Monday, June 26, 2017

Take Out

She'd overcooked the pasta. It was pitched in the trash. The empty kettle landed in the sink with an echoing clatter. She lifted herself with some difficulty onto the countertop, and sat. The burner on the stove still glowed red as fire. Of course she'd forgotten to turn it off. Of course.

"Andrea?"  Leo's voice floated toward her from the hallway.

Typically, she turned on the light over the front steps before he came home so he could unlock the door without fumbling in the dark. Of course she'd forgotten that too.

"I'm here."

Leo draped his suit jacket over a dining chair and came to stand before her. He rested his hands on her knees. She lightly bounced her heels off the cupboard below her. He smiled, leaned in for a kiss.

"I ruined dinner."

She watched his nose wrinkle, then he covered the last two inches between them, claiming his kiss.

"I don't care," he whispered.

"I can't focus today. The whole day," she said emphatically.

"We'll order take out."

He went for a second kiss but she leaned past his face to lay her cheek on his shoulder. She inhaled his scent. Leo wrapped his arms around her waist, lifting her from the countertop. She draped her arms around his neck and pressed her knees against his hips. His muscles tightened to hold her steady while he walked to the sofa. When he laid her down there, she saw a wet circle on his shoulder. She hadn't realized she was crying.

"I left the stove on."

He returned to the kitchen, then back to the sofa a moment later. "You rest. I'll order our food."

Andrea closed her eyes. The resulting darkness was speckled with prismatic lights; beautiful lights she wished she could stop seeing. "I don't know if I can do this," she whispered. Opening one eye, she focused on the framed snapshot of her and Leo hiking Mount Moriah. "I have to do this."

Leo was on the phone, muffled through the walls between here and their bedroom. He'd be changing into jeans and a t-shirt. She remembered the warmth of his chest against hers as he'd carried her from the kitchen; the steadfast beating of his heart. Ba-boom. Ba-boom. Ba-boom. She envied it. Her heart raced and stuttered more every week.

"It's the medication," the doctor always answered with a wave of his hand. The irregular heartbeat; the shaking hands; the pain in her legs; the lights in her vision; the inability to focus her mind; everything had one of two answers: "It's the medication. It's the tumor."

"Are you resting?" Leo called from the bedroom.

"Mmmhmm," she responded, far too quiet for him to hear.

She felt sleep approaching. Each night she welcomed it with a vague thought that it might be perfectly okay if she did not wake up. Come morning, when her eyes opened and she saw Leo on the pillow beside her, she felt overwhelming relief that it had not been her last day. Would that morning sentiment eventually dissipate? This was the question she pondered as she drifted out.

When Andrea woke, moonlight filled the gap in the curtains. It was a spotlight on Leo, slumbering in the leather easy chair beside the sofa. His neck would be sore from the angle of his surrender to sleep. His plate and fork were on the coffee table, empty but for a few bits of rice. A clean fork and knife
were on the table in front of Andrea. Their arrangement suggested a plate had resided between them, until it'd become obvious she wouldn't be roused from her sleep. She knew she'd find it carefully wrapped and stowed in the refrigerator.

Propped against her fork stood a small rectangle of paper with red lettering: the slip from inside Leo's fortune cookie. Andrea picked it up. She stood, slowly, and moved to the shaft of moonlight to see the words he'd wanted her to read.

"A true companion journeys to the same destination, and will carry you when your feet will not."

Andrea clutched the paper in her fist. With a kiss to his forehead, she woke Leo. He stood, lifted her in his arms, and carried her to their bed. She rested her ear on his chest, seeking that reliable rhythm from inside of him. She rubbed her thumb against the soft stubble on his jaw, and prayed she'd wake up again tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Paper in My Purse

There's this paper that I keep folded up and tucked away in my purse. It is a bit of treasure that I bring with me practically everywhere. I think I've gone through five purses in the last seven years, and that paper has found its place in each one. Today, I unfolded it for the first time in perhaps a year and read each beautiful word printed upon it.

The black ink is still clear on the paper, but the yellowing of its edges has begun. The creases are tearing. It felt a bit delicate in my fingers today. 


The lines that fill this page were written by my husband, long before he was my husband. I still remember my awe when he sent me the first two stanzas, a mere two weeks after our first date. If I've ever come close to swooning, that was the moment. Here I was, lingering in the dawn of our coupledom, wading in and testing the waters. Then, he offers this collection of words born in his heart and pulls me under.

Love requires taking chances. It requires wading into deeper waters and losing sight of your former shore. My husband more than anyone else has taught me this. Love also, for me, requires words. Words of beauty and truth. Every time I look at this worn page in the pocket of my purse, I'm thankful my husband understood that from the start.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Heart of Life is Good

This is one of my favorite photos. Sure, I have others that better capture my children's faces and smiles. This one, though, captures life.

Some things have me thinking hard on the matter of life. It started with the suicide bomber cruelly choosing the concert in Manchester as his target and killing twenty-two adults, teens, and children. It continued with the news of the twenty-eight adults and children violently martyred in Egypt when they refused to deny their belief in Christ. Numerous others were injured in these attacks. Countless more were directly affected and traumatized.

And so, I think about life. Life as it is now, in this world in which my husband and I are raising our little children. In the midst of this thinking, I came across that photo. It's a recent one, taken at my kids' first time at a major league baseball game. All I have to do is look at it and I relive that night. We bought the tickets on a whim when we saw a low cost deal for some upcoming games. I was excited, as I always am when I attend a baseball game, but I was also worried. Would the kids enjoy themselves or be overwhelmed by the size and the noise of the place? Would they get bored and whine? Would they complain about having to stay in their seats for too long? Would they be too tired the next day? Typical motherhood worries.

My worry was silenced by their wonder: the wonder on their small faces when we entered the stadium; when the crowd stood clapping for the first time; when the fireworks were lit to celebrate each home run; when my son kept his eyes on the pitcher and batter as I explained  a little of the game and he was rewarded with witnessing a hit to the outfield; when the racing sausages and the 7th inning stretch brought everyone to their feet in unity. The pair of them enjoyed every minute. They were thrilled at being part of something so much bigger than themselves.

So many things could have gone wrong. They didn't, but they could have. I think of the dozens of concerts my friends and I have attended from the time we were teenagers to the present without a doubt that we'd arrive back home safely. I think of the pilgrimages we've made to churches and retreats without the looming threat of being attacked for our beliefs. I think of the number of people in that baseball stadium with no thought of whether or not someone might make us a target. So many things could go wrong.

If the fears and worries win, we must withdraw from what is bigger than ourselves. That's what it comes down to, I suppose. Being part of what is bigger than ourselves is at the heart of life, and life cannot be sustained without the heart.

There's things you need to hear
So turn off your tears and listen
Pain throws your heart to the ground
Love turns the whole thing around
No it won't all go the way it should
But I know the heart of life is good
John Mayer

Friday, May 26, 2017

On the Pier

Photo by Carrie Sue Barnes, Location: Rabbit Bay, Lake Superior
 
The old man only visited the pier at sunrise, when the lake's surface was smooth as a bed sheet and the sky was edged in tangerine. Later, the lake would be speckled with white caps. The din of the waves would crescendo with each tide. He used to love the noise, but now his tired ears treasured silence. So, he only came at sunrise.
 
