That Was Years Ago

This is a submission to Friday Fictioneers. Study the photo prompt. What do you see? Write and post a story about it in 100 words or less.

That was years ago.

They say you can hear it on misty mornings.

The hallway of lost chances, regret and broken dreams fills with melodious tones, recapitulations, and dissonant harmony.

When the music still soared, there was possibility.

In the dreaming all doors were open.

In the spotlight, front and center. Encore! Encore!

They rise to stand. She plays again.

Fingers flying along black and white. Ears holding every note.

Moved by feeling in the acoustical vibration.

Sweet, sweet lullaby.

Moved to storage where it sleeps.

Hush. Hush.

‘Twas just a dream.

Until it rains again and the song returns.

(word count: 100)

 

 

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An Unexpected Gift

Moving to a new town has its joys and challenges.  It has been five months since we moved to the Hill Country from Houston and I’ve enjoyed the smaller town, the slower pace, and shifting to more intentional living.  At times, my heart still aches for friends and neighbors I grew to love.

My husband is loving his job, my girls are settled into school and activities of their liking.  I seem to be the one floating around who has yet to find their place.  Sometimes I find this unnerving and unsettling.  But then I remind myself that it takes a solid year to truly get settled into a new environment, and we aren’t even half way to that point!

There are many gifts I’ve received by moving to a new town where I knew not a soul.  I’m 98% confident I’ve found the best espresso in town.  I’ve found some scenic short-cuts to bypass Main Street.  And our 9-acre backyard has been a fantastic respite.  Taking the path less travelled has generally been my mode of operation.

Nature has always been a balm for my soul.  Experiencing the change of seasons in a new place helps me to truly get a feel for what life is like.  Most unexpectedly, I have received the gift of winter.  In our new town, we have trees that actually lose their leaves, leaving glorious piles of rustic crunchy earthiness all around. IMG_7498

The bare branches left in their wake awaken a place from my childhood.  Bare branches meant cold weather, warm meals, heavy blankets, playing in the snow, fires in the fireplace, and lots of hot chocolate. IMG_7492

While it doesn’t snow here, some nights are cold enough to invite Jack Frost to come play.  The sparkle on railings and tall grasses hold evidence of his visit. Some mornings it is so foggy that if I squint my eyes I am transported into a wintry blizzard.IMG_7490

Winter.  It has been a gift.  It offers me a time to pause, reflect, catch my breath, and consider new possibilities to come.  Winter.  It comes at its own accord, sets it own timetable, cultivating patience within me.  Winter.  The season equivalent of the midpoint of life, exactly where I am – my own soul reverberating on the naked trees and into the lofty sky.  Winter.  It used to make me cringe.  But now I am grateful for all of the gifts it has lavished upon me.

The One That Got Away

She came to us frail and weak. A tiny being with a gentle soul. She was skittish with me, but she quickly warmed up to her Southdown friend. Apparently, there are no dividing lines amongst sheep – Southdown and Hampshire sharing living quarters together.

Prior to her arrival, Bomber had become quiet, withdrawn, no longer shouting to us with curiosity and pleas for food. It had rained for days and he had foot rot. Complete novices to the sheep world, we desperately reached out to our breeder for help, not sure what to do. Out of generosity, he loaned us one of his ewes to keep Bomber company. Sheep are pack animals and become depressed if isolated.

With his new friend by his side, Bomber’s spirit immediately lifted. Within a day or two of dry weather, his foot healed and he was back to himself – jumping into his food trough, and calling out to us with bright inquisitive eyes.

She was sick with pneumonia and needed encouragement to eat. Bomber’s voracious appetite reminded her to eat – even if it was only a few bites at a time. She was totally submissive, docile, sweet, and her eyes were full of milk chocolately kindness.

Over the next few weeks, her sole purpose was revealed – to simply be a friend and be kind. This sweet ewe posed a question to me every time I looked into her eyes. She seemed to ask me, “How can you be kind and be a friend to someone today? How can you be submissive in your current situation?”

