Cold wind howled outside. Snow was quickly accumulating on our front doorstep from its sideways trajectory. The weather forecast was for over a foot of wet, heavy Springtime snow. It was the kind that broke tree branches, toppled carports, and sent 4x4 SUV’s careening into ditches and ravines everywhere. The blizzard was forecasted, but its vehemence still took me by surprise. Thankfully we were all locked inside, snug and warm.
The next day, the deep azure sky and warm temperatures quickly melted the snow leaving only a brief whisper of the dangerous blizzard the night before. As I went outside to survey the damage, I observed that tree branches up and down our residential street were broken under the weight of the wet, heavy Spring snow. My beautiful sugar maple tree was no different. High above me was a branch approximately 3 inches in diameter that had split down the middle and was pointing down rather than up. I knew that the many children around the neighborhood loved to climb my tree, so I needed to trim the branches right away and make sure that the tree was as safe as possible so that the child shaped squirrels would not be injured, or possibly worse.
It was Sunday now. The mud around the tree dried making the ground around the tree more stable. My wife and two children put on their finest and left me at home so they could attend church. Although my family desperately wanted me with them, we found that it was safer for us all that I stay home and try to control my emotions without the embarrassment of a public outburst. I had always found Sunday triggering. For some reason, for as long as I could remember, Sundays would cause me deep anxiety. I would be happy and calm the other six days of the week until. . . the world would become a million times more intense.
I would wake up and my heart would climb out of my chest cavity and furiously beat in my throat. Every syllable of every word was as if it were a 12 gauge shotgun blast next to my ears, or a high pitched car alarm that wouldn't shut off. Time would slow to an agonizing crawl and nothing would occur fast enough. I could feel every moment so deeply that everything down to the color of my toast in the morning was a personal assault against my core being. It was as if each week I was transformed into a hyper-sensitive time traveling Frankenstein monster that was always 30 minutes ahead of the rest of the world.
While Frankenstein was warring with time, there was the lecherous pervert that was also warring for control over me. The leering beast inside of me would be looking, side-glancing, ever searching for a glimpse of something that was hidden by the righteous ladies’ finery. My eyes had a mind of their own and were out of my control. My inner beast was consumed by lust. Because of this, I often wondered over the years if I was in fact demon possessed from the time I was 10, when my friend Mark showed me his Playboy magazine underneath his treehouse. I had been taught that these feelings were not normal. My beast was awakened and had taken over.
Even more, there was that me that was a normal Christian. I loved church as a child. I loved worshipping, and the entire experience. I wanted to go to church each week and learn more about God from the pastor, to sing songs like “Amazing Grace,” or “Jesus Loves Me.” I wanted to teach my children about Jesus, and to be a leader in the community and teach others what I knew. I wanted to be an anxiety-free, fearless person that people respected and loved like I was before I knew.
Yet, my fractured, trifurcated soul was causing an unbearable, insufferable punishment week after week after week for as long as I could remember. It haunted me back and back since before I was married, before seminary, before college, even into High School. 52 weeks a year for almost 30 years I suffered over and over. Orcs and elves and men warring together inside of me. Each one ebbing and flowing in victory over the span of two hours. Each one leaving the ME battered, bruised and battle-torn. My knowing made it impossible for me to endure struggle that was church without lashing out at the ones I loved. AFB had taken the ME from Sunday and left the cruelty of nothingness in his wake.
My therapist, Sheena, and I had spoken at length about this uncontrolled internal struggle that was crippling me. It was her brilliant suggestion that I try to “reclaim Sunday for myself,” to do something that I want to do rather than trying to fulfill a role that caused me such pain. Her idea was to Reclaim Sunday from AFB who would manipulate me from the pulpit. Reclaim Sunday from fear, from anxiety, from the monsters at war for my sanity.
It was that Sunday, the Sunday after the big snowstorm, that I had decided to not allow the war to rage any longer. I grabbed hold of my six foot ladder and my bow saw to trim some of the branches that had broken. I climbed high into the tree and began to saw away at some of the branches. Suddenly, my footing gave way and I fell to the ground breaking three bones and dislocating another bone in my left foot. As I layed there on the ground, I texted my wife, “I am hurt. Need help.” She didn’t believe me. She thought it was trick to get her home. I don’t like her going to church. I needed her with me to feel safe.
The weeks that followed were spent on our old rugged couch recovering from the broken bones. I remember watching the Sunday news programs as the spectacle of the 2016 election cycle unfolded into a circus of twitter wars and insults. As I got better and it became easier to walk I made sure to leave the house and try to do something fun, like going to the mall or visiting Rocky Mountain National Park. I made a point to laugh and tell stupid jokes even though I wanted to scream and cry.
As I write this story I suddenly awoke to the realization that the furious agony; The weekly torture of over 1,500 sundays had quietly subsided like that brief whisper of the Spring storm. I looked for the imminent annihilation of who I was, fearing that all had been lost, but like my sugar maple tree, I was just broken, not destroyed. My work, the time spent in therapy, my time with my family, my decision to “trim the branches” was clearing the way for Spring buds. Although church is still off limits for now, my Sundays are my own.