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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.

————–

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

To the Moon, Alice! (But Take Me With You)

12 Jan

Tomorrow marks my 33rd anniversary of marriage to a wonderful man. In previous years, I’ve used this event as a reason to wax over the ordinariness of our marriage or to tell you why my husband is my hero (much to his discomfort). By now, you pretty much know all there is to know about us . . . we’re not exactly Buzz-feed material.

However, I’m sad to say, there are still volumes to be written about double-digit anniversaries, because successful marriages are becoming increasingly rare in this fast-paced, me-first society. That is not to boast about “making it,” because, frankly, I sorta’ stumbled my way here. Given that I spend at least 70 percent of my time living in my own head and the rest judging with surprise that which has transpired while I was gone, I easily could have stormed away at many junctures along this merry adventure. I hung in there because I’m too lazy to cook and I can’t do math and Jerry is a master of both. I think he hung in there because I make him laugh—usually unintentionally.

Marriage is easy. All you have to do is say “I do,” sign the papers and ride off into the sunset. There ends the romance novel. Then comes love. Choosing to love, day after day, despite muddy footprints on clean floors, arguments on Christmas morning, less than angelic children, bounced checks, cars with mysterious dents, flannel pjs, temper tantrums, and all the other unromantic cogs that jam themselves into the wheel of bliss, now that’s the hard part.

I keep a reminder of what I believe is real love close to my heart. It came from an interview with the late Jessica Tandy and her husband Hume Cronyn, who were married 52 years. When asked the secret to a happy marriage, they replied in unison, “Frequent separations and partial deafness,” then smiled at each other in that all-knowing way. In case you missed it, the “real love” part is in the knowing look. I’ve always considered them the ideal couple. After Jessica passed, Hume compared living without her to being a quadriplegic.

My image of Jessica and Hume can only remain pristine as long as I never look too closely into their lives. I’ve learned enough about them to know they had place in their home called “the sulking room,” where one could retreat when they couldn’t stand another minute in the other’s company. I’m not saying a room like that would get much use in my own home, but I think I’d visit there a time or two.

mom-and-dad

Mom and Dad–A story with many twists and turns

So, how do we know what a good marriage should look like? My parents’ marriage lasted nearly 30 years, until my father passed away at 64. Those of us nine children who spent any amount of time with them in those final years would have called it an unhappy marriage, judging from the tears, the tiredness and the brokenness we witnessed. However, as I delve into old letters, I’m seeing traces of a different story, which I hope to share with my siblings one day soon. We’ll never know for sure, but, come on…nine kids?

nana-and-paw-50th

Never met a more gentle soul than my Old Poop of a Grandfather

My maternal grandparents were married almost 50 years. To her dying days, she called him the Old Poop. I never quite knew what to make of that, nor did I know for sure whether they were happy. They spent every minute of their 20-plus retirement years together. If ever a couple needed a sulking room…

Truth is, there is no perfect marriage, only imperfect people trying to live up to the ideals and values they’ve set for themselves and to honor their chosen mate as best they can with the imperfect tools they’ve been given. We can emulate our parents and grandparents, but without knowledge of what they endured off stage, it’s like reading every third page of a novel. Not the best how-to manual.

However, there is a perfect love. We see that in Jesus, who put others before himself and sacrificed for the greater good when the situation called for it. He showed us how to love, and, when we’re not being obstinate, it’s easy to see how loving His way can build up a marriage into the rewarding, blessed union God intended it to be. It’s something to strive for. I confess that I have, I occasionally, I often usually miss the mark, but I see my failures as blessing my husband with an opportunity to wield another useful marriage-building tool: forgiveness.

All kidding aside, I do take great delight in my marriage and my sweet husband, and I see him as a wonderful gift from God that means more to me with each passing year. I look forward to sharing with him the joys and trials that lie ahead, because I cannot imagine going through them with anyone else.

Jerry, you are my love, my rock, my steadfast friend, and my mathematician. And who knows, play your cards right and one day I might tell our grandchildren that you’re also my Old Poop. Here’s to 33 more…and a sulking room.

—-

Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life, and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. –Ecclesiastes 9:9

New Year, New Page, New Start

1 Jan

On this, the seventh day of Christmas, I received a most precious gift, as did you.

I stayed in bed this morning as long as I could, savoring the opening of it the way one unwraps a much-anticipated present—instead of tearing into the wrapping, I glided my metaphorical finger just under point where the paper overlaps and I nudged the tape until it released its hold.

Then I pulled back the wrap and lingered over the newness of it all, inhaling the scent of promise and potential.

