On My Heart

You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone.  You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. 2 Corinthians 3:2,3

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I received a letter from a friend. I don’t actually receive too many, hand-written personal letters. I get phone calls, texts, emails, Facebook posts but personal letters – nuh uh – not so much.

Personal letters are saved and savored. I was anxious to read my letter but I made a cup of coffee and sat in a favorite spot so I could read and enjoy the letter one word at a time – I wanted to make it last longer. I read it through twice – once was not enough and I will read it again. I keep the cards, notes and letters sent to me by friends and family.

Personal letters reflect and reveal the author. It was easy to imagine her sitting across from me. As I read the letter I could “hear” the voice of my friend. I pictured her chucking as she wrote out a funny incident, I “saw” her pausing and thinking of how best to put her thoughts onto the page.

Personal letters take time and effort. Writing a personal letter means you need to gather paper, pen, envelope and a stamp. You have to set some time aside to write it out, it takes time to think about what to say and how best to say it.  Once written, you have take it to somewhere to get it into the mail.

Paul is drawing an analogy between the Christ-followers in Corinth and a letter; a letter from Jesus Christ. Paul is saying that the Corinthians believers are a letter. A letter written not on paper, but written on their hearts by the Spirit of the living God.

Paul’s words to the Corinthians can be applied to all of us who follow Jesus, who call ourselves Christians. Thinking of myself as a letter, a personal letter from Jesus meant to be seen and read by others challenges me to think about my actions and words differently. What I say and do should be a reflection and revelation of Christ.

I want to be a letter that people read and re-read, thinking about and savoring each word. People were drawn to Jesus, they wanted to be with Him, near Him, they wanted to hear Him speak – I want to be a letter like that! The letter people carry around and quote to others, a meaningful letter, and a letter that blesses the reader. There is only one way to be that letter, to spend time with Jesus and in the Word, letting God write His letter on my heart and changing the way I think and act; this will take time and some effort on my part. Believe me, I am not so very great, special or unique. I just want to be a wonderful letter – not because of me but because of the One who wrote the letter on my heart!

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Let Me Use Your Words

My eyes open and I know something is very wrong. I am gripped with anxiety. I had a restless night, had trouble falling asleep, tried the couch for a while, drifted off, awoke, went back to bed, fell asleep again and woke at the first glimmer of daylight.

Tired and anxious with a “low-grade” headache, and an unsettled stomach, I took several deep breaths trying calm down.

Walking is a stress reliever for me so I go out and walk. That remedy, usually a sure thing, fails me. My husband asks me what’s wrong but that adds to my distress since the only answer I have sounds lame and whiny, “I don’t know!”

I have been learning the importance of regularly pouring my heart out to God; pouring it all out, the good the bad and the ugly. I take my laptop and start writing, a total free-write. I just type out everything that’s swirling around in my anxiety-ridden brain. I close my eyes some of the time and cry a lot of that time. I talk aloud as I type. I know I have to continue until I feel peace. I run out of words but my mind is still racing. Now what?

I pick up my Bible and turn to Psalm 142. I begin to type the psalm, saying the words aloud as I type. Time passes; I pray and type the psalm at least 3 times before I feel the burden lift.

Is this some kind of magical charm or guaranteed prayer formula – ABSOLUTELY NOT!!   I was not just “saying words”, I was saying God’s Word; this was a deeply personal and prayerful conversation between God and I.  Just as David was pleading for God to hear him, to help him, to release him, I was pleading with God to hear me, for peace, for calm, for deliverance.   I had run out of my own words so I used David’s.

I don’t know how long I sat there with my laptop but I sat there long enough, I prayed long enough, I talked with God long enough that the peace I had sought now replaced the anxiety that had me crippled and powerless. I deleted the conversation, it is private, between me and My King and now, it is settled.

Some hours later I realized why I was so anxious and I was able to deal with the very small issue that had paralyzed me. I believe God wanted me to see how gloriously dependent on Him I am and how His Word is the answer; He was testing me to see if I was going to put into practice what He had been teaching me. I passed the test.

Next time you find yourself anxious or struggling with a problem or person I encourage you to pour out your heart to God and open your Bible. The Psalms in particular are a treasure trove expressing every human emotion. Read a psalm, using the author’s words to talk to God. Write the psalm, take your time and think about the words, tell God how you feel. He is waiting to hear from you, to bring you peace.

I cry aloud with my voice to the Lord; I make supplication with my voice to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before Him; I declare my trouble before Him. Psalm 142:1,2

Three Characters – Luke 15

Jesus is once again with the tax collectors and sinners and the Pharisees and scribes are grumbling about the company He keeps so, as He has done before, Jesus tells a simple story, a parable, to teach a lesson.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son is the story of man with two sons, one who squanders his inheritance and returns home to beg forgiveness and is received back with warmth and celebration – that’s the short version!

