A Word to the Wise: Prioritize

Those first golden moments of the day – you know, right after you wake up and the possibilities are endless.  God has just granted you a fresh start.  Now, what to do with those early morning hours!

It used to seem so simple.  What I remember most about my early childhood mornings was crawling out of bed and making my way to the hub of our home: the kitchen.  Curiosity was what got me going.  I wanted to see what was going on in the world and everyone in my world was in the kitchen.  I can remember lying in bed trying to eavesdrop on conversations already taking place and then, padding bare feet across linoleum floors to get to the heart of it all.

As I grew old enough to attend public school, my morning routines changed.  Instead of being woken by my inner stirrings, I was blasted out of dreamland by my father’s version of Reveille.  The bedroom door would bust open and if you opened your eyes quick enough, you would see his eyes twinkle with mischief as he sang, “It’s time to get up, it’s time to get up, it’s time to get up this mornin’……You better get up, you better get up, you better get up right now…..!”  Then, he would raise his fake bugle to his lips (his hand) and play the melody in his best, most irritating, bugle voice until we waved the white flag and tumbled out from under the covers.

Then, ahhh, my teen years!  I was growing up and I was all modern because my brother, Brady had gotten me a flip alarm clock for Christmas.  In case you don’t know what that is, it’s a clock that has little plastic numbers on a rotating rod.  Each minute would “flip” the number to reveal the next highest number.  It made a nice whirring sound as well as the sequential flipping of plastic plates.  The slumbering soul would hear that final heavy click that signaled the pre-set alarm to sound.  I would slap the button; stare at the ceiling wishing I could finish that dream; and then head down the stairs to find Daddy sitting alone at the table drinking his coffee.

“Why do you get up so early, Daddy?”  I would ask.

“It’s my alone time.  I like to sit here and drink my coffee while everything is quiet.”  He would say.

I wondered what was so great about that?  I would rather be dreaming about that boy at school!  I didn’t say that to him, though.  I just went to the cabinet and poured myself a bowl of cereal before joining him at our round kitchen table. (In case you are wondering where my mother was, by this time in my life, she had learned to stay in bed as long as Daddy would let her.  We were old enough to fend for ourselves.)

We make it to my senior year:  the year I actually started caring how I looked.  It took all these years to persuade my tomboy self that boys don’t appreciate you for being able to throw a football or ride a horse.  Before the sun could even start flushing the sky, my alarm would sound and I went straight to the bathroom to plug in my hot curlers.  Then, I descended the stairs, ate breakfast, went back up, put in the curlers, took a shower, dressed, put on make-up, and finally took out the cooled curlers and fixed my hair.

I married right out of high school. (I guess the hot curlers did their job!)  Ten months later, I had my first child.  A year and a half later, my second.  My third, after about the same span.  My morning routines changed along with my fast-expanding family.  This is when I discovered the magic of coffee.  This is when I began to understand my father’s ritual.  Alone time, I learned, was something precious, something stolen if needed.  The golden hours swung between getting children fed and dressed; wiping chubby cheeks; and brushing out tangled, tousled hair.  My attire didn’t seem to matter.  My own hair could be pulled back in a ponytail or hang in a mangled mess until time permitted a better arrangement.

Looking back, mornings may have been busy, but they were simple.  Now, these hours are riddled with decisions and guilt over whether or not I am making the right decision.  I blame a lot of this on Pinterest.  Ever since this app was introduced to me, I feel like Martha Stuart has invaded my every morning insisting that I am not making the best use of my time!

Want to lose weight?  You should get straight out of bed and do 20 push-ups, 50 jumping jacks, 20 crunches, 20 mountain climbers, and a 30 second plank.  Excuse me!  Is this before or after I have had my first-thing-in-the-morning glass of hot lemon water?  Or, wait, was I supposed to drink that full bottle of water that I’m supposed to leave on my night stand?

Do you want to be a writer?  You should get up while you are still in your “dream state” and get all that good creative juice on some paper!

