Sounds of an Empty Nest

14 Jun

I promised myself I wouldn’t cry.

I lied.

Even my husband doesn’t know . . . well, I suppose he does now. Every morning when I leave my bedroom, music greets me and pulls me down the hall and into my son’s room. There, I stare at the radio, its soft alarm light blinking at nobody, singing to an empty room.

On the bed lies the black bow tie I rushed all over town to find for him to wear at high school graduation (please, not a clip-on, Mom). Now it’s been left behind with his dress belt in a heap atop the ceremony program, reminding me he didn’t even stay home for ONE night after graduation day.

A now-familiar lump builds in my throat and I find myself sobbing. Again.

Am I actually crying over an empty nest? How can that be, when I looked forward to this so eagerly after 32 years of having sons in the home? Why all these tears when I’m so genuinely proud of this young man and the path he’s chosen? He’s ready. I thought I was as well.

Yet, I can’t put my finger on this mysterious pain. Sure, I’ll miss him. I miss his older brother, who’s been on his own for many years. But that’s not it. We’re supposed to miss them.

Perhaps part of my confusion stems from the volume of personal items he left behind, taking only what he needs for his summer counselling job at scout camp. The numerous pairs of size-14 shoes take up a lot of space and make the room seem lived-in.

A haphazard collection of books and coins lies scattered around the room, and there are clothes in the laundry basket. The entire picture seems to whisper, “I’ll be back,” as if the door will open any moment and he will nudge me aside with a sheepish apology for forgetting to turn off the alarm setting. He knows I can’t work this technology stuff.

There was a day when I could do anything. Bring storybook characters to life, locate missing socks, rescue crumpled homework from the bottom of the backpack, bring home the right flavor PopTarts. He’d look at me with such joy, making me feel like a superhero. My primary job was to be there when he needed me.

When he needed me.

I keep going back to that silk bow tie, which I pick up and caress idly. With a fresh wave of tears, I finally identify my pain. It started with this tie, the day before graduation. I recall my frantic scramble to one sold-out store after another, mumbling to myself.

He might have mentioned this than a day before the ceremony. He has a perfectly good clip-on at home. If there aren’t any to be found, he can borrow one of his father’s long ties.

All of these musings were true, and if I’d suggested any of them he would have nodded and found his own tie, because he’s easy-going that way. To be honest, he really didn’t ask for the tie. He just hinted that he preferred to tie his own. Clip-ons are for cheaters.

But in my heart, I had a mission. He needed me one more time.

. . . which is how I ended up at the tuxedo rental store buying, not just a bow tie, but a silk one. An act of desperate love that has already been forgotten. A silk token lying in a pile of cast offs.

It’s both a joyous and a painful realization. His father and I have trained him up the way he should go, and now we’re reaping the consequences. He’s got this.

He doesn’t need me.

In fact, all I can really do for him now is pray, send the occasional care package, and turn off the alarm every morning. Of course, that third item wouldn’t be necessary if someone were to switch off his program settings.

Heaven help the person who does that.

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When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. – 1 Corinthians 13:11

 

What do Writers Read? Pursuing Adventure — Summer 2017

31 May

One would expect writers to be on the cutting edge of the book scene, devouring best-sellers one after another. After all, reading got us into this mess. Not just reading, but reading good books. I sometimes wonder, would I be enamored with writing today if I’d tried to read James Joyce’s “Ulysses” or William Faulkner’s “As I lay Dying” while I was still a tweenager instead of reading everything ever written by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Douglass Adams? I suspect not.

That isn’t to say those aren’t perfectly fine books. I confess, however, I’ve never managed to make it through either, which is a personal frustration as I’ve been told Ulysses is the greatest book ever written. How is it I cannot get past the first chapter then?

But I digress.

Over the past four years, or since I started writing for a living, I find I’m reading less and less. This is not good, as I was reminded last week repeatedly at a writers’ conference in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We need to read, to keep our imaginations lit, to stay abreast of changes in style and analyze what works and what doesn’t so our own writing stays fresh, and for myriad other reasons that would bore you to tears if I listed them. For this reason, I’ve established a summer/fall reading list to make sure I’m hip. Or whatever it is I’m supposed to be these days.

