The Boat

This morning I realized that it had been nearly three weeks since I wrote a blog post.  The days have flown by with little time to create anything at all.  But a couple of days ago everything changed.  All of my assumptions about the necessary trajectory of work have flown out the window.  Everything I have planned since the fall has exploded.

On April 5th, I wrote a blog post called The Stench that detailed our situation since I decided to leave my job and take a chance on bringing in substantial income through freelance writing.  I was working on it regularly, following up with prospective clients, working through on-line tutorials on the subject of locating and closing deals with businesses able to provide excellent pay.  But not only were these pursuits not providing income, but they were also not making me happy.  And When Mama Ain’t Happy, Ain’t Nobody Happy.

But then, quite out of the blue, I took another kind of class.  Not about working for clients, but about securing funding for a game-changing project.

This is the kind of thing that makes:

  • loving fathers look at you over the tops of their glasses exclaiming “you want to WHAT???”
  • caring friends stop in their tracks and shriek “are you NUTS????”

But it is the kind of thing that made my dear husband say: “Go for it!”

There is too much to be done before showing my hand more completely.  But I have told a bit of this to some people whose judgment I trust who seem to think that I am not rabidly mad or systemically unhinged.  Even those crumbs are cherished by yours truly.

My husband reminds me that despite the pinch of our shoes or the length of our debit-sheets we still have our heads above the water and we haven’t been abandoned yet.  In fact, despite all odds, we continue to see prayers answered, due dates met,  gas in the car and food on the table.

That being said I am stepping out of the boat and not looking at the turbulent water below my feet, but raising my eyes to focus on the one who has carried us this far.  I don’t know how this will all turn out, but I am willing to take a chance because successful completion of this project fulfills a promise I made many years ago.  A cherished dream that I had long sidelined to the pile of maybe someday projects.

Nothing in life is guaranteed.  Life itself isn’t guaranteed.  Sometimes you need to take great risks to accomplish amazing things that just might make a difference.  I believe that this is one of those things.

 

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Swing Set and Engine Hoist

I doubt that my male friends who work on cars would naturally think of a swingset as a possible engine hoist – but then ours was not an ordinary swing set. Anchored on one end by a substantial Pear Tree growing around the crossbar it wasn’t going anywhere.

It was in the summer of 1965 that it was first commandeered by my eldest brother to pull the motor and transmission from a ‘54 Olds and install them in his ‘36 Plymouth Coupe. Then in the summer of ‘68, he commandeered it again, this time to pull the same motor out of the same Plymouth, because by then he had decided to rebuild the ‘36. Unfortunately, he commandeered it one last time, to pull the motor out of a ‘56 Chevy in late ‘66, but that vehicle got towed during the night as he had parked it on the street without valid plates. To recover the car would have cost more money than it was worth – so he let it go. Sad that.

Families are all different. I have some friends who are the oldest in their families – and their growing up was entirely different from mine. They grew up liking different music, watching different movies, caring about different things. I’m the youngest in my family with three older brothers, and my two oldest brothers worked to make sure that I grew up appreciating rock & roll, and always gave me grief whenever I succumbed to bubblegum music.

All three of my brothers – despite wars or rumors of wars – are amazingly talented, each with varied educational backgrounds, job histories, musical tastes, and interests. Despite our differences, all three have come to my rescue on multiple occasions. My eldest brother moved out of the house when I was six, my second brother moved out when I was eight, and my youngest brother left home for college when I was in junior high. My youngest brother had the dubious honor of living a few blocks from the various places I used to live while away at college – and so he and his wife got to deal with my first-time-away-from-home years. Bless them all – they weathered their dealings with me – and I can still count on each of them.

It may be kind of weird given our ages, but my eldest brother and I have always been particularly close. Even when I was a kid he never seemed to mind me hanging around, he always kept in touch with me when I was away from home via snail mail or phone calls, and he always took me places. He took me to a few movies, and one or two rock concerts – I remember going to hear Chicago in the fall of 1972; and he had invited me to hear the Guess Who – but I backed out of that one when I got asked to my high school junior prom. He also took me for long rides all around northern Ohio on the back of his Norton motorcycle that he had made into a chopper.

He moved my possessions for me twice – once out of a college dorm, and decades later he rented a trailer, and we drove my inherited things from Ohio to South Carolina.  He drove from Ohio to northern Alabama to look for a rust free ’69 Chevelle for me — I wanted that to be my first car, and he had pledged to rebuild one for me.   He cheered me by sending me pictures of the progress (like this 455 Buick V8 engine he put in it).  It would have been the best car anywhere!  But I never even got to drive it. I had to sell it because I needed the money when I was about to be married. (Here is a picture of it with the new owner and a new paint job.)He had been a tool and die maker who spent much of his career working for GM. Before working for GM though, he took a break from tool and die making and went back to college at the same time that I was in college in another town. We ended up graduating the same year, and our wider family celebrated our graduations at a nifty dinner out together.

