All the Little Ways

The universe (God, goddess, angels, universal consciousness, whatever you want to call it) speaks to me in many different ways. I have had dreams, visions, heard a public speaker (complete stranger) reiterate in a talk the exact words of a private conversation I had with a friend earlier that day, seen repeating numbers, and on rare occasions, heard a voice inside my head. I cannot count the number of times I have thought of a friend only to have them call or email me soon after. So many serendipitous things have happened in my life that I no longer believe in coincidence. My family even coined the phrase co-inky-dink years ago in an attempt to make light of these strange occurrences.

I’ve been getting messages of one kind or another my whole life, but it has taken me some time to really learn to pay attention to them. Many were so subtle that they could have easily passed by unnoticed, yet they are the ones that speak the loudest to my soul. We all hope that the universe will come through for us in the big stuff (the job, the healing, etc.), but when something small happens just to delight us, well, then we truly experience the whole of the depth and breadth of the love available to us.

If you will indulge me, I would like to share one of my favorite examples of the universe speaking to me from circa 1996:

It was early, maybe six-thirty in the evening, and I was where I usually was at that time of day, in front of a sink full of dirty dishes. My husband stood behind me in the doorway to our kitchen talking at me. Apparently he knew the script of our lives as well as I did – he was in his place as much as I was in mine. In the background I could hear my two girls arguing over some perceived injustice that one had suffered at the other’s hand. I had grown so accustomed to the constant bickering that it was little more than background noise. They knew I would not choose a victim and had been forced early on to learn to work out their squabbles on their own. My husband was another story. He was always the victim. Me? I was the sounding board.

The townhouse the four of us shared was nothing to write home about. At least it was in a nicer area of Georgia than some I’d seen. God only knows how we paid for it. Life for the wife of a pastor-turned-construction handyman was no walk in the park. Wasn’t God supposed to take care of us? Then why was I never able to buy shoes for my children? Why did I have to choose between health insurance and groceries? I had learned one very useful thing over the course of ten years: how to pack a kitchen in one hour or less. Since 1987 we had lived in seven different dwellings, three different states, and one foreign country. After almost ten years of moving, I was tired. Tired of jobs ending. Tired of every application being rejected. Tired of listening to the pie-in-the-sky delusions that comprised my husband’s life story.

He was at it again – telling me his plans for the job he had applied for one week ago. Never mind that it could take up to a year to even hear back from a church. He had no interview scheduled, did not even know if anyone would ever look at the application, but he had plans for the money he was going to make, for the ministry he would do there, and he had already mapped out the place we would live. He had a plan for everything – everything except another rejection. He assured me that this church would be the one, this time it would happen. I had listened to the same speech multiple times over the previous months – many, many more if you count all of the years of training. Same song, umpteen millionth verse. And like the tune, the outcome never changed.

In seminary we had two children. I stopped working to care for them, so we learned to live on student loans and my family’s charity. Seminary included a year-long internship in Australia (it was not glamorous, sorry to disappoint). Then in 1992 a mission board told us we were not missionary material. By their estimation our marriage had a three in ten chance of survival. Graduation from seminary was followed by an eighteen month stint where my husband served as a youth pastor. It ended in disaster, financial and otherwise. Application after application generated rejection after rejection. Even though one church voted to hire him in 1994, the Presbytery said no – twice. Standing there in front of that soapy water, I could not have imagined that two more failed internships, bankruptcy, a three-month separation, military service and deployment, another job loss, three more years of graduate school, twelve more moves, and finally divorce were headed my way.

Yet even then, I had run out of words.

I could not muster a response to his assurances. All I could do was bristle in silence against the barrage of his pipe dreams. I remember rinsing the last of the dishes while staring at my reflection in the darkened window above the sink. My eyes looked hollow and empty of life – just like I felt. Whatever joy I had known was gone, trampled under the hardships of a life lived without enough of anything – money, stability, family ties, friends, or, most importantly, love. In my head I spoke to the only one I thought might be listening. “God,” I said, “I can’t dream anymore. It’s too painful.”

I rinsed the soap down the drain then turned and left the kitchen. He was likely still standing there talking as I plodded mechanically up the stairs. I went through the motions of my nightly routine with my own voice still echoing in my head, “It hurts too much to dream.” The truth was, I had never learned to dream about much of anything for myself. As a child I was told I had to marry because women needed to be taken care of by a man. The church told me I had to obey my husband, follow his dreams, and die to whatever it was I might desire. In my mind, there was no room for my dreams, even if I had them. In my marriage, there was no room for me.

Funny how the universe has a way of giving us back things we do not even realize we have lost.

It has long been my practice to read before falling asleep. In fact, since I was in middle school (maybe even earlier), I cannot remember my nightstand bereft of a book or six (yes, I am always in the middle of approximately six books at a time, don’t ask me why). That night I was reading He Still Moves Stones by Max Lucado. After flipping on the lamp, I climbed into bed, pulled the covers up, and opened the book to my mark. The entire page was nothing but the title of Chapter 5. It read:

It’s All Right to Dream Again

Suddenly I could not breathe. The words before me bled together like watercolors bathed in my tears. The shock of such an immediate and crystal clear answer to my thoughts left me speechless. I smiled as I placed my bookmark back where it had been, shut the cover, and set the book on the nightstand. Then I turned out the light and went to sleep. I did not need to see anything else. The universe had spoken.

Message in a book

Since that night twenty or more years ago, I have heard that voice speak to me again and again. Sometimes it has been direct, like the title of Chapter 5. Other times it has been more subtle and harder to perceive. Perhaps hearing the universe speak is a function of belief – I expect it to speak so it does. I trust that what I am hearing is a message for me and that the message is good. So I work to hone my intuition, increase my attention span and ability to concentrate, and develop exceptional listening skills. Meditation is helpful, although in my experience, the universe seems to wait until I am surrounded by noise just to show me that it will always be louder, truer, and more reliable than anything else I hear. After all, what has the power to drown out the still small voice of love? Absolutely nothing.

Do you ever receive messages from the universe? How do the messages come to you? How do they make you feel and what do you do when you get them?

If you are game to share an experience you have had receiving an unexpected but timely message, please email me at cecetarot@yahoo.com. I would love to feature your story as a guest blog here on Ripples of Insight.

Much love and light,

~ Cindy

Advertisements

Going with the Flow

best-new-year-photos

January 12, 2017

I felt an episode of SAD (Seasonal Affected Disorder) coming on last night. Okay, I admit it, I hate winter. Hey, what can I say? I’m a beach girl. And a Pisces. With a Scorpio Moon. Water is in my blood chart. Definitely not snow. Snow doesn’t count as water in my book. Scientifically it is water, yes I know, Einstein. Frozen water disagrees with me. Probably because I abhor being cold. Maybe more importantly, because frozen water does not move. It has lost its ability to flow. Continue reading “Going with the Flow”

A Lesson in Contrast

In college, my friends and I had a saying:

You cannot begin to change until you know the opposite of what you are.

It was a reminder that the only way to learn and grow was to face the truth about yourself and then understand the way in which God was different from that. Sometime in my mid-thirties I realized that most of what I knew about success and godly character had been learned by example of what not to do or who I did not want to be like. I began to understand experientially what our college saying meant in terms of the power of contrast to teach.

As time, experience, and study have expanded my understanding of the Bible, I begin to see that the bulk of the stories it contains are pictures of God showing us what he is like often by revealing what he is not like. This particular learning tool can prove quite effective with human minds struggling to comprehend a silent and invisible God. But nuance is easily missed under a strictly literal view of the text.

For example, countless sermons have been preached on Genesis 22, the story of Abraham’s call to sacrifice Isaac. Most people, commentaries, preachers, and Christians believe that God was testing Abraham’s faith when he told him to take Isaac up on a mountain and offer his only son as a sacrifice. They believe that God provided a ram for himself that represented God one day sacrificing Jesus to appease his own wrath. But is that really what this story was designed to teach? Does God test peoples’ faith in such horrific ways? Is this same God so offended by sin that he requires a human blood sacrifice to be appeased? Hm, sounds an awful lot like the Canaanite gods to me.

2-5_abraham-sacrifice

Most (if not all) cultures contemporary to Abraham practiced blood sacrifice to appease their gods’ anger. In fact, some sort of blood sacrifice has been practiced for centuries in almost all cultures ever to exist. Here’s a decent site on the history of blood sacrifice around the world (I found the conclusions page fascinating). So when God told Abraham to kill Isaac, he was not telling him anything new. Sacrificing children (even the first-born) to the gods was commonplace in those days. In fact, everyone was doing it. To Abraham it would have been business as usual for God to demand the kind of worship that required the ultimate sacrifice of human blood. While the story began ordinarily enough, the end revealed something radically new. Abraham found a ram caught in a nearby thicket. God showed Abraham how he was unlike the gods of the surrounding nations.

Lesson #1: God does not require human blood to be appeased.

If you believe that the revelation of God’s nature to mankind has been given throughout history progressively, then this little nugget would have rocked the ancients’ overall understanding of deities in general and the God of Israel in particular. But this was just a stepping-stone to a broader understanding of what made the God of Israel different. Fast forward to the establishment of the temple cult under Moses’ leadership. Here God distinguished himself from other gods by commanding one animal sacrifice each year that would suffice for the entire nation.

Lesson #2: God does not require unlimited animal sacrifices.

The last straw can be found in ringing in the voices of the prophets. They called the nation of Israel to put a stop to ritual sacrifices altogether. According to them, the God of Israel had no need for blood at all.

Lesson #3: God does not require blood. God does not need to be appeased.

Despite this final clear message from the prophets at the close of the Old Testament, the Christian church continues to believe and teach that Jesus was the ultimate blood sacrifice for our sins. They even go so far as to say that God himself put Jesus to death as our substitute. Which brings me to why I am writing this post today.

In 2011 I wrote a blog post called Walking Through the Pieces. It went on to become my second all-time most-read page, clocking in at a whopping 1,622 lifetime views at the time of this writing. Only my Homepage/Archives have received more hits and no other post of mine comes anywhere near these numbers. Looking at the vast amount of interest in this topic has prompted me to keep digging into the story.

I have finally come to the conclusion that Genesis 15 is yet another look at what God is not like.

In the cultures contemporary to Abram, people made agreements this way: they cut animals in two and spread the pieces apart, leaving a path between them. Both parties then walked down the path and stated the terms of the covenant they were making. The pathway between the animals symbolized a vow and a curse in one: I promise to do thus and so, and may this happen to me if I do not keep my end of the bargain. The practice was quite common and would have been second nature to Abram. Problem is, Abram was asleep when the covenant was ‘cut’. He did not walk through the pieces of the animals at all.

