Monday, October 31, 2011

The Hero Behind the Mask

Courtesy M. Horrocks

He has worn his mask of bravery much too well. The list of fears he harbors came tumbling out quite unexpectedly. He got them honest. He is, you know, the son of a fraidy cat. He's a survivor. He's proven that fact in the way he survived being ostracized and bullied. It has been a close call. I'm not sure we dodged the bullet completely nor am I sure how the scars will continue to manifest themselves. We are watchful...with a vengeance.

His familiar, sunny persona is returning bit by bit. The surly, snarling kid who fell apart at the drop of a hat has faded. Hopefully, the day will come when that era is a distant, foggy memory. He still struggles sometimes. Mostly, the danger zone is after 9p at night. Maybe he's too tired or hasn't had enough to eat that day to fill up that 6 ft tall, and getting taller, body. Maybe vague hunger leaves him disposed to those moments of frantic anxiety. I haven't quite figured out the trigger, only the most sensitive time of day.

Scary Critters
We are learning how to deflect the moments of despair and move him past them more quickly. Some times are harder than others. His Aspie nature makes communication more cumbersome and often frustrates both our efforts in moments of stress. Still we persevere....with a vengeance.

The weight of the world began to slip off his shoulders as the list grew and grew. This 6 ft tall man-child who seems fearless in all he embraces had, unbeknownst to us, done so many things all while paralyzed with fear.

He and his dad went to an outdoor concert at the state fair while I was in New Mexico. We had no idea. He was afraid that the tickets they had printed online would not be readable which would in turn block their entry. If they accomplished their entrance into the concert venue, he was afraid the stage might collapse.

The list of things he had dealt with internally, while bravely forging ahead despite his fears, went on and on. I sat amazed as he described his quiet battle to beat back the fear. I thought of the many times since he's been born when I have hidden my own fear while tackling the things in life that seem mundane to others. I have done so with a vengeance.

Courtesy M. Horrocks
I remember the times I saddled the 3 of us up to spend days at the local theme park when the boys were 2 and 9. Having spent my youthful years in the cloister of the parsonage where taking too deep a breath was sinful, I had not ventured out into the world prior to reaching adulthood. Even then, venturing came slowly for fear of the vast unknown.

I remember my mom's gasp of amazement when I told her we were spending 4 or 5 days a week whiling away our summer splashing in the water park waves. It would have been unthinkable for her to tackle the just the local neighborhood pool when I was little. Confirmed fraidy cats from a lineage of fraidy cats do not make such waves much less escape their roots. And yet, I had.

Courtesy M. Horrocks
I wonder where he is headed this brave, determined 2nd son of mine. His brother has gone ahead of me and forged a path farther afield into this world that terrifies me. If I have been able to plant the seed of freedom, perhaps Son #1 is the water that will bring the seed to harvest?

Is my graduation day on the horizon? When I walk across the stage of life, will the snapshots in time trace the arduous effort I made to overcome who I am so that they can be more than I was or ever hoped to be? Will the world become their home because I set aside my own fears, as much as I could when I could, to unlock the cages of life? Oh, tell me it is so. Tell me.

Tonight....I am not where I would rather be. The concert venue upstairs is pounding out a beat so ferocious that the venue owner is constantly rearranging inventory behind the coffee bar. Otherwise, the drum beats would send it all crashing to the floor. Son of a fraidy cat is in his a patron...tomorrow a musician on the stage. Every little step we take out into this scary world is a victory. Fly, son of a fraidy cat, fly. The world is waiting, and it is yours. 
Courtesy Mad Penguin Creaive

Psalm 37:23 (Bible in Basic English)
The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and he takes delight in his way.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

What if Mamma Hadn't Prayed...

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Death had come knocking in May. Turns out it had just been a warning volley fired across the bow of life's ship. As much as we clung to hope, we knew. There was only so much the medical wizards could do. Death could be placated for a while. Only for a while.

The days had come and gone in monotonous progression. Until, that is, Death would advance demanding yet another bribe. Then, the frenzy of alarm-driven activity would punctuate the monotony like lightening splitting a dark prairie sky.

