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Someone I Used to Know

I dive in after my little boy who has fallen into the ocean, frantically calling out to him, “Baby, baby, where are you?” I spot him underwater, slowly sinking, and I swim toward him, extending my hand, “Baby, baby, grab my hand. PLEASE GRAB MY HAND!” He stretches his arm out toward me but doesn’t quite reach me and continues his slow motion descent further and further down. I call out to him again, “Baby, PLEASE GRAB MY HAND”, and he makes one last try, and almost makes it but just as his fingertips barely touch mine, he slips away. As I watch helplessly as he descends deeper and deeper into the ocean depths, a sense of hopelessness and total remorse engulfs me, realizing that I can never save him. Then I wake up.

I am attached to my son. I am he and he is me—we are one and we always were. We are attached surely as if our livers, or lungs, or hearts were in the same body. I feel him and I cannot separate myself. I know for sure that I will not survive if one day I get the phone call that I have been dreading for so many years. I will cease to exist, if not physically, but spiritually—my soul will surely die and time will stop. I wonder why God puts people in the world for suffering while others live a charmed life. I go through each day, trying to become a “Lasagna noodle” and I am sometimes successful. But, alas, that serene state never lasts because I cannot get the vision out of my mind of my child, being shunned by everyone, alone, and looking like the Unabomber, hoody, sunglasses, and surgical mask, trying to navigate the world—running from all the entities chasing and trying to kill him.

Mental illness has taken his soul just as if he were a victim of a Body Snatcher—for he kind of resembles himself, but his essence is gone. He has become “someone I used to know” but don’t anymore. I can fool myself on some days and sometimes when I am at Church I can pretend in my daydream that he is sitting right beside me, worshipping God and feeling the rhythmic beat of the Christian Rock band. I can daydream that he is OK now and that he is back in his right mind. A sense of peace and serenity surrounds me and for a short period of time I can actually believe that anything is possible and I have hope again. But then reality creeps back into my world and I know I am powerless.

Today I have come to the realization that I can never save my boy—only God can. Unlike when he was a baby, he is a grown man and I have no control in his life. Although I had that dream so long ago, I can still remember it because it never felt like an actual dream—more like a premonition. I can pray and hope that one-day the stars and the moon will align and somehow he will be saved. But realistically I do not feel that will ever happen although I still hold out hope; when you lose hope that is the end and I am not ready to accept that yet.

Testimony

This is my Testimony that I wrote a number of months ago. It has actually been 3 years and 4 months since my surgery but I wanted to post this because I had not done so before:

Recently, I started thinking that almost 2 years ago I had a life changing surgery. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was actually almost 3 years. I couldn’t believe that time had just slipped by so quickly. So, on March 1st 2016 it will be 3 years since I was released from a living hell of a crippling illness. Everyone knows HOPE is everything, but sometimes no matter how you look at it, HOPE seems to be nowhere. After having lower back surgery, I inexplicably began to have trouble walking. I had a severely dropped foot, constant nerve pain, and a partially paralyzed leg. HOPE began to slip away after exhausting all tests and follow up MRIs, even 2nd opinions, only to be told, “We just don’t understand what is wrong with you. We have never seen something like this before.” Each morning I would awake with hope that a miracle happened and somehow I was getting better. But as soon as the realization came that nothing had changed and I was even worse, an incredible despair and hopelessness would engulf me. There were so many days that I wanted to just give up but I kept saying, “Maybe things will be better tomorrow. If you are thinking of offing yourself, put it off until tomorrow and see.” By employing that tactic, I managed to stay in this world to see a miracle happen. I have no doubt that this miracle was from my persistence and constantly not taking NO for an answer, a doctor who actually sat down to think about my symptoms, and God. I don’t think I would have gotten better if all of these factors were not aligned. By God’s grace one of my doctors ordered another MRI and found the culprit, a benign spinal tumor compressing a portion of my thoracic spine. Faith is a beautiful thing and when life is going well, it is easy to have it. The true test of faith is when life is life—when you feel that all hope is gone and you cannot see your way out. So many people are waiting for a white light and burning bush to prove the existence of God, when He is there all along. I believe my horrendous experience was necessary to bring me to my knees and start believing. I do not think this was an accident and that there are no coincidences in God’s world. God was working in my life for a long time before I noticed it, even meeting Joyce and Bill, who introduced me to their church. If my son had not had the breakdown, I never would’ve met them. I think God was patiently waiting for me, only I needed the experiences I endured to discover Him. I still pray and pray for my boy, and sometimes, when I am in a bad space, I wonder if God is really listening. Then I remember I must have faith, which equals hope, which equals life. I do not know what the future holds, and I must remember that I am not in charge. It is when I turn things over to Him that I achieve that elusive gift of peace and serenity that I am constantly seeking.