Throughout the Old Testament it was God’s practice to reveal himself over and against the surrounding gods and cultures of the day. In Genesis 15 we find a God who does not bargain with mankind. When God says he will do something, he will do it, independent of any belief or behavior on our part. The lesson here is clear: God does what is right without requiring anything in return. He is a God of blessing not cursing, a God of grace not law and burdens. Too bad Sonny did not understand that all he need do was ask.

Today, most Evangelicals will tell you that salvation is part of a covenant with God called the gospel (good news). They say our part of the bargain is to believe that Jesus’ death paid God back for our sins because God requires a blood sacrifice. Whoever refuses to hold up our end of the covenant (believe) will be treated like those slaughtered animals and suffer an eternity in hell (at the hand of God, no less)!

What if that interpretation of the gospel story is incorrect? What if the church is as wrong about God as ol’ Sonny was? What if Jesus’ death is a picture of what God is not like? What if Rome (not God) sacrificed Jesus on the altar of their power because his message of spiritual freedom was a threat to them and the religious order they supported? What if the story of Jesus’ life and death is a picture of how we were made to live – spiritually free from guilt and shame – and not what will happen to us after we die?

What if the story of Jesus dying on a cross was never about salvation, because we don’t need salvation, because the prophets told true: GOD DOES NOT REQUIRE BLOOD OR NEED TO BE APPEASED?

The literal interpretation of the Bible has served for hundreds of years to perpetuate division, hatred, and war – our modern forms of ritual sacrifice – all in the name of religion. It is time for the world to be turned upside down again. It is time to challenge the powers that be with the nuance of a Biblical narrative that reveals a God more loving and full of grace than any of us have ever dared to imagine or hope for. A God who blesses no matter what, loves no matter what, and requires nothing in return – not even belief that he exists. A God who needs no blood to be appeased but stands in opposition to the angry gods invented by violent men to control people ruled by fear, guilt, and shame.

True change could begin to happen once we know the opposite of what we are. God grant that we be given the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the courage to face the truth.

Magnificence

Coming (back) into my own.

This is a response to Litebeing’s Magnificent Challenge posted by Ra.

magnificent-challenge-badge

I have written sparsely over the years about my family of origin. My favorite piece was part of a fictional tale crafted from the story retold every Christmas of how my grandfather came to America. The vast majority of the rest of my family posts relate in some way to my sister, who passed in December, 2013. During the year and a half following her death, writing was my way of grieving that loss. I have not, however, devoted any time to writing about myself as I stand within my family of origin.

How appropriate that I should run across this writing challenge. My family is where I learned of my own magnificence, and it is what brought me home to it at last.

My father is the youngest of eight siblings, and I am the youngest of four – by eight years (I do have a cousin a mere four years my senior). Being the last offspring of a large Lebanese-American family makes a person a lot of things: privileged and spoiled for sure, but also very much loved. Being my Fambly’s version of Lebanese makes a person an entirely different list of things: bold, hard working, loud, extravagant, and fiercely loyal. No, we are not all extroverts, but growing up, it certainly sounded like it – thanks for all the memories Uncle Saiad and Uncle George (by far, the loudest of the lot).

My family excelled at many things: tennis and hearts, laughter, good food, affection (Aunt Evelyn always kissed you three times, be you friend or total stranger), playacting (costumes and props included!), great food (did I mention food already?), telling the story, criticizing outsiders, teaching the importance of having a close-knit family, and gathering together around amazing food. My daughter and I often joke that with my Fambly, it really is all about the food, but the truth is, food was just a very large part of the love; and if this Fambly did anything truly well, it was love.

As is typical of immigrants of every race, my family looked within to find its identity. Sure, my father and uncles served in the military and all of them worked hard at their jobs and hobbies, their wives had friends and sometimes jobs, but when it came to who we were, our core values and beliefs, it was the Fambly that defined us. It was there that we turned for guidance toward our goals and the support we needed to reach them, but, above all, we discovered who we were in a deep well of unconditional love. I was far too young to have been a part of my siblings’ and nearby cousins’ lives, and now see myself as the last and arguably least of my clan. Yet, somehow, I always felt magnificent.

One brother holds me firmly, while the elder basks in my presence. (bottom left) Look how I magnetize all of my mother's attention! (upper right)
One brother holds me firmly, while the elder basks in my presence. (bottom left) Look how I, the smallest in the group, manage to capture all of my mother’s attention! (upper right) Even Uncle Saiad (top left) looks to be enjoying the exchange between mother and child.

I am not sure what to make of my own feeling of magnificence or why it was given me. It was simply an unspoken truth that I was special (the cousins still joke about it today at family reunions, so this year I reminded them to never forget it!). Perhaps it can be attributed to the years of space preceding my arrival (I was a ‘surprise’ after all), or that I was the baby of the baby, or maybe my parents just told me of my own magnificence in enough ways that it became true for me. No matter the cause, the fact remains that I grew up believing that I shone brightest.

I was the most magnificent of all.

On paper that line reads as egotistical, but I am speaking with the voice of a child the emotions of a child. A child filled with wonder and at times quite overwhelmed by the sheer vastness of a Fambly able to loom so high above her. I wonder sometimes if I did not make myself magnificent just to be heard over the booming voices of my Uncles when they were arguing over the cards, the clattering noise of my Aunts as they busily prepared enough food for armies, and the uninhibited din of my cousin’s reunited horseplay. Other than age and my much-indulged precociousness, I cannot remember any clear distinction between myself and my same-generation family members. If anything, they outshone me in a hundred myriad ways (actors and artists, doctors and lawyers, musicians and teachers…the list goes on). Yet, astoundingly, while everyone in the Fambly knew I believed myself to be the brightest star, for some reason they encouraged that belief – or I simply convinced myself that they did!

After years of hearing about my own magnificence, other voices entered my life. Many disparaged and criticized my origins, or mocked the qualities that made me ‘me’. Some even urged me to put out the light that used to shine so brightly. Under the constant drone, I forgot my place. For a time, I could not remember who I was, where I came from, and how truly bright I once was allowed to shine. But the Fambly that indulged my youthful aspiration to be most magnificent of all reminded me that I am magnificent because I belong to each and every one of them, and they to me. We make one another magnificent.

Unconditional love taught me that I do not have to shine the brightest, but I do have to know my own magnificence if I want to bask in the love of such a Fambly. This kind of love will not settle for less in the beloved.

when-the-roots-are-deep

Slowly I remember. I begin to see glimpses of the star-child of my youth in the reflected gaze of my Fambly – and, even occasionally, the mirror. May I never forget my roots again. They are strong supports and the stuff from which I am made, and remind me that no matter what I do or where I go, I am a part of them and they of me.

My roots remind me that I am magnificent.

I hope you will take the time to visit Litebeing’s site and read what some others have written about their own magnificence. If you are so inclined, join the challenge and put a link to your post in the comments below.

Celebrating the Day of the Dead

I am fairly certain that I have not donned a costume for Halloween in at least 35 years. This particular celebration, while fun as a child, never really found a foothold in my heart. Add to that, in Christian circles, Halloween was disparaged as “Satan’s high holy day” – something to be avoided as avidly as cursing or reading Harry Potter.

Tonight it occurred to me that little about the rituals and celebrations of Christianity ever took hold in me either, despite spending 30+ years in that paradigm. Granted, as a child, Christmas was the most wonderful time of the year, to borrow a well-worn lyric. Certainly my parents and their tradition of Santa Claus helped (I can still remember my father peeking into my bedroom to ask if I had heard the sleigh bells – his voice was as filled with wonder as my child’s heart!), but even later on in my teen years, I remember sitting in our living room mesmerized by the glowing coals in the fireplace, while white lights twinkled between evergreen boughs laden with ornaments and tinsel. Sometimes when I think about what peace feels like, that is the picture that comes to mind.

Over the years, Christmas came to mean less and less to me – especially once I understood that December 25th was not the birthday of any deity in the flesh, much less Jesus of Nazareth. In the early 2000’s I stopped putting up a Christmas tree, and have been hard-pressed to find ways to create meaningful traditions for myself or my family ever since. Anyway, every Christian holiday is nothing more than a hijacked pagan celebration of one kind or another.

In 2006 I began what turned out to be a 10-year trek out of my Christian faith. Not that I am an atheist per se. I believe – probably stronger than I ever did as a Christian – in the absolute existence of a spiritual dimension. I am certain that death is not the end. But the job of determining whether there is a personal god out there running our universe is beyond my pay grade, the purview of religion, and better left alone by li’l ol’ me.

Perhaps because of my recent fascination with the Celts, faeries, and magic, I have gravitated most towards the old religion or what many call paganism. Admittedly, my stint in Christianity has caused me to shun any and all religious traditions, especially those who claim to know ‘the way’ or ‘the truth’. But the seasons of the year and of life are something I am familiar with. And I have always had a special affinity for the moon. That is the other strong memory I carry from my teenage years: monthly chats with the man in the moon. I had a perfect view of the moon at its full from the swing in our backyard, and I have always been able to see a face on the surface of it. In fact, I am hard-pressed to look at a full moon and not see a face.

At the same time that I find myself drawn to the cycles of the moon, I also feel a renewed sense of connectedness to the earth. I do desire to establish traditions to follow, but I am content to move slowly, listening closely to my own heart and what it whispers about the lessons, comfort, joy, or depth that a particular holiday celebration can lend my spirit. I began following the full moon cycles sometime in 2015, and this year added the new moon cycles to my monthly observances. Late in the summer, I determined to celebrate as many of the eight pagan festivals (beginning with Samhain, pronounced Sow-en) I am able to this year. October 31 marks the end of summer, the last of the harvest celebrations, and the beginning of the new year for the Celtic pagans of old. Samhain is a time to give attention to our ancestors and other loved ones who have passed. Many see it as an opportunity (perhaps even an obligation) to learn about their heritage and honor dead loved ones in some fashion. Still others believe that the veil between our world and the world of the dead is thinnest on this night, making possible communication with those who have passed.

For me, I wanted to take some time to think about how those family members who have gone on affected me while they were here. To that end, I put together a display of photographs, peppered with candles, fresh flowers, and crystals (particularly those related to the root chakra) on my buffet.

My Tree of Life Grid
My Tree of Life Grid has never held as much significance for me as it does now – a lovely reminder of my life, my roots, my heritage.

I started the process the first week of October and did not complete it until this past Friday. I took my time, and thought through the many photo choices, discovering a couple of folks whose legacy I found myself unable or unwilling to honor. They are not on display this year, but perhaps I will come to terms with them enough to include them in future.

