Praise and Purpose

I’ve been reading Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace In His Presence for over a year now. In case you’ve never heard of this little book, it’s a daily devotional written by Sarah Young. She writes from the perspective of Jesus Christ, as if He were speaking directly to the reader. I can’t even begin to imagine the thoughts that must have gone through her head as she wrote this book, the daily struggles she must have had in thinking of how unworthy she or any human is to take on the voice of Christ. But that is a topic for another time.

I started reading this book in April 2013, after hearing about it from my Uncle Kevin. See, he and his wife were reading this together early that year. Not that either of them bragged about it. Uncle Kevin and Aunt Janet would never brag about their relationship with Christ. They just lived it, every day. It was at Uncle Kevin’s funeral on April 5, 2013 that I first heard about this devotional book, though I had probably seen it in stores before then. One of the last daily readings my uncle had enjoyed was shared during the service.

At the time, I was going through a difficult patch in my relationship with Christ. I was so mad at Him. I was angry about my own health issues. There were things that I should have been able to do that I couldn’t. Chronic pain, a heart condition, nerve damage, and life walking on a cane—all at age 37—were hard for me to deal with, and I was so angry that God was allowing this issues into my life. And then He allowed cancer to take away my uncle. Uncle Kevin, who was always smiling and full of life, died a few months short of his 20th wedding anniversary, leaving behind a wife, two adult children, and three beautiful young grandchildren. He believed in God, lived his life for Christ, asked Him for healing, and yet on Easter Sunday left his family to join Heaven’s choir. One more thing for me to be bitter about.

And I was bitter. For a long time. I’m not proud of it. Uncle Kevin and I were not particularly close. But I was already mad at God, and his death gave me one more reason to be mad. So I used it as an excuse to fuel my anger.

At the same time, I was intrigued by his reading choice. The particular cancer my uncle had was very aggressive. It progressed rapidly. Some say that was a blessing, as Uncle Kevin would not have wanted to be a burden to anyone. I don’t know. I know only that even as he grew more and more physically ill, Uncle Kevin stayed focused on Christ. His spirit never wavered. In the days before his death, he continued with his daily devotions, reading from Jesus Calling with Aunt Janet. Shortly before he passed away, he found the strength to sing the hymn “Have Thine Own Way” with his wife and daughter. Even though I was angry at God about my situation, on some level I craved the clarity, the deep level of faith that Uncle Kevin had.

I’ll admit, I am not always as dedicated in my daily devotional reading as my uncle. But I am trying. And I think that God is trying to talk to me through it.

Yesterday, in the reading for October 20, I read the line, “Do not be anxious about the weakness of your body.” I hadn’t marked that line, but it sure grabbed my attention again this morning. As soon as I opened the book for today’s reading, my eyes fell on it. My body is weak. Some days it is much more so than others. They say you are only as old as you feel, and I feel old, oh so very old some days because of the pain and weakness in my body. The past few days have been like that. And it worries me. I try to give it over to God, but when nothing changes, I wonder if He is listening to me. Holding on to the worry doesn’t change anything. There isn’t much that I can do to strengthen it or bring back what has been lost. It seems like all I have is the worry. And when that is all I have, it’s hard to let it go. Does that make any sense?

This morning, I read something else that felt like God talking directly to me. “Remember that all good things—your possessions, your family and friends, your health and abilities, your time—are gifts from Me. Instead of feeling entitled to these blessings, respond to them with gratitude.” Wow. And if that was not enough of a punch, the verse to go along with the reading was Job 1:21—“He said, ‘I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!’”

Not only have I not praised the Lord for what He was taken away from me, I have not praised Him for the things He has given me to replace those things. I don’t think I have fully praised Him or thanked Him for the things He has allowed me to keep. And I am quite certain that I never bothered to praise Him for the things that are gone when I had them. I just sort of took them for granted. I can’t promise never to do that again, but at least for today, I am praising God for the things He has given me, thanking Him for taking away the things I don’t need, and trusting Him to use the things I have left for His glory.

Uncle Kevin was fond of saying, “If you have a pulse, you have a purpose.” His pulse may have stopped, but so long as his life is still touching others, his purpose goes on.

