Saturday, September 29, 2012


Photo courtesy of M. Brubaker

It always bubbles just below the surface
That little place in my heart where you live
No matter how much I push and prod,
Swirl and shove, it bubbles there without ceasing.

The crush of it, the swells, the curling of it spins me
Deeper, down into the dark and the silence.
The light above seems far from me, a pin hole
Of brightness above my head as I sink ever further.

Reach for me, dive deep and far to grasp my hand,
Make it just as my lungs fill with the drowning liquids.
Save me, pull me from the darkest deeps to
Fill me again with the sun above the waves.

Don't leave me in the depths, spinning there
Just below the surface.
Bring me topside, hold me safely out of the churn -
Floating in the sunshine of your love.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

One last bit...

WARNING: Very long post... This is a full chapter, unedited (so please excuse the errors and inconsistencies. They will be fixed before publishing). This is the last of the fictional book I will show you... I will announce when it is done. ;) Thank you so much for your support of my story telling!

From: My Grandmother's Pearls
A fictional work by S.A. Brown

-Chapter 3-

As Tawny untied the knot and opened the leather cover, a tattered recipe card dropped into her lap. "Oysters Rockefeller" was scrawled at the top and below was a fading list of ingredients for the dish. Tay skimmed it quickly and smiled as she read the last line on the back of the worn card, "Serve with only the best of company, as if you were the Rockefeller's themselves!"
She set the card aside and turned to the first page.

December 12th, 1939

An oyster is a simple and delicious creature I have been familiar with all of my life. I have eaten them steamed, raw, broiled, Rockefeller, baked, and fried among many. I have held their gnarled shells in my hands and wondered at the pristine, smooth finish inside. So rough and pedestrian on their outside, built for weathering any storm, being buffeted by turbulent seas, affixed to anything that will stand still. That shiny interior, so much like a lady's dressing room, covered in pink satin and pretty damask, has always held me in wonder. How a rough exterior could hold such an amazing interior is a fair picture of my life.
I was born Ruby Josephine LaFloret to a wonderful man and woman in the backwoods of rural Georgia. We didn't have electricity, nor running water in our little sharecropper shack and most of the time I went without shoes. I don't recall being worried that we were poor until Mother died and Father left us with Her to find work.
When you harvest oysters, as my brother and I did many times in our young lives, you must be diligent in your shucking. Careful opening of those wonderfully delicious mollusks can reveal a treasure, if you are lucky. You see, when an oyster encounters a difficulty, say a scratch to its interior surface or unwittingly sucks up a grain of sand to that polished pink interior, it begins to secrete a coating around the wound to heal itself. In the process a wonderful thing happens. The coating forms a pearl. Without the trauma, the oyster lives happily in peace until snatched up for someone's dinner. But with the trauma, beauty is created.
I am far from home today. I long for the parties and the camaraderie of my peers. I miss the southern hospitality and the porch sitting. I miss the days before now, uncolored by tragedy and angst. I am hoping to be home for Christmas this time. Too much time has gone by without my own around me. This is not my first pearl, but it is especially painful.
I am in California at a clinic that I cannot name. It all sounds very mysterious, but I cannot risk naming the location for fear that it will be shut down again. Dr. B is a genius man who has the only facility able to deal with my problem. I have always been a very forthright person, despite being born a woman, and a southern one at that, so keeping secrets is not my strong suit. My illness is never spoken of lest suspicions arise and we be found out. As far as anyone knows, we are simply here on extended holiday, enjoying the warm air and the movie star sightings. How I wish we were back home...