A

Through this process, I began to think about the legacy that I want to leave behind. I even asked myself what kind of legacy would be left should I pass today.  Sometimes I wonder if the reason many of us throw our lives onto the wide screen of the internet is in hopes that something we say, do, write, or photograph will touch enough random people that our legacy may somehow live on after we pass. Perhaps it is our way of dealing with the fact that death comes to us all. We as a society have certainly invented many ways to avoid ever thinking about our own death, yet that is precisely why we remain haunted by the prospect.

My sister used to tell me that she believed when we die, there is nothing, it’s over, kaput. Nonsense, I say. Her belief created years of fearful living, but now she knows the truth. Those who are able to celebrate life understand that death is not the end, but merely the beginning of a new phase of our journey. J.R.R. Tolkien said it right well:

PIPPIN: I didn’t think it would end this way.

GANDALF: End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.

PIPPIN: What? Gandalf? See what?

GANDALF: White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.

For C.S. Lewis death was an expansion of the world of the heart. Narnia opened up into infinite possibility, like the layers of an onion peeling back in reverse. Because of him, I will forever think of death as a doorway from the barn into the open field, with mountains beckoning beyond. (The Last Battle from The Chronicles of Narnia)

Last night was the new moon, a black moon (by definition, the second new moon in 1 month). Tonight begins Samhain, the Day of the Dead, and tomorrow the Wheel will start to turn anew. The near overlap of the black moon and the beginning of a new year holds special significance for me. I have learned that new moons are a good time to set intentions for the coming months. Since this was a rare black moon so closely connected with the start of a new year, it became a time for me to consider what I would like to see in my own life in the coming months. As I reflected on my day, I realized that it was filled with exactly what I want for the coming year: meditation, healthy eating, work, writing, and loving encounters. A good omen for what is to come, I think.

Whatever your tradition, Halloween, Samhain, or All Saints Day (November 1), may you find comfort in your roots. May you come to understand the legacy your ancestors left behind. May you honor that legacy, and learn from both the victories and mistakes of those who precede you. Above all, may you find comfort in knowing who is watching over you, and who waits for the joyous reunion to come.

Blessed Samhain!

Share Your World

Yes, I still exist and (sort of) keep a blog.

I did not want you all to imagine that I fell off the face of the earth in the recent past, but truly, the blogs I am working on are not quite up to posting snuff as yet. You will have to content yourself with a short blog resuscitation question and answer session. (Apparently, this has become a thing on the Interwebs in my absence.)

List 2 things you have to be happy about?

  1. My grandson. In a few short days, the miracle born on my Birthday will be 6 months old! There are not enough adequate blogging words to convey my joy when I am with him. Happy is a poor weak word for it. Ecstatic, over-the-moon … these come a wee bit closer to the mark.
  2. I live less than 20 minutes from my parents. My mother graciously cooks me breakfast every Wednesday before work, and I sit and sip my coffee while listening to my father and brother talk politics (government or church, whichever is the choice of the week). On Wednesdays I come to work with a smile and a heart filled with love. I also live close enough to my daughter, my son-in-law, and my grandson to spend almost every other weekend with them! The presence of my family members in my life has served as a much-needed anchor through the turbulent seas of divorce. Perhaps now you will know why I have been conspicuously absent of late…

If you could take a photograph, paint a picture or write a story of any place in the world, what and where would it be?

The coasts of Ireland – the one place in the world I most want to visit. I often think of my novel as basically Irish, and I love everything Celtic, for one reason or another.

Should children be seen and not heard? 

Not hearing my grandson would be a tragedy in every sense of the word. His gurgles warm my heart; and although his squeals at times may pierce my ears, I eagerly await the day when his amazing words of wisdom pierce my soul.

List at least five of your favorite first names.

Collin, Aubrey, Ian, Desdemona (Desi for short), and Justine

Bonus question: What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?

Last week I created a gratitude wheel prior to finding out that my contract (job) would be renewed in September. I am grateful for the contract renewal, but even more-so that I have learned to be grateful without needing everything in life to go smoothly (did I mention that divorce is hell?).

I have another 3-day weekend coming up, during which time I plan to engage in deep discussions with my daughter and her husband. We like talking about parenthood, spirituality. money. education, and even politics. I will be cooking new GF foods making a mess in my daughter’s kitchen (not mine!), and rolling around on the floor taking pictures of the wonder of my world (yes, of course my grandson) gurgling, squealing, attempting to crawl, or all of the above. His bubbles remind me that all is right with the world.

My life simply could not be any better than this.

Gratitude Wheel
2016 Gratitude Wheel

So, what’s going on in YOUR world? Please share, then link back to your post in the comments below!

I got this idea from Anxious Mom. Be sure to stop by and give her a holler!

Something in the Way Fed Moves

Five years ago I published my very first blog post on WordPress. The post featuring Roger Federer – arguably the greatest legend in the game of tennis during my lifetime and perhaps of all time. In 2003, Federer secured his first win in a major tournament. He went on to dominate the game for the next decade. Fed holds the record for most consecutive weeks at no. 1 in the rankings and many other ATP Tour records besides. I do not really care about the record books. For me, it was all in the way Fed moved.

roger-federer-milos-raonic-1467975604-800
On Friday, July 8, 2016, Roger Federer faced Milos Raonic (Canada) in the Wimbledon Men’s Semifinal match and lost.

Continue reading “Something in the Way Fed Moves”

An Award – for ME?

Kate over at Will Wally Wonder nominated me for my first Blogging Award! 🙂

versatileblogger11

             Merry Christmas to me!

snoopy-christmas

Please take a moment to wander around Kate’s delightful site! I promise I’ll be here when you get back.

*thumbs twiddling*

*twiddling …*

*twiddling …*

*twid–* Oh! You’re back!

I hope you enjoyed your trip Down Under! 🙂

As with all award receptions, there are protocols, mores, traditions rules to follow. Here are the conditions I must meet, then pass on to you, my loyal readers:

  • Thank the person who nominated me for this award. That’s common courtesy – and too easy. THANKS, KATE!! *frantic waving*
  • Include a link to their blog. (You have seen this link three times, folks – now CLICK already!)
  • Next, select 15 blogs/bloggers that you’ve recently discovered or follow regularly and nominate them for the Versatile Blogger Award. Probably everyone I nominated has already received this award, but since I adore their blogs, I could not pass up the chance to highlight them for you! I hope you will visit each and every one of these exquisite sites, and I pinky-swear promise you will not be disappointed!
  • Finally, tell the person who nominated you 7 things about yourself.

Rules #1 & 2 are done and done (see above). Here are my nominations in no particular order:

Rarasaur

She’s a Maineiac

Kelsey Munger

The Byronic Man

The Waiting

Southern Belly

Covered in Beer

Tales from the Motherland

The Matticus Kingdom

Strong Enough to Break

Spoken Like a True Nut

The Phil Factor

Life in the Boomer Lane

Laura A. Lord

Hannah Brencher

Now for 7 things about me.

Dear Kate,

Probably the most important thing you need to know is how much I appreciate laughter. Your blog always brings a smile to my face, and very often a laugh to my lips, both of which make me very happy to have met you. Most everything else there is to know about me you can find here on my blog, but I will try to think of six things which may not be immediately evident.

  1. Hmm, well, I once (no, several times, actually) rappelled from a 60-ft. tower at the top of a tree sporting a 30-ft. zip-line into a lake. My fear of heights puts this feat into the exceptional category. I seriously suffer from the kind of vertigo that makes me want to jump – rappelling seemed a better option, don’t you think? 😉
  2. I grew up playing tennis on a grass court my father built in the yard beside our house. I blame my lack of competitive spirit (my family & friends are laughing out loud – no, seriously, I can hear them from around the world even as I type) on the fact that my family used tennis as FUN, family time. Heckling one another in the middle of a backhand swing was just part of being luved.
  3. Each of my three children were born in different locations – one of them in another country. Australia, to be exact! Yep, my middle child (lovely daughter) was born in Aspendale, a small suburb of Melbourne. While we were there, I attended my first and only Grand Slam tennis tournament. To tell you how long ago that was, we watched Monica Seles (pre-stab wound) and Ivan Lendl (pre-beer gut) play and win, of course.
  4. I graduated college with a degree in music education (vocal concentration) which I have never formally used. Instead, I am the administrative assistant with the loudest singing voice in the county (no, not country – well, maybe).
  5. My favorite thing to do as a child/teen was to sit on the swing in my back yard and stare at the full moon. To this day, I am sure the moon has a face that stares back.
  6. Finally, my dream life would be to run a B&B on a remote Cliffside in Ireland (something you already knew, and I’m fairly certain will never materialize in this life). Here’s hoping reincarnation is true!

wine toast

Thanks again, Kate! To you and yours I am sending wishes for a very happy, healthy,

 

Live Friends in a Virtual World

I have always been great at meeting people. I greet them, chat with them, get to know them and love them – easy as pie.

At least, it used to feel like that.

The older I become, the more difficult it seems to make meaningful connections. At almost 52 years of age, recently separated from my husband of 28 years, and living in yet another ‘new’ area, I find myself with no one to call when I need a ride home from the car repair shop. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I have at least twenty close friends in my phone list, but the majority of them live at best, two hours away and at worst, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Most of my family either live too far from me or are not available in this type of situation. I seriously never had to think about things like this before.

I wonder how much of the problem stems from aging, self-reliance, or the culture in general? I worry that the people my age already have their fill of relationships to maintain, and are left with no time or energy to add me to their list. But perhaps in the interest of independence, I have become so good at doing everything for myself that I have forgotten how to cultivate friends I can call on for help.

Maybe my friendship problem is simply the result of a culture that relies on hashtags and thirty-second video clips for connection, while I pine for the long-lost days of front porch news over iced tea, and the neighborhood kids playing mosquito-ridden games of kick-the-can.

It seemed to be easier to develop deep friendships in college or church, as a parent or military spouse. In those seasons I was surrounded by people like me (shared age, shared values, shared beliefs, or shared circumstances). But if connection is a function of like-mindedness or being in the right place at the right time, what if I never again find anyone else who thinks like me, lives like me, or is as old as me? What if I am no longer able to find the ‘right’ place at the ‘right’ time?

It stands to reason that I have felt this way before. I have lived in nine distinct locations over a 28-year period, for pity’s sake. If memory serves, each major relocation was a struggle when it came to relationships. Every. Damn. Time. This time just feels so much harder.

You would think that after years of practice I would have developed a formula for meeting the person destined to be my next incredible BFF. Sadly, if such a formula exists, I have yet to discover it. I am not even sure I know how it happens in the first place. But remembering the struggle, knowing I have been here before, and at the same time, looking back with amazement on all of the people I am privileged to call ‘friend’, I can well believe that she is working/eating/exercising/living somewhere in the nearby vicinity.

