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The Gray Wave
Cheryl Nicholas

Hour of Prayer

A wave of emotions engulfed me. This had happened to me before, so I understood what was going on. I had learned from the past to flow with turmoil rather than fight the undertow.

As my only child, a daughter, and I planned her senior prom and high school graduation, I flashed back to my own dark days of high school. I remembered the emptiness. There were no friends, no prom, no graduation ceremony. I supported myself in my own apartment while I went to school. My stepmother was dying of cancer and in the hospital two blocks from where I lived. My dad was a wasted drunk. I was invisible and surviving. If I could manage to flow with the memories, I knew I would grow and further my lifelong healing process. I didn't want my emotions to detract from my daughter's excitement. She deserved the best of me. So, I prayed and cried in private. Also, I knew the time had come that I had dreaded her whole life. She was grown. Intellectually, I knew that our relationship was in a transition. Emotionally, I feared the loss of my lifeline. Sadness, joy and fear swirled around me. I was acutely aware how, for seventeen years, I had filled the void in my life. Protecting, loving and teaching Jenna had been my gauges to self worth. It was time for me to recognize that I was whole and lovable just as I was, not merely an extension of her. I feared I was an emotional cripple and prayed for God to help me through this show me what to do with myself.

Tossed within this gray wave were memories of my brother. He had disappeared several years ago, and I had been searching for him for three years. A friend was helping me locate him, and I waited for verification that he had been found. In the silent darkness before sleep, tears dampened my pillow when terrifying memories flooded back. His screams echoed in my head, and I was haunted by the sound of his body crashing against walls. His beaten, bloody, twelve-year-old face loomed before me. Old guilt and responsibility tugged at the corners of my heart. His older sister, I didn't get beaten as badly as he did. I prayed for God to guide me through this turmoil. I knew, once again, that this was part of the process of healing, and that if I flowed with the feelings, my burden would be lightened.

Emotions bubbled and I was vulnerable. My stake in the sand, I decided, would be my job. I was a good nurse and, while I rode this wave, I would extend myself and receive validation from my patients and coworkers. Ironically, this validation did not come. My frustration grew. The dark hole of helplessness that plagued me all of my life threatened to swallow me now. I screamed at God to show me what I was supposed to do. "I pray to You over and over and over again," I wailed."I'm always back, hanging on the edge and not daring to let go for fear I will fall into the bottomless quagmire and disappear. Why won't you help me?!" On my knees, I screeched these angry words at a God I felt was too busy to listen or to lead. I was invisible.

I was ready to leave for work, when the phone rang. The friend who had been looking for my brother said he had located him. Les, my little brother, was living on the streets in California and didn't want anything to do with me. Nothing to do with me? My friend said that Les didn't want anything to do with anybody, that he stayed in shelters when it was cold, that he worked odd jobs to earn enough money for cheap whiskey and wine. Pain seared my heart. I, more that anybody, knew the damage done to my brother's soul. I could understand why he decided to drop out. He had no self esteem. He had been raised with the name,"You-dirty-little-son-of-a-bitch." He chose to turn his back even on me. Processing this as I spoke to my friend, I understood that I reminded him of his own terror. A sadness saturated my heart. I put this in the bucket with the other things I knew I had to deal with at this time. Just feel the hurt, I told myself. Walk though it. Know that you will come out on the other side with even more healing.

I said good-bye to my friend, but the phone rang again. The secretary at the hospital said to come by the boss's office before going to the floor to begin my shift. Maybe this is the validation I have been waiting for and deserved. I walked in and saw my personnel folder on my boss's desk. She handed me a letter."This is to notify you that you are suspended pending an investigation of possible gross misconduct. You are to leave the premises immediately and not return until you are notified." Words blurred. Shock jolted my body. I sank into a chair and said,"What is this for?""I won't talk about it until the investigation is complete," the administrator answered. "But, I'm racking my brain. Was a patient hurt somehow?""No.""I made a medication error last night," I said."The patient didn't receive any of the incorrect medication, and I followed policy by writing up the incident.""It does involve that incident, but I won't talk anymore about it until we investigate." I picked up my bag and walked out, numb. What have I done? My life is crumbling before my eyes. I'm no good, and this is proof. I met a friend and coworker in the parking lot, couldn't speak and handed her the letter."What happened?" She asked, bewildered."I don't know." I assured my friend I was okay to drive home and left, feeling like an abandoned, lost child. At home, survival took over, and I wrote out every single event I could remember during the time frame in question. I even talked to the union representative.

A robe over my uniform, curled up on my bed, I saw the total uselessness of my life. What was the difference between my brother, who chose to live as a homeless drunk, and me? No matter what I did, I ended up in the hole. I wandered aimlessly through the house, my red flannel robe wound tightly around my body. The world became peripheral, its edges blurred. My daughter came home and found me leaning against the wall."Mom, what's wrong?" Her timid voice held fear."I'm suspended from my job and my brother lives on the streets and doesn't want anything to do with me." I tried to keep my voice steady, not wanting to scare her, but I fell apart. I covered my face in my hands and sobbed.. She hugged me and said,"Mom, you have always been there for me, please let me be there for you, now." I cried on her shoulder and described in detail the violent scene with my brother. I told her how the picture of his beaten and bloody face was burned into my heart. She cried too, held me close and patted my shoulder.

