Homecoming – Part 3

Copyright-John Nixon

100 words:

Kelsey gazed between branches at Jim’s gaunt features. She remembered the first time she ever laid eyes on him. She remembered everything. Their journey had more twists than the limbs holding her. She wondered why Grant had brought her here, now. Why this prison? Tentatively, she reached a hand through curving trunks. Jim turned away. That made sense. She had failed him utterly.

“Jim, I – ” she stopped. Just like that he disappeared, again! “I promise, I will find you,” she whispered hoarsely.

Her eyelids popped open. Jim lay there on the bed next to her, their fingers entwined.

~   ~   ~   ~   ~

The above is my March 26, 2014 entry to Friday Fictioneers. Thanks to Rochelle for heading up this weekly challenge and to John Nixon for the photo prompt. Be sure to check out the other entries:

 

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Nothing Says ‘I Love You’ Like a Backyard Wedding

Did I mention my daughter is getting married? That’s right! In less than 7 months she will tie the knot. I hear it takes a year to plan a wedding, so I’m starting what – 5 months in the hole? To make matters worse, the wedding is taking place 8 or so States Northeast of me. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to plan a wedding with only 6.5 months left, from 8 States away?! Oh, one more thing. In case you hadn’t heard, they say it costs $10,000 to get married these days. WHAT?!

Can anyone tell me who ‘they’ are? When you finish explaining, please help me re-locate my credit card so I can do my part to drive this country even further towards financial ruin.

Okay, I admit it. This post isn’t really about my daughter’s wedding, it’s about me. Because everything is about me, all the time, right? Of course, right.

Therefore, in the spirit of “it’s-all-about-meeee” (you have to sing it to get the full effect) I have decided to unveil my idea for the perfect wedding venue: our backyard. Seriously. I am convinced that our backyard is THE perfect spot for my daughter to get married. Truly idyllic.

Welcome to my version of The Wedding Venue Blues, a short list of great reasons why my backyard is the perfect venue for my daughter’s wedding:

1. Wildlife abounds

  • We have gaggles of turkeys stealing food from the cardinals cruising our yard daily. My next-door neighbor buys corn especially for the miscreants darlings, guaranteeing they will stop by each and every morning. While I sing the praises of toms flaunting their feathers before the hens, my husband claims they poop disease all over the yard; and, since we’re 10 feet inside the city limits, we aren’t actually allowed to kill one for Thanksgiving dinner … whatever. Aren’t they adorbs?
We can't forget (not for lack of trying) the lovely trucks gracing my neighbor's FRONT yard - in the grass. Yes, pickup trucks have become the new decor for weddings, I hear. It must be true since I posted read it on Facebook.
We can’t forget (not for lack of trying) the lovely trucks parked in my neighbor’s FRONT yard – in the grass. Yes, pickup trucks have become the new decor for weddings, I hear. It must be true since I posted read it on Facebook.
  • Skunks are literally everywhere in my little town. If I’m not running over one in my car, I’m inhaling the sexy, musk aroma whenever I open a window. What wedding would be complete without our furry tuxedo’ed friends? As one YouTube Source put it “Pepe le Pew is Odor-able!” True, true.
  • Vultures are a local icon. I have friends who take pride in the fact that our little Nashville suburb suffers very few long-decaying animals due to the enormous vulture population. Now tell me, what wedding party wouldn’t enjoy a nice Bevy of Buzzards? Doves, schmuvs!
  • Plenty of wasps, hornets, Japanese beetles, and mosquitoes invade enjoy the bounty in my yard all summer long. Just imagine the loveliness created by these insects as they perform their acrobatic dances amidst the lightening bugs, all the while being picked off one-by-one by our friendly, local bats! Who needs hanging candles or tiki torches when nature is right outside the back door, ready and willing to light up our lives?

2. My backyard comes with built-in rustic seating and a custom dance floor

  • The previous owners of my little cottage believed in using natural boulders rocks as borders around the plethora of gardens. (Did you see how I found a way to use ‘plethora’ in this post? Skill, people, skill.) These rocks vary in both shape and size, helping to accommodate all of the guests (both large and small), and they come complete with painful sharply angled edges and plenty of soft moss to give everyone that cushion-y feel we all love in a fine seat.
  • As an added bonus, in the little town where I live, if you want to hit solid rock, you simply dig an inch or so into the ground, anywhere, and VOILA, rock-face! It will be a nightmare simple task to remove the top layer of Bermuda shiz grass from my yard to produce an instant stone floor on which the Bride and Groom can boogie into their new life together!
  • Of course, what wedding party would be complete without a pavilion? Fortunately for me, several large oaks and hickory nut trees provide all of the shade and weather protection one could hope for. Besides, by the time September comes, all of those loose nuts should have fallen already (crazy relatives not-withstanding).

3. Finally, my backyard neighbor will provide entertainment FOR FREE

  • At all times of the day or night I hear horrific noises lovely tunes blasting emanating from my neighbor’s boombox located inside his concrete garage/driveway ensemble. The annoyingly ugly stately structure provides the perfect wedding backdrop all the while managing to enhance the horse-sized charming black dune buggy trailer in the driveway. Because my neighbor’s lot sits higher than my backyard, all anyone will hear are bass guitar licks, drums beating loud enough to shake the shingles off my roof, and the frequent occasional f-bomb lacing his rebel-screamer-country-rock/rap music. Oh, and when he tries to belt it out sing along – ooohh, shivers, I tell you, right up my spine! Perfect for dancing the night away, I think! At the very least, everyone will have a good reason to drink a little more than usual. Always a plus whenever in-laws are gathered together in one place. 😉
  • Let’s not forget the possibility of a dune buggy ride in between musical sets for all our guests, especially those who appreciate the brand new Ah-ooga horn on my neighbor’s latest rebuilt toy which he prefers to show off share with us in those quiet moments of peace I savor after work each evening and on Saturday mornings (sleeping in is overrated, don’t you think?).

Who says a wedding has to cost $10,000??! Pshaw! Besides the free stuff I’m getting, consider the other amazing benefits I’ll enjoy:

  • Food and drink for all the wedding guests? $56.78 (thanks to Food Saver coupons!)
  • Airfare from D.C. to Nashville for Bride and Groom? $745.98 (at least I won’t have to walk through TSA’s x-ray scanner anytime soon!)
  • Hearing all 87 of my daughter’s wedding guests tell the asshat behind me where to shove his music?

Priceless!

The view from my back porch. Doesn't scream "wedding" at you, huh? Maybe I can get asshat to drape flowers over the horse box ... ? No, probably not.
The view from my back porch. Doesn’t scream “wedding” at you, huh? Maybe I can get asshat to drape flowers over the horse box dune buggy trailer … ? No, probably not.

Homecoming, Part 2

Last week’s entry had a few people asking me for more of the story brewing in my head. Thankfully, this week’s incredible photo prompt gave me just what I needed. Rochelle, I love your eye for photography!

Copyright: Rochelle Wisoff-Fields
Friday Fictioneers – March 21

101 Words

Kelsey woke with a start back in the dilapidated brownstone on Twelfth Street. What was Grant trying to tell her? The vivid dream had left her skin clammy; the taste of cranberries lingered on her tongue.

Dragging herself out of bed for something caffeinated, she padded across her 4th floor studio apartment wondering why this dream disturbed her more than the others – now 10, in as many days.

A knock diverted her from the coffee. “Who’s there?” she asked. No answer. Tying her robe’s sash tightly, she opened the door. Her empty mug exploded when it hit the concrete. “Jim!”

~     ~     ~     ~     ~

If you’d like to participate, clicking on the photo above will transport you to our lovely and talented overseer, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields’ site. Once there, all shall become clear.

Do take a gander at this week’s other entries:

Homecoming

copyright – Adam Ickes

100 words:

As a child, the wooden bridge leading into the cranberry bog had seemed endless. Kelsey stood looking down the expanse from her porch now, wondering if she’d made the right decision. Her doubts fled when she saw Grant running towards her from the dock.

“Look what I found, Mommy – treasure,” his high-pitched voice carried across the planks.

She smiled at his contagious excitement. To her 6-yr. old, even the mundane shimmered with wonder.

“Show me,” Kelsey shouted back. Seeing his prize stopped her heart cold. There in Grant’s hand, tangled with dripping leaves, rested Jim’s watch.

The above is my March 14, 2014 entry to Friday Fictioneers. Thanks to Rochelle for heading up this weekly challenge and to Adam Ickes for the photo prompt. Be sure to check out the other entries:

50th Birthday

I turned 50 last week. For many, this event would mark an important milestone. For me it passed by virtually unnoticed. The suitcase I carried to my sister’s funeral still sits in a corner of my bedroom. I have thought about putting it away a hundred times. But putting it away would mean unpacking, and what would be the point? You see, after my sister’s funeral service, my brother-in-law encouraged me to pick out some of her clothes to take with me. I knew it was silly. She and I could not have been built any differently. My sister was a wisp, and me? Well, let’s just say I have always been “solid”. I don’t mind my size (anymore), but the reality is that everything in the suitcase is too small to fit.

Ironically, all of the shoes are too big.

The point of unpacking would be to actually wear the clothes in the suitcase. Instead I am holding onto the items that I hope will fit my daughter. One thing I plan to keep is my sister’s black down vest. I wore it for about a week, but I could not zip it up if I had on more than a lightweight blouse. The Polar Vortex of 2014 made such clothing untenable, so the vest is now on top of the suitcase where my cat, Ian, has taken to sleeping. Looks to me like he found just the right combination of soft and warm.

My kitty at peace ... with my sister's memory.
I get it, buddy.
I want to get as close to her as I can, too.

Grief makes a strange companion for me. Sanguines are not usually given to bouts of depression or morose thoughts. I am not sure what to make of the gentle waves of sadness that roll over me when I least expect it. Other times the pain comes as a swift punch in the gut, knocking the wind right out of me. In those moments it feels like she just died all over again.

Supposedly grief comes in stages but I cannot remember what they are. I only know that last week my 50th birthday came and went without a card or call from my Big Sis. In fact, I could not remember the last time she had been able to send a card or call me on my birthday. This year I had to face the hardest truth: I would never receive a birthday card or call from her again.

Probably the best birthday ever was the year that we gave one other the same card!! My sister and I were both in the habit of purchasing birthday cards and gifts way early. Her birthday was in January and mine is in March. That year I had found her card in probably June. It was such an incredibly funny and appropriate card that I could not resist the urge to tell her how perfect her next birthday card would be. She did not hesitate to inform me that she too had found the perfect card for my birthday. One of us joked about how funny it would be if we had bought each other the same card! She kept the secret for 2 whole months but we laughed about it for years to come. You’ve heard the saying, “Great minds think alike”? Well, that was a case of kindred hearts.

What do you do when a piece of your heart gets ripped out? I find it difficult at times to gather my thoughts together enough to write about anything. I often find myself thinking about my own death. I think about where she is now, too, and what she might be doing. I think about that a lot. My sister was a brilliant artist. Everything in her life was a work of art. From a prepared meal to a painting to her garden, she sought beauty in everything she put her hand to. I remember once hearing her talk about the importance of color to an artist. Her wonder at color was fascinating! As she spoke, I knew that a mystery was being revealed to me but despite her words, understanding remained beyond my grasp. I like to imagine that now she is experiencing color like never before.

In “What Dreams May Come” Robin Williams’ character literally swam in the colors around him.

During one of my last visits with her she could no longer speak in complete sentences. Suddenly, in the middle of a conversation I was having with her husband, she mumbled something. Neither of us could understand what she was trying to say. Frustrated, she left the room. We looked at one another, shrugging. When she returned, there was a small picture frame in her hands.  She pointed to it over and over saying, “This.” I did not have a clue what she meant. In response to her growing agitation, I stood and followed her through the house saying. “This, this,” she repeated, over and over.

We finally ended up in the room that would have been her studio. Satisfied at last, she pointed to the pictures on the dresser and breathed, “this” one last time. She relaxed. She had found what she was looking for. What I saw broke my heart. On the dresser were six unfinished Botanicals – dried flower arrangements in frames. None of the pieces looked anything like her work. They were thin shadows of the depth of her talent. But even with a mind being slowly eaten away by dementia, more artistic ability dwelled in her pinky finger than I would ever possess in my whole body. Even then, my sister’s talent was beyond me.

I envy my cat. I would like to be able to curl up and fit on the back of a down vest sitting on the top of my small red suitcase. I am certain it would be just the right combination of soft and warm.

Friday Fictioneers: Healer

This is my first ever entry in the Friday Fictioneers weekly writing challenge. Rochelle Wisoff-Fields leads the group, and this week Danny Bowman provides the muse. I know my regular readers will find it difficult to recover from stunned shock that I could write anything in less than 1 million words. 😉

Copyright Danny Bowman

100 Words

Today of all days! Catherine thought, bitterly.

Her breath came and went in wheezes halfway up the steep slope. Hot tears fighting for release stung her eyes. The phone call had been brief. As soon as she’d heard what happened she knew she would go. The fallen climber could not know what this day meant to her.