The medical team would rally and make another offering on the altar of life. He'd slink away reluctantly, looking over his shoulder planning his next advance even while on retreat. We'd breathe a sigh of relief and wonder if it was our last.
Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative

The respiratory therapist's brow wrinkled in perplexity. “Have you,” she asked, “seen that before?”

Yes,” I allowed as my pulse picked up knowing her brow said more than her words. “For maybe 4 days now. I've mentioned it before, but no one seemed to mind. When she sleeps more deeply, it goes away. Is she dreaming?”

Death snickered at the door. His final assault had begun. He began to pace and whine. No longer the black robed figure with a scythe, he had become the wolf waiting for the fire to die out. He was hungry and would demand his prey. I could feel his hot breath on my neck.

The room filled with staff. By then, they knew I could take most anything. She brought me into the world. I had promised to take her home. Sepsis had not driven me away. This night, no one asked. Two of them turned and directed me to the door. One followed me to the room across the hall. “It's better this way. I'll be right back.”

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I saw the tube of blood as they rushed it to the lab on my side of the hall. Its size telegraphed an urgency I had not seen on so many urgent nights. I blinked once, maybe twice. She was back. She didn't say, “It's over now.” That might have been preferable. Then again, maybe no.

Instead, she said, “The time has come. Do you want to opt for palliative support only now?”

That is fancy medical speak for, “We've run out all options but one. We will do all we can to keep your patient comfortable until death has run its fateful course.”

The drum beat of my heart throbs threatened to rupture my eardrums. “What time is it?” I asked.

Two a.m.” she said.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I growled at the Wolf. Coward that he was, he always came in the wee hours of the night. “I cannot do this to them,” I say. “I cannot wake them with this news. Let them sleep.” And, our deal with the Devil was sealed. Daylight dawned, but the Wolf did not retreat back into the darkness.

In the end, her lucidity allowed that she was the one to make the final call. By the light of day, the doctor explained her options. He sealed off the tracheotomy and gave her back her voice but only long enough to legally dot the i's and cross the t's of death. The end had come.

The gathering began. She made her final wishes known. They had planned to renew their wedding vows a few weeks hence. “Now,” she said despite the absence of her voice. And so it was. Her family had gathered. The pastor came. Stiff upper lips ringed the room. She beamed and nodded agreement as the pastor repeated the vows for her.

The news had traveled up and down the hall. The all seeing eye in the corner of the room insured that few dry eyes looked on from the nurses station even as they carried on heroic tasks.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
The pastor prayed. I did as I had done so often during that mean season. I watched. Tiny tears glinted at the outer corners of her closed eyes. Her hands lifted into the air towards the heavens. Her lips formed silent words as she whispered to the one waiting to take her home.

Her face belied the words. “Are you sure it's time? What about them? How can I leave them behind? Will you take care of them when I'm gone? If this is what you want, I am yours. Not my will but thine.” Shock, confusion, relief, expectation. It was all there in that last earth bound prayer.

I remembered all the times I had wakened to find her bowed in prayer. All the times I had come in from school to find her praying. In the 15 months she's been gone, I've found the notes she wrote to the boys. No matter how they started out, they always included, “I prayed for you.”

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
After the funeral home staff came and we drove away from a place we had never wanted to be, my husband said, “I never saw your mom that she didn't tell me she prayed for me. I don't think my own mother ever told me, not a single time, that she was praying for me. Your mother never let me leave without reminding me that I was in her prayers. What will we do without them?”

Friends who watch over the dying tell me that most people die as they lived. If you live with a cold, dead, angry heart devoid of hope, you often die full of fury literally cursing the end. She died the way she lived. Asking God to watch over the ones she loved. “What,” I ask myself, “if Mamma had never prayed?”

Courtesy B. Creasy

The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, But the prayer of the upright is His delight.

Luke 18:1(NIV)
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

“Bless me, Father?”