I share this list with you with a caveat, one that also attempts to answer the question posed earlier. You won’t recognize many of these authors, but give ’em a shot. Writers don’t always read the latest and greatest best sellers. I’m learning that writers, by the nature of their networking and community, read books by friends who are writers. We help each other out, which is, more often than not, a good deal despite the time invested. However, not all writers should be, if you know what I mean, so sometimes I have to wade through some heartbreaking time-suckers. I will not recommend those books, as a service to you.

On the other hand, we also get to read some phenomenal books by lesser-known authors, some of whom are self-published but should be moved to the front of the line. I will announce those gems as I find them.

Without further ado: A Writer’s 2017 Summer Reading List
(Assuming you’ve already read Caged Sparrow, From the Remnants, and Breaking the Chains, of course)

NOVELS

toscaTosca Lee’s “Demon: A Memoir” – Okay, this was going to be on the list but the moment I started it I had to push through, so now it’s just a recommendation. I read this book in three days, it’s so good. For my Christian reader friends, DO NOT JUDGE this book by its gruesome cover. As a writer, I cannot load my brain with dark imagery and would normally have given it a wide berth. However, I’m so incredibly glad someone recommended this because it’s fantastic. I cannot say enough about the way this book has changed my thinking about good and evil. I’ve never considered what fallen angels might think about having no possibility of receiving forgiveness while watching us blind and foolish humans receive chance after chance. Tosca Lee’s descriptions are fantastic and quite believable, and will stay with me for quite some time. The ending felt a bit repetitious at first, but I get it now: We still don’t get it. Because of this book, I will add everything Tosca Lee has ever written to my reading list.

Frank Peretti’s “This Present Darkness” – A small-town reporter and the local pastor notice some strange goings-on in their neighborhood.  Recommended by a friend and endorsed by Jerry Jenkins. That’s enough for me.

Connie Mann’s “Hidden Threat” – Just out and looking like a book I can get lost in. Connie is a boat captain from Florida I met at a conference a few years ago. I’ve read most of her books and can easily recommend them, especially last year’s “Tangled Lies.”

Anthony Doerr’s “All the Light We Cannot See” – The story of a blind French girl and a German boy who meet in occupied France during WWII. Although not really into romance, I’m a sucker for a well-told behind-the-scenes war story.

annieMEMOIRS — Hey, I write ‘em, I gotta read ‘em, and frankly, I think memoirs are among the best reading out there—because truth is indeed stranger and much more interesting than fiction.

Paul Kalamithi’s “When Breath Becomes Air” – the story of a young neurosurgeon facing terminal cancer. Recommended by a writer friend. I’ll keep you posted.

Annie B. Garman’s “Unexpected Grace: When Your Child is Born with Half a Heart” – I haven’t even started reading it and my tears are getting ready to flow. This was a finalist in the 2017 Selah Awards so I know it will change me.

MYSTERY AND HUMOR – may as well get those in one package when you can, don’cha know?

Chelsea Field’s “Eat, Pray, Die mystery series. – I was just about to give up on humor and re-read an old favorite (Douglas Adams’ “Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul – highly recommended) when I stumbled across these. The second book in the series is called “The Hunger Pains,” which screams “READ ME!” So I shall.

OTHER

There are many other books on my Round-to-it list, primarily writing books (apparently, I should read one a month so I’ll start with Steven James’ Troubleshooting Your Novel); Christian inspiration (Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer) and classics  (“Les Misérables” – I know, I know, but I haven’t yet). I won’t list them all because I don’t want to overwhelm my mind . . . just tease it a bit. I promise to let you know if I find any of these time-investment worthy.

How about you? What’s on the top of your stack? I’m always ready to read something new.

Except “Ulysses.” I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready for that.

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My heart overflows with a pleasing theme; I address my verses to the king; my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe. — Psalm 45:1

Honoring Mothers, Even My Own

11 May

I usually don’t write about my mother.  As a “Daddy’s Girl,” I’ve dedicated three or four blogs over the years to my father, flawed as he was, but I steer clear of Mom. Perhaps I do this because some aspects of our relationship still need healing, yet they never will heal completely because she’s been gone for nearly 10 years.