Every family is unique, some are dysfunctional, or at odds with one another, some are amazing and caring, loving and forgiving. I am so grateful for my family. My brothers and I are now the oldest generation in our family. We had terrific parents who were best friends with each other and very much in love. They loved each of us and tried their best to instill some values in us, raised us in church, taught us some history including family history, and they did their best to encourage us to care about things that matter.

All of us have weathered some hard times and dark days. But we are all still hanging on, we are all still colorful in unique ways, the four of us are all musical, which is a little weird, and we are all still proud of our roots and our family. Can’t ask for too much more than that.

So to D, E, and J – I say thank you – I’m honored to be your kid sister. To D – thanks for commandeering my swing set and for showing up at all the right times.

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They Certainly Needed That!

There is a story my Momma used to tell me from time to time when I was growing up. I was born a year too late to meet my grandfathers – so my Mom told me a lot of stories about them. My Dad’s father was a lawyer; my Mom’s father was a Lutheran pastor.

Her Dad used to greet his parishioners at the back of the church as they were leaving after the service. One day one of his female parishioners came out of the church, shook his hands and exclaimed:

Excellent Sermon, Pastor!

Then, after a slight pause, she continued:

They certainly needed that!

I never heard a description of the woman, but I’m sure you can imagine how she might have liked to embroider her story of those other people in the pews. Isn’t this one of the reasons people sometimes give for not wanting to go to church???  The good Christian b*tches?

Personally, I have no such issue. I’m not spending time examining the sins of others because I’ve got my hands full with my own sin stuff. It turns up in my life even when I’m trying to be a straight up kind of woman who tries to do the right thing. Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t obsess about sin, spend hours thinking about it, or worry myself sick about it. That being said, my Momma didn’t raise a fool, and I know it when I step in it. Sometimes it’s clear that it is getting kinda deep around here.

So, when I tell a Pastor that their sermon is good – one thing I can promise that I’m not thinking is “they certainly needed that.” More likely I’m thinking “ooh, that pinched a little too close to home for comfort.”

My day to day catalog looks a bit like this: I have a temper, a short fuse, too much pride and truth be told I can be judgmental, jealous, impatient, a whiner, and any number of other weaknesses du jour. So in the course of a typical day, I find that I’m fairly good at stirring up a lot of bad stuff on my own – often when I least expect it. But looking back over my life there are bigger things: more than a few bad choices, dark chapters and people whom I have wronged. I can say I’m sorry – but I can’t repair the damage. I can’t fix those things.

I have some friends in Virginia who have a farm with a lot of sheep. This spring they kept posting absolutely dear pictures and videos on their Facebook page of tiny new lambs.

The lamb picture that I’m posting at the bottom here is much different. Not cute, not sweet, but bound for slaughter. I know that I need this particular lamb very much. Maybe you do too. You’re in luck and thank God – so am I. He did this for us.

The Latin on the picture are the words of the liturgy of the church from the Gospel of John, Chapter 1:29.  Translated they are:

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world,
have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world,
grant us peace.

A blessed Good Friday to you and yours.

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The Stench

It is Tuesday afternoon, I’ve had a bad headache all day, and it seems a good time to begin an article that came into my thoughts yesterday. It was then that I read an interesting blog post called The Stench by a very popular blogger who calls her blog: Beauty Beyond Bones. I do not know the author, but she writes:

This blog chronicles my journey from severe anorexia to recovery, and every twist and turn along the way.

In her blog post entitled The Stench, she is writing about a dead body. A particular dead body, one that has been several days rotting in the tomb. She then weaves into that tale a very interesting piece about the stench in her own life. I would encourage you to read her post here: https://beautybeyondbones.com/2017/04/03/the-stench/

She makes her living as a writer, and if you like what you read, you could make a financial donation to her. You can do that here: https://beautybeyondbones.com/support-bbb-on-patreon/

Upon reflection of her blog post, I decided to ponder the stench in my own life. Since January 5, 2009, my husband and I have had quite a few adventures. That was the day I lost my grant writing job which I had held for many years. Since then I have worked with my husband in our own business, moved across the country, spent a couple of semesters as an adjunct instructor of English Composition and then endured a two-year stint in an ill-fitting technical support call center here in Tucson, Arizona. It was that job which I quit voluntarily to pursue writing.