Poppy's Final Baptism
Growing up in a parsonage, you saw all kinds. As we've begun the sad, slow process of dismantling the life my parents hoped to have, memories have come seeping back. Back in the day before the world become such a scary place, it wasn't uncommon for total strangers to spend the night with us. They'd show up at the back door with some hard luck story or other. Next thing I knew, we children were being shifted around to free up a bedroom for the stranger at the door.

Often, the folks we met were refugees in one way or another. There was always a sad story. Sometimes, the stories were true and the folks embarrassed by their need. Sometimes, the stories were contrived with perfection. The individual was systematically working all the churches in an area. In more recent years, the tactics became so refined that churches created a network to sort out those in need from those working 'the system'.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
There was the man, recently discharged from jail, who showed up at the back door asking for something to eat. He expected a sandwich handed out the door as he was shooed farther on down the road. What he got was leftover pork chops at the dinner table. As he took his leave on a full belly, he backed away from my father in a deferential, awe-struck way. “Bless me, Father? Bless me, Father?” came the plaintive, desperate request as he backed down the sidewalk. Never mind we weren't Catholic or Episcopal. The man was aware that his soul needed the same kind of blessing his body had just received. His earnest plea has echoed with me thru the years.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
The common theme, no matter who they were or why they came, was that of a life bearing stains which no one could expunge. Most often, they would apologetically explain that they did not attend a church. However, came the reassurance, they intended to find one in the future. One day, “they'd get circumstances straightened out, live a better life, and high-tail it to church.” Till then, they were too soiled, too spoiled, to darken the door. Too unclean to soil the atmosphere or people within. They saw themselves as beyond redemption until they had redeemed themselves enough to be worthy of supernatural redemption. 
If you listened closely enough, you knew the unspoken truth. That day of self-redemption would never come. No matter what stain treatment method they chose, stubborn stains would always remain. Theirs was a history that could not be erased or compensated for. My mom or dad would nod with understanding and try to explain that only God could redeem soul stains. Those were the very stains for which he did not need the help of mere mortals. He alone was sufficient.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I understand now, what I did not know then. Some stains are so putrid that the heart will whisper, with conviction, “Even God cannot cleanse YOU sufficiently. You are too broken to repair.” A lifetime of experience compounds the ringing clarity of such a statement when it echoes in a broken heart and soul.

Sometimes, the stain is born of a drug induced desperation which yielded acts too shameful to admit. Sometimes, adultery stares back at you every time you look in the mirror of your children's eyes. You wonder how it all came to that. You ask yourself why you couldn't have seen what was coming and stopped it in time. Maybe the safety and ease of the internet has allowed pornography to warp your mind until you are too entrapped and ashamed to ask for help.

Then again, maybe the face staring back from the mirror reminds you of sins committed against you? Sins that left you feeling damaged and dirty and worthless. Unjust guilt for something you could not control combined with anger at the God who stood back and let it all happen leaves you wary. How could the same God want you now..and more than that...WHY should YOU want HIM?

Courtesy of and in loving memory of Christina Jones Hooker
Oh, the fraidy cat stains are as numerous as the eyes that stumble across these pages. Some much more complex than the 'simple' ones I've enumerated here. We are all broken and stained.

You've convinced yourself that your past nullifies your right to open the door of the church. Even if you got up the courage, you'd expect to be vilified and ostracized because of who you have been or what you have done. Sadly, I fear, the church as an entity often lives down to those sad expectations. 
Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I'll tell you a secret. Every soul sitting in every pew is just as broken as you. No one lives a life free of painful stains. No one. Some of us just learn to put on our Sunday-Go-To-Meeting faces and pretend that your pain is more public and more blighted than ours. There are times when I wonder if our pain is more haunting than yours because we hide it rather than letting the light bring healing and wholeness.

No matter who we are, where we've been, or what we've done, we are like that just released prisoner from decades ago. Our heart cries out, “Bless me, Father. Bless me?”

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
2 Corinthians 5: 17 (Bible in Basic English)
So if any man is in Christ, he is in a new world: the old things have come to an end; they have truly become new.

2 Corinthians 5:21 (NLT)
For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. 


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Chance Encounters

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I was consumed by my own anxiety. I had arrived at the airport 3 hours early only to find the flight canceled. I queued up with the other airline refugees in a controlled frenzy. We looked like bees swarming, and the hum in the air made others look twice.