Faith

Recently, I started thinking that almost 2 years ago I had a life changing surgery. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was actually almost 3 years. I couldn’t believe that time had just slipped by so quickly. So, on March 1st 2016 it will be 3 years since I was released from a living hell of a crippling illness. Everyone knows HOPE is everything, but sometimes no matter how you look at it, HOPE seems to be nowhere. After having lower back surgery, I inexplicably began to have trouble walking. I had a severely dropped foot, constant nerve pain, and a partially paralyzed leg. HOPE began to slip away after exhausting all tests and follow up MRIs, even 2nd opinions, only to be told, “We just don’t understand what is wrong with you. We have never seen something like this before.” Each morning I would awake with hope that a miracle happened and somehow I was getting better. But as soon as the realization came that nothing had changed and I was even worse, an incredible despair and hopelessness would engulf me. There were so many days that I wanted to just give up but I kept saying, “Maybe things will be better tomorrow. If you are thinking of offing yourself, put it off until tomorrow and see.” By employing that tactic, I managed to stay in this world to see a miracle happen. I have no doubt that this miracle was from my persistence and constantly not taking NO for an answer, a doctor who actually sat down to think about my symptoms, and God. I don’t think I would have gotten better if all of these factors were not aligned. By God’s grace my doctor ordered another MRI and found the culprit, a benign spinal tumor compressing a portion of my thoracic spine. Faith is a beautiful thing and when life is going well, it is easy to have it. The true test of faith is when life is life—when you feel that all hope is gone and you cannot see your way out. So many people are waiting for a white light and burning bush to prove the existence of God, when He is there all along. I believe my horrendous experience was necessary to bring me to my knees and start believing. I do not think this was an accident and that there are no coincidences in God’s world. God was working in my life for a long time before I noticed it, even meeting Joyce and Bill, who introduced me to their church. If my son had not had the breakdown, I never would’ve met them. I think God was patiently waiting for me, only I needed the experiences I endured to discover Him. I still pray and pray for my boy, and sometimes, when I am in a bad space, I wonder if God is really listening. Then I remember I must have faith, which equals hope, which equals life. I do not know what the future holds, and I must remember that I am not in charge. It is when I turn things over to Him that I achieve that elusive gift of peace and serenity that I am constantly seeking.

Fifty Things I Hate About the South

A while back, I was at my hairdresser’s and I was complaining about the way drivers in Augusta take 15 minutes to make a turn into a driveway. We were laughing and then I said, I was going to write an article entitled, “Fifty Things I Hate about the South.” That was an exaggeration, and I do not hate the South. But, as a transplanted Northerner, it has sometimes been challenging fitting in.

How did a nice Jewish girl from the NY/NJ area end up (not a good choice of words) in Augusta, GA you might ask? Well, through a series of fateful events I moved here. I had been working at the WTC, and a year after the 9/11 attacks, I was laid off along with hundreds of others. After wracking my brains about how I would survive, it came to me; I’ll move down South. So, I up and sold my Townhouse and bought one here.