Bare footed, he stood squinting at the ascending sun. Another day. The fibers of the wood were cool under the leathery soles of his feet. He wrapped his fingers around the rail, pressed his stomach against it, and inhaled the stillness. He willed it to stay stored in his chest. Peace.
 
"Do you come every morning?"
 
The bird like voice startled. He did not, at first, turn to see its bearer.
 
"Mamma says you do."
 
"Bit early for ya', isn't it?" Being his first words of the day, they rolled out full of gravel. He cleared his throat. "Why aren't ya' sleepin'?"
 
"Because I'm awake." The girl's answer was clipped with the childish annoyance at silly questions from adults who ought to know.
 
The old pier stood between his house and the girl's. He gazed down at the crown of honey blonde hair, feathery and uncombed. The wisps carried him through decades to his tiny daughter hugging his leg here on the pier, midday waves licking their toes. Affection stole through his wiry limbs and he reached out to smooth her hair. He stopped himself; placed his hand back on the rail.
 
"It's my birthday," she whispered. 
 
"Mine, too."
 
Brown eyes widened. "Ooooh," she breathed out the sound. Her pink lips remained in a tiny O, then, "How old are you?"
 
He stifled a chuckle at the reverent hush of her voice. "Old."
 
"But how old?"
 
He rubbed at the whiskers in the crevices of his weathered face. "Eighty-four."
 
"That's old." She bobbed her head at him. "I'm five today."
 
The sky was losing its accessory colors. Blue prevailed above the still sleepy lake. Pelicans conducted an aerial parade inches above the water; six in a straight line headed north, then a turn and back south.
 
"Are you having a party?" he asked.
 
"I am!" Her feet danced a two second jig. "Are you?"
 
"Oh, no party for me."
 
The kids would call, of course, sometime before night fell. He did not begrudge them anything more. Yesterday, he'd picked up roast beef and fresh cheddar from the deli for his favorite sandwich. It was enough.
 
"You can share mine."
 
"That's kind of you, but I don't need a party."
 
"Every birthday deserves a party," she said. She pushed her hair back from her cheeks. "That's what my daddy says."
 
He didn't argue, hoping she'd believe it for all her years.
 
In the afternoon, he watched cars pull up to the neighboring house. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends; all come to celebrate the girl. Through open windows, the party carried its sounds to his home. Laughter, shouts, rumbles of conversation from the men on the back porch, and finally the traditional singing while they huddled around a lit cake. Hours later, the people returned to their vehicles after hugs in the driveway.
 
He sat on the red bench on his front porch, reading last Sunday's newspaper, when the last of the revelers departed. The sun he'd watched rise was leaving too, dipping below the tree line behind them. Ribbons of pink and yellow light wrapped around from there to the horizon over the water; another day.
 
The neighbor's back door creaked open and out trotted the girl. Her purple party dress swung about her knees. He lifted his hand in a wave at her parents, who watched from their kitchen window. The father waved back; the mother smiled while she continued to wipe dry a plate in her hands.
 
"I made them save this one," the girl called when she reached the steps of his porch. She waited there.
 
Hips stuck and knees creaked when he stood. He paused to let his joints settle into place, then walked. She'd brought him a piece of cake. It was two layers of chocolate with pink frosting. The scents of cocoa and sugar filled his nostrils. His mouth watered.
 
"Well, you're a sweet girl, I must say." There was a catch in his voice to go with the moisture in his eyes.
 
"Do you like chocolate?"
 
"It's my favorite."
 
"Mine, too."
 
He accepted the plate.
 
"Momma says I have to get back. I have to help clean up."
 
"You best go and do that." The old man nodded. "Thank you for the birthday cake. I'm sure it's delicious."
 
"You'll eat it?"
 
"Of course, I will."
 
"Can I watch the sun come up with you again?"
 
"If you're awake, you're welcome to join me."
 
She nodded, her features drawn together in thought. He waited while she formed her question. "And if I'm not awake tomorrow, can we watch the sun come up another day?"
 
"Yes," he smiled, "another day."
 
Her concern was gone. She skipped back to her house, already talking to her parents before she opened the door.
 
The old man walked to the pier. He leaned against the soft wood of the railing, listened to the song of low tide kissing the sand, ate his chocolate cake, and hoped for another day.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Normal - a Flash Fiction Piece

"I won't sleep in our bed."

"What was that, ma'am?"

I glance at the cab driver. "Nothing."

"It's alright, ma'am. I talk to myself plenty."

Do what's normal. It's what my aunt advised for after the funeral. After. Everything will be marked as before and after now.

Sliding the clasp of my necklace back behind my tired curls, I whisper at the empty seat beside me, "We'll talk about this at home."

Do what's normal.

Pay the driver.

Nod at the doorman.

Press the elevator button.

It dings its arrival. Is it always that loud? Two others board the elevator with me. Strange since the lobby echoes like a canyon yet I didn't hear them approach.

I grow impatient once the doors close. "I won't sleep in our bed, Ian. I can't."

My fellow passengers turn, chins over shoulders, then lower their eyes to the floor.

The doors open and I exit before speaking again. "The guest bed is comfortable. Don't worry about me." I stop, key in my fist. "Can you worry where you are?"

The breakdown starts in my knees. It will spread to my back and my arms, then my whole body will collapse to the floor. I picture myself curled on the green straw welcome mat in front of the Lancasters' door. "No." Digging the key into my palm, I walk.

"Fine. I'll sleep in the damn bed. Are you happy?"

The question does me in. I shove our door - my door - open and fall down in privacy. When the shaking and the tears pass, I roll to my back; knees up, feet planted. There's a tiny run in my tights that I pull at with my fingernail until it tears over my thigh. I stand and remove my black heels, ruined black tights, and black dress. When I drop the tights in the trash, I linger two seconds before adding the shoes and the dress.

Do what's normal.

"That's why I have to talk to you." Normal is talking to Ian about the day, the news, the basketball game he's watching that I don't care about and the book I'm reading that he doesn't care about.

In our bedroom - my bedroom - I pick up our wedding photo from the desk. "This won't do."

From the bookshelves, I dump a box of photographs on the carpet. With the pictures spread in a half moon, I survey them without seeing details. I can't endure the details. "Where is it?" I shout a second before my eyes land on it. "Oh, Ian."

My favorite one. I trace my fingertip over his cheek, his mouth. I ache for a kiss. I haven't ached like this since our first years together when we still made love more nights than not.

"We'll talk more tomorrow."

My black bra and panties go in the trash too. The photo goes on his pillow beside me. I fall asleep flat on my back, hands resting one over the other on my stomach, like him.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Seven Years Ago

Seven years ago on this day, I went to dinner with my sister, our mutual best friends, and the husband of one of those friends. We ate at one of our favorite restaurants, Good Company, in Appleton, WI. The hostess seated us around a large circular table in the front section of the first floor of the large, two-story restaurant. Later that evening we would attend a concert at a local church. Our conversations probably ran through a gamut of topics. I don't know. I only remember one.

