Keeping the Light

“Deep in their roots, all flowers keep the light.” -Theodore Roethke

Photo Courtesy of pixaby.com/Albenheim

The lion’s still roaring in this month of March, here in my neck of the sagebrush. And though we’ve changed to daylight savings time in the Pacific Northwest, the cold and dark seem to linger.

One friend in another part of the U.S. celebrated a “beautimous” dirt delivery this past week, in preparation and anticipation of tending and cultivating a garden.

Planting vegetables in our backyard plot is weeks away for my husband and me. Adding flora to our deck and front porch, too.

How can we keep the light? Not just wait and long and sigh?

Bring the beauty indoors: Whether it be potted plants, vases of bouquets or taking a virtual tour of breathtaking blooms via websites like the National Tropical Botanical Garden.

According to greatist.com three key benefits of flowers include:

  1. Can reduce stress and anxiety.
  2. Can promote creativity.
  3. Can boost energy.

So, in an effort to help banish any “can’t wait for spring” blues, I’m giving away a Spring Watering Can Bulb Garden!

Photo courtesy of proflowers.com

What is a unique flower you’ve seen up close?

Tell me in the comments section for a chance to win.

I’ll announce the winner in next week’s blog post.

 

 

 

 

Can a Legend Make History?

What better day than St. Patrick’s Day to talk about folklore versus facts?

A receipt checker at Costco noticed the box of Godiva assorted Belgian chocolates in my cart and asked me what I knew about the fabled female adorning the cover.

“All I know about Lady Godiva is that she was infamous for riding through the streets on a dapple-grey steed in nothing but her long hair.”

She smiled.

“That’s all I’d heard, too. Google her. You’ll be surprised.”

I did. And I was.

Funny how I’d never taken the time to search out the matter further, relying only on hearsay and bits and pieces of conversations about her over the years.

History describes the study of past events.

Legend means a traditional story sometimes popularly regarded as historical but unauthenticated.

Lady G. falls neatly into neither category.

According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, she was:

“…a Countess of Mercia. An English noblewoman, the wife of Leofric, Earl of Mercia.

If she is the same Godiva who appears in the history of Ely Abbey, the Liber Eliensis, written at the end of the 12th century, then she was a widow when Leofric married her. Both Leofric and Godiva were generous benefactors to religious houses.

The legend of the nude ride is first recorded in the 13th century, in the Flores Historiarum and the adaptations of it by Roger Wendover: despite its considerable age, it is not regarded as plausible by modern historians.

The typical version of the story:

Lady Godiva took pity on the people of Coventry, who were suffering grievously under her husband’s oppressive taxation. Lady Godiva appealed again and again to her husband, who obstinately refused to remit the tolls. At last, weary of her entreaties, he said he would grant her request if she would strip naked and ride on a horse through the streets of the town. Lady Godiva took him at his word, and after issuing a proclamation that all persons should stay indoors and shut their windows, she rode through the town, clothed only in her long hair. Just one person in the town, a tailor ever afterward known as Peeping Tom, disobeyed her proclamation in one of the most famous instances of voyeurism.”

Celebrate or censure?

Maybe you’ve heard of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich? In 1976 she wrote a scholarly article about little-studied Puritan funeral services. Perhaps you’ve heard the quote that went viral not long after, or seen it on mugs, t-shirts or decals:

“Well-behaved women seldom made history.”

She went on to write a book using the title which examines ways in which women shaped history using examples from the lives of Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman, to name a few.

Whenever I hear or see that famous line, I think of a broad spectrum of women. From world leaders like Golda Meir to another woman with long hair.

You can read all about the latter in the gospel of Luke, chapter 7 verses 36-50.

This story is historical fact and is found in the pages of God’s word, the Bible.

In this account, “When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.”

What kind of love would motivate a woman of ill repute to audaciously scorn being scorned by the powerful leaders of her day to offer her most precious gifts–her tears, her expensive ointment, her hair, her time– to the object of that love?

Celebrate or censure?

 

 

 

 

“He’s Especially Fond of You.”

Multnomah Falls, Oregon

The Shack by WM. Paul Young released in 2007.