Dear Tori

Dear Tori,

I heard a song this morning that reminded me of you. After I woke up singing Strong Enough, I thought Matthew West would be the perfect soundtrack to my writing. After selecting his playlist on my iPod, I settled into my chair to get to work. It’s not new music to me. I don’t know how many times I have heard it before. But today, the words meant something different. One song in particular, a song called To Me, caught my attention. The moment I heard him sing the words, “Well it breaks my heart every time I see the world break yours in two,” the story I wanted to write flew out of my head. All I could think about was my beautiful niece and how rough life has been on you lately.

I kept listening to the song, paying very close attention to each word. Maybe all of it isn’t about you. OK, so I suppose it is fair to say Mr. West probably didn’t have you in mind at all when he wrote the lyrics to this song. But there is so much in it that is just so YOU. If I were to write something about just how special you are (which I suppose I am doing with this letter) I couldn’t do much better than he did.

Your laughter really is one of my favorite sounds. You were the first baby I got to live with and see every day. I used to love coming home from work or school to hear you laughing as you played with your parents or grandparents. No matter how bad my day was, it was hard to be sad or upset with such a happy little girl in the house.

Ever since you were tiny, you have had a beautiful smile. Your smile fills up your whole face. It adds a special sparkle to your eyes. It has always shown the joy in your heart, the joy you find in life. Do you remember when my Rylee went to Heaven? I didn’t think I would smile ever again. But you kept smiling when you said, “Aunt Lynn, don’t be sad. Your baby is with Jesus. And you will always have me to play with.” Your smile helped to bring my smile back.

Now you are 17. Playing with your crazy aunt isn’t nearly as important as hanging out with your friends or boyfriend. And that’s OK. I know you had to grow up sooner or later. (Later would have been better for me….) You have grown into an absolutely beautiful young lady, both inside and out. How can I not be proud of that?

I know you have had your heart broken recently. More than once. I’ve cried right along with you. You probably want to hear that it will never happen again, that the next time you give your heart away it will be to the boy who will protect and treasure it the way your heart deserves to be protected and treasured. Oh how I wish I could promise you that. But I can’t see the future. And I can’t protect you from the pain and heartbreak that it might bring. If I could, I would. I’d happily take all of those bumps and bruises for you—without complaint—if that would keep the smile on your face and the laughter in your heart.

Some day you will find the right special someone for you. I don’t know when or where it will happen, or who that someone might be. But I have faith that it will happen.

Until then, I hope you realize how wonderful and very special you are. The world is a much more beautiful place because you are in it. I can’t say it any better than Matthew West did, so I will close this letter with the words from his song:

            To me you are

Heaven’s finest invention by far

So much brighter

Than the brightest star

What I’d give to make you see

Who you are to me

I love you, Miss Tori.

All my love forever,

Aunt Lynn

 

New Year, New Heart

 

Create in me a clean hear, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

Psalm 51:10

It’s a new year.  Resolutions are flying all over, with people taking this opportunity to try to better themselves. 

I’ve made resolutions in the past.  I’ve not been good at keeping them.  Usually by the middle of January the good intentions of my resolution have flown out the window.  I think the longest I’ve ever stuck with one is through my birthday, in mid-February. 

That is why I have decided to not start of 2014 with a resolution.  I want a better life.  I want to be thinner, to make better choices, to be calmer, to be healthier, to be more content than I was in 2013.  But resolving to be isn’t going to helping.  Even taking action toward those things won’t change them.  Not unless I understand the motivations behind them.  So I have decided to start of this beautiful New Year with a prayer.

My prayer for this year comes right from the Bible, from the heart of King David.  Funny how a man who lived thousands of years ago could write the words that so accurately describe my heart today….  The words are recorded in Psalm chapter 51.

Verse 3: “For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.”  I am far from perfect.  I make mistakes on a daily basis, mistakes I cannot hide from.  Mistakes I no longer want to hide from.  Lord, I know my anger and my attitudes are wrong.  I see it, and I give it to You.  Take this from me and turn it into something You can use for Your good.

Verse 10-12: “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.  Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation and uphold me with thy free spirit.”  Cleanse my heart, Lord.  I want it to be filled only with love—love for You and for all of the wonderful things You have created.  I know I have messed up, but please don’t give up on me.  Don’t push me away.  I ask Your forgiveness for the times I have pushed You away.  Being with You is the sweetest joy, and I want more of that joy in my life.  I can feel You here now, in this moment.  I pray that I feel this sweetness and joy every moment, only a little stronger each day.

I love You, Lord.  I love You so much that the thought of hurting You, of disappointing You saddens me.  This New Year, 2014, Lord, I am dedicating it to YOU.  Everything I do is for You, for Your glory. 

Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant

Elaine Taylor passed away Sunday evening.

You will be forever missed and loved, Elaine

You will be forever missed and loved, Elaine

You might not have heard the news.  She was not a celebrity.  Fame was not one of the goals of her 84-year-long life.  At least not earthly fame.  My guess would be that most of the people reading this post didn’t know her.  That is a shame.    

If you had ever met her, you would have loved her.  At least I think you would have.  I know for sure that Elaine would have loved you.  Elaine loved everyone.  I don’t think she ever met a stranger.  Each new person in her life was a friend.  Her smile, her laugh, her hug….  All three welcomed everyone she met, and no one who experienced them will ever forget them.

No one who ever experienced Elaine was ever forgotten by her.

I can’t tell you what her presence meant in my life.  It’s hard to even describe the relationship we had.   Elaine was a grandmother when I needed one.  She was full of love and advice—giving the love at all times and the advice when she felt I needed it, which was not necessarily when I felt I needed it.  She said she would pray for me.  And you know what?  She actually did it.  A lot of today’s Christians—myself included, I am so sorry to say—are good at saying, “You’ll be in my prayers,” and then promptly forgetting the details of who needed prayer.  Not Elaine.  She might not have known what prayer was needed, but she prayed. 

Much of my recent physical recovery I attribute to her prayers.  I gave up.  Not on God, exactly.  Never once did I stop believing that He could heal my back pain and bring back the feeling my leg.  I just gave up on the idea that He ever would.  For whatever reason, I just felt like God intended for me to live with these physical limitations, and I started to look for the good that could come from them.  If this was part of His plan, I wanted to be open to still making a difference for Him.  Elaine never gave up on my healing.  When I told her a few months ago that I knew God could heal me but I didn’t think that He would, she gave me that smile.  You know what smile I mean…the one a mother gives her child when the child seems to be trying but not trying hard enough.  Yeah, that’s the smile.  She patted my hand and said, “I don’ believe that.  It’s just not the right time.  He will bring the healing when He is ready for it, not when you are.”  And when she said she’d pray for me, I knew she was doing it.  I wish I could tell her that she was right.  I wish I’d had the chance to walk into her room, without my cane, and show her how God was working.

But I am sure she knows now.  I have a feeling God has spent a lot of time in the last few days showing Elaine how her prayers have helped bring miracles to more people than we could ever count.

There is a party going on in Heaven this week, a “welcome to your reward” party, with Elaine Taylor as the guest of honor.  From the reports I have been hearing all over Facebook this week, Elaine is just one of many guests of honor at this party.  And you know what?  I think that is how she would want it.  Once she got her face-to-face moment with Jesus, once she was able to hug Him and kiss Him, she turned around to face the others coming behind her.  

And with the same smile she used on Sunday mornings, she held out her hand and said, “Welcome to Heaven.  You’ll like it here.”

Lessons From Genny

I originally wrote this short story about 7 years ago.  It’s based on a real moment and real conversation that I overheard at church one Sunday morning.  A few weeks ago, I pulled it out to use in the beginning fiction workshop course that was part of my creative writing program at SNHU.  I went into it thinking that there are always areas of my writing that can use improvement.  However, I am not convinced the changes my instructor suggested (changes that I made in order to make the grade) are really an improvement.  But….

Here is the final draft of the story.  Hope you enjoy it.

Lynn

Lessons From Genny

“I so appreciate you and Toby helping out this week, Connie,” Rebekah said, handing me a small stack of church bulletins.  “You can stand right here and just hand one to everyone who comes by.”

I followed to the place she indicated, about halfway between the front doors and the sanctuary.  My husband Toby was near the front doors, laughing with a couple of other men.  He didn’t notice my glare, not that he would have acknowledged it if he had.  He had addressed my less than cheerful attitude in the car, and I knew him well enough to know there would be no more mention of it that day.

“It’s been nearly six months,” he’d told me when I balked at his suggestion to “put on a happy face” for the day, no matter how I felt.  I just was not ready to do that, to stand in front of our church friends and pretend all was right with the world, not after what had happened.  “It is time to move past it and get on with your life.”

Five months, three days, 4 hours, and—I glanced at my watch—29 minutes.  But who was counting?

