Tears of a Clown

Robin Williams
The world lost one of its greatest comedians when Robin Williams lost his battle with depression today. My heart hurt when I heard the news, and I thought back to a song that touched my heart back in 1967. “Tears of a Clown” was a number one hit in both the US and England. I could relate to the lyrics and sang it at least a thousand times while in high school. I still find myself singing it when the world gets me down.

In case you aren’t familiar with the song, here are the lyrics written by Smokey Robinson to go with music scored by Stevie Wonder.

“Now if there’s a smile on my face
It’s only there trying to fool the public
But when it comes down to fooling you
Now honey that’s quite a different subject
But don’t let my glad expression
Give you the wrong impression
Really I’m sad, oh I’m sadder than sad
You’re gone and I’m hurtin’ so bad
Like a clown I pretend to be glad

Now there’s some sad things known to man
But ain’t too much sadder than
The tears of a clown, when there’s no one around
Uh hum, oh yeah baby

Now if I appear to be carefree
It’s only to camouflage my sadness
And honey to shield my pride I try
To cover this hurt with a show of gladness
But don’t let my show convince you
That I’ve been happy since you
Decided to go, oh I need you so
I’m hurt and I want you to know
But for others I put on a show, ooh yeah

{repeat CHORUS}

Just like Pagliacci did
I try to keep my surface hid
Smiling in the public eye
But in my lonely room I cry
The tears of a clown
When there’s no one around, oh yeah, baby baby
Now if there’s a smile on my face
Don’t let my glad expression
Give you the wrong impression
Don’t let this smile I wear
Make you think that I don’t care
When really I’m sad…I’m hurting so bad…”

Like Pagliacci, the cheers of the world encourage me to hide my hurt and forget my pain. I didn’t know Robin Williams personally, but I spent countless hours laughing with him. The mention of his name made me grin, and his movies made me laugh out loud each time I watched them. I hope I will continue to enjoy his incredible work, but I can’t help but cry tonight as I think of the pain he endured while keeping us laughing.

It’s not easy to keep the world happy, especially when your heart is broken. We all pretend to be glad when we are sad at some point in our lives, but for some it is a never-ending battle. I spent far too much of my life putting on a happy face and ended up missing a great deal because of it. I’m learning it’s best to be real and let people see my tears. When I do, I find that hurt is part of everyone’s journey. I’m learning to cry out to and with others, and it’s changing my heart.

There is truly nothing sadder than the tears of a clown, especially when those tears flood the soul and stop the heart. I have known deep sadness in my life, and I’ve considered death as an escape twice. I thank God that I did not end up drowning in my sorrow either time. I’m learning to let others know when I’m hurting or tired or need a hand. Having loving friends and family who hear my heart and love me as I am makes all the difference. I wish that were true for all who face deep sadness or battle depression. I pray I will look more deeply into the hearts of those I love and look more closely into their eyes to see if there is a tear hiding behind their smile.

Firing Squad

Standing with her back to the wall

Blindfolded and bound

Waiting for the inevitable.

The soldiers take aim and wait.

Truth comes with the call to fire.

Bullets forged from if’s, when’s, and but’s

Find their way to the center of her heart.

She cannot survive the assault.

Life pours out upon the ground.

Freedom’s found in its flow.

New life comes.

Love grows on.

Love Grows On

A Long, Dry Spell

OasisI felt like dry bleached bones in the desert when I found myself in God’s powerful presence yesterday. In that encounter, I learned pain is preferable to numbness, and nothing is worse than separation from God.

The images in Ezekiel 37:1-14 have always intrigued me, but those bones came to life in a powerful way this week. Verse 14 says,  

“‘I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken and done it,’ declares the Lord.” (NASB)

Romans 8:11 was also a vivid reminder of God’s power.

“But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” (NASB)

These scriptures and the story of Lazarus in John 11 surrounded my heart with a refining fire unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. So very thankful for the promise of His redemption in Psalm 130:7.

O Israel, hope in the Lord;
For with the Lord there is lovingkindness,
And with Him is abundant redemption.” (NASB)

My heart has been bruised, battered, broken, and abandoned; but it has never been burned the way it was consumed last night. Dry bones and the death of Lazarus have a new meaning most clearly expressed in Romans 8:5.

“For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace,” (NASB)

Life can only come from God. I’m easily animated; those who know me know it takes very little to excite me. I love that about me and pray it never changes. God didn’t break my spirit with His lessons this week, but He brought me to an important crossroad and made me decide whether I wanted the life He had for me or the one I had in mind.