For ten long years, I danced around the book. Intrigued but fearful of what I might find inside those pages.

About a month ago, my husband plucked a copy from a shelf of our local, family-owned Christian bookstore. It’s been nestled among a stack of bestsellers, on a night table in our bedroom, silently beckoning me ever since.

We just returned from the movie, of the same title. It features an all-star lineup of actors like Sam Worthington, Octavia Spencer, Tim McGraw and Graham Greene, to name a few.

This is a story about Mackenzie Allen Philips. A man who loves his wife and three children. The pain and secrets he carries are only compounded when the unthinkable happens:

“Mack’s youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family vacation, and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. Four years later, in the midst of his Great Sadness, Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from God, inviting him back to that shack for a weekend.

Against his better judgment, he arrives at the shack on a wintry afternoon and walks back into his darkest nightmare. What he finds there will change Mack’s world forever.”

This is a beautiful film about asking God the tough questions in life. About being real and letting God be real back. It’s about forgiving and being forgiven.

While the actors are top-rate and the cinematography stunning, what moved me most and left me drenching a fistful of napkins with my tears, was the raw emotions within relationships. The struggles and strain. The awkward moments and angry outbursts. The silent sufferings. The hope and grace available to anyone who longs to be restored and revived.

“If you ever get a chance to hang out with Mack, you will soon learn that he’s hoping for a new revolution, one of love and kindness–a revolution that revolves around Jesus. It will be a revolution involving the daily powers of dying and serving and loving and laughing, of simple tenderness and unseen kindness, because if anything matters, then everything matters.

I’m at a juncture in my journey, where I’m through with letting fear dictate and define my path. Where I’m letting God’s love cast it out, and like Mack, moving beyond the past and charging forward to tell others about the freedom we all can claim.

Will you open your heart, too?

After all, “God’s especially fond of you.”

 

 

Hope and Grace – Gifts from God

I met Karen Saari in an online writing group. She candidly shared her scars and audaciously proclaimed the faithful love of God in her life. Truly a kindred spirit and my new friend. Just pure joy to journey with her today!

So, I’m 57 years old and I’ve been married 3 times. That was never in my plan for life. I wanted nothing more than to get married, have a family, stay at home to raise my children and be a homemaker. I yearned for it. It was my dream.

First requirement: finding a man who wants the same thing.

First failure: marrying a man who didn’t agree with my beliefs.

And what followed was 26 years of grief, tears, abuse, and unthinkable things that can’t be written down. I got a divorce after being told many times by my church – “God hates divorce”. Yes, He does, but doesn’t He also hate the abuse that was piled on our children and myself? I never wanted to get married again.

God had other plans. He brought Mike into my life and we married. I was filled with hope – hope that comes from Him. Hope that we would build a life together. We had a wonderful marriage and I actually knew what marriage was supposed to be like. When we’d been married for 8 years he was diagnosed with advanced liver cancer and given 2 – 3 months to live. I was devastated. He went home to be with our Lord less than 30 days later.

Well, now I knew I’d never get married again. I’d had my turn. I was glad for the wonderful marriage He had given me and content with that. Again, God had plans.

He brought Robert into my life and we married. And are married still! This is the grace of God turning all the tears to joy. Here I am, once again living in the mountains I love, with a bundle of grandchildren (15 in all!) and a job I love and all I can say is, “God is good.”

Karen Saari is a writer, editor and writing coach. She is the author and Indie publisher of Morningshine and Morning Glory, the first two books in a 3-book series titled The Spring Street Quilters. She is also the author of Log Cabin Quilts: A Brand New Story. All available on Amazon.

She blogs at diyserendipity.com and KarenSaari.com

Wherever You Are

We can’t see them. But they’re watching. The giant evergreen rustles, limbs shaking. They play tag around the thick trunk, circling faster and faster as they descend. Claws scratching coarse bark.

My husband and I laugh loud at their antics.

“I guess they’re not hibernating after all, ” I say.

He tears open the yellow cellophane, dropping peanuts in his haste.

I smile. “It was sweet of you to think of them.”