The younger son asks his father for his share of the estate, his inheritance. Normally, an inheritance is received after the death of the owner; in essence the son was telling his father, “You’re dead to me, give me my money so I can get away from you and live my own life!” The son was legally entitled to the money and we know the father gave it to him because we are told that the son “gathered his things, left and squandered his estate with loose living”. Soon there is a famine and the son is broke! He finds a job tending pigs. He is now so hungry he would have been glad to eat the pig’s food! The son has neither money nor food and, to make matters worse, he is taking care of pigs – then as now, pigs are unclean to Jews.

The son, “came to his senses”, realizes his father’s servants have a better life than he does so he decides to return home. “But while he was still a long way off his father saw him and felt compassion for him and ran to him”. Notice that, one, his father was watching and waiting for him. Two, he ran to meet him; we don’t know the father’s age but dignified men did not run for anything! Third, in spite of all that had been said and done, the father felt compassion. They greet each other with an embrace and a kiss, the son is restored to his former position and dad starts planning the party! What a beautiful picture of how God responds to us when we recognize our sin and turn to Him; He watches and waits for our return and runs to us with His arms wide to welcome us.

Now the older son was in the field and he returns home to the party that started without him. His reaction? Anger. But, what exactly is making him so angry? “Look! For many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours yet you have never given me a young goat…but when this son of yours came who had devoured your wealth…you killed the fattened calf for him.”

The older son feels angry, jealous, bitter, unappreciated and disrespected. He was always “doing the right thing” and was not shown the recognition he thought he deserved. The father reminds the older son that all that belonged to the father, belonged to the son, the son only needed to ask and that now is the time for celebration, the younger son, who was assumed to be dead was home!

Whenever I read or hear The Parable of the Prodigal Son I recognize myself in each of the three characters.

I have been the younger son when I have deliberately rejected my Heavenly Father and decided to do it my way. There have been times I wasted the gifts given to me, the gifts of time, money, even people.

I have been the older son when I have resented others rewards or recognition; when I was bitter because someone else got the promotion or won the prize, when I felt disrespected or unappreciated.

And in my best moments, I have been the father when I extended grace and compassion to someone who has hurt me; when I’ve been quick to forgive and when I celebrated others successes.

It is humbling to realize that most of the time I am more like the sons than the father in this story. How about you, in The Parable of The Prodigal Son, which character are you?

Writing 101 – My Most Prized Possession

Today’s challenge: Tell a story of your most prized possession. Today’s Twist: Go long!

This is the final post for the Writing 101 Challenge. Hope you have enjoyed reading some of them; I have enjoyed writing them!

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When you lose every earthly possession, the words “most prized possession” have a lot more intensity. Fire destroyed a portion of the home I was living when I was in my 20’s; most of the damage was sustained on the second and third floor of the house, the third floor was partially incinerated. My bedroom was on the third floor.

A frantic phone call from a neighbor informed me that I needed to come home from work immediately. After an agonizing wait for the bus and a bus ride spent trying not to sob out loud, I arrived home to see a smoldering shell and my distraught parents and siblings. Fortunately for all of us no one was injured in the fire, the damage was only to the house and its contents. Everything on the third floor and some things on the second floor were destroyed by the fire. What was not burned was soaking wet or smoke damaged, ruined as a result of the firefighters efforts to extinguish the flames and save the house.  My sole, remaining possession was the outfit I had worn to work that day. Yes, “most prized possession” has a different sound to someone who has lost everything.

Most possessions and household items were destroyed that day by fire, water or smoke, some replaceable, some not. Over time, different possessions were acquired.  To be honest, a few of the replacement pieces were actually better than some of the furnishings that had been burned. The house was restored, rebuilt and completely refurnished. But there were many things that simply could not be replaced; photographs, family heirlooms, and special gifts; different things that had little or no dollar value but were priceless to all our hearts.

Time is a great healer and I am sure that many of the items I couldn’t replace, that I mourned for that day, have been forgotten. Time has also altered my perception of value and what is meaningful to me.  But there were a few things lost that day that were so special they still linger in my memory and my heart still hurts whenever I think of them.

One of my “most prized possessions” destroyed in the flames that day was a special vinyl recording, a record album. My entire record collection melted in the fire. I was left with a surreal collection of Dali imitations, my beloved albums dripping off the shelf. I wept when I saw them. In this day of instant, cheap and free downloads and bargain CD’s, it is difficult to convey the determination it took for me to save enough money to purchase most of my Long Playing Records or LPs. If you are a Discophile, you will appreciate the time invested and the process involved in searching for a rare or title or favorite artist.

I was in high school when music became very important to me; when I wanted to own the music that was important, the music and the artists who were both shaping and reflecting the changing culture of the day. My family was firmly middle-class; we were not rich and not poor; we had everything we needed but not a great deal extra. Allowance was doled out and there were occasional opportunities to earn extra but those were few and far between. A larger purchase took planning, sacrifice and foregoing a lot of candy bars.

Much of the music I liked at that time was played on the radio. It was from the radio I learned that one of my favorite groups had a new LP scheduled for release in a few weeks. Once the talk began, it grew. Speculation about the content, design and format of the LP went on endlessly; my desire to own this record increased with the talk. My options for purchasing this record were extremely limited; there was a single record store in town. I knew that my record would sell-out before I could even figure out a way of getting to the store. There was only one possible solution – pre-order!