Ruby closed her journal and tied the thong into a knot after laying the recipe card gently into the pages. She smiled. Tilly had handed her the card as she'd boarded the train for California almost five months ago. "I hope ya can find ya'll some decent oystahs ova theya!" Her blonde hair had shone in the morning sun and her perfectly applied lipstick framed a strained smile. She had been very worried about Ruby. They were friends from way back and Ruby's diagnosis had hit her hard.
Ruby's diagnosis had hit everyone hard. At least everyone that was told. It felt shameful to be sick, especially sick there. Folks just didn't talk about that kind of thing and so not very many of her friends had been informed of the reason the Moore's were taking an extended leave to the west coast. But Tilly, well she was her "bestest" friend and Ruby couldn't stand the look in her eyes when she had told her she was going away.
Tilly had been present for almost every significant event in her life. It seemed unfair to exclude her from this. Ruby admitted to herself now, thousands of miles away, it was also a selfish endeavor informing her friend. She had been terrified. It was frightening saying the words out loud, but living with the secret eating at her insides was even more horrific. She remembered telling her friend and how her eyes had welled up. Ruby could almost feel the touch of Tilly's soft hands as they clasped hers fiercely. It was as if Tilly alone was holding her there, daring the tumor to try to take her friend from her.
She had looked Ruby dead in the eyes and demanded that she fight. Ruby was going to beat this thing, no matter what it took. They would find someone who wouldn't give up, someone who could deliver a miracle. Tilly had steeled herself for the fight, and doggone it if she hadn't been right. Tilly had been the one to find Dr. B, she had made the contacts and started the process of getting her on that train. Tilly had always refused to lay down and die. It was who she was.
Ruby and Tilly had met shortly after Ruby's mother's death. If she closed her eyes and let herself drift, Ruby could still hear the cicada, listen to the starlings and feel the heat of the Georgian summer blast her cheeks once more.
She had run to the creek in desperation, hoping to escape the reality that was just now dawning on her young eight year old soul. Mama was gone. She stripped off her shoes, long too small for her growing feet and flung them angrily into the bushes that surrounded her favorite bathing spot. She would never wear shoes again! Mama couldn't make her and Daddy seemed so far away now.
Ruby recalled the look on his face as he'd come out of the small curtained off area they used as their bedroom in the one room shack. He was as far away as the places she read about in her history books at school. He sat in a heap on the step of their front porch, holding his head in his hands and shaking from head to toe. She had stared at him that way for what seemed like a long time, until she knew her Mama would be calling for water. She dipped the cup into the bucket she'd fetched earlier that morning and carried it carefully into the darkened space behind the curtain.
Mama lay under those covers, swaddled like her little nieces and nephews were when they were first born. Her skin was no longer feverish and glistening, but paler than usual. Her eyes seemed unable to close all the way, but then maybe Mama wasn't really sleeping. She had a hard time sleeping these days, with all the pain in her tummy.
"Mama," Ruby had softly called to her mother, ever so gently touching her mother's covered arm while concentrating on not spilling a drop of the preciously retrieved water. "Mama, I got ya water... Mama?"
Her father had entered behind her. He put his large calloused hand on her tiny shoulder, "She gawn, Gem. She done gawn on to be with the Lawd today." He had broken down in tears then, the shaking convulsing down his body, through his arm and into the little girl standing so alone in the room. She turned from her father's grasp and bolted through the curtain, tossing the tin cup toward the wash tub and the waiting breakfast dishes she'd been about to start.
Ruby almost knocked her older brother clean off his feet as she tore down the porch stairs and into the cool shadows of the forest. Jim called after her, but Ruby was off running from the hurt as fast as she could turn her legs. "Gem! Ruby..." He didn't follow. He'd been summoned from the fields by a neighbor that had stopped by with the terrible news. He had to get to Daddy.
The next days were a blur for Ruby. She had come back to the shack before nightfall. It was the rule. Mama would be worried if she stayed in the woods after dark, even if it was the best time to hunt lightning bugs. The house had been full of neighbors, family, aunties and uncles all putting small food dishes in cupboards, sharing what they could spare with Daddy.
Ruby had just wished that they would all leave. They didn't need all these people. Mama was just sleeping and when she felt better, she would wake up and fix them all a big skillet of corn pone. She might even break out the maple syrup to celebrate how wonderful she was feeling. No one really talked to Ruby, they just tskd when they saw her and tried to give her hugs and pats on her fiery red tangles. She was having none of it.
For two days, Ruby slept on the porch. The bug bites were worth not having to sleep in the crowded shack and endure the sorrowful stares of folks she had no interest in seeing.