I told them about a coworker who lately was offering frequent smiles and inquiries into how my day was faring. Occasionally he invited me to join a group of peers for lunch. Sometimes the flirtation was clear but more often he left the impression of straightforward, genuine friendliness. After encountering him each workday, I usually wondered two things: was I assuming too much about his interest and, if not, then why the hell was he interested in me? I'd sit in my chair behind the reception desk, running reports, handling mail, and finding ways to pass the slower hours. He'd walk by to reach our adjacent show room, on his way to fix whatever technical issue had cropped up on one of the machines. Eye contact, smile, small talk or a joke, then the day rolled along.

I consistently turned down the invitations to lunch. I kept the small talk brief. I silently questioned why this guy bothered to talk to me. My skepticism was not because I was clueless - which might have been excusable considering my lack of adult dating experience - but because I was afraid. Oh, how I was afraid. All the seeds for that fear were planted in earlier years, having nothing to do with this man and everything to do with me.

At dinner that night, as we waited for our entrees to arrive, my closest friends listened to me talk about this man. Eventually, one of them interrupted me with a single demand: the next time he invited me to lunch, I had to say yes. I laughed and she asserted the demand more vehemently while the others added their support. They did not relent until I agreed.

I spent the rest of that Saturday evening negotiating with the fears in my head. I spent the remainder of the weekend debating whether or not I hoped my coworker would invite me to lunch just one more time. The following Tuesday I shared a meal with my husband for the first time.

The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.
Joseph Campbell

A couple months after that first lunch date.

And 6 1/2 years later.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Because the Saints Said So: We Shall Be Content (St. Timothy)

I have a love affair with rocking chairs. They are the bubble baths and comfort food of the furniture world. It is a dream of mine to own a home with enough space for rocking chairs in nearly every room, plus the front porch and back patio, of course. I was in an airport once that had a row of about twenty white rocking chairs facing the windows, backs to the bustling crowds. The time spent there waiting for my flight was one of my trip's highlights. There are days when I have a hard time slowing down to pause with my family instead of continuously attacking my to-do list. If I can direct myself to a rocking chair and sit, I am much more likely to lengthen the pause. Balanced by the rhythm of the chair, I can breathe a little deeper and allow my heart to feel content.

As human beings made by God for life with God, we crave contentment. We long for the peaceful satisfaction that can only come in full when we reach our eternal home. Oh, but how great a share of contentment can be ours now!

We must pursue contentment. The usual take on the matter tends more toward the idea that we have to stop doing, stop moving, stop trying at so many things if we are to experience contentment. Essentially, we must simply do less. We must suspend our pursuits. I am suggesting that we need not suspend, but rather change. Change what we are doing; change what we are moving toward; change what we are trying at if we are to exist in a contented state.
There is great gain in godliness with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content. - 1 Timothy 6:6-8
"Godliness with contentment," i.e. becoming our true, full, made-in-God's-image selves with peaceful and grateful hearts and minds: this is a goal worthy of us all. It requires a purified perspective on life's genuine needs and true purposes.

Pursuing contentment means rooting out the things that detract and distract from contentment. What those things are will vary from person to person, and even change from year to year during the course of life. Right now, for me, the biggest detraction is things, literally. Stuff. Unnecessary belongings taking up the precious space of our family's small home. So, I am pursuing contentment. I am detaching myself from objects. I am realizing what we don't need, or even want. I am letting go and clearing out, and it is a relief. This process is leading me to greater satisfaction with our home and gratefulness for our needs being met. It feeds contentment.

Your pursuit of contentment may look quite different than mine. It could be detaching yourself from damaging relationships. It might involve setting your feet toward a calling that requires the sacrifice of a comfortable (or dissatisfying but secure) job. Maybe it is changing the way you spend your time, or doing whatever is needed to eliminate immoral habits. Maybe it is taking an honest look at how you treat yourself and your body, then altering both your perspective and your actions.

Contentment is blocked by a variety of things but it coexists consistently with three things: detachment, gratitude, and perspective. Cultivate these and contentment will sprout in abundance.

Meanwhile, if you want to feel the contentment as it takes root, I recommend a good rocking chair.

Friday, May 5, 2017

In the Rain

I was rushing across the puddled street, cussing under my breath at my ruined shoes. She was strolling at a pace that suggested a walk in the June sunshine rather than a downpour. With my head tucked down as if there was any way to shield my face from the deluge, I didn't see her until her bare toes came into view and my shoulder struck hers. I lifted my eyes and mumbled an apology with no intention of pausing. I did stop though, so abruptly that I nearly slipped on the wet pavement. She stopped too. She stopped and she smiled.

White sundress, soaked and clinging to her tan skin; brown hair disheveled and stuck to her cheeks and neck; she was a mess. She was beautiful. For a moment I couldn't speak.

"You're in a hurry." Her smile held steady as she raised an eyebrow at me.

"Well," I glanced at the black clouds emptying above us.

"Well?"

I stated the obvious, "It's raining pretty hard."

She laughed aloud, tossing her head back and laying a hand on her stomach. The sound warmed me. "It is," she agreed, "and you're as soaked as you can be so what's the point in hurrying?"

I had no answer to this. My eyes fell on the peach, open toed heels she held in one hand. "You aren't exactly dressed for this weather. Where are you coming from?" The question felt rude in this city of strangers who fill the sidewalks and trains together without so much as an effort at eye contact. My curiosity overwhelmed me.

"Maybe it's about where I'm going to," she answered with a wink and another mesmerizing laugh.

For a split second I wondered if she was sober but there was a clarity in her eyes that dismissed the thought.

"I just finished a job interview," I volunteered.

"Did it go well?"

"Terrible."

She shrugged. Raindrops bounced off her bare shoulders. I had to stop myself from begging for information - any bit she was willing to offer would do. I'd never had much courage with women. There was too much mystery about them, and this one had more than her fair share. Thus there was no explanation for my continued questions.

"Is it really about where you're going to? Do you need to be somewhere."

"I already am somewhere."

"Will you stop with me for a coffee?"

She cocked her head. "I could. We could have a coffee, maybe a meal. Then a drink at a pub with a band. We could dance."

"Yes," I whispered, wanting all of it.

"Or you could dance with me right now."

"Excuse me?"

"The time we'd spend doing those things, it'd only leave us with a good story. Memorable, but nothing more. I don't know about you but for me the highlight of that story would be the dance before we parted. I've learned to only care about the highlights. Couldn't we just have that dance?"

I reached my hand out, watching it with the sensation of seeing another and not myself. Her slender fingers tucked into mine.

"You should take off your shoes."

I obeyed. The sidewalk was warm under the soles of my feet. I rolled up the cuffs of my pants then pulled my already loosened tie off of my neck and tossed it down with my socks and shoes. I untucked my sopping shirt. All this I did with one hand so I would not have to let go of her fingers with the other.

She took a step closer and her scent reached me with my next breath. Coconut and vanilla were my best guess. Her arm slid around my waist and I rested my hand on the small of her back. We danced as if accompanied by our own private string quartet. When I surprised us both by spinning her out from me then bringing her back, I held in my laughter so I could hear only hers once more.

"That was my highlight," I declared as her laugh quieted.