Want to be more spiritual?  Spend this quiet time reflecting on how grateful you are for all the good things in your life.  Try to sit in a cross-legged position (oh, sure!) with your spine straight, eyes closed, and hands on knees while you keep your mind quiet.  Try not to think.  (This, my people, is near impossible if you are in pain from sitting in this position!)

did read a book once that told how a lady got up straight out of bed and fell to her knees, thanking the Lord for letting her wake up.  The older I get, this seems like the best way to start the day for each day is a blessing.  Maybe, that’s why I feel such guilt.  I’m scared I’ll be like the servant Jesus talked about that wasted his talents, or the virgins that didn’t have oil for their lamps.  I seem to wake up so torn and confused.  By the time I’ve finished my coffee, I’m jumpy from nerves and caffeine.  My list is long, but half my morning may be gone before I’ve got my plan in place.  I think to myself that I should have done this before I went to bed, then I would have already known what to do.  Or, maybe I should have slept in my workout clothes so I would have been ready to workout like that article suggested.  Or….maybe….I’ll just roll over and go back to sleep!

It seems that in order to know the best way to start your day, it is imperative that you prioritize what is most important to you.  If doing it first, instead of putting it off, is what makes you successful in that endeavor, then you need to know what you want; because it is a fact of life that if you procrastinate and say to yourself that you will do it later, chances are that fate will hand you something else to fill your time.

So, sweet dreams or productive mornings, whatever you choose, I hope those golden hours are blessed.

“I come to the garden alone, While the dew is still on the roses,…” IN THE GARDEN by C. Austin Miles

The Art of Being Alone

 

The strings of the bow stroke the strings of the violin until their cry soothes the plucking vibrations of the Spanish guitar.  Smooth.  Sounds of another world – a fantasy life – bouncing off cream-colored walls.

Candles flicker and dance in appreciation to my music and give off romantic scents and dreams of their own.

I participate in this world by adding the beat of heavy jeans in the drum of my dryer; the swish of sheets rotating in my washer.

I am proficient in the art of being alone.

 

On cloudy, rainy days such as today, my defense against the gloom is the flipping on of too many light switches.  I pick a surface to scrub, knowing I am the only one who will notice my effort.  I comfort myself by sinking my hands in hot, soapy water.  I ignore the dust in the corner that keeps the spider company as she expands her web.  Today, I’m tired of fighting with both of them.

I will sink further into myself and put pen to page.

I will extend my world by scanning the lives of others displayed in full color on a bright computer screen.

I will read the works of other writers, amazed at their skill in saying what is in their heart.

I’ll formulate lists, assemble supplies, cook a meal, and wait.

Later, someone will ask what I did today.  I will struggle for an answer.  Busy?  Yes.  Although, does anyone really want to hear about a day like mine?

My heart is constantly dreaming.  I get tired just from thinking of all it plans; wondering how much this middle-aged woman can accomplish in what time she has left.  “Follow your heart…”, they say.  I would, but my heart is filled with wanderlust and can’t seem to make up its mind!

So…another day of alone; another day dancing like no one is watching…because no one is; of singing loud because no one is listening; of talking to myself while dreaming of conversations I hope to have later with someone else and in those dreams, I won’t stutter or cast down my eyes like I do in real life…a result of spending too many years perfecting the art of being alone.

Big Sister

Saturday evening.  I receive a text from my one and only sister, my older sister by four years, Tina.

“I was thinking about you.  There are 2 little sisters that live down the street and they were running around the yard with their panties on their head just laughing their heads off!!”

I text her back that I love her…because I do.  I love that she takes the time to share something like that with me.  She keeps us connected.  Our relationship is safe in her hands.  She knows what a loner I am and reaches out to keep us going like she has done for as long as I can remember.  I can’t imagine what my childhood, my life, would have been like without her.

Tina was the “big sister”.  She was more than that to me.  She was my entertainment chairman, my teacher, my second mom, my guide, my chauffeur, my own personal comedian, my partner in crime, and my best friend.  Her imagination knew no bounds, nor did her energy.  She came up with things for us to do and saw to it that I did them.  There were no questions between us; only telling and obeying.  I don’t ever think it even occurred to me that I had any choice.  I was happy to have someone who knew how to create the perfect childhood activity; to guide me from one blissful day to the next.  I looked up to her and wanted to be everything I believed she was, everything that I was not.

On our swing set.