“They gotta eat too,” He shrugs.

Photo courtesy of Glenda Zylinski

Curious but wary, soon that primal force propels them nearer. Seagulls wheel about us, crying their grating call for the rest of the flock to join them. Hunger drives their large number closer, too.

I shoo them away. My husband throws a handful of the snack far to his right.

“A diversion,” He says.

After some time and a lot of patience, we delight in the rewards trust brings.

Photo courtesy of Glenda Zylinski
Photo courtesy Glenda Zylinski

The gunshot from across the river causes the small creatures to scurry back to the safety of their tree. And the flap of a myriad white and gray wings keeps them there.

Photo courtesy Glenda Zylinski

“Come out, come out!” My husband sing-songs.

Much later, I shiver and my husband crumples the empty bag.

Photo courtesy Glenda Zylinski
Photo courtesy Glenda Zylinski

We continue along the footpaths a familiar and soothing trek.

“Did you see that squirrel with the hacked off tail?” my husband says.

I nod, wending his wide fingers through mine.

“I saw one with scars on its shoulder.”

Photo courtesy Glenda Zylinski

We’ve been talking a lot about scars lately. How they can even be seen on a soul.

The image carved bold into that sycamore reminds me that God’s faithful love can heal. And the nails driven deep through Jesus’ hands and feet left an ageless trail of evidence.

My husband pulls me close and the tears fall unbidden.

“Remember last spring when we were here? That rush of wings–a Cooper’s hawk on the hunt–and the death screech of… A dove? A squirrel?”

“Yeah,” he murmurs onto my black knit-cap.

“Unforgettable. Haunting.”

I stop. Pull the cover off my camera. I’ve never seen more than two maybe three at a time tops. I count at least twelve today.

It’s too late.

“They’re gone,” I sigh.

“Not that one.”

And it’s enough.

Photo courtesy Glenda Zylinski

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Empty Places

Our eyes lock. I look away. Our carts pass in the aisle, scents of cinnamon clashing with garlic. I can’t count the times this scene plays out. Same story. Different characters. The pastor’s wife likely knows the script. Don’t engage. Just keep walking. As if we’ve never met. As if I’ve never been graciously welcomed into her home or worshiped God in the same church.

As if.

Another shopping day. Same-store. Different church. Another woman. We spot each other reaching for vitamins. She holds my gaze and welcomes my embrace.

“How may I pray for you?” I say.

“I need to sell the business.”

We part ways. I numbly fill my cart. I’d attended the wedding. Scrapbooked in her home. At Bible study groups she’d been an oasis with her smiles and kind comments. Those times after my attempt to take my life and others had gossiped and turned their backs, she and her husband invited our family on outings. I’d politely declined, thanking her and making excuses not to meet.

My face burns. The dairy room empty. I stop to let the cool air flow over me. Here she’d been again, offering me grace just weeks after burying her husband. He’d lost the war with his internal infernos.

How had fear wrapped its tentacles around my heart? Why had it first felt like a cozy hug? When had the eyes of my soul gone dark? And why do I blindly stumble, groping and grasping at thin air directionless alone?

 

…27…28…

The ambulance lights flashed red and blue. I shut my eyes to their dizzying effects and the surreal dream-quality of all that had happened and was happening. Two medics whisked me on a gurney toward the opened doors of the emergency vehicle.

“I’ll follow you to the hospital later,” my husband told the men. “Our two kids and their cousin are due back any minute from the 7-11 down the street. I need to find someone to watch them.” I recognized the familiar signs of anger, disgust, and heartbreak on his handsome face. He held the glass storm door of our yellow house before him like a shield. Was he guarding those hot emotions not just his well-built physique?

“Did you jump off a building to get into these pants?” The medic good-naturedly asked as he helped me pull them off. I smiled and nodded but the question and the removal of my jeans ticked me off.

The antiseptic odor of the emergency room like smelling salts burned me awake to the consequences of my foolish actions. The pale walls, white ceiling tiles, and bleached bedding drove the point deeper. I didn’t deserve to cry. Frustration escalated, I felt it rising in my veins. My breathing erratic like the thumping of my heart. The beat of my life.