I have a variety of freelance prospects and have been contacted to work on a few projects. But poverty encircles our home. My husband’s former boss last had need of him in January of 2015. Thankfully I have had some paying musician jobs for our church.  But now in the nth year of under-or-unemployment our debt is growing, our reserves are shrinking, and my fear is daunting. I have written about debt many times. I am sure that some of my readers will wonder at the idiocy of quitting a paying job. One of my dear cousins counseled me not to quit my day job before securing a writing job. For some reason, I came to believe that my mental health was taking a beating and that my ill-fitting job required radical surgery to fix. There was no time nor energy left to try to start a new writing job around the edges of my day job. In my defense, I didn’t quit my job unilaterally. I left my job after many conversations with my husband who was willing to sink or swim with me.

On the 20th of last month, I called our financial wizard and asked him to close out a small brokerage account we had, which has kept us afloat at various times in the past. I needed some of the money to pay our attorney to form an LLC for my new writing business. We planned to use some of the money to build up our savings again, and, this week, frankly, to buy groceries. That, my friends, is the stench. The check was supposed to come by the 30th. It is now the fourth day of April, and it has still not come. We have received an apology, but as yet, the check has not arrived.

Stepping out of the boat, in faith, on rough and tumultuous water is scary. When we look down, we sink. I asked my husband for reassurance today that we would stay afloat through these particular stormy seas and stench-filled patch. He answered with assurance as he always does. We are in good hands. We need to keep on keeping on. We need to have faith that our prayers will be answered this time as well. It was Lazarus that was rotting in the tomb. But raising him from the dead was not too big of a job for his Lord. The debt that is rotting in our house seems to grow in exponential ways, but it is not beyond the powers of our Lord and our God.

I don’t know when our check will come. I don’t know when potential clients will decide to sign on the dotted line allowing me to do their work, complete their websites and promotional material in exchange for payment. I don’t know how soon I can get the LLC signed, get my business website designed, secure more work and begin to turn things around for the two of us. The stench has me worried.

But stench – from debt, anorexia, even death – whatever the stench in any of our lives – it is not insurmountable. It is, after all, only a smell. A bad smell – but something that can be made right. Somehow, I know not how, but somehow this particular debt-burdened stink will be put right. Somehow we will float again. Our God is not going to stop. It is only worrying that hinders us. Fear causes us to look down into the swirling waves. Scripture calls that fear sin. We need to stop, turn around, and look at Our Lord. Even now. Even with the stench of debt. We are in good hands. Now and always.

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When a Warrior is Needed

As a kid, I was never a girly-girl. I was a tom-girl who didn’t have much patience for a lot of fluff. I was indifferent to painted nails but loved adventures.  I was impatient with those silly pictures of guardian angels that looked like some kind of fairy godmother with wings.  I’m sure that they were intended to comfort little ones. But even as a child I thought they were pretty lame.

Do I have fun in life? You bet!  Do I like happily-ever-after stories? Sure I do!   At the same time, I am not naive and recognize that real life often requires hard work, a great deal of courage, and a stick-to-it-ness that requires both backbone and fortitude. I am reminded of this line by Thomas Edison – “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

I have noticed that a few of my FaceBook friends follow the on-line site: The Penny Hoarder. One of the articles I read recently spoke about the huge debt under which most Americans are buried. It said that the solution to this eradicating debt is easy, although they immediately posted a disclaimer saying that they did not mean you to follow this advice, the solution was that debt would be dealt with by your estate when you die.  Jolly! Knowing that your debts will be paid off when you die really doesn’t make it any better for you, does it?

I have often joked with one of my brothers about having champagne tastes on a beer budget.  My choices are such that perhaps few people would understand. I have very few clothes and even fewer shoes. I don’t care who I impress or what people think of me. My car, my address, or the stuff that decorates my home are not purchased for some kind of wow factor.  I could care less if I am seen in the right places or impress someone by having the right toys or belonging to the properly upper-crust organization.  But I do have some big plans and the clock is ticking.  Seemingly faster with the passing hours.  Am I trying to make those plans a reality? Yes! Have I had some offers of assistance? Again, Yes! But there are snags and some of the snags are big.  Just one is substantial indebtedness from years of underemployment.  But life often throws scarier obstacles in our path and I have had to weather some of those as well.