I had to save the money and save it quick. I had to go to the store and I had to pay cash, in advance to be guaranteed a copy of this record album.

The single record store in town was about a mile from my house; it was in a part of town I rarely visited. The store was a dark place of mystery, full of records produced by artists from a bygone era; sheet music arranged in rows and columns on the wall, dusty instruments hanging in the window and from the ceiling, glass cases containing music paraphernalia I couldn’t identify. In my old sneakers, pants and favorite, button-down cardigan, full of determination and false courage, along with my hard-earned $6.99, I walked out the front door and headed down the street. My hand kept a tight grip on my money, sweaty in my pocket.  Walking through the “bad part of town” increased my anxiety and caused me to walk faster, gasping for air but undeterred, my eyes on the prize.

With my goal in sight, I took a deep breath and walked into the store. A fast and nearly, painless process; I handed my entire savings over to a grumpy clerk in a white shirt and black tie and he added my name and phone number to his list. Now the waiting for the actual album release became even more agonizing; now I had no money left and no album, I was counting the days.

The radio station began to “leak” songs from the album. I was desperate to listen but just as adamant about not hearing. I wanted to wait, to have my private concert, just me and my stereo, just me and MY album, from beginning to end.

Finally, release day, Friday, November 22, 1968. Of course, a school day; will the agony of waiting never end! The next day I again made the journey from home to the record store, my receipt, a tiny paper ticket to happiness, in my sweaty hand stuffed in my pocket for safe-keeping. This walk to the store was nothing compared to the last time; I swaggered now. I had a clear purpose. I had braved the dark and dusty store once before, now I was a customer with a receipt, my name was on the list; I had arrived! I waited with several others, all on the same quest, laughing to myself at the fools who did not plan, did not strategize the purchase and did not pre-order; disappointment for them, success for me! My LP, MY LP, now in a thin paper bag, I held it close to my body, tucked under my right arm and ran most of the way home; my feet flying inches above the pavement the whole way.

Safe in my third floor sanctuary I took the album out of the bag and paused to examine it; still protected in it’s shrink-wrap, pristine, perfect, waiting to be unveiled. This was a sacred moment.

The cover was stark, white. The name of the artists was embossed into the lower right front corner, The Beatles. The original, Beatles White Album, it had no title, and was simply and always referred to as The White Album. A two-record set, it came with a poster and an 8×10 glossy head shot of each of the four Beatles, John, Paul, George and Ringo. The poster was a collage of Beatle photos with all the song lyrics on the back.

Reverently, slowly, I removed one of the records encased in its paper sleeve; I was only in high school but I knew I had to savor this moment. Carefully, no fingerprints please, I slid the album from the sleeve and placed it on the turntable. I tenderly lowered the tone arm until the needle engaged and sat in my chair and closed my eyes. There is simply nothing as beautiful as new vinyl gleaming black, blacker than black and shiny, untouched by human hands. A single, etched line spiraling from the outer edge to the center; magically, mysteriously, the sound produced by this single continuous line changed my life. For the first time, I began to take music seriously.   I began to think about the words, about the person who wrote the words and the person who sang the words. That day, I played the entire two-record set straight through, just over 90 minutes of music. I played it many, many times in the days, weeks and months that followed; I believe my family has finally forgiven me for this.

Over time, I got a job, purchased more albums by The Beatles and many other artists but none of them impacted me as much as The Beatles White Album.

I was able to climb the stairs to the third floor the day after the fire to see if anything was salvageable. Seeing the cover of The White Album, curling, scorched and grey was devastating. The records inside were warped, the single, continuous line of magical sound, melted away. The poster, which had hung on my wall since the day it was purchased was gone, burned; only the tacks that held it in place remained. There was no trace of the 8×10 color glossies.

My most prized possession now ashes and dust.

Writing 101 – POV – 12 Years Old

Even before I open my eyes I know it’s going to be a good day. It is the first day of summer vacation.  No school, no teachers no homework for the next nine superb weeks. I stretch out in my bed; I think my bed is starting to feel smaller.

My whole body feels weird, I feel like my skin is too tight around my insides. I feel like those inflatable guys you see outside of stores, those sky dancers. I want to wave my arms around in the wind – YES! I take a look out into the hallway, score! No one’s in the bathroom now’s my chance.

Something is definitely different today. I lean closer to the mirror to examine my 8th grade face; it doesn’t look any different from my 7th grade face.   But, inside, I can tell that things are changing. A slam on the door reminds me that to my chagrin, I am not an only child. “Leave me alone, creep I’ll be out when I’m out you mutant!” What a jerk, I better get out of here, last time he got mad at me he took all my shoes into his malodorous and fetid room. Some things will never change!

A quick check of my room reveals no obvious sneak attacks by the mutation. But I better make sure; I shove my hand under the mattress. Where is it? If he touched it so help me…OK, got it, my notebook. I cleverly disguised a spiral notepad with a label that says “My Favorite Recipes”. Today will be a good day to work on my novel. My title (for now) is, “Mutants Walk Among Us”. Some of the other names I came up with are, “Malevolence is My Brother” or maybe, “The Foul Breath I Breathe” – not sure. I better take the old Merriam Webster along for reference.