Me, that’s who.  I’d been counting ever since that day.  My life was clearly divided into before and after.  The before ended that day, and felt like a far off dream to me.  The after was a dark, lonely place; a place I wasn’t entirely sure that I wanted to be in but one that I didn’t know how to get out of.  It was a place that I was annoyed to be in alone.  Why wasn’t my husband in the same dark place I was?  Did he really not care?  The way he dismissed my continued feelings of emptiness sure made it seem as if he didn’t care about me or my pain.

“You OK?” Rebekah asked me, her hand resting on my arm.  “You just don’t seem yourself.”

“No, I am not OK!” I wanted to scream.  “I haven’t been OK in months.”  But I remembered my husband’s attitude that morning.  If he didn’t want to acknowledge what the day was, it was doubtful someone not emotionally invested in my child would be.  So I put on my best smile, hoping it did not look nearly as forced as it felt.  “I’m fine.  Just didn’t sleep well last night.”

She opened her mouth to say something, but was called away by an emergency in one of the Sunday school classrooms.  I watched as she walked away, grateful for the chance to be alone.  Rebekah was nice and all.  She was our pastor’s wife.  Talking to her had helped me more than even she knew.  Still, she tended to be overly optimistic about everything.  And this was one morning when I didn’t see much to be optimistic about.  I just wasn’t sure if I had the energy to keep up a conversation with her.

Obediently, I smiled as I greeted the worshipers that entered the church that morning.  I avoided asking, “How are you?” as I knew that would lead to my having to answer that same question.  The smile felt like enough of a lie.  Something about lying in church just didn’t sit right with me.  I didn’t want to tell anyone I felt fine when I felt anything but, and I had a feeling no one wanted to hear what I was really feeling.

I thought I was doing a good job of being pleasant and ignoring the pain eating away at my gut.  A good enough job, anyway.  And then I saw her.  Erin Andrews had walked into the building, rubbing her bulging belly.  My smile faded.  Anger and jealousy bubbled up inside me.  I thought of the tenth commandment, “Thou shalt not covet.”  Great, that just added guilt to the ugly feelings swirling around in me.

That commandment didn’t apply to a woman grieving the loss of her child, did it?

Erin and I had been friends for years.  When I married Toby, her older brother, we were excited to now be sisters.  Learning that we were expecting babies—the first for each of us—at the same time was almost too much.  We had plans of how we would raise our girls together.  They wouldn’t be just cousins, but the closest sisters ever.

And then disaster struck.  In the back of my mind, I knew when the cramping and spotting began what the inevitable end would be, but I denied it for as long as I could. The doctor confirmed the miscarriage but offered me little explanation. I sat in the hospital bed, staring at the stark, white sheets, devastated and bewildered, unable to understand how that tiny heart could be so strong one day and gone the next.  My baby, my dreams, and in a lot of ways, my friendship with Erin. They were all gone. Life went on around me.  Erin’s belly grew bigger every day, it seemed, a brutal reminder to me of her successful, thriving pregnancy and my utter failure as a mother.  Every time I saw my friend, I felt daggers in my heart.  Because she was family, I really couldn’t avoid her.  Hate was not something I was accustomed to feeling, but it was the closest word I could use to describe my new feelings building up inside, feelings that grew more painful, more intense each time I saw her.

I felt a tear sting my eye as I stared at her.  She turned in my direction and I quickly turned away.  Her due date was two weeks away.  I knew because hers was exactly 14 days after mine.  And today was my due date.  Today was the day my life should have been so very different.

I should have been at the hospital, in labor, waiting to become a mother.

The physical pain would have been a welcome relief, especially if it would replace this horrible, hollow emotional pain I’d been riding on since my baby’s heart had stopped beating.

“God, I don’t understand,” I whispered frantically.  “Where are You?  Why did You let this happen to me?”

I didn’t expect an answer.  For nearly six months, I’d been asking the same questions.  God had remained silent on the issue.  For whatever reason, He’d chosen to abandon me.  He was not just carrying me, like in that poem.  This was the darkest moment of my life, and God was just nowhere to be found, no matter how many times I cried out to Him.  I wanted to continue to love Him and to trust Him, but His silence made it so hard.  Maybe this was one of those things my grandmother had always warned me about, one of the many things that about God’s plans that I’d not be able to understand this side of Heaven.

The only thing worse than the tears was having to explain them to someone else.  When my own husband thought it was time to get on with my life, I couldn’t really expect anyone else to have even a small amount of sympathy for my sadness.  I reached for a tissue to dry my eyes.  As I did, my hand brushed against Rebekah’s.  I looked up, half expecting to find she was taking a tissue for me.  She didn’t even look at me, though.  My eyes followed her gaze and landed on Genny Fairbanks, one of the older members of the congregation.