Will we cross paths before my car needs its next tune-up? Only time will tell.

 

The Presence in her Absence

Most of the time I see my sister in waking moments. But on September 30, 2014, I was getting ready for work when the dream I had the night before rushed into my awareness. It was one of the most vivid dreams I have ever had, and although it is rare for me to remember even pieces of a dream, I recalled this one in its entirety.

I had wandered off the streets of downtown Nashville into a sparsely occupied coffee shop. I sat down at a small table to the right of the door and wondered what to order. When the door opened again, I looked up and in she walked. Her bell bottom jeans brushed softly against the wooden floorboards. She was wearing a loose-fitting plaid shirt, untucked at the waist. The long dark brown hair that hung limply from her head was tucked back behind the ears. Her face was troubled. I stared for several seconds. A double-take later, I realized I was looking at my sister, circa 1977. “You cannot be here,” I thought, “you’re dead!” She did not look in my direction as she sat down at the large table next to mine. Her back was to me.

More people trickled in. I did not recognize any of them, but I somehow knew they were friends of hers from college days. They filled up the empty seats around the table she had chosen, and soon an animated conversation about life and God ensued. I was mesmerized by her presence and could not take my eyes off of her. I sat, watched, and listened, resisting the urge to get up and join the group. I wanted to interrupt, to tell her how much I miss her. But I had the distinct impression that she would not have heard me anyway.

The veracity of the New Testament was the subject of the discussion. Of all people, my sister was patiently explaining the texts regarding Jesus’ death and resurrection. The young man sitting nearest her commented, “You don’t really believe that stuff, do you?” She replied in a calm voice, “Of course I do.” I got the sense from her statement that she was talking about something more definitive than faith or belief, something more like knowing. It dawned on me that now she sees and knows clearly, even as she has always been seen and known. For her, there are no doubts or uncertainties, only truth and love – oh, so much love.

I wanted nothing more than to stay there in that room, watching her, listening to her voice. Having a dream like that helps heal the scar of loss. Waking from a dream like that leaves a brand new one.

IMG_1217
Sunset on New Year’s Eve, 2014.

On the drive home that night, I thought again about the movie, What Dreams May Come and Robin Williams’s dip in paint. My sister adored color. I have known since the day she left this world that she sees it now like never before. That sunset gave me a little preview. She has painted lots more sunsets for me since then – each of them a creative masterpiece. I know that one day we will swim in them together.

One time at the beach, I asked her to draw the ocean for me. She did it, but then kept insisting she had not gotten the waves or the light quite right. I always thought that the waves and the light in her beach drawing had been perfect, but in this life, my sister had never been able to appreciate her own brilliance. The splash of color across that twilit sky on New Year’s Eve told a different story, a story of artistic abandon transcending the need to get things ‘just right’.

~ ~ ~

For many years I have had a vision of a house sitting on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the ocean. A garden stretches out in front of it, filled with every kind of flower. Now that she is gone, I can see her there, tending to the plants, anticipating my arrival. I should have known all along it was her garden.

Tattoo March 3 2016
Second star on the right and straight on ’til morning. – Peter Pan

Hawks still visit me from time to time. Her way of watching over me, I suppose. Love you bunches & bunches and tons & tons, Ditty.

~ Your Little Sis

The Narrow Way

NarrowStairs       I have heard it said that the narrow way can be defined as the unique spiritual journey each of us must walk, and that to be on that path is to refuse to conform to the demands of those around us (to walk their path, or the one most people walk), but, instead, boldly trod the path meant specifically for us.

In light of that idea, tonight I had the privilege of taking a walk with a friend who let me share a part of the incredible journey I have been on since we were last really together, some thirty-six years ago. I was reminded that a lot can happen in thirty-six years. (Ya think?!?)

As a result of our conversation, I am making a list of the books (and the people who wrote them) that have had the most influence on my life, both in terms of my beliefs and my spiritual journey. I will list them in order of importance/influence (to me), however, what was important/influential to me may not be for you, understandably. So, eat the meat, spit out the bones, and take from this list what you need (if anything). As a general rule, people will appear first, with their works listed below; book titles will be underlined, other items italicized, and so forth.

NOTE: This list is not meant to be exhaustive by any means. Each of these teachers has written and spoken much more than what I have listed here, however, these are the ones I have actually read and been changed by. Also, I doubt this represents even half of the things I have read or heard that have worked to shape me and my beliefs today; these are simply the ones that stand out in my mind.

If you have questions or would like any further explanation regarding any of these people or their works, please note them in the comments and I will do my best to either answer you, or direct you to a site that can answer better than I.

  • Baxter Kruger – Theologian, Author, Maker of Lures, Founder of Perichoresis Inc.
  1. Jesus and the Undoing of Adam (in my mind, the most important book a modern, Western Christian can read)
  2. The Shack Revisited (reviewed here on my blog)
  • Peter Hiett – Pastor, Author (where the shift in my journey really began)
  1. http://www.tsdowntown.com/images/EDITED_All_things_New_and_a_place_we_call_Hell_edited_12_12_13_blk_1.pdf
  2. http://www.tsdowntown.com/a-theology-of-relentless-love/intro
  • Rob Bell – Author, Speaker, Theologian, Innovator
  1. Love Wins
  2. Everything is Spiritual (video teaching)
  3. Jesus Wants to Save Christians
  4. Here is a great article regarding the firestorm created by John Piper’s Tweet, “Farewell, Rob Bell”, and this is something I wrote during that time.
  • Anthony De Mello – Catholic Priest, Author, Speaker
  1. Awareness (the teaching in this little book can be found on You Tube in several short messages as well)
  2. The Way to Love
  • Michael Hardin – Theologian, Author
  1. Stricken by God? (a compilation of many author’s works regarding the atonement – you can find some stuff around my blog about this book, especially here)
  2. http://www.preachingpeace.org for his blog and lots of information about this amazing author
  • Brad Jersak – Theologian, Author
  1. A More Christlike God (I recently reviewed this book here)
  2. Stricken By God? contributor

Good books on the topic of hell in the Bible:

What does the Bible Really Say About Hell? by Randy Klassen

Razing Hell by Sharon Baker

Evangelical Universalist by George MacDonald

Well, that should get you started. 🙂 I’ll end with one of my favorite theological illustrations:

God bless you as you seek and walk the narrow path laid out just for you!

First, a Leaving

On July 22, 2015, I drove thirty minutes to a nearby beach to watch the sunrise.

Darkness shrouded my walk from the car. For all that I wanted to live near the beach, this would be my last day. I would not leave without seeing another sunrise. My phone! I thought. I stopped, turned back toward my car, then thought better of it. No pictures today. No interruptions. This is your chance to take it in, to live in the moment, to somehow find the strength to leave.

The concrete eventually transitioned to sand and I took off my flip flops. A cool dampness greeted my calloused soles. Now to keep the callouses off of my soul, I thought, half smiling to myself. I took my time. This was not a moment to rush. I reached the little bridge that stretched over the inter-coastal stream and stopped again. On my left, the sand grass tilted gently in the morning breeze. Their billowy tops formed feathery silhouettes against the faint light to the east. It was quiet. Even the sand gnats were still. A mercy considering how they had harrowed us the night before.

I crested a little knoll and the path gave way to a wide expanse of sand. Looking around, my first thought was how empty the beach was compared to the last time I had come here to witness the dawn breaking. Had it been only ten days? I approached the water’s edge and felt a sudden rush of sadness. I will not pass this way again, I thought. The magnitude of that truth pounded through me like the waves crashing onto the sand. It was a familiar feeling accumulated over the past twenty-eight years. Had I really moved twenty-seven times? Was I seriously volunteering to make number twenty-eight a mere six or so weeks after the last one? And this time alone?

IMG_2095

I set my toes into the warm water knowing I would have to wade out knee deep to discover even a hint of coolness. Despite days of rain and milder nights, the water still felt more like a bath than an ocean. I was used to Virginia waters, so cold that only the Northerners braved it before the pounding mid-July heat had settled in. Even in August, a dip in the water off the Virginia coast was refreshing. But not here. Not in June, July, August, or maybe even September. I wouldn’t be here to confirm my assumption.

I walked then. Following the shoreline, I stepped slowly in the direction of the lightening sky. My purpose was nothing more than just to enjoy – one more time – a stroll through shallow surf at sunrise.

The sky grew almost imperceptibly lighter. I glanced out over the water searching for the birds I had seen hunting just a few days ago. I stopped walking to scan the horizon as well as I could in the near darkness, but my eyes found only empty crests in the choppy, predawn sea. Where are they? I wondered, futilely. I didn’t even know what species of bird they were, Tern, Osprey, or Frigate. It was fascinating to watch their gray forms skim over the water in pairs, threesomes, and more, one straight line of outstretched wings that occasionally beat in no discernible rhythm. Then one or two would break from the flock, rise higher, and plunge headlong into the surf. I was too far away to see the prize held in its beak. I could only watch it rise from beneath the crest to float on the surface of the water. I was struck by the bird’s willingness to abandon itself to the sea in order to survive. In more ways than I could count, I had abandoned myself again and again to the whims of a capricious ocean. Like those mysterious birds, I had no roots, but had flown endlessly over a barren sea looking for life below the surface. Mercifully, I had found it in the most unexpected swells. Now exhaustion dragged at my wings. I could no longer maintain flight. It was finally time to land, but first I would have to leave.

Deep in my soul, I think I had known for a long time that there would never be a landing without first a leaving.

I turned my attention to the water splashing over my feet. As I watched tiny waves form to crash onto the sand in uneven bursts, I noticed how they all began as individual crests, only to merge into one shallow wash of water that moved in an almost circular motion. Pushing forward, the water strained against an inexorable pull back into the unplumbed depths from which it came, only to begin the cycle all over again. The constancy of the syncopated rhythm of the ocean continues to mesmerize me. The simplicity of wave after wave merging into the complex ebb and flow of tides in and out, day after day, year after year, millennia after millennia only makes me and my decisions feel small. That one section of beach and my narrow vision of those few waves represented less than a drop in the bucket of uncounted miles of shoreline around the globe. My mind can barely grasp the enormity of so many coasts, much less the vastness or depth of the sea itself. But even as I feel smaller, as I watch myself shrink in the face of the sheer magnitude before me, I understand that like my tunnel vision of this small stretch of beach, my everyday decisions – small in themselves – when put together, made up an entire life. And there is more to a person than their decisions, their actions, or even their thoughts. As I pondered all of this, I caught a glimpse of the vastness within myself I still had yet to explore.

