Then I began what I called Lakeside Services.
On this very bench, as I took in glorious sunsets each evening, I would cry out to God in my pain and ask Him a lot of "whys?"
I didn't get an answer to every question, but surrounded by the beauty of His creation, I found peace and comfort in the midst of the storm.
I went back to the beginning of this blog today. Back six years looking for one of my early posts that spoke of that time. When I pulled up Lakeside Services I was surprised at what I read, but honestly, I shouldn't have been.
The verse that has defined the past three months for me was there once again. The verse I wrote about last month in Flood and Fire.
Isaiah 43:2: When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.
In the Flood and Fire post I shared about my recent cancer journey. I have been blessed in that it was caught early, treatment was short and uneventful, and the prognosis is good. (Although prayers are gratefully accepted for my one month follow up July 3rd!)
What I didn't share was the other half of the past three months. The part of the journey that is the more emotionally taxing for me than even a cancer diagnosis.
The same day I received that news, my brother reappeared after more than a year; homeless, desperate, and looking for help.
He is almost four years younger than me, but hard living most of the past few decades has taken its toll. Most people think I'm the younger sibling by as much as 10 years.
He now suffers from short-term memory loss and a host of health issues. When he resurfaced it was from a place a little lower than rock bottom.
My profession is working with people in desperate situations. My office is often their last resort.
I thought that would have prepared me for working with my brother, but I was wrong.
No matter how intense the needs and demands of others who walk through my door, I could still go home at night, pray for them and move on to other things.
Not so when it's family.
There are no "work hours" and "down time."
It's all the time.
The phone rings early in the morning and late at night. Work and weekends get shifted around to accommodate visits to social services, Social Security, and doctors offices.
I thought I was awesomely juggling all the balls in the air until the day the wrong button got pushed. I dropped him off at the temporary shelter where he's been staying the past three months and sobbed all the way home.
It didn't make sense to me. I was angry with him and his behavior - why on earth was I crying?
But cry I did. The ugly cry. The shoulder-heaving, snot running, torrents of tears so-thick-I-could-barely-see-the-road cry. And when I thought it had stopped, it started all over again.
The next day, and the day after that, and the day after that, tears lived in the rims. The mere thought of having to deal with him pushed those droplets over the edge and down my cheeks.
It wasn't my nature to be so down for so many days on end.
Through it all, I have continued to force myself to sit down and work on a writing assignment and my book. I would leave work, then write for several hours. I have deadlines to meet and I spent many days going from the computer screen at work to the computer screen at home.
Last night as I drove home I noticed the sunset, and the lake called to my spirit. I can't tell you how many long, long months it has been since I sat on my bench and watched the sun slip below the horizon.
I almost didn't heed the call.
At the last minute I rerouted myself and headed toward the park. It was 8:30 and the sun was already hanging low in the sky. As I drove in the direction of the marina, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye.
There was a fawn prancing around it's mom, then taking off in wild abandon. It stopped in its tracks, abruptly changed directions, and charged off again.
I pulled off on the side of the road to watch for a full two minutes, laughing at the fawn and his joyous play.
It immediately lifted my spirits.
I slowly drove off, then pulled my camera out of my purse, turned around, and was thrilled to see him still at it so I could record his antics.
A few minutes later I continued to the marina and headed down to the water with my camera.
I smelled the sweetness of the honeysuckles hanging in the air.
And I felt the warm breeze on my face.
This is where it all began for an aching heart searching to find joy again.
This heart, once more heavy with the struggles of this life, has returned to ask new why's. To seek answers once again in the stillness and beauty of creation.
To hear Him whisper "I am with you always, Toni. Sometimes in this life you will go through storms, but I am in control."
This heart has come back to the bench.