She kissed my cheek and we parted. I didn't pick up my shoes until I saw her turn the corner and disappear. Then I finished my walk home, my pace slow, my feet bare, and my face lifted, welcoming the rain.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

December Dreaming

 
Time for a book update! I am thrilled to share that my debut novel Full of Days is tentatively scheduled for release in both print and digital formats in December! Yes, December of 2017. At the time I signed the publishing contract, I speculated publication would take place in mid to late 2018. You can imagine my delight when my publisher emailed this tidbit of information! It would be accurate to say I have never looked forward to the return of winter as much as I shall do this year.

Curious about the book? It is a historical fiction novel with Christian themes and a rich, multi generation story that will appeal to fans of Lynn Austin, Kate Morton, and Michael Phillips. Below is a bit of summary without giving too much away. Plenty of updates and musings can be found here on my author page. Like and follow if you are so inclined. Every one of you is a blessing on this lengthy adventure of becoming a published fiction author!

Secrets kept for eighty years come to light when Annie Walcott makes her great-granddaughter Laurel Thomas her final confidant. Together they delve into Annie’s memories of her service as a World War I nurse in France. Annie’s experiences challenged her to become a woman of depth and strength as they radically changed the course of her entire life.

Annie’s revelations of love, loss, and courageous sacrifice irreversibly affect Laurel, even bringing her very identity into question. The truth casts a new light on past wounds and unexpected possibilities for the future. Can Laurel discover the transforming power of authentic love and the courage necessary to pursue it?  
 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Missing Your Chance... Or Not

I have a vivid memory of sitting on my sister's living room floor watching her open her birthday gifts. One from me was a bookmark with a George Eliot quote that read, "It is never too late to be what you might have been." She unwrapped and read it then looked at me with wet eyes and asked, "Do you really believe that?" I nodded. She was in her early thirties and was at the start of a remarkable overhaul of her life. She was among the first people to convince me that there is never a good excuse to believe you've missed your chance to be who you long to be.

Which brings me to Easter. I intended to write a blog for Easter. A few non-coalesced themes floated around my mind. I even told myself it'd be best to write it early and schedule it to post on Easter. Hours and days passed and then the chance was gone. It was Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday and now, here I am talking about my unfulfilled intentions.

And it is still Easter.

In the faith I practice and believe in wholeheartedly, we celebrate Easter for a full season. This season happens to be fifty days. Fifty days of joy, of a special call to gratitude for the gift of salvation, and of reflecting inwardly on the great miracle of Easter.

The memory of my sister and the reality that I missed my chance yet didn't miss my chance to write something for you all for Easter has me boarding a train of thought I'll ask you to ride with me. Here it is: could anything possibly be more appropriate to Easter than to consider how what we might assume is missed or finished is far from being so?

An arrest and beating; a turning of the tide of popularity and acceptance; a crucifixion and a grave: all indeed appeared finished.

We forget that our knowledge is partial. We cannot see the full picture or understand the complete, intricate plan. We forget that the shocking empty grave and mystical appearance of the resurrected Christ was not a shock to the One who orchestrated it all. If Easter is teaching me a particular lesson this year it is to never assume that the chance has come and gone to be who I am meant to be and live as I am called to live. The dream, the goal, the change: whatever it might be that you have resigned to past opportunities and assumed must be let go, think again.

The Father above ordained the day of your beginning. Do not concern yourself with identifying endings along the way, or even the final ending He also ordains (which even then will not be a true ending, if grace allows). He gives us our chances in abundance. Some we squander and some we take. Forgive yourself the former and be encouraged by the latter. Then start taking more and squandering less, and leave the rest to God.

Friday, April 14, 2017

We Are the Cross

We are the cross. The cross that was laid on Jesus' back and dug into his flesh as he carried it through the streets; the cross that he held onto, bearing it past the taunting crowds and whipping soldiers; we are that cross. The fibers of the wood consist of our sins, our rejections of truth and goodness. It is made up of us, in all our weaknesses and shortcomings. Jesus bears us, lifting us on his beaten shoulders to bring us to the place of salvation.

We are the cross. The cross to which Jesus was willingly nailed; the cross which he accepted in unconditional love; the cross on which he bled; we are that cross. He united himself to us irrevocably. His mercy is scarred into his hands and feet, His blood covers us as it did the wood of that cross: seeping into it and becoming part of it. We are indelibly marked by his redeeming blood.

We are the cross. The cross that was the source of his suffering yet became his throne; the cross that appeared to shame him yet brought glory; we are that cross. He is enthroned in our hearts. He resides in our souls. Every repented sin becomes a glorifying display of the same mercy that held him to the cross.

We are the cross.


Audrey Assad - Death Be Not Proud

Monday, April 3, 2017

Maybe Someday; Maybe Now

Ten months ago, at 34 1/2 years old, I began to run. Although this was an entirely new activity, it wasn't a momentous decision that stands out in my memory. It was a vague desire for a fresh exercise routine. It was frustration with my body and a need for an energy outlet. It was a craving for alone time that was genuinely beneficial, not pampering. It was a wondering what I might be capable of if I tried.

Ten months ago, I could jog half a mile before requiring an interval of walking. Two days ago, I ran a full 10K race.

No walking. No stopping. I ran 6.2 miles. Ten months ago, this accomplishment was not even in my sights. The suggestion of it would have evoked laughter. Yet here I am, able to say I did it and beginning to think about when I might do it again and how much better I could do it the next time around.

What's your "I wonder if I'm capable of this" scenario? You know you have one. Maybe you have more than one.

Here's another of mine: Ten years ago, give or take a few months, I began writing a story. That, in itself, was not a new endeavor. I'd written the starts of several stories. I'd toyed with the idea of writing a book. I lived for 20+ years with the persistent desire to write but without the gumption to pursue it at full tilt. Then ten years ago, I started this story. Unlike with the others, I didn't stop.

After 1 1/2 years, I had a legitimate first draft of a 126,000 word novel. Now I have a book publishing contract for my much revised, thoroughly edited, still imperfect 102,000 word draft of that story.

What's your "maybe someday" endeavor?

Today is someday. So is tomorrow. Whatever the reasons for your waiting, there are reasons to begin.

The incredible thing about trying is the way it snowballs. Efforts made produce belief in possibilities. Goals met give birth to new goals. Pride in accomplishments erodes doubt in yourself.

One of the hardest lessons I had to learn along the routes of both of these accomplishments is I have no idea what I am capable of. None of us do. Persevering toward the finish line of a goal is the only way to chip away at that ignorance. Then, when seemingly impossible goals are reached, a continued awareness that you still don't know your full capabilities will drive you to continue choosing now over leaving it to someday.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Blue

Writing Prompt: She had a cocktail in her hand and confetti in her hair.
Writing Time: 30 minutes
 

Over the bobbing heads of the dance floor crowd, I stare at the woman in the blue dress. She has a cocktail in her hand and confetti in her hair. Her lips are parted in laughter, the sound lost in the noise of the music. My fingers curl into fists against my stomach, mimicking the tightness of the air in my lungs.

Jealousy. It is nested in my chest.

It is not that I wish her to be otherwise. The night is better for the glow in her eyes. I do not wish it gone. I only wish to know it; to know the release of that laughter and the pleasure of my limbs swaying to the song.