I pat-patted the blankets, mind racing, emotions like a pinball pounding the edges of my thoughts.

Did I really want to die?

From behind the curtain, I heard voices talking about picket lines, derogatory name-calling, and how the medical center scraped, searching for temporary staff to fill shifts. Strangely, knowing this brought me comfort.

One on-call nurse entered in her scrubs, her honey-gold hair and lithe form somehow intimidating.

“I’m sorry you have to do this.” I softly said.

Although she acknowledged my words, I saw and felt no compassion in her icy-blue stare or briskness as she took my vitals.

“We’re going to give you charcoal to absorb the pills from your overdose and to aid in forced vomiting.” She handed me a bedpan.

The large clock ticked a circular marking of time. The black hour and minute hands and numbers and red looping hand reminding me of school days nearly a decade past. I counted holes in those drop-down squares and waited. And waited. And…

Another nurse, similar in coloring but older, no-nonsense, and stockier slid the curtain aside, the metal ball chain attached to the ceiling rails raking an irritating protest.

She looked down at the shallow vessel. The silver cold and heavy in my hands. Shaking her head, she took it from me.

“We have to pump your stomach.”

“Why?” I said.

“The charcoal’s not working. We have to rid you of the contents. Unless…”

“I make myself throw up?” I knew something…too much…about that.

She nodded. I nodded back.

All through the night, she brought me two-litre-sized bottles of a thick, clear liquid. At first, eager to want to help and not wanting to waste her time, I gulped down the offerings. After the third round, I shook my head. She looked sternly at me and spoke an even harder truth.

“You have at least five more of these to drink. If you don’t, your kidneys may be permanently damaged.”

Still, I hesitated.

“You have a family, right?”

I nodded.

“Maybe it’s time to think about them.”

 

Out of the Dark

Not again. The boys sat huddled on the long couch, eyes narrowed. A suitcase laid haphazardly on the stairwell. A blitz of harsh words and hearts blistered. The smiling faces of our two sons framed in gold on the far wall seemed to mock the conflict unfolding in our living room.

“Just say the word and I’m out of here!” My husband shouted.

“What happened to never say the D word?” I said between clenched teeth.

But if you go on hurting each other and tearing each other apart, be careful or you will completely destroy each other.

“Well?”

“You know that’s not what I want.” I said.

A spontaneous shopping outing and day planner bursting at the seams with volunteering commitments depleted our checking account and my energy. Bankrupting my family of my time and attention. Again.

Lying in bed with my husband later that night, a chasm of mattress between us, I stared at the shadows playing on the ceiling of our room. Unhappiness lingering along with the stink of burned chicken. More apologies. More hugs and reassurances for our elementary-age kids, their eyes shrouded with disappointment. Again.

If you keep doing the same thing expecting different results…

How did we not hear that two pumpkins had been hurled into the back window of our station wagon? Or that their remains landed in the front of the car? Picking seeds and scraping guts out of the carpet and calling the police and insurance company not a welcome addition to the burgeoning family calendar.

My husband shrugged off my attempts to hold him and I rolled back to the opposite side of our California King. Fighting the sobs threatening to erupt couldn’t stop the renegade tears from splashing against the wooden frame.

In the stillness of midnight, I quietly slipped down the steep staircase and collapsed on that long couch. The day’s events replaying a circuit until fitful sleep and the nightmare found me. A cruel hand wrenched my hair and smashed my toddler forehead into the car window. Was that blood or pumpkin flesh?

I awoke as my husband descended the stairs slowly, watching me. Wary. Likely wondering what mood he’d find me in that day.

“Can I talk to you?” He said.

Bleary-eyed and weary, I nodded, grateful for the chance to be reconciled.

“I’ve given this a lot of thought and I’m taking you off our account. If you need money, let me know and we’ll get cash, okay?”

“For how long?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

I nodded and sank into him, loving the feel of his sturdy shoulders.

We kissed good-bye as he left for work, and I wandered into the kitchen. From the window over the sink, the rosy blush of dawn streaked like flames across rippling clouds framed in gold. My breath caught. The dirty dishes stacked neatly in the sink no longer overwhelming me.