I’ve never believed I deserved love, and that has gotten in God’s way. When I made it clear that I wanted His way, He burned away all that was in His way. The emptiness was numbing, and I was taken aback by the stillness. I look forward to a beautiful fleshing out that will replace the dry numbness of these sun-drenched bones as the Son drenches my heart with the sweet living water of God’s Word.

There is life after death. In fact, there is no life without death. I didn’t like the refining fire, the dryness, the separation, or the terrible numbness of God’s lessons this week; but I love knowing that He is clearing my heart for a reason. God’s lovingkindness is an oasis in the desert. My spellcheck says lovingkindness isn’t a word. I have to agree; it’s much more.

 

Breaking Up the Clay

Sandy died on the night she graduated from high school in 1969. I haven’t thought about her in a very long time even though she was my dearest friend. Sandy Barnes was a beautiful girl, but her inner beauty was what I remember most about her. She was soft spoken and sweet and had a genuine smile that welcomed me into her home and her life. She lived across the street, so we were always together. She was a year ahead of me in school, and I looked up to her and loved her dearly. She was killed in a car accident on the way to the beach. It was a tradition to head to Myrtle Beach as soon as graduation was over, and she and Judy did just that. Judy, who lived two houses down the street, was critically injured in the same accident. She didn’t die, but she was never the same after that fateful evening. They were hit head on by a driver who was sleeping. My neighborhood and my heart were never the same.

Images of clay have been on my mind all week. I saw the familiar red dirt that produces a substance perfect for molding, but terrible for growing. I’ve always connected clay to my heart. Broken pots strewn on the floor and delicate vases abandoned on a shelf all trace their origins back to the sticky red mud that holds, hardens, and inhibits growth. The theme of my lessons this week has been growth, so it fits that God would bring that annoying clay to the surface. My father struggled with and cursed the red clay in our yard, and I found myself doing the same. I was sick of those images and asked God, “Why clay? What is it with the clay?? I’m sick and tired of wrestling in it and want to get out of it. I’ve had enough!

God heard my prayer and answered in a way I didn’t expect. What appeared was a totally unexpected and deeply disturbing memory that pulled the roots of my heart right out of the clay. It was terribly painful, but I didn’t turn away from the pain as God showed me how my heart became encased in clay. I thought it had something to do with daddy and his battle with the frustrating soil, so I was floored when Sandy’s face appeared.

Sandy was the first friend I lost to death. Her brother struggled with heart problems, and I often worried that Tommy might die after we had a rough ball game or strenuous wrestling match. The thought that Sandy might die never crossed my mind, but she did. In one terrible moment my view of death, dying, and my body changed forever. I begged and pleaded with my parents for weeks to let me go to the beach with Sandy and Judy. I cried, pitched fits, and promised to do anything they wanted in return. They would not budge. I was not going, and that was that! I hated them for not letting me go and made sure everybody knew it.

When momma came to tell me Sandy was dead, she was a mess. I know now she was thinking it could have been me. I couldn’t process the information. I was numb and empty and sorry. Guilt weighed heavily upon my heart because I was glad I hadn’t gone with them. My husband once described to me how he felt when a friend was killed beside him in Vietnam. Amazing relief and then horrible guilt for feeling relieved. That was exactly how I felt. Numbness took up permanent residence in my heart, and I went about for weeks feeling nothing at all. As I prayed and absorbed the image before me this morning, I knew the clay had begun to harden around my heart the day after Sandy died.

Sandy’s grandparents lived a few houses down the street, and they were having a wake for Sandy. I wasn’t really sure what that was, but mama said it was a “sitting up” with the dead. Sandy’s grandparents were old fashioned, and mama said I needed to go. I didn’t want to, but I forced myself to walk down the street and into the Ward’s living room. I was frozen in my footsteps when I saw Sandy’s casket sitting right in front of me, and it was open! Dear God! What kind of sick tradition was this!! Something was inside that horrible casket, but it wasn’t Sandy. My numbness got deeper as I stood staring at a body that bore no resemblance to my lost friend. I stayed because I couldn’t move. I wanted to run and never stop. A part of me did run out of that house, and it has been running ever since.

Sandy’s funeral was the first one I remember attending. I know I had been to other funerals, but I don’t remember anything about them. I was a flower girl and had to be at the church long before the service began. I wore a light pink chiffon dress and a Jackie Kennedy pill box hat. I had on white gloves that I threw away as soon I got home. I sat on the front row on the left side of the church. The middle section was for family, and Sandy’s casket was closed and sitting in front of the altar. The flower girls sitting together wondering what we were supposed to be doing. No one said anything to us, so we sat quietly.

