Sunday, July 12, 2009

Confessions of a Properous Pauper II - Marlboro Girl

When I wrote the first of my confessions (Confessions of a Prosperous Pauper I) I knew it would be followed by many more. Afterall, anyone that has lived 60+ years certainly has to have more than one confession!
So earlier today, as I meandered during my early morning walk, I found myself laughing aloud. Why certain memories surface at certain times I do not know. Sometimes they're welcome and sometimes they're intrusive. Many are lovely; bringing a smile. Some come with a flood of tears. Yet others still make me blush or feel a twinge of shame.
Even so, I actually treasure all of them. They are me - - the colors & hues of my life. They don't define me, but they certainly add the Atomic Tangerine, Jazzberry Jam, Screamin' Green, and many of the other big box Crayola colors (up to 133 shades since 1998) to my life. Dimension.
Why and how I ever concluded that smoking (versus being smokin') made one classy-n-cool I'll never know. Maybe it occurred when my sister Carol took it up in her late teens; she certainly embodied all that was cool from my junior vantage point. Or maybe it's because some of my movie heroines smoked - - they being the epitome of sophistication. Certainly smoking was synonymous with good sense and sass? Well, maybe sass.

All I know is that I had to nearly gag to death work hard to learn to smoke. No, make that like to smoke. But work hard I did!
Anyway, I smoked from the ripe old age of 14 until I was 32. It's what a child of the 60s did, especially any child hailing from the with it crowd of the 60s. (I'd like to throttle the mysterious "they" that give such folly life).
I finally quit smoking at 32 for a few years and then began again when I was 37, only to quit again every day for the next eight years until, at 44 I finally felt free.
That ought to do it ... my confession.
Oh that it were that simple.
At 32 (1980) I had a spiritual "aha" which lead to my decision to stop smoking. I wish I could say that I ever-so-humbly turned my addiction/affliction over to theLord, then equally humbly spent the subsequent days so filled with gratitude that I was rendered speechless. I wish.
Well, filled I was ... but with hubris. Oh, I didn't realize that's what it was at the time, but quite boldly I was quick to announce to anyone I could corner how I'd been delivered of a nicotine addiction (emphasis on delivered, as if spoken by a revival preacher). Some of my believing friends shouted "hallelujah!" and went on with their lives; while my unbelieving friends just stared at me as if I'd grown a cone head like one might see on Saturday Night Live.
Well, a few years went by with me living in this schizophrenic state (partly humble, largely arrogant, truly blind, sometimes godly, utterly clueless), and smoke free. Remember, I'd been delivered.
Then began the dark ages. Doesn't every life have one (or two, or ten)?
I hope not to toss anyone else beneath the proverbial bus as I continue my confessions - - at least not intentionally. Besides, I rather cherish the fact that I am not a victim. 95% of the trouble that has befallen me I had a hand in bringing about. The other 5% I'm not so sure of. But I must say, at the onset of the dark ages, a set of circumstances came roaring down the slope of my life like an avalanche in the Swiss alps! When it finally hit full force, guess who reached for her cigarettes?
Saint Sassy!
It began innocently enough with the closure of a large segment of my then-employer's business. Of 122 employees, only 19 of us remained. It was a huge loss; one I hadn't seen coming. People I'd come to respect deeply and love dearly were gone in a flash. I found myself wishing I'd been swept up in that flash, but I was one tagged to stay. Ever had survivor's guilt? Cigarettes go well with it.
I eventually moved on with my life, but then there was a family rift that opened up a wide fissure in my soul, and in my heart. Puff, puff.
Just as I began thinking I might survive my hurts & losses, hubby lost his job. Our finances took a nosedive, and I sensed the avalanche was gaining momentum. Little did I know how much momentum was behind the dark ages.
At the same time, youngest son was experiencing some very difficult days as a teen. Drinking, drugs, and not-so-healthy friends came calling and it didn't take him long to become entangled. The family lived between hope and chaos while he lived in either the land of apathy or the land of denial. We all ran between those two posts until we could figure out how best to help him. I bought cigarettes by the carton.
Then oldest son, the talented and gifted student who could have had a scholarship most anywhere, decided to forego college and head straight for the Navy. Huh? Not much interested in a parental blessing, he was packed and ready to ship out before I had time to put away his childhood teddy bears.
I needn't have worried about the loss of material things, because the loss of OTHER things soon became of greater concern. Hubby decided he might need a mid-life walkabout and moved out (why hadn't I thought of THAT?!)! I seriously thought of eating cigarettes.
Just when I thought the saga couldn't get any uglier, some new flow of folly would come rushing in to knock me off my feet again, and again, and again.