She became my friend. Every day I would bring snacks to her and hand feed her whatever she was up to eating that day. I told her how beautiful and strong she is. Between coughing fits she nibbled bits of alfalfa (leaves only, if you please). On days when she felt better, her lamb feed was her preference. She never demanded anything, but each day was a struggle.

When the weather turned cold she began to shiver under her lamb blanket. It’s not a good sign when a woolen animal born to live outdoors begins to shiver. I moved her to the heated garage. She continued to labor for each new breath. Bomber cried for her.

She made it through the night but had stopped eating or drinking. She could no longer stand up on her own, collapsing when I lifted her to stand. My wish for her was to not die alone. No one should die alone. I cried out and begged God to not take her, but I knew she had given everything she had – her presence, her meekness, her kindness.

I moved her back outside to be with her friend. To be warmed by the sunshine. To not be alone. I got her to drink a few sips of warmed glucose. She lay down on her side. I sat with her in her pen for a span of time that was too short. A couple of hours later she was gone.

What if I had encouraged her more frequently to eat? What if I had moved her into the garage sooner? Who would heal Bomber’s broken heart? Who would heal my broken heart? She not only provided companionship for Bomber, but she was a great friend to me.

I cried for days over the loss of this sweet ewe. I had lost a friend. But her message remains with me – what if your purpose is simply to be kind, or simply to be a friend to someone? Am I ok with that? Can I allow that to be my purpose without making it something much bigger and more complex than it needs to be? She showed me kindness. Taught the unspoken power of presence. Reminded me the importance of friendship.

The day before her earthly presence left us, my daughter named her Farryn. The name means:  kind, home-loving, hospitable, and friendly. She lived up to her given name and has inspired me to simply be kind.

To the one that got away – your kindness is not forgotten.

“The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”         ~ Job 1:21

 

 

Mind Tricks

Our routine was the same, just like every night at bedtime, until it wasn’t.  I took Luna out to do her business and I waited for her on the back porch.  Rubbing my sleepy eyes, I looked up at the sky admiring the twinkling stars that danced between the swaying branches.  I heard a rustle in the darkness.  Must be a lone deer, I thought.  I encouraged Luna to get back to accomplishing her task at hand trying to take both of our minds off the fact that we were not alone.

Out here in the country, we were rarely alone.  New residents to this 9-acre plot of land, we are still getting used to all of the critters native to the Texas hill country – scorpions, snakes, fat centipedes, and hairy tarantulas.

My husband likes to play a game called, “Name That Poop”.  We see a myriad of animal feces on our property and try to identify who came to visit during the night.  He has named the recent species leaving us nocturnal gifts generically as “wild dogs”.  In his mind, he was thinking foxes or coyotes.  My mind painted a picture of wild, rabid, dogs – hungry for anything in their path. Hunters. Predators.

I heard the rustling again, followed by heavy breathing.  Quickly paced footsteps were coming toward us from the darkness. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind the heavy breathing registered as panting breath coming from a dog.  The rapid tempo footsteps sounded vaguely like paws hitting the pavement.  I stood frozen in the darkness. My bleary eyes widened, as snippets of our “wild dog” conversations replayed in my head. Fox? Coyote? Wolf? My reaction may have been slightly influenced by all five of the Jurassic Park movies I had watched in the last week. Darkness punctuated by sharp white teeth, a huge head, and the sudden unpredictability of it all spurred me into action. I yelled for my husband, grabbed Luna, ran inside, and slammed the back door shut. I could have sworn it was a stray Pit Bull or Rottweiler ready to eat our fence, Luna, and me in one bite.

My husband went outside and chased it away. He discovers that the predator I had protected Luna from was a skinny, starved Lab who wouldn’t hurt a fly. He was severely dehydrated – thus the panting.  I might have overreacted.  Fear had distorted what was real.

Later, in bed with Luna snuggled safely between us, I thanked God for my husband who had the clarity that I lacked and for his big, strong arms that held Luna and me until we fell asleep.