Pushing the memories of Brock’s broken body aside, she moved forward through the crowd. The unconscious man moaned.

“Let’s do this,” she said. Handing Reggie her medical bag, Catherine gave the stranger what no one could give her son: Life after a fall.

Check out the other entries by clicking the link below.

Curing Blogger’s Block, 5 X 5

Benze put together this survey that I read on Rarasaur’s blog site. Thought I would give it a try myself. Feel free to join in!

Five Things I am Passionate About

  1. Virtuous character (whether it’s inspired by Jesus or Ghandi)
  2. Absolute truth (yes, I believe there is such an animal)
  3. Family
  4. Reading/Writing (I know, that’s two, so sue me)
  5. My Compassion kids

5 Things I Would Like to Do Before I Die

  1. Cruise the Mediterranean
  2. Clean out my garage
  3. Write a book
  4. Edit someone else’s book
  5. Get to know my (future) grandchildren

5 Things I Say A Lot

  1. Who does this? (This phrase should be etched on my urn one day.)
  2. Seriously? (This can be on the backside of my urn.)
  3. You reap what you sow, you reap more than you sow, you reap later (about 10 years) than you sow.
  4. Mercy!
  5. Say?

5 Books or Magazines I Have Read Lately

  1. The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
  2. Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
  3. Stricken by God? by Michael Hardin
  4. Against all Things Ending by Stephen R. Donaldson
  5. Razing Hell by Sharon Baker

5 Favorite Movies

  1. Four Feathers
  2. Pride & Prejudice (the long, 6-hour version)
  3. The Matrix
  4. Liar Liar
  5. Much Ado about Nothing (the one with Emma Thompson & Kenneth Branagh)

Join in the fun! Do this on your blog and tag me so I can see what your answers are. I had fun coming up with some questions and answers for this one so sometime when you don’t know what to write about just write a 5 x 5 post!!!

Nightmare on the Pacific

I’ve wanted to write this story down for many years now. My Senior year of High School I used it as an ‘improv’ audition for a part in my high school’s production of “David and Lisa: A Play in Two Acts”. My retelling (complete with an animated reenactment) of the following true story earned me the only lead role I’ve ever had.

The year was 1981, and while I had traveled alone before, it was not a common occurrence. About 18 months earlier I had made my first unaccompanied trip: A 6-hour bus ride to visit my sister in the middle of nowhere, West VA. That’s when I learned that a 15-yr. old should not be allowed to see “The Shining” (on the big screen, no less) prior to sleeping in a house 3 miles from civilization. An inability to see the hand in front of one’s face combined with the kind of terror only Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall can inspire … well, you can imagine, yes?

Shelley Duvall in Stanley Kubrick's 'The Shining'.
Shelley Duvall in The Shining

I suppose the scariness of my first trip should have warned me off ever traveling alone again. Alas, teenager = notoriously slow on the uptake.

So, at 17 I made the trek (by plane this time) from East Coast to West for one last adventure before my final year of High School. I would again be visiting family (Aunt, Uncle, & cousins), and I looked forward to seeing what life was like in the State famous for balmy weather, horrendous traffic, and movie stars. Little did I know that this trip (along with a few other things I’ve picked up on in the 30-years since) would inspire in me a disparaging an affectionate mantra for my West Coast brothers and sisters: ‘Everyone in California is crazy!’

I have always been a ‘beach girl’, you know, the way some people are mountain folk? Well, that’s me, only at the beach. Even now, if I could, I would build myself a house on a sand dune and spend the rest of my days watching the tide roll in and out.

Every summer as a child my family spent a week or more at the beach pictured here:

I would not build my house on Virginia Beach. It is seriously this packed. All.Summer.Long. Seriously.

The entirety of the main strip of Virginia Beach is jammed with condos, hotels, dance clubs, beer joints, sandwich shops, and retail stores. As a child, I remember a carnival of sorts adding to the magic of our vacation by offering rides, cotton candy, a fun house, and salt-water taffy.

The California Coast I visited was quite different from the Virginia Coast I knew and loved.

That August day, 1981 was pretty hot as Coastal California goes. My Aunt drove me about a mile from her house and we agreed she would pick me up at 3:00 p.m., giving me roughly 4+ hours on the beach – plenty of time to get burnt to a crisp enjoy the sand and surf.

Arriving at the spot my Aunt had chosen – ALONE, mind you – I stood atop a cliff overlooking a virtual wilderness stretching out to meet the dark blue waters of the Pacific. The hike down the rock stairway from the road was a bit daunting, but I soldiered on. Bravely waving good-bye to my Aunt, I settled my towel on a patch of sand and began my Pacific Coast Adventure.

Capistrano Beach, California. Besides the lifeguard in the stand, there were maybe 20 people scattered around me in various directions.

The hot day and the fact that I’ve never enjoyed baking in the sun lying out, meant it wasn’t long before I wanted to get in the water. I stumbled across the blazing sands, anxious for a dip.

Several things in succession took me by surprise. First, the water was freezing. Seriously, I’m not exaggerating (I’m mostly not exaggerating). Next, hidden by the dark, frigid waters, I found myself trapped on a broad swath of sharp, pointy rocks like glass which dug into my bare but sensitive feet! What happened to the sand? Gone. I knew this by the fact that my feet were now bleeding*. (My feet might have been bleeding … I was not certain since the water had turned my legs from the knees down into solid blocks of ice.) I hobbled forward, hoping the sand would miraculously reappear. Instead, I found another cliff, this one sans stair.

Totally focused on the pain in my feet, I stepped off the edge into nothingness and was suddenly, without ceremony, in over my head.

Too bad they didn’t have a sign like this. Of course, to be accurate, it would have to show the sharp, pointy rocks just before the drop-off. Little drops of blood coming off the stick-man’s feet would have been helpful too.

Forced now to tread water or drown, I managed to struggle up for a breath. I splashed around for a while hoping not to attract any Great Whites (Jaws had taught me never to trust an ocean filled with monsters … wait, isn’t every ocean filled with monsters?). Scanning the coastline, I realized that in a few short minutes I had been swept down probably 1/4-1/2 mile from the spot where I had left my towel. I could barely see the lone lifeguard stand in the distance.

So began my journey to get out of the water. This sounds simple, but no. I had unwittingly discovered the Twilight Zone Bermuda Triangle of the West Coast. Apparently exiting the Pacific Ocean is California’s equivalent of a Herculean feat. Here were the tasks before me:

  1. Swim back up the coast – against the current – to get fairly even with my towel. I thought I had experienced strong currents before, but the East Coast cannot hold a candle to the Pacific currents’ mad skills.
  2. Defeat the rip tide undertow which barred my way back to the underwater cliff edge. (I’m pretty sure I fought it for at least 20 minutes before making any headway whatsoever.)
  3. Cross the sharp, pointy rock-bed before bleeding* out.
  4. Stumble across blistering sands to find my towel and collapse. (Pain from sharp, pointy rocks + blistering sands = insult + injury.)

All these I managed to accomplish before falling, exhausted, on my towel, instantly asleep. Upon waking, I decided I had had enough of the dangerous (who knew?) Capistrano Beach. Not knowing how long I had slept, I approached the lifeguard stand and asked what time it was. Even though I was talking to (clearly) a fellow American, I had to repeat the question several times before he seemed to understand me. A little past 1:30 was the answer in the end. I then had the brilliant idiotic idea that I could walk back to my Aunt’s house, saving her the trouble of picking me up.

First, the cliff stairway to the road. Hm, now which way? I did not remember coming down a hill to the drop-off spot, so I turned right and started walking along the highway. I found myself at a sort of 4-way intersection with a nice-looking neighborhood to my left. The only landmark I knew to look for was a K-Mart store near my Aunt’s home. I was fairly certain that if I could find the K-Mart, I could find my way to her house. I didn’t see the K-Mart sign anywhere.

Just as I decided to cross the street into the neighborhood, I saw a man coming towards me on a bike.

“Excuse me,” I said, in my not-quite-Southern Virginia drawl, “but can you tell me where the K-Mart is?”

The way he looked at me I could tell he had heard and understood my question. He then proceeded to put his head down and start peddling. Huh? That’s weird, I thought. Shrugging,  I entered the nice neighborhood and found myself in a typical seaside subdivision complete with palm trees and balconies overlooking the ocean. Pretty houses with manicured lawns surrounded me on both sides.

The lovely streets of Capistrano Beach, California. You would never know that every house comes complete with at least one nut-case!

The first person I saw was a lady walking down her front sidewalk toward the street. Halfway to the mailbox her head turned in my direction, she kind of ‘started’ when she saw me, then did an about-face, and retreated back inside double-quick. Curiouser and Curiouser! (Alice, that one was for you.)

The next lady was across the street up the road a ways, watering her garden. I stopped in front of her house and asked for directions to the K-Mart (I stayed on the opposite side of the street so as not to scare her, since I apparently resembled a 17-yr. old, unarmed, female Jack the Ripper). The woman took one look at me, her eyes widened, and she literally (I wish I were making this up) dropped her hose and ran into the house, slamming the front door behind her.

I couldn’t help thinking, “Either these people are the most unsociable bunch on the planet or they’re just NUTS!”

I settled on nuts, wouldn’t you? This woman was obviously from California:

I can totally relate to that guy (not), but his bodily pain looks to me a lot like I felt.

Once I (sort of) overcame the shock of 3 people having blown off a lost stranger (really 4, if you count the not-so-helpful lifeguard), I decided a self-assessment was in order: Sandals, check. White shorts (which had dried by now), check. Blue button-down collared shirt with sleeves rolled up to 3/4 length (also dry), check. Granted, I could not see my hair, but my hands did not detect anything beyond the normal windswept mess which usually followed a swim in the ocean. Fashionable sunglasses completed my ensemble.

I continued walking uphill for probably another 45 minutes or so (it was a long street), and at the top, lo and behold, I could see in the distance the K-Mart sign!! By now I was exhausted from my battle with the sea, my feet were blistered (walking for miles in sandals will do that), and I was afraid my Aunt had already left to pick me up. I wouldn’t be at the designated pick-up spot, she would decide that I had met my end in Jaws’ jaws giving her a wonderfully icky story to tell at the next Capistrano Beach Garden Party.

“Shocking!” the listeners would reply. “Wait, wasn’t there a serial killer posing as a lost girl asking for directions in our neighborhood last week? Whew! Aren’t we lucky a shark got that one! Pass the cucumber sandwiches, please.”

Convincing the clerk at a nearby mini-mart to let me use the phone (and phone book) provided yet another exercise in How can I convince you I am a real human being in need who does not actually want to steal your phone or your phone book?! Sheesh! You’d think no one there had ever helped seen a stranger!

In case you are wondering, I did make it back to my Aunt’s house that day, despite having spent the afternoon walking out of my way in a 3-mile arc, no thanks to the peanut gallery of unhelpful Californians.

Still, I am grateful for my time in The Golden State. My experience has helped me understand why Californians continue to pass nutty legislation; I can now justify the odd behavior of so many of California’s public figures; and I gave up trying to figure out how Nancy Pelosi could hold a seat in the House of Representatives for 15 years running! It’s simple:

Everyone in California really is crazy!**

*No permanent foot damage was inflicted in the making of this story (and I seriously doubt there was any blood involved whatsoever).

**Excepting, of course, the friends and family I know there. Hope you guys got the humor in this and didn’t take offense! 😉

What about you? Have you ever gotten lost in a strange place and couldn’t find anyone to help you find your way? Was it a funny story or a scary one? How did you escape your predicament?

Tales from the Old Country – Part 2

Family PrinceMy Family’s Ancestry:

    Emir Fakhr-al-Din (1572–April 13, 1635): a Druze prince and an early leader of the Emirate of Chouf, a self-governed area under the Ottoman Empire between the 17th and 19th centuries. His period was characterized by economic and cultural prosperity, and he fought other Lebanese families to unite the people of Lebanon and seek independence from the Ottoman Empire. He is considered by some to be the first “Man of Lebanon” to seek the sovereignty of modern-day Lebanon.

Source

The following work of fiction is based on the true story of why my Grandfather emigrated to America.

(If you missed it, click here for Part 1)

“Papa, how do you spell ‘puhlitikul priz’ner?” Saiad asked, his pencil poised in the air above the paper. The once-clean page was now filled with words intermingled with smudges of lead matching the black spots on my son’s hand. After writing furiously for a time, he now sat breathless in anticipation. Saiad always had loved a good story.

“And why would you need to know something like that? Are you hoping to become one?” Watfy asked, as she stepped into the kitchen. She looked down at Saiad with raised eyebrows, awaiting his answer. The twinkle in her eye betrayed her delight in her eldest son, undermining her effort to look stern. Saiad looked up, and furrowing his brow in mock suspicion said, “Were you spying on us, Mama?” Laughter broke out of both of them then.

