By Connie Cruthirds
Since I was a little girl, Labor Day weekend has always meant the end of summer. School began, white shoes were put away, and long play days were over. I remember that almost every year from kindergarten on, teachers would ask us to share something about our summer break. My five-year-old self was learning early that reflection on where I’d been might help me find my way to where I was going next.
When the summer of 2018 began, I wasn’t sure about much of anything. After a challenging winter and spring, I’d arrived at the month of May with a six word message stuck on replay in my head, "I've got nothing left to give." It played over and over again until I began to say those words out loud, text them to loved ones, and feel them wrap around a truth I could no longer hide. I’d never felt more scared or hopeless for my own well being.
The choices I was making in response to life circumstances soon flipped my wayward ship upside down and threw me overboard without a raft. No doubt I was drowning until God's grace tossed me a single lifeline that said, "Time to ask for help." That might be a great idea for others, but what I wanted to hear was, ”Dear one, I've dried up all your tears, smoothed the path, and fueled you with more human super powers.”
My first step, with God’s help, was to tell our ministers I was struggling and needed prayer. Then, I asked my counselor friend, Cindy, for advice. She suggested I find a place to go for at least a week to get guidance and support. I’d been navigating several years of family crisis and the trauma those challenges bring.
This mom needed to put herself in time out. Where would a person like me with nothing left to give go and how would I find the energy to get there? I would soon learn that surrendering to "Thy will be done" becomes much easier when one's own will is exhausted.
Soon more grace started showing up. The first time was a call from the Reverend Eyleen Farmer on one of my worst days. I watched my phone screen light up, saw her name, waited a few rings, and hit decline. Eyleen was offering pastoral care on a day when I was so camped out in my darkness that it began to feel like home, my go-to companion. It consistently offered me all kinds of solutions to help me not feel life’s pain. Unfortunately, the solutions were no longer working. Exiled emotions eventually find a way to the surface, but I didn't have the energy to feel them.
Stalled again, God reminded me of the "ask for help” lifeline, but this time I saw it had a tagline, “Let others do for you what you cannot do for yourself.”
I'm sure I'm not the first person to decline a priest’s call, because Eyleen soon approached me from another angle a few days later with a simple text that popped up on my screen. "Would you like to meet for coffee?” I said yes not knowing that this kind, generous priest would tell me about a person and a place she had experienced herself that might help lead me out of my darkness
Here’s the next part of my story written in June for Dr. Carole Riley at the West Virginia Institute for Spirituality’s Summer/Fall 2018 News:
“Life has offered me plenty of growth opportunities, but the past four years have been especially difficult since nothing could've prepared me for my then-16-year-old-son, Adam's cancer diagnosis. Two years into our family's journey I often said about myself, ‘Someone is going to need to help put Humpty Dumpty back together again soon.’ Adam, now 20, is in remission having survived more than 1,000 doses of chemo! His healing team put him back together well enough to study abroad this past month. My healing team knew I needed to get away, too. In May, I met with a minister friend who told me about retreats she'd done with Sister Carole at the West Virginia Institute for Spirituality. Without even talking to her, we arranged for me to come for a week of spiritual direction. Of course, I was a bit nervous, but something kept telling me this was right. Truth is, my Humpty Dumpty self was struggling even more than I realized as I had nothing left to give to myself or others. I arrived here almost a week ago to stay in the beautiful little hermitage. On that first day, as I prepared to walk up the stairs to Sister Carole's office for our first meeting, I stopped and gasped. On the staircase in front of me was the only stuffed Humpty Dumpty I'd ever seen and on his hat was an embroidered sign that said "God could." And now God has. Over the past several days, I have looked at the broken pieces of myself, thanks to great spiritual direction and many hours of prayer discerning which pieces of my life to keep and which ones to let go. Clearly, this is where I was meant to be. I'll go home soon to continue my healing process feeling renewed and revived to continue thanks to my Team God mascot Humpty Dumpty and the loving staff at WVIS.”
I returned to Memphis 10 weeks ago after a week of mostly silence at WVIS. It wasn't easy, but healing often isn't. That little hermitage was my sanctuary, my safe place to reconnect with God. It was there in my “time out” that I began to relearn the natural rhythms of my body’s sleep, nourishment, activity, desired silence, etc.. Through twice-daily talks with Sister Carole, centering prayer, communion, long walks, and rest, the door to my darkness cracked open wide enough to let light in. A path emerged that I follow the best I can every day by choosing to do the next right thing.
Re-entry has been filled with revelations and challenges. This summer’s sermons at Holy Communion, always delivered by clergy with humbled hearts, offered me weekly guidance for living. Also, Sister Carole helped me learn to begin each day with prayer and mediation. More centered now, I know that my access to God’s guidance is just a brief pause and one deep breath away at any given moment. Asking for help several months ago has allowed me to be refilled and refueled.
Today I wonder what my five-year-old self might say about this summer vacation. I imagine that playful little girl would smile really big, showing all her silver-capped teeth and say, “I had the best time ever playing outside, talking to nice people, and taking a lot of good naps.”
Author's note: This was written during the monthly half-day St. Clare Silent Women’s Retreat at St. Columba. I imagined I was writing to someone else who might need to ask for help.