Grabbing my favorite breakfast repast, I decide to sit on our front stoop. I like our stoop. I can see our whole street from here. The concrete is still cool even though the sun is already hot; it stays cool most of the day, our house is on the shady side of the street.

The construction guys are already at their appointed labors, hammering and banging away; most of them have their shirts off. I’m glad they can’t see me down here; they stare at me when I walk down that way. I don’t like it. I know mom and dad are not happy about all these condos. I’m not sure why. It sounds like a good idea to me; maybe some kids my age will finally move into this neighborhood.

Ol’ Mrs. Pauley across the street has no kids; she’s over there all-alone. Her kids, 6 sons, all moved away, I only remember the youngest one.  He used to roar around in his cool ‘vette, once he tossed a lit cigarette at me, mutant.  She used to creep me out until me and mom went over one day to bring some food. Ol’ Mr. Pauley died; talk about creepy. I was looking in the front door while the ambulance guys were working on him, Mrs. Pauley was holding his hand. He was just slumped over in a big brown chair; his mouth was open and he was just kind of staring. That was the first time I ever saw a dead person – ugh! I don’t know why we had to bring food cause he was dead but Mom said it was the “right thing to do”.

Turned out that Ol’ Mrs. Pauley’s house was really nice inside. She had these little white things on every chair and table. (Expect for the big brown chair Mr. Pauley died in, that was gone.) She called them doyillees; I had to look it up (Dad always says, “Go ask Merriam”, he thinks that’s so funny!). Its really spelled doily (from 17th Century English). Ol’ Mrs. Pauley made all of them herself. I don’t what they are for but I could tell she liked them since they were all over the place. When she saw me looking at them – she gave me one to take home! I keep in on the table with my lamp on it; I think it looks nice, kind of old-fashioned; I like old-fashioned stuff.

Her house smelled like an old person, not malodorous like the mutants, just old, like dust and oatmeal and old flowers. She wanted us to come in the kitchen for tea (which I despise by the way). Then I knew why Mom said we had to bring food. There was nothing in her fridge except for an old lemon, a little thing of milk and a box of that stuff Mom keeps in our fridge so it doesn’t smell – that’s it!! No plates with leftovers, no eggs, no soda – nothing! I peeked in the cabinet when she got the tea bags and there was not much in there either!   She had one box of breakfast cereal that looked about 100 years old, a box of tea bags and some sugar, that’s all I saw.

Now sometimes when I see Ol’ Mrs. Pauley she always waves at me; she doesn’t creep me out any more. I know Mom goes over there sometimes to “Check up on that poor dear lady”, she says. But, I don’t see Ol’ Mrs. Pauley too much; she hardly ever comes out. It’s like she in hibernation.

A black ‘n’ tan is coming down the street. He’s going pretty slow, too. I’m just sitting here but seeing a cop car roll down my street makes my stomach feel jittery, they never come down here unless something’s wrong. When he stops right in front of Ol’ Mrs. Pauley’s I know there’s a problem. A big black Escalade rolls up right next to the black ‘n’tan – who’s this guy? Nobody’s in there but old lady Pauley, she don’t bother nobody. I’m not sure what’s going on but I have a bad feeling; I better get my mom.

Looks like some drama on Highland Avenue (I gotta remember to write that down, it might make another good book title). I can tell my Mom is upset when she starts running her hands through her hair and rubbing her forehead. When we get across the street we find out that Escalade guy is the landlord. That repulsive tub of guts is here to throw Ol’ Mrs. Pauley out of her house! This is so not fair, she’s an old lady; where is she supposed to live! Mom grabs my shoulder and hangs on; she knows I want to start yelling at Fatty Escalade, squeezing my shoulder is her (not so) gentle way of saying, “Be Quiet.”

Mr. Hideous is yelling, “Officer, do your duty! I have the law on my side! I sent several warning notices!” He needs to stop waving his papers around and just shut up! The cop is trying to help Ol’ Mrs. Pauley pack some stuff, Ol’ Mrs. Pauley is cryin’, Mom is cryin’ and rubbing her forehead; this is a big mess over here! This is the saddest thing I have ever seen except for the time when that old stray cat got hit by a car down the street – that was pretty sad. It kept trying to get up but its back legs were paralyzed. Dad took it to the vet but the cat died he told me. I didn’t know what to do for that poor cat and I don’t know what to do to help Ol’ Mrs. Pauley. I look at Mom, she’s just standing there, not saying a word; I think she should do something, anything.  So I just stand there too, feeling useless.

