I Got Nothin”

Twirling a pen in my hand I just sat there. I stared at the card in front of me, waiting for an idea, for something, anything, to say. A few words popped into my brain but they seemed trite and shallow. So I sat there, staring at the card waiting for the right words but I got nothin’.

Over the past couple of weeks I have had to sign way too many greeting cards. Generally I like choosing and signing cards but this most recent batch were all for the unhappy occasions of life: Get Well, Thinking of You, and the saddest, With Sympathy.

What is there to say when the news is bad/sad? When you know the person receiving the card is struggling and in pain, physically, emotionally or both? What do you say when the person is standing in front of you with tears in their eyes?

Other peoples pain can take us by surprise, leaving us at a loss for words, uncertain how to acknowledge their sorrow, how to support, not knowing what to say or do. My heart hurts for the other person and I have that sinking feeling of frustration; that any words I might say trivialize their pain. There are times when silence is best, a hug, a comforting touch might be all that is needed and wanted but there has to be some verbal or written response, some words of understanding, some acknowledgement…

In the midst of pain our hearts cry out for comfort, for an answer or reason, for hope that the pain serves some purpose and that life is not meaningless. I always pause; I don’t want to say or write anything stupid and I don’t want to make the situation worse. I want to be sincere and genuine; I can’t know exactly how the other person feels but I do know what it feels like to lose someone, to be afraid, to worry. I want my few words to be comforting, positive and hopeful.

The Bible has a lot to say about pain and suffering. Jesus is described as a man of sorrows; He knows what if feels like to be lonely, rejected, mocked and tortured. Many of the psalms are vivid descriptions of the authors’ fears, despair and pain. Many of those who wrote and are written about in the Bible experienced great loss and prolonged suffering.

Through all of the sorrow and challenge in the Bible runs a long and unbroken thread of hope; the hope of a better life, of an eternal home, of a promised Messiah, of blessing, of purpose. The hope spoken of and demonstrated in familiar Bible stories is not just a vague wish but also the absolute certainty that God has permitted every experience, good and bad. It is a sure hope for those who trust Him and believe in Jesus that God has a plan and His plan is for our good.

But, sometimes God’s Word is not welcomed or wanted and even openly opposed. It makes me profoundly sad that His words of comfort and strength cannot be shared and that is why it has been so difficult to sign the cards, to say the words. All the “acceptable” words, the “politically correct” words (whatever those are) have no real meaning or substance and everything the world offers is only temporary.

When I cannot share the hope of heaven, the love of God, His plan, His comfort, His peace, His presence, His eternal and greater purpose there truly is no meaningful hope I can offer, no words of lasting comfort.   Apart from God, from Jesus and His Word,

I got nothin’…

 

Whom have I in heaven but you and besides you I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:25, 26

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing Test

“i’m starving!”, you say when you walk in the door at the end of a long day at work or school.  Are you really starving?  Did you eat at all today?  Probably, but maybe not.  Did you eat yesterday?  Very likely.  The “I’m starving” complaint is quickly followed by it’s annoying companion, “There’s nothing to eat in this house.”  This is most often uttered in front of the wide-open refrigerator.  Are your shelves and fridge completely and totally bare?  Probably not but, possibly.  Is there breakfast cereal, some almost out of date milk? Then there is food to eat in your house, it’s just not the food you want to eat!

Hunger by choice or circumstance is a very real problem everywhere but for most of us in present day America, food is always available for purchase or can be found for free/low-cost.  We are told regularly and often the average American is eating too much and obesity is considered by many to be a serious health issue.

Now it came about in the days when the judges governed, that there was a famine in the land. Ruth 1:1

Famine is a devastating, extreme and wide-spread shortage of food.  There has never been a famine in America.  Gratefully, most of us don’t have any idea what it means to be truly starving.  In a time of famine, the cupboards are literally bare.  There is no food of any kind available to anyone for any price. Famine drives people to extreme lengths to obtain food for themselves and their children.

This famine drives a man, Elimelech, to leave Bethlehem with his wife and two sons and travel to the land of Moab.  Elimelech chose Moab, and while there, he dies, leaving his wife Naomi a widow.  His sons marry Moabite women and then, the sons die. Naomi is bereft of her two children and her husband.  Naomi, hearing that there is food in Bethlehem decides to return home alone.  Her two daughters in law insist on going with her and Naomi urges them to stay in their own land with their own people; one daughter in law agrees but the other, Ruth, refuses to be parted from Naomi.  The two women, mother in law and daughter in law travel to Bethlehem.  Naomi is so crushed in spirit, she now insists on being called ‘Mara’, which means, bitter.