"What are you thinking about?" my husband asks, his face close to my ear so I can hear him.

"Do you see her?" I point my chin in the direction of the woman. "In the blue dress."

He cranes his neck to see. The silver hairs at his temple catch the light of the dimmed sconces behind our table on the perimeter of the dance floor. For a moment I'm transfixed by his profile, then he turns and catches my gaze. He is confused.

"Was I ever like her?" The question is spoken before I can filter it. I expect more confusion. Instead his face is transformed by a broad smile.

He leans in close again. "Even better."

I rest my forehead against his cheek. His stubble is soft; a comforting texture on my skin.

"You still are," I hear him add at the pause between songs.

When I close my eyes, a memory plays like a film projection. My roommate and I walking past the fountain at the center of the university campus. A small congregation of other students, strangers, with a radio blasting and an impromptu dance party coming to life. One of the guys pulling me into the group. Dancing with them until the song ends; laughing through every second.

My husband speaks now and I am startled to realize he is reliving the same memory.

"I'll never forget watching you dance the night before we met. Sitting on the edge of that fountain, seeing you approach. You started singing along to the music. I hoped you'd stop and you did. I hoped you'd dance and you did. I hoped you'd keep laughing and you did."

I finish the familiar commentary. "You hoped I'd sit down to rest on the edge of the fountain and I didn't." I require a deep breath to keep the tears behind the border of my eyelashes.

"You were transcendent."

A sigh falls from my lips. "That girl is a stranger now."

"Not to me." He lifts my chin with his fingertips. "I still see her every day."

Baby blues. Such a trite, pretty name for the darkness I dwell in presently.

"You're still her. You are her and more."

I tuck his words into the deepest corners of my mind, where they are needed. Then I watch the confetti scatter from the hair of the woman in the blue dress.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Apostles of Joy

Yesterday, I witnessed the appearance of pure joy on the rosy cheeked face of my daughter. Again and again, her expression lit up like she was standing in the path of a sunbeam. Her smile flashed as wide as she could make it. Her laughter burst forth contagiously until I was giggling in unison.

St. Teresa of Calcutta stated that "joy is a net of love by which we catch souls."

"Man cannot live without joy," according to St. Thomas Aquinas.

Pope Francis advised that all Christians ought to be "apostles of joy."

What brought on my daughter's supreme display of joy? Bubbles. That's all. To her two year old mind, they were wondrous works of art, wrought by magic and created expressly for her. I sat in a chair on our little deck outside the living room blowing bubbles. Even when she was ready to move on to other activities, I kept going. I didn't want it to end. I needed to witness her joy.

In the hours since, I've contemplated both her joy and my reaction to it. That sort of joy arises when something unexpected and incredible appears before us. It's easy to see why it exists in children as young as my daughter: everything is still new and unexpected at that age. Young children are easily impressed and easily pleased.
 
I am already sad for the days when I begin to recognize in my children a departure from this manner of encountering the world. It will happen though. Fewer and fewer things will feel unexpected or incredible. Must it be that way though? Could I, at 35 years old, experience that uninhibited, simple joy more often? Could joyful become one of my trademark attributes?
 
It's worth finding out the answer to those questions. Joy adds vigor and spirit to daily living. It inspires gratitude, hope, and contentment - as well as arises from the same. It spreads from person to person, improving the quality of life further and further down the chain of people with whom we are each linked. Rediscovering a way of joy is worth the effort.
 
How do we become characterized by joyfulness in a manner that harkens back to that abundant childhood joy?
  1. Realize every earthly beauty was made for you but you have not earned any of it. Do you realize the world didn't have to be made beautiful? God could design creation however he pleased. Purely functional might have been the only standard. Beautiful, enjoyable, fun, wondrous, exciting, incredible - God gave creation these aspects for our edification and, most importantly, for us to know Him through creation. He did it for you. He made the colors, textures, scents, and sounds for you. He gave you comprehension of these realities so that you might share in His nature. This He did entirely out of love for you. Encountering your world with this perspective can cast it all in a light that leads to joy.
  2. Engage now and do so without self-consciousness. We are trained to multi-task; to be efficient and productive. We plan. We prep. We do, do, do. We miss so much. Engage in the present moment as thoroughly as you can manage. My husband has been working on teaching me this for years now. Be present and don't apologize for doing so. A reaction of joy can feel embarrassing, and what a sad statement that is about our accepted mentality! Lose the shame over experiencing joyful wonder at the bits of beauty and goodness that are taken for granted by many people.
  3. Believe your joy is a gift to others. They need it. Your family, friends, coworkers; the person sitting in the church pew with you; the cashier at the grocery store; the elderly man hobbling past you on the sidewalk; the tired parent handling the kids at the park. All of them need your joy. Your children need you to derive joy from their silliness. Your spouse needs to laugh with you and perhaps be reminded of the beauty shadowed by the daily grind. Your friends need a voice that replaces cynicism with joy. It is no surprise we become numb to the goodness available to us in life. Our senses are battered by harshness at every turn and joy is a healing balm.
An apostle of joy is a person who allows joy to be a defining theme of their life and who will carry that joy into the presence of anyone within their influence. If you don't know where to begin, start with gratitude. Gratitude begets joy. And when you need an extra boost, watch a the face of a child chasing bubbles. I promise you won't be disappointed.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Not Damaged - A Note to Moms

Today, I came across an online article about a mother who photographed her torso after the birth of her second child. She took a photo at 24 hours post-birth, then a new one at 1 week, 4 weeks, 10 weeks, 14 weeks, and so on. As opposed to yet another "look at me, I look amazing in only a short period of time" sort of social media post, this mom wanted to show the public a realistic, normal transformation post birth. When I clicked on the article to read it, I felt proud of this woman. I was glad that by her brave choice to share those photos, more people might understand the reality of a woman's body.

While I was proud of the woman and her intention though, I was disappointed in the author of the article. Not only disappointed, I was angered. The brief paragraphs written to accompany each successive photo were filled with the same language that I see in every article about a mother's post-partum body.

Damaged. Fix. Ruin. Recover.

The word choices in this and other articles make clear the accepted perspective that a woman's body has been damaged by pregnancy. Her body is flawed now and needs to be fixed. The appearance of her physical form was good before pregnancy and bad now. I have even seen it stated as strongly as saying her body has been ruined. Every bit of body advice post-partum is geared toward recovering your pre-pregnancy form.

It took until my second pregnancy before I fully realized the error of this way of thinking. It bothered me before that, needling at my brain that there was something off. Somewhere along the way my second time around though, it clicked. Plain and simple, if you'll allow me to say so, it's bullshit.

Pregnancy did not damage your body; pregnancy changed your body. You don't need to be fixed. Your physical form is not ruined. Lastly, now that you've had a child (or two or four), nothing else in your life will ever be the same as it was pre-pregnancy, so why, oh why, are you told your body should be the exception?