A man with the funeral home came in to open the casket. I looked down at the floor wishing I was someplace else. He came over and asked if I would help him. I went with him and figured I was about to find out what a flower girl is supposed to do. What happened next is something I put out of my heart and mind for forty four years. I was good at putting unpleasant images out of my head and heart and could easily travel away from my body when things got to be too much for my heart. As I stood in front of Sandy’s casket in my pink dress and white gloves, I avoided looking in the casket. That wasn’t Sandy, and I refused to look at those distorted features. Her color was terrible, and her make up not like her at all. I felt myself getting dizzy.

With a matter of fact tone, the man brought me back to reality by asking me to lift the veil on Sandy’s hat while he fixed her nose. What? Did he expect me to touch her? He repeated his request as if it were the most natural thing in the world for me to do. In shock, I reached down and lifted the veil while he rearranged her features. It was clay! It wasn’t Sandy’s face at all. It takes me a while to understand the obvious, but it hits hard when I do finally get it. I couldn’t look away as this artist worked on his masterpiece. He talked about the heat and how hard it was to keep the nose in place. Blah, blah, blah… I drifted further and further into my own clay until he told me to go sit down.

As I put Sandy’s veil back down, I got some of that orange makeup on my white glove. I wanted to take it off, scream, and run from the building, but I went back to my pew, sat down, and put my hands in my lap. I don’t remember anything else about the funeral or the weeks that followed except that I erased the whole affair. This morning was the first time in forty four years I remembered the incident. Time, distance, and maturity helped me see the event in a new light. I didn’t ever connect to anyone as closely as I had connected to Sandy. I was afraid to get too close, and I found myself loving those who couldn’t, wouldn’t, or didn’t love me back. I kept my heart at a safe distance, not because of daddy but because of Sandy. Safety became all that mattered when it came to my heart. Don’t get too close and you won’t get hurt. I learned from Sandy’s death that it’s best to be safe and not sorry. Don’t take chances, and don’t venture too far away from my safety zone. If my parents hadn’t forced me to stay home, I’d be the one in the casket or in the rehabilitation center learning to walk and talk again. God’s ways are higher than mine, and I marvel at the way He transformed my foundation today. He shattered the old clay into a million pieces because that’s the only way to get rid of the hateful stuff. If you wet it down, it dries harder than before. If you burn it, it gets even harder. It has to be broken, but God waited until I was ready for a new foundation before breaking apart the old one.

I’m ready to get my body into the rich soil God has in mind for it. Soil is the foundation of the body and comprises the first chakra if you keep up with that sort of thing. When balancing the first chakra, I must envision it as it is before God can transform it into what He wants it to be. I have to want to be healed and be ready for the changes. The images of clay and fertile fields were never about my heart. They were about my body and my being. God knows I have to start at the bottom and work my way up, and He did an amazing job of excavating today. I realize I need to forget the horrible image at the casket and remember the many years of beautiful friendship and love Sandy and I shared. I also know I have to connect with others as I connected with her. She was an amazing young woman, and I wondered this morning what her children and grandchildren would have looked like. I know she would have been a great wife, wonderful mother, and a sweet grandmother. God showed me clearly that I was still feeling guilty for being alive and needed to forgive myself and move on. I know Sandy would want me to let go of the guilt too. God gave me a sweet memory of Sandy and I when we were very young. I was grounded and couldn’t leave my yard. I wasn’t supposed to play with anyone, but Sandy brought her dolls to the corner of my yard, right next to the street, and we sat and played for hours. It was the type of thing she was always doing. I plan to hold on to those memories and remember the feeling of letting someone get very close.

I can’t tell you how amazing it feels to be rid of that guilt, but I believe daddy would say it best, “I’m glad you’re out of that damn red clay and back in the rich fertile soil where you belong!” I agree daddy; I agree 🙂

That Damn Red Clay

Rich Soil

My Son

From the moment he entered my life, my son Tyler has been a source of joy to me. It was clear early on that he had an unusually sweet spirit, and his father and I thanked God for blessing us with him. Tyler’s father, Billy, died yesterday, and I’ve never been more proud of my son than I have been during the past two months. When Tyler learned his dad was dying, he immediately began making that process more pleasant for him. He took time from work and his family to spend it with his dad. The girls got to get to know their grandfather during a visit a few weeks ago, and their presence blessed Billy so very much.