Memories…

*Tina stands on the see-saw, gliding back and forth, seeming to rock the skies back and forth as well.  I ask for my turn.  She was there first and I will just have to wait until she is through.  I watch her nimble body and just know that she is having the best time ever!!!  Finally, she tires of it and heads into the house.  I jump aboard like there is someone else that could take my turn even though I am now the only one outside.  I attempt the same rocking motion, applying pressure to one foot and then, the other.  Awkwardly, the swinging begins and the hornets that had built their nest in the top of the swing set decide they have just had enough!!!  Barely started in my coveted activity,  I am forced to jump and run while countless stingers are being injected in my tender skin.

*My sister and I share the same bed.  Her legs and arms are long and skinny and demand a good portion of the mattress.  Tina’s energy is not quite played out and so she shows me how to make a good “fart” noise on the fleshy part of my upper arm.  We both practice and laugh hysterically at our expertise in this finer art.  Ha!  The art of fart!!!  We are laughing so hard that tears are coming from our eyes and suddenly I am thirsty.  I stick my head out into the living room where Daddy is watching television before heading to the kitchen.  “What are you two doing in there?”, he laughs.  “Farting…” I giggle.

*We are camping at Lake Texhoma.  It is early evening and Tina decides it is time to teach me how to look for grapevines.  “We are going to smoke them,” she informs me.  How she knows these things, I don’t think to ask.  We find some because she knows what she is looking for and we take a section back to the campsite.  She hands it over to Daddy and he shows us how to break it, light it, and then, laughs while we choke on the smoke.  I don’t quite understand how burning the back of your throat and coughing is supposed to be fun, but what do I know?

*We are playing in the garage, which has become storage for all of the things our family doesn’t know what else to do with.  It is hot because it is summer time.  There is my old drum set in the corner that my brother, Brady has beat the tops out of with old soda bottles that Mama is saving for a rainy day to be cashed in for the deposit money.  Tina has a brain storm.  We are going to have our own haunted house right there in our garage.  She orchestrates our respective jobs.  I watch in awe as she takes one of our old baby dolls with its ratty hair, dirty plastic body, and bitten-off fingers and begins pouring ketchup all over it.  “It’s blood,” she informs me as she ties a rope around baby’s neck and ties it from the garage door hardware.

*Some of Tina’s friends have come to our house to visit.  Of course, I am hanging around because that is my job and I’m waiting for further instruction.  Tina’s eyes light up and I know she has just had the best idea ever!  “Holly, we really need a D.J.   Why don’t you take this walkie-talkie (which happened to be my walkie-talkie) and we will keep this one.  You can play records for us on the record player and we can listen to them out here in the yard.  You will be a good disc jockey!”  Praise.  She picks her weapon well.  I go into our bedroom, joyful.  I will be the best disc jockey!  I professionally announce each tune before I carefully set the needle on the precious vinyl.  I hold a death’s grip on the transmitor button as the table spins and the tunes play.  Eventually, I decide to look out and see how the girls are enjoying my efforts.  They are gone!  I’ve been duped!!!  Duped and dumped!

* Momma’s crabapple trees have produced a bumper crop.  Tina has turned into entrepreneur.  We are instructed to gather, wash, and mash the hard fruit.  Tina then takes one of Momma’s Kool-aid pitchers and mixes the bruised fruit with sugar and water.  She tastes it from the mixing spoon and then, hands her efforts over for me to taste.  “Mmm…good!” I lie.  Out come the crayons and paper.  She makes signs.  She and the neighbor girl, Kim will stand there by the Crabapple Water Stand she has set up.  I will go up and down the street, advertising our new “product” by singing at the top of my voice this song that she has come up with as our advertising promotion.  “Crabapple Water…good for the tummy!!!  Crabapple Water…yummy, yummy, yummy!!!!”  I learn the song quickly because I’m just that good and strut off with my very important sign, singing in my very best voice the tune that my clever sister has devised.  I walk; I sing; I turn; up and down our middle class street.  I return, wore out and thirsty, to find that our business has been shut down due to unhealthy sales.  No one bothers to let me in on our failure.

I could go on and on, for the memories are stacked deep in my mind where I can take them out and treasure them.  I feel sorry for any child who didn’t have an older sister or brother to “boss” them around.  They miss out on so much!