Most of my more recent memories of my mother involve whiskey and tears. My mom raised nine children (well, the youngest four pretty much raised each other, but that’s another story) and she carried two girls to full-term, losing them in childbirth. I cannot deny she led a tough life, but a part of me still resents that she turned to the bottle for solace.

The most poignant words I ever heard her utter were, “I’ve been pregnant 99 months of my life and all I have to show for it are varicose veins and a mountain of laundry.”

On some levels that’s a bit funny, however, because she believed it, those words pierce my heart to this day. If she could see us now, and I think she can—certainly more clearly than she could here on Earth—I know she’d be proud of her children. We’re not wealthy doctors and lawyers, but we’re all good-hearted people who work hard, and who believe in doing right and helping others. Among us you’ll find a teacher, a fisherman, a carpenter, a deacon, a store manager, a truck driver, and three very-small-business owners.

You’ll also find varying degrees of anger and resentment toward Mom. The variation comes with differences in birth order, proximity to the problem over the years, and depth of understanding regarding our Dad’s role in her demise. (Yes, there’s a book here—working on it!)

My personal struggle is with wondering how much of my childhood experiences were necessary to make me who I am today? How much of that gave my oldest brother such a compassionate heart that he relentlessly collects food and money for regular relief trips to an impoverished area of West Virginia? How much of that imbued my youngest sister with the stubbornness to pursue her college degree, one and two classes at a time over many years, after the world told her she would never be a teacher? (Today, she’s pretty much Teacher of the Year every year in my book—take THAT world!) How much of what we went through as children drives each of us to pursue dreams instead of merely money?

And mostly, I wonder how much of what we went through is Mom’s fault? She did what she thought she had to do. She made good and bad decisions, like all of us. She became trapped by some of those decisions, and it affected us. To an extent, it defines us today, but it does not define our futures. We each have a say in how much we will allow our childhoods to drive our adulthoods.

Why do I bring this up now? Lately, it’s become trendy for people who don’t celebrate Mothers’ Day, for varied and quite appropriate reasons, to assert those reasons into the conversation as if to lessen the joy of the day. In some circles, people are becoming cautious about wishing each other Happy Mother’s Day for fear of offending. I’ll admit, although I have two wonderful boys, Mother’s Day always brings a twinge of sadness for me. And I cannot imagine what the day is like for someone who has lost a child. Whoever you are, please know that my heart aches for you, not just this Sunday, but every day. For you, and for me, this is just not our day.

Taking offense is a decision, however, and I choose not to.

Because Mothers’ Day IS a sweet and special day for others. I’ve learned to appreciate a beautiful story about a wonderful mother and not feel envy, but gratefulness, because that mother created a fantastic person. I celebrate with you, mothers everywhere, for the job you’re doing. I honor you, whether you’re making good decisions or fumbling the ball right now, whether your house is spotless or a cluttered disaster, whether your kids eat Pop-Tarts or home-baked bread for breakfast. My prayer for each of you is that your children absorb your good examples with sponge-like efficiency, and learn from (but see past) your failures and short-comings. I want to encourage you to keep trying, to push forward, and to be awed and inspired by this task you’ve been given—to influence young minds and create good adults.

young mom

“And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
 That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.”

(Emily Dickenson, Hope is the thing with feathers)

Happy Mothers’ Day. May each of us find something about mothers to take joy in this Sunday.

And to my own mom, I honor you as well, for all it cost you to be my mother, our mother. I’m glad you’re no longer suffering. I want you to know we didn’t break. I’ll never understand, this side of Heaven, what that was all about, but I kinda’ like how we all turned out. We’re a tough, stubborn, witty, resilient people. Thank you for my life and for each of my siblings.

I miss you.

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Let your father and mother be glad; let her who bore you rejoice. – Proverbs 23:25

The Great Buts of Human Limitation

24 Apr

Who are you, deep down? What is it you really desire to do? What is it you’ve been putting off for years, despite the constant yearning? We all have dreams, hopes, a purpose . . .  but some of us are sitting on our buts and may never see them realized.

It seems the more I write, the more I hear from people who want to write. The more I write about peace and positive outlook, the more I hear from people craving peace and positive outlook. The more I write about jumping off the ledge to follow your dreams, the more I hear the word “but.”