I was familiar with the area since I had been visiting my friend’s family for 8 years on vacation. But visiting and actually living here was a totally different story. With all the uncertainty in my life, the initial reason I moved here was financial; let’s face it, it is cheaper to live in Augusta. Since moving here, I have taken risks and reinvented myself many times over but it has still been a rocky ride at times. In the beginning, I wondered if I made a mistake because I missed my family terribly and some of the differences were very stark to me. As a liberal Northerner, it is sometimes hard to swallow some of the political leanings of this area. I missed the day-trips to Camelback, PA to go skiing too. I cannot escape the question of “where do you come from” (as if I’m an alien from another planet) due to my New York accent. I also cannot fathom why, when asked my name at Starbucks, my coffee comes with the name “Maryland” on the cup. Even when I tell people my name, they still say, “Maryland?” I get junk mail addressed to “Maryland Botta.” Maybe I should change my name to Washington, DC. The names down here are different too. I discovered that Melvis is an actual name, which took me by surprise because that was a made up name my brother and I used for my cousin Melvin and his wife Phyllis. You also don’t find the variety of ethnic restaurants here that you find up North, and I miss that sometimes. The first time I was asked what Church I belonged to, I was taken aback; that would be considered rude up North, and nobody’s business. But in the South, it is commonplace and acceptable. Living in Augusta often means that everybody knows everybody (a la Peyton Place)—you always run into people you know, or people that know who you know; that’s life in a small town. But when all is said and done, despite all these differences, the South has grown on me, even when I wasn’t even aware of it. Here’s the thing—for years every time someone would ask me if I like it in Augusta, I would say, “Eh, it’s OK.” I could not make up my mind, but one day, while driving down the street on a really lovely spring day, it suddenly occurred to me that Augusta has become my home. I have made some friendships, and have established a life of sorts here. I have come to appreciate the South, even though it is not perfection (but no place is). So, the next time someone asks me if I like it down South, I will say, “Yes, I do and I think I’ll stay.”

Jamaican VBS Trip 2015

My 2015 Jamaican VBS Experience

Since I am new to the bible, church in general, and West Town Community, when I saw that there was a VBS trip to Jamaica I questioned whether or not I was qualified to go. I didn’t think that I had anything to contribute, but Joyce said that was not true, so I jumped in, even with lingering doubts. I figured although I couldn’t really share my biblical knowledge, I could at least document the trip in pictures. So, that was my contribution. I believe that everyone on this trip had a unique talent, that when taken alone would not have been enough, but together each one of us contributed in our own special way. It made for a united front and a great team.

We arrived Tuesday, July 21st with no incidents and were warmly met by Bernard and Kingsley. Although Kingsley was our van driver, he is also a pastor. After getting settled into the hotel, Kingsley brought us to a local fast food restaurant for some Jamaican fare. Creature comforts such as air-conditioning were basically absent in most places, except in our actual hotel room. But, we became acclimated pretty quickly—we had no choice. I was a little nervous about sharing a room with two other ladies, but my trepidations were quickly allayed—we had no problems at all. Each one of us automatically adjusted to a morning schedule: I was the early riser, Joyce showered the night before, and Sheree waited for me to finish. I totally enjoyed sharing deeply with my roommates about very personal experiences in my life. I think we bonded very well and that was a blessing. Joyce was the peacekeeper and our liaison when we questioned certain decisions we were not sure of and averted any problems. We simply voiced our concerns to her and she would, in her very diplomatic way, bring them to the powers that be, with good results.

Wednesday was the beginning of our interactions with the VBS children. Unfortunately the VBS supplies that were sent off to Montego Bay somehow never arrived. But, I was so impressed about the way our team handled that challenge and rose to the occasion. One would never know that they were basically making it up as they went, with amazing results. Our team was very resourceful and just made do (without complaints) with the few supplies we packed into our luggage. Regardless, the children had a wonderful experience due to the team’s commitment, as evidenced by all the smiles in the pictures. As I took the pictures I saw over and over again, how each team member instinctively knew what to do. I was very impressed by how well Ellie and Taylor interacted with the children by not only face painting, but by just playing with them. Jacob was such a blessing and helpful too with whatever activity he was required to assist in. He basically kept his eye on the children and was the “enforcer.” Somehow, our team knew when to switch off from indoor crafts and bible study to outdoor activities, according to the age groups. I do feel that the VBS at West Town model was a good guideline and that was very helpful. That night, our plan was to have dinner and attend Kingsley’s church to hear him preach. Of the restaurants where we ate dinner, I most enjoyed this particular local place recommended by Kingsley. He brought his daughter, Grace Ann, who was on her own vacation from medical school. The food was presented family-style at tables outside. We all ordered a variety of yummy Jamaican food such as Jerk Chicken, Jerk Pork, sausages, breadfruit, Festival, and other specialties. It all came to the table in foil and we just shared the abundance of delicious dishes. After dinner we attended Kingsley’s church to hear him preach very passionately. The service was vastly different from what we are used to—much singing and fanfare.