It is here.

sunriseThe new year has dawned like a magnificent sunrise over an expansive ocean, with a freshness of clean linen, the newness of a tightly folded flower bud, and the secrecy of a locked treasure chest. I’m giddy over the endless possibilities of what lies ahead.

In my heart, I’m staring in wonder at a book that contains 365 blank pages, and my heart can only smile.

Right now, the pages are unstained, unblemished in any way. I haven’t hurt anyone with my sarcasm all year. I haven’t said any words I cannot take back. I haven’t judged someone for being different. I haven’t broken a promise to a friend, or missed an opportunity to put aside my work to take a long walk with my husband.

At this moment, anything is possible.

In time, the pages will fill, some with heartache, others with joy and victory. I pray for more of the latter but understand it’s not my decision, just as I also know that, when the year ends, page after page will contain absolutely nothing—a chronicle of hours burned up on mindless tasks.

I resolve to turn the pages more purposefully this year. I pray I can record at the end of each day that I smiled more, laughed more, and loved more on that day’s page than on the one before it. I pray this year my focus is not on how I can better myself, but on how I can make life better for others. Forgive those who hurt me, reignite waning friendships, write encouragement for others. What does that mean, exactly? I have no idea, but I’m sure I’ll learn.

This year I will write a book, see more family, and meet new people. It’s going to be a blast.

How about you? What do you hope to put on your blank pages? Imagine the unimaginable with me, would you? Set your sights on the seemingly unattainable and laugh, because you can do it. Believe and make that first mark on the pristine page.

For no yearning is too big, no dream impossible on this, the first day.

—-

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! — 2 Corinthians 5:17

Play Ball! Nationals “Fan” Dares to Hope

13 Oct

Five hours and counting.

Not that I am counting, but if I were, five is the magic number. Five hours and seventeen minutes. Give or take.

…because counting would imply that I’m some sort of fanatic. That I’m somehow invested in the outcome of tonight’s baseball game. That I care, for some reason, whether Max Sherzer slept well last night.

Pshaw! It’s just a division title, give me a break.

He did sleep well, didn’t he? Is there a press release on that?

But then, why am I writing this instead of working on the myriad assignments vying for attention on my desk? Why am I doodling “Go Murphy” on the thesis I’m editing? Why am I secretly giddy that the Red Sox are out, knowing a certain fan living in New Mexico might be crying in her baked beans tonight?

To be clear, I’m not giddy that she’s crying, but when my Broncos faced her Patriots during the race to the Super Bowl in January, the FBosphere started getting uncomfortable, and I couldn’t cheer as loudly as I wanted to. It’s hard to yell “In your face” when someone’s Gronk is riding the stretcher to the locker room, you know? So, I’m happy to have that obstacle on the side of the road.

No, I’m not a fanatic. I can quit watching Nationals Baseball any time I want to. Then again, if that were true, I may not have sat up so many nights when we went into extra innings…Like that six-hour, 16-inning, suspense-a-palooza against the Twins last April when I couldn’t sleep until Chris Heisey’s walk-off put me out of my misery. Lots of coffee the next morning.

Lots.

It’s just that I admire this team, their dedication, their coach, and their creativity. They are fun to watch. You’ve got Espinosa hitting home runs as both a left- and right-handed batter in the same game, a rookie named Turner who can fly, and Harper stepping up on his supposed day off to pinch-hit a game-tying home run in the 9th inning. And there are six players on the team with 20 or more homeruns this season. SIX! Even the second-string players are phenomenal. Although our hearts were crushed when The Buffalo re-shattered his knee in the team’s first post-season game, Jose Lobaton stepped up to fill his cleats and got our hearts beating again.

My favorite player is Jayson Werth, for whose T-shirt I relinquished a few tenners. Not the jersey. I imagine if I were a true fan I wouldn’t let a measly C-note stop me from sporting the colors, but struggling writer budget trumps style. Werth, to me, epitomizes the game. He plays hard, pushed through a lengthy slump this year to emerge as one of the team’s top hitters, and he’s absolutely awful in front of the camera. I love it when “MASN Dan” dares to approach him with the mic—the more glorious the moment, the more colorful the language.

Four hours and 33 minutes.

nats

Even if they win, I promise not to get a big head over it.

And while we’re on favorites, I even like The Big-headed Presidents. Well, not Hoover. He’s a tad creepy. Teddy is the coolest, because he just looks as if he’s there to enjoy the game. I decided that if I made it to a game this year, I’d wrangle a photo-op with him in case I ever blogged about the Nationals. Sigh…then when my big moment finally arrived, Teddy kinda wandered away, leaving me with Willy Taft. I’ll take what I can get.