Your body was specially designed to accomplish pregnancy, to carry and deliver a child. Many women are unable to do this since there are many factors that contribute to it occurring, so please, when you are blessed to be one who can and does accomplish this great feat, do not fall into the trap of believing you've ruined your body in the process! Our culture claims that we must teach girls to accept their bodies as they are, to be proud of their figures and not succumb to the pressure of airbrushed supermodel expectations. How can we ever instill in our girls a genuine, lasting respect for their bodies while perpetuating the current attitude toward the changes caused by pregnancy? Pregnancy and birth, while far from the only incredible abilities of a woman's body, are the pinnacle of the unique, amazing design of a woman.

Stop comparing yourself to other mothers whom you think have 'recovered' better than you have after pregnancy. Scoff at those who would label your stretch marks as flaws. Tune out those who wonder why you haven't fixed your abs yet. And please, please, correct those who refer to the physical effects of pregnancy as damage. Aim for health and strength, but do so with your eyes open to the reality that having a child has changed your body just as it changes everything else in life.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Saying Yes

I did it. I signed the book contract that was offered to me recently for the publication of my debut novel. Let's just make a list of all the words that come to mind when I try to describe my current state:
  • Excited
  • Relieved
  • Nervous
  • Peaceful
  • Floating
  • Thrilled
  • Scared
  • Thankful
  • Eager
All the feels, as the kids say these days! After reviewing the contract and researching its terms and language, as well as communicating with the publisher on questions I needed answered (and being satisfied with their clarifying responses), I said yes to my dream.

I've been saying yes for years. At the start, when it was yet another story idea taking shape in my imagination but this time something caused me to follow through on it. Then the year and a half spent writing the first rough (so, so rough) first draft. Oh, the hours spent and chai teas consumed at Copper Rock coffee house in Appleton! I swear, I need to arrange an author reading there. After the initial rejections from publishers when I naively submitted my barely edited draft to them, I kept saying yes. Through the years of gradual editing and fitting in writing time in tiny, occasional increments, still I said yes. And throughout 2016, when I made it a year of heavily editing the manuscript and learning skills I needed as a writer, I continued saying yes.

Over and over, I said yes because that is the only way to fulfill the dream of your heart. If there's another way, I don't know it. Today, I said yes to a publisher. It's the yes that's waited for me here, biding its time until I showed up to meet it. Each yes led to this one.

Because the Saints Said So: Short On Time (St. Therese)


Time. We can't hold it. We can't create it. We are directed by it at every turn. Morning/Evening. Day/Night. Early/Late. Hours, minutes, seconds are the context of our lives. I operate in a constant state of 'not enough time.' At any given moment, I could list a handful of things for which I don't have enough time. I suspect a few of you can relate, and for you, I have an announcement: It's a lie.

It's a lie.

You have enough time.

How do I know this? Because God knows better than I do the time I need. How much time I have is not a changeable reality. God is the wise and perfect designer of time and of my personal share of time. So, if we can't change how much time we have and God designed our time perfectly anyway, where are we going wrong? Why at the close of the day are we saturated with the perception of inadequate time?

Because we waste it.

We have only short moments of this life to work for God's glory.
The devil knows this and that is why he tries to make us waste time in useless things.
O, let us not waste our time!
(St. Therese of Lisieux)
 

Typically (typical of most of us), my mind goes to entertainment when I think of time wasters. Streaming video services, smart TVs, smart phones, online games, social media, and apps galore have all brought time spent on entertainment to a new level. It is easier and more enjoyable than ever to waste time on entertainment. However, condemning entertainment across the board as the cause of our supposed lack of time is a dangerously narrow view.

There is a place for entertainment in our lives. It is not, in itself, evil. God made us in His image: capable of both creating and appreciating sources of joy, laughter, deeply provoked thought, and beauty. Like so many aspects of our world, there are options of entertainment that can do good and nurture the mind and spirit, and there are others that will do harm and undermine our call to be the best versions of ourselves. These matters become time wasters when they, even the truly good ones, are given more of our time than they deserve. Measure each entertainment activity honestly: is it at the service of my best self? If not, give it none of your valuable time. If so, give it only a share of time that doesn't infringe on the time deserved by greater things.

Entertainment is so far from being our only time waster. For some people, it is hardly even an issue. The other matter I'd like to highlight is expectations. Oh, the time I waste on expectations! Now, before you think I'm advocating lowering all our standards for how well we do what we do, let me explain.

It is the plague of constant comparison and competition. We see the ideal Pinterest how-to guides; the Facebook posts of family vacations and activities; the hosted parties in spic and span homes; the celebrity glow of perfection reported and printed and photo shopped. We don't witness the trial and error before that blogger posted their picture perfect meal display. We don't hear the fights or know the stresses in the marriages and families on those vacations or participating in planned activities. We don't see the piles of mail and toys and laundry stuffed behind closed doors so the hostess can present a perfect home. We forget the bank accounts, the personal trainers and assistants, and the marketing strategy all contributing to the projected image of professional athletes and gorgeous celebrities.

We are immersed in expectations. Often without even realizing it, we strap on the yoke of earthly perfection and waste our precious time. In our aspirations to be good, successful, and happy, we mistake worldly expectations for worthwhile standards. They are not and never will be synonymous.

Stop sapping your time for other people's approval, or even for your own short lived self-satisfaction. You do not have enough time for that. You do have enough time to be the best version of yourself for you and everyone within your range of influence. You have enough time to live in a manner that glorifies God. You have enough time.

Can you repeat that to yourself? I have enough time. I have enough time because God created my time. I will not give it away to that which isn't worthy of the gift, be it undeserving activities or self-defeating expectations. Lord, I am not short on time. Help me to not be short on wisdom in my time.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Rhythm of His Heart

Writing Prompt: I fell asleep to the rhythm of his heart.
Writing Time: 15 minutes

She laid her head on his chest, letting her nerves be soothed by his heartbeat. She felt her own heart steady itself. They'd been fighting all week. They'd been fighting for months, in truth. With each burst of regrettable words and cold glares, her heart raced. It pounded against her rib cage in a combination of threat and reassurance: a threat that it could become more than she could handle - more than they could come back from; a reassurance that she had not reached, and could not imagine reaching, a point of no longer caring if they could recover.

Every couple went through times like this. That's what she believed. Turmoil was found in every coupling. Sometimes she was tempted to think their particular brand of turmoil could be worse than others but mostly she was confident it was not. It was what their bond, forged in passion and affection and joy, prepared them for.

Here with her ear over his heart, she hoped he still believed likewise. Despite her share in the mistakes and the pain they caused him, she hoped he still believed.

As his breathing slowed into sleep, she wracked her brain for how she could convince him that she was still glad she chose him. He needed to know she was still choosing him. That was the way she'd fallen short so often in these months. Her grandmother's words at her bridal shower all those years ago came back to her.

"Choose each other every day. Above everybody else, choose each other. Even when you're busy or you can't physically be near each other, make sure your hearts are still choosing each other. There are so many things and so many people to choose from. You'll be tempted to let it slide because you already have each other, but you'll only have each other for as long as you keep choosing each other."

In her naive, bridal bliss, the advice seemed quaint. Here, multiple kids, jobs, houses, and sufferings later, she understood.