But I’m too old. But I’m too young. But I’m too sick. But I’m too far in debt. But I don’t know where to start. But the kids…

I understand completely, because I’ve been there. I pined to write for 35 years, yet never stuck my head out past the margin of societal expectations. Despite having an active imagination and dreams of writing for a living, I believed the voices that said to leave my current job would be irresponsible, that making lots of money is more important than pretending to be a writer, that I might not be good enough to make it in the writing world.

But perhaps when I’m old enough to retire; but maybe if I could secure a solid offer for something first; but perhaps when the youngest graduates college…

Then, quite out of the blue, I do believe I heard the Lord tell me to get off my but(t) and start scribbling. I did, and although I wouldn’t call myself a financially successful author yet, I’m on my way and having a ball. I’m happier than I ever was when money was assured (although, depending on your spiritual foundation, one could argue that sufficient money has been assured and IS being provided, as we are not in need.)

As I walked through my neighborhood recently, I took specific notice of some trees that clearly do not conform to nature’s expectations, and it occurs to me that sometimes, despite our greatest yearnings, we make decisions based on the world’s expectations and let fears and past hurts keep us from what may be the true happiness we’re seeking, a happiness that comes from doing what we were meant to do with our lives.

So, the photos on this blog post will be larger than usual, because I want you to study them and search for your face amid the leaves.

stubborn treeThis first I call the Tree of Determination. You might say it’s a young tree with an old soul. This is a rebellious Eastern Redbud, which sports radiant purple (go figure) flowers every spring. This tree has clearly experienced a recent tragedy, yet refuses to go quietly into that good night. Notice how tall and full its new growth is. There’s nothing meek or hesitant going on here. This is how we were meant to be, alive and vibrant, pushing forward despite the negative buffeting of the world around us, and despite the passing of those who went before us. It’s okay, and quite healthy, to mourn those who are no longer with us, but we can also honor them by taking what they left behind and letting it nourish our growth.

The second is this Tree of Hope, quite possibly a Red Maple, but I’m not a tree expert so don’t write that down. When a fire stripped this pitiful thing bare last summer, I was sure someone was sharpening the axe. But the owners, who are clearly wiser than I am, burned treepruned back the branches and let it rest over the winter. This spring there is evidence of hope. It put up a small patch of growth this year, perhaps all it can muster, as if timidly testing the environment. I will track this tree’s progress over the next few years, and reblog someday with hopefully a fantastic fall display. The lesson I take from this tree is, sometimes we know where we want to go, but we’ve been burned too many times to stick our neck out there. In that case, it’s okay to go slow. Do only as much as you can right now, but move forward. Fires can and may happen, but the likelihood that they will keep happening and in the same place is not great. That picture in your mind of where you’re going? That’s your dream. Do something every day that brings you closer. Don’t give it up, even if the world mocks you or knocks you down (see picture #1). It’s YOUR dream and they can’t have it.

 

 

Finally, we have the No-longer Imprisoned Tree. I have no idea of its species, because I boxed treewas too focused on the roots of this tree to examine the leaves. Here’s a fully functioning, helpful tree. It’s tall, and straight, and even supports a swing. A giver. At one time, though, its roots were apparently boxed and tightly constrained. Sadly, the message here is one I see all too often. Many of us were once boxed and tightly constrained, but although we’ve been set free, we haven’t moved a muscle. We function, day after day, provide care and nurturing for others, but we keep our own selves confined. What’s keeping us from stretching those limbs and experiencing the freedom we’ve yearned for? Other voices? Reminders? For me it was fear of failure. Or more precisely, fear of success. I worried that if I succeeded with my first book, I’d have nothing else to say, and I’d be found out a fraud. The voice I listened to said anyone can write one book, but only a “real author” can keep the words coming. I still worry sometimes, but I know the dream is still in my heart so I’m striving to be a purple Redbud tree.

My inspiration to keep moving forward, however, comes not from trees but from three women I greatly admire. My Tree of Determination friend is Erin Elizabeth Austin a writer friend who suffers from an often debilitating disease called Lupus. She refuses to let negative events of the world dictate how she will behave, and chooses to make every healthy minute of her life count by helping others and by blooming wildly. She has just released the 11th issue of “Broken but Priceless” magazine, an uplifting and encouraging magazine for people who have, or care for loved ones with, chronic illness. And in all this, she’s so danged funny, just like a purple Redbud tree.