I do have a life outside of baseball. And the Broncos. And the Caps. It’s just that I can’t quite remember what’s in it. By this time tomorrow, I may get a glimpse, because my nights would be baseball-free, but I hope not. This series against the Dodgers has been a nail biter, but all the Nats players seem to be playing on high octane (and I’m betting Harper is just reserving energy for an upcoming dramatic save). So, I’m fully prepared to put off my meager social life even further to cheer the Nats through the World Series.  Starting in four hours and ten minutes.

I’d better double check the schedule to make sure the time hasn’t been moved up. Not that I’m a fanatic, mind you.

Criminy. There’s also a Broncos game on at 8:30. And the Caps play at 8.

Now what do I do?

***

Morning After Report:
Nationals lost.
Broncos lost.
Capitals lost.
I must really be a fanatic, because it hurts so very much. 😦
#GoNats2017

——————————-

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. – Proverbs 13:12

A Story is Born: From the Remnants Just Released

12 Sep

It’s official!

Today Cathy Schrader and I released “From the Remnants, A Story of Light and Hope.

bookcover

Click on Book Cover to Order! …And thank you. 🙂

It is the true story of Cathy’s journey from heart-shattering brokeness to a place of healing and purpose.

This book is for anyone whose faith in God has been tested by the sudden and unexplainable loss of a loved one. Although we all race through life understanding its inherit brevity, we sometimes take for granted the days we’re given to share with those we love. We choose our paths based on what we expect they hold for us. However, God, in his sovereign mercy, knowing infinitely more about our journey than we do ourselves, sometimes allows devastation in our lives by calling our loved one to Himself sooner than we could have predicted, turning those paths into dead-end roads, and thereby prompting that age-old question:

Why, God?

This book responds with the age-old answer:

We don’t know.

Because we’re not God.

However, sometimes, if we press forward through the anger and pain, and we resolve to retain our faith despite the apparent senselessness of it all, we can catch a glimpse of the larger picture—an aerial view, so to speak—of our lives and purpose through His eyes.

This vision may not, and probably won’t heal the scars of our suffering, but it’s not supposed to. Those scars brought us to the place we are, to a place of awareness that we are not the author of our own destiny, but that we can walk with the One who is. And when we walk with Him, we can know we’re on the course he intended for us to travel. Only then can we truly receive the joy and peace He has placed along the way.

I invite you to walk briefly along Cathy’s path, and to discover as she did, that God’s ways are not our ways, but when we trust him, they tend to be just a tad better…

Blessings and Happy Reading!

———————————————————-

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or imagine, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:19-21

New England in 15 Days: A Dish Best Served Warm

26 Aug
bridge

Beautiful Newport — Is that redundant?

I’m walking mournfully from room to room, sighing heavily because the trip I’ve been waiting for and planning for nearly three years is now but a memory, and I long to go back. I yearn to feel that cool ocean breeze blowing into my bedroom window and to fall asleep listening to the waves crash rhythmically along the New England shores.

I unwrap the tourist magnets and find homes for them on the already over-full refrigerator: Prospect Harbor, Maine; Stowe, Vermont; Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Plymouth, Massachusetts; Hartford, Connecticut; Newport, RI.

It was a whirlwind tour, designed to show my friend Michele as much of my beloved New England as possible in only 15 days. When she first told me she’d never been there, my mind nearly exploded with compassion and amazement. That meant she’d never stood on Concord’s North Bridge, where our nation was born. She’d never driven over Rhode Island’s Newport bridge into Jamestown and looked in wonder at the single house on the rock. She’d never stood in the center of Bristol Commons while the noon church bells chimed. Why, the poor thing had never tasted Maine lobster straight off the pier! Well, that certainly explains the thumbs up I’ve seen her bestow on our northern Virginia area “seafood” establishments.

It took some doing, but we finally set off on a 2,878-mile journey that zipped up the Massachusetts coast to Gouldsboro, Maine in time for the Winter Harbor lobster festival, then snaked back and forth through New England, ending in Hartford, Connecticut.

We saw all the touristy places, of course. The tip of Cape Cod, Plymouth Rock, Salem (big disappointment), the Gloucester seaport, Strawberry Banke, Acadia National Park, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream graveyard, the Vermont Country Store, the Newport mansions, and Mark Twain’s home. And although we did stop to see Lenny, a real chocolate moose, our memories of this trip are made of sweeter stuff than highway attractions

What made this a true adventure was the people we met along the way.