Who had told me about that study in Colossians? I rushed to the library room, found my Bible, and flipped pages to the first Chapter.

…giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves…

Hmmm. Father. What did that even mean?

Light. That sounded good.

Rescued. I felt hope rising.

Darkness like a prison sentence. I wanted to be free.

The Son. Jesus. Yes, he could be a good friend. More than the acquaintance I’d stiff-armed him to be. I kneeled, bowed my head, and poured out my heart to him.

What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear. What a privelege to carry everything to God in prayer.

 

 

 

The Interview

With shaky hands, I flipped off the ignition. My boots clicked loud along the breezeway causing eerie echoes to bounce off the walls. I pulled my coat tighter, clutching my handbag like a life buoy. Yank. Up. Courage.

Squaring my shoulders, I read the lettering on the double-glass doors “Support Advocacy & Resource Center”. 

Although Mari’s wide smile and warm welcome confirmed the friendly woman I remembered, my heart hammered as I stammered through pleasantries. I ducked my head wiping the sweat forming on my upper lip, hoping she wouldn’t notice. You’ve interviewed dozens of people! My inner dialogue drowned out Mari’s cordial banter as I followed her through a narrow hallway.

She stopped and turned.

“I’m sorry, what?” I said.

“This is my office.”

She sat behind a desk and gestured to a seat across from her.

The trembling increased.

“I apologize, Mari. I don’t know why I’m so jittery.”

She smiled. “It’s okay. Now explain to me again why you wanted to talk with me?”

I swallowed hard and took a cleansing breath. “I’m writing a book.”

“Oh?”

“Yes.” My face heated. “I wasn’t going to tell you that.”

“People tell me lots of things. It’s okay. Go on.”

“It’s a nonfiction book.  Interviewing an expert is part of the process. I may use this information for an article and blog post, too. What I’m saying is, it will become public information.”

She stated her full name and official title of Forensic Child Interviewer. Her job includes working with law enforcement when there are allegations of child sex abuse.

While she has interviewed kids as young as toddlers, disclosure typically occurs during the “tween” years when puberty and its pressures begin. According to reports in the United States, one in three girls and one in five boys have been victimized. Some of the most common warning signs:

  • Depression
  • Cutting
  • Nightmares
  • Drug Use

“Do kids ever lie?” I asked.

“Nationally, the stats of kids who lie is 1%. An older kid might get in trouble for having sex so they fabricate a story. I haven’t seen any false allegations by younger kids. We’re very careful about false allegations.

“What about the perpetrators?”

“It’s not always who you think.” She strongly cautioned against boys as babysitters because there aren’t always premeditated motives just opportunity.

God, help me, please.

…”there are facts put together about what sex offenders want the public to know.  It’s adults’ jobs to keep kids safe.”

She told me some case histories that were shocking and heartbreaking and while she continued talking in her easy way, my script lapsed.

She paused.

“It’s sloppy,” I said.

“It’s okay.” She folded some colorful papers and slipped them into an envelope and added it to the stack of pamphlets she’d gathered for me. “These are for you.”

Puzzled, I nodded and thanked her.

While we walked the few blocks to lunch, I quietly confessed, “It happened to me.” As the words left my mouth, I startled. Pull yourself together!

She nodded and stated that everywhere and anywhere there are survivors who don’t talk about it.

All through our meal and on the way back, the familiar dread washed over me. In the resource library while perusing titles, I swayed and my vision blurred. Grabbing a chair, I fought to catch my breath.

“You okay?” Mari popped back into the room.

I nodded weakly.

Finally, I settled on a book (of all things!) for writers. As I checked it out, the woman recording my information said, “I didn’t even know we had this.”

When I got home, I  hastily pulled the colorful papers out of the envelope:

  1. Child Victim’s Bill of Rights
  2. Where Can I Go for Help? www.wcsap.org
  3. Sexual Assault Trauma Syndrome
  4. Flashbacks
  5. Boundaries
  6. Stress Reducers
  7. Positive Coping Skills

Coping skills for staying in the present

  • Name five things you can see in the room with you.
  • Name four things you can feel (“chair on my back” or feet on the floor”).
  • Name three things you can hear right now (“clock ticking” or “traffic”).
  • Name two things you can smell right now or two things you like the smell of.
  • Name one good thing about yourself.