Something about her penetrated my quiet panic. I was on the phone with my husband trying to ascertain the correct course of action. Could I make it home on the last flight into our regional airport? I saw her, and she held my attention for a few minutes.

Maybe it was because she looked like she had just walked off a NYC runway during Fashion Week? I think it was her composure and her animated conversation with the fellow refugees in line. She looked like the kind of person that easily befriended others – the kind of person you wanted to befriend.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I moved on to my unfamiliar rounds and forgot her. Five hours after my original flight, I boarded the rescheduled flight praying it would be as empty as the first one had looked to be. In a perfect world, I'd end up on the 3-seat side without anyone to invade my space. And there she was. Window seat to my aisle seat. We both nodded a warm acknowledgment and prepared to do what airplane riders do while in transit.

We celebrated the empty middle seat and exchanged a few other pleasantries. I decided my original, fleeting impression was correct. Cheerleader/beauty queen type who had lived a life I had only dreamed of. The kind of physical beauty that made men look twice but an inner beauty that would keep women talking to her if given a chance. Those clothes. Oh my. Something I could have only dreamed of wearing even in my young and thin days of long ago. I commented on her boots, the colors of which matched the turquoise in her trendy top.

I had to laugh at myself as we both settled in behind our respective reading materials. I didn't want to read. I wanted to talk to her. My husband's parting words to me when I had left 7 days before had been, ”Remember! Don't talk to strangers!” He said it mostly in jest. After 22 years, he knows me. I never met a stranger whose brain I didn't want to pick.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Soon enough the flight was ending. The engine whine began to dim. She popped out her ear buds, turned to me, and began to talk. And then, I saw it. Lines of weariness hinted at a heaviness of spirit that had nothing to do with our arduous flying day.

She beamed with pride as she told me of her children. One was an honor roll sophomore in high school. The other, she said, was in K5. I weighed my words as I asked about her parental status guessing rightly that she was a single parent.

The colors of sadness, regret, and brokenness illuminated her face as she explained her decision to remain far from her extended family. She wanted to keep her children close to their hero dad. She avowed his hero status despite the failure of their marriage. Some words tumbled out as if they were a relief to say. Others...I could see that others wanted to come flooding out, but time and circumstances would not allow. How I longed to put us into suspended animation so that we could talk on and on. 

Courtesy B. Creasy
Tears sprang into my eyes. I patted her forearm and told her how courageous she was to be so proactive for her children and their dad. Her breath came out a little ragged around the edges. She wasn't used to that kind of affirmation perhaps? I asked if either had remarried. They had not. My heart skipped a beat.

I wanted to ask all the whys and whats that came to mind. I wanted to ask if there might not be a chance of reconciliation. I heeded my husband's caution knowing I could not tread on such sensitive ground with so little time between us. Someone! Stop the clock. We need time! 

We talked on as the plane continued its progress toward the terminal. Time was running out. It was then I remembered. I had just networked with a new and vibrant friend. Her blog exists for the encouragement of teen girls whose families are affected by divorce. I remembered I had 2 business cards. I hurriedly dug one out and offered it as a token of my support for that hurting mom and her daugther. 
In Loving Memory and Courtesy of Christina Jones Hooker
When the flight had been canceled, I could have fallen apart as did some of the other airline refugees I had the chance to observe. The fraidy cat in me wanted to collapse from fear of what, when, and how to fix the mess in which I found myself.

Instead, I chose to quiet my fainting heart and watch. I wasn't sure what I was watching for, but I had a sense something uncommon was going to happen. What if? What if my flights had gone on as planned, and I had made it home in time to tuck myself into my own bed?

I never would have met that lovely, lovely creature. I never would have shared those few precious words as the flight was coming to an end. She has been heavy on my heart every day since. I wonder. Will she recognize herself in the pages of my blog? Will she even come? Will she remember Sherry's blog and seek solace there as well for both her and her daughter?