Today had been the funeral. For a girl as young as Ruby to have lost her mother was traumatic enough, but to add to the injury, her Father didn't seem equipped to cope with the loss either. Jaques LaFloret had been raised in the bayous of Louisiana and had married Ruby's mother Theresa when he was seventeen and she was only sixteen. They had grown up together, loving each other and learning how to raise a family in the harsh back woods of rural Georgia. Daddy had the most incredible knack for making furniture and fashioning something out of almost nothing. He was a craftsman, he would often say with a devilish grin. It always made Mama laugh.
Mama's laugh. Ruby was sure she would die if she ever forgot that laugh. It was like rain pattering on their tin roof, like the wings of humming birds darting from flower to flower, Mama's laugh was like dancing moon beams on the creek edge. She squeezed her eyes shut tight. Ruby had to remember that sound.
She had sat quietly at the back of the church with her Daddy and Jim on either side. Daddy couldn't hold his head up and she watched as the tears dropped onto the one pair of trousers he owned. Jim looked straight ahead as if he were a statue on the square in Valdosta. He held her hand at least, squeezing it every now and then as if he were making sure she was still there. Ruby loved her older brother. He teased her mercilessly at times, making her blood hot on her cheeks and neck. He called her names as any dutiful brother would, taught her how to catch frogs and once, after she'd been bullied by a boy on her way home from the school house, he had taught her how to fight. James had been her best and only friend most of her life.
After the funeral was over and the casket was dumped into the ground behind the tiny white washed church, as the rest of the grown ups gathered round her Father to impart their condolences, Ruby had quietly drifted to the outer ring of people. She was only a child, after all, and grown ups didn't need to talk to her. Once she was safely out of range, Ruby had started to run.
She ran until her lungs burned and her legs ached with the effort of it. She ran away from the sorrowful eyes and the pursed lips. She ran from the condescending pats on her head and the unwanted suffocation of unsolicited hugs. Ruby ran until she came to the creek behind her ramshackle home.
Her feet now freed from the ill fitting shoes, she skinned off her sagging socks and stripped to her one piece underthings, the only dress she owned fluttering quietly into a muddy puddle by her side. She stepped slowly into the creek, letting the water rush over her toes and up to her ankles. Slowly and deliberately, Ruby walked into the creek until she was at it's deepest point, water swirling hypnotically around her knees. She sat down slowly and leaned back on her hands in the water, allowing her red curls to drag into the slow moving current. She breathed in deeply allowing the water to wash away her anger at being ignored, her fear for her Daddy who had never been without Mama, and her awe at her brother James who seemed to be so unshaken. The water bubbled around her in little eddies, caressing her tiny body as if it alone understood how she needed to be touched.
"Hey theya..." Ruby almost jumped out of her skin as she startled from her seated position in the creek. A girl roughly her age stood before her, knee deep in the creek herself, still wearing a flour sack dress. Ruby jumped up, crossing her arms over her chest in the sheer underthings, suddenly very aware she was all but naked. "I'm sawry I skeered you..." the little girl continued, lowering her eyes to watch the water swirl around her knees.
"I ain't skeered." Ruby shot back, stomping back to shore angry that her safe place had been infiltrated by another mourner.
"I jest saw ya runnin' and well, I did't wanna be theya eitha..." The little girl followed behind Ruby completely ignoring the surly red head's attitude. "This shore is a nice place! That ya house we come by?" She had produced a pair of socks from a nearby branch and was busy rooting around in a bush finding first one shoe and then the other.
Ruby pulled her muddy dress over her wet clothes and grabbed up her socks. She refused to go hunting for her shoes. They were too small anyhow, she reasoned. "Yes, that's my house." She stomped up the slope with the little girl hot behind her, chattering away.
"Mah names Mathilda, but ever'one jest cawls me Tilly. You Ruby, right?" Ruby turned on the chattering squirrel of a girl, ready to lay her out on her flour sacked butt. "I was hopin' we could be frey-yends..." Tilly's hand was stuck out in offering and there was a smile across her face that stopped Ruby cold.
"Friends?" Ruby was stunned.Who was this girl? Didn't she have a lick of sense? Ruby had just lost her Mama, and this girl wanted to be friends? Ruby turned on her heel and marched up the steps in a huff. "You have got to be the rudest most annoying girl I have ever met!" There, Ruby thought, that should turn this little chattering mag-pie around and send her back to the throngs of well wishers never to darken her doorstep again.
"My Maw tells me that awl the time!" Tilly laughed, "I guess I don't pick the best times, but she says it's endearing... Whateva that means! Do you have any watah? I might just die of thirst afta that run we did..."
Ruby shook her head in consternation and opened the door to the shack. Tilly followed, completely undeterred, and had been by her side ever since. How she wished that Tilly was here now! She missed her so much her heart ached with the pain of it.