Aimee Gross is my Tree of Hope. She’s a fellow blogger who suffers from mental illness and chronic depression, but she’s sticking her neck out there in hopes of reaching that one person who might be looking for help in this vast internet. Aimee has a physically demaanding day job, yet she writes to inspire others in her free time. Her main message is, you’re not alone. you can overcome, we can do this together.

And my Tree of No-longer Imprisoned? That would be Michele, a strong-willed, smart, big-hearted woman whose dreams are repeatedly squelched by buffeting storms. Some of the waves have even knocked her down at times, but she resolutely stands each time and braces for the next. What she can’t see, but her friends can, is that the waves are getting weaker, further apart, and the sea is ebbing. I, for one, cannot wait to see what happens when she realizes she can stretch out her limbs and take a step forward. Michele is not a writer (yet), but boy, does she have a story. I’ll keep you posted there as well.

So, a lot of words blogged today to ask, again, who are you deep-down, and what’s the next step in fulfilling your dream? I would love to hear your answers, unless there’s a “but” attached, because on this blog, we don’t sit on our buts.

—————————————————–

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:10

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Book Signing Poster2Oh, two announcements! First, for those who live in the area, I will be co-sponsoring a book signing with Bea Fishback this Sunday (April 30), at Brew Republic Bierwerks in Woodbridge (near Wegman’s). If you can make it, please stop by between 1 and 3. Even if the idea of good books and fellowship doesn’t grab you, at least try the beer cheese pretzels or the crab dip—such a treat!

Breaking the Chains Cover_300 dpiAND, I’ve recently contributed two stories to the Lighthouse Bible Studies anthology “Breaking the Chains,” an uplifting place to start if anything in the blog above strikes a chord. This book addresses the spiritual attacks that keep us bound and believing things about ourselves that just ain’t true. If you want to take that first step forward, I’ll have books at the signing on Sunday, or you can order them here.

From the Peak of Round-to-it Mountain: Can’t I Just Sit Here and Enjoy the View?

6 Apr

Happy April!

I’ve missed you all so much. It’s hard to believe this page has been dormant more than three weeks, because it seems more like three months. I must admit, I approached this page with trepidation today, a little worried you may have found another blogger to spend your time with. I can’t say I blame you.

bootleg

Yep. I’m a trend setter! (In my defense, it looks a lot better when I stand…)

Do I start with an apology? An explanation?  A wild story about being imprisoned by the fashion police for wearing white ankle socks with short jeans? This last, sadly, could happen, as I keep my ankle socks closest to the front of the drawer (think lazy, pre-coffee dressing in the dark because it’s too early for major wattage) AND, all my jeans are too short, because longer ones tend to run wide, so I usually have to choose between the cinched trash bag look or the awkward strip of bare calf.

But no. My reason for ignoring my writing is much less dramatic, and much more pitiful than a prison stint in fashion jail.

You see, I’ve allowed busyness to rule my schedule rather than try to tame it with actual scheduling.

Why is this pitiful, you might ask? Well, because I’ve learned this particular lesson approximately seven thousand times now, and one might expect that at some point I would actually apply it to my lifestyle, but I can’t seem to get there.

From what I’ve learned, I apparently lack two critical talents required in the struggle to prevent busyness: a “no” button, and math skills. I love to help. I can help. I want to help. So, I tend to accept most requests for assistance. However, if I had an inkling as to how math really works, I might not so frequently accept a six-day project and pencil it in for Tuesday, or agree to a two-day edit when I’m leaving for the weekend.

Nor would I accept someone’s estimate that the piece they’re about to send me for editing is “not too long.” In my world, that phrase implies, say, an article explaining why, for the love of PETE, my no-longer-go-to dictionary has decided to change the definition of “literally” to include “figuratively.” (Not enough blank paper here to express my hidden emotions on that topic, so I’ll respectfully not approach the soap box.) However, I’m quickly learning that some folks think of “long” as the Oxford English Dictionary, and thereby, all other documents “short” by comparison. I’ve even annoyed people by not getting through their “short,” 150-page dissertation on the same day they sent it to me.

All this to say, I’m sorry I’ve been away, but my days have been ridiculously filled, and some of my nights even worse. At one point I became so busy, I actually wrote “Wash Hair” on my schedule, fearing it wouldn’t get done otherwise.