The sky slowly began to change color. Deep blue gave way to paler shades overlaid with oranges, purples, and hints of pink. There would be no blazing ball today, at least, not for me; only colorful clouds whose outlines continually transformed in the early morning breeze. Every blink revealed a subtle shift of color in the jagged edges of cloud cover overhead.

Around me camera lenses began opening and snapping shut. That had been me a few days back – working hard to capture a memory on the canvas of a photo lens. Somehow I knew that today needed no lens; the memory of this sunrise would live on in me for as long as I could remember. Forgetting would be harder. My failure to stay the course, my inability to love in the end, the hurtful words that had left implacable scars on the soft places left in my heart – these would be much more difficult to forget than the skies’ colors, even my camera, I knew, could not faithfully capture. But forget I must. What bird would ever dare to dive back into the deep dark if it did not forget the promise of a waiting predator below the silent surface? The bird’s only chance is hope – hope that the shadow spied below is nothing more or less than its morning meal.

The sunrise complete, I returned the way I had come. With the light of day behind me, I chose hope and gratitude. The past twenty-eight years had by no means been wasted – rather, they had shaped me into who I was that day, just as that day would shape who I was the next, and the next, and the next. This was not the end of a story, but the definitive close of a very long chapter (that now felt strangely short). In any story, from chapter to chapter, the characters may change, the scenes may shift, the plot may take an unexpected turn, but the storyline continues, and so would I.

Taking one final look over my shoulder, I glanced sidelong at the sun, still hidden in brilliant cloud, and said farewell to broken dreams, hopes unfulfilled, and the shadow of a bleak future. As I crossed back over the inter-coastal, I knew that I was doing the only thing I could do in leaving these shores; and, with my back to the rising sun, I walked straight into the arms of a bright, new day.

Knee Deep

Inspiration gleaned on the sandbar, Chaplin Community Park Beach, Hilton Head Island, June 15, 2015

* * * * *

I stand as thoughts roll in on crests of foamy white.

Some join the million grains of sand burying my toes;

others are pulled back headlong and lost in the depths.

~  ~  ~

I watch as terns fly towards tomorrow’s sunrise.

Some soar on breezes the scurrying crabs at my feet know nothing of;

others dive, breaking the surface, intent on survival.

~  ~  ~

I listen as waves pound the shore.

Some generate tiny whirlpools between the sandbars;

others churn the water into a brown morass of broken dreams.

Cosmic Humor

Or, I wish life would laugh with me, not at me!

Life has a strange sense of humor sometimes, doesn’t it? You know what I mean. Like the fact that I spent two years trying to rid my yard of Nutsedge, only to move three states away into a neighborhood where every yard uses Nutsedge for grass. Seriously?? I spent $60 a month last summer for Scott’s lawn service to get rid of the pesky weeds before the upcoming wedding weekend, then fired them when the Nutsedge took over my side yard only two months into the deal.  Now, all I can see in every direction is that little ‘weed’.

It crawls under ground like Bermuda, only worse! Whatever you do, do not attempt to pull it!! That only makes it grow 99.936 times faster!!

Life. Funny, isn’t it?

At my previous location I had oodles of birds to go with the oodles of Nutsedge. I all but became a bird watcher, right along with my kitties. They used to love sitting in the window watching the cardinals, chickadees, titmice (titmouses??), and colorful finches feed. There were even mourning doves and chipmunks to enjoy the seeds that fell on the ground.

I preferred to sit on my side porch where my next-door neighbor (read: best friend) and I would drink wine, grouse about the other neighbors (or husbands, whichever were most deserving of our snark at the time), and watch the birds come to several feeders I placed in, around, and under the flowering tree that was the central focus of my side garden bed. I never found out what species the tree was, but it bloomed twice every summer and I absolutely adored it. The squirrels, though, the squirrels were my nemesis.

I am not ashamed to confess, I despise squirrels. I’m one of those people who will swerve to avoid a turtle or frog but then aim a tire right at a squirrel in the road. Hey, natural selection. If the critter is too stupid to get out of my way… Besides, birds will not come to a feeder occupied by such a demanding and voracious animal! And, squirrels continually ate me out of house and birdseed (never mind the endless trail of useless bird feeders they managed to either chew to bits or clean out in an hour). I had one feeder with a screened tube that held the seeds, allowing them to empty into a tray at the bottom. Mind you, this feeder was huge – so huge, in fact, that we had to secure a 2X2 piece of wood to the shepherd’s crook to support the feeder when full. (Well, I’m lazy I worked full-time and did not want to fill the feeder every dang day!) Soon after I put it up, I discovered that screen is a wonderful material for little squirrel claws to hang onto. One squirrel was literally wrapped around the tube – upside-down, mind you – feasting on the never-ending abundance in the tray! Oooh! *&^#@!! Squirrels also adored my vintage feeders. They sat on the saucers and feasted from the cups. How convenient for them. *sigh*

You should know, the birds (and turkeys!) liked them, too:

IMG_1693

In an attempt to rid myself of squirrels, I purchased two (yes, two) special feeders designed specifically to keep the squirrels out. But, life has a twisted sense of humor, remember? (Before I continue, you should know that I am cheap.) My neighbor-friend searched online and invested in a caged bird feeder guaranteed to keep the squirrels out. I found the imitation at Walmart. One day I looked out of the window to see a squirrel’s hind legs balanced on the pole of the shepherd’s crook while it’s forelegs reached through the cage bars to steal seeds from the feeder. I’m pretty sure this squirrel should join the circus (and leave me alone!). But the baby squirrel sitting inside the cage took the cake – er, bird seed. All of it! Next I purchased a (slightly) more expensive “squirrel-buster” feeder designed to close the gate to the seeds when an animal of a certain weight sat on the perch. I soon discovered that squirrels are smarter than I (and probably the creators of these feeders). You guessed it, the pesky thief simply balanced on the shepherd’s crook and helped himself to the plethora of seeds from the opening. Perhaps the squirrels in my yard will be able to avoid my tires, too. Evolution at work.

What’s a bird-lover to do?

Well, I moved the squirrel-buster to a tree in hopes that there would be no access to the seeds (it seemed to work, but then, just because I didn’t see a squirrel eating from it did not make it so). As to the cage, I let the baby squirrel clean out the feeder prior to my move. That way, at least I didn’t waste any seeds.

Finding reasons to willingly feed the enemy = cosmic humor!

Last week (at my new location), I hung the cage bird feeder on a shepherd’s crook in front of my bushes. Unfortunately, I am unable to hang it from the one tree in my yard in an attempt to confound the gymnast-squirrels. I have been watching, hoping to discover what kinds of birds will find it. I should probably just ask Mike – he’s a real live birdwatcher, but I’d rather discover this all on my own – a kind of adventure. Today I caved and looked up bird species in my area. I was not disappointed to find that the same birds live here as in Tennessee, but I have yet to see any at the feeder. Thankfully, no squirrels have shown up either! *stows shotgun back inside corner cabinet*

Last night I sat on the porch drinking my daily shot of whiskey. I was sorely missing my Tennessee neighbor (read: best drinking buddy) and wondering if I will ever find anyone willing to join me for some snark a drink on my new front porch. Suddenly I saw a rather large bird fly into the neighbor’s yard. It was a mourning dove tending to a nest in a little nook above the neighbor’s front entryway. It kept looking back at me as it sang the familiar whoo-hoo song that is so mournful and yet so lovely at the same time. When I asked my neighbor about it, he informed me that this is the fourth year in a row the dove has raised its chicks above his porch. Hooray! At least I will be guaranteed of one feathered friend to entertain my kitties and me. Maybe instead of laughing, life is smiling on me at last. 🙂

The Art of Story

What is your favorite book or movie?

Why is it your favorite? Maybe you are into action stories with shoot ’em up scenes or exciting sword fights. Perhaps a good romance catches your fancy, you know, boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl in the end. What about stories based on true events and real people? Is it tragedy, comedy, drama? Or is it the characters themselves you love exploring?

If you are anything like me, that is a difficult question. Too many books, movies, and plays have captured my heart and imagination for me to narrow the answer down to just one. I might be able to give you a top 20 list, but even that would be pushing it. I love everything from history to comedy, science fiction to fantasy, and lots more between. Well, if it isn’t the genre that sets a good story apart, then what is it? This idea of story has been on my mind lately; that happens when you put your hand to writing a novel.

Working to create a good story begs the question: what makes a good story in the first place?

There is a short scene from the movie Out of Africa that serves as one of my inspirations to write. In it, Karen, Denys, and Berkeley have just enjoyed supper together. Karen, known for her storytelling prowess, takes a line from Denys and proceeds to invent a story that enthralls her guests late into the night. First and foremost, then, a story must engage the reader, or, in this case, the listener. Stories are meant to entertain and capture the imagination. In Storyteller, by Kate Wilhelm, the author explains: “There are natural storytellers and there are wordsmiths, and their methods are quite different.” Chapter Heading: “Can Writing be Taught”, page 14. I am a wordsmith; storytelling doesn’t come as easily to me as it did to Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen, if you want to get technical).

I learned a long time ago that words have power, and I love words.

Words influence, they can create an emotional response in the reader or hearer; words can actually change people. Movies are nothing more than words come to life before our eyes and ears. I read like I’m watching a movie. A true artist has the ability to make the reader transform words on the page into images and sounds in the brain. I can still see the children sitting in their virtual reality playroom and hear the lions feasting on their parents. I read The Veldt, from The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury probably 35 years ago, but the images remain crystal clear today. Now that is some powerful writing!

Certainly, I don’t remember every book I’ve read the way I do Mr. Bradbury’s very short tale. In fact, I remember little of the rest of that collection of short stories. Why did The Veldt make such a lasting impression on me? Because it elicited an emotional response; Bradbury’s words combined with my personality type brought us together on an emotional level. In other words, his story touched me somewhere inside. I still remember it because emotions burn memories into the brain. That’s why you can smell something and experience a powerful memory laced with all the emotions that come with it – sometimes against your will. It’s also why you want to read some books or watch some movies over and over again – to recapture the emotional response – be it fear, happiness, anger, or love.

Walt Disney understood the makings of a beloved story. In the movie, Saving Mr. Banks he says something profound about human beings and storytelling:

George Banks and all he stands for will be saved. Maybe not in life, but in imagination. Because that’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.

Hope.