Finally, finally, one of Ol’ Lady Pauley’s sons shows up. Seriously, what took him so long? I want to scream in his flabby face, “Where were you, you egocentric idiot out buying cigarettes? Didn’t you know your mom needed help? She needed groceries!” But Mom starts squeezing my shoulder even harder with her fingers like talons. Ol’ Lady Pauley has SIX sons! Only one of them can get here to help his mom? Are all sons and brothers useless mutant creeps? He loads some of Mrs. Pauley’s stuff into his big brand new fancy Lincoln. She was cryin’ the whole time, walking around, touching everything in the house, just kind of patting it, like you pet a dog. Even the cop looked like he was ready to start bawling it was so sad.

At dinner I told Dad everything that happened over there. He just kept shakin’ his head. I could tell Mom was still pretty upset because she would sniffle and do the hair and forehead routine every couple minutes. One thing about my Dad, he always knows what to say. But for once, he didn’t. All he could say was, “Shameful, how sad.”

Now that I’m an eighth grader I know more things about life. Today I learned some things about people I wish I didn’t need to learn. I learned that life isn’t always fair. Bad things happen to good people.  And even the people who are supposed to love you can let you down…

Writing 101 – Personality on a Page

Today’s challenge: We all have anxieties, worries and fears. What are you scared of? Address one of your worst fears. Today’s twist: Write in a style distinct from your own.

In my humble and amateur opinion, I want to be very forthright and let you know, dear reader, that I am neither a proud person nor do I possess any degrees or accreditations from any institutions of higher learning in any subject whatsoever much less a degree or license in the practice of psychology, psychiatry or other type of recognized mental health profession; I consider myself to be a person who possesses several anxieties.

In addition to the aforementioned anxieties, I will openly and publically state in this forum that there are also a variety of issues and situations, past, present and future that cause me to worry and even to descend into a state of fear so paralyzing that words, movement and any activity that is in any way indicative of responsiveness may be completely and totally suspended for an indeterminate period of time (at least in my conscious perception).

By far, there is one common and well known creature that I encounter regularly in my daily perambulations through my neighborhood and most notably in the numerous and well-shaded nearby public parks that strikes the most intense levels of anxiety, worry and fear deep into my psyche causing me to flee and, while fleeing, to flail my arms in a way that is both supremely infantile and embarrassing regardless of who may be in the vicinity to observe my intense distress.

Dear reader, some of you have been faithful and diligent followers of my posts during this Writing 101 challenge as I have endeavored to improve my writing competency by composing a well-thought out response to the daily writing prompt; many of which have caused me to plumb the depths of my soul, exposing my true self boldly for your reading pleasure and hopefully, your use as you also seek improvement as a craftsman (or craftswoman) who strives to effectively express yourself through the medium of language and words.

This particular piece of self-revelation has been designed for you dear and faithful reader, you have persevered so long to arrive at the dramatic conclusion of this post and the final revelation of one of my deepest fears, the one that causes me to retreat from the free and fresh air into the safety of my car and home, the worry that prevents my enjoyment of a simple meal in a public place while enjoying the cool shade provided by the boughs of a graceful willow, the anxiety disrupting my precious and much-needed rest and respite from my taxing days, oh dear reader, the conclusion to my tale of woe is at hand and I confess to your tender eyes and ears my fear of…

SQUIRRELS!

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Writing 101 – Serially Lost – Part 3 and Part 3

Todays Challenge: Imagine you work in a place where you manage lost and found items. Tell about what you find in the pile.  Todays Twist: Reflect on the theme of lost and found.

A Note: I had the weirdest experience writing the third part of this Writing 101 Challenge – two very different responses emerged.  Both almost wrote themselves.  I decided to publish both here.  (Scroll down for the Second Story).  If you can, please read both; First Story AND Second Story and then “vote” which one do you like better – if you can, tell me why.  THANKS!

A – FIRST STORY

Tuesday morning, 8:22am, I push myself around and drag my body out of the car, trudging through the slush; I take one last breath of air before pulling on the door handle. The door swings open with a creak and I walk from the grey morning into a gleaming hallway. And so it begins, another workday at “The BLIP”! Cue ominous music!

Jacob Carson, Jack to His Friends, hates it when we call it that. He prefers the more formal sound of “The Bureau”. But good old Jack gets to sit in his office all day. Good old Jack doesn’t have to flip through file after file, trying to match names to faces, faces to names, hour after hour, day after day. But to those of us doing the grunt work in the file room, it would always and eternally be “The BLIP”! (Dun-dun-DAAA – ominous music, please!)

The Bureau of Lost and Invisible Persons is housed in an ordinary industrial style building in an office park full of similar buildings. The BLIP squats on its plot, surrounded by asphalt, innocuous, unobtrusive, bland but inside is a subdued hive of activity.

My days here are generally long and monotonous. But every day had a golden hour; my favorite part of the day, I like to call it “The Crazy Call Hour”! Cue fun, circus clown music! I prefer to tackle “ The Crazy Call Hour” right away. I grab a coffee, adjust my headset, wiggle into my seat and switch on – all systems GO!! “Good morning, Bureau of Lost and Invisible Persons, Terry speaking, how may I help you this morning?”