"I choose you," she whispered into his chest and fell asleep to the rhythm of his heart.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Wine and Ice Cream

Writing Prompt: Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream
Writing Time: 30 minutes

I’m wearing my favorite dress. A sleeveless, kelly green sundress with a V neckline. It’s been one of those weeks: long hours, overbooked obligations, a headache that never fully goes away. I know I’ll survive and be no worse for wear (assuming a good night's sleep or two). Still, it’s Thursday now and I feel I haven’t taken a proper breath since Sunday. It is undoubtedly a green dress, comfortable flats, braided hair, glass of wine with no one around kind of night. I need to slow down. I need to think a few rambling thoughts. 

I walk five blocks to the best wine bar in town. It's the best not because of its wine selection - which is only a bit above average - but its atmosphere. I order a bruschetta appetizer and a glass of chardonnay then seat myself in a wicker chair on the patio. It’s dusk and the automatic lamps around the seating area come on one at a time, a pause between each as if they are politely taking turns. Through the yellow glow, I watch a classical guitarist play. His eyes are closed as his upper body sways with the rhythm of his fingers on the strings. The background vocal is the low tide waves of the lake licking the beach across the boardwalk. There are only three other patrons dispersed around the patio.

The ice cream shop next door is crowded though, as it should be on an idyllic summer night like this. I keep one ear tuned to the guitarist and one ear to the giddy hum of the families indulging in homemade, hand dipped ice cream. The combination is unexpectedly rejuvenating.

I hear the scrape of a chair on the sidewalk somewhere behind me. I don’t think much of it until I sense someone close to me. The loss of the solitude of my spot causes me to stiffen a little in my chair. I sip my wine, ignoring whomever is outside the short fence surrounding the patio.

“I’ll pass you an ice cream cone if you’ll sneak me a glass of pinot noir.”

The nearness of the voice is startling. I continue to ignore.

"What could be better than wine and ice cream?"

I move finally, ready to dismiss this stranger, but as I turn my head and lean my shoulder toward the fence, he leans forward. In his hand is a chocolate peanut butter, double scoop waffle cone. It meets my bare shoulder and I feel the top scoop instantaneously melt into liquid on my skin. The contact with my shoulder pushes the cone down into the man’s fist. It cracks, ice cream dripping over his fingers. His expression is so stunned, so regretful, I laugh aloud despite myself.

“Oh! Oh, I’m so sorry.” He pulls a stack of tiny napkins out of the pocket of his jeans and tries to mop up the chocolate mess on my arm. Meanwhile his other hand is covered in ice cream that runs off the curve of his wrist to fall to a small puddle on the sidewalk. “I did not think this through. I can’t tell you how sorry I am.”

I’m still quietly laughing, dumbfounded, trying not to panic over the ice cream that has reached my favorite dress. I hold my arm straight out, unsure of the best move to make. The man dashes into the ice cream shop for more napkins. He has long legs and a lean build. He’s back by my side in no time. When our eyes meet, his face turns red.

“What was that about?" I ask.

“Honestly?” He raises an eyebrow, scratches at his temple. “I had this whole scenario play out in my head. That’s not how it was supposed to go.”

I can’t help wanting to know more but I need to clean up. Excusing myself, I do what I can in the wine bar’s small restroom. My shoulder is still a tad sticky and I have counted five spots on my dress I’ll need to take care of at home. I expect to be alone again when I return to the patio and my glass of wine, but the man is still there. He has sat down in the chair he’d dragged over, only the diminutive fence and a couple feet of summer air between us.

He smiles tentatively when I sit down. “I’m Eli.”

“I’m Harper.”

We shake hands over the fence. The whole encounter is surreal and I am more and more surprised at my ease with each passing second.

I swallow the last of my chardonnay. There are two pieces of bruschetta toast left. I pass one to Eli and keep the other. “Are you going to tell me how it was supposed to go?”

He clears his throat, amusement lightening his expression. The lamps gleam in his brown eyes. “I was supposed to ask you to bring me a glass of wine. I was supposed to find out your favorite ice cream flavor and bring a dish of it for you. We were supposed to laugh over our clandestine exchange. We’d talk. We’d take a walk. I’d get your number and give you mine. Tomorrow we’d go out.”

I respond with a laugh straight from my belly. Eli has lost his embarrassment and grins at me. “Instead you smacked my shoulder with your ice cream and stained my favorite dress.”

“It’s still a great dress.”

“Are you a hopeless romantic or just a flirt?”

“I prefer romantic optimist.”

“Well, you’re something. I’ll give you that.”

He frowns when I stand up, my bill in my hand to pay at the bar inside, then he stands up as well.

“Eli, my favorite ice cream is cookies and cream. Maybe I’ll have to treat myself to some tomorrow evening.”

“You should definitely do that, Harper. Tomorrow night.”

“Tomorrow night.”


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

There's This One Song

There's this one song, this one single song, that does everything for me that I could possibly need when I listen to it. It holds me like a lullaby. It serenades me like a lover. It moves me like a great work of art. It makes me smile and makes me sigh.

Is it not an incredible privilege that we are designed to experience art in such a manner? And not only that we can comprehend the beauty and genius in art while it inspires emotional reactions and provokes new thoughts, but also that we are each unique in our experiences of it. The song I speak of may have little effect on you. The painting or symphony or film you love dearly, I may not like. The favorite novel, the beloved play, the incredible sculpture, or the enthralling music - they are not the same from one to another. We each have our own "songs" that hold ineffable power over us.

Oh, the glory of such variety in both artists and recipients of art.

When I listen to that song I am thankful we are made in the image of the original Artist. We are His finest work, His masterpieces. In turn then every piece of beauty and creativity that comes forth from humanity is an offshoot of His artistry. I hope there is a piece of art, a reflection of His artwork, that has reached you like this song has me. We are each greater for the "songs" that reach our hearts.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Thank Yous and News! (A Video Blog)

There's a first time for everything! My first video post is here:
If you have five minutes to spare, take a look. I have a message for my readers and a bit of news too!

Monday, January 9, 2017

A Stranger's Hands

She could not look away from his hands. Wide palms; long, sturdy fingers. Strong. They looked capable of holding her, all of her; something she hadn't thought of a man in years.

Three years and twenty-six days. Cora didn't keep track each day. That stopped during the second year. Every few months though, she added it back up. Numbers were a comfort to her; a steadying force reminding her some things made sense. This didn't begin with her husband's death. It was true since she first learned basic mathematics.

Three years and twenty-six days and suddenly (anything new since his death felt sudden), she was staring at a stranger's hands, thinking of how they would feel holding hers across a restaurant table, or on the small of her back, guiding her through a busy airport. Ordinary tasks of her husband's hands. A stranger. At the gym, no less. What was wrong with her?

"Less than yesterday." That's what her sister Tessa would say. Tessa thought Cora should move on. Cora thought Tessa didn't know what she was talking about.

She made up her mind to switch to a different treadmill in a different row, away from the stranger and his capable hands. Tessa's next question would be, "was he attractive?" Cora realized she couldn't have answered. She'd noticed nothing except his hands.

"It's a start," she heard her sister say in her head.

"It's an ending," she whispered as she began to run.

Friday, January 6, 2017

What Is the Book About?

"What is the book about?"
 