My heart yearns to know both the answers to questions I didn't get to ask and the stories she didn't get to tell. I was watching. Because I was watching, I saw her. I hope she found strength in the encounter. 

Hebrews 13: 12 (Word English Bible)
Courtesy B. Creasy
Don't forget to show hospitality to strangers, for in doing so, some have entertained angels without knowing it.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Finding My Own Voice

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
The words came by way of encouragement. Yet, when I read them, my heart plummeted into  my feet. The thud echoed around me as I measured the impact. My shoulders went slack as did my jaw. I felt myself bristle a bit.

Could it be that someone would seek to impose their agenda on my choices? On my words? On my blog journey? Was subtle criticism buried behind the encouragement to do more faster with more intensity?

I read the note over again trying to decide if the fatigue of the day colored my reaction. I waited a while. I read it again. I felt the same twinge in my heart as my spirit cringed anew each time.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Sadness came in foggy wisps that mounted until my soul was dark and damp and cold. The impetus to write a new blog post stalled. I wrestled with myself and my response. The encourager has reason, I suppose, to have a vested interest in my end product and result. Perhaps enthusiasm got the better of my encourager? One can only hope, I suppose.

The note was but the first domino that sent a series of dominoes skittering across the floor of my soul. Last week I sat on the mountaintop enjoying the picturesque implication of a stress free life. I ignored the fact that I would come home to find the same life waiting for me with all its thorny frustrations. The note jolted me back to reality. If the writer knew, would a request for a do-over follow?

The message made me second guess who I am and what my journey is all about. Every half our or so, I re-read the contents. What, I wondered, had been lost in translation between the writer's intent and my response?

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I remembered the day back in May. The thought came: “If you write it, they will come.” I remember how hokey I thought it was. Even I could see the play on words from that classic baseball movie. Me? The imposter? Write my way back to God and let all the world watch it while it happened? No way. Rather than evoking silence, my hesitation just made the voice in my soul cry louder. “Write! It! They WILL come!” Despite my fears, I wrote. You did come.

So, here we are, you and I. I am stronger now than I was then. To my continuing and humble amazement, you keep coming back. I have begun, again, to see God in the details of life. Sadly, this new, impatient voice asking for a status report and something more of my writing life than I have yet produced gives me pause. It feels as tho' I am being asked to be more than I am. To do more than I feel I should be doing at this given moment.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I did not set about to create an evangelical altar call for the masses in cyberspace the day I sat down to write about my journey. I was writing MY way back to God not trying to forge a path for you. If my journey gave you strength or lit your path, all the better.

I had a sense that there is a fraidy cat in all of us. It is a secret we keep with jealous tenacity lest others see our weaknesses and find us less than we should be. The fear we harbor keeps most of us from removing our masks. It keeps us from waging honest war with our brokenness.

Especially here in the buckle of the Evangelical Bible Belt, a hard fought, sweaty faith is frowned upon. A stiff upper lip, full of trust and praise, is required if not out right demanded. It is so much easier to evoke the blessing of the Name It and Claim It God whose plan involves health, wealth, and prosperity than it is to simply say, "Life hurts, and I find it painful when it does." 

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
At last, I took a deep, cleansing breath. I never used all that Lamaze stuff in the process of childbirth. It sure came in handy yesterday. I took another one and another. I shook away the fog. The sun came out as the Son broke thru the fog of war. 

I am me. I am broken and insufficient, but this blog and my agenda for it are not. I know this assertion is true not because I am full of boastful pride. It is true because the blog does not belong to me. It belongs to the good God that urged me on even tho' we were in the wrestling match of my life. I take another deep breath. I have found my voice.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
The insecurity fades. I set the dominoes of my life in order again. I am writing my way back to God. In the process, I am hoping he will find me. Perhaps, he will find you too? 

Genesis 32:38 (Bible in Basic English)
And he said, Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel: for in your fight with God and with men you have overcome.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Practice What You Preach

Fraidy Cat on the Loose
Ask my frequent fliers. They'll tell you. I drive them nuts. I ask 30 times or more if they have 'emergency supplies' in their carry on backpacks. Being the loving fellas they are, they indulge me by tucking in a few basic essentials 'just in case'.

