Saturday, October 27, 2012

I believe in miracles

I have mentioned my oldest sister, Barbara, a few times before.  She passed away in 1995 from complications from heart surgery.  The experience of losing my sister was profound for me.  My life was dark for awhile, until I found that writing about the experience was a way of healing from it.

A year later I found a brief outlet for my grief by submitting an article to the Hattiesburg American for consideration for publication in their Religion section.  The editor of the section called me and said yes, they would definitely publish it, and would I please supply a picture?  A picture of us from my wedding was the best one I could find at the time.

The article was originally published on January 13, 1996, two days before what would have been Barbara's 43rd birthday.  I didn't tell anyone it was going to be published.  I think my mother was the most surprised when she opened the paper that Saturday morning.

I finally bought a scanner that allowed me to scan and stitch the article together so that it appears on one page.  If you click on the picture above it should enlarge enough to read.  If you're anything like me you might need some readers to help you along.

Not long after this article was published I found a contest entry form in the paper.  It was for submissions to a book by Steven W. Vannoy called The Greatest Gifts Our Children Give to Us.  This time I wrote about Barbara's daughter, Anna, and the experience of Barbara's illness and hospital stay.  My story was selected and published in the book in 1997.  I'm not sure anyone outside of my immediate family even knows about it.

It took me 14 years to write another sentence.  Now I can't seem to stop.  It's like all those years I spent in silence.  There's just too much I have yet to say.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Clinging, like roses on a vine

Prayer.  It is one of those essential lifelines to a Christian.  I am sure it is essential to life for other religions as well, but as I am a Christian I can only speak for myself.  There are some people I know who pray as instinctively as breathe.  For others, not so much.  Personally, prayer is a challenge to me.  I talk to God all of the time, but do I pray? 

I know of times when I prayed ceaselessly.  Other times I have found myself just gliding along and then BAM, sickness; BAM, death; BAM a crisis.  Those are the wake up calls, the kick in the ribs that have led me clinging to God with fingernails dug in for dear life.

Yes, prayer is a challenge to me mainly because I don’t have confidence in the way I pray.  Am I doing it right?  Am I saying the right things?  Sometimes I feel guilty asking God to listen to me when I am not always listening to Him.  When these difficulties arise I try to remember that Jesus gave us a How-To manual on prayer.  It’s important enough to be mentioned twice in the Gospels, Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. 

One night several years ago I woke up with something on my mind, and I was given a revelation.  It was so strong I sat at my kitchen table and grabbed a pen and the first piece of paper I could find, which happened to be the envelope from Garden Gate magazine wanting me to claim a free holiday gift inside.  I know this because I kept it thinking it might be important one day.

The gift I received wasn’t inside the envelope, but from above.  It was an interpretation of the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray. So when I have trouble praying, I think of Jesus and His How-To instructions, and then I think of my interpretation and try to meditate on that. 

Using the prayer in Matthew as a guide, I will share what was revealed to me, including a few extra notes that have come to me right now.  (see italics)

Mat 6:9  After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, (acknowledge God as the heavenly father, the Creator)  Hallowed be thy name. (offer praise to God whose name is sacred).
Mat 6:10  Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. (call on God to come into your life and let his will lead you in the direction in which he has planned for you)
Mat 6:11  Give us this day our daily bread. (ask for your needs)
Mat 6:12  And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. (ask for forgiveness)
Mat 6:13  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: (ask for protection from sin and the evil which surrounds us) For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. (offer praise to our eternal God) Amen (truly)

You may think my revelation is an obvious interpretation, not a revelation at all.  That’s fine, but I will claim it as I felt it.  I think God speaks to each of us in personal ways whether it is an obvious kick in the ribs or a gentle nudge in the middle of the night.  

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Hollowed, like dried gourds

A neighbor’s horse came into our space today, and my husband spent much of his time this morning trying to catch her.  He could not, even by tempting her with a pan of sweet feed the other horses (and goats and goose) would fist-fight over, if they had fists.  She is not very well kept and was becoming stressed, so he left her alone.  She was content to stand outside the fence near our horses, so he left her there to wait on her owner to fetch her after church. 