I try to banish fear and focus on the positives while assessing the situation accurately.  We have a decent roof over our heads and we haven’t gone hungry.  I have a wonderful husband and we are both healthy and were both blessed with a sense of humor which helps when times get tough.  We have heat and air conditioning.  I don’t have insurance – but I have a dentist who will work with us, and doctors who don’t charge the moon.  We have a fun, quirky and loving family, some amazing friends, a church where we can worship and have made some friends, a neighborhood with places to take walks and a Sonoran Desert view of mountains, cacti, and endless skies.

On those occasions when I feel like my back is to the wall and serious help is required,  I am encouraged when I remember scriptural promises that prayers will be answered.  I am also cheered that in Jewish and Christian scriptures angels are described in ways that give me courage when mine falters.

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On Truth Telling, Betrayal, Secrets and Lies

This is the stuff that Philosophers, Theologians, Ethicists, Doctors, and Lawyers have argued about since time immemorial.  The post I am writing now is written after many conversations with family and friends over decades.  I can pretty well guarantee that some of my readers will take issue with what I write.  Some may radically disagree.  If so, I hope that you will e-mail me, or post a comment below.

Let me begin by explaining what I am not talking about.  I am not talking about being sworn under oath in a court of law, to tell the truth, tell the whole truth, and tell nothing but the truth.  I am not talking about doctor-patient privileged information.  I am not speaking about confessions made to your pastor or priest.

I am talking about the stuff you know about because you either did it yourself, or it happened to you; or someone very near to you (whether by proximity or relationship), confessed it, did it, or might have done it; or because the rumor fairy dropped by to chat.

Occasionally bad things are told for the wrong reason or to the wrong person.  For example, you are plagued by some wrong you committed years in the past, and the urge to confess is overwhelming so that you can feel better about it.  You go and confess to the person you hurt, who had not known anything about it at all; thereby causing hurt, grief and a sense of betrayal to rain down on the innocent person.  This is not nice.  Please take several weeks and read lots of books by Miss Manners.

I know of just such a situation.  I talked it over at some length while traveling with my father, who happened to be a lawyer.  It concerned a husband and wife of forty-plus years of married life.  They had always been faithful to one another.  Except once.  One weekend, early in their married life, the husband was sexually unfaithful to his wife.  He never saw the other person again.  Never spoke to her.  Never wrote her.  One weekend in forty plus years.  But it bothered him.  He sought to be free of the guilt that gnawed at him.  Instead of going to his pastor or priest, he went to his wife and confessed.  It ended their marriage.  She was devastated and responded by telling her husband that their whole marriage had been a lie.

In my opinion, my father’s response was wise.   My dad said that what had been the lie was the weekend, not the marriage.  The marriage was the truth; the weekend was the lie.  In my dad’s view, and I concur, the man committed another offense by confessing something that could only do one thing: cause his wife, an innocent party, grief and hurt.  He did it because the guilt was bothering him.  He soothed himself by burdening someone else.  Not nice.  Please take several weeks and read lots of books by Miss Manners.

During that same conversation, my father told me a real story regarding marriage, infidelity, and two brothers.  One of the brothers was married to a woman who had mental health issues.  She went to some kind of psychiatrist, or therapist, to get help.  The person she turned to for help, seduced her.  The husband found out and wanted to divorce her.  The husband’s brother argued with him, telling him that he had no right to divorce his wife.  She was the one who needed help, she was the one afflicted with mental health issues; she had tried to do the right thing by getting help.  The person who offered the help betrayed her by using her for his own pleasure.  The wife was a weak link who tried to do the right thing and was taken advantage of.  The therapist or doctor seduced her.  My father believed that the brother’s argument was correct:  this did not constitute grounds for divorce.  Apparently, the conversation between the brothers regarding divorce was effective.  The divorce was averted, and the couple went on to have many more years together as husband and wife.

Some truths are withheld for a good reason.  Not everyone needs to be told everything.  I believe that withholding information is different from telling a lie, except in the case of the courtroom witness stand, which I specifically said I was not talking about.  For example, by the time my divorce came about, my mother was in her late eighties, and her memory was very confused.  I never told her about my impending divorce.  Why?  Because telling her would only have caused her grief and sadness.  She loved her son-in-law.  Unfortunately, by that time in her life, I would have had to tell her the hurtful news repeatedly for her to keep it straight in her muddled head.  So not only would it have caused her grief, it would have caused her grief over and over again.  I did tell my dear aunt, her younger sister, and I did tell a dear friend of my mom’s.  They both asked me the same question:  “Have you told your mother?”  They were both relieved when I told them that I had not told her and had no intention of doing so.

Issues like withholding information, telling the truth or a lie, need to be carefully weighed.   Part of growing in maturity is remembering that we have brains and we need to use them.