I couldn't possibly count the number of times I have heard this question. Sometimes people want a summary of the plot. Other times they are looking for the genre or a succinct synopsis. Easy question to answer, right? Right.
 
As the author, maybe because I am specifically a new author, I find the question difficult. How do I condense this story down to a few simple sentences? This story I've been writing and tweaking and rewriting for almost a decade. These characters I created from scratch and know like my best friends. Their relationships, their dilemmas, their pains and victories. How do I answer that question?
 
Then I stumbled upon this photo from the online magazine, "Verily." I saw it and exclaimed, "That's it!"
"Do not be afraid when love requires sacrifice." (St. John Paul II)
 
That right there is my book pared down to one sentence. The theme at the heart of Full of Days is the worthiness of love even when sacrifices are necessary for its existence. That truth is the reason I wrote it. Extending from this theme are the additional claims: that love's worth is essentially increased by those sacrifices and that no authentic love is capable of existing without some sacrifice.
 
In Full of Days, the protagonists experience this truth in varied ways. Sacrifice of pride and of approval. Sacrifice of comfort and security. Sacrifice of self. The latter is the only means for love to thrive. Do not mistake it for a pretty, romantic notion. It is the depth beneath the romance. It is the struggle beneath the prettiness. Self-sacrifice is the sustenance of love.
 
And, oh, the rewards! Freedom gained when pride and fear are rejected. Joys and adventures experienced when security is set aside and faith is boldly chosen. Strength built by arising from sorrow. Yes, my beloved characters experience these too.
 
If there is anything, anything at all, I hope my readers gain from this novel, it is a little less fear of and a little more courage for authentic love.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

I'll Wait

Writing Prompt: Red Shirt
Writing Time: 30 minutes

There was a spot of something on her shirt. A speck of food, maybe. It was too small to tell unless he drew closer. Her shirt was red and the spot was gray. Justin looked away. He wasn't about to be accused of staring at Leah's chest because of a tiny spot of who knew what. She would tease him for weeks. He tried to pay attention. She was speaking with as much grim seriousness as her lovely voice allowed.

Leah's voice really was lovely. Justin could not think of a better word. Like she was on the verge of singing every time she spoke. It was distracting, just like that spot on her red blouse.

He moved his eyes to the tumbler of whiskey in front of him. She still filled his peripheral view and the whiskey was only background color to her movements. Lifting her wine glass to her dry lips. Pushing her hair off her cheek. She set her drink down too hard. The wine sloshed up the curve of the glass, a single drop escaping over the top to slide down toward the stem.

"Don't you have any thoughts at all, Justin?"

So many.

He didn't admit that. "When have you ever taken my advice?" He said it with a smile that reached neither his eyes nor his tone.

"I'm sure it happened once."

She smiled now. That smile would be the end of him someday. Once it lit her face, he felt desperate to do anything, say anything, to stop it from disappearing.

"You can't leave."

Her mouth abandoned the smile to form a small O of surprise. Justin regretted it instantly. She'd want an explanation.

"It's his dream job. I can't ask him to stay." Leah took another sip of wine.

"I didn't say you should ask him to stay." What was he doing? If the tumbler was empty he might have something to blame. His hand shook when he lifted his still full drink so he set it back down and pressed his fist into the polished wood of the bar.

"Justin."

Her almost-singing voice was sad. Or scared. Justin wasn't sure which but he could not meet her eyes after she said his name that way. It sounded like a rejection wrapped up in a mere six letters, two syllables.

"Are you hungry? Let's order some food."

"Justin."

He shook his head. "I'm hungry."

"Me too," she whispered as she placed her finger tips under his chin to move his face in her direction. They both jumped when her phone rang. She dropped her hand.

"Damn it." He reached his arm around her waist and pulled her to him, more roughly than he intended. She slipped off her barstool and stood, leaning her hip against his knee. Every coherent thought left his head as their lips met. Then one single reality reached him: she was kissing him back. Her hand was on the back of his head. Her smooth skin was warm against his end of day stubble. Justin started to stand as well when she broke the kiss.

Leah stayed in the curve of his arm, her eyes still closed. He held his breath. She laid her palms on his chest and he knew she could feel his heart pounding through his shirt.

"How long have you wanted to do that?"

He laughed quietly, placing a light kiss on her forehead. When she finally opened her eyes, he replied, "May 17, 2002."

Confusion wrinkled her forehead for a moment then she smiled too. "The end of year party in your dorm?"

"The day we met."

"15 years, practically."

Her phone rang again and she stepped toward it. He groaned a little for the loss of her nearness.

"I have to take this." Leah didn't meet his eyes when she said it. She was chewing her lip the way he knew so well; the way she did when there was a decision to be made.

"I'll wait."

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

To Annabelle, Now and Every Tomorrow


Dear Annabelle,

Look at you. Football jersey, princess slippers, can't-sleep-without-them animals, and a smile brighter than a sunbeam. Lunging at me in jubilation. Certain I will embrace you. Certain I will laugh with you. 

You didn't see it but last night as I laid you in your crib, relaxed and content after our mutual favorite lullaby, there were tears in my eyes. You didn't notice the catch in my voice as I said goodnight. Something in the sight of you at that moment clarified reality. You are finishing up being my baby. You are ready to be my little girl instead. My little girl who will grow into my big girl and my young lady. The realization filled my chest with a wave of panic. The wave passed, swept out into the ocean of mixed emotions in a mother's heart as she watches her child change right before her eyes. There's no stopping you and so there are some things I must say before my voice isn't the one you're most eager to hear every morning, noon, and night.

Your face in this photo, along with a million instances of the privilege I have to see your smile, gives me a flash into the future. I am convinced you will be a woman who is "clothed in strength and dignity, and laughs at the days to come" (Proverbs 31:25). Please don't lose that light that fills your features. Keep your hair out of your gorgeous eyes, so you can see clearly but also so you may better be seen. You ought to be seen. When you feel the kick of an urge to smile at someone across the room, the way you do for me, don't resist it. You have no idea the kindness it is to offer that smile to another. And the way you never doubt that I and your Daddy will hear your calls? Have that confidence in your heavenly Father and the days to come won't be able to silence your laughter.

The time will come when you doubt this so I'll try to remind you of it often: you are "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14). Your soul, your mind, your body. Every aspect of the whole Annabelle is a wondrous gift from God. Do not belittle any part of that gift, nor listen to those who would try to tell you otherwise. Know that you deserve what is true and beautiful and good, then seek it out fervently.

Among my greatest hopes for you is that you become a woman who, like the very breath and wisdom of God, "is more precious than rubies, and nothing [anyone might] desire can compare to her" (Proverbs 3:15). Your character is a wellspring of untold worth. The potential for generosity and kindness, humor and boldness, passion and earnestness, understanding and creativity - unearth that treasure, my girl. Every person you touch will be better for it and you will pass your years living instead of waiting to live.

Be the princess you are, Annabelle, and be that only in the truest sense of the title. Be a daughter of the King. There is "an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you" (1 Peter 1:4), Annabelle. Rather than sacrifice it for anyone, be a reason they look for theirs too. Seek the good of every soul that crosses your path. Know your worth and convince others of theirs. 

I love you.

Mamma