After she had calmed I went out to visit with her, to see if I could persuade her to be caught.  Our horse, Sam, came up on his side of the fence, and knowing he can be a biter, I slipped away because I didn’t want to be in the path of a spooked horse.  I stopped to look at my husband’s autumn garden to see if anything new had decided to sprout and then I went to sit on the porch for awhile to watch the butterflies feast on the overgrown lantana bushes covering the walkway.  That is when I noticed the gourds again. 

I planted the gourds from seeds I bought at an Amish hardware store in Ohio.  The seed packets showed pictures of what crafters did with the finished products: snake gourds painted like snakes, swan gourds painted like swans, birdhouse gourds gutted and readied for nesting birds.  The plants grew with a vengeance taking over my garden.  I let them go.  I like to let plants go just to witness their journey.

As the snake gourds grew they were a light green, a dull color compared to the vibrancy of the roses, hibiscus, and zinnias acting as their backdrop.  The swan gourds had a prettier skin, darker green with lighter spots.  The birdhouse gourds were a smooth rich green, nothing very special about them.

As Hurricane Isaac approached landfall I decided I better cut the gourds or else they might rot in the wetness sure to come.  Looking for them was much like an Easter egg hunt.  I found them hidden in gardenia bushes, intertwined in rose thorns, and some were lying in the wide open, growing fat from the sun.

I cut them and set them on my porch to dry and then pretty much forgot them.  Every now and then I would check to see if they had changed, but I quickly became blind to them, like most projects I undertake.  The first stage of drying wasn’t pretty.  Their skin developed sickening moldy spots.  I thought about throwing them out, but again, like most projects I start I left them in their pile to await my next surge of energy to deal with them.  Again I became blind to their presence, something else to push to the back of my mind to avoid dealing with it.

Today I looked at them once again and wondered what in the world to do with them.  But today I see a drastic change.  Some have completely succumbed to the mold, and imploded.  But on others the once festering mold has spread and changed into a new kind of beauty.  The patterns the mold has created are intricate and deliberate, like tatted lace.

The whole cycle reminds me of my writing.  I started (planted) it to see how far it would go.  For awhile it was fruitful, out in the openness soaking up the attention. Now it is in the drying stage, sitting in a dark corner collecting mold and shrinking.   I pray one day I can pay more attention and see it change into a new kind of beauty, intricate and deliberate, like tatted lace.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Weird dreams are made of this

I saw a cousin, the artist, a few days ago, and she told me she reads my blog.  This surprised me, because I am always surprised anytime anyone tells me they read anything I have written.  It’s just the way I’m wired, I guess.  So, when I awoke at 12:41 a.m. from a strange dream I knew I had to write it down and get it out here for her sake.  She will appreciate it.

My dream first started with me Christmas shopping at the Baptist Student Union on campus.  I was disappointed because there was nothing new from last year.  All the stuff on the shelves was the stuff Lloyd could not sell last year so he packed it away and unpacked it this year.  However, there were huge stashes of wrapped gifts, things that were already purchased and waiting for the buyer to pick up.  I knew I must have been late for the sale, and all the good stuff was gone already.

Then I went over to another place, a fast food restaurant, or bakery.  Jennifer Nettles of the band, Sugarland, was behind the counter and she called through the open door for me to come in.  A phone rang so I thought it was going to be a contest where you ask a random person a question to win a big prize. Surely the question was going to be about country music, with Jennifer Nettles there and all.  But the question was something about how many accountants were there in a certain business if you had “x” amount of this and that.  The question was so convoluted no one could answer it, and it seemed no one was supposed to after all.

I walked in and Jennifer Nettles went to the back somewhere so I was disappointed I couldn’t talk to her.  There were other people behind the counter, too, and I knew some of them.  One was the owner of the place.  She was a quirky woman, and she had a room in her house (which was attached to the restaurant) that held all the belongings of her recent ancestors.  The other was a dwarf.