Now that is a powerful word, and the stories I love are chock full of it. Assuming Hollywood got it right (a big ask, perhaps), P.L. Travers (the creator of Mary Poppins) had a difficult (dare I call it ‘tragic’?) childhood. Here is a short exchange from the movie:

Walt Disney: I think life disappoints you, Ms. Travers. I think it’s done that a lot. And maybe Mary Poppins is the only person in your life who hasn’t.

P.L. Travers: Mary Poppins isn’t real.

Walt Disney: That’s not true. She was as real as can be to my daughters, and to thousands of other children – adults too. She’s been a nighttime comfort to a heck of a lot of people.

And there you have our obsession with story. It really is quite simple, isn’t it? Life disappoints, we want something (someone) that doesn’t, a “nighttime comfort” if you will. Even when we know it isn’t real. But, wait a minute, if it isn’t real, then it isn’t hope. What’s truly sad is that somewhere along the way we lost the meaning of the word ‘hope’ altogether. We have turned ‘hope’ into ‘wish’, but hope didn’t start out that way. Hope started out as ‘know’, something you could sink the teeth of your faith into. I believe the need for hope is universal, and hope as a theme makes good story no matter the form. What if we look for hope in a story (be it fiction/fantasy or history/reality) because we know instinctively that it represents something that is very real?

From The Shawshank Redemption, to Liar, Liar, to Seabiscuit, hope – the kind that anchors – is the draw.

I would like to share with you two of the most powerful images of hope I have ever encountered from a writer’s pen. There are probably hundreds of examples I could give from the millions of words I have read and heard, but these stand out. The first is a line from The Return of the King, book 3 of The Lord of the Rings. I will give it to you as the movie line and then from the book:

Pippin: I didn’t think it would end this way.
Gandalf: End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.
Pippin: What? Gandalf? See what?
Gandalf: White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.
Pippin: Well, that isn’t so bad.
Gandalf: No. No, it isn’t.

In the last chapter, The Grey Havens, Frodo’s final journey:

“And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

The inevitability of death drives our need for hope.

If everybody dies, is hope enough? Well, maybe that depends on what you are hoping for. There is only one object truly worthy of hope: redemption. Jonathan Safran Foer understood that. In the final chapter of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (please don’t waste your time on the movie – terrible; the book is phenomenal), Foer describes redemption as he sees it. People fall up, back into the Twin Towers; the bomb implodes and the planes fly backwards; and so on throughout history, until finally, Eve places the fruit back on the tree. As people stuck in forward, linear time, isn’t the only logical meaning of redemption the complete reversal of all the evil ever to exist in the history of the world? That is my hope.

But there is a more immediate need for hope than just believing there is life (and redemption) after death. It has been said that “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely”. The capacity for evil in the human heart is more real than we like to admit. Ferguson, Isis, 9-11, these are proof of the evil escaping into the world from the hearts of ordinary men and women every day. We live in a scary place. We live in a world that forgets that
the love that binds us is more important than the power we wield. – Mordred, from Merlin, Season 5
But story can influence and even change the hearts of men. Consider the movie Cry Freedom. I had the privilege of watching it in a packed theater in 1987. The movie, recounting the true story of Donald Woods and Steve Biko during the dark days of apartheid in South Africa, had no happy ending. Biko did not live through his final beating. Woods did not expose or overcome the evil of his day (not by the end of the movie, at least). It is the only movie I’ve ever seen that while the credits ran, not one person moved. 200 or so people sat, stunned, while the credits rolled. No one spoke, no one stood up, no one could. Where was the message of redemption in Cry Freedom? In the ones who saw it or read it. The message was for the audience: “be the change that you wish to see in the world”, to borrow a good one from Ghandi. The movie left us asking ourselves if there was something we could do to make a difference half a world away. The movie inspired. And isn’t that what hope is all about: inspiration?

We need inspiration to believe in ourselves.

We need Harry to defeat Voldemort … Frodo to destroy the ring … the boy to get the girl … and Mr. Banks to be saved, because then we can believe that … the Hitlers of the world can be defeated … our addictions can be overcome … and love is worth giving up everything for.
I doubt I could write a story to capture hearts like The Lord of the Rings, I may not have the literary genius to create a character as universally loved as Mary Poppins, but I would like to tell a little story of redemption, of hope, of good triumphing over evil, of love winning, because that is not just the greatest story ever told, it is the only story worth telling.

Because, blindsided.

I did what I promised her I wouldn’t.

But, please, let me explain…

On December 1st every year, one of our local radio stations begins playing Christmas tunes. The same 10 songs over and over again for 25 straight days (at least, that’s how it seems to me)! Every once-in-awhile I push the button to see what comes out … if I hear Jingle Bells or Let it Snow one more time, I think I’ll go home and stuff myself with fruitcake until I push my body into a diabetic coma. To save myself from Christmas Song Burnout (this is a real and documented condition, trust me), I wait until Christmas week to begin listening to Christmas songs in earnest. There are a couple of songs I downloaded for free from NoiseTrade last year that I hadn’t really listened to yet, so I was looking forward to some fresh tunes. On December 22, in my car on my way to work, I plugged in the i-pod, selected Christmas genre, and hit shuffle. “Could’ve Been Summer” was the second song to come out of my speakers.

Car Radio (1)

Friday, December 19 was the first anniversary of my sister’s death. I had talked to my parents the day before. They planned to take my other siblings plus my sister’s husband out for dinner to all be together. I lived a few states away at the time, so was unable to join them. Friday evening I saw on FB some comments begun by my Mom’s post about the difficulty of the day. It occurred to me then that, for me, Friday had not been a more difficult day than the previous 364 days had been.

Despite the dull, continuous ache, I was doing pretty well. Yes, I felt sad whenever I thought about calling you (every day, half a dozen times), but on December 22, that song opened my grief like a fresh floodgate that had been screaming to break. The entire last week we spent together came flooding back in, totally uninvited. The memory of you saying my name felt like a tender punch in the gut. Through the tears I kept thinking, “I’m sorry. I told you I wouldn’t remember you that way, but I can’t help it.” So I let myself remember – all of it.

Then I made myself remember other things. Christmas things. How you adored Christmas. You didn’t always make the gifts you gave, but you always made the packages look so inviting. Your gifts were the ones everyone wanted (and did not want) to open. The wrapping was always too lovely to tear through. The decorations in your home were tasteful and stylish and different every year. You understood the beauty of nature over the glare of commercial glitter and always managed to incorporate the beauty of the outdoors into your boxes and bows, wreaths and mantlepieces. Everything you ever did was a work of art, with you the most beautiful one of them all.

It occurred to me on Sunday to remind Mom that she may have missed the funeral, but she had been there when you went home. She was able to whisper encouragement and hold your hand and say goodbye in that agonizing moment. I’m so glad for that. Though I could not be there to say the final goodbye, I am thankful for the week I was given the month before – every painful, horrible, gut-wrenching, sweet, precious, lovely moment of that unforgettable week. I am thankful for the many years we had together – the phone calls, the holidays, the Birthdays, the anniversaries, moushie jokes, Mah-Nuh, Mah-Nuh, all the love and sweat and tears and joy. I remember it all. I remember you. And even though it “Could Have Been Summer” when you left, I doubt that would have made this Christmas any easier.

Kisses, kisses, kisses, HUG!

LOVE you, Ditty-Boo – bunches and bunches and tons and tons!

– Your Little Sis

The Continued Crucifying Of Rob Bell, And What It Says About The State Of Modern Christianity

john pavlovitz


RobBell

It’s often been said that we Christians eat our own.

This unsettling expression is all-too true, and apparently Rob Bell is on the menu yet again.

For a people whose go-to ideas are love for God and love for others, we Jesus folk are often pretty horrible toward one another, especially to those of us who attain any sort of position in the larger culture.

Oh sure, we’ll root like crazy for them to reach the masses on their way up, but once they do, we’ll as willingly and passionately go about the work of ripping them from their lofty positions; discrediting them, ridiculing them, shaming and shunning them in the process.

In the Church, as in so many other spheres of life, we love to love you when your star is rising, and few in modern times have risen faster or higher.

A decade ago, Rob Bell was a flat-out Christian Rock Star.

He was

View original post 1,264 more words

I Believe in Magic

A little piece of fiction that became the seed of my first novel.

Magic exists everywhere. Bursting up from deep within the earth, layers of rock rise up stepping into majestic peaks. Seas teem with every kind of creature, unique in both form and function. Rivers flow over hill and dale, moving with an effervescent, inexorable pulse. Skies glow in rainbow colors, displaying light in resplendent hues human eyes only imagine through the dark lens of mortality.

Magic pulses life. Plants, flowers, herbs, and trees grow from deep, immense root to delicate petal, bursting forth with palpable force. Shimmering leaves and the wind that blows them, both filled with a power unseen, dance to a tune only they perceive.

Magic envelopes mystery. Incomprehensible spirits walk the earth in corporeal form, harboring hidden power. Hungering for knowledge, yet blazing with emotions at times out of control, they seek to find Truth, discerning it through the shadowed mirror of the world.

In the twilight realm between heaven and earth, hidden from the eyes of men, a war rages among ethereal beings of pure magic. In the fight for preeminence and immortality, the King of Valkyrie discovered an advantage, not realizing he would awaken a mage who could prove to be his undoing.

Season for Remembering

It is the first week of November and I finally got around to pulling out my winter clothes and putting all that is summer away. November seems kind of late in the year for that, but I am always thankful when the warmer weather hangs around a bit longer. No complaints here.

One of the items in my winter clothes box was the down vest I took from my sister’s closet last Christmas. I debated then whether to take or keep it since it wouldn’t zip up at the time. Well, technically it zipped, but it was quite tight. A couple of months ago, I lost 10 pounds. Lo and behold, it fits! I can wear it to work over my long-sleeve shirts for just that extra bit of warmth I need all winter long.

Today I put the vest on the couch as I was getting ready to go to work. Within about 5 minutes Ian found his way onto it. Only 2 days since it came out of the box and already he has reclaimed it. The suitcase it covered last winter has long been emptied and put away, but my cat found his way to the warmth of the vest anyway. It’s a bit surprising, actually, as Ian rarely gets on the couch to begin with. Funny that he managed to find the vest … he was the one who claimed it last winter too. I know for him it is probably just a warm spot to cozy-up on. It does make me wonder if he senses my connection to her, my grief, somehow communicated to him through this piece of clothing. Sadly, he never had the pleasure of meeting my sister.

As Ian claimed his space, I began to imagine what my sister might say if she had the pleasure of watching him knead her vest before settling into its folds. Of the three felines in the house, Ian is both the most fearful and the most affectionate. My sister dealt with fear and anxiety a lot, and I would have to say that of all my family – including me – she loved the deepest as well. My sister was not perfect, but she always strove to embrace others fully – flaws and all.