As always, my wife’s black hair was pulled back into a tight bun, accentuating her high cheekbones and large, round eyes. With a wave I motioned her to me, and, placing my hand on her extended abdomen, said, “Any day now, yes?” I flashed her a boyish grin and the weight of 51 years seemed to fall away from me. What man would not be proud to bear 7 children, and with such a beautiful wife? Shaking her head, she batted my hand away, stepped over to the stove and began cooking the thick, dark brew that made American coffee taste thin. How did she do it? Nine months pregnant, with 6 children already to care for, yet she never seemed tired.

I looked at her straight back, strong shoulders, and delicate neckline and wondered again how such a lovely girl had willingly left her home – at 16! – to marry someone more than twice her age whom she’d never even met. “Saiad wants to know why I left Lebanon,” I said, shrugging. “Maybe you should tell him why you left, too.”

“Well, now, that’s a tale worth telling,” she said, turning to Saiad with a grin of her own. “But where to start?”

“At the beginning, Mama,” Saiad exclaimed. “I want to know everything!

Watfy’s accent was even thicker than mine. After 15 years in America, she still had not mastered the English language. I had begun to think she didn’t mean to. In some way I did not understand she used the language of her homeland to stay connected to the roots she had left behind. It was a stubborn defiance so characteristic of her, almost as if to say, “I left my home to be with you, but I will not abandon what I was or who I am.” Her defiance carried with it implications about what I had abandoned in the quest to leave my past behind. At least, in her mind, too much of the man she had heard about in stories at home did not seem to live in reality here.

I married a proud woman, no doubt about that. Watfy never let me forget that she had the good sense to marry into a royal line. She didn’t seem to understand that no matter how ancient or powerful my lineage had been in Lebanon, it meant little to nothing today, here in small-town Virginia.

~   ~   ~

The news hit hard. “You mean he’s dead?” Papa asked. His deep voice carried an angry undertone as dark emotions boiled up to the surface. The messenger only looked down at the floor and nodded faintly, fearful to be the bearer of such news. “My nephew, dead?! Who do these people think they are?!” Papa roared.

The setting sun sent streams of light through the narrow window slits, casting long, broken shadows of my father’s sharp features onto the wall behind him. His prominent nose only seemed to grow larger when he was angry. The inevitable had happened. My cousin’s recklessness had finally been rewarded with his death. Despite Papa’s display of anger, everyone had known this day would come. The cycle of vengeance between the clans vying for power had been carried on for centuries. There was no way to stop it now … or was there?

“Papa,” I began, tentatively, “what if we make a show of outrage, then demand restitution of some kind? Perhaps a piece of fertile land? What better way to display our right to rule than to put an end to this senseless violence? Besides, imagine what the clans could do united rather than divided.

“What are you talking about, Ahmed? You know how this works, ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth!’ There is no other way. Find out who did this and kill him.” Papa waved us away dismissively. You always knew when a conversation with my father was over. Papa never questioned the obedience of his sons; he didn’t even look up to see if I left when dismissed. It was assumed that as head of the Family his every command would be obeyed, and even at 25 I would not have dared to defy him openly. “But I am not a killer,” I thought. “There has to be another way, and I will find it.”

The chosen day was hot, almost stifling. Even in the shade I was sweating under my silk robes. I likely would have been sweating even had there been a cool breeze. My heart was racing. The plan was in place, and I knew it was a good one. Still, I could not stop myself from going over and over it in my mind. 

Malik spent every Saturday in his parents’ home and left just after evening prayers. An ambush would be simple. I would follow him until we were out of earshot of the neighbors; his path always took him through the small olive grove on the eastern side of the village. The grove would be deserted on a Saturday night.

Blushing, I remembered the last time I had met Lutfiyah there. Almost 3 months ago, yet it seemed like yesterday. I could still smell the spiced oils she had combed through her hair. I wonder what she would say if she knew I was going to our little grove for revenge instead of love.

Focus! I chided myself back to the present. Once I had given Malik a good beating, I could make my way through the little village of Barouk and be back home before dawn. I would have to deal with Papa, then, of course. Maybe he will believe that I left Malik for dead; surely Malik’s family would know I spared his life. Perhaps we would be able to negotiate a truce, in time. But I had already made up my mind. I would not become a murderer, not even for my family’s honor.

~   ~   ~

“Did you know your papa is a famous man in Lebanon? Where I come from, his name is known in every village for miles around,” my wife declared.

“Really? What did you do, Papa? Were you an explorer? An inventor? Maybe you had riches like a Sultan!” Saiad turned to look at me, dark eyes alight with dreams of the great person he imagined he was seeing for the first time.

The shame in my eyes as I turned away from him was not lost on Watfy. “How can you feel shame for defending your family’s honor? Only a coward would have run from his duty, Ahmed. You did not run,” she said quietly in her native tongue, so that Saiad had to struggle to hear and keep up. “Didn’t run? Run from what, Papa?” he said.

“Your papa would have you believe that he acted dishonorably,” she said, speaking in heavily-accented English once again. “But in the region where we grew up, he is a legend. His family displays a mallet on the wall in their home to proclaim your Papa’s commitment to justice,” she said with obvious pride.

Finding it easier to argue with her in my native Arabic, I said, “What kind of justice does it proclaim, Watfy? Did Malik’s death bring my cousin back to life – NO! Vengeance has no power to restore. ‘An eye for an eye’ only leaves two men blind!” The scraping of the chair legs as I rose from the table could not cover the frustration in my voice. “I want to celebrate life in this family, not death. And where would you be today if I had suffered the same fate and met my end at the hands of Malik’s family champion – ‘a tooth for a tooth’?” The screen door slammed for the second time that night as I stalked out into the darkness.

Taking a deep breath, I looked up and watched the moon slowly rise over the little brick home sheltering my beloved family. What would I do if someone ever took the life of one of my children? My wife? I know what I would do – I had done it before. And my fierce protectiveness had absolutely nothing to do with ‘family honor’. 


Papa circa 1930
Papa circa 1930
Mama circa 1930
Mama circa 1930

 

As part of Emily’s Remember the Time Blog Hop (also credit: Rarasaur) I have here recorded my memory of Papa’s Story from his perspective.

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Seasons & Cycles – A Sunday Meditation

I Corinthians 2:

Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written,

Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard,
And which have not entered the heart of man,
All that God has prepared for those who love Him.”

It amazes me that in just about 4 short months this:

Side Yard February 16, 2014
Side Yard
February, 2014

will to turn into this:

Side Yard June, 2013
Side Yard
June, 2013

Complete reversal. Brown to green is just a symbol, the move will be from death to life. Well, not entirely true. The Rose of Sharon has buds on the ends of the branches which you can only see upon closer examination, so even though it has the look of death, the death is not entire. And I know that underneath the ground the other plants have healthy root systems pulsing life into parts getting ready to push out new buds. I can’t see the roots, but I know from experience that they are there.

Ironically, from the moment the buds come forth to life, they will begin their journey to another winter, certain death. I’m not sure why this process fascinates me so much. Maybe it’s this life-death-life-death-life cycle that convinces me my inevitable death will not be the end. It’s as if the seasons proclaim this truth year in and year out.

Yesterday a friend shared with me something she had seen on Facebook recently:

She said she hoped that wasn’t true because the idea of doing this all over again – again and again – was horrible. I definitely agree with that! Slogging through another cycle of life to death as a human being trapped in forward linear time doesn’t appeal to me in the least.

But I took the meme a different way. Jesus compared our earthly bodies to seeds which have to die to bear new life; like a seed, our lives on earth carry the promise of a new form of life inside. What if the light we see at the end of our ‘death tunnel’ is the beginning of something entirely new? I have long believed that death is a doorway to something beyond our comprehension.

John 12:

23 And Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.

Over the years I have often asked the question, “What does the acorn have in common with the oak?” If an acorn were self-aware and you could talk to it, I wonder if it would believe you that its future was the mighty oak tree. I doubt it. I wonder if Jesus had that difficulty as well. Forced to borrow from nature’s pictures, He tried to tell us over and over again that what is coming for us is beyond imagination – certainly He never even hinted at more of the same. What if our bodies here on earth are like seeds carrying a life-force we cannot now imagine – with the promise of breaking forth when the seed is dead and buried?

It’s not so fantastic when I begin to examine my garden closely.

Having lived through a markedly cold winter (for this area), I find myself appreciating spring, the sun, and warmth so much more than I have in the past. The dreary winter and my seeming inability to ever get warm served to heighten my desire for the fresh sunshine of spring and the blazing heat of summer. At the same time, as my body makes its inexorable way towards death (slower than the flowers in my side yard, to be sure, but I’m on my way none-the-less), aging heightens my desire for that something new – a rebirth that exists beyond my imagination.

What do you think is coming after death? Nothing? Everything? Or just another round of the here-and-now? I’d love to hear your thoughts on life after death. What, if anything, does nature tell you?

Tales from the Old Country – Part 1

Every year when I was a child my Father’s family of origin would gather together on Christmas Day to celebrate. Part of our celebration always included a retelling of Papa’s (my paternal grandfather) coming to America. As a child, my *Fambly’s Story made its mark on me, especially since I never knew any of my grandparents – all I had of them were the stories. 

As part of Emily’s Remember the Time Blog Hop (also credit: Rarasaur) I have here recorded the Story from Papa’s perspective.

*FamblyThe First Generation’s (photo at end) distinctive name for themselves and their progeny is believed to have originated as a typo in a letter passed around between the siblings (true story). To this day, ‘Fambly’ embodies the closeness, love, and commitment to one another we all share.

The following work of fiction is based on the true story of why my Grandfather emigrated to America.

Small-Town Virginia

Saiad looked up from his paper. I could just make out the words “My Family” scrawled across the top of the otherwise blank page. Nice to see his penmanship was improving.

 

“Why did you decide to come to America, Papa? What was it like riding a boat all the way across the Atlantic Ocean? You had to come through New York, right? Why didn’t we stay in New York? They say that New York City’s gonna have the tallest building in the world! They’re calling it the Empire State Building. Why did they make you change your name, I forget? Papa, please, tell me!”

 

The barrage of questions left my mind struggling to focus as I met Saiad’s gaze. English would always be a second language to me. My eldest son’s 10-yr. old eyes glittered with expectation in the reflected light of our kitchen while my brain struggled to comprehend the meaning behind his rapid-fire questions.

 

“The tallest building in the world? Taller even than the Pyramids of Egypt?” I asked with a smile in my voice. After almost 20 years, my thick accent identified me as an immigrant, just in case my Middle-Eastern features and olive skin-tone failed to do so.

 

“Papa, buildings aren’t the same as pyramids!” his exasperation evident in his sigh.

 

It slowly began to dawn on me what he was asking. How could I ever tell him the truth? Should I tell him the truth – all of it? I certainly couldn’t risk having him write it down for his teacher to see. What would happen to our little *Fambly if this growing community ever found out what I was … what I’d done?

 

“I’m going for a walk,” I said as I stepped out into the cool evening. “I’ll be back in a little while and we’ll talk more about the difference between buildings and pyramids.”

 

“But, Papa—“ Saiad’s protest was cut short by the slamming of the screen door. I really need to fix that, I thought.

 

The last of the summer fireflies, dim in the twilight, flitted amidst the fig-laden branches in the back yard. Like miniature lanterns the tiny insects etched blinking, broad-leafed shadows onto the ground surrounding my homeland’s favored tree. I could hear the faint voices of children coming from inside the house. The voices grew louder, shriller; yet another argument had broken out between the girls. One calm voice cut through the chaos. I shook my head and smiled, thankful for Evelyn’s seemingly miraculous ability to restore order amongst her high-spirited younger sisters.

 

Saiad’s questions crowded back into my thoughts and my smile faded. Sighing, I wondered for the hundredth time at the wisdom of my decisions. Were my children ready to hear my story, to know me for what I was? The memories began to flood my mind, vivid and uncontrollable, like a nightmare from which I could never wake.

 ~   ~   ~

Sultry air matted thick, black hair to my face as I picked my way through the Syrian foothills. It was well past midnight. The little community slept, leaving the narrow streets deserted. A waning moon peeked out from behind threatening rainclouds. The dim light was all I had to help me avoid rocks and pitfalls in the packed dirt. For this reason I traveled at a snail’s pace when everything inside screamed at me to run.

 

Had I really done it? The scene played over and over in my mind as I tried to understand what had happened. How could my plans have gone so wrong? No one was supposed to die!

 

I heard them then. Shouts and screams began to bounce across the rocks, echoing between the stone houses nestled in the hills. They followed me down steep pathways like the sure-footed goats who called this region home.

 

Someone had found the body.

 

I picked up my pace as best I could on the uneven terrain. I had to get out of there before anyone saw – too late! The light of a lantern cast my silhouette back and forth on the packed ground ahead of me as it swung from the hand of one of my pursuers. Quickly I dodged into a copse of cedars and crouched, catching my breath. Maybe I could blend in with its thick branches.

 

The shouts came closer now, accompanied by more lantern-light. Angry voices began calling to one another, organizing a search of the dark doorways. I recognized many of those voices from the marketplace. I knew these people, and they knew me. I also knew if I didn’t get out of there soon I would be surrounded. But wasn’t I already surrounded – trapped by years of feuding resulting in blood I hadn’t meant to shed?