Billy and I had a difficult marriage, but we were always in agreement when it came to Tyler. We loved him dearly and believed him to be the best thing either of us ever accomplished. Tyler is selfless and loves with his whole heart. There aren’t many folks like that in this world, and I thank God for placing him in my path because he has taught me much more than I ever taught him. My heart has gone out to him as he has had to deal with some very serious matters and emotions. He has persevered in a beautiful way, and I thank God for giving him and his dad a special time together.

Death makes all of us stop and take an accounting of our lives, and I’ve done that over the past two months. I made peace with Billy years ago, and I was glad to be able to spend time at Tyler’s wedding last year talking to him about our sweet son. Dealing with the death of a parent is a difficult part of life, and I watched my son deal with his dad’s death in a way that was surprising even for him. He’s a giver and always has been. As he told me once, the way we love isn’t easy, but it’s the right way.  I’ve seen firsthand lately what that love looks like as I’ve watched it play out in his dealings with Billy.  You’re right Tyler; it is the right way to love. Thank you for reminding me. I love you!!

Tyler

Lessons in Sharing

Sharing is rarely easy, but it’s far easier to share material possessions than to share my burdens with others. Inviting others into my story means opening my heart to possible hurt and rejection, and that’s more painful than having to do with a little less. Healthy sharing lets others hear my heart. Unhealthy sharing is about dumping my problems on others or holding tightly to them.  Like most folks, I’ve had my share of unhealthy sharing with things and my heart. Unhealthy sharing either weighs me down with guilt or leaves me clueless. Both knock my heart off balance.

Sharing as God desires leaves my heart balanced and stronger than ever. When it comes to weight, distribution is the key to balance. The same is true when it comes to sharing burdens. Carrying burdens alone wears me down quickly, but handing it off to someone who will ‘take care of it for me’ is even worse. My son is dealing with his father’s illness, and I’ve watched him share his father’s burdens in a powerful way. Being a loving presence and helping him find his balance has given Tyler a new sense of balance. That’s what healthy sharing does, and I thank God for the lessons we are all learning during this special time of transition.

I hear hope in Tyler’s voice, and I’ve never been more proud of him. Love changes everything, and that is especially true when it comes to love and life. Burdens are lightened and loads are are lifted when love enters the picture. Children lift and lighten as no medicine can, and they need be part of the sharing process. Tyler and Gina are allowing the girls to be present in a positive way. That’s healthy sharing, and it creates balance. It is what weight distribution is all about. The joy the girls bring grows as it is shared, and that’s the best sharing of all.

Tagging Along or Out in Front?

In “My Utmost for His Highest,” Oswald Chambers gives a beautiful description of the new life that comes from the rebirth Christ promises. “The new life manifests itself in conscious repentance and unconscious holiness.” Jesus tells Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3 NASB)

 The biggest misconception when it comes to Christianity is that rebirth happens automatically. Nothing could be further from the truth. I did not choose to be born the first time around, but rebirth requires a conscious decision on my part. Repentance that leads to rebirth requires obedience that causes me to die to self so I can see God in a new light. Just as a baby coming through the birth canal is blinded by the light of this world, my heart is also overwhelmed by the light of God’s kingdom during the process of rebirth.

In God’s kingdom, He is more than a father, protector, guide, and teacher. He is the Ruler He has been, is, and always will be. Seeing God in the light of His kingdom changes the way I see myself and His world. Without rebirth, I simply bid God to join me on my journey instead of being led on His. There is a world of difference, and entering His kingdom makes that crystal clear. He will never leave me alone, but He will not tag along after me. I found myself lost, alone, and at the end of my hope when I realized the path I was traveling was quickly unraveling toward me. Sometimes a new direction isn’t an option; such was the case with my heart.

While God will not tag along behind me, He has been, is, and always will be present on my journey. When I die to self, I’m ready to be led. He lifted me off the unraveling path I was traveling and set me down in the woods where we had a very special connection long ago. It was a time of beautiful rebirth, and I was nineteen once again. Trips down the birth canal are always traumatic because they take me from the familiar into the unknown. It is a fearful trip, but hearing mama’s voice at the other end calmed and soothed my frightened heart the first time. I remember vividly how Tyler’s crying stopped the moment he heard my voice. God’s comforting voice at the end of that rebirth canal had the same effect upon me.

I’m not sure what God has in mind for the next leg of this incredible journey, but I do know Who will be out front and who will be tagging along as we travel.

A Walk in the Woods