It must be said that our trip was greatly enhanced and helped along by Philip’s amazing travel and life experiences. He was definitely our MacGyver—the “go to” guy who could solve almost anything. I felt such a level of safety and security with Philip on board; he really kept the trip safe and us in line. In addition, our seating was upgraded which was wonderful.

Thursday was a similar VBS day, but I especially enjoyed it because the activity level was not so structured. Each day I needed some alone time to simply transfer the days’ pictures from my camera to my laptop, thus making room for the next day. There were no time constraints so I sat by the pool table, where the Internet was strong, and downloaded my photos. I even had time that day to edit a few pictures and post on Facebook. After this, Joyce and I did some exercise (Yoga and walking) then leisurely prepared for dinner at The Pelican, an upscale restaurant. Kingsley showed us a $1000 Jamaican bill, which was actually worth about $10 in American currency. Strangely (it seemed to me) that the picture on the bill resembled George Bush, which made me laugh and laugh at that. I enjoyed this day the most because it was so relaxing.

Friday was my birthday and it was the best to date. Of course everyone wished me Happy Birthday and then we left for Church. But what made it amazing and unforgettable was, while sitting in church waiting for the day’s activities to begin, the beautiful children suddenly surrounded me and broke out into a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday, complete with hugs. It was a total surprise, very moving, and almost brought me to tears. I think that was actually the highlight of my trip.

Friday afternoon, after VBS, we took a trip to the Straw Market to buy some souvenirs. I picked out a lovely blue elephant necklace, and was about to pay, when Joyce just said, “This is your birthday present.” How nice was that! Then I bought a pair of earrings with the Jamaican colors, negotiating a lower price, of course. I was told that bargaining is actually expected and part of the process. Usually a fair price is actually ½ of the original asking price.

In the evening we went to Pizza Hut, of all places, but couldn’t get in—there were absolutely no tables. So, Joyce, Sheree and I went back to the hotel where Sheree treated me to the delicious Jerk Chicken served poolside with breadfruit. When the rest of the gang returned with the pizza Joyce informed me that they wanted us to go up to the top floor to have some. When I got there, another Happy Birthday was sung and frosted cupcakes appeared. I just had to have some pizza and cupcakes too, which were really moist and good. Even Joyce partook of the cupcakes and pronounced them excellent. I had not had so many Happy Birthdays in forever. What a memory.

Each morning, Joyce, being the first one out the door, would bring us our coffee. Then once outside we would have more coffee and toast poolside, before we left for the VBS. We became friendly with the two ladies (Woneeta and Tadesha) serving us and I took a group shot.

The Jamaican food graciously served to us in the church basement each morning and afternoon was incredible. Every day before the activities began we would go down the stairs and be fed an amazing array of typical Jamaican foods. I had heard of breadfruit but I actually tasted it on this trip. The selection was incredible and every morning it was different. The first day, they served a traditional American breakfast—bacon and eggs—but subsequent days were more adventurous. The lunch was just as delicious and varied from day to day. One of my favorite dishes was Ackee and salt fish; amazing. Ackee is actually a fruit but one would never know it because of the way it was prepared. The graciousness of the kitchen staff and the Jamaican people made this trip so memorable.

Another observation was that there was no “rushing” the way we have in the States. The attitude seems to be “whenever we get to it.” That took some getting used to for a Type A personality like myself, but by the end of the trip, I think I adjusted as much as I was capable.

I must give a shout out to the “Walmart” of Montego Bay, Mega Mart. All I can say is WOW! I could’ve spent my vacation perusing the isles in this store, which offered a multitude of every food imaginable, from traditional American foods to Jamaican specialties. In addition, as with Walmart, they sold everything under the sun one could possibly want. The selection of foods was even better than I’ve seen in the States. They even took American dollars, and so we didn’t really have to change over our money. They did give you change in Jamaican currency. It was so funny to see $400 for an item (in Jamaican money) but was a fraction of that in American dollars.

There were many pranks perpetrated by the kids, and adults as well. I cannot speak to that part of the trip since, luckily, I was not the recipient of any of them.