I blame it on altitude sickness. And hubris. Hopped out of bed this AM ready to rock and roll. Started packing up the last bit of debris left from conference week. Thought about those bare necessities I had been careful to tuck in my computer bag on the way out. Thought about it again. Tossed them into the luggage and thought, “Yippee! I'm going HOME!” Locked that sucker up with a TSA approved lock and headed for home via ABQ>DFW. I could almost smell the humidity. YEEE-HAAW!!

NM October 2011
Took my time lolly-gaggging back to Albuquerque via downtown Santa Fe. Was so on time I decided to head down past the airport till it dawned on me that places to double back up the highway were getting fewer and farther between. Being the smarter fraidy cat that I am after a week of travel, I high tailed it back to the airport.

Broke my own arm patting me on the back for successfully navigating rental car return, TSA scrutiny, gate checks, etc. Man on man, I was home free. I settled me back into a less than comfy seat near the gate and opened up a book to pass the time. In the spirit of complete truth, I guess I should add that I first had a double dip of Baskin Robbins Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup ice cream. It was a smart decision given how the day progressed.

I realized the plot was about to thicken when the gate attendant announced the flight was going to be delayed 'a bit.' A collective groan went up. I thought, “Well, at least I can watch the sun change the face of that mountain range a little while longer.” I'm optimistic like that, ya know. Bwahahahahaa!

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Plot got thicker when I saw the flight crew come of the plane complete with that fancy flight crew luggage and sheepish looks on their faces. Yep. Flight canceled. 
Lemme tell ya somethin' about fraidy cats. We like to be prepared. So, even tho' I never PLANNED to travel anywhere without training wheels attached to Terra Firma, I listen CLOSELY to travel blurbs on the morning news. So, I got in line with the other sheep being led to slaughter. But, while waiting, I got on the airline's #800 and sweet talked a customer service talking head so she'd book my new flight. Oh..yea...a phone call or 10 to my frequent flying husband helped too. Having geeks on call is so helpful, let me tell you.

I sidled up to a nearly empty desk over at the next gate and did some more sweet talking. The kind lady there printed my boarding pass. When I mentioned my connecting flight for the final leg home, she looked at her computer screen and choked back a grimace. She looked up, smiled a weakly smile, and said, “I'm going to go ahead and authorize a hotel stay for tonight. You might make it, but.....”

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I knew right then the gig was up. The new flight was supposed to land at 7:30p, and my connecting flight was to take off at 7:45p. Suffice it to say that I 'think' I saw the passengers on that flight waving at me as they took off while I was still circling Dallas.

The plot got thicker when the gate agent handed me a voucher for a hotel stay and directed me to the complimentary shuttle. Then, he announced that my suitcase would be checked through to the new flight tomorrow AM meaning I didn't need to pick it up at baggage claim. Meaning....I should have practiced what I preached.

On the ride over, my sardine can packed courtesy shuttle was full of passengers bumped because of the same canceled flight. There'd been some foul language at the gate. Foul attitudes filled the air. Lots was made of the '2 star' status of our 'sorry' hotel.

When there was a lull in the verbal frenzy, I spoke up. “I heard a hydraulic fluid leak grounded our first flight. I'm glad to be here and not laying in the debris of an airplane crash. The World Series is playing somewhere in town, and some folks won't get courtesy hotel rooms tonight. I'm glad I'll have a bed to rest in for a few hours and a hot shower to take when I get up.”

All in all, it won't be too bad. I'll get on the plane without having had all the essential toiletries, and, Heaven help us, no make up. I'll be wearing the same clothes I had on today. The way I see it, God has a plan. I'm trying to ignore the fact that some of that plan has to do with curing an incurable fraidy cat of her fear of flying.

Courtesy B. Creasy
Right now, I'm just thinking that, from now on, I'm gonna practice what I preach: hair brush, make up, essential toiletries, underwear, clean top go wherever I go however I go. And, I'm gonna take it like a man when my frequent flying fellas enjoy a laugh or 2 at my expense.