Let me be very clear.  We must not shield someone who is dangerous to others.  Misplaced pity or naive good wishes might allow evil to happen.  The problem of good and evil is a serious issue.  Many basically good people have done bad things in their lives, and even very evil people may have occasionally done something decent or good.  Sorting it out ourselves and teaching our children how to navigate all of that is not a one-time lesson.  When we come into possession of potentially explosive information that could harm others, we need to tell it.  You see a knife or gun in your friend’s backpack at school you need to tell it to prevent harm to others or your friend.

However, if you learn something about your friend that poses no danger to others but could be very embarrassing if told, you may need to carefully keep that to yourself.  I am talking about the intimate details that one learns in close relationships.  Some things are not the business of anyone else.  If you have been trusted with private information, you need to guard it carefully.

Personally, I think that before marriage, it is wise to confess all to one’s future spouse:  youthful indiscretions; past relationships, etc.  Watching old TV murder mysteries when I was a kid, I used to reflect how many of the blackmail schemes and subsequent murders could have easily been avoided if spouses had been up-front with each other from the get-go.  Blackmail fails when there isn’t anything to hide.  Truth telling is important.  Particularly in marriage.

Learning to be people of character can be an uphill job.  It helps to use our brains before we use our mouths.  We need to determine whether what we are telling is important to tell, ours to tell, selfish to tell, helpful to tell.  Trying to think about other people, instead of ourselves, may be a good place to start.

 

 

 

 

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Inheriting Treasure

Would you explain to me why some people want everything to be new? I have never understood that. Why would you want the things you buy to be just like what your neighbor has? I am sometimes asked why I like old things – I guess because nearly all the things have stories to tell. I’m getting to be a bit of an old thing myself – but that doesn’t explain it – I liked old things even when I was in elementary school. It’s a good thing as I have inherited vast treasure from parents, grandparents and extended family. The stories are often quite colorful and sometimes embroidered over the years by skillful and humorous retelling.

Some of my inherited treasure meets new company now and then. Some years ago I had to buy a china cupboard, so I had room for all of the inherited china from my Dad’s sister and my Mom’s mother. I went to several furniture stores and found nothing I wanted. The cabinets were good sized and came in a variety of finishes and styles. But most had lights in them and cardboard backs and looked, well, modern. I took the same amount of money and bought an antique china cupboard with griffins carved on it which was delivered from the northeast. It doesn’t have a story attached to it unless you credit the story of how I bought the thing on eBay sight unseen. I like stories. I like treasure that comes with stories. So I bought griffins. Bless them. I asked my daughter to remind me what she named them and years after the fact she knew instantly. I include their pictures below.

I have inherited treasures that are still unsolved puzzles such as the torn-three-quarters of an elaborately woven blanket with highly stylized flowers, trees, and eagles, which is dated 1854. My mother was given it by her grandmother and seemed to believe that her grandmother had made it. But the dates are wrong. I have ruled some people out, but haven’t solved the genealogical and handiwork question. The great-grandparent we knew to be a weaver who seemed the obvious person to have woven it – wasn’t old enough to have created the elaborate blanket.

I guess most people won’t rate these as treasures in the usual sense. The treasures that I have, and they are everywhere in my house; all have stories that have been passed down to me. I have quite a few of my father’s woodworking tools, and the toolbox he put together for me when I left home at 18. I still have some of my dad’s small tools in wooden cigar boxes with nice sliding lids. I have my mother’s books and some of the beautiful dresses she sewed for me. I have my grandmother’s embroidery box, with some little flowers she had made and some lacework. I have framed photographs galore – and have enjoyed the detective work involved when the full stories weren’t immediately known. I crafted decorative labels on the back for those who come after me. But loving old things isn’t always for the faint of heart – and I confess mine to be made of pretty soft material sometimes.

Yesterday I cried because of lost treasure. I was trying to explain to someone why a particular kind of music was precious to me, and in attempting to explain it, I opened up a floodgate of memories of a cherished time and place and people who were once very dear to me and who are now beyond reach. One of the lessons I have to keep relearning in life is that we can’t make someone else care about or understand the things we love. All we can do is share the stories; they may never understand.

So much in life gets left behind: family homes, friends that move away and with whom we lose touch, memories of times gone by that are sometimes tough on tender-hearted ones. I admit to being one of those.

I comfort myself by remembering the teachings of my father. One day the Author of all of our lives will bring us together again with words, stories, treasure, music, feasting and joy beyond measure. Then the stories will be understood, the old things will shine, the wine will flow, and the music will enrich us. Then we will all share in the light of the treasure bought for us at great price.

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