I hated removing Ian from the vest this morning, but truth be told, I need it. 3 weeks from yesterday will mark the anniversary of the last week I spent with my sister. I’m not sure I will ever believe that time heals all wounds, but somehow time does have the power to diminish the pain of them. The empty space left in my heart by my sister’s absence is certainly still there. It always will be. I walk into it often now. There I talk to her like I used to. I may not be able to hear her respond, but I can always see her smile.

This month marks the beginning of a season to remember. The whole of the end of 2013 was a nightmare I would like to forget, but on the cusp of the anniversary of those dark days, I am reminded to go further back in my memories to ponder the good and the bad – the plethora of days I was privileged to share with my sister. Maybe instead of a season of grief, this winter might turn into a season of thanksgiving for the blessing of 50 years with her in my life. If I’m lucky, I’ll even remember to enjoy the loved ones who remain – while they’re still with me. Maybe that’s what memories of the ones we lose are really for.

Our windy fall has brought the neighborhood hawks out in droves. I see one almost every day. And whether or not it’s her visiting me is irrelevant. They still remind me of her, just like the vest. So, Ian, while I won’t give it over to you completely, I am willing to share. You can enjoy it’s warmth and the interesting fabric against your paws. I will remember the one who wore it for a time, because in the end, I don’t need the vest, just the comfort it brings.

Wind Surfing and Wedding Crashing

September 27, 2014, three Saturdays before my eldest daughter’s wedding, I sat on my side porch enjoying breakfast and a hot cup of black coffee, while pondering my very long to-do list. It was a windy morning, windier than usual, and looking up, I saw a hawk soaring just above my head. With no need to flap its wings, the hawk simply glided back and forth between the gusty currents. I could almost feel the bird’s joy at its ability to float effortlessly, borne up by a greater power than itself, wings stretched out full-width, relaxed and at peace. I knew it was her. Ever since she flew back from VA with me this past summer, I know she’s always flying now – doing what she was too afraid to do before. The fear has left her entirely.

The hawk’s wings finally started beating as it veered off to my right to join three companions who I named my now-dead cousins. The four of them had such fun! A couple of days later I told my parents the story, that she visited me on Saturday as a hawk. Mom’s response: “I can’t believe you said that. The other day a hawk landed on the bush in front of our kitchen window and just sat there. I told your Dad, ‘Look, she’s here.'” I was not surprised.

I started thinking about how much I would miss her come wedding day, especially her ability to put together amazing decorations for the event. It occurred to me, then, that had she lived, she would not have been able to design or assemble decorations for, attend, or – even if she could come – enjoy, my daughter’s wedding. After seeing the hawk, I felt certain she would be there celebrating with us – whole and fully alive, truly herself.

I thought, Well, Dit, I would save you a seat, but I know you’ll be too busy soaring. Enjoy the view!

It also came to me that this is how she would fill out the RSVP card:

RSVP Dit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As it turns out, wedding day was overcast and drizzly. We were forced to move the  ceremony inside. There was just enough rain to keep me from looking for her overhead the few times I walked back and forth from the cottage to the venue.

But I missed her. I missed watching her arrange the table decorations as only she could. You should have seen the elegance and grace her decorations brought to my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary! I missed seeing her smile, and hearing her chat and laugh with the guests (she laughed often, and it was contagious), and cutting her big eyes over at me to communicate some inside joke only I would understand. I missed quipping back and forth with her about inane things as we always did. Most of all, I missed watching her dance. She would have been first on the floor and last to leave, and perhaps she was, unseen by those who love and miss her so much.

She would have loved this moment from the rehearsal:

And while I had no tangible sense of her presence at the wedding, I believe somehow she was there …

… guiding my daughter’s hands to braid her sister’s hair

Rachel Wedding Braid

 

 

 

… helping me dress the Bride for her big day

IMG_1055

 

… crying with me when the Bride’s father choked up in the middle of his toast

 

 

 

 

 

… laughing with us at the song her nieces and nephew shared

… smiling knowingly at me when two young bridesmaids made eyes at my handsome, 15-yr. old son

IMG_1104… and so many more moments!

Ditty, words are not enough to express how much it hurt not having you there. Can you feel the pain in my heart or taste my tears? I have to say, I was proud of myself this weekend. I managed to put aside the grief until after the festivities were over. I truly enjoyed my daughter’s wedding, just as you would have wanted me to. But the ‘putting aside’ was a conscious effort made necessary by memories and thoughts of you in that environment, that at times, threatened to overwhelm. I am glad that I did not see you flying about overhead – it would have meant you were not inside with us, and that would have truly broken my heart. Instead, my heart is full and whole, knowing you walked through such a special day with us.

 

 I love you bunches and bunches and tons and tons,

kisses-HUG

 

 

 

Your li’l Sis,

C

Finish the Prompt Tuesday (#3)

The Matticus Kingdom just keeps finding a gauntlet to throw. Here is the latest.

The Prompt:

Gently rubbing throbbing temples provided the illusion of relief without actually carrying through with the promise.  Another futile second and the hands dropped, defeated, and eyes flared open again.  Angry red lines coursed away from pools of deep blue that framed anguished black pupils.  Creases above eyebrows and worry lines appeared in the recently vacated spaces.

Neighbors cast furtive glances, some of concern, some of blame, and some of boredom, and they were all ignored.  There was no time or energy to deal with their intrigue, there was only pain.  Constant.  Intense.  It burrowed further in, disrupting the normal flow of tissues and synapses.  Eyes closed once more for balance but the bursts of light cascading in synchronized waves against eyelids required hands to go fumbling in search of something solid to cling to.

Balance restored, slowly.  Achingly slowly.  The throbbing headache remained.

Dark thoughts, twisted and writhing with mischief, found a way to surface when no others would or could: quick ways to end the suffering, names of those at fault for the current agony and how best to serve a fitting revenge, and the long road to recovery hidden in shadows and chains.  The abused heart lurched haltingly as it became wrapped in despair.  Knees grew weak.  Eyes, still hidden protectively behind their lids, rolled upwards.  Gravity did the rest and cooling air rushed passed falling limbs…

Now for my part:

Hours, or only an instant, passed by in a blur. Eyelids opened to the blue and white foam fast approaching. Time crystallized and stopped. Birds mid-flight, their wings stretched to full span, seemed frozen on the wind, like a stop-action photo. Trees stood still, holding their breath, while the waters of the fall below ceased their downward plunge, the roar deadened into deafening silence. It seemed to last an eternity, until the seconds began ticking again, first in slow succession like hours, then quickening their pace into minutes, then screaming past until – SNAP!

The taut bungee cord wrenched Dave’s body back up towards the old railway bridge. The pain was gone now, for the moment. He knew it would return once the rush was over. Adrenaline provided the only relief he could find these days for the pounding behind his eyeballs. He began to perceive the shouts of his fellow thrill-seekers, but he could truly hear the disapproving silence of the other onlookers.

Too far below to read the signs the disgruntled protestors still carried, he didn’t need to see them to know their message. The town had been in an uproar all winter over the decision to open the historic bridge to a local company intent on using it as a launch site for bungee jumpers. Dave was all for it – his now-empty savings account attested to his determination to find any way possible to rid himself of the relentless pain he now suffered.

Flinging his arms wide as if he planned to embrace the rocks before him, he let out a shout of delight as the cord released him downwards once more. This time there was no familiar SNAP of a rebound. Instead there was a tearing sound as the cord unraveled and broke into two ragged pieces.

Dave had time for one thought as he rushed towards the rocky waterfall below: “Well, at least the headaches will be over,” and he smiled in anticipation of that end.

Writing Prompt – Finish the Story Part III

Tuesday, July 22 in The Matticus Kingdom, the gauntlet was thrown. Challenge accepted.

Prompt and Part 1

Part 2

~  ~  ~

Part 3: Faerie

Silence hung over the Grove when Rhys arrived. A few more minutes until midnight, but he could hardly wait another second for the reunion he had never even dared hope for. So complete was the break between them, so final was the taking of Gwenlyann’s memories – or so he’d thought. Time was when only the wizard who had cast a spell of Unremembrance would be able to undo it, and that at great cost to the caster. How had Gwenlyann remembered him? Rhys felt overwhelmed, like he was trying to catch up to events he didn’t know how to interpret.

Without sound or ceremony, she appeared in the moonlight at the edge of the Grove. As she stepped into the relative darkness of the trees Rhys saw that her flaming red hair was covered by the hood of a deep purple cloak. He chuckled involuntarily, remembering how many times his wife had implored her not to wear purple. “Gwenlyann, why must you insist on your clothes clashing with your hair? Green or even blue would serve to accent your flames rather than mock them!” Her exasperation was wasted on a girl who proved to be the most charming rebel in all Eldoran.

Her smile seemed to banish the darkness around them, as well as his uncertainty regarding her feelings about the lengths her parents had gone to for her protection. Would she ever be able to forgive him for stealing her childhood from her? By all accounts she had found a way to regain the memories, but how?

Gwenlyann walked slowly towards him, mist swirling around the hem of her cloak. Rhys reached towards her, intending an embrace, when her face shifted. Emerald eyes turned black like coal … purple cloak melted into gray tatters in his hand.

“NOOOOO!” he shouted in despair. Almost too late he realized his mistake. As the gray strips wound their tendrils over his mouth, establishing their grip on wrists and ankles, he had just enough time to whisper the spell of winking, the one that would transport him out of the ever-tightening grasp of Faerie wrappings and into Oblivion. It would be many years before he could return and continue the search, but return he would. Now he knew for a certainty the Faerie had her. They had tipped their hand for once.

One thought occupied his mind before the spell shattered his soul into fragments, “I will find you, Gwenlyann. Hang on, Daddy loves you and I will come for you!” Like mist vanishing before the rising sun, the man Rhys winked out of existence.

~  ~  ~

Note: This is the final part of a prologue to a much longer story. Stay tuned for more installments to come.

Finish the Prompt Tuesday

Today’s Prompt followed by my entry, shorter this time, and this one actually has an ending! 🙂 Enjoy, and thanks again for reading. Don’t forget to stop by for a visit to The Matticus Kingdom! All knights and ladies welcome, of course.

The Prompt

Headlights bounced off another green sign, another discarded path on the journey of your life, momentarily brightening the predawn darkness before the weight of the black morning came crushing down upon you again.  You acknowledged the exit, as you had the rest, noticed it, confirmed the words weren’t the ones you were looking for, and then your eyes switched back to the road and your thoughts moved to more pressing matters.  Where was your exit?  Would you recognize it?  Would you miss it and slip into the night forever?