Genny’s church attendance had been sporadic for the past few months.  Ernie, her husband of more than 50 years, had Alzheimer’s disease.  He had his good days and bad.  On the good days, she said she felt like they were teenagers, falling in love all over again.  On the bad ones, which came more and more often these days, he was too much for Genny to handle alone away from home.  Still, she resisted all attempts to put Ernie into a nursing home.  She’d promised to love and care for him in sickness and health.  So long as she was healthy enough to care for him at home, that is what she was going to do.

Ernie’s health had taken a turn for the worse recently.  It wasn’t just his memory that was a problem, though I could tell from the way she spoke of him that it broke Genny’s heart that Ernie didn’t recognize her most days.  His body had grown weak, to the point where he couldn’t handle daily tasks like bathing and dressing and even feeding himself.  It was just too much for Genny to handle alone, and she had reluctantly agreed with her children that it was time to place him in a home for the round-the-clock care he needed.  I could see in her eyes that morning the toll that decision was taking on her.  The depth of my own sadness was forgotten and I had this almost overwhelming desire to hug the older woman.  I watched as Rebekah handed Genny the tissue, then gently took her hand.   I stepped closer to hear what was being said.

“He’s not eating,” Genny said.  “Ernie doesn’t like being in a new place—he never did like change much—and he can’t do anything about it except refuse to do what he is asked.  He’s been refusing food and fighting his medications.”  She stopped and took a deep breath to steady herself.  Through everything, she had always been so strong.  She looked like she wanted to cry, yet seemed determined not to do it in front of anyone.  Finally, Genny said, “The doctors want to put him on a feeding tube.  I don’t know what to do.”

“Is that something Ernie would want?” Rebekah asked softly.

Genny shook her head.  “No.  We talked about it before, when his mind wasn’t so hazy.  Ernie didn’t want anything special done to keep him alive.  He said if a machine was doing everything for him, then he wasn’t living anyway.  He wanted to just go to Heaven with some dignity.”  She dabbed at her eyes with the tissue.  “I know I should honor his wishes.  I guess I am selfish.  I don’t want to let him go.”

Rebekah was quiet for a moment, giving Genny some time to compose herself.  And then she asked so very gently, “Genny, how would you like us to pray?”

Had I heard that right?  Had Rebekah really just asked how to pray?  It seemed to me that, as the wife or our pastor, prayer was something she know how to do.  If she was asking what Genny wanted her to pray for….  Well, that made no sense to me and, frankly, it sounded like a rather dumb question.  Really, how many was could a situation like this be prayed over?  I wanted to pull Rebekah away and let her know how insensitive that sounded.  “Her husband is sick,” I wanted to say.  “Of course she wants prayers for healing.”  Honestly, what other kind of prayer would she want?  What she wanted, I was sure in my heart, was her husband back.  What she needed was a miracle.

I didn’t know much about Alzheimer’s, other than it always got worse and not better.  But I knew God, too.  I knew that He could give Genny a miracle if He wanted.  Just because He had not given me the one I wanted for my child didn’t mean I stopped believing He could do it.  I wanted to tell Genny that I would pray for a healing miracle for her husband.  I took a step closer, intending to tell her just that.  But she started to speak, and her words caused me to freeze on the spot.

“Just pray that God’s will be done,” Genny said, her voice shaking with emotion.  “I don’t like what is happening.  I don’t understand it, but I know He is in control.  He will get me through this.”  I heard her say that she was angry, sad, and scared about what was going on, but she knew that her life—and Ernie’s life—belonged to God.  “We’ve had 50 good years here,” she told Rebekah.  “But I am not going to let my sadness over the end of that keep me from spending eternity worshiping God with Ernie.”

Her words hit me like a slap across the face.  I suddenly felt like the most selfish woman on Earth.  Six months after losing a baby that I never saw, that had only been a part of my life for a few brief weeks, I was holding tight to my anger and sadness.  After 50 years of marriage, Genny was holding tight to God as she watched the love of her life slip away. Which one of us had the best chance of enjoying life once the season of sadness had passed?

But maybe I didn’t deserve the chance to enjoy life and be happy.  God must have felt that I didn’t.  Otherwise, He wouldn’t have created such a big hole in my heart.