My breathing steadied and I relaxed.

“God, how am I supposed to help others when I still get rattled myself?” Then I remembered what I’d read in 2 Corinthians over and over again:

God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glimmers

A Song 

Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are! Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky. -Jane Taylor

Two years and four foster homes later, my caregivers visited her cousin and her cousin’s family. Their little girl, whom I call, Diana, eagerly grabbed my hand and pulled me into her bedroom a space blooming with all things pink and frilly. The canopied four-poster bed, the ruffled curtains, and shag pillows dumbfounded me.

“What?” Diana said. Her sapphire eyes and wide smile puzzled me.

“Come on!” She gently pulled me by the hand and as we explored her vast array of toys and dolls I stopped hard in front of her miniature piano.

“You want me to play it for you?”

I nodded.

She pecked the keys and sang with joyful abandon. Over and over she crooned about a little star in a night sky. And as she taught me the few notes, the terror and grief briefly disappeared.

According to brain wave power, “It has recently been discovered that music can be a powerful tool in relieving the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Music as a treatment.

Studies have shown that (specific kinds of) music can trigger the brain to release chemicals to distract the body and mind from the pain.”

* * *

A Prayer

Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. -The New England Primer

How many of us as children, learned this lilting verse?

Shortly after my singular visit with Diana, (who not only taught me to sing and play notes, graciously gifted me her mini-piano, also caused hope to unfurl in me) another precocious friend flashed into my life.

Her last name rhymed with the street she lived on, something like Carly Sunny lives on Funny.

We wore out the swings, teeter-totters, and merry-go-round at a small- town park playground.

She invited me to her church so she could win prizes and I tagged along so I could pretend to be her.

One day, while soaring as high as we could, hands gripping fat chains, and feet planted in black-swing-seats she yelled, “Do you pray?”

I shook my head.

She leaped off, mid-air, and jerked me to an abrupt stop.

Dropping onto the grass, she pressed her palms together and bowed her head.

I copied her movements.

“Every night you should kneel by your bed and pray like this…”

Who knew a child’s prayer could switch off if only for a little while, the scenes that played like a horror film in my mind?

In an article published on August 18, 2014, in The Desert News, Herb Scribner compiled a list:

8 Reasons Prayer is Good for You

  1. Faster spiritual growth
  2. Better moods
  3. Improved physical health
  4. More self-control
  5. Strong personal beliefs
  6. Inspiration in hardship
  7.  Better interpersonal relationships
  8. Increased creativity

Researcher Michael E. McCullough of Southern Methodist University found that prayer can calm your mood and put you “in a state of peace.”

* * *

A Wish

Carly not only showed me how to pray (and sing a silly song about a fine lady on a white horse with rings on her fingers and bells on her toes), she also taught me, “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might have this wish I wish tonight.”

A Baylor University study recently discovered that “There are physical, mental and social benefits that arise upon uttering words to God.”

Sometime during Carly’s free tutoring on life as a normal girl, a record playing something about wishing on a starcaptured my attention.

One night, before I knelt beside my bed to recite my nightly prayer, a  phrase from that song saying that it didn’t matter who you are, jingled in my thoughts.

Hands trembling, I held my breath and brushed back the cotton curtain.

Not too dark yet.

And like a glittery beacon-

The first star.

Scrunching closed my eyes, I recited the poem, careful to enunciate each line.

When I finished, something supercharged and ethereal broke through the all-too-familiar-dread.

My eyes flew open and I pulled back, heart racing with a kind of knowing-

The heavens declare the glory of God.

Someone heard the fervent desire of a little girl. A little girl aching for her mother, her grandfather, her innocence. A little girl lost.

Several days later, my wish for a pony came true.

And while the gift provided years of joy, Judy in no way compared to the awe I’d felt or the longing ignited in me to know the mysterious Who.