of the next to last chapter left in our journey down the rabbit's hole. I think maybe it's time we start reflecting on where Alice finds herself about now. I want you to just imagine Alice reaching the Doorknob once again. She's almost out of this crazy, upside down world but the Red Queen and her entourage are closing in behind her quickly. She's afraid, lost as all get out and just plain tuckered out. Her adventures have been exhausting physically, mentally and emotionally. And let's face it, at this point Alice is a downright mess too. She's pulling, pulling and pulling, trying with all her might to open a door locked from the outside in. Just like we do in real life she's grasping at the door, trying to get it open, wanting to get out and walk through. All she wants is just to find herself home, again. The thing is, she's already home, asleep on the other side of Wonderland. She simply doesn't know it yet. My hurt, my anger and my misconceived notions of divorce, abandonment and the idea my dad had somehow left me as a child is much the same way. And the reality is this is exactly how many of us miss our own doors and ultimately our exit home. Why? Because we keep pushing and shoving, running, and stomping our feet forgetting, if not completely, neglecting the truth. God, will lead us home, He will direct our steps. (Proverbs 3:6) So you've found yourself smack dab in the middle of Tulgey Wood? It's not the end of the world I promise you this. Remember when you're doubting the barely visible path in front of you. God sees it." And Matthew 19:26 reminds us of this. "This is impossible for human beings, but for God everything is possible."

I honestly don't think without our families little detour into the Jabberwocky's lair I'd have ever fully understood how God calls those who are hurt, discouraged and yes, even those the world dismisses. He calls the daydreamers, the afraid, the bankrupt, the divorced, the separated, the orphaned, the abandoned, the rejected, the small, the big, the abused, the loved, the unloved, the old, the young, and the odd. I came to understand this, to accept this: Just because my path is different, set apart, strange to some and even peculiar to others doesn't mean I'm lost. It just means I'm listening to the little nudges, learning to trust God even in the dark. But getting to this point of understanding this particular, even peculiar concept, well it's just as maddening as the Tulegy Wood! See what many times feels like the end of our story, is often really just the beginning. And that's what happened to my story from 1979 to 1980. The moral of this story? That's simple. Just because our path diverts, or we feel God has gone silent, the road disappearing in front of us doesn't necessarily mean we've been abandoned or neglected. Like Alice our faith has to lead us even where we can't see. Yes, my dad was in a far off country half way around the world , serving our country, protecting my safety and yours. As a child I was unsure, but as Jesus is a constant, so was my dad's unconditional love. What I learned was this: "The key to success is playing the hand you were dealt like it was the hand you wanted." (Think Grow Prosper) And after some sulking, crying myself to sleep and pouting I listened. God was right there, next to me all along holding out His hand, nudging me to try again, to put my faith and trust in Him, in His way, not my own. The only difference was this time was  I needed to stop fighting  my own dragons, searching for friends on my own and charting my travels to faraway places with my limited sight. Instead I had to allow Him to lead me, to guide me and to reveal all the paths in front of me.  I had to rest in the knowledge those places I had yet to see would appear when I was ready. And if I would only let go, releasing control He won't only lead me to a place where my trust in Him would thrive but would do so without borders. And when I did that my world became less chaotic, less unsure and scary. See all the while I was traveling down new roads, taking detours God in reality was leading me back home. All along God was writing my story, just as He can do with yours too. Every misstep, every series of mistakes, every detour even into the Tulgey Wood is not a mistake. Each one of those things has to happen, to take place in order for you to be found, to find your way back home. Eudora Welty says this, "Wherever you go, you meet part of your story." And this is exactly what happened to me in 1979, just as it did for Alice in Wonderland in 1865.

So when you wake up, back home and inside your own bed once again thinking of all the strange and marvelous adventures you've had, I hope you shall remember this curious dream. And take to heart the truth found here inside Life Lesson #190 ~I'll Lead You Home... You may not end up where you thought you'd go, but God will always lead you exactly where you need to be.

"She looked back and marveled how far she's come...She didn't wonder how she had made it, she knew the answer...only by God's help had she powered through. For without His strength she could do nothing." ~ Grace Power Strength



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