The dwarf looked a lot like a bald Warwick Davis.  He kept following me around, giving me back-handed compliments.  I can’t remember the exact words he would say, but in essence he would tell me that I was talented, and good, and had so much to offer but basically I was lazy and going nowhere so I would be better off if someone just killed me.  I tried to shake him off politely because he scared me.

Jennifer Nettles came back to the counter and started asking me questions about my Shoemake relatives.  She thought she might have known some of them.  She was a very down to earth person and didn’t mind working behind the counter.  Apparently she was from the area and came back every now and then to help out.  

The conversation moved outside.  The dwarf kept following me around, telling me good things, then bad things, and then telling me someone should just kill me.  He would also tell me to “just wear the hat.”  I understood this to mean there was a hat that was given to people to wear as an honor.

The conversation turned to the owner’s special room in her house.  There was a large bald man there who asked if all the ancestors’ money was in there, too.  I was afraid he was going to try to rob the sweet lady, so I played it down and told him, no, it was just a place she kept their old clothes, etc.  

About that time the dwarf sidled up next to me and told me again how great I was, how bad I was, someone should kill me, but he was insistent on me wearing the hat. He shimmied up a pole next to me with a ratty blue felt hat shaped like a hat a Christmas Elf would wear.  I really didn’t want it on my head, but I didn’t want to insult him.  He was finally being nice to me, but I felt that any moment he would reach over and snap my neck.

Then I woke up.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Keeping up with the times

What could this be?

Board games were not something I enjoyed when I was a child.  I didn’t have anyone to play them with, and you can only play Monopoly and Clue alone for so long before getting really, really bored.  Being a child of the 1970s I was on the ground floor of the electronic entertainment age.  In my day electronic games evolved from buzzer of Operation to more sound and light interaction in games like Merlin and Simon.  These were the games I liked.  These were the games you could play by yourself.  I would spend hours pressing those lighted buttons, repeating the sequences the internal computer had laid out as a challenge.

Since then I always have leaned towards electronic gadgets for entertainment.  In my teens the rage was the Walkman, a portable cassette tape player with headphones.  My version was more of a Radio Shack knock-off, but it served the same purpose. 

My generation played Donkey Kong and Pac-Man on huge machines in arcades.  Now our children play them on gadgets they can carry in their pocket.

I took the first computer programming class ever offered at my high school.  I learned quickly Pascal was not for me, but being in the same room with the computers and the line printers whirring in the background gave me a certain sense of belonging.

Moving forward in college I had an electronic typewriter, a precursor to the word processor.  I wrote all my papers by first viewing my words in the LCD screen at the top, and then printing it all at once.  It took time to learn the coding, but satisfaction of that printed document was worth it.

When I first started my job in 1989 I used a similar word processor, but in the early 1990s I convinced my boss a PC would be so much more efficient.  I was the first person in the entire department to have a PC on my own desk.

 With each phase of the latest and greatest I have been on board with one exception.  My cellphones have never been the latest or the greatest.  When I got my most recent one two years ago I was (ahem) told I had to get whatever was free with a contract.  What I got was a piece of garbage, something I have mentioned to the teller quite often.  There was no need to mention it, actually, because he was reminded every time I got a phone call and had to go to the porch for enough reception to talk.
Which brings me to today.  

My waiting period is over, and my cellular provider has graciously allowed me to upgrade my phone.  This time I am not going for the free one.  I have been weighing my options and researching every aspect and my choice has come down to the (drumroll, please) iPhone 5!  When Mike at Wal-Mart took it out of the box and handed it to me I heard a choir sing.  When I felt the sleekness of the cool metal backing in my palm I knew I had made the right choice.  It sits beside me as I write this, waiting for me to enrobe it in the new magenta and teal case I bought for it. 

I have an older iPod Touch, so I know the basics of an Apple product.  But, if anyone has any pointers or tips I welcome to hear them.  Meanwhile, I’m signing off to sit and relax and choose my new ringtone.  Joy!