I recently told Tina that I was thinking of doing a story about having her as a big sister and all the creative things she came up for us to do.  She laughed, pleased,  and began telling me the stories I should tell.  Some things never change!

We’ve been through so much together.  We were both baptized on the same evening.  We laid in our joint bed that night, wishing that God would take us as we slept, while we were fresh and clean.  We cooked and cleaned our house together.  We swam.  We dreamed of boys…the men that would carry us off and marry us.  I studied the way she dressed; the way she danced; the way she told a joke.  I wanted to be just like her.  Today, we shop and forage for treasures in antique shops.  We pray for each other’s children.

The day that I received divorce papers in the mail from my first husband, I called Tina.  I heard the tears in her voice as she announced she would be there with me as soon as she could get there.  She came and held me while both our bodies racked with sorrow and grief.  She spent the night, making sure I would not be alone.

A sister is a forever friend.  I’ve read this somewhere and it is true.

I love you, Tina!

 

Me, Momma, and Tina~propbably photographed by my father, Richard Crowell

What Lies Beneath a Smile

Veiled behind the lovely lace of her smile lies torrents of pain that only she is aware of.

 ‘Tho the veil may shift with the winds of change, she holds it in place.

 Her eyes are traitors that betray buried secrets… so she diverts them, casting their gaze to the ground; the only control she has over the windows to her soul. 

You behold her.

Her veil intrigues you like a mystery untold.

Indeed, it is a mystery how she keeps it in place when her world quakes beneath her feet.

It is a skill she has honed.

This smile is the only fortress she has.

Behind the facade, her soul is screaming.

One moment, she is longing for an escape; someone to carry her far, far away, lift the tender lace, look into the wells of her eyes, and embrace her with tenderness.

The next, she will gaze upon the garden she has planted within her fortress walls.

The veil acts like a kaleidoscope, shifting the colors in her mind’s eye until she sees the beauty in her soul and knows that one day, the veil will be lifted, her true smile will be set free, and her spirit will levitate beyond her walls to see all that is good.

 

author’s note:

I dedicate this to all who are carrying a secret pain.  I know that sometimes you smile to ward off questions that you would rather not answer.

It is my prayer that you would see the hope that you carry within yourself…that lovely garden.

 

Memories from When I was Daddy’s Girl

My head rises and falls with each breath my daddy takes.  I close my eyes and take in the smells that belong to only him:  a mixture of smoke from his Pall Mall Golds, tinctures and creams lingering from his day of barbering, Vel Soap, Old Spice aftershave, and Secret deodorant (the kind that came in the jar and was not yet marketed towards women).  Black coffee and nicotine escape from his tongue when he talks.  It is not offensive.  It is just my daddy.

I sit as still as possible.  I don’t want to leave this spot.  This is my safe place.  This is my home.  Being my daddy’s girl means the world to me.  I wait patiently for his callused hand to pat my arm while the television reports the chaos of a world I am not yet fearful of.

I wait sometimes there, in his chair, comforting myself with the worn out material, throwing my legs over its arms until Daddy comes home from work.  I will read and fill my head with stories and dreams; things I know he’ll understand.

I see him in his other place, also; clear and solid.  He is behind the wheel of the car, I am behind him.  He tells me one more time to get my feet out of the back of his seat.  I don’t know what to do with these long legs.  I look out the window at clouds, telephone lines, and tree tops and listen to his elevator music.  On the way home, I search the night sky for every star, waiting for one to fall so I can make a wish.  Then, I lay my head over and pretend to sleep.  Daddy talks of grown up things with Momma; words that buzz around the car to the tunes of the radio, never settling in my memory.  My mind is there in that back seat, dreaming without sleep, waiting for our car to pull in the drive.  Hoping that I will fool Daddy into thinking I am really asleep…hoping that instead of waking me and telling me we are home, he will lift me in his strong arms, carry me inside, and place me on my bed like he did when my legs were not so long.

Hiking on Sunday

Sunday afternoon.  Church services attended.  Noon meal consumed.  Momma & Daddy napping.  A beautiful spring day and I am in no need of rest.  I am young and love to explore, walking randomly as my mind fills with dreams as beautiful and airy as the clouds waltzing their way across azure skies.