I never know what I am going to hear and that is what I love about it; the element of surprise! Most calls fall into two categories: The Criers and The Stumblers. The Criers are just that – can barely get a word out and they’re already snifflin’ and snufflin’ their sob stories. The Stumblers are usually so shocked to be speaking to a human; it takes several tries before they get to their tale of woe. Do I sound cynical to you? Too bad! Go tell it to somebody who gives a crap!

But I was patient, I was calm, I listened and took good notes. Remember, “Your call may be recorded or monitored for quality assurance purposes.” Inside, I was laughing my butt off trying to decide which of these crazy nut job stories I would tell everybody at lunch!

That’s my day, that’s my life, hey, it pays the rent! The rest of the day is spent sifting through the musty file stacks. I take the names and information I collect during “The Crazy Call Hour” down to the File Room; also known as “The Pit of Despair” (more ominous music again, maestro!). Here in this cold and featureless place I begin my search. Oh yeah, there are times it’s kinda fun, like finding the missing piece of that jigsaw puzzle your grandmother gave you. A name in my hand matches a file, a family, a friendship – gets reunited – really what are the odds. Those days are growing increasingly rare of late; there are fewer and fewer matches, more and more disappointments. My frustration and boredom with this thankless job has reached epic levels.  But I gotta remember why I’m here, gotta listen, gotta pay attention, stay sharp.

So, I’m down in The File Room doing my search thing when all of a sudden, I glance to my left and see the unthinkable. J. Jacob Carson, Jack to His Friends, striding towards me with his perfect hair and his ever-present, stupid grin. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, smile, look up, say, “Good morning, Mr. Carson.”

“Hello there, Terry, how are you today?” “I am fine Mr. Carson.” “No, no, please call me Jack, all my friends call me Jack!” My cheeks are starting to hurt from this fake smile I have plastered on, please get this over with. What could this mutant freak want? “Terry, could you come with me up to my office. We have a small matter to discuss, won’t take long.”

When we get upstairs I am startled to see one of the Bureau’s Security gorillas standing outside Jack’s office. Where do they find these poster boys for steroids? Immediately, I start to sweat. What’s going on? The Rolodex in my mind begins to whirr. I was only joking when I told that story about that Crier – I didn’t give any names. Hey, everybody does that! Did they find out about the stapler? I just needed it for a few days. Why didn’t I bring it back the next day? Actually, I hope it’s all about staplers and small talk, be cool, I got this.  All these thoughts and more are spinnin’ through my brain as Jack opens the door to his office and tells me to take a seat.

Ok, breathe, it can’t be that bad; Jack to His Friends is still smiling. I sit down. Sweet office, I wonder what he did to get it – moron! Oh yes sir, no sir, keep smiling, all gonna be fine, no worries. Suddenly the door behind me opens and Jack to His Friends stands up.

Who is this babe, I wonder to myself. Tall, young, professional, never seen her in this building before; wha oh!  She’s got a Bureau badge on her jacket. She shakes Jack’s hand and, like they rehearsed this friendly act, they both turn to me with the same phony smiles. “Terry, this is Ms. Kelly from our Southern Division Office, “ chirps Jack to His Friends. “She has a few questions for you. Won’t take but a few minutes.  Just answer her questions and we’ll let you get right back to your work.”

Kelly doesn’t waste any time, she starts right in slamming me with questions one right after the other, scribbling notes on her tablet. It is getting harder to keep this smile on my face and lots harder to answer her questions. My head is buzzing, I feel the sweat on my upper lip, seems awfully hot in this office. I got my own questions and it ain’t pretty. “Where did they get their information? I know I wiped all my files before I came up here. Who talked? How did they find me?” I could feel my face getting redder. I tried to swallow but I had no spit left. I kept wiping my hands on my pant legs – back and forth, back and forth. I need time to think. I noticed Ms. Babe Kelly and Jack to His Friends weren’t smilin’ so much any more.

How did they find me? I’ve stayed lost for years and years! I don’t want to be found!

B – SECOND STORY

How do you lose a whole person? I mean, in general people are kinda large unless they are kids or babies but I am not talking about them; I am talking about full grown, average size, people.

I have lost buttons, keys, coins, and earrings lots of times, they are little, easy to misplace or drop. Depending where you are, when those tiny objects fall to the floor they may not even make a noise. You don’t even realize they are missing until much later if at all. But people? How do you lose an entire person? Even though I have lost a more than a few, I still don’t always understand how it happens…

There is the obvious of course, some people I lost to death. A few were lost in anger; some words were said, hot, bitter – those people stomped away; some of the time it was me doing the stomping. The ones I wonder about are those that are simply and painfully, lost, the drifters.

One of us would move or change jobs. We would always promise to stay in touch, to call to write. Nowadays we might say that we will text or email or “friend” on Facebook or follow on Twitter and maybe at first we both keep those promises. But somewhere along the way the time between calls, between the emails grows longer and longer and eventually, inexorably ends. You have changed, your friend has changed, life, time, and distance has come between you. We’ve drifted apart.  These friends are now lost.

Over the years the same methods, calls, emails, Facebook, that seemed to absorb old friends and take them away have returned a few. Somehow, through persistence or luck or some combination of both we have found each other again and re-connected. These links to our common past are rare and delightful, like a rainbow after a storm.