Love ya long and strong fraidy cat. Don't do as I do when you fly. Do as I say...and as I am gonna do from now on. See you soon?

Jeremiah 10:23 (NLT)
I know, LORD, that our lives are not our own. We are not able to plan our own course.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Forever Friends in a Flat World

Courtesy Christina Jones Hooker

When Son #1 was in high school, Tom Friedman's book, The World is Flat, was released. That book captivated me, and we spent not enough time discussing it. I do remember saying that my son's  world of work was going to be far different than anything his dad and I could imagine. In fact, I said, "Your waking and sleeping hours may be affected because you find yourself doing business with people half a globe away."

Hello? God must have been laughing up a storm because he knew that, in less than 5 years, I'd be skyping with my son while he sat in his hotel suite in Australia. Before he left, his waking and sleeping hours were adjusted, so he could do business with colleagues there. Sometimes, God makes you laugh.

Sometimes, God makes you cry. Tonight is one of those nights. My heartache began way back in 2008 because the US economy had crashed. We were soon to be on the road again because my husband managed to snag a good job in a bad economy. Being the proactive homeschooling mom I am, I started looking for homeschool resources in our new area as soon as we nailed down the location.

Courtesy Christina Jones Hooker
I looked over the various homeschool support groups and found one that looked like it might fit my needs. I opted into their loop with a short explanation to the moderator about who we were and why we were headed that way. In not too long a time, my world had become flatter. I was making friends in advance of our move. One thing did NOT lead to another as you know by now. So, we ended up not moving after all.

A funny thing happened on the way to not moving. About a dozen of the friends I never got to meet face-to-face gradually became a part of my day-to-day existence thanks to the wonders of the internet. Via Facebook, email, and this blog, we developed relationships that transcended distance. 

They make me laugh on days I feel like crying. I cry with them when life takes its toll. I am often humbled and ask, “Why? Why do they hold me close in their hearts even tho' we never got to share life's journey up close and in person.” I am humbled to tears sometimes when I think of it.

Courtesy Christina Jones Hooker
Perhaps you heard it tonight? A collective gasp that rose from our little corner of the cyber world. One of the ladies that adopted me as her own and would not let me go, is gone. Gone too soon. For the 3rd time in less than 3 months, I am stunned anew by the fragility of life. She was only 35.

Christina captivated me when we first 'met' because she was the mother of 5 girls who ranged in age from infancy to tweens. She had goats, and oh the stories she could tell about those goats. I would tease her that I wanted to be a country girl. Since I had too much city girl in me to carry it off, I was living vicariously through her and her goats. Most recently, I chided her for posting pictures of a snake in a tree in their yard. I am a fraidy cat, ya know? 

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Invariably, she would post some picture of a project she had completed: item of clothing sewn, piece of furniture made, the list went on. I'd tell her she had inspired me to tackle my kitchen overhaul. Some days I thanked her. Other days I blamed her.

We prayed for each other and cheered each other on. If one did not hear from the other in too long a time, we'd do a 'status check'. I came in from class last night to read the shocking words that she had been rushed to the ER clinging to life. As today wore on, the news grew more grim. While I was in class tonight, the phone call I had dreaded all day came. I did not want to take the call.

Like all her friends, I am asking God what I have so often asked this last few years: why? I cannot imagine checking Facebook again tomorrow and not seeing something from her that will make me laugh. I cannot imagine not seeing another picture post. I cannot imagine that I never got to meet her in person. Grief echoes off these quiet walls tonight and ricochets into my heart like a bullet.

I am humbled, and I am thankful to have called her my friend. What would I have lost had not this flat world of ours allowed me the priceless gift of her presence in my life? I am thankful that, for the Christian, death is not the end. This momentary goodbye is more than I can bear tonight. But, in the expanse of time, it is only momentary.

When I was young, the concept of heaven was a scary, foreign thing to me. The older I get, the more I think of it as a grand family reunion in which there will be no awkward moments, strained feelings, messy agendas, or any of the other things that complicate life on earth.

Christina finished the good plan God had designed for her to complete on this earth. I cannot get my head around that fact tonight because all that is in me cries, “Why?” for the sake of her family, especially her beloved husband and treasured daughters.