Ruby lay the journal on the bedside stand of the little rented cottage she and her husband called home for the time being. Henry would be back soon from his golfing and she needed to be ready to go to dinner. They would likely return to the country club for supper and she would need to dress accordingly.
She stood in front of the small closet and fingered the dresses she had to choose from. Everything seemed so dull and lifeless. She hadn't made anything new for so long now she was sure her skills were waning. But then she hadn't felt well enough to even open the pattern books Tilly had sent to her. They were still hidden in a box under her bed. Henry thought it very pedestrian and back woods of her to still enjoy making her own clothes. He didn't understand the quiet solace she gained from stitching the tiny close stitches, taking time with each piece and making sure that no one could ever know it was home made. He didn't grasp the satisfaction she got with each new skirt or dress she completed. He cringed every time one of the ladies at the club would comment how lovely she looked and ask where she bought her latest creation. Of course he never allowed Ruby to tell them the truth, that she had sewn them herself and that is why they hadn't seen it in the shop window down town. She refused to lie however and would simply smile and say that she couldn't tell them who her tailor was or Henry wouldn't allow them to sew for her any longer.
Ruby lay out a navy blue dress that had taken her months to get just right. The cape collar and the fitted bodice were fashionable enough to wear out. Her hat and shoes would go nicely and the color would help her not look sickly. The paleness of her skin against the navy would be complementary, not alarming.
She had just enough time to draw herself a relaxed bath in the small tub. She twisted her hair against her neck and up onto her head, pinning it out of the water's reach. She looked in the large round vanity mirror to assure she hadn't missed any stray strands. The fiery curls were tamed for the moment and she strode into the small bathroom to run the water into the tub.
As the water swirled and rose, Ruby thought about the leather journal. She had decided to start writing about her journey just that morning. Yesterday's sermon had struck a chord with her and with her life and all of it's uncertainties, there was a part of her that needed to write down who she was and why. Part of her wanted to make sure that the days she had left if these unusual treatments didn't work would be spent remembering things that mattered and maybe even giving back to those around her. Another part of Ruby hoped that in putting her life's hardships into that journal she could leave some of the pain in the pages.
She slipped off her dressing gown and slid into the bath water, allowing the warmth to encircle her thin frame and wash away the aches she felt most all the time now. As she allowed her head to rest on the back of the tub Ruby closed her eyes and thought about the sermon. Each life hardship, each trial, each excruciating painful experience would produce beauty like the pearl inside the oyster. She smiled slightly at the thought. Could she really believe that after so much loss? Maybe the pastor had been more correct than she thought when he said the pearls may not be recognizable to the one feeling the pains of their birth. That even if she never saw the beauty one of her trials produced that it didn't mean it didn't exist.
Ruby thought about Tilly again. So much had transpired after that day at the river. Months of pain and sacrifice. Daddy and the way he just couldn't make sense of it anymore. Tears leaked slowly out of her closed eyes as she allowed her mind to drift back, to see his face twisted from pain and loneliness. She was back on that rickety porch, her aunt's hand hard on her shoulder and father holding both her smallish hands in his.
"Cher, it jes needs to be dis way fo a while. Ah be back fo ya quicka than da flick of a lamb's tail, shor 'nuf! Ah needs to find me sum work and den I be back fo ya and fo Jim. Auntie will care fo ya like I would." He looked up at his sister. She didn't smile. She didn't cry. She just stood there, hard and tall.
"Gem, I gots ta git now, but I gots ya sumthin'. It was your Ma's and I know she would want ya to keep it. Keep it safe for me, will ya? I give it to her da day I asked her to marry me..." His voice trailed off. He held his fist over her hand and when she reached out she felt something very small drop into it. She almost winced at the way he squeezed her hand tightly in his and held her gaze hard in his own. She knew she would have to hide whatever this was. She knew She would try to take it. Jaques let her hand fall limply to her side and Ruby slipped the very small something into her apron pocket undetected by Her. She kept her fist clenched as she watched her Daddy stumble to the waiting truck, wiping tears from his face.
Ruby knew it would be the last time she saw her father. She hadn't believed his lie. She knew then that she would have to do it on her own, to survive the hard hand of Her and decide to keep going no matter what. She had steeled herself that day as she watched her father drive away in the truck with the other men leaving for up north to try to find work. He had never fully recovered from their mother's passing and he saw this as the only way to make it work. It was a frightful, horrifying decision. It was a pearl that would come at great cost to Ruby. But she had determined it would not be the end of her.