The edge of your soft headlights caught the dull yellow line running down the certain of the freeway.  It was the only constant in your life.  And then it broke out into dashes and your realized there was nothing constant in your life.  Your heart skipped a beat.  Your eyes flew wide with fear and joy.  And then the solid was back and your norm returned.

The miles slipped beneath your tires and the hum of their passage was a lullaby calling you back to sleep.  It was inviting, but your bed was too far in your past to return to, and the dreams that had accompanied your sleep recently were the kind you could do without.  Names shouted in anger and pain.  The red of gore splashed against white walls.  The dangerous crossings of what had been and what could have been.

No, shaking your head to ward of the partial memories, to not let your thoughts dwell on discerning the truth, you focus again on the pavement coming into view just ahead of those two tiny beams of light.  Your future is out there in the darkness, waiting to be found, just beyond the arc of your headlights.  Another green sign comes into view…

My Conclusion …

Then you heard the voice again. That voice! Always crowding in to push the darkness back, the sweet darkness that hid and sustained you. “Shut UP!” you screamed in your head. Still it came, relentless.

“Mr. Peabody, please come back to bed,” the nurse said with quiet authority.

Your head snapped up in sudden recognition. “Where am I?” you mumbled groggily.

“Sleepwalking again, Dearie. At least this time you brought your flashlight,” the nurse crooned. “Bad dream tonight?”

“Uh, yeah,” was all you could muster in reply.

“Well, walking up and down this parking lot isn’t going to clean the mess off the walls of your room. At least you finally got rid of that rat for us! Ready to go back inside now?” Then you noticed the bucket and rags she carried.

Looking up at the stone walls you caught a glimpse of the light shining from your window on the third floor. “Sure,” you said softly. Taking your arm in hers, the nurse gently led you back inside the asylum. “Home at last,” you thought.

Writing Prompt – Finish the Story Part II

Tuesday, July 22 in The Matticus Kingdom, the gauntlet was thrown. Challenge accepted. Here’s the prompt and Part 1.

~  ~  ~

Part 2: Remembrance

The hamlet where he found her lay no short distance from the sea. He wondered at that. Gwenlyann had always talked about one day sailing away on a ship bound for nowhere. During his own voyage back to Eldoran, he had half expected to hear tell of a green-eyed piratess wreaking fiery havoc up and down the coast. He had been disappointed to find that not one sailor had even heard of her name. Those dreams belonged to a former life, he supposed. Rhys had done his work too well and knew she wouldn’t remember them.

5 months after escaping the Faerie Storm he found her – a barmaid in the largest pub in the region. Quite a lovely and successful barmaid, he thought with a smile. The flaming red hair would have been enough to attract attention had Gwenlyann’s melodic voice not carried over the din. He listened unobtrusively for a moment to the animated conversation she was having with an unsuspecting patron and smiled a little wider. She may have lost her memories, but her uncanny ability to convince a man he desperately wanted what 1 minute ago he clearly had not remained intact.

The pub, known as Flynn’s, had seven years earlier gained popularity by hiring the best cook on five continents, though how a remote town like Brevis managed to procure such exotic ingredients as saffron or wild Asian boar tusks baffled its more metropolitan neighbors. Flynn’s also impressed as an Inn, boasting several immaculate rooms upstairs and not a few lovely escorts. As to Gwenlyann’s position, he doubted any visitor here had ever ventured to invite her into the bedchamber unless it had been her idea.

Before leaving the forest, Rhys had assumed a more inconspicuous guise. He easily wove the spell that would make him less memorable to anyone who didn’t know how to look. Still tall, his now short golden hair, looking more brown than blond, curled out at intervals from under a worn, black cap. The plain, green woolen trousers tucked into long, tan riding boots were mostly hidden beneath a brown hunting coat reaching the knees. There were extra spells wrapped ’round the sword which hung from a scabbard at his waist. No one in the inn not practiced at seeing – excepting maybe Gwenlyann – would be able to remember his face or his height, hair color, or the prominent nose beneath his shining blue eyes. Fewer still, upon looking straight at him with sword drawn, would even suspect that he carried a weapon.

Rhys leaned down so as to be heard by the nearest patron and shouted, “What’s the occasion, friend? Seems a lively crowd tonight.” The noise from the pub could be heard several blocks away.

The man Rhys had taken the liberty to address looked up with a scowl. “If y’ain’t heard the news ya must not be from ’round these parts! Brevis don’t welcome strangers, y’know.”

“Since when?” Rhys asked with an easy smile. “I heard tell that Brevis welcomes travelers of all races and boasts at least 3 different native tongues. In fact, the sailors living in Shorr assured me that Flynn’s was the most hospitable Inn in all of Eldoran!”

“Aye, and so it is! Who’s sayin’ otherwise, tell me?” He would have known her voice even had he not been intimately acquainted with those flashing emerald eyes.

“This man seems intent on keeping a stranger in the dark. I was just inquiring about the seeming celebration going on tonight.” he said, sweeping his hand over the crowd to indicate the source of his inquiry and smiling slyly at Gwenlyann. For a moment her eyes faltered and she flushed, for once unable to produce an adequate retort.

Recovering quickly, she moved over to him and asked if there was something in particular he wanted from the kitchen. “We have a newly opened aged port which might satisfy even a world-traveler like you,” she said invitingly, though the charm was lost on him.

Before Rhys could whisper the spell that would set her free from unremembrance, Gwenlyann moved to intercept a waiter carrying trays laden with steaming bowls of spice soup, freshly-cut cheese, a plate piled high with fresh melon, and another filled with hot yeast rolls.

“Glin, find this man a table and be quick about it” she said sharply, but her lovely grin and kind eyes worked better than any magic spell she could ever hope to employ to bring compliance to her every request. In the midst of these observations Rhys felt a strange sensation come over him. Suddenly he heard Gwenlyann’s voice speak directly into his mind, “What took you so long? I’ve been looking to your coming for weeks.” Too shocked to respond, Rhys just stared at her wide-eyed, comprehension beginning to dawn. He realized in a rush why he had been hearing her voice in his dreams these past 3 months, and why he had felt such urgency to get here, to find her.

“You remember … ?” he breathed. The sharp look she gave him instantly recalled him to his surroundings. Now was not the time nor place for a reunion. Too many spies might be lurking in such a crowded room.

“Meet me tonight in the Grove. You know the one,” she spoke into his mind again. The men surrounding them heard her listing menu items and offering them more ale. He recalled a stand of trees about a mile south of the Inn. He had passed through it just today on his way into town. “Midnight” her voice echoed and was she was gone, disappeared into a crowd of happy patrons, the charming barmaid once more.

 

 

Writing Prompt – Finish the Story Part I

Today in The Matticus Kingdom, the gauntlet was thrown. Challenge accepted.

~  ~  ~

The Prompt:

The night howled, sucked at the windows, and rattled fences.  Trees, arched with the onslaught, whipped and branches reached out for anything to unleash their frustration and torment on.  The wind pushed against everything, a bully on a rampage, the world its victim.

The cloud shrouded darkness ate away at the edges of the dim pools of light cast by the street lamps.  The polka dot glows shimmered in the swaying black.  They seemed resigned to their fate, destined to be swallowed and complete the end of all things, but too stubborn to wink out quickly.  Fading, little by little, the long hours of the night stretched thin.

A single door on the block creaked open, straining against the arms of the storm, and then banged shut.  The hunched man winced in anticipation of the sound even though the echoes of the escape were lost below the fury of the wind.  His strained eyes swept the scoured landscape and saw nothing but the traces of lights ominously urging him forward.

The way is here.

It is not safe.

Follow the dancing lights.

If you dare…

And now for my part:

Part 1: Change Winds

At least the rain has stopped, Holden thought. The cloud cover made the darkness complete beyond the reach of the street’s dim lanterns. Holden’s imagination began to run wild into the shadowy depths around him. Fighting the wind and fears his own memories incited, he tried to get his bearings. He knew better than to stand still very long on a night like this. He also knew never to follow the winking lights.

He had been a young, arrogant fool the first time he had weathered a Faerie Storm. Laughing at the doom-laden tales warning against the lights, he had followed them into the chaotic mist. His folly had cost him more than his freedom. Time had ceased to exist through long years of agony at the Faerie’s hands. Holden was no longer young, nor was he particularly brave. He certainly wasn’t foolish. He was too smart to be easily caught again. Escaping his cage had been a long, difficult process, and he chafed at the decade lost in hiding, unable to protect his daughter or avenge his long-dead wife. But this storm sparked something buried deep inside him: a hunger for his old life had awakened. Aodhan help them, he would have his revenge!

A flash of lightning showed him the right path to take – away from the bobbing balls of fire strung out before him in the direction of swirling mists. He carefully turned, and as he began creeping soundlessly through the shadows around his hovel, he took the time to dismiss the spell protecting him these last 10 years. He could only hope the rest of the villagers believed he had ventured out and been lost to the storm’s rage.

Rhys stepped into the forest standing tall once more. His long, flaxen hair billowed behind him, seemingly against the winds. No one would recognize him as the stooped, old man the villagers knew as Holden. It had been so long since he had walked in his own skin, he forgot how good it felt to stand upright. As he strode through ancient trees, he worked the kinks out of his neck and questions began forming in his mind.

In the relative safety of Aldain’s canopy he could think freely, without fear, about what the storm’s coming could mean. Had he been betrayed? But who was left who knew him for what he was? Had someone in the village discovered his true identity? No, he had been there too long and was too careful for that. What then? There was only one who could answer that question, but how was he to find her? What would happen to her if he did? Part of her protection had been the severing of every tie between them – right down to her last memory of her former life. Despite years of separation, memories of her still filled him. If Aodhan willed it, she was now strong enough to weather any storm his coming to her might bring.

Muted rays of the rising sun began to stream through the trunks surrounding him as he outdistanced the Faerie winds. He could still barely hear the slam of shutters in the distance as the storm assaulting his former home continued unabated. He felt a pang of sorrow for the villagers he had abandoned to the Faerie lights. Perhaps they would remember his warnings and stay inside until it was over. Most of them thought that Faeries were the superstitious imaginings of the young or ignorant. Poor fools. Well, he had done what he could to bring truth to that one small corner of the Land – in nothing more than vague innuendo, of course. He had never ventured to risk exposing himself. Now exposure became inevitable.

The morning wore on and his stomach started to growl. He would need food and water soon. Turning Eastward, he decided to make for Bryndale. There were still a handful of outposts along the way where provisions could be found, and perhaps even a little news from the wider world might be gleaned. He realized with chagrin that he had spent too long in hiding. Aodhan forgive him; hopefully he was not too late!