Most surprising of all are my newfound friends. God in His mercy and wisdom has helped me find some new friends and miracle of miracles other new friends have found me! How does a friendship begin? Slowly, a bit painfully; questions are asked and answered, past history is carefully revealed, and new experiences are shared. Friendships are built from bits of our lives, added in layer by layer – little friendship cakes. Newfound friends are fragile and frightening and full of hidden land mines; but are worth the risks.

And rarely, if you are very, very lucky a newfound friend develops into one of the best gifts of all, a Friend, a capital “F”, Friend. A Friend who stands the test of time, who will not fade into an ever-widening gap between phone calls, who remembers your birthday, who sends you a crazy text just because. When you find a capital “F” Friend, you will never run out of things to say. If your conversation is interrupted you pick up right where you left off even if hours, days or weeks have gone by. There is an indefinable quality that moves “newfound friend” to “friend” to a Friend. What is it? When does it happen? I think it is during the small moments you begin to see how much you really enjoy being together, that you uplift each other, you bring out the best and the silliest in each other. The moment you know, you are THERE for each other and you WILL BE there for each other; to laugh, cry and pray together. I am so very grateful to be able to say that I have found life’s rare treasures – capital “F” Friends!

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend…” Proverbs 27:6

Atomic Reactions – John 12

PIZZA! Bet you had some reaction to that word!   Maybe you are a pizza maniac (Yes!) – as soon as you saw ‘pizza’ you started to think about getting a slice. Maybe you don’t like pizza (excuse me but that is a literal impossibility!!), so when you saw pizza your reaction was, “YUK”. (Again, literal impossibility.)   No matter what opinion you have about pizza, the word itself causes a thought, an emotion and/or a salivary gland response!

JESUS. What reaction do you have to this word, this name? For thirty-three short years, Jesus lived on the earth. During the last three of those years He went where His Father told Him to go, said what His Father told Him to say and healed those His Father told Him to heal. Every place and person who met him and many who only heard about Him had a reaction to Him.

  • Lazarus (v1) – heard of him, Jesus had raised him from the dead in John, Chapter 11. We find him in Chapter 12 reclining with Jesus at dinner; at peace, comfortable with Jesus.
  • Martha (v2) – she witnessed the resurrection of her brother, Lazarus. In Chapter 12, she is simply being herself, relaxed, serving dinner to Jesus.
  • Mary (v3) – Martha’s sister and a witness to her brother’s resurrection. Now, she is covering Jesus’s feet with perfume, wiping it with her hair; demonstrating her lavish devotion to Jesus.
  • Judas (v4) – his criticism of Mary’s actions, his false concern over money, was his attempt to hide his real agenda, to betray Jesus in just a few more days.
  • The large crowd (v9) – curiosity seekers, heard that Jesus was there but really wanting to see the dead man walking, Lazarus – the paparazzi of their day!
  • The large crowd (v12) – they were looking for a King; thinking Jesus would bring an earthly kingdom and free them from Roman rule.
  • People who witnessed (v17) – like CNN, on the scene with their report; they were more interested in reporting a miracle, not the Miracle-worker! Perhaps there were some who truly testified about Jesus.
  • People who heard (v18) – self-seekers, heard the news and wondered if there was something in it for them, seeking miracles, perhaps some were sincere seekers of Jesus!
  • Pharisees (v19) – full of jealousy, fearful of losing their positions of power and the respect of the people.
  • Greeks (v20) – they came for the feast and decided to seek Jesus; some for Jesus sake, others for curiosity.
  • Philip and Andrew (v22) – uncertain, they decide to just go directly to Jesus.
  • Crowd of listeners (v29 & 37) – some heard thunder, others angels, some saw many signs, “yet they were not believing in Him.”
  • Many rulers (v42, 43) – believed in Jesus but were not confessing Him because of their fear and “they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.”

Each one of these people described in John 12 had a reaction to Jesus and His words. People today continue to react to Jesus. What is your reaction to Him?  Are you simply curious like some in the crowd? Are you angry like the Pharisees? Do you hide your reaction, fearing what others might think if they knew you were interested in Jesus? Do you reject Him, like Judas?  Can you rest beside Him like Lazarus? Serve in quiet obedience like Martha? Do you run to Him with all your questions like Andrew and Philip? Do you weep at His feet like Mary? Whatever your reaction, talk to Him. Ask Him for understanding, that is all prayer is; a conversation with God. Don’t say you don’t have a reaction; even indifference is a reaction! Jesus never told anyone what to think; He simply spoke the truth. Your reaction, your response to Jesus is up to you. What reaction will you choose?

So Jesus said to them, “For a little while longer the Light is among you. Walk while you have the Light, so that darkness will not overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. While you have the Light, believe in the Light, so that you may become sons of Light.” John 12:35,36

Writing 101 – Finding My Voice!

Today’s challenge: You’re told that an event that’s dear to your heart has been cancelled forever or taken over by an evil organization. Write about it. The Twist: Write in your own, unique “voice”. (Since I could not think of an event I decided to write about the fictional takeover of a familiar public institution.)