December 15, 1939

It was always dark when he came. I was just a smidge of a girl, but I can recall those memories as if it were just night before. He was not a large man, but that never mattered. He may as well have been ten foot tall and bullet proof. I learned quick not to struggle. It hurt a lot worse when I fought. He would lean his forearm against my chest and press hard if I fought. It took longer too. I learned not to fight. I hated not fighting him, but I could wait. I would bide my time and someday I would see justice done... That was how I got through it. Just lay there while he finished and plotted my revenge.
She knew. She always knew. I hated her even more for that. She hated me too. Somehow she thought I was to blame for his disgusting assaults. I was always punished the mornings after he came. There would be a whooping. Always blamed on something else because she would never say she knew, but I know she did. Her eyes said it loud and clear like. They were hard eyes, brimming with hate and icy with murder. I know if she had killed me during one of her tirades she would never regret it. So I lived. I lived more to spite her than for myself back then. I had thought I was tough enough to endure anything she slung at me, but there were times I had to will myself to keep going, keep fighting. It was too much. I wanted to die. To be released from the grasp of two animals that neither loved nor cared for me would have been the sweetest reward...
I worked long hard days at Her hand. I washed all the laundry on the scrub board, I hung it on the lines strung from the sad and scraggly trees out back. I scrubbed the kitchen floors, did all the dishes, drew and hauled the water from the stream down front. I sat with her miserable kids, I bathed them, combed their hair and sewed their clothing. I was little more than a dirty, emaciated shell of a slave for her to scream obscenities at. When I chipped a dish, when I fell asleep with my scrub brush in my hands, when I didn't hear a child's cry She would break into a tirade the likes of which David must have experienced with Saul.
Like David, I never knew when the beating would commence. Unless of course He had come the night before. Then it was just a matter of time. Sometime in that day after She would head my way and I knew it was a comin'. She would have a switch or the birch paddle and once she simply took off her ratty, hole-riddled shoe. She would beat me until my skin split open or until I passed out cold from the pain. I would wake up where she left me and gather up my shoes or what was left of my clothes and head inside to finish up my chores. I kept living by sheer force of will. She would not beat the life my Ma had given me outta my body as long as I could muster one more breath.
I hadn't remembered those things for a long time until the other night in the bath. Henry had asked as we left for supper what was bothering me, but I just smiled at him and told him I was tired. He could never hear the truth. His mind would not wrap itself around my past no matter how much he may want to understand. There were just things my husband would never know from my mouth.
That sermon is still ringing in my ears. The one about the oysters. Beauty created from pain... I have decided that I will start myself a string of pearls. I will add a pearl for each hardship, trial or painfully won accomplishment I can recall. Like the oyster, I will tabulate each painful thing as one transformed into beauty. I will start with Mama's pearl, the one that Daddy gave me that day on the porch. The one I hid in all my stubbornness from Her and never let her take. The one I had pretended to chuck at the retreating truck on that dusty road way back in my memory. The first one I will put on the string in Mama's memory...
I see Dr. B. tomorrow morning. My last treatment will be Friday and I believe I will be allowed to return home. I can hardly contain my excitement to be back in my own home for the Christmas Holiday!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Building Muscle

I bet you didn't know that as a twenty-something I was a body builder for a short period of time. Yeah, I know - very hard to believe, but I was. I went from being a 100 lb waif to a 125 lb fireplug! I had 13 inch biceps (which for a little girl with hardly any body fat was impressive), washboard abs (never could get the whole six pack, but I had a solid four), thighs you could bounce a nickel off of and I spent hours perfecting a circuit that kept me competition ready for about six months. It was a ton of work to stay that fit, and I soon lost interest as it was something that came easily to my young body. (Wish my 40 yr old self could say the same!)

I could walk into a room anywhere and get noticed. I looked strong, I looked formidable, I looked like I could really take care of myself. If you had challenged me to a footrace, I might have ended up on the floor in a heap just 50 yards into it, but by all other appearances I was a force to be reckoned with. That's the thing about physical strength, it has it's limitations. If you are good in one spot, you are surely going to have to let something go somewhere else in your training. For me it was cardio. I only had so much time in the gym at night, working two jobs, so I had to sacrifice something. It left a hole in my overall fitness.

Spiritual strength runs parallel. You can take a look at life and decide that you have it all handled, that you are strong enough to deal with your job, your wife, your kids - but let a crisis hit you and something somewhere will fall through the cracks. We cannot do it alone. We were never meant to. God designed us to crave His brand of strength. He built in us a hunger for His presence. We generally understand this concept readily. Everyone needs help, why not get it from the one entity that is omniscient, all powerful and promises never to leave or forsake us?

The thing we don't understand, the thing that is monumentally hard for us to accept is that we are not strongest when we feel strong. We are not strongest when we have a plan, when we see the goal on the horizon. We are strongest when we haven't got a clue what's coming next. We are strongest when we feel as though we have all the wrong answers, if we have answers at all. We are strongest in our weakness because then, and often only then, we kneel and beg for our Heavenly Father to rescue us. When we finally come to the end of our own cumbersome human strongman act, we benefit from the incredible jaw-dropping strength of a Father that loves without limit.

When I feel the temptation to look upon my spiritual walk with confidence, when I am feeling strong and capable and unassailable, it is then that I am in the most danger of all. I will be taken down by my own pride, my own gullible belief in my abilities and I will fall headlong into terrible sin. To rely on my own skills at being strong is pure frivolity.

God wants to lend you His strength today. He wants you to put down the barbels of pride and self-sufficiency, He needs you to quit running toward things that will not build you up. Stop pretending you have it under control and tell Him how much you need His strength to fall upon you and lift you out of the mire. In your weakness you will find yourself carried upon arms that will never let you go.

2 Cor 12:-10 (NIV, Para by me) But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."... For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Of Things Past: A Short Story (warning: long post)

It was dark. Very Dark. Her eyes were open, or were they? She couldn't tell any more. The clock ticked in the hallway and chimed the hour, then the half hour. Sleep was elusive tonight. Her mind had been racing for what felt like days, though it had been mere hours. She took a breath deep into her lungs filling them slowly and allowing her shoulders to drop deeper into the mattress. She sighed.