 

It was only supposed to be a beating, I chastised myself. “You let it go too far,” my whispered accusation fell dead on the thick, humid air, heard only by the branches enveloping me. My family had never understood my distaste for vengeance. “How can murder restore a family’s honor?” I had asked again and again. No one ever listened to my objections.”This is the way it has always been” was the only answer my father would give.

 

Of all people, how had this task fallen to me? Yes, I was tall and strong; as the eldest it made sense for the family to name me Champion. But I wanted the cycle of vengeance to end. Tonight I had proven I was no better than my Fathers. I had guaranteed the cycle would go on unchecked, perhaps for generations to come.

 

Branches around me began to move. Someone had decided to search the little cedar grove where I hid! A lantern fought its way through heavy limbs. In seconds I would be discovered. What can I do? I asked myself. I knew there was only one thing to do: RUN!

 ~   ~   ~

Back inside the brick house the cool tiles against my bare feet helped calm my thoughts. I turned to Saiad, resigned at least to make a beginning to my story. After all, my history was the heritage of all my children and their children after them. Surely the meaning of my name – honesty – held weight, even if it wasn’t enough to counterbalance my fear of uncovering old secrets.

 

“What do you want to know, son?” I asked. Before he could take a breath and renew the onslaught of questions, I added, “But, I’ll thank you to ask one question at a time!” I looked pointedly at Saiad behind a raised index finger. Then, shooting him a half-smile, I took my seat across the table.

 

At that moment I wasn’t sure I was prepared to relive those difficult years, but I felt as if a weight had been lifted. I knew I had to find a way to help my *Fambly understand why I chose to leave my homeland to make a new life – for me and for them – in America.

Our Family Tree from Lebanon, early 1900's. The third branch up on the right represents the first generation seen below.
Our Family Tree from Lebanon, early 1900’s. The 4th branch up on the right (last 4 leaves) represents the first generation (men only) seen below.
 *I chose to make “Fambly” part of Papa’s vocabulary because, although he was not alive when the name was born, it was his dedication to and love for his future generations that made the name possible to begin with.
The eight siblings which comprised the second-generation standing in birth order. My dad (far right) is the only one still living at the time of this writing (2/2014).
The 8 First Generation Siblings standing in birth order. My Dad (the youngest, far right) is the only one still living at the time of this writing. He will be 86 years young in March, 2014.

 Tales from the Old Country, Part 2

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Back to the Psalms…

It’s funny how life works sometimes. Almost 5 years ago I got “stuck” in the Psalms of Ascent. As time went by I managed to get “unstuck”, but before I could finish the series.

From time to time I revisited the section of the Psalms known as The Ascents, but always came away with, “I got nothin’.” Then life hit me – again. Now I can say, “I got somethin'”; what that something is has yet to be determined.

After a much-needed rest, I’m ready to get climbing again. How about you? Are you ready to go up to worship?

Blessing, They are Blessed – Psalm 128

The Power of Remembrance

I hate New Year’s Resolutions. Always have, always will. I heard on the news the other day that most people abandon their Resolutions by January 17 or something like that (only 10 days to go!). Let’s just say that human beings have little staying power when it comes to resolutions … sounds a lot like law-making/breaking to me. For these and many other reasons (maybe my penchant for rebelliousness?) I never make them. But today I read an amazing guest blog over at The Waiting and it got me thinking that a “2014 Remembrance List” might not be a bad idea.

Happy Tennis-Filled 2014!

You may wonder why I feel the need to make a list of things I want to remember this year. If you read my last post or connect with me on FB, you know how much the end of 2013 devastated me, decimated me, even. I haven’t been able to write anything since the account of my last days with my Sister back on the Friday after Thanksgiving. I’ve been stymied by loss, heartache, and grief to the point where I began to doubt even my own thoughts! Gathering them together in one place has been almost impossible. I realized today that recent circumstances have robbed me of some things that are crucial for me to remember.

It’s time to banish forgetfulness. It’s time to say, “enough!” to the painful distractions which have weakened my ability to remember important, life-giving things I’m learning along the way. It’s time SOMEONE (and since no one else is going to do it for me, that someone has got to be ME) reminded me of some things I have allowed pain and loss to steal.

1. There is a sense in which we all die alone, but I don’t have to grieve that way.

This process called grief is completely new to me (despite losing a close cousin 4 years ago). I remember thinking in early December that it’s odd someone my age has not lost at least one parent, but instead is first grieving a Sister. I have found myself floundering in uncertainty, wondering if I’m grieving “right” or some such nonsense. It’s been very difficult letting go of the better half of my family’s female self. I have not come to the place where I can imagine half a lifetime without my Sister beside me.

Ever since her passing, I have experienced an almost uncontrollable urge to go into seclusion. Maybe it’s because when I’m with other people, I can’t stop myself from rehashing the entire painful ordeal over and over again. I end up feeling bad for the folks listening to me as they quietly say, “I am so sorry for your loss. I don’t know what to say.” Don’t worry, I already said it all – and more. And it’s okay. For a person who almost exclusively processes thoughts aloud, there is no other sane way for me to grieve. It’s who I am. It’s where I am. And. It’s. O. K. I cannot grieve alone. Thankfully, I don’t have to. Which brings me to my next point.

2. In the middle of grieving your losses, remember to be thankful.

No doubt, the biggest obstacle to gratitude of late was the barrage of painful circumstances inundating the last half of 2013, beginning with my father’s face-crushing fall in June, culminating with my mother’s femur-shattering misstep on the day of my sister’s funeral in December, and all of the heartache in between! Sometimes when I think back on the overwhelming sorrows of the last 6 months I lose the ability to breathe. But what would really cripple me would be an inability to give thanks! So here is today’s short list of thankfulness:

– In August of 2013 my eldest Daughter was set free from a 5-year-long devastating relationship!

As incredible as it may sound, by the end of 2013, so much “bad” had happened that I was finding it hard to remember that a nightmare relationship of control, manipulation, fear, and pain had ended for my precious daughter! Now she stands FREE and in relationship with a wonderful, loving, person who has no need to control or wound her. The magnitude of my gratitude for this one blessing cannot be expressed – but it ABSOLUTELY must not be forgotten!

– My Parents and 2 Brothers are still with me … grieving with me.

They knew my Sister like I did and together we know her better. We have the shared experience of her life and, now, her death. I am thankful that we can grieve side-by-side.

– My Sister gave me so many wonderful gifts that live on beyond her life here on earth.

Precious memories of a deep friendship, beautiful examples of what love looks like, parenting insights, a commitment to excellence and beauty in everything she did filled with the power to inspire, artistic ideals along with encouragement to explore my own untapped depths, laughter and songs, never mind the countless pieces of art in my house (and out) bearing her signature. I will grieve losing you … in my grief I promise not to forget the gifts you have given.

 – My life is filled to overflowing with wonderful people who love me …

… who listen to me, put up with me, eat and drink with me, laugh with me … WITH me. And yes, even grieve with me. I am not alone. Not by a long shot.

– One of my favorite Bible verses: “It came to pass …”

Almost 50 years into this gig, I have figured out that everything comes to pass, even grief. I have this hope.

– Finally, a heart that feels pain.

This may sound odd to you, but the ability to feel pain is a blessing. I spent a lot of years shut off from my own feelings, unable to connect to my heart. Maybe the feelings were too overwhelming, maybe it was a mechanism of self-protection; no matter the reason, I was good at shutting down – too good. And I learned (the hard way) that severing the connection with one’s emotions is indiscriminate: You either feel or you don’t. Shutting out pain = shutting out joy. Unfortunately, it’s an addiction (connected to control) with a long road home. That’s a road I hope to never travel again. So I will embrace the pain and walk through it with gratitude to new joys.

And the final thing I need to remember at this juncture of my life:

3. Don’t believe the ‘press’ that comes from 14 or 22 yr.-olds you raised.

In fact, trust your instincts and don’t listen to the ‘press’ from any corner. When I read the above-mentioned blog post, The Waiting it turns out is Indeed the Hardest Part, one of the lines jolted me into wakefulness. It felt like coming out of a nightmare.

I can’t speak to being a father; so I’ll stick to what I know best: I am a mother, a good mother.

My first thought was, “I’m not.” Huh? What was that? I’m not a good mother?? Wait just a cotton-pickin’ minute, hold the phone, stop the presses, rewind even! Who says I’m not a good mother? Oh, right, lots of people. Let’s see, some of my Christian friends think that because I don’t drag my kids to Sunday school anymore, that makes me a bad mother. My Atheist friends condemn me for telling my children that Jesus loves them so much He’d rather die than live without them – and I actually believe it, too. The media tells me I’m spending too much time at work; those same talking heads then turn around and tell me I’m not focusing enough on my own actualization through a rewarding career (the-kids-be-damned!). My 14-yr. old thinks I’m out of touch with today’s pop culture (AMEN to that, Buddy!) and my 22-yr. old thinks my zeal for archaic moral ideals means I’m judging her = unloving mother.

Bad press. All untrue. I continue to dedicate the majority of my time, resources, thoughts, energy, love, frustration, determination, and actions to raising my children. I have been available at any and every hour of the day or night to bandage, listen, teach, scold, feed, clean up after, laugh with, and love my kids for the past 24+ years. This will never change.

That blog was a resounding”Aha” moment in my journey right here, right now. Dawn showed me that my 2 youngest kids have an interpretation of their growing up years which I was unprepared for; but their reinterpretation of events will never nullify the truth: that God gave me to them as a Mom and them to me as my Kids; in the end, I always only sought to raise them with nurturing love and support, and will continue to do so even as I am challenged to find new ways to walk in relationship with them as (almost) adults.

This is my 2014 Remembrance List. May it be etched on my soul in such a way that my future is transformed into loving community, acceptance of what is, and the strength to move forward with confidence.

Thanks for reading, and May God bless you all with a Happy, Healthy, Joy-and Tennis!-Filled 2014!!

Words Fail

Upon my return from Thanksgiving break I saw that my friend Emily over at The Waiting had added a new writing challenge to her series “Remember the Time Blog Hop” which I had missed due to my trip home. The theme was ‘last days’. It was a little uncanny because I had just finished spending the last days I will have with my sister (at least, in this dimension). Emily’s blog about her father’s death is heart-wrenching, hitting me even harder because of the week I had just had. I commented on her blog that I was not yet ready to write about my last days, but while reading through the comments I ran into this quote:

Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.

– William Shakespeare, Macbeth

Shakespeare’s words convinced me that I had to at least try to write about last week while it was fresh. I spent that night writing the following, and even though I am too late to make it into the blog hop, I am very thankful to Emily for pushing me to write. It has been a small way to help me process my grief, confusion, and pain. I hope my dear friend Sunny will not mind me stealing her amazing perspective on my words which belongs at the front of what comes next.

Even in such times that you noted below, those memories of times past that are filled with such wonder, laughter and love, I find myself thinking that even they are part of our  “..seeing in the mirror dimly..”; just a mere spark of the future sight, when what we now see seems more like we’re viewing through waxed paper and then face to face, we will have the gift of clarity and then see clearly (paraphrase).  What a blessing to have hope of the fullness when skin is no longer needed and clay makes no claims.  What clarity will be present in the Presence, even in the shadows with He Who Knows No Limits, yet chose to take on skin. On our behalf.

Amen, Sunny. Thank you for this hope that passes understanding. May God bless you all as you share with me my last days. Note: The following is an account of MY last days with my sister, not her last days on earth. She is now free from the pain and suffering of this life – sometime around Midday EST on Thursday, December 19, she gave up the fight and began to experience what we can now only imagine: a face-to-face encounter with the God Who IS Grace. I miss you, Ditty, more than I can ever express! Can’t wait to hear about your home-going when next we meet.

~  ~  ~

November 25, 2013, Day 1

I had expected the smell. You know it: the familiar musty smell that always accompanies medical care facilities. But an unexpected sight met my eyes as my Mom and I walked through the door of the room. My sister slouched in a lounge chair, head cocked to one side as if permanently askew while her arms and legs twitched or shook uncontrollably. I tentatively came closer speaking her name. Looking up sideways, I thought I detected a moment of recognition in her eyes which quickly gave way to tears, then sobs, as she sat there helpless to communicate with or possibly even understand the visitors in her room.

As the tears subsided, we spoke to her, words of love and encouragement. I knew that even if she understood, she would likely be unable to respond. My Mom and I sat to either side, aching for some way to meet her heart with our love, even if her mind was out of reach. The occasional twitch of an arm or grimace (of pain? sadness?) crossing her features unsettled me as did the unintelligible words which escaped her lips at odd moments.

Lunch arrived. Reticent to be the one holding the fork, I realized how unprepared I had been for this. I knew it was bad … I didn’t know it was this bad. Less than 5 months ago we had visited in her home. Wordlessly she had shown me the framed botanicals she had been working on. The tears slipping down my Mother’s cheeks echoed the ones staining my heart.