Hey, didja see those ads on TV? The ads about libraries? Yeah, yeah, the ones where all the kids look like plastic dolls – all perfect and happy and weird lookin’.   Do you know what those ads are for?? The Farenheit Corporation! Did you know that the Farenheit Corporation is buying our library! What a giant load of horse hockey!

What do you mean, “So what?” Oh for goodness sake, don’t you know anything! Farenheit is the company that destroyed most of Denali Park. They got that logging permit and went completely crazy – they went in there and hacked down like 2 million acres of trees, they made millions on that deal!!! No one even knew about it until the fires started, it was a complete disaster – that area will NEVER be the same. It was disgusting!

So now, they’re gonna start runnin’ our library and not just here but all over the country, they are literally taking over libraries everywhere! They are buying them! The towns don’t have the money to keep them going so they’re selling them to Farenheit. All they see are big dollar signs – it is so stupid!

You know you are literally killing me, KILLING ME!!! You should care for cryin’ out loud. Don’t you get it? The idea of a public library is that it is for the pub-lic – all the public! Once the corporation takes over they’ll decide what books will be allowed in there, they’ll decide who will get to read the books, they’ll decide what authors are allowed to write the books – it’s outrageous! Yeah, I know you don’t care about this but you should!

Don’t you get it; this is one step away from corporate control of ev-er-y-thing. Not just books but movies, TV, the news…bit by bit they’re gonna control it all. Farenheit has been spinnin’ this story all over the Internet and TV. You know that ad with the plastic kids right. Did you notice what the kids are doing? Yep, all of ‘em are reading. Did you realize they all have the SAME book? Do you know what book it is? Of course not! It’s “My Company Rules!” Bradley Ray wrote it – he’s the CEO of Farenheit Corporation. Surprise? NOT!! The book is all about this great company that takes such good care of its workers and makes sure they’re happy and singing every day – that is creepy – corporate cyborg seven dwarves !!

Farenheit claims they’re going to make libraries better, clean up all the old books, the ones they say are out of date and replace them with nice, new CLEAN books!  They say books should only make people happy, not sad or upset. They claim too many books make people depressed, people shouldn’t waste their time on old books full of “weird” ideas and old-fashioned words – it’s all crap!! ARGH!!! Yes, I’m upset. People are fallin’ for this garbage! Don’t tell me to calm down. I can’t talk to you! I’m goin’ for a walk! Yes smartie, I am going to the public library while I still can!

Disclaimer: This is a fictional piece.  Thank you, Ray Bradbury for the inspiration!

Writing 101 – The Letter

Pick up the nearest book and turn to page 29. What word jumps out at you? Start there. Today’s twist: Write in the form of a letter.

Dear Abe,

How have you been? How is your journey going so far? Not much has changed here, the same old same old. We did well with the harvest this year; it should be plenty to last us through the rainy season ahead; nice to get a break from all that work.

How is your beautiful Sarah doing? Mara sends her greetings. Please tell Sarah how much Mara misses her! You know they had that beauty pageant again; Sarah could have won easily, at least that is what Mara tells me!

I got your last letter, thanks for taking the time to write. It sounds like a lot has been going on with you! You know Abe, I got to tell you that some of the things you wrote sounded kind of strange. I am really worried about you my old friend.

You have a son but Sarah is not his mother – what? Abe, what were you thinking? I know you and Sarah were desperate to have a family.   You are both kind of old to start of family but so what – you’ve already waited a long time, couldn’t you wait a bit longer. You and Sarah are such a great couple; you’ve been married so long! I know how much you wanted a son; what man doesn’t? But Abe, did you forget what God promised?  I cannot believe this was your wife’s idea! Knowing Sarah, I hope she is not making your life too miserable.  Abe I have to say I am concerned about this boy’s future; I see trouble coming, big trouble, and I hope I am wrong. What’s done is done and can’t be undone as my father always said but jumping ahead of God always leads to problems.

Abe, I was sad to hear about you and your nephew. It’s too bad you had to go your separate ways; I am sure you are going to be fine but I am concerned about him. I don’t think moving into the city was a good idea. I don’t want you to worry but I’ve heard stories about that city.   Do you know if they are true? Some of the stories I heard are pretty bad. It is a non-stop party and can really get crazy, especially when the sun goes down. I’ve heard the people there don’t care about anything but themselves; they are full of pride. It can’t be a good place for his daughters! I hope your nephew will see it’s not as great as he thought it would be, we both know how the younger generation is. I also heard a rumor that he has become pretty important in that town; that should open up his eyes to what is going on. I still think you should try to get him out of there somehow. I know he is a good man and God will take care of him but see if there is anything you can do to help him – talk to God about it!

Well old friend, I have to wrap this up. Please let me know how things turn out. Time is passing so quickly and neither of us is getting any younger; I miss our many long talks, I miss you. I am praying for you and your family.   I hope I didn’t hurt your feelings but I thought I should be honest with you; I hope you understand.   God bless you.

Your friend, Mel