It had been a shock to see him. She was running errands in town, trying to get back to the kids before the bus dropped them unceremoniously onto the dirt road where they lived. She had one last stop at the post office and then a mad dash to that destination, and dinner, and chores. One last thing to do...

As she opened the heavy door to the cinder block building he had almost plowed her over. He had his head down looking at his cell phone screen. She was juggling her purse, her letters, her keys and fumbling for that ridiculously heavy door.

"I'm so sorry!" He had almost shouted at her in embarrassment. He bent to gather the items she'd dropped there on the sidewalk. In an instant her mind screamed recognition at her; him down there on the cement, one knee bent as he picked up her things. In a flood of emotion she knew who he was, though it had been years. The rush of it hit her in the chest, tumbling her over and over, spinning in the massive wave of it, rolling her under the surface of time and drowning her heart all over again. It was him...

He was still a big man, still fit and trim. He wore a shirt and tie instead of a uniform but it was still him. His movements were quick and precise - confident, those of a military man with subordinates to command. He was standing now, looking ridiculous with her purse in his large hand. He had met her eyes and smiled. He was talking but she could hear nothing over the rushing of blood pounding in her ears.

"I really shouldn't be allowed to have this thing!" He gestured with his hand that still held the cell phone. He held her bag out to her a little closer and in an instant she was back above water, standing on the sidewalk in front of the post office. She tried to smile and took her purse from his grasp. He had neatly tucked the mail items in the side pocket and dropped the keys in the unzipped opening.

"Thank you..." she'd managed to croak out as he'd turned and started toward the parking lot.

"So Sorry!" he called back, one arm extended in a motionless wave. And just like that, he trotted back out of her life. He hadn't recognized her. She turned to enter the door that had just knocked her backwards and the reflection told a story she knew all too well. The last two years had aged her, she looked nothing like he'd known of her twenty years ago. The lines in her face alone had altered what he must remember, if he remembered anything at all. How is it time treats men so differently? How do they stay exactly the same?

She wandered through the rest of the evening like a zombie, made the bus stop just as the yellow beast pulled up in a hiss and a squeal. She had trudged through the chores of her night, mind racing then stalling into free-fall as memories flooded back. She made dinner for her children and sat on the worn couch as they fought for control of the remote. Nothing seemed to penetrate to her. She was still rolling in the deep waters of an ocean far away. Tossed by the curling current of a past long gone, opportunities missed, love tragically lost to the churning sea.

She clicked on the light at her bedside. The box was drawing her back to him. It was a form of torture she knew, but the draw was too great. She pulled the small cedar box from the corner of her closet shelf. Holding the dusty chest close to her body she made her way back to the rumpled bed. It left its imprint on her shirt, but she didn't brush it away. She drew a heart in the dirt with her finger and opened it slowly...

The ring gleamed up from the box, winking in the scant light ever so slightly. She reached out and put it on. It slid home easily and she smiled at the comfort of it, there on her bare hand. The photo was still there, in its cardboard frame. Two young faces smiled up at her, so much hope in their eyes, so much promise. A tear coursed down her cheek. The pain of it was exquisite, stealing her breath from her and depositing a deep ache in her heart.

She set the photo by her side and began to read the letters, removing them from the lavender ribbon tie. First one then the other, his voice silky and smooth spoke deep into her heart again. A faint scent of his cologne still lingered in the grain of the box and it wafted up to her, transporting her farther into the past. The last letter lay open before her. The final words slinked up her torso and burrowed into her aching heart, "I will always love you, Johnathan."

The sun was beginning to break over the horizon and fill her small room with pink light. The kids would be up soon. She tied the ribbon around the letter packet, making sure the order was still correct. She stared one last time at the photo of herself standing next to him, turned slightly inward towards his broad chest, smiling the smile of the newly engaged. It was no wonder he hadn't recognized her. Her brightness had faded, she was lined and dull and lifeless now. Even the green of her eyes had changed, now a muddy green-brown. Time had been cruel. It was not done either, it seemed.

She laid the photo in the box and stretched out her hand to watch as the light caught the diamond and sent luminescent rainbow prisms all around the room. He had always known exactly how to love her. A smile crept slowly across her lips as she remembered the way he'd handed her back her bag, things tucked neatly away, always more organized than they'd started. She wondered if he had a wife that benefitted from that talent. He must, she reasoned, he'd waited so long for her answer, his desire to be married so great within him. She slipped off the ring and laid it carefully on the folded frame.

She closed the lid to the tiny cedar chest and wiped away the dusty heart with her sleeve. She could hear the children stirring with their morning routines and they would need her soon. The box went back upon the high shelf and as an after thought she pushed it from the edge until she couldn't see it anymore from where she stood. There was a finality to it now. He would never be back.