Yet learning has occurred. Let me tell you four other tidbits of wisdom I’ve acquired in the past three weeks.

best yes

It’s on the floor beside the desk because this is “To Do” Stack Number Two.

First, I will never finish it all. I find it particularly funny that my copy of the book “The Best Yes,” by Lysa TerKeurst, which teaches us to make wise, purposeful decisions for our time, is buried under a pile of paperwork I’m trying to work my way through. That’s akin to being notified by the library that your book on time management is overdue. However, I can accomplish more than I thought I could in a day (not that I really want to know that, for obvious reasons).

Second, my family is fantastic. They gave me space when I needed it, and gallantly ignored the increasing clutter and dust bunny piles throughout the house (although the jury’s still out as to whether they even noticed those – he who sees must take up the broom and all…) My husband, in particular, showed great empathy and support, mostly by letting me vent and not trying to “fix” my mess. He, too, had some trying schedules during this time. I will from here forward carry with me the sweet memory of one night after a particularly exhausting day, when both my husband and I settled down well after 10 p.m., realizing neither of us had eaten. He quickly boiled some pasta and coated it in parmesan cheese, and we nibbled sleepily while we watched nothing on television, then fell asleep, head-to-head, bowls in hand.

Third, I love (and need) to write more than I knew. I may edit well, and I can appreciate that this is where my bread and butter lies, but when I go too long without writing, my world becomes bleak and I become bleaker still. Creating gives me energy. It’s the gift God gave me for His purposes, but I often treat it like a “nice-to-have” instead of an assignment. Besides, spending all my time on other people’s creations makes me feel like a kid stuck inside during recess. I’m vowing here and now to put my own oxygen mask on regularly, so I can better serve others.

Finally, I’ve learned, again, that this is not the way God designed me to be. While all the projects I worked on over the past month were good, and I believe have the potential to DO good, I must learn to say no. God made us because He delights in us, pure and simple. To me, that means he enjoys watching me, so why would I want to spend my time frantically scurrying from task to task when I could be delighting in Him back? There are tasks He has set in front of me, specifically for me to do. They are all sitting on that “Best Yes” pile, and I’ll bet I’d be much less frenzied working on any one of them.

By God’s math, one can travel farther by slowing down, accomplish more by doing less, and live more fully by choosing simplicity over abundance.

Now that’s some math even I can appreciate.

——-

You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. — Haggai 1:9

Narcissus Dies Again

14 Mar

Narcissus. Pronounced: nar-SIS-əs. Latinized form of Greek Narkissos, possibly derived from narke meaning “sleep, numbness.” Narkissos was a beautiful youth in Greek mythology who stared at his own reflection for so long that he eventually died and was turned into the narcissus flower.

“But Father, we want this so much!” The children leapt from their beds and stretched. “The sun is warm, the robins are singing, the earth is calling, please let us perform today.”

“I’m telling you, the time is not yet right.” Father gathered them in his loving arms and set them resolutely back in bed, pulling the soft brown cover up over their heads. “Just a little while longer, I promise.”

“Not fair,” they wailed. “You never let us do what we want to do! We’re ready.”

Father smiled. “My little ones, it’s not about just you, and it’s not just about what seems good. It’s about what’s best. Trust me. You may think you’re ready, but I’m not. I’ve seen ahead. I have great plans for you and for those who will be blessed by your performance. Again, I say trust me. Something else must happen first.”

To Narco, the most brash among them, Father’s words were insufficient. “I don’t see why you can’t just tell us what’s going to happen.”

“Because, my dear Narco, I shouldn’t have to prove myself to you.” Father’s gentle voice had already soothed some of the younger ones to sleep. “I’m inviting you to trust me, not because of what you think you know, but because I’ve never let you down before.”

Ignoring the whines and protests of those still awake, he kissed the row of budding children and closed the door, resuming his business.

In the darkness, they stewed with a sullen awareness of the warmth radiating above them. Narco pulled back the covers.

daffodil1

Take THAT!

“I don’t care what he says. We’re missing everything. Life is too short to spend it in the dark. I’m ready NOW. I’m going up!”