Even in a time of famine and loss, there is blessing.  Naomi/Mara refused to see the blessing of her faithful daughter in law, Ruth who traveled with her, leaving her own people and culture behind.

When you are completely empty it makes logical sense to go somewhere, anywhere, to get full. God allowed the famine into their lives and he allows famine to overtake us.  Maybe your famine is the loss of a loved one, loneliness and sadness is crushing your soul. Perhaps you are experiencing a famine of work, you need a job desperately.  You just don’t feel connected to God, your prayers seem to go unanswered, a time of spiritual famine.  Whatever your present famine, be careful  where or who you go to fill yourself up.  Many things and people promise fullness and don’t deliver.  Elimelech chose Moab, a land of idolatry, it is much easier to turn to the world and things of the world in a time of famine, don’t turn to an idol, turn to God.

God will sometimes strip us of everything, allow the famine to test us.  What will we do when we have nothing left?  Will we turn to Him, depend on Him or look to the world or our own resources to “get us through”?  Trials are an opportunity and we have the choice to become ‘mara’/bitter or better.  Unlike Ruth and Naomi, who had no idea if or how things would work out, we know the outcome of their story.  The famine they experienced was not a coincidence and if you are in a time of famine, of being stripped to nothing, this is not a coincidence for you either.

Moving to Florida was, for me, a small famine.  I was stripped (by choice) of familiar people, places and things.  It forced me to look to God for comfort, strength and peace.  God was getting ready to do something amazing for them and through them. God has given my many new friends, a job and now I can find my way around pretty well in my new neighborhood.  God had a plan and a purpose in their famine and bitterness and He has a plan and purpose for me and you in our “test of having nothing”.  Naomi and Ruth did not see it – we rarely do – but God calls us to keep moving, take the next step and to rely on Him – it’s called Trust!

February Book Review

I am participating in a community event organized by a fellow blogger at Weird and Wonderful

The book I am reviewing for the month of February is: The Optimists Daughter by Eudora Welty.  I chose this book because of my personal challenge to read all of the Pulitzer Prize Winners for Fiction; I have read some amazing books from this list!

Eudora Welty is considered one of America’s most admired authors.  Born in 1909 in Jackson Mississippi, her first book was published in 1941 and several others followed in quick succession. Welty then stopped publishing for several years, resuming again in 1970.  In 1972 she produced The Optimists Daughter, which was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1973.  Welty died in 2001 in her life-long home, Jackson Mississippi.  (Welty’s bio)

The Optimists Daughter is a short novel, less than 200 pages, and the first book by Welty that I have read.  The story itself is simple.  Laurel McKelva Hand has traveled to New Orleans to be present for Judge McKelva’s surgery, the Judge is Laurel’s father.  Laurel’s mother had died after a long illness years earlier and her father has since remarried a much younger woman named Fay.  Laurel herself is also a widow, her husband died a year after their marriage in an attack on his naval ship during WWII.  Laurel’s father never fully recovers from the surgery and dies while still in the hospital.   Laurel and Fay travel by train to escort his body back to the family home in Mississippi for the funeral.

The story packs an emotional wallop as it deals with loss and grieving.  Welty’s ability to tell the story primarily through the dialogue of each character is masterful.  Welty imparts a distinctive voice to each person which enabled me to visualize them.  Much of the story is told by the other characters, Laurel herself says very little, keeping her thoughts and feelings contained within herself as she observes and listens to the others.  Each person in the story has different reactions to Judge McKelva’s death and again, Welty portrays each one vividly with her thoughtful descriptions, pacing and word choices.

I don’t want to give too many details about the plot or characters since I, as a reader, prefer to uncover them myself but one group of characters were particularly endearing, “The Bridesmaids”.  This group of women, friends since childhood, were Laurel’s bridesmaids at her wedding and all six of them show up at the train station and several other times in the story.  I loved how faithful, protective and supportive they were to Laurel, here is an excerpt from their reunion at the train station:

Tish Bullock winked at Laurel.  It was a moment before she remembered: this was the bridesmaids automatic signal in acute joy or distress, to show solidarity.