Mind trickery is not a new phenomenon.  Many people make a living by creating illusions for an audience.  I recently toured a natural cave with my girls and we experienced illusions that nature created 100 feet down into the earth.

Looking into a clear pool of water I was convinced it was only two feet deep, but the guide assured me it was twice as deep.  He shined his flashlight around the corner and asked how far I thought the path went.  It looked like a narrow, twisty, steep decline of about 100 feet.  I was dumbfounded when he revealed it was another pool of water reflecting the ceiling of the cave with stalactites reaching for the liquidy surface below.  Sitting in pitch darkness without any source of light, it was so dark I couldn’t see my daughters next to me.  Yet I was convinced there was a flicker of light out of the corner of my right eye; but when I turned to look at the twinkle, it disappeared.  In this cave, I felt like Alice in Wonderland where nothing was as it seemed to be.  I had even created my own beacon of hope – the flickering light that was just an illusion.

While all of this is harmless and honestly quite amusing, I am struck by how powerful the mind is.  The enemy, tricky as he is, knows this.  Sometimes seeds of doubt are planted, fear takes up residence, lying ensues, and before we know it we are leading lives that lack integrity and authenticity.

I use these encounters as guideposts to steer me in the right direction of the journey.  When I am in a dark, dark place, I turn to the light I see in the salvation that Jesus offers.  When I place my hope in something material or artificial, I am reminded to replace that with faith in Him. When I am tempted to be untruthful, the Holy Spirit nudges me to refine an aspect of my character that has gotten off track – to find the space to let pride and humility exchange places.  When I’m living in shades of gray, not certain what is right and what is wrong, I turn to the Word – God’s Word – for clarity. When something large and uncertain is looming in front of me, God knows the outcome even when I don’t. I can let His strong arm comfort me instead of running away out of fear.

Each day we can choose to live out of fear or faith.  Fear resides in the head, while faith resides in the heart.  Sometimes the 12-inch journey from head to heart, from fear to faith, can be long but is worth every step.

Ashes

Eight years ago, one journey ended and another began. A trail of adoption paperwork that spanned four years of waiting led to a physical face-to-face meeting of our daughter. The waiting was over. A new life – messy, broken, and redeemed – began.

Her life has been a dichotomy that shines light on the incredible growth I’ve seen in her. Where once she was orphaned, now she belongs.  Where once she ran away from me, now she gives me the most amazing hugs.  Where once she could never sit still, now she finds solace reading books. Where once she could not carry a tune, now she fills our home with music. Where once she controlled, now there is trust. Where once there was fear, now there is love.

This transformation is all from the grace of God. “Bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” (Isaiah 61:3)  About five years ago, our daughter made a paper crown for me and as she placed it on my head I celebrated this verse.

More time has passed since then. God ordained growth and strength are the gifts of time. Today, I am throwing off that crown of beauty that came from the ashes of pain, suffering, doubt, fear, and anxiety in a relentlessly dark place.  I’m tossing that crown as high as I can, not to forget – for the ashes are part of our story. The crown is now an offering to God to thank Him for the marvelous gift in her.  I take her hand in mine and now we dance on the ashes, together.  We dance on the ashes to stomp out lies of the devil, to kick out shame, to be crazy in love with the life before us, and to give all the glory and honor to God for our family He put together piece by piece from brokenness.

Today I celebrate our daughter, with gratefulness and joy, dancing wildly before the King of kings.

The Grocery List

I just finished 30 days of Clean Hearting through Revelation Wellness ministry. The challenge focuses on eating clean (no sugar, alcohol, or processed foods), exercising, and allowing God to assist with internal house-keeping from the inside out. I’ve done similar challenges in the past that have helped me dial in the nutrition and exercise components, but have never done one that was God-centered. I was curious to see what God would reveal to me.