Her drive to the bus stop and the chatter of her children droned on as she recalled the hasty decision. The fear she'd felt over his deployment and the argument they'd had before he left; she could recall them word for word, even twenty years later. Fear of losing him before she even had him had made her angry, livid to her core. She had ignored his calls, as if her temper tantrum could change the way the hulking military machine rolled on over their plans to be married. She had hoped in delirium that somehow he could change it, make it not so, not yet... She had been so very foolish. Weeks later she finally wrote him back, sealing the ring up in a final envelope to reach him where he was, so very far away.

It had been surprising to get it back, carefully wrapped in a velvet sack and protected from prying hands. She realized that it was a miracle he'd gotten it at all. The letter that accompanied the jewelry was simple and to the point. She could tell she'd crushed him. And yet, those last words... Giving her back the ring was a statement of who he was, who he would always be. She had dropped it in that box and not looked back for twenty years.

For twenty years she had been a ranchers wife, safe and secure in a small rural community not far from where she grew up. From where they'd met. The military base had closed up long ago, budget cuts moving the men on to other places, bigger stations and larger cities. Its presence so many years ago still drew some of them back. The beauty of the mountainous terrain was hard to get out of your blood once it sunk in. She had lived a very good life, loved a very good man and had two beautiful and talented children. It had been safe and fulfilling, until...

Her husband was killed on a highway not ten miles from the barns where his rig had picked up the last of the cattle for transport. The big bulls had shifted at a critical moment, the patrol man had guessed, and sent the rig into a unrecoverable slide over black ice during an early storm. In an instant all the safety she had coveted was ripped from her, leaving her exposed to the frigid air that January. Standing at his open grave she had stared at the box below while the wind whipped her hair and stung her cheeks wet with tears that wouldn't stop. It was so unfair that she couldn't drop into that abyss with him, leave behind the living for others to do. But she couldn't. She didn't. She lived on.

She pulled back into the dirt drive of her small home and watched as a fox trotted purposefully across the pasture, tall grass hiding all but his black tipped ears and an occasional glimpse of his tail. She stepped from the car and walked the path past the vegetable garden now in full riotous bloom, to her back porch. There, she stopped short and sucked in her breath.

Taped to the door was one stunning red rose and a folded note, her name neatly written in red ink. With shaking hands, her breathing coming in spurts she couldn't regulate, she reached for them. The note read simply, "Always means always... Johnathan."

She sunk to the greying planks of the porch, tears streaming down her face dropping like rain on the old wood. She didn't hear him approach her. She felt him. He had not only come back, he had never left.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Bleeding on the page

Certain accolades will always make me uncomfortable. I don't quite understand it. I mean, I write because I want to make a difference and yet when women approach me and tell me how much it means to them, I get all squirmy and my first instinct is to belittle what God does here. Not because it is God, but because it is me He uses.

"So then, Stace, why write at all? Why put yourself out there?" Frankly, I don't always know. But lately I have been trying to figure out at least some of the reasons why...

First, I guess it is a calling. I can't stand to hear someone say that they can't be a Christian because they aren't good enough or don't look like they should. It is one of the most tragic things I can hear. I believe that being real, being broken, being brutally honest is how we get to fully comprehend how infinitely encompassing is God's love. If I sit here and present to you a facade that I have it all together, that I never fall or struggle, if I don't share with you who I truly am - It perpetuates a false picture that keeps you from Christ, not draws you to Him. Being His daughter, His bride - It is what keeps me sane, I want that for you.

Second, writing completes me in a way words don't wrap around. Writing - any kind of writing - centers me, redirects my chaotic mind, keeps me focused on the important things like God, family, friends, making impact. When I don't write, I come unglued. My edges get frayed, I get crabby, I get snipe-ish, I am not who I was created to be. It baffles me how I kept going for so long without it. God has certainly been good.

Lastly, writing connects me. Living out here, alone a lot, I have to find community in different ways than most do. Driving into town gets expensive on a horse trainers budget so chatting with friends, keeping up on Facebook (evil creature that it is), and blogging are what keep me connected to the real world out there. Besides, some of the most heart touching comments I have gotten have come from posts I did just for me. Having another human being stop me and say, "I needed you to say that," Folks, it just doesn't have a match. When we realize we are not alone in our broken worlds, that someone else is struggling too and somehow making it through - It fuels us to continue. I come from a long list of survivors and tough chicks (just ask my mom the genealogist) but even I need a boost! Hearing from you makes my day, it really does.

If there is one thing I want all of you reading to know, and I think it's vital you keep this in mind... I never write with the intent on showing you how it's done. These are conversations I have been having with my own God, the prayers I send up, the heartbreak I feel, the joy I exude - It's all real, and it's all mine. I welcome you in with open arms and I hope you will keep visiting. Just understand that if you came here to find answers you will be sadly disappointed. I am no guru, or self-help aficionado. I am just a woman who cant stand to keep her mouth shut.