November 26, 2013, Day 2

Tuesday the whole family went out for a visit. Her tears came again, ending as abruptly as they had begun. It began to dawn on me that seeing my once-vibrant sister in this condition was more than heartbreaking. It didn’t make any sense! She looked like a person who had been in a debilitating car accident involving a head injury.

How had early Alzheimer’s and lung cancer decimated her 57-yr. young mind & body so completely?

As we all sat and talked to one another, seeking for ways to include her in the conversation, my mind drifted back to the past 5 years of decline. I wondered how much responsibility 18 months to 2 years of cancer treatments had in pushing my sister’s mind farther and faster from us? Leaving that day was harder than it had been the day before. When planning this trip, I had secretly hoped that His mercy would find her in God’s arms last week, free from the suffering of her physical body. Looking at her on Tuesday, I knew the prospect was more like weeks – perhaps months – rather than days until her release.

November 27, 2013, Day 3

More comfortable with the situation and encouraged by the lack of tears, Wednesday I tried to lighten the mood. Her husband and I joked a bit and coaxed a familiar “Shu-up” from my sister’s chapped lips. How much of what we said could she understand? I doubted she remembered either of my previous visits. Head still cocked, she looked at me with a side-wise glance, and pronounced my name clearly. My breath caught in my throat. Yes, it’s me. How can I help you? How can I reach you?? “That’s right, I’m here. I’m not going anywhere.” But, of course, I was going. Somewhere. Again I was reticent to be the one to feed her. I left, promising myself that I would find a way to sing for her before we went home.

November 28, 2013, Day 4

Thanksgiving Day she was sleeping when we arrived. She had difficult afternoons the previous 2 days so we didn’t wish to wake her. Let her rest, God, please, let her rest!

November 29, 2013, Day 5

Things never seem to go as planned. And yet… Even though I arrived a few minutes past what I was shooting for, I was greeted with one of my sister’s beautiful smiles. Alone with her for the first time all week, I held her hand for a time, whispering prayers against the pain and a peaceful end to suffering. Then I decided, it was now or never. Turning off the television, I pulled my guitar from its case and began tuning the strings. I didn’t hurry. There was no need, no room for impatience in the one before me, oblivious of time itself. She smiled contentedly, murmuring, “Yeah, yeah”.

For the next hour I sang songs I love (though unfamiliar to her), watching her eyes shine with delight at the sound. My eyes fixed on hers, hardly looking at the lead sheets I so depend upon; I didn’t want to miss a second of this time with her. I knew it would be gone in a blink and would never come again.

My memory kept drifting back to days long gone … Christmas 4 years ago, surrounded by family, singing carols while her grandchildren toddled to the music. Then during a lively worship tune, djembe and all, the adults began to dance and I watched with delight as my 81-yr. old Father took my sister’s hand and they danced until they were breathless to songs neither of them even knew.

Rewind a few more years, I see my sister giving out intricate hand-made Christmas tree ornaments … a few more and there she is making perfect spoon bread to feed us with her love … a late-night excursion to a bar where she, brandishing her custom-made pool stick, proceeded to trounce us all … still further back, my daughters prancing about in ballet costumes she had designed and made specifically for them … and further still, I remember watching her at what looked like a drafting table, creating one of the most interesting pen and ink landscapes I’d ever seen, using a tedious technique called stippling. The breadth of her artistic talents astounded me!

As my mind snapped back to the present, it was difficult to comprehend how this person was the same one living in my memories. My sister, once so full of life, now unable to walk, talk, eat, control her own limbs – completely dependent on others for every aspect of her existence.

Friday I wielded the fork, the spoon, and the napkin.

And in that one small gesture of love for my sister I felt connected with her in a fundamental way that went beyond our old familiar banter. The verse I kept hearing in my mind was from a conversation Jesus had with Peter in John chapter 21:

Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.

This verse sums up my sister’s current experience, eerily so. And yet, she is not old, but broken. Her youthful brokenness has shattered my heart. I don’t understand it. But I know it enough to hate it. I hate that my Matron of Honor will not see either of my girls walk the aisle, nor will I have the joy of seeing what she would have come up with for the reception table decorations; I hate that she will never hold her great-nieces & nephews the way I held her infant sons; I hate that the spark in her that she fanned to a creative blaze has gone out. I used to come to visit excited to see what new turn her creativity had taken. I ache to show her the turn my own talent has taken and would love to give her a bird feeder made with only her in mind.

But Friday was our last day.

I miss you more than I can tell. But, soon over – we will be together again!

Since I cannot reach you now and I won’t be able to see you when you go, I am making you a promise: One day soon I will stop talking and even thinking about our last days together. I promise not to remember you this way. Instead I will choose to remember the vibrant, loving person, the brilliant artist, and the caring and wise older sister you are.

You have always been my inspiration and I promise never to forget that.

X X X O (kisses, kisses, kisses, HUG!)

I love you bunches and bunches and tons and tons!

Your Little Sister,

C

For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.

2 Corinthians 4:6-10

Perception Is Everything

I’ve been following Emily’s blog The Waiting, and she’s doing a great series called:

This week’s theme has to do with Rules.

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The afternoon bus was crowded. Being the last one on meant serious difficulty finding a seat. Today it would prove impossible. What greeted me as I stepped on the bus was something my 10-yr. old brain could not quite wrap itself around. What were they chanting? “Cheater?” Cheater! Who were they shouting at? ME?? It couldn’t have been me. I never cheated.

Growing up as the 4th (and last) child of an immigrant father and a mother who spent her childhood on a small family farm meant that hard work and integrity were valued above all else. Add to that a stint of military service and you can imagine the strict code of conduct which defined my family. That’s not to say that none of us ever bucked the system. But this spoiled youngest child (by eight years, mind you) didn’t dare. Unlike my sister and middle brother, my eldest brother and I always found it easier to go along with the status quo. Bucking the system would certainly prove dangerous to my Princess standing.

Other than being known as a “Goody Two-Shoes” in school (quite interesting what I found here about the origin of the phrase), I also had a father who had become prominent in our community over the years, especially in the school system. Prominent did not equal well-liked for this Air Force Captain turned College Graduate Professor. In fact, there were many who disliked his ideas regarding the education system in our small community. I imagine many of my classmates heard dinner-time conversation concerning this man who was trying to stop some things they considered progress, but which he knew would be detrimental to the education of the youth in his beloved home-town.

All of that may have contributed to the verbal assault I experienced on the bus that day (certainly many would have relished catching me breaking a rule), but the only thing that occupied my young mind was that I certainly had not broken any rules of conduct, school or otherwise. There was a serious misunderstanding here! Surely if I explained … ?

It all started innocently enough. There was this contest. An art contest. Art was never my forte. Stick people and intricate tree branches were the best I could conceive when it came to drawing. Paintbrushes were foreign to me as well, although not to others in my family. No matter your level of talent, all of the 5th graders were required to participate. Earth Day was coming, and we each were to come up with a poster depicting a phrase which we devised and a drawing to illustrate the importance of the Day. One poster would be chosen out of all of the 5th grade classes in our city and sent to compete with other 5th graders around the State for the grand prize.

There was only one rule: The idea had to be mine. I could enlist help with the actual writing and drawing on the poster board, but no one else could conceive of the slogan or the picture itself but me.

At the time I was developing a friendship with a new girl on my street who was a year or two older than I. My parents even asked her to come and “babysit” sometimes when they were out. We spent almost every afternoon together in those days, wandering the woods in the neighborhood, painting each others’ nails, playing Parcheesi, and inventing imaginary games with my stuffed animal collection. (Yeah, sorry, kids, no XBox 360’s existed back in the 70’s.)

I distinctly remember that big, white piece of poster board atop a card table on the screened-in back porch where she and I sat for hours illustrating the idea I had come up with using markers, glue, pipe cleaners, and glitter. It’s true, she helped me some (truly, only some) with the art, but the ideas and even most of the art were mine.

I had followed the rule to a T.

The problem was, none of my classmates believed me. For them the idea was too good, the art too polished. They believed there was no way I had created that poster myself. As you might imagine, I won the contest in my school (I don’t recall where I stood with the rest of the schools or the State, nor did I even care after my school bus experience). In fourth grade I had won the student body’s acclaim and served as President Elect, rising to school President as a 5th grader. Standing on the bus that day, hearing my honor smeared, knowing that every one of my classmates believed I had broken the rules and lied about it, and knowing full well there was absolutely no way I could convince their prejudiced minds otherwise, I broke.

Cursing, crying, I fled from that bus – and from any desire I might have harbored for a life of prominence – never looking back. My mom came and picked me up from school that day. My teacher responded to the bus driver’s concern and called her, knowing I could not ride the bus home in that condition. The other students literally verged on a riotous mob! I had never experienced such raw hatred. And I simply couldn’t conceive why my poster inspired such rage. Back in those days I didn’t understand what makes people tick. I knew nothing of envy or the need some people have to climb over others to make it to the top. My sheltered, loving family had failed to teach me about the evil I would meet in the world around me. But I learned that day, in quite a humiliating fashion.

It’s interesting to look back and see the milestones in one’s life. I mark that day as a pivotal turn in my life’s direction. I never again sought prominence amongst my peers. Middle School I remember as an utter torment, a barrage of disparaging comments directed at me by several bullies in my class. Hated and envied due to my family’s money and public prominence, all I wanted in those days was to crawl into a hole under my school desk and escape the pain.

Things changed for me in High School, though, when I began using a talent that was either less threatening or more revered than art: singing. Joining a small choral group I found my niche in a graduating class of 325 and sang “Yesterday” at the Baccalaureate ceremony. Instead of raving madness, my solo met with applause. But I don’t think I will ever escape the scars from the verbal flogging I received one day on a bus in 1974.

Despite some innate leadership qualities and a propensity for management, one of my life’s goals remains “staying under the radar”. My rehearsed response when challenged? “I am not in charge”. I always make sure the buck never stops with me. I have no aspirations as a public figure; I am not interested in fans or followers, bloggers or otherwise. I prefer my simple life with my family and close friends. Amidst the safety of my life, I discovered a talent for crafts. Crafting (unlike drawing, painting, or sculpting) will not win acclaim or notice, but working with my hands serves as a therapeutic outlet, much like the feeling of accomplishment I remember when I created that poster almost 40 years ago.

The cruelty of those 10-yr. olds may have stymied my creativity for a time, but there is healing in walking through the pain. I continued to follow rules throughout my life and in spite of my “Goody Two-Shoes” status, found a way to win the friendship of my former bullies (ironically every one of them became a best friend by the time High School ended – some I maintain contact with even today).

Our experiences with the rules – breaking or keeping them – may shape the course of our lives, but the perceptions of others often prove to be defining factors in what kind of person we ultimately become.

I hope you’ll share your “Back in the Day” story. As always, God bless, and thanks for reading.

branding

Art and Community

It all started with something a friend pinned to her Facebook Page:

Teacup Bird Feeder on Pinterest

I saw it, fell in love with it, and thought, “I could make one of those!”

Since that day, almost a year ago, I have been on a journey of metamorphosis. Rather surprisingly (and delightfully), I found I am not alone. And that is remarkable considering how alone I have felt for the past 7 years.

Throughout my life I’ve come to appreciate that “art” manifests itself in many different ways. For instance, my sister graduated college with an art degree: she can sketch, paint, arrange flowers/botanicals, among other things, but spent most of her career in the graphic arts department of GM creating art on a computer screen. Then there’s me, the music major, singer/guitarist/photographer/gardener/writer/sometimes poet who used to cross stitch and sew clothes for her children. This past year I’ve occasionally taken some time to reflect back on my life (looking hard at 50 will make you do that sometimes) and the different phases I’ve walked through. I worked 25+ years in Church music of one kind (choir) or another (worship bands), but it’s been about a year now since I’ve picked up the guitar and almost 4 years since I’ve led worship officially anywhere. My musical “phase” just seems to be over, at least for now (singing to CD’s to and from work notwithstanding). Homeschooling, public speaking, and blogging assumed that creative niche for awhile, but it looks like (until today), April, 2013 was the last time I blogged anything of consequence and the homeschooling ended in 2009 when I was forced to look outside the home for a full-time job.

Working with my hands – other than sewing or gardening – is really new territory for me. My husband is a carpenter in his own right, but woodworking was never my forte. Being captured by the teacup bird feeders pictured above began what I see as a new ‘chapter’ of sorts in my creative life. As a result, I started collecting vintage cups, saucers, and silverware from Good Will stores, antique shops, yard sales – basically anywhere I could find them. Next I began looking around for ways to hang my feeders. Shying away from drilling holes (drills lie WAY outside my comfort zone), which might crack the delicate porcelains I was collecting, I went back to Pinterest to see other teacup bird feeders and discovered brilliance:

Teacup Birdfeeder II

Can you see how the little rings are attached by gluing the other side of a metal ring to the bottom of the saucer? A short trip to Ace Hardware and some enjoyable conversation with the helpful staff (their ads are true, apparently ;)) soon put the solution in my hand.