I can sum up His revelation to me in two words: Excess and Control. While I thought all of the careful planning I put into my grocery list was a tool to successful clean eating, I was spending way too much time on it. In all honesty, it was my attempt at control. And, I usually bought more than we really needed (excess), rationalizing that if something was written on the list, then we had to have it. I had become a slave to my grocery list that always suggested more, more, more. The blank list begged to be filled with items to buy that would eventually perish and be thrown out.

I heard God say to me, “Let me take all of this planning for a while.” So, I took His suggestion and turned it over to Him. I chucked the grocery list and went to the store believing that God would show me what I needed to put in the grocery cart and ultimately my body. I came home with plenty of healthy meat, fruits, and vegetables – enough for more than a week. And I spent half of what I normally do. See how easy excess can creep in! I wasn’t even realizing it.

Excess is a security blanket for our modern world. It provides a comfort of “stuff” to crowd out the other “stuff” we don’t want to face. In my case, the more “stuff” I put on the list and in my cart, the more control I felt I had.

We don’t have to look far to see excess all around us, especially in the state of Texas where everything truly is bigger. But bigger is not always better. My daughter, tempted by the convenience of excess, discovered that at Starbucks. If a tall iced vanilla latte was good, then a venti must be better. Wrong! She came home with a stomach ache. There is always the temptation of something bigger, something better.

My God revealed to me that He is something bigger and something better. He showed me abundance that has nothing to do with lists or shopping carts. Through Him, my LIFE is full. He will never perish. “And behold, I (God) am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

There were 3,000 women in the Clean Hearting challenge and all kinds of chains were being broken. I found freedom from my grocery list and in giving up control. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17)

For more information on Alisa Keeton’s Revelation Wellness ministry, go to www.revelationwellness.org.

 

Carpe Diem!

When I was growing up and looking ahead to college, I dreamed of attending an Ivy League school. It’s no surprise that my favorite movie was Dead Poet’s Society. The movie played out much of what I pictured Ivy League life to be like.

Just the term “Ivy League” intrigued me because the name alone suggested that it stood apart from all else. The more I learned about these schools, everything about them appealed to me – the academic excellence, tradition, rich history, and prestigious reputation. I envisioned hours and hours of study at the library, soaking up every morsel of knowledge from my professors, and four years of assiduously studying everything there was to learn in my chosen field of study. I knew that if I studied hard enough I would be successful.

My desire to learn propels me forward, pushes me into unknown terrain, and gives me confidence. Going through life I’ve been equipped with a good education (non-Ivy League) and a desire to learn that has led me to success. Knowledge has always paved the way for me, or so it seems.

I recently started serving in various ministries – on mission trips and community service projects. To be honest, I had no business doing this because I had no idea what I was doing. I had no prior experience, no working knowledge. However, God called me to do these things, and God equipped me. As the saying goes, “God does not call the equipped; He equips the called.” I can honestly say that because of my lack of knowledge the Holy Spirit was able to step in to guide me and make the outcome much better than if I had relied on myself and my knowledge alone. Success came from Him, not from anything that I did.

I recently read that you don’t have to be proficient at something in order to be effective. I read these words to my husband and he had a hard time digesting this. Quite frankly, I did too the first time I read it. I had to read it again and again to ensure I was reading it correctly. That simple belief challenges how I have viewed the world and my place in it. This was my previous life equation: a deep well of knowledge = expertise, success, a good reputation, being needed by others.

But the more I chew on this, and the more I let God lead me and equip me, my new life equation becomes: a deep relationship in Christ = sufficiency, satisfaction, His good reputation (God’s glory), serving others (unity).

Has my strong-willed knowledge gotten in the way of God’s work? Yes, more times than I care to admit. Has this shift of perspective dampened my desire to learn? Not in the least. But it has fully increased my faith in God that He will step in when I fall short. And believe me, I will fall short! He has given me a couple of assignments in the near future that are way out of my comfort zone. But if God has put me on these assignments, He will not forsake me and He will see it through to completion. In the meantime, I’m going to seize the day and sign up for harp lessons!

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.”  Deuteronomy 31:6