I got very comfortable with tears, as did the grocery clerk at Albertson's, the people at my church, my neighbors, complete strangers. Smoke and cry; cry and smoke. Ugh.
Now let's talk about faith. I had a large amount of it going into the difficult days, but I had much, much more coming out ... cigarettes and all. Needless to say, all those rough edges and arrogant proclamations were refined. Sassy wasn't so sassy in those days. Fact is, I didn't know a human tear duct was capable of such spontaneous activity. I felt as though I were being forced to drink in life's trouble through a fire hose!
During the ups and downs of those days, and not reported in the litany above, I clung fiercely to the Lord like a shipwrecked survivor clinging to the one last floating plank. I learned to pour my heart out to Him, to consciously focus on His nearness, to pour over the scriptures & to speak them aloud.
When the avalanche subsided, He dispatched His personal Search & Rescue unit to dig me out (these came in the form of His word, or some very authentic believers that knew something about transparency). No St. Bernard with whiskey for this fallen sojourner. But after years of being buried, I could finally catch my breath (when I wasn't coughing). Like a slapslick Laurel & Hardy movie, I could peak above the rubble - - to look beyond the fall line - - with hope, and even a smidge of humor (you'll like that Beth). I had a strange confidence that I would be just fine. The Lord was near. For the life of me I could not imagine how truly good and rich life would again become.
As you may have surmised, it took awhile to rebuild. Fences needing mending. Breaches needed bridges. Wounds took time to heal.
Frost bite has a lingering aftermath.
But time did pass, and so too the dark ages in my life. And so too the smoking thing.
You see, when my wobbly knees finally stood firm, I had learned not to lead with my chin. By that I mean, I didn't put my faith out front as if it were an Academy Award. I learned to pray for wisdom, and to keep my mouth shut when I didn't feel I had any (well, most of the time anyway). I have seen trouble since, but nothing has had the power of those long ago dark ages. It's no mystery; I know why.
You see, I would never again be tempted to swerve when trouble came my way, nor would I need to run out to purchase a pack (which, as we all know, becomes at least 743 packs) of cigarettes. His grace was sufficient. His grace is sufficient.

Who would have thought a pauper could be so prosperous? .

Above all else, guard your heart,
for it is the wellspring of life.
Put away perversity from your mouth;
keep corrupt talk far from your lips.
Let your eyes look straight ahead,
fix your gaze directly before you.
Make level paths for your feet
and take only ways that are firm.
Do not swerve to the right or the left;
keep your foot from evil.
Proverbs 4:23-27


Andrea said...

Thank you!!

I, too have grown closer to the Lord and stronger in my faith as I have traveled through some rocky and difficult times. I never smoked, but it was likely b/c I couldnt afford them. If someone had said it would have helped..I am sure I would have tried. My husband quit smoking 30 years ago. It still shares with others how hard it was and for some time. He is able to encourage others who struggle with nicotine addiction in a way that I and others am not. I am confident this post will touch the hearts of many.
Blessings and prayers, andrea

Diane said...

Thank you for your openness. I pray God brings you a greater realease and freedom from these things!

christy rose said...

Amen Kathleen! Praise God! His grace is sufficient! For Everything!
Great Post!

Terri Tiffany said...

Wow--I feel like you just let us see more who you are-- and I love how you shared it--you are so much more human to me--with all the struggles you went through, I kept thinking--she really does understand what I'm dealing with!
And then I thought--and she survived through God's grace:))
Thank you dear friend!

elaine @ peace for the journey said...

One of my favorites, Sassy. Like Terri said, you've opened up a further window into your soul and allowed those of us standing on the outside, a curious and wonderful look it. We have so much to learn from one another, cigarettes and all.

This goes deeper than cigarettes, as often do most of our "addictions." Thank you for telling me this story; somehow, it gives me more courage to tell a bit of mine.

Lots of love.


Pat's Place said...

Thanks for sharing your story. I have been there, done much of that and my heart hurts just reading your story and recalling similar parts of my own story. Thanks!

Saleslady371 said...

You have no idea how much this helps me, Kathleen. Wait a minute...yes, I think you do!!!! I admire your strength. It came from so much heartache. I feel like I can fly now having read this. Thank you for your vulnerability. What a gift to us.


LisaShaw said...

I loved this:

"They don't define me, but they certainly add the Atomic Tangerine, Jazzberry Jam, Screamin' Green, and many of the other big box Crayola colors (up to 133 shades since 1998) to my life. Dimension."

And this:

"Saint Sassy".

While I laughed at certain things I could intensely relate to others especially as an ex-smoker myself.

Thank you for your TRANSPARENCY and realism!

This could be a best seller as it houses so much of what 'we' experience on our faith journey.

Love you.