Photo0196
Little rings to mount on Teacup Saucers for Hanging

Unfortunately, these little buggers are kinda steep. They don’t look it, I know… I don’t use them anymore. I have learned to make a sort of ‘basket’ out of wire for hanging, which I like much better anyway. At the same time that I was amassing teacup bird feeder supplies, I started thinking of putting a bird bath in my cool side garden:

Side Garden
Mini-Jungle on the side of my house

The flowers, trees, and shrubs attract all kinds of birds, including hummingbirds. Colorful berries and multiple feeders have turned my side porch into a relaxing haven – that is, until the mosquitoes decide to feast. Because of aforementioned blood-sucking menaces, I do not allow ANY standing water ANYWHERE in my yard. I can’t afford to lose anymore blood! (I’m so serious about this that in March, 2013 I made hubby put up a bat house. Apparently it isn’t interesting enough to attract any bats, but I patiently await their change of heart.) Still, the thought of the sound of dripping, dancing water, and the desire to attract as many birds as possible, pushed me to search for a fountain.

Dilemma #1: No power source. The majority of the solar-powered fountains out there are just what they say: solar-powered, When a cloud goes by or when the sun goes down there is no power.

Dilemma #2: No Power = standing water = increased mosquito population. We can’t have that! It turns out that a solar fountain is rather more expensive than an electric one, but not nearly as expensive as a solar-powered fountain with a battery back-up.

Dilemma #3: I just couldn’t see dumping $250+ into a water feature so began to despair of ever having a fountain in my garden.

Weeks dragged by as I tried to puzzle out my fountain question, while every day on my way to work, I walked past bags of teacups, saucers, copper wire, glue, beads, and some river rocks I purchased on impulse thinking I could find some use for – all sitting in the garage exactly where I left them – unopened and gathering greasy dust and cobwebs. I felt stuck between a river rock and a hard place.

I knew that something was driving me to create. I mean, I was amassing supplies to make something, but this something was a something unlike any of the somethings I had ever made before (that was a LOT of somethings!)

A few months back I came down with an extreme (for me) case of writer’s block. It felt like the well of words that used to pour out of me had run completely dry … had I said everything I could find to say? Some days, just thinking about writing left me exhausted, as if over the past few years I had written the well dry … or as if life had drained all of the words worth writing out of me. (One day maybe I’ll blog about the details of my journey just to give you a glimmer of understanding – suffice to say, my exhaustion is well-earned.) My lack of writing produced all sorts of guilt in me – irrational, I know – but what is the point of having a blog if you never write anything??

At some point the truth dawned on me: it was okay to take a break from writing. Beyond that, I came to realize my desire to work with my hands was a new creative outlet that, while different from writing, still came from the same source inside – the same place the music, sewing, gardening, all of it came from. Breathing a huge sigh of relief, I began to let go of guilt, (no blogging = guilt = creativity stymied) and that’s when things got interesting. I literally waved goodbye to my blog, certain that my writer’s block was seasonal (everything comes to pass, right?), picked up my vintage cups and saucers and started mining my brain for ideas like looking for miniature puzzle pieces to somehow make sense of where this journey was taking me.

Since I knew I did not want to pay the high cost for a solar (with battery backup) fountain, I started to imagine building one. Maybe I could even figure out how to use the supplies I already had. But, how?? The first order of business would be finding a water pump.

It so happens that I work for a pump and power company (irony abounds). I started hounding my coworkers, asking every question I could think of about water pumps (I sell pumps, mind you, but not ones this small – the massive ones we rent/sell move ponds from place to place or bypass sewer lines for maintenance and repair). But thanks to my job, I kind of knew what questions needed asking: How much pressure was I looking for from a pump? How high was I going to push the water? How many gallons per minute was I looking for – a gully-wash or a trickle? And those were just the pump questions. From whether to spray the water up or suspend an outlet to let it drip down to what kind of stand to mount it all on – the questions left my head spinning. I am not an engineer, people! But as fate would have it, turns out I am. 🙂 (Would it be ridiculous to tell you that in the middle of teacups and fountains, I also decided to convert 2 – not one, but TWO – bookshelves into closed cabinets? Now you know I’m truly insane, or maybe just compulsive stupid.)

Open Bookshelf
Unattractive Shelf Twin, Pre-Conversion

Over the years I have come to accept that I work through my problems out loud. For me, writing is one way of doing that … when I write I hear my voice narrating in my head as the words take shape on the page. I understand, of course, that not everyone does this. My husband, for example, works through almost every problem in his head before he talks about it. I’m just the opposite. I’ve often wondered if my brain needs to hear the words come out of my mouth (appear on the page) for my ears to make sense of them, whereas if my husband heard his thoughts aloud he might get that confused look my blabbering so often seems to evoke. So, to work out my fountain problem, I talked about it to anyone who would listen, and even some who wouldn’t.

My bird-loving neighbor topped the list since she shares wine with me on the side porch while we invent disparaging names for squirrels and new curse words for mosquitoes and outdoor cats (bird stalkers). She’s the creative type as well, so please check out her ETSY store here.

As I talked to people, asked questions, and most importantly, began processing ideas, a funny thing happened. In my mind I started “seeing” a fountain begin to take form. Almost every conversation I had became an idea mill and I started wandering through antique stores with a whispered mantra on my breath: try to think outside the box. It doesn’t come naturally for me to look at an object and imagine it being used in a different way. Still, whether it was something someone suggested, or just another person’s willingness to let me process the problems out loud didn’t matter … my ideas continued to take shape. The internet helped too. Researching other fountains, I ran across a tutorial on making one using a teapot and basin:

DIY Teapot Fountain Instructions

The way the teapot was mounted over the pump inspired me. I have a glass bowl with a metal stand which used to hold shells. The shells are packed away so I turned the stand over and created a way to mount a frog plate in a basin like this:

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Froggy Fountain (with impulse buy river rocks)

You probably can’t see the metal stand supporting my frog’s lily pad, but trust me, it’s there. The solar pump I finally decided on fits perfectly underneath.

In the meantime, I found a way to use the teacups and saucers I had been gathering as well:

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Sampling of my Staked Bird Feeders

This past weekend I attended my first ever craft fair as a vendor and managed to make a few bucks:

FHS Fall Fest 2013
Fall Festival 2013
Sporting Hanging Feeders
Above the Staked Ones

Over time, my journey became more about the conversation – the connection I made with other people – than the yard art. Lucky for ME I was open enough to talk it through with so many patient people (my husband’s response when I tried to explain my fountain idea: “You’re gonna have to draw me a picture…” 😉 ). Now every time I walk into my local Ace Hardware or the little antique shops in my area, the folks who work there ask for a progress report with pictures and inquire what new project I’ve taken on now. One of them came to the festival and recognized a sugar bowl I converted into a bird feeder which came from her shop. I have this whole network of people I never knew before – who I never would have known had I shied away from this new (and kinda scary) creative process. Reminds me of blogging a whole, whole lot. 😀

I am in serious doubt as to whether I would have found a way to create any of these pieces without the input of so many others. I think when all of the projects are done it’s going to be time for a garden party (there will be WINE)! Meanwhile, please feel free to contribute any ideas you might have on how I can beautify my (or someone else’s) garden. I have found the actual doing of the work to be therapeutic, and would love to branch out into new areas, incorporating your ideas into my thought processes. So, please, share away!

As always, thanks for reading. And, in case you’re interested, here are close-ups of some finished pieces:

Hanging Feeder
Hanging Feeder
Staked Feeder
Staked Feeder
Garden Candle to Hang from a Tree or Shepherd's Hook
Garden Candle to Hang from a Tree or Shepherd’s Hook
Bathroom Chest with Open Door
Did I tell you I found the shutters at a junk store for $15? They cleaned up nicely, don’t-cha think?
Master Bathroom with Chest
My phone just will not capture the colors: beige outside and in, antique white doors, bronze hinges/knobs. We used magnets to keep the doors closed.

The one in my dining room is definitely my favorite. When we had to extend the middle shelf’s overhang to accommodate the doors (which were too short), I thought a little tile accent might do the trick. I was not wrong. My husband cut out the top shelf’s backing (peg board) and put in a 1/4 piece of plywood for the finishing touch. Voila!

I'm so happy with the way this one accents my dining room - bright and cheery!
I’m so happy with the way this one accents my dining room – bright and cheery!

Both cabinets are now complete … the fountain will not be ready for display until Spring, 2014, so you’ll just have to patiently await the final unveiling.

MY Happiest Place On Earth

Today I read a post challenge/contest here. Reading through Misty’s account of her trip to Disney made me smile. I cannot think of a worse fate than a week at Disney, or any other theme park like it, for that matter.

So the challenge was to blog about my happiest place. The first picture that popped into my mind was the beach. Oh, not just any beach – Bellows Beach holds my fondest memories:

I tried for a year to draw this view … I’m hopeless.

Situated on the Eastern side of Oahu, Bellows became a sort of haven for me when I just needed time alone. During our last summer there I made the commitment once-a-week to drive across on the H3 (always catching my breath at the sight of the bright, multi-colored shoreline at the tunnel’s end) in order to spend an hour or two soaking up the sun as refreshing salt-water waves crashed endlessly over my feet. We had the privilege of living in Hawaii for 2 1/2 years. I do believe you can still discern the faint scratches left by my fingernails on the airport tarmac while being dragged against my will toward the plane …

Okay, so that was my first thought. Then I recalled the yard off my side porch this morning. As I sat listening to birdsong and bumble bees buzzing around the magnolia blooms, it occurred to me that I was home. Peace surrounded me. No, there were no crystal-clear blue waves crashing over white sandy shores; no mountains rising up out of ocean spray, no sea turtles wandering across the beach for a glimpse of the clumsy 2-legged creatures gawking at them … just a sky of pink-tinged clouds scudding over blooming trees and the mournful sound of the morning doves.

Staring hard at 50 makes one think a little more deeply about what constitutes happiness. The bigger scheme of things comes into play when you age, I think. Happiness for me is no longer where I am on the outside, but has become more about where I am on the inside. Anthony de Mello reminded me recently that the ‘highs’ we call happiness are but the precursors to the lows we know as depression.

Maybe my happiest place is inside me where contentment lives. The simple things in life … family, a fresh-mown lawn, a friend sharing a glass of wine with me are what I have come to cherish. My happiest place is every place. At work or at play, I only need look within to find happiness.

What about you? What is your happiest place?

Believing the Impossible

As has become obvious to my regular readers (if there are any of those), I have felt little inspiration to write lately. Sorry about that. Sometimes my life gets in the way. Lately it’s been my emotions. I told a friend the other day that I’ve been too angry to write. Working on that … meanwhile, I’ll blame (pre-)menopause and plow on.

Thankfully I ran across a daily prompt that inspired me to write something for the first time in what feels like a long time. WordPress, you continue to push me to keep writing even when life and my own emotions conspire to stop me. For this I am grateful.

Daily Prompt: Impossibility

by michelle w. on March 18, 2013

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” – the White Queen, Alice in Wonderland.

What are the six impossible things you believe in? (If you can only manage one or two, that’s also okay.)

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1. I believe that people are people, period.

That people resemble one another at their core increases cynicism and love within me. I don’t know how two incongruous emotions can spring simultaneously from one idea, but there it is.

On the one hand, cynicism lowers my expectations of people. I’ve learned to expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised when I see them at their best. I no longer expect anyone to really change over the course of a life either. Maybe that’s why when I actually do see dramatic change in someone, it is so inspiring. Because of it’s rarity and it’s unexpectedness, real change tastes that much sweeter.

People are people = +cynicism.

On the other hand, a multitude of relationships over decades of life have opened my eyes to the fact that everyone is a mess, most of the time. But knowing we’re all in this mess together enables me to give grace to others … most of the time. With some folks I have to consciously remind myself of our similarities. At the core, my selfishness is exactly the same as my bass-blasting neighbor’s, just manifested differently. This truth helps me to rein in the anger (when I remember to remind myself, that is…).

People are people = +love.

Hopefully love will conquer cynicism, but I wouldn’t count on seeing it happen in me. At least, not anytime soon.

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2. I believe that God is good.

I would love to type ‘nuf said after that statement, but unfortunately, I can’t. I’ve lived too long not to know how many different emotions and thoughts just raced through every reader’s heart and mind when they read the word, “God”; reading “God” and “good” in the same sentence has produced another slew of reactions. Here it might suffice to challenge my readers to write a blog addressing what that statement means to you (whether or not you believe it to be true). 🙂 Gauntlet thrown.

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3. I believe that people are eternal.

Something deep inside me knows that death cannot be the end. I used to have a wealth of theological arguments and Bible passages to defend this belief, all of which have become smoke and mirrors in my mind. I guess besides my affirmation of the resurrection of Jesus, I depend on the very UNsupportable notion that life after death makes sense of my world.

Recently I’ve been reading a lot of atheist blogs. Often they address morality in their writing and discuss it in the comments. The question that always arises in my mind: “If you and I are dust when we die, what possible difference could living a moral life make in the scheme of things?” Morality in a predominantly immoral, finite, godless world makes absolutely no sense to me, and yet, godless people affirm the superiority of a life given to helping/serving/loving others.