I tell no one where I go, not knowing this myself.  The family dachshund, Buster, follows.  Being full of energy and nosiness, he loves an adventure as well as me.  I say nothing, enjoying the silent comrade as he swishes through the growing brush; watching as he jumps above vegetation taller than him.  I know he searches for rabbits.

We make our way across the pasture behind the house, then, across plowed fields further west.  The exercise feels good.  The sun’s heat is like a gentle hand placed on my shoulder, urging me toward the tree line that follows the Middle Sulphur River.  Back then, it was a creek to me.  It seemed too narrow and shallow to be a river.  Rivers were big and dangerous; swift of current, gurgling up debris swallowed up by recent storms.  This river was humble and boasted no such excitement.  It’s debris consisted of trash thrown off a nearby bridge.  Shallow pools separated by dry earth were its bottom.  It was here that my brother and I sometimes fished for the mud catfish that survived in meager waters.

The trek through the thick brush to get to the banks of the river was something only the determined would attempt.  Mesquite trees with long, dangerous looking thorns and innocent-looking vines with needle-like stickers reached out and grabbed at my sleeves and pant legs; often penetrating and leaving hair-thin red scratches on my skin.  My arms reached out and bent tender limbs as I made my own path.  I ducked my head and sometimes felt the pull of my hair as it got caught.

Finally, we reached the river.  We made our way down the steep bank and headed north.  I knew this direction would lead me to the wooden bridge that spanned its width, where the trees bowed their heads together above and filled me with awe. I did not take into consideration the winding course the river took. What seemed to be a short distance, took much time to cover; like a winding road up a mountain.  I had not counted on the pools of water, either, that I would have to skirt which meant climbing up and down the steep banks of dirt, holding onto tree roots and vines to keep from rolling back down again.  Buster was not bothered with this, but simply splashed his way through; cooling off and enjoying a good shake as water sprayed around him.

A sense of fear came over me.  I felt that it was taking too long to reach the bridge.  The darkness of the wooded area fueled my imagination.  What if I got bit by a snake?  What if I fell and broke my leg?  No one knew where I was.  They wouldn’t even be alarmed until supper time if I didn’t show back up at the house.  The joy I had felt at being on my own had been overshadowed by the fear feeding in my head.  Not wanting to go back through the brush, I trudged forward, carefully watching each step, although trying to quicken my pace.

Finally, the old wooden bridge came into view and the fear left my mind like a window had opened up for it to pass through.  I climbed once more up the steep earth and made my way to sit on the edge of the bridge, dangling my feet over the side to take in my victory.  Buster took it all in stride, ever hunting and scouting.  He came to my side panting his happiness.  He knew we would be fine all along.

Camping with Daddy

Daddy and Momma camping in a real camper (before I was born).

Summer weather approaches, bringing with it warm memories of family camping trips at Lake Texhoma.  My father instigated these annual trips that only lasted a week, but were so packed with fun that all the years seem to melt into one hot, blissful remembrance.  Camping together as a family forces you to share the same sleeping quarters, eat meals together, and play together.  It’s like the fresh air can hold you closer than the sturdy walls of a home.

Momma’s memories are not as fond as mine.  Camping, for her, was a lot of work.  She usually had most of our things together before Daddy pulled in the driveway on his last day of work, knowing that he would be ready to go as soon as we could get everything loaded up in his beige International pickup.  My older sister, Tina, my younger brother, Brady, and I were put to work as well.  We were the fetchers; fanning out to gather items for Mom to put in saved brown grocery sacks and cardboard boxes; selecting shorts, tank tops, swimsuits, and underwear to throw in her suitcases.  These suitcases were wedding gifts to my parents.  They were hard, covered in burgundy and cream leather.  When Momma placed her thumbs on the two brass buttons and pulled them to the outside edges, the latches “clicked” open and Momma lifted the lids to reveal burgundy cloth interiors perfumed with an antique, musty smell which was not offensive to me, but smelled of summer vacations.