I will fix you a cup of coffee, sit with you on my lovely couch in my amazing studio and I will listen to your hearts pour out like rain. I will not fix it. I cannot fix it. That is for God to do. But He has allowed me to view your hearts with such joy and grace I would be remiss not to return the favor.

Be blessed...

Sunday, September 9, 2012


I don't fit here. This is not my home. I am made of the Maker's clay, molded and shaped, fired and cooled by His hand alone. While on this Earth, I may find pleasures, comforts and joys, but I am reminded to seek the things of God over the things of man.

I am a path paved with the stones of perseverance, hope, humility, sorrow, joy, grace, mercy and love. My Father has laid me out to be walked daily that I might revel in His wisdom. From His heavenly footfalls I am strengthened, renewed, uplifted and protected. My Lord comforts me in every situation.

Life in temporal terms is painful and so I am reminded through Christ that I am forged of the strength of God. He is the mettle in my soul, steeling me for battle, arming me with His Holy Spirit, bolstering my courage with shadows of His support in days past. In His name I seek to Glorify His purpose, not my own.

(Prov 31:30) Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Please, Lord, let me be that woman!

Monday, September 3, 2012

An Imposter Disclosed

Photo courtesy of Tracey Lee

There was joy when it happened. There was relief, fear and giddiness as well. It was a flood of emotions and not all of them good. In the midst of success there was a nagging voice... Small, but undeniably present. A voice that said, "All well and good for now, but what happens when they find out? What happens when they know you better? What happens when the reality police come knocking and call you out for the imposter that you are?"

That voice is something I have dealt with all of my adult life. You would think that after I became a Christian it would have dissipated but it didn't. It may have even gotten worse. The voice asks me who I think I am to sit down and write out anything that might pass for encouragement, advice, or knowledge. The voice strives to rob me of any joy in what God has called me to do. That voice.

While I could sit here and tell you nothing of the voice, pretend like my success in getting an article picked up on a web-zine was well deserved and something I worked very hard for, I would be lying. I would be lying to myself and I would be lying to you. It would be a lie of omission, but a lie never the less. I had been struggling with how to confront it head on and was coming up short. Then I got a phone call.

She was strong to start with, no nonsense and all business. She is a confident woman, and someone I often turn to when I need encouragement. She was giving me the low-down on details I needed for the day and the subject turned to a struggle she was having. I am invested in who she is, and so I listened. I listened as she wrestled with her perspective and her finances, and her life in general. And then she said it. I didn't make it up, I didn't "mis-hear" her. In wavering tones heavy with emotion she said,
"I feel like I am a little girl in a grown-up's game and I don't belong here!"

It was as if someone had turned the light on in a darkened room and the brightness hurt my eyes. I was not the only one dealing with "The Voice." That insidious conviction was not my exclusive domain. It was a part of everyone and it infuriated me in an instant! I was relieved to hear that I wasn't alone, but I was immediately angered that this nasty voice was robbing the joy in my friend's victory! She deserved better... She deserved to bask in the celebration. We get so few successes in our lives, she needed to be able to enjoy it just one moment before the hard work started again.

It was in that instant I realized I needed to act. I needed to convict that voice in my head that he was not in charge. He was nothing in the face of my God. He was already defeated and he could not have my dreams to take along with him. The Enemy feeds on regret, fear and doubt that lives in every one of us. When God gives us victory, that terrible voice will be right behind reminding us of how much we don't deserve it. Just like any good lie, there is truth in it.

We don't deserve it. We cannot earn the love of God. We do not deserve the grace of God. God gives his gifts to us because he pleases to do so. These things and the success God shows us come at His whim, His timing and His pleasure. So in actuality, Satan is right and incredibly smart to attack on that level. After all, we fall for it every time. The thing is, he is also a tired old man who cannot come up with anything new and innovative to try to steal away God's glory. He will attack the same way over and over again. It is time that I am prepared for his attack and ready to act with truth instead of self pity.

There is a saying, "When Satan comes to remind you of your past and all of its failures, remind him of his future!" He is already defeated - Don't go down with him! Take the gifts God is giving you, thank Him mightily and remember that He delights in you because you bring Him glory. Accept His gift to you with a thankful heart and praise God for His love of you. Turn away from the temptation to follow the enemy in his accusations. You cannot ever earn God's favor, but you can rejoice in it as your gift from a loving Father who has claimed you as His own.

Be blessed today by the things God has allowed in your life. He wants you to know exactly how much He loves you. Though we may not always see His works in our lives as good, He is working to create in us the most glorious beauty of all - the replication of His Son's image in us.