It’s all well and good to say that people should live in such a way that others are unharmed, or that love is a quality we should aspire to exemplify simply because this life is all you’ve got; but if atheists are right, then there is no basis for this assertion because there is no real reason to live that way (well, other than to avoid spending your life in prison, but then the motive for your goodness would not be goodness but the selfish motive of avoiding punishment).

I can’t help but wonder why it matters when a life is ‘cut short’ if there is no life beyond? Whether a person lives 2 years or 80, dust is the result and if there is no memory or knowledge of what that life consisted of, then nothing.really.matters. Paul said it this way [my paraphrase], “If there is no life after death, then do whatever makes you happy, for tomorrow you’re gone.” Paul agreed with me (or vice versa ;)).

Conversely, what does it matter if someone lives a moral life for 100 years if there is nothing after they die? What would it matter to be fondly remembered by people who are dust just like the person they remembered when they were living? It makes no sense.

My belief in an afterlife has absolutely nothing to do with reward or punishment (hard for most people to wrap their brain around that one, I know), but somehow what I do in this life has to matter in some way, and without a future existence it simply can’t. My desire to live to a higher standard here and now makes no sense if there is not life after death. Dust loving dust is ludicrous. Why bother?

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4. I believe that love will win in the end.

If you are limited by the world around you, and if you reject my belief #3, this dream is a hard pill to swallow. The opposite of love is all around evident. Incidents of suicide, terrorist attacks, party-driven mud-slinging, school shootings, and road rage all seem to say that evil and hatred is winning.

So I encourage you to turn your gaze within and listen to your heart. I hear the same message inside me I hear over and over again from movies to music lyrics: every voice screams, Make it RIGHT!” Our instinctive understanding that good should conquer evil explains our love for heroic stories, happy endings, and Cinderella.

In 1987 I sat inside a packed movie theater amidst dead silence watching credits roll. No one moved. Hardly anyone dared breathe. You could have heard a pin drop for probably 10 full minutes. I’ve never seen the like of it before or since.

The shock of what we had seen was too fresh, too intensely painful for disturbance. I believe the unanimous reaction was the result of devastation. We – every last one of us – experienced the excruciating shock of an UNhappy ending to a life-story dedicated to peace. It was as if our silent stillness was a collective shout: NO!” Considering there were probably a minimum of 250 people in the theater that day, representing all different ages, races, and backgrounds, all having the exact same reaction to Cry Freedom shows me that deep down we all demand love to win. It simply has to. There is no other acceptable ending to our story – to any story.

I read a book last year that pretty much confirmed what I have come to believe and at the same time gave me a brilliant new perspective on what love winning could look like. I wrote about it in this blog. It helped solidify my confidence that only everything good will ever make any sense of an everything bad world.

Ultimately, my belief that love will win is based on a simple understanding of the New Testament and what Jesus came here to do. I’ve already written about this in another blog. For me, the resurrection clinches it. Resurrection is one of the few remnants I hold onto from what I now think of as my ‘old life’ as an Evangelical. That love is more powerful than death remains the one core belief keeping me going. All of creation (including us) shouts it everyday with every sunrise. Love is going to win, damn it. It has to, and we know it.

~~     ~~     ~~     ~~

5. I believe that people are connected in ways we cannot now imagine.

     There’s something special and deep about connection. Why else would everyone seek it? Introvert or extrovert, farmer or business executive, president or monk, every person in the world longs for connection. I would venture to say that what makes a man a hermit is his frustrated inability to find it – a sort of giving up of the quest out of sheer exhaustion. But that does not nullify the basic desire.

     When we do connect, I think there’s way more to it than meets the eye. I remember when “Six Degrees of Separation” became popular. Yes, the world is getting ‘smaller’ in one sense – the internet enables us to connect in ways we were not able to before simply due to physical distance. But the superficial online relationships with people you neither know nor share any commonality with is really not the kind of connection I’m talking about. Have you ever wondered why some people are so able to push buttons inside you? Whether it’s the anger button or the love button, there’s a power we have over one another that I believe is wrapped up in a mystery called ‘connection.’

Sometimes I can almost see threads weaving between people, criss-crossing over one another, all tangled into an incredibly beautiful, orderly, glowing mess. I’m not even sure that I have to consciously know someone to have a connection to them. When I was a child I experienced this much more dramatically than I do now. (I think growing up hardens a lot more than the arteries … but that’s a whole other blog) There were times when I would catch someone’s eye for just a second, and think, “I know we could be friends.” It was like I recognized the complete stranger looking back at me. Even more fantastic, I could see in their eyes in that one locked moment, they saw the same thing!

Today I am amazed at how difficult it is to connect. I have addressed my theories for this in other blogs too, so suffice to say that the world has changed. We need connection more than ever, but we’ve never been so disconnected. I often lament the loss of the ‘front porch’ era. You know the time, when, without AC or TV the neighbors congregated on their front porches in hopes of a breeze, all the while catching up on the latest happenings in everyone’s life. I think I was made for earlier days. *sigh*

It’s tragic how sometimes the inability to find connection manifests itself in a mass shooting. I believe the underlying motivation behind such a deplorable act is the basic desire to touch someone, anyone, somehow, any way you can – a twisted attempt at being seen.

Perhaps if we paid better attention to the people around us who are crying out for connection, the number of tragedies like this might diminish into nonexistence. It’s very sad how easily we ‘brush each other off’, ignoring people’s attempts to be noticed. Did you catch how even the language of rejection implies physical contact – connection in it’s simplest form?

The way I can call a friend I have not seen or talked to for literally years and feel as if we picked up the conversation right where we left off displays a depth of connection that defies explanation. This astounding phenomenon I’ve experienced again and again tells me that there is more to this connection business than we imagine.

                                      ~~     ~~     ~~     ~~

6. I believe it is impossible to live ‘in the moment.’

     Contrary to every admonition to do so, I am telling you to give up the fight! It simply cannot be done. It is a hopeless quest for a person moving inexorably forward through linear time to ever be aware of – concurrent to being in – any given moment. Don’t believe me? Just try it, then. I challenge you to be aware of your current moment. Oops, it’s gone. Yep, just when you thought you’d grasped it, poof! It’s a dilemma, isn’t it, a quandary (I love that I found a way to use that word in a blog – quandary – a great word, don’t you think?), a pickle even. What we do have is memory of a moment passed. It might be only a micro-nano-googleplex-second in the past, but past it is.

     You can’t really anticipate moments either, engaging in some feeble attempt to grasp one just as it arrives. Have you noticed that? Oh, we plan, we worry, we watch the clock in anticipation, when, BOOM, there it is – gone! Sometimes I feel like I’m being bombarded by time, like the seconds are hitting me in the forehead as they blink by, bouncing out of reach.

     Unfortunately for me, I’m one of those people who has a hard time holding onto the moments that have passed. My childhood remains a blank slate with little snippets of memory here and there, like the cloudy, sepia photos of my grandparents in which I can’t really tell whether they are wearing expressions of happiness or despair. Names are a particularly difficult puzzle for me. Sometimes I slap the inside of my brain and shout, “PAY ATTENTION, ALREADY!!”

     I wish I knew if my attention span was the problem. I think that maybe the real truth is that my head is here, my body is here, but my heart – the me that is me – exists on some plane outside the confines of moments, seconds, minutes, and hours. Like there is some other dimension which subconsciously captures my attention making it impossible for me to be fully herenow. here and now. But that sounds more like the thought of a raving lunatic. Then again, I warned you that

what I believe is utterly impossible.

A Little Zooeyness Goes a Long Way

I’m late, I know. The contest ended 8 days ago. That’s okay, I don’t really want any Vegan muffins I invented this word 25 years ago. Wait, that makes you late. Oh, well, better Nate than lever late than never.

College students have it made, but they don’t realize it. I did not know this until 6-months into a secretarial job when I was late for work and felt the daggers coming out of my boss’s eyes, threatening silently to fire me for my first 10-second infraction.

Complaining about 8 a.m. classes, 3-hour lectures given in monotone, and 50-page papers are par for the college course and provide my favorite example of the truism “youth is wasted on the young.” The college years tend to be marked by rebellion free thinking. That must have been what I was doing when I invented the word zooey, ‘thinking freely’. (At least that’s what I tell myself. I was probably thinking about how the guy I had a crush on really looked like a baboon since he was ignoring me. Baboons live in zoos. He probably did too.)

But you didn’t stop by my blog to hear about my disastrous college love life. You came here to find out if I was capable of putting words together into coherent sentences inventing a word. Here goes:

Zooey (adjective) \ˈzü-ē\ 1) General craziness; 2) The giggling insanity you feel when your life is completely out of control; 3) What it would feel like if you found yourself trapped in the orangutan lion’s den at your local zoo.

RELIEF! I finally have a concrete definition for a word I have had to explain for the past 25 years every time I’ve used it in a sentence! (That would be twice, post college.) The burden has been lifted – free at last, I’m free at last!!

Which is more than I can say for you if ever you try to use my word in a blog coherent sentence (sans my permission, of course). I guarantee you will awaken the next day to find

in your bedroom. Which may be a plus for some of you (I’ve read your blogs and this is my conclusion).

My second conclusion (after running a Google search to make certain my word has not been entered into the dictionary yet) would, of course, be that although

her name

(pron.: /ˈz.i) may be spelled the same, Deschanel is completely unrelated to orangutans.

Goodness or Power

Occasionally I see something on a TV show that makes me think. That happened to me tonight about midway through an episode of Once Upon a Time.

That’s Snow White (Mary Catherine) and Prince Charming (David) up there arguing with Regina (Snow White’s evil stepmother). Mary Catherine is holding the dagger that can control Rumplestilskin (or kill him, giving the murderer his power). Cora, (Regina’s mother, not shown in the photo), supposedly wants nothing more than for her daughter to be queen. The truth is, Cora wants nothing less than ultimate power. She will do anything to get it.

Further along in the scene, Regina holds the heart of one of Mary Catherine’s childhood servants in her hand, threatening to kill her if Snow refuses to give up the knife. David tells her to give them the knife to save her servant (now friend), and that they will find another way to defeat Regina and Cora. Cora mocks Mary Catherine and her determination to choose the good (always choosing to do what is good) at any cost. In the midst of the argument Regina venomously spits at Snow White:

goodness doesn’t win, power does.

Snow White’s goodness won out and she gave up the dagger in order to save her servant/friend, only to watch Cora push her through the clock tower window to her death. In that one small encounter, power won out over goodness, and Mary Catherine knew it. That got Snow White to thinking… it got me to thinking too.

Struggling with what just happened, Mary Catherine tells David that being good has not been worth the cost. She wonders if expecting evil to change to good was naive and that maybe all along she has been the one who needed to change. She is ready for their happy ending to come, even if through evil means. She determines to suffer no more losses at the hands of those who embrace evil. Thus begins her plan to murder Cora.

I turned 49 yesterday and perhaps staring 50 hard in the face is making me do a bit of thinking about life and death. Some questions have been wandering through my brain as a result. Why does a serial killer escape while a friend’s 9-yr. old daughter is having surgery on a brain tumor? Why do gang leaders ensnare a hurting, lonely youth while a mother of 6 is killed in a highway collision? Why do the stars of Hollywood bask in their imagined fame while a sinkhole steals away a man’s brother as he climbs into bed at the end of a long day? Why does a mother lose 2 sons and a husband while a woman in her 20’s finds out she has breast cancer? Why does one evil leader get called to task while another nation performs ethnic cleansing unchallenged? The list goes on and on and on.

My conclusion in the face of these quandaries? A resounding, “I DON’T GET IT.” Yeah, that was my answer: no clue. It just doesn’t make any sense. Some of you may be thinking that this sounds like Why do Bad Things Happen to Good People? or some such question of why evil exists. But that’s not really it. I get that we live in a fallen world, I get that sin has touched everything from nature to our genetic code. I guess my problem is the lack of rhyme or reason to it all. It just doesn’t make any sense. Kind of like Snow White wanting her pursuit of goodness to produce the happy ending she expects; that evil continues to thrive and wantonly take the ‘good’ (not ‘good’ in the sense of moral uprightness, but ‘good’ in the sense of life, love, and justice) out of the world isn’t making any sense to her right now. Me either.

Power should not win over goodness.

Yet more often than not, it does. Having been steeped in 30+ years of Evangelical thought, it’s difficult for me to think about ‘good’ and ‘evil’, power and weakness without some reference to the Christian God. And I cannot think of God without thinking of the church. I begin to hear whispered memories of Christian friends of mine supporting America’s assertion of power around the globe, as if God sanctions war when America wages it (against the ‘lost’ or the Muslim or the evil dictator). I can hear preachers talking about God torturing the wicked in a never-ending fire … warnings (or encouragement) to parents that what they teach (or fail to teach) their children will come to fruition ‘one day’ … gloom and doom prophecies of a coming apocalypse through a world power called ‘Antichrist’ … a painting of Jesus riding a white horse through storm clouds while a flaming sword of death and judgment issues from his mouth.