Momma always said that Daddy expected her to pack up the whole kitchen to take on these camping trips.  The cardboard boxes were made extremely heavy with cast iron skillets, pots and pans, utensils, old silverware, and such.  Daddy loved breakfast cooked out in the open.  We might eat sandwiches for lunch, hot dogs for supper, and roasted marshmallows for dessert, but breakfast was a full-on feast of bacon, eggs, and fried potatoes; after which, the skillets would be carted to the nearest water spout, where cold lake water was pumped for us to wash them clean.

We were all called to action when Daddy got home.  It was like thoughts of pitching that green army tent of his made him more of a “general” than usual.  Two cotton mattresses were hoisted and thrown in the bed of the truck.  We didn’t use cots.  We didn’t use air mattresses.  These older mattresses were stored away all year for this one purpose: to lie side-by-side in the floor of that old tent, Momma and Daddy sleeping in one, us three children crammed tight on the other.  Can you imagine a hot summer night…the only breeze coming through the mesh windows of the tent (maybe, if you were lucky!)…stuck between your hyperactive younger brother, whose sole purpose in life was to torture you to tears, and your older sister, who being four years older than you, made her almost too superior to be forced to sleep with you in the first place, on the other?  It was hard to get to sleep, as you can probably imagine!

Anyway…everything was loaded in the back of that truck: Coleman cookstove, lanterns, coolers, broom, kitchen, suitcases, etc.  Then, hoisted on top–last but not, least–us three kids.  Oh, we were told to sit all the way next to the cab because it was not safe to sit anywhere else!  That way, Momma could bang on the window and motion to us if we misbehaved.  My long hair would whip around all the way there.  I’m sure I looked like Bob Marley by the time we arrived, complete with my first sunburn of the week.

Daddy liked to stop on the way to take the family in Gibsons to get our vacation flip-flops that might, or might not, make it through the week.  I loved these stops! You never knew what Daddy might buy you; it just depended on how much money was burning a hole in his pocket that week.  He was generous to a fault, but knew how to show us kids the way to have a good time.  The buggy squeaked its way up and down the aisles with kerosene, lantern bulbs, large square batteries for the flashlight (a must-have for any camping trip, doubling as a middle-of-the-night light used for scouting out a safe place to pop a squat and a prop for great shadow puppets), flip-flops for one and all, water floats and inner tubes piled on top of each other.  Sometimes, you might even score a new bathing suit!

When the truck finally made its way over the Denison Dam, you knew you had arrived.  Oak trees thickly lined the park roads.  Lake air kissed your skin.  Heaven and the water beckoned…but not until camp was set up!  Young eyes were directed to scour the area for sticks and sharp rocks that might puncture the bottom of Daddy’s prized tent.  I was so afraid we would miss something!  Nothing was scarier to me as a child than scorn behind my daddy’s big brown eyes.  We swept the ground with a straw broom just to be safe.  Then, all together, we hoisted the massive tent with a shout here and a tug there, hammering down the stakes on all corners and sides.  I’m surprised we didn’t stand there and salute the thing when the assembly was completed.

When the beds were made and all things unloaded and placed in the best possible spot, we were finally allowed to change into our swimsuits.  We sat on rough, concrete picnic tables waiting for our parents to make their change.  The urgency that we had felt at getting loaded up at the house was now, somehow, shifted into low, slow gear.  It took them forever to come out of that tent!  “Can we go swimming, now?”

Finally, what I had been waiting a whole year for was happening.  We were making that family trek to the water where I would wade in the coldness until about knee deep and then, dive in, allowing my hot skin to adjust to the coolness of Lake Texhoma.  I would rise to its surface, look back to the shore, and laugh at Momma.  Daintily, she would be inching her way into the water, OOOOing and shivering, and shouting, “It’s cold!”  Whereby, my brother would begin splashing her so he could hear her scream, “Stop it!  Let me get used to it my way!”

Daddy would swim and laugh.  He always seemed happiest in those moments.  Later, he would come over to us and let us dive off his legs or shoulders.  Often, he would try to fool us by telling us that he had found something.  He would clench both hands together like he was holding something and then, when you got close enough to look, he would squeeze his palms together and squirt water in your face.

I sure do miss him and love him as much as ever!  He gave me so many gifts; only one of them being the love of camping.

Momma and Daddy at the lake.