But was the hole in my heart any bigger than the one in Genny’s?  Why did she have such a peace about her, how could she be so accepting?

Probably because all of the sadness and despair were flooding my body.  There just wasn’t enough left for her.

I stumbled backward, expecting to bump into the wall.  Instead, I felt a pair of arms slide around my waist to steady me.  “You OK, Connie?” Toby asked me.

I smiled at my husband, an unsteady, unsure kind of a smile.  The concern in his eyes touched me in a way I hadn’t allowed anything to touch me in half a year.  Suddenly I felt sorry for the negative things I’d thought about him just that morning, and an unbelievable relief that I’d not let any of those thoughts come out of my mouth.  His comment about moving on was not intended to hurt me.  It was Toby’s way of telling me that I needed to give the pain and anger to God.  I squeezed his hand.  “I feel…”  I stumbled to find the right words and finally settled on, “I feel OK.”

“You feel OK?” Toby asked, sliding an arm around my waist and guiding me toward the sanctuary doors.

I nodded.  “Yeah, I think I am.”

He led me toward the row of seats in the back of the room, the seats I had picked to hide out in after the miscarriage.  The seat kept me in the room and allowed me to be technically a part of the service.  But it was far enough away from everything so that I could hide.  As we were about to sit, I saw Erin and her husband slide into a seat two rows in front of us.  I turned my eyes away, not liking the idea of spending the next two hours looking at the woman who had the life I so desperately wanted.

My eyes landed on Genny, sitting on the other side of the room.  It didn’t take long to notice there were two empty seats beside her.  “Why don’t we sit over there?” I suggested, motioning toward the older.

“With Genny?” Toby asked.  My husband was shocked.  Not that I could blame him.  I’d spent the last six months hiding, and now I was suggesting that we move to the front of the church.  It surprised me, too.

But I felt drawn to her.  There was something about the peace she had that I wanted to be near.

A piano began to play and the congregation stood for the first song of the morning.  I sang along, or at least tried to.  Genny’s words played over and over in my mind, making it hard to concentrate on anything.  “We had 50 good years here….”  Was the difference between the two of us?  Was that what made it easy—and if not exactly easy, at least possible—for Genny to let go?  The fact that she and Ernie had spent a lifetime together?

They’d made memories together, memories that would sustain Genny through the rest of her life.  They’d raised children.  They’d enjoyed grandchildren.  They had shared more together than I could even imagine.  Perhaps it was the ability to relive those memories at will that made this transition less difficult for Genny.

Only, I didn’t have any of the memories.  I’d not had any time with my child.  I’d never felt the baby kick.  I’d only once heard the heartbeat.  I’d never been able to count ten tiny fingers and ten tiny toes, kiss pinch chubby cheeks, or blow raspberries on a freshly bathed belly.  In the game of life, Genny had hit a jackpot, while I’d been cheated out of anything.

And yet, I had this nagging feeling that I was cheating myself.  Memories or no, Genny could have wallowed in her own sadness and no one would have blamed her.  A six month—or even longer—pity-party would have been understandable for her.  No one understood my sadness, my continued pity-party.  As I watched Genny sway to the music as she softly sang to the Lord, I realized that I didn’t fully understand why I continued with the pity-party either.  Really, what was it accomplishing?

The bigger question, though, was how to put an end to it.  How could I find the understanding, the acceptance that Genny was living with?

When the singing ended, the pastor shared a few brief announcements.  One was about the need to volunteers in the nursery.  “Could you spend just one Sunday a month,” he asked, “cuddling the babies and playing with the toddlers?  If so, please see my wife Rebekah after the service.”

See Rebekah….  Now that thought wouldn’t leave my mind.  Was God telling me something?  Not that I really wanted to listen.  After all, I’d been asking for answer for half a year and He’d remained silent.  And yet the nagging feeling that I needed to talk to Rebekah would not go away.  Volunteer in the church nursery?  Could I really do that?  Could I handle holding someone else’s baby, loving on another child for just a few hours?

I wasn’t sure.  Still, at the end of service, I found myself standing in front of Rebekah, volunteering to do just that.

Perhaps I had been cheated out of making memories with my own child.  But there was nothing stopping me from making memories with the other children of the church.

 

Leftovers

Andrew rolled his eyes.  “Leftovers,” he said with an air of disgust that only a preteen can muster, “are disgusting.”

