(Oncorhynchus mykiss) The Rainbow Trout. This painting marks the finish line at the very end of our only hallway and can be seen from the front of the house. Thats how the sight line goes in just under 1600 square feet.
And its crooked.
For five years now, when I pass this image, my left index finger finds its lower corner – aiming to nudge it to salvation before I enter the master bedroom. This has become a reflex, an almost subconscious correction familiar to those of us in the Type A frame of mind. We see, we fix, we breathe.
I must walk the length of that hallway seventy-nine times a day and there it is – crooked, cockeyed, amiss, baffling. And there I am – nudging, adjusting, correcting, baffled.
Here’s the thing: It’s not the painting that’s off kilter – it’s the whole house. You see, we live at the water level and generally speaking, it’s a gorgeous place to be. Lakefront and private and a blessing. But its sinking. The whole front of the house has been sinking toward the shore on saturated land for over fifty-two years. So then, the painting is just a symptom of a greater ailment – a house heading toward the water centimeter by centimeter, decade by decade. The eight foot crack running from ceiling to baseboard in our family room marks the evidence of our home’s determined, disastrous pilgrimage.
And so it is with me. July 2013 and April 2014 are the bookends to a year of survival and coping in my life. Pregnancy, loneliness, managing small children, mistakes, constant illness, depression and the harshest winter this area has seen in fifteen years. I nearly passed out in the checkout line at the grocery store one morning from dehydration and morning (all day long) sickness. I gripped the cart like a life raft and prayed that the teen cashier would be swift, accurate and forgettable so I could hobble to my car and sob. And sob I did on so many occasions. For business, my husband traveled countless miles and days – we were separated more than we were together. One month, three major appliances, the furnace and the kitchen lights all stopped working. The day after the washer was repaired, all of us contracted an awful virus and I lost five pounds in one day. I had limited resources and spent most of my days coping from sunrise to sunset. And I grossly underestimated the stress my oldest son would experience as I went from working 65 plus hours a week to being home with him full time – this poured out through his behavior in painful ways. I ache thinking about how hard it was for him and wish I had had more wisdom to help him at the time. Plus we got a black lab which, to date, is the dumbest idea we’ve ever had. I should have known to return him when HE ATE A BIBLE. Not to mention causing roughly $2500 in damage to both our neighbors and our property. And a week before my son was born, we were filling sandbags to avoid massive flood damage if the lake over ran its shores thanks to heavy spring rains and ice melt.
Simply put, what made all of this worse was me. My attitude and response to these realities was a millstone to my husband, my children and friends. Certainly much of what is listed above was awful, but my reaction, my choice to be negative and angry pulled everyone down around me – particularly my husband. Negativity became a habit – deep grooves in my brain and heart where I had tread back and forth over and over. To explain my depression and angry feelings, I blamed my circumstances and believed that if I could just have more energy, just not be sick anymore, just not live here, just have more help, or just not be alone so much, that then I would finally feel happy again.
The wise woman builds up her house, but the foolish tears it down with her own hands. Proverbs 14:1
The picture is crooked because the foundation is crumbling. It’s awkward angle is simply a symptom of a disastrous problem. Yes, there were awful conditions experienced over the last season of life, but I possess far greater power to either build up or tear down my family with my attitude and reaction to those conditions. As God gently brought this truth to my heart, I was ashamed at the vast selfishness I displayed because I didn’t consider the impact of my actions and began to remember and recite this:
Joy is a choice. I choose Jesus.
I repeat this to myself multiple times a day and sometimes more. If God came to give us life abundantly, and I know that He did, then I’m tired of being robbed. I’m sick of standing by and letting that abundant life, complete with joy and soul shine and brilliance, slip through my fingers because I’m more focused on whats wrong in my situation and letting those realities pull me down. Its as intelligent as standing on a street corner with all my worldly goods at my feet and letting any passerby take them away. I will not let my poor attitude steal away the truth that I have three healthy, beautiful children, a man who loves me more than life, and a Savior who paid the priceless price for my soul.
As with all healing, this will take some time. But already I see a difference in my day to day joy. Joy is a choice. I choose Jesus. This isn’t self talk or just positive thinking my way to happiness. It’s a recognition that relying on circumstances to make me happy will always prove fruitless. This is a refusal to be robbed, an ownership of the great influence I have over my family, and standing my ground on God’s side of things.
We have a few things in common, that Rainbow Trout and I. We’re both from the Pacific Coast – in fact, the Steelhead, as its also called, is the official state fish of Washington. And we both have the ability to affect our environment with catastrophic or impressive results. When the fish is introduced to locations outside their native habitat, they have a tendency to prey on, out-compete, or transmit contagious diseases to the locals. However, when healthy, the rainbow trout provides a major food source to over forty five countries. As God has called me to be a woman of consequence because of my faith in Him, let those consequences be positive for all those I come in contact with. Let me nourish and care for and react well and give grace to all that He has placed in my path.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. – John 10:10