Scars Ripped Open

I’ve wanted to write.  I’ve wanted to lower my pail into the cool, refreshing well of ideas and pull it up gloating in it’s abundance; but I must confess, I thought my well was dry.  Then, out of desperation, hope came.  Maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t going deep enough.  I lengthened the rope on my pail and lowered it again, deeper, and deeper, still.  I heard the echoing splash as my pail hit water; felt the tug of the rope in my hands as the weight of water filled its emptiness.  My heart felt it’s fullness.  I pulled, marveling at the heaviness of its contents.  The weight was almost more than I could struggle to pull up.  Finally, I reached for the wet, dripping bucket and looked at the surface of water contained there.  The ripples soothed themselves within contained walls and granted me my reflection on its surface.  I look away, shamed.  I know what I must write.

As I sat amongst a group of friends, the subject of forgiveness was raised.  Quietly, I listened as these voices around me shared their experiences, their beliefs.  “What do you do…how do you forgive…when the same person hurts you over and over?”  I saw tears in the eyes of some.  The question itself had brought back painful memories.  That was all it took for that same hurt to enter the heart of the injured.  Quivering voices spoke their truths and struggles with forgiveness.  I sat in my chair as if alone and kept my lips tightly sealed.  My mind, though, betrayed me and let my past hurts bubble up.  I constricted my throat and choked those feelings down.  I wasn’t ready to share.

I believe this:  that when you are deeply and tragically hurt by someone you love that it is like a physical wound.  You look down at this gaping slash in your quivering flesh and it fills you with shock.  Surely, you don’t see what you think you see.  It just isn’t possible that someone who claims to love you could do what they just did to you.  When the shock wears off,  you practice some self-care.  You apply whatever salve you can find:  God, food, movies, books, sleep, and then, you carefully protect your wound.  It helps some if the offender seems truly sorry.  It is like an antibiotic that keeps the ragged flesh from festering.  Finally, after time has passed, the wound closes and heals, leaving a ugly scar on your once perfect skin.

Now, let’s look at what happens when that same offense is repeated; the same offense…the same offender.  They take their finger and rip open your scar.  They know exactly where to poke.  They know exactly how to hurt you.  The pain is magnified.  The flesh that you thought was healed was somehow, more vulnerable…like an “X” that marked the spot.  Shock again hits you with its blow. How could this be happening again?  How could you have ever trusted this person?  Why did you let them near?

You retract to heal.  This time, you seal the gash up tight with stitches.  You cover it with bandages.  The words “I’m sorry”  don’t ring as true.  Sometimes, you learn to keep your distance.  You run.  You find some little corner and build up your wall of defense.  You stock up the things you need and prepare for the worst.

I’ve thought this to myself; I’ve prayed this: how can I ever forgive, truly forgive, if I can’t forget?  It is not only the offender who can rip open my wounds.  A word, a phrase, a story, a flash-back…these are simple, innocent things that can turn what was once healed into angry, infected cuts in my being.  Peace can not come when you can’t forgive.

It is easy to become filled with righteous indignation.  Your own pain can blind you to the hurts you inflict on others.  Bitterness is an evil companion.  “Evil company corrupts good habits.”  I Corinthians 15:33 (NKJV)  You can find yourself blaming the innocent for the crimes of the guilty.  The armor can be thick.  It may protect you, but it is very heavy.  Try to picture a joyous person frolicking through a glorious field of wildflowers with a full set of armor on.  There is something comical about that vision.  We must be free and unencumbered to be truly happy.

Now, to what really fills my soul with shame…

Picture Jesus, our Lord.  He is covered with severed flesh.  Each wound caused by my sin.  Look at Him.  Remembering my own pain, is it possible to imagine how many times I’ve inflicted my Sweet Jesus with hurt?  How many times have I ripped open those gashes again and again by committing the same sin over and over?  How many times have I gotten down on these knees and begged Him to forgive me?

What if Jesus were like me?  What if those nail-scarred hands turned me away each time I came to Him for forgiveness?  What if He remembered every blow I’d dealt Him instead of looking down on me in Love, embracing me, kissing the top of my dirty head before sending me out to try again.