After the funeral, Laurel remains alone in the family home with her grief, searching for meaning, memories and understanding of her past and it’s relationship to the present.  Sooner or later, and like Laurel, each of us will deal with this most common human experience  – the death and loss of people we love.  Beautifully told, full of emotion, I definitely recommend a slow, thoughtful reading of this book.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” Revelation 21: 3, 4

Book Review Day

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 – 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

Writing 101 – Size Matters

Today’s challenge: Tell about the home you lived in when you were twelve. The twist: vary the length of the sentences.

I hated the house. It was not the house I hated; it was the idea of the house. When I was twelve years old, we moved.

I liked our “old house”. The perfect small house on a quiet suburban street. I knew everyone on the street, I had friends on the street, and there was a shop around the corner to feed my candy and comic book addiction. I simply did not want to move from the only home I had ever known to a new house in a new neighborhood.

The “new house” was immense, on a busy street that held other immense houses. There was a large, wrap-around porch, a small front yard and a much larger, grass-covered back yard. Some rooms were painted in odd, intense colors; the living room was a dark and dismal forest green. The dining room a glowing bright red-orange – being twelve, I thought it was wonderful!! Every room had wood floors and large windows, letting in lots of light.  All the rooms were much larger than the rooms in the old house and there were many more of them. There was a long, narrow pantry off the eat-in kitchen, with cabinet’s floor to ceiling for storage. Upstairs, there were 4 bedrooms on the second floor and 2 on the third – yes, third floor. A three-story house was common in this new neighborhood. My bedroom was on the second floor, overlooking the back yard. Since it was an older house there was only one bathroom on the second floor.   And what a bathroom, a gigantic, cast iron, claw foot tub dominated the room. But having only one bathroom required coordination in a household that included two parents, four kids aged 12 and under and another kid on the way; no dawdling allowed!

The new house had lots of small and interesting places; ideal for our all-important hide and seek marathons. The basement had a dark nook under the stairs, one large open room and two, smaller rooms with shelves and doors.  The ceiling was very low and criss-crossed with pipes and wires.  There was also a small, half-bath, in the basement – to be used only in case of emergency! The basement was dark and full of odd noises, smells, creaks and groans and I, for one, avoided it at all costs!

As time passed, the old house, the old neighborhood mattered less and less and the new house became home. We discovered a great park and playground down the street. There was a private school on the corner; before they fenced the property we spent hours on their tennis courts, running through their fields, looking in the windows, full of curiousity about the activity inside. There were lots of stores within easy walking distance – new candy and comic book shopping options in both directions! School, sports, jobs, driving and friends; life marches on, kids grow up, nothing remains the same.

Years later, I was sad and excited on the day I moved from the “new house” into my first apartment. More time passed and Mom and Dad decided it was time for them to move, to start a new chapter. The “new house” was sold. Although I had not lived there for many years, I cried that day. The once hated new house, my home, was gone.

Writing 101 – POV – The Golden Hour

The challenge: A man and a woman walk through the park together, holding hands. They pass an old woman sitting on a bench. The old woman is knitting a small, red sweater. The man begins to cry. Write this scene.  Today’s twist: Write the scene from three different points of view: the perspective of the man, the woman and finally the old woman.

The pond shimmered in the sunlight; it was the “golden hour”. Late afternoon, a favorite time for photographers, the light gives everything and everyone an ethereal quality; it is also universally flattering. I lifted my camera up to my eye, framing the scene carefully in my viewfinder.

Suddenly a couple walked right into the frame. Frustrated, I lowered the camera back down and glared at them. A man and a woman just out for their stroll. The two of them were holding hands, acting like two teenagers on a first date! It was obvious to me that their teenage years were long gone! I paused to give them time to pass and started to survey the park. Off to the right, some kids clambering over and through the colorful play place, a group of teens tossing a red Frisbee, dog-walker’s, joggers, even a small woman, sitting alone, looks like she’s knitting of all things! The usual “park crowd”, talking, laughing, and enjoying the outdoors…

“Oh, Greta, you always make me laugh, “ said the man, giving her hand a gentle squeeze. Oh, how he enjoyed just walking with her. Even after 28 years of marriage she could still make him laugh. He took a deep breath; the warm air carried a faint hint of the cologne she had used for years. He remembered inhaling that scent on her skin, on that spot on her neck, how she would giggle and push him away but not too far away – sweet memories. He sighed again. He could hear the shouts of the boys playing in the field. He recalled the days when he used to jump like that to catch a Frisbee as it sailed by; those days were past now. He was happy he could still make a couple of laps around the pond. “Greta, what is your mom doing over there?” He quickened his pace. “It looks like she is working on…? Oh no!  Greta, is she knitting? I thought you took her needles away from her. Where did she get that red yarn? Please tell me she is not making another red sweater? Oh. Oh no! That IS what she’s doing!”?  A small, strangled cry escapes his lips as he comes abreast of the seated old woman. Tears begin to roll down his cheeks.

