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‚Ķthe only breeze coming through the mesh windows of the tent (maybe, if you were lucky!)‚Ķstuck 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‚Ķeverything 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‚Ķbut 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‚Ķhow do you forgive‚Ķwhen 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‚Ķthe 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‚Ķlike 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‚Ķthese 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.