Saturday we had a free day, and went to a luxurious beach and hotel resort called Sunset Beach. We immediately boarded a glass bottom boat, where you could see all the sea life by looking at the bottom of the boat. Unfortunately, I got very seasick but luckily had not had much to eat yet and it worked out. I just stopped looking at the swaying bottom and looked out over the horizon as suggested by our guide, Jerome. Our captain also had very strong political ideas, which he unabashedly voiced while navigating the choppy waters. Our co-navigator, Sleepy, just ignored the outspoken Jerome and didn’t say much. Woody, Tim, and Philip jumped overboard and swam in the water and under the boat. After that we had an unlimited, decadent feast for about an hour. Joyce, Sheree and I swam in the ocean, relaxed, walked the beach, did some tubing, and finally met up with the rest of the team. We were exhausted going home, but still found time to go swimming at the hotel. All in all I had a great day.

Sunday was a different experience attending church where the VBS was held and the children and adults were in their Sunday best. Services in a Jamaican church are quite different from our own. There is much singing, praising and hand clapping and the passion is palpable. Unlike West Town where we can basically dress as we want, there is a strict dress code—jeans and shorts are not allowed at all. Woman must wear a skirt or dress and men must wear long pants. I noticed that many of the women (especially older ladies) wore hats too. Of course, there is no air-conditioning, which presents its own challenges. We sat by the windows and overhead fans, which provided some relief.

When we returned, I told everyone that I wanted to take a few group shots with me included at about 3:15. I wanted us to at least be in our dress clothes. I set up the tripod and we took a few regular shots and one goofy one, which is really my favorite. We were all scheduled to go to the 2015 Youth Congress that evening, but Jacob had an ear infection from swimming, which required his dad, Steve, and Philip to get some medical attention for him. We agreed to pick the boys up at the hotel, after the ceremony. So only Pat, Woody, Tim, Joyce, Sheree, Taylor, Ellie, and I attended the ceremony, which turned out to be an amazing celebration of youth in Jamaica. The opening songs by the Youth Choir were so inspirational and a delight to the ears. I have to admit that, although I was tired from the day and I really didn’t want to attend, I was happy that I did go in the end. It was an experience that I would not have wanted to miss.

We finally went to dinner at the Pelican again. I had their version of Ackee and salt fish and thoroughly enjoyed my last real Jamaican meal for a while with relish. We finished packing most of what we could and went to bed. What a busy day.

Monday, July 27th, our departure date arrived and I could hardly believe that the week went by so fast. We got up early, finished all the packing, went for breakfast by the pool, and bid a goodbye to the hostesses. We arrived at the airport and said a fond farewell to Kingsley. Everything went smoothly thanks to everyone’s cooperation as a team and Philip’s watchful eye. When we finally arrived at our final destination in Atlanta (after going through an abbreviated version of Customs, thanks again to Philip), Joyce and Philip were surprised to find their family there to greet them. Bill took both Sheree and I back to West Town, where we had some American food.

In conclusion, it was a great trip and I loved the way we came together as a team despite a few glitches early on. We worked any potential problems out, overcame some real obstacles (no supplies), and adjusted accordingly. I’m pretty impressed with us.

Race Towards God

I still feel like a fraud going to West Town Community Church, as a Jew. But, I am in transition and it is very difficult to determine if I want to be a Jew for Jesus or actually convert to Christianity. I’m leaning towards the former because I am still Jewish and will always embrace my heritage. I am very confused and envy the devout people who attend that Church who are so very sure of their faith. As usual, things are not so clear for me. One thing I know is that I am slowly but surely heading towards God. Believe it or not, I am actually taking the Pastor’s advice to just at least start reading the bible; something I’ve never done before. I grew up in a very non-religious household, never went to Hebrew school, or studied anything at all about religion. The only exposure I had was on the holidays—Chanukah, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur—where I either got gifts, went to Synagogue, or fasted dutifully, but I never knew any of the background stories behind why I did these things. Consequently, I ended up marrying out of my faith. But, even the men I married were not religious and I again continued my ignorance about God, the Bible, and faith. My journey has been very slow and fledgling but I truly believe that I will eventually arrive at a place where I belong. Just like a road race, my “pace” is my own and I will arrive at my destination in my own time. This is my “race”—just like a PR in running where you strive for a “personal record”—I must not compare my “race time” with anyone else’s or feel that I am less than the other person because I am so slow. I must just keep walking forward, not looking back, and moving towards the light.