Then, I became numb. I wanted out of my skin. I knew that once again, Jenna was truly my lifeline, and I hated myself for having so little to give. My coworker called at the end of her shift and asked if I was okay. Just numb, I told her."Want me to come by?""Yes, please." I knew that my choices, right then and there, were to crawl under the covers and let myself be consumed with self debasement and hatred, or I could reach out. I made tea when my friend arrived, and we talked. I told Susan about my brother, that awful scene, and cried some more. I told her how scared and helpless I felt and that the one"stake in the sand" I had depended upon had been pulled away from me. I was scared that I was sinking into the quagmire. Susan, her blue eyes clear with concern said,"May I tell you what I think, Cheryl?""Yes.""I think God wants us to use Him as our stake in the sand," she said..

She was right. I had been depending on external forces to help myself feel better. I knew too well the principles which are involved with the healing process. I knew that walking through the fear and pain was so very important. Knowing all this, I proceeded with controlled caution, walking precariously on the edge. It became clear to me that the very thing I thought I needed...validation from my job...was the very thing that threatened to push me over the edge and into the quagmire. I had a choice: sink or let God in. I began to talk in earnest. More importantly, I began to listen. For two days I listened. I let the Highest Power hold me in Loving Hands. Friday, a letter came, directing me to attend a pre-termination meeting Monday morning. You lied, it said. You compromised patient care. I dropped the letter and fell to my knees. "Guide me, keep me safe, show me what to do," I whispered. I stepped off of the edge and placed myself in God's care because I knew I had to stop these old thought patterns. I listened with my heart. I shared my feelings with a group of people with whom I had shared only my superficial self. I spilled out my sorrow and fear over the loss of my lifeline, the rejection and sadness over my little brother, the terror of losing my job and, worse yet, my license to practice nursing.

Fear still hounded me. I needed to stay out of my own head, so I drove around aimlessly, then came home and tried to sleep. I had to stay away from me, it seemed. Red, puffy eyes looked into the mirror. I saw myself as a child, huddled in the corner, frightened, hurt, invisible. I became that little girl all over again. She said to me,"You have been asking. You have begged. You have lamented your need for direction. Are you listening, now?" I took that little girl and held her with my heart. I knew that God, Goddess, Universe, Higher Power was, once again, speaking to me. This time, I listened.

I understood the reason the storm raged around me. This had been what it took to get my attention, and that it was time for me to let go of the control I had clothed in lip service about Universal Love. Me, a whining, sad, fearful child lacking the trust to surrender and accept the Good. I had been coasting, all the while sinking into an ego-based abyss. I gave it up. I slept fitfully, recommitting to this Higher Good every wakening moment throughout the night. The morning of the hearing, I was anxious and scared of going through this"trial"...facing my accusers. I was no longer in charge, though. Regardless of the outcome, things would be just as they were supposed to be.

Susan demonstrated a new closeness to me when she called and asked if she could drive me to the meeting. I accepted. We went to the chapel in the hospital, and she prayed while she held my hands. I was bathed in a peaceful awareness of protective love. I entered the office and waited for the administrator and the head of the Human Resource Department. Objective, calm and unemotional, I gave my side of the events and answered their questions truthfully. My voice exuded a quiet confidence. They left the room to conduct a private conference. Shortly afterward, I was exonerated with nothing on my record. Yes, God. You got my attention. I'm listening. What is it You will have me do?

Know that you are loved, came the reply. Know that you are cherished. You will share your love with others. I will show you. Just keep listening, Cheryl. Keep listening.

The gray wave, swirling with crises, forced me to my knees. I wanted to live. I didn't want to die a slow death by isolating myself anymore. I had to reach out. We are here to give to one another. That giving results from accepting God's love manifested in one another. Yes, damage was done to me as a child, and I have been recovering from it most of my adult life. The bottomless hole and quagmire, however, are of my own making. I put God on the back burner, and made decisions based on misdirected ego needs. Results were tenuous at best. The gray wave picked me up and tossed me around in sorrow, fear, terror and self pity. I lost control, my choices were narrowed.

I have learned how capable I am of loving others the way I am loved. My daughter, through my teaching and her own God-given love, is becoming a nurturing friend. My choice to reach out to others has bridged the chasm of self-imposed isolation. I can let my brother go and still love him while I pray for him. Each morning and each night I choose to pray to a God who truly is there and l am so very grateful for the lessons taught.

Yes, God. You got my attention.

I am listening.

Artwork"Hour Of Prayer" by Minna Vainio
Visit her web site at

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