Till we meet again my forever friend, Godspeed – and may his loving arms surround your family in ways too sweet to describe.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative

2 Timothy 4:7 (NIV)
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

2 Corinthians 5:8 (NIV)
We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 

In honor and loving memory of Christina Jones Hooker.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Hello, Mamma?

Courtesy Aly Hughes
(Several weeks ago, my cousin alerted me to a contest NPR was running. She said, "You are all over this!" With apologies to my dear cousin, a writer in her own right who humbles me with her belief in me, I did not complete this short story by the deadline. So, for your reading pleasure, may I present the contest entry I SHOULD have submitted!)

So many strangers have climbed down off'n that bus. Any more, I don't pay much mind. Some days, I don't even see it come or go. Only sign I see is the empty toilet paper roll I gotta change after they on down the road.

I still don't know what it was. A stirring in the breeze that kicked a tumbleweed across the front window of the diner? The fly buzzin' 'round the pie case that caught my eye and made me look that a-way? All I know is I looked up in time to see that door snap open, and there she was.

Pecos, NM
The bright lights of my concrete oasis had her feelin' with her feet so she wouldn't tumble on out. She stopped a minute, shivered against the desert cold, and folded in on herself trying to conserve her body heat. Sun was just peepin' over the horizon and hadn't melted the chill from the dawnin' day.

Shoot! I seen some hard luck cases come thru here. Shoot. Ain't nobody come off them buses ain't got some sad story to tell. Mostly, they on their way from one hard luck place to a harder one. She seemed outa place like she won't any more familiar with her circumstance than she was with her momentary surroundings.

She looked 'round uncertainly – waitin' to take her cue from the other nomads filin' off the bus. As the crowd headed toward the snack machines and bathrooms, she seemed to collect herself. She broke from the herd and headed toward my door.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Mornin',” I allowed as I eyed her and the pair of flies that had joined forces makin' themselves ta home. I took my dishrag and swatted the air. The flies abandoned their pie-lust and evacuated to the safety of the front windows.

Um..ahem..I..uh.. I was wondering if I could sit for a bit?”

Fine by me. That bus gone roll on outa here by quarter after whether you on it or not. Next one through in two days. Nearest town fifty miles. Suit yourself.” Over the years hiding away here in this corner of nowhere, I'd gotten pretty good at warning folks off if'n they got too close.

Her sigh and shoulders both sagged as she sank onto the bar stool. She'd be gone soon enough along with her worries. I don't make small talk. I left her to her own devices.

I guess she forgot I was there 'cause it seemed like she was talking to herself. “I can handle beginnings. It's endings I don't know how to do.” Her voice trailed off for a few seconds. “I wish...I wish I coulda told them I was leaving. I just didn't know how. I couldn't take it no more..ya know. It was then or never, so I just made my decision and left before I could stop myself. I guess they'll forgive me one day......”

Pecos, NM
She looked out through the plate glass windows and shrugged a limp, weary shrug. Her face knotted up to cry, but no tears came. If I had to guess, I'd say she'd cried her tears all out a long time before she staggered down off'n that bus into my hideaway. I could tell right then, she was gonna be shrugging that shrug for the rest of her life....just like me.

The sun was beginnin' to wash the sky in daylight as the passengers stopped millin' 'round and headed back to the bus. She slipped off the stool and headed back herself. Her walk told me her feet were dragging her where her heart wasn't sure she wanted to go. She stopped, turned around, and looked at me as if she was seein' me for the first time. “Sure is peaceful around here,” she says, “Take care now.”

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
The air brake let off a reluctant hiss as the bus lurched back onto the ribbon of road to nowhere. I pulled a slip of paper out of my apron pocket. The creases were so deep that it would become a jigsaw puzzle any day. I ran my fingers over the numbers. Wonder if it would ring if I dialed it? My heart dragged me over to the phone despite reluctant feet that kept asking if I was sure.

My hands shook as I dialed the numbers. My heart echoed in my ears when it rang. “Hello....Mamma? Is that you? It's's me!”