Christmas

When I was a child, December was a magical time of the year. Although I am a Jew, I still felt the magic of the Christmas season, due to my two good friends being Catholic. I guess I just lived vicariously through them. Yes, we have Chanukah, with the Menorah and presents but as a child, it was just not the same as that Christmas tree. I remember helping Janet decorate the tree, and buying presents for my Christian friends. Also, growing up in Manhattan, where the stores are all lit up, and there is actual snow, you really get into the spirit. When I got older, I married two Christian men (one at a time) and had a Christmas tree for my children. I hosted Christmas parties, even inviting my parents, who long ago accepted my “closet” Christianness. Now that I live in Augusta, and although my friend’s family has adopted me for the holidays, I still find I have lost that “Christmas” spirit I had years ago. But, I have recently begun to attend a real down to earth Church, where I can dress in jeans and the music is rock. Somehow it gives me a sense of peace and comfort—something I almost never achieve—and lets me embrace my “inner Christian.” Although Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ, I believe that it is also a state of mind that transcends religious affiliations and is about Hope and Love. I think I am becoming re-infected with the Christmas bug—an infection that I hope I don’t ever get over.

Faith and Coincidence

Faith and coincidence can go hand in hand. Many people believe that there ARE no coincidences in God’s world. Sometimes when you look back at how your life has changed for the better, you see a pattern of “coincidences” often extending years back. I suppose that if you look back far enough, you can say everything that you did in your life has lead you to where you are now—even if where you are is not a good place. It’s kind of like a “preexisting condition” in the insurance world; everything is preexisting except for accidents. You don’t just suddenly wake up one day with high cholesterol, or heart disease—no, your body has been secretly sabotaging you for years based on your habits and heredity. It is the same thing in a way with where we are in life. I have recently been exploring religion. Although I am Jewish by birth and heritage, believe in God and pray, I have not really formally practiced anything for years. I had all but lost my faith in God during my nightmarish medical issues and problems with my boy. But, as is often said, “Don’t quit until the miracle happens”, so I did not give up and, continued to have faith and pray, although I had no idea if my prayers were even being heard. Joel Osteen always says that when you are ready, the right person (or circumstances) will appear in your life if you have faith. Yet faith is sometimes hard to have when your life seems like it is a slow slide into the abyss of hopelessness because it is a belief and trust in something intangible. I believe that there were so many events going back to 2002, when I worked in the WTC that has brought me to where I am now. In 2003 I moved to Augusta (where my friend Janet lived)—I do not believe that I would’ve reconnected to faith if I still lived up North. Then, 3 years ago, my son moved in with me, soon after suffering a psychotic break. This sorrow led me to NAMI, where I met Joyce and Bill, who invited me to their Church. Although I did not go back for a long time I just kept praying and praying to God that I would at least find a doctor who could figure out what was wrong with my body. My prayers were answered and to me, it was a miracle. I sometimes wonder if that horrific experience was God’s way of bringing me to faith, for I do not believe that this was a coincidence at all. Although I had no intention of going back to Church, I met Dwayne in Starbucks of all places, who I had seen playing the guitar at the church that one time I went. We struck up a friendship of sorts and he “invited” and challenged me to go back to the church, even bribing me, by offering to buy me a latte if I agreed to go—I could not turn that down. So I have been attending this Church every Sunday, which gives me a sense of peace and tranquility that I almost never feel, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable problems. While there I try to channel my boy, envisioning him sitting beside me, enjoying the music and sermon each week, which is a way for me to feel close to him even if it is not physically possible. I try to believe that God has him in his loving arms and, by having faith I can more easily gain acceptance. At the very least I have begun to enjoy Sundays—something I never did before. I am not saying that my life is perfect, or that I can always practice acceptance, and I am not planning on denying my Jewish heritage, but I feel that through a series of events beginning years ago I have been lead into a belief in God again. Will I take the next step, I do not know yet, but I believe that I am on a good path—that anything that helps me quiet the racing thoughts and worry that engulfs me each day—for ONE day—has to be good.