Greta loved the feeling of her small hand enclosed in Mark’s. She could feel his calloused skin, coarse patches of hardened skin, earned by years of hard work with hammer and chisel. The warm sunlight felt so good on her shoulders and back, the surface of the pond glittering, reflecting the sun, dragonflies zipping back and forth along the edge of the water. “Oh Mark, look at those little ones climbing on that slide. How cute is that? Can you see that little girl, the one with the red dress? See she’s pushing her doll in the swing over there.”   She paused, wistfully watching the children, transfixed, lost in her memories. “Huh?” She dragged her gaze from the children, shading her eyes to look where Mark was pointing.   “Yes, I thought it would do Mom some good to get outside for a change.” She scurried to catch up to him; her shorter legs have to work harder to keep up. “Knitting needles?  Yes, I’m sorry Mark, I should have told you. She just looked so lost without her knitting. Didn’t you notice how her hands would move, just like she was really knitting.” His gasp made her look up at his face, the muscles of his jaw working as if in pain. “Mark, oh Mark, what’s the matter? Oh dear, I have a tissue right here. Oh honey, it’s ok. Don’t cry, honey. You know they say everything happens for a reason. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be. We have to trust that there was a good reason, that God had a purpose.”

The old woman sat hunched over her knitting. Her gnarled hands gripping the needles looked like talons. The needles flashed, back and forth in the afternoon sun, the yarn like blood. Red yarn was pooled next to her on the worn bench, dripping down onto the green grass, feeding her needles in a pulsing stream, like a vein, pumping, pumping. The air was warm, a gentle breeze lifting the few loose strands of hair around her face but she barely felt it, so intent was she on her work. Suddenly she paused, distracted, a shadow falling across her lap. Slowly, she lifts her head and sees a man and a woman standing face to face in front of her. The woman reaches up and tenderly wipes the man’s eyes. His head is bowed, shoulders shaking, “He looks like he’s praying” she mutters under her breath. “What’s wrong with them?” She looks over at the boys, laughing in the field, the children clambering all over the play place. She gazes off into the distance, remembering, another child, so small, another time, long ago. Suddenly she shudders, as if there was a gust of cold air. She looks down and sees the half-completed red sweater in her hands. “…Back to work, back to work. Greta needs this for her baby. Her baby will be coming soon, coming soon…”

“For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for your welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me and I will listen to you.” Jeremiah 29:11,12

Writing 101 – Serially Lost – Part 1

Maureen and Darlene are lost to me. Perhaps someday they will be found but not today, that is almost certain. They were lost at the same time but were not together when they were lost. It is possible they are together even now. They may be alive, but they may not be, I don’t seem to be able to find out their fate.

I left them. I went back to the place where I left them recently but they were not there. I actually did not expect to find them there but I hoped I might.   Perhaps putting this in writing for the first time will help. I would like to find them but I am a bit afraid of what I might actually discover if I find them. I might learn more about myself than I want to know if I were to find them.

Both of them had (have? I do not know) very dark hair. Maureen had (has) piercing blue eyes, Darlene’s are/were dark brown. Maureen has/had few charming freckles across the bridge of her nose and onto her cheeks. Both were then but may not be now, my height, I am 5’8”. Darlene is more indistinct in my memory; I spent more time with Maureen and her younger sister Karen. Actually we all avoided Karen, she was annoying.

I cried when I lost them. I cried off and on for days afterward. There was no suitable replacement or substitute for them. It took a long time to find someone who even came close, it was a painful loss; I don’t think I ever really recovered. There was someone else who finally came along, she filled the void but differently, and it was not possible to be the same. I lost her for a time too; but now I know where she is; she actually found me. I will tell her story in Part 2…

Maureen and Darlene, childhood friends, lost when I moved away to a new neighborhood long ago, a part of my childhood lost with them.