His younger brother breathed an exaggerated sigh of agreement.  “Can’t we just order pizza?”

I squeezed my eyes shut, took a deep breath, and counted to ten.  All calming tricks I’d learned in my years of therapy.  None of which seemed to be working that night.  As much as I wanted my boys to get along and not fight with one another (after all, it had been less than ten minutes since I told them to stop fighting or I was going to make them sit side-by-side on the sofa, holding hands until they could be kind to each other,) I did not need for their one moment of solidarity in the week to come at my expense.  It had already bee a stressful day, dealing with a client who adhered to a very rigid deadline where work was concerned but was not nearly so rigid about the deadlines on payment.  On top of that, the boys’ father had called me that afternoon to apologize that his child support would be late.

Again.

He had the money to take his new wife and their daughter on a week long trip to Disneyland, but he couldn’t bother to send basic support for his two sons.

It wasn’t a new thing, and wasn’t a complete surprise.  Still wasn’t something I was happy about.  I’d done nearly $600 worth of work for a client that I wasn’t being paid for and how the $200 of child support that should have bought enough groceries to get us through the week until my paycheck from my steady teaching job came in wasn’t coming.  And the boys were moaning and complaining about having to eat leftovers.

Oh how I wanted to send them to their father that night!  Then he’d have little choice but to pay something for them. 

The thought of my ex’s face if I were to drop the boys on his doorstep and drive away did more to calm me than anything else.  I was finally able to smile.  I opened my eyes, smiled at the boys, and said, “We can have pizza, no problem.”  I reached into the open fridge and pulled out an aluminum foil covered plate.  “We made homemade pizza two nights ago, and there is plenty left for tonight’s dinner.”

My oldest son repeated the rolled eyes.  But he did step aside so I could pop the plate into the microwave.

“Well,” my youngest said, “it’s better than what they made us eat for lunch at school today.”

Watermelon

I am not a big fan of fruits.  As far as I can remember, I never have been.  It’s not a taste thing so much as a texture thing.  Most fruits feel odd and squishy in my mouth.  Makes me squirm just to think about it.  And then there are the seeds.  I cannot stand seeds.

I don’t know.  I am just not a fruit fan.

Once upon a time, though, I was a fan.  At least I was a fan of one particular fruit.  There is a picture—oh how I wish I had a copy of it that I could attach to this post and share with the world—of me sitting on the porch steps at Grandma’s farm, eating a slice of watermelon.  One of my older sisters is sitting beside me.  I couldn’t have been more than three or four in the picture, wearing my brown framed eyeglasses and my long chestnut colored hair in two curly ponytails, one on each side of my head.  Yeah, I was an adorable little thing.  From the smile on my face and the watermelon juice dripping down my chin and covering the front of my shirt, it sure looks like I am enjoying the watermelon.

So many times over the years, I have thought about that picture whenever anyone has offered me watermelon.  I don’t remember eating it.  I remember a lot of summer days spent at Grandma’s house.  I remember a lot of family picnics in that yard and eating a lot of sandwiches sitting on that front porch.  Good memories, all of them.

Well, most of them.  I’m sure there are some not-so-good memories in there somewhere. They are not what I choose to remember, though.  When I think about Grandma’s house, I choose to remember only the good times, only the fun.  There are enough other places in my life that I associate with negative thoughts and feelings.  I want to keep one place with only the good, happy memories.

Is that so wrong?

Memories that are like that picture of me eating watermelon.  A little grainy, and a lot a sweeter than they would be if they were experienced today.

Why I Write…Again

I’ve talked about it before, and I will probably talk about it again.  Most every writer is asked the question.  And the answer, for many of us, changes as we grow and our writing evolves.  In this blog, I have covered more times than I can count at the moment the reasons that I write.  Recently, though, I found myself face-to-face with one of the reasons I started writing in the first place.  I immediately took a picture of it.

DSCF4843_thumb.jpg My husband and I took our sons on a vacation “Up North,” to Grand Traverse County, Michigan.  My mother’s family has roots in the area, and a cousin now owns property in the small village outside of Traverse City where my great-aunt raised her family.  We were able to stay there.  My oldest son, who is 12 now, helped me tour the property on a golf cart—he drove while I took pictures.  At one point as we drove along the dirt road, I just started to giggle.  The road that stretched in front of me reminded me of my favorite book, Anne of Green Gables.  All I could think as we bounced along that road was, “If this was a horse-drawn buggy, this would be just like what Anne Shirley saw on her first approach to Green Gables from the train station.”  It took me back to the first time I read that book and the reasons I started to write.