I’m not worthy of this love.  My reflection shows it to me every day.  How can I not see that every other man, woman, and child is just like me?  “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:23 (NKJV)

In the words of Jesus: “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.  But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”  Mark 11:25-26 (NKJV)

In the words of my husband, James:  “That’s in the past.  Every time you go back there, you know you’re going to run in to something!”

Don’t dwell.  Keep busy.  Move on.  Throw off your armor and go pick some wildflowers!

I’ll try to do the same.

My Prayer

 

Dear Heavenly Father,

Please make me like the waters of a winding, lazy river.  Keep the rhythm slow.  Give me time to see all that you have created.  Give me time to appreciate the loved ones you have placed along beside me.

May I have enough energy, motion, and movement to make my own mark on this earth as I flow along the path cut deep for me and all mankind.  May that mark expose something raw and beautiful.

May the ones beside me feel my love.  May we float together…flow together…bounce off one another in a constant, playful joy.

As my waters near the end of the course laid out for me from the beginning of time, may I meet up in the Great Waters with the other souls of water that have gone on before.  May we be together in perfect harmony…reflecting the colors of Your Wonderful Light…until the time comes for us to rise up as white, fluffy mists to meet with You in the Glory of Your heavens.

In Your Son’s Name,

Amen

*note:  This was an edited version of a note I published on my private Facebook page in November of 2012.

A Dose of Happy

This morning, I opened the door of my refrigerator, slid open the crisper drawer, and peered at the fruit lying there.  I have a bad habit of buying healthy food (with the best of intentions, of course) placing them in that bottom bin, and then, forgetting all about them until one day, I remember and ah-hah!!!! it is too late!  The once lovely fruit is now shriveling inside its own skin and maybe wearing a little fuzzy mold cap to keep it warm.  Well, I got lucky on this day!  There, still in the plastic bag from the grocery, were two beautifully ripe mangoes.  What a sight!  After battling the flu for a week, my body is craving some vitamins and I was so happy to see the forgotten mangoes.

I got out my favorite knife; one given to me years ago by a wonderful friend; and my large cutting board.  I peeled it first, knowing that this is not the correct way but is still the way I like.  Then, I proceeded to try and cut its flesh into bite size chunks.  Each insertion of the knife made my mango’s juice spill, overflowing the cutting board’s large surface.  What a waste!!!, I thought.  I ate the two slices that I had managed to cut off.  The taste was pure joy: like sunshine, beaches, and ocean waves packed in its golden fibers.

I migrated over to the kitchen sink with my remaining treasure, leaned over the sink with the skinless mango dripping its nectar from my hands, and proceeded to feast.  By the time I had gotten as much of the fruit from its core as possible, my face and hands were sticky and wet.  I felt like such a child and I loved every minute of it.  It transformed me to my childhood backyard…to the small peach trees that grew between the fence and the swing set our father had made for us to play on.

My sister, my brother, and I spent many summer hours swinging back and forth with a peach in our hands; sneaking bites and letting the juices run down our chins, staining our clothes.  If there were bug holes, I simply bit out the bad spot and spit it out on the ground.  And, after I had taken my last bite, I sucked on the pit until it was completely clean.  I enjoyed it’s rough texture on my tongue until the roof of my mouth got raw.  Then, I spit out the seed and greedily went for another.

Peaches are like an edible memory for me, still, but only if they are allowed to ripen on their mother tree; the sun beating down on them until they are fully flushed like the face of a young girl after her first kiss.  Their flesh is soft and fuzzy and their meat is juicy, giving itself freely to lips, teeth, and tongue.  It only feels right to eat a fresh, ripe peach outdoors where you can make as much of a mess as you like; you can feel the sun on bare arms; and you can hear the buzz of bees swarming their sweetness.

That is what my mango gave to me, today.  It gave me a peach of a memory, literally.  It made me think of my childhood, my brother, my sister, my daddy, my momma…happy times.  Maybe that is what my flu-ridden body needed instead of the vitamins:  a dose of happy.

I have many friends who are dealing with illnesses much worse than the flu, today.  It is my prayer that you will find something today to lift you up.  When our bodies are weakened, if forces us to be a little stiller…and maybe, in that stillness you will find what God wants you to see.  I pray for your comfort and that you may know how much you are loved.