But, is that how God wins over evil … through ultimate power? Does God win because His power trumps everything? Really? Apparently that is what one preacher I heard recently believes. To him it all boiled down to God’s holiness – defined as the perfection of God that destroys (or at least severely punishes) imperfection. He would tell you to fear God because He’s holy and His holiness makes Him more powerful than anything else, somehow giving Him the right to punish those of His children who fail Him in some way. In that paradigm, fear gives you the ability to obey, and thus avoid the otherwise inevitable consequences of your sins.

Huh. Really? I don’t know. I don’t think Regina and Cora are right. I don’t think that power wins. Something deep inside me and something fundamentally communicated through Jesus’ death have convinced me that it’s not about raw power. At least not power as we understand it. Not the power to conquer through fear and torment. Not the power to rule over others by the strong trumping the weak. Not the power resulting from one’s ability to take life. That is the power of the tormentor, the abuser, truly the power of evil itself.

In many ways isn’t this the image of God the Christian church has painted for us for millennia: a conquering King who is going to force everyone who has ever lived to bow the knee to Him through fear and torment? Oh, sure, He offers pardon through some sort of belief in His Son, but even that is coercion borne of fear. Sounds more like a ‘benevolent’ dictator to me than a Creator-God of love.

The same pastor who believed the only pertinent part of God’s character we need consider was His holiness (moral perfection) also stated, and I quote:

Love doesn’t win, God wins.

Wow. Sounds an awful lot like Regina telling Mary Catherine that good doesn’t win, power does. Hm. It’s a good thing I was listening to this man over the internet instead of in person. I would have been carried out by the church leaders when I stood up and shouted:

GOD IS LOVE!!

I fear the church has forgotten what real power, Biblical power looks like. So focused on recognition, visibility, numbers in attendance, financial prosperity, moral agendas, self-protection and even vengeance … I find it hard to tell the church from any run-of-the-mill modern-day corporation. Where are the characteristics of humility and meekness Jesus spoke about in Matthew 5? Who is issuing the corporate call to lay down our lives in love for those around us? Who is reminding anyone in the churches today that the Kingdom we are building is not of this world, and neither are the weapons we use?

You know, I hear the argument a lot that Jesus came the first time to save, He will come the second time to judge. Really? Last I checked God does not change. Throughout history God the Father has been dismantling man’s idea of power and success. He continually chose the marginalized, the outcast, the weak of the world to carry out His plan and purpose. His Son submitted to death at the hand of His very creation to live out His example to us of what true power looks like. If you think He’s going to suddenly change into that mean-spirited, angry, judgmental, punishing God you’ve heard about all your life, you are sadly mistaken.

I hope Snow White comes to her senses. I hope she listens to Prince Charming again and realizes that good always trumps evil. It’s hard to see it in the midst of the struggle, but that’s what the message of resurrection is all about. Just when we think it’s really the end, just when we think evil has won, just when we decide the body has started to decay … that’s when Love says, “arise!” Evil cannot win against a God who IS love. Not on your life. Not on HIS life.

I hope the church comes to her senses. I hope she starts listening to Jesus and realizes that God is good, God is love, and His love never fails. Unbeknownst to us, love is the greatest power in the universe. And I’m here to tell you (over and over again if I have to) …

Evil doesn’t win, Love does!

The only thing to fear …

Daily Prompt: 1984

by michelle w. on January 9, 2013

You’re locked in a room with your greatest fear. Describe what’s in the room.

That’s easy. Since I grew up feeling like I was locked in a room with them – all the time. At night I used to see one in my mind’s eye sitting on the topmost stairs outside my bedroom door. It never looked at me … until I dared to close my eyes. Somehow the covers provided safety. Never mind that I couldn’t breathe while hiding under them. I could hardly breathe from fear anyway. What was a little blanket compared to those monsters? How could a blanket overcome my terror??

It’s nighttime. I’m dreaming the same old dream. I find myself in the middle of the street (what am I doing outside??), in front of my house, barefoot, in a nightgown. I can feel the rocks cutting into my skin. The darkness is a presence closing in on me. No sound escapes my lips … they might hear! They come towards me barking, snarling; as hard as I run I never move. I can’t get away.

It’s daytime. A waking nightmare. I’m walking in the sunshine on the boardwalk with a friend. As the leashed shepherd passes his head turns completely around to watch me. He senses my terror.

It’s nighttime again, only I’m awake. I’m supposed to pick up a book from my friend but somehow my feet will not move me to the front door. My brother keeps yelling at me to go, but I stand frozen to the spot; his voice sounds like it’s far away, echoing back at me from the inside of a well. I can’t see it but the sound of it barking as it lunges for the fence leaves me shaking and sweating in terror despite the cool night air.

Jump forward 5 years. Asleep in my dorm room, I’m dreaming. It’s a friend’s house and the dog is penned. Not the usual rottweiler, shepherd, or doberman, but a beautiful Irish setter. As I leave the dog gets loose. I’m running again, this time over the leafy carpet path of some woods, terrified. Suddenly I stop. This has got to stop. Turning, I become the attacker. The poor animal has no chance to escape from the years of pent-up rage inside me toward him and his kind. Awake again, I realize for the first time in my young life, I’m FREE! The fear remains but the mindless terror is gone. The room has been unlocked, the monster chased away – by me!

The story was that at a young age a dog jumped me. Playing, of course. But apparently someone freaked out and taught me to fear. I have no memory of this. At least not on a conscious level. Funny how the things underneath our awareness creep out as irrational fears.

I heard once that there are 365 instances in which the Bible exhorts us: “fear not”. One for every day of the year. One for every night of terror. My fear was scarier than the imagined threat the dogs posed. It was so powerful – exerting a numbing force over me, able to control my emotions and my body. People would tell me, “Don’t be afraid. My dog won’t hurt you.” It wasn’t the dogs – terror itself tormented me in the locked room of my mind.

I have never been bitten by a dog. I have been bitten by fear. Fear comes in many forms: animals, finances, health issues, Interstate traffic, even other people can cause terror – the crippling kind that leaves you sweating and breathless, reminding you that ultimately, you are not in control of your environment.

It takes a serious amount of discipline to train the mind not to dwell on the things of our nightmares. I have found that telling someone not to think about something only makes the thing bigger, more real. The only hope is a substitute. That’s how the mind works. You can only consciously think about – focus on – one thing at a time. When you find your fears overwhelming you find something else to think about. Better yet, find someone else to think about. Slowly the fear will lose its power over you until you can unlock that door and walk out for good.

It’s a dangerous world we live in. But only one thing stands in the way of you moving forward: your own fears. Scream into that terrorized room that you will find the key to unlock its door. Turn around and beat your fear to a pulp. Walk out the door free from fear’s hold on you. Walk out knowing you are loved. Walk out and find someone else to love.

Perfect love casts out fear.

Truly, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

God in Christ, Reconciling the World to Himself

Daily Prompt: Quote Me

by michelle w. on January 4, 2013

Do you have a favorite quote that you return to again and again? What is it, and why does it move you?

I don’t memorize Scripture very well. There. I said it. I mean, I can usually find a verse by searching a few of the words I remember. You know, the gist? And then there’s remembering the ‘address’. Yeah. I can usually get close … let’s see, like “I know it’s in the Old Testament…”

The title of this post is the small portion of the section below which I can actually remember. Here’s the whole thing:

2 Corinthians 5:18-20

Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

I spent almost 30 years in what I call Evangelical World. In this world there is one goal and one goal only: Get everyone saved. This proved to be a very frustrating goal for me, as it turns out. Early on I found that I wasn’t very good and convincing people that they need saving. Apparently, I wasn’t very good at ‘praying people in’ to the Kingdom, either.

And then something really amazing happened: God blew up my theological box! What’s a theological box, you ask? Well, everyone has one. It’s the framework you have in your mind that forms your understanding of who God is (or is not). Even if you are an atheist, you have this box. Your box just happens to support the thought that there is no God. This is a theological box none-the-less.

So I haven’t quite gotten to why this verse moves me. It’s simple, really. In Evangelical World only a select few get in to God’s Kingdom. Only a select few will make the ‘right’ choice and find their way into God’s family. And in that world view penal substitutionary atonement is the prevailing (usually only) understanding of the atonement. As you can see from some of my other blogs about the atonement, this view basically says that our sin made God really mad (Evangelical World refers to this as ‘God’s wrath’). It also teaches that God is morally perfect and because we have sinned (missed the mark of perfection), God requires some sort of payment. They believe that Jesus paid God off by dying in our place. But these few verses turn that idea entirely on its head.

In them we see God’s real plan – the reconciliation of the world (as opposed to a select few). We also see that instead of the idea that God is mad and Jesus is loving (kind of like God the Father is wanting to spank us in a serious way – snuff us out – because of our sins, but Jesus stands in between God and us saying, “Don’t hurt them, Father, punish me instead!”), we see here that the Father and the Son are united in their quest to reconcile everything (and thus, everyone) to them. I mean, you cannot get any more intimate than to be ‘in’ someone, can you?

God in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself.

This moves me because it speaks a word of hope – something Evangelical World has completely neglected, even lost. As long as the Gospel remains available only to a select few, the world (Greek word ‘cosmos’ – the entire creation!) will be left out of the equation. As long as Evangelical World understands the Gospel in terms of the Law rather than Grace, they will have no hope to give.

Our God is a God of hope, love, peace, joy, and, above all, reconciliation. He Himself reconciled us (not because He was angry and needed a sacrifice, but because we didn’t believe He loved us). When man sinned, God did not change, we did. In Christ He showed us that absolutely nothing we do can turn aside His love for us, for His creation, for His beloved children.

That’s why this quote moves me. I hope it has spoken a word of hope to you as well.

Flirting with Danger while Coming of Age

Daily Prompt: Use It or Lose It

by michelle w. on December 31, 2012
~                ~               ~               ~

July 9, 2005, a banner day in our family. What better way to celebrate my eldest daughter’s upcoming 16th Birthday than a Mother-Daughter hike up the Kolekole Pass? So, with lunch cooler and camera gear in hand, off we went. The day promised memorable adventures, but who would have thought when that clear Saturday dawned that we would have the adventure of a lifetime? Everything started out ordinarily enough…

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The hike wasn’t a difficult one, and as we began we walked with ease, chatting happily while admiring the scenery along the way. The wide trail soon narrowed, winding through trees, becoming root-strewn and steeper as we went. We could see blue skies through the needle-laden limbs of the little pine forest we passed. The landscape surprised us by opening suddenly into a wide, grassy clearing where we decided to rest and eat our lunch.

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Filled to the full with food, water, and the beauty of our surroundings, we continued our hike. We had the trail to ourselves as we forged ahead. Slowly the path became steeper and rockier until we had to use the tree roots for secure footing. Ahead I spied the steepest incline yet and above it a rope that resembled a hand-rail. Below us were innumerable trees descending a treacherous slope.

The rope ran horizontally between two of the smaller trees. Leaves obscured the path ahead, but we doggedly pressed on. One of the things I adore most about my eldest daughter is her unflagging cheerfulness. Quick to laugh, she never seems to be without a smile. She also possesses the grace of a ballet dancer, clearly seen in the way she skipped across the rope-bordered path. Supported by the tree on the other end, she waited for me to take my turn across. 

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After about 3 steps I knew I was in trouble. The ground was literally slipping away beneath me! Knowing instinctively that my only hope was to lower my center of gravity, I quickly sat down to stop the downward slide my feet were taking. Trapped in the middle of the path, unable to go either forward or back (any small movement started the landslide all over again), I had a flash of memory.

Stationed in Hawaii the summer of 2003, I never thought I could love a place as much as I did the balmy island we then called home. I knew it was a temporary (3-yr.) duty station, and we had recently learned the Army would take us from there 6 months earlier than expected. At that time, I had been saying, “I could be buried here” simply meaning I’d love nothing more than to spend the rest of my life on this island paradise. But that day, celebrating 16 years with my daughter, struggling to hang onto a melting path, looking over a precipice I knew I’d never survive, I laughingly prayed, “This isn’t what I meant, Lord.”

Survival mode kicked in. Putting the camera bag on the ground beside me to provide even more stability, I instructed my daughter to sit down next to the rope and follow me back to the other side (I still wonder how she had managed to skip across the nonexistent path in the first place). She obediently complied and very slowly we inched our way to the first tree, breathing a sigh of relief when we finally had firm ground to stand on. The time spent on that path felt like hours, but, while likely only moments, it is still firmly etched in my memory some 7 years later.

Looking at my daughter, alive and well, I apologized for celebrating her Birthday by almost bringing about her death. The climb back down was uneventful except for the laughter that accompanied our banter. We were very happy to be alive and unharmed from our recent ordeal. Back home we smiled as we told the story animatedly, but the truth is I thought we’d never come back from that one! In spite of the dangerous circumstances we were in, we will always be able to say we remember well how we celebrated my daughter’s coming of age.