I began writing because of Anne’s wonder.  From the moment I first read that book, I was entranced with the way L.M. Montgomery captured Anne’s view of the world, her wondered at experiencing all new things.  Her Anne books are my biggest inspiration.  I can’t imagine that my writing is nearly as good as Ms. Montgomery’s work.  But my goal, especially when I am writing for young adults, is to create characters as memorable as Anne Shirley and Diana Barry, and to craft a love story as touching and enduring as that of Anne and Gilbert Blythe.

Though Anne’s stories take place on Prince Edward Island, Canada, and this photograph was taken in Grawn, Michigan, it reminds me of those feelings I had when I started to write stories.  I plan to enlarge this picture and have it framed to hang above my writing desk.    This is why I write.  Whenever I need extra inspiration, looking at this should help me to find it.

Food Poisoning

She didn’t want to poison him, not really.  Not enough to kill him anyway.  But if she could make him just a little bit sick….

She heard about food poisoning on the news.  It happened quite often, actually, and almost always was seen as an accidental thing.  Something wasn’t cooked long enough or perhaps it had been left at the wrong temperature for too long.  Produce was contaminated.  It would be easy enough for him to get sick from something that he ate.  And no one would point the blame at her.

After all, she was the loving wife.  The one who had borne his children, who gave up her career to stay at home and raise them, who washed their laundry and picked up their toys and made sure their homework was done each evening.  She was the one who made sure his dinner was hot and on the table when he came home from work each evening, who baked fresh cookies or cakes or pies at least once a week to satisfy his sweet tooth, who washed the bedding in the scented soap he liked and made his bed each morning.  She did all that and more, and while she couldn’t say that she always did it cheerfully, she did do it without complaint.

And without recognition.

Not that she needed the recognition.  Not constantly, anyway.  An occasional, “Thank you,” or, “I appreciate all that you do for me and the kids,” would be nice.  It wasn’t necessary, though.  After all, it was her job as a wife and a mother to do those things, to look after the house and the children, to make his life easier.

What she would like, what would make her life easier, would be to have him come home from work and greet her with something other than criticism.  Her eyes worked well—she could see that the laundry was not all folded, that there were homework papers on the table, and that a few stray action figures were resting in the corner of the living room. It made her wonder if that was how his bosses treated him, if they ignored all of the goods things he did on a daily basis and only pointed out the negatives.

Not that she could do anything about his work situation.  But she might be able to do something about him.  If she could only figure out how to inflict food poisoning on him without getting herself or the children sick.

That wouldn’t arouse any suspicion at all, would it?

The Writing Question

Why do you write?

If you are a writer, you will be asked that question at least once in your life.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked it.  And it seems like every time I hear the question, the answer changes.  Oh, at the heart of it, the answer is the same—I write because I cannot NOT write.  Writing is as much a part of my daily life as breathing.  While the lack of writing may not bring the same physical problems that a lack of oxygen would bring, when I don’t write I do suffer a sort of emotional suffocation.

One reason I write, one that is playing heavy on my mind this morning, is because it’s a great escape from my life.  Writing allows me to explore how my life could have been had I made different choices.  Oh, I am not talking about the “little” choices, like what if I’d picked a different colored blouse or if I had picked something different for breakfast.  I mean the bigger choices in life, like what if I had sat in a different seat in my 10th grade history class or what if I had gone to my senior prom with a group of friends instead of with the date I had.  Those may not seem like big, life altering decisions to you, but to me they were.

The girl I sat next to in 10th grade history?  She is still my best friend today.

The boy I went to my senior prom with?  He and I have been married for 13 years.

If I’d made a different choice about either of those things, my life would be totally different today.

For the most, I am happy with my life.  I can’t say completely happy, because there are things in my life that I am not happy with.  Mostly, those things are health-related.  I wonder sometimes how things would be different if I had made different choices.

This morning, I’d like a little escape from my life.  My kids are off school this morning, and they are especially loud.  I don’t know exactly why.  Could be just because they are boys….

Today, I write because I need a break.  I need to get away from the loudness, the madness that comes from having four (yes, four–they had a friend stay over last night; could that be part of the reason for the loudness??) boys at home today.  Only I don’t know that I will get the quiet to be able to do that.  After all, it’s taken me nearly two hours just to write this simple post.