With that, he sprang from the bed and shot upward. His glorious mane unfurling as his arms stretched for the sky. He lifted his face toward the sun and beamed, drinking in its bourbon-like rays from head to toe.

“Take that, Father! I told you so!”

One-by-one, his siblings followed, peeking shyly out from their covers and then, gaining courage, unfurling to greet the sun. A collective, joyful sigh filled the air.

Settling down after a sweet opening-day performance, the children felt a slight chill in the air. As night fell, the winds began to howl. The little children cried and searched desperately for the way home, but the doors had all closed.

“Just a minor set-back,” shouted Narco over the din. “Stay together. The sun will be back in the morning.”

daffodil2And so, they huddled together in the cold, sobbing through the night, as layer upon layer of snow settled over them, each heavier than the last. At some point in the night, Narco felt a sharp pain in his waist, which caused him to bend nearly double.

When morning came, they could no longer stand. Their frozen hearts could no longer sing. Their beautiful manes had shriveled and hung limp.

Narco shed a single tear, which dripped from the cup of his face onto the snow-covered ground and froze on contact, merging his lovely petal to the earth.

“Oh, Father, why didn’t you stop me?”


Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way. — Proverbs 19:2

Grandpa’s Laugh

6 Mar

I met Jerry L. Fitzsimmons, Sr. under unusual circumstances. I’d been engaged to his son for less than a week and we’d been driving through Kansas on our way to McCook, Nebraska in our ’66 Mustang to meet his grandparents. From there, we planned to drive to Denver to meet his parents.

We never made it to McCook.

Instead, we hit black ice in Hayes, Kansas and my fiancé was hospitalized in a tiny clinic in nearby Colby. His parents arrived in Colby the next morning, just as young Jerry was being loaded into a plane for emergency transport . . . back to Denver.

So, I got to know my future in-laws by myself, on the drive to Denver. I ended up staying with them at their house for the remainder of my 30-day leave, visiting my fiancé at the hospital every day and bringing home reports for them at night. They visited their son when they could, but the day-to-day pressures of life and raising two small children at the time seemed to tug at their time.

I hit it off with Jerry, Sr. right away, not knowing the extent of his brokenness. His son had never expounded on the depths of the chasm between the two of them, only telling me they’d had a “rough time” in his teens. I called him Grandpa and Old Man from the start, long before we even knew if his son would survive, or if we would, indeed, marry and actually make him a grandpa.

During those 30 days, Grandpa and I bonded. I could make him laugh, and I enjoyed doing so, because his laugh was deep and booming. He never said “yes,” but instead said, “that’s exactly right,” which tickled my ear for some reason. We spent hours each night chatting and laughing. During those 30 days, I never saw him drink to excess. Nor did I see evidence of the bridges he’d burned between himself and his children, or the extent to which they’d continue to burn.

The choices Grandpa made over the next 10-15 years would pull him even further from his “first” family, as he and Grandma divorced. Over those years, my by-then husband still didn’t discuss the chasm, and we rarely seemed to have time to visit. Only recently have the wounds between them begun to heal.

Granpa and the boys3

An old and rare photo of all my boys

In the years to follow, there were a few visits, stops during cross-country treks, “as long as we’re in the area,” but never specific trips to see him. And he came to see us in Virginia at least twice that I recall. All those visits were way too short. From those few moments spread out over 35 years, I must now draw all my memories of him. I already regret that I haven’t more, but we each chose, first through stubbornness and then through inaction, not to be closer. Because of that, his grandsons missed out on what could have been a sweet relationship. So did we.

Now, Grandpa’s laugh has been silenced. I’ll miss it tremendously, and will do everything in my power to remember the way it sounds, because it’s all I have.

Grudges and hurt feelings are tools that the world uses to keep us from enjoying love in its purest form, particularly among family. I think the greatest sadness to that truth is that restored relationships are often even more sweet than those with people we’ve loved freely all along, and so often we miss that. However, it takes tremendous courage to take that first step. While I’m glad, for my husband’s sake that he took that step, I will always mourn the years they lost.

I truly hope Grandpa left this world knowing that we do love him, that although we only understand a small bit of the battle he fought, we hold no grudge, and that, in our hearts, his booming laugh lives on.

Peace to you, Old Man. I pray you’ve found what you were searching for.

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 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. — Ephesians 4:32