Jim Owens

Jim Owens: Mill Keeper

We found 88-year-old Jim Owens in Eastman, Cape Cod, sitting in a windmill, apparently waiting for us to happen along. He spoke briefly about the windmill and its history, but then went into storyteller mode—obviously his preferred canvass. He shared his story of being left at a Newport orphanage at age 7 after his mother died. His father, in this age where dads didn’t raise children, wanted him to finish out his school year at the orphanage before going to live with relatives in Middletown, RI. He told us about his uncle, who served as a Marine in WWI, and his own military service and ensuing travels, which only served to deepen his love for New England. Today Jim is a renowned historian throughout Cape Cod and Rhode Island.

His joy for life is so contagious I could have sat at his side for hours.

Breakfast soup

Breakfast soup on hand-made plates with Dolly’s edible garnish

We met Dolly at breakfast in the Acadia Oceanside Meadows Inn on Prospect Harbor. She served us breakfast each morning, delightfully naming for us each sprig and flower on our beautifully prepared plates. “All edible, and I picked them myself this morning!”

I could probably write an entire story about Dolly, but I’d have to first pin her down long enough to learn it. She flitted from table to table like a hummingbird, truly enjoying each guest, a perfect emissary for Maine hospitality.

corea

Corea Harbor

Maine also introduced us to Joe at the Warf Gallery & Grill in Corea, where we had the best lobster rolls I’ve ever tasted. Near the end of our visit, though, we learned that the Warf is actually famous for its crab. Upon hearing that a customer had driven miles for his crab, which had just run out, Joe removed his shucking apron, jumped into a small dingy and sped out to a trap on the water to bring in some more.

Maine is also a place to find beautiful, hand-made artwork. I learned why from Cindy Fisher, at the U.S. Bells shop we ducked into to avoid a brief summer storm. The gorgeous bronze bells sold there are hand-cast by her husband Richard in the Forge nearby. Expecting to find only bells in the shop, we were surprised and delighted to see walls lined with lovely pottery, quilts, jewelry, and other artwork. “It’s what we do in the winter,” she explained. “The snow kinda’ forces you to stay put.” She happily talked about each of the artists whose work was displayed there, making me wish I could meet them all.

bench

For Annette: Can you miss a woman you’ve never met?

In Stowe, Vermont, we spent an evening watching the Olympics with the bed & breakfast owner Randy and his giant Bernese, Mickey. Randy and his wife Annette purchased the inn with dreams of forever in their hearts, but the world had different plans. Near the inn, a lone bench under a currant tree waits for Annette, the garden behind it clearly untouched in the year or so since her passing. Randy, wearing a sad-sweet smile, continues pushing forward with Mickey, his new greeter and partner. The inn was homey and welcoming, and Randy must be a classically trained chef, because the food that he sent to our table made me want to stay on another week.

Although we found breathtaking scenery at every turn, Rhode Island’s shoreline offered the best, in my humble, Rhode Island-native opinion. I sat on a breakwater on Little Compton’s Sakonnet Point for perhaps 30 minutes, listening to the waves lap the rocks and just wishing I could stay forever. We travelled nearly every inch of shoreline from Tiverton to Charleston, stopping at each breathtaking vista to photograph lighthouses and meet the locals.

quahogs

Quahogs–they make great chowda!

In Galilee, we stopped at George’s Restaurant for one last taste of fresh lobster, and there met Julia, a delightful waitress who was eager for us to enjoy what the local seaport had to offer. When I explained that Michele still hadn’t seen a real quahog shell, she went back to the kitchen and found us two shiny, purple-streaked beauties that I’m sure Michele will treasure more than any store-bought souvenir.

towers

Before…

In Narragansett, where I just HAD to show Michele the famous stone towers, we met Christina in the Chamber of Commerce office at the towers’ base. Her enthusiastic love for Narragansett nearly had me searching for realtors on the spot, as did the familiar ocean view. I honestly reached the point where I thought I’d do anything to be able to stay in New England. Then I spotted a picture that stopped my longing immediately. Regrettably, it wasn’t for sale, but Christina sent me to Sharon Mazze, a delightful shop owner who might know where I could obtain one. After a brief chat (where I learned she knows Jim the Miller), she sent me down the pier to John McNamara, the photographer.

I bought the picture as soon as I saw it. John’s image not only reminds me of all I love about New England, it also reminds me why I live in Virginia. I will hang it over my desk to help me recall what was quite possibly my best summer vacation ever, but also to help me keep my perspective. I should have realized when Cindy explained the origins of Maine’s lovely artwork:

Winter.

It comes every year.

blizzardI’ll be back, New England, many times, I hope. And I will always love you…

From afar.

————-

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. — 1 Corinthians 10:13