We Need a Hero…

As I think about my life, I’m ever grateful for the hero in the story. When I was young, I watched The Adventures of Letterman on television. He was a cartoon, but he saved the day nonetheless!

Faster than a rolling ‘O’
Stronger than silent ‘E’
Able to leap capital ‘T’ in a single bound!
It’s a word, it’s a plan…it’s Letterman! (The Adventures of Letterman, The Electric Company. PBS. 1971-1977.)

A damsel in distress needs a hero, doesn’t she! How many times does the hero swoop in at just the right time to save the girl trapped in the villain’s dastardly plan? Thankfully, every time. And what kind of terrible villain was at work in my life? The worst enemy imaginable: the one who wants to see me destroyed— body, mind, and soul—forever. For-ev-er.

Once upon a time, I was a petite young lady looking to wake up and conquer each new day in some fresh way. Home life. School life. Social life. Life was all about me, and I had the ability to meet the challenges in creative ways. But the skills I used were entirely mine. There was no need to look for the hero in the story then. Oh, I did that when I was younger, but the hero never came. I was able to meet my own challenges and succeed well enough. Good enough. Smart enough. And—bonus!—a decent number of people liked me.

Isn’t that how most people handle the world? Is there any other way?

Maybe there is, but back then, I didn’t know any other way.

Speeding down the highway in a ’71 Pontiac Catalina in 1990, music blaring. Later speeding down the highway in an ’96 Chevette, music blaring. Queen of the road—my own road.

Something was happening, though, behind the curtain in the realm I couldn’t see.

All the pain. All the hurts. Some I chose, and some others recklessly dumped on me. I had to take it all somewhere. Without resolution, the wounds festered, cancerous to my soul. Where could a girl take the pain of life and know there could be healing? Tumbling through the villain’s cycle for my life, I stuffed the emotion until implosion or explosion. Then I started again. No release. I wreaked havoc on my own life, but targeted others as often as I could to lessen the pain.

But now, this is what the LORD says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;  Isaiah 43:1-3a

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:8

My pain was real, and I acted out of that pain for years. But the God of the universe was willing to rescue me when I was still an angry, spiteful, pain-driven woman for so many years. Knowing I would hate Him (and any other male figure in society)…

He took the beating, the long walk to the hill carrying that crossbeam, and the nails in his hands and feet. The wood slivers shredded his skin as he rose to draw each breath and sunk to rest between. The spear pierced his side.

He didn’t have to endure that. Jesus was perfectly innocent and powerful enough to make things happen differently, if he wanted. He could have chosen to remain at a distance. He could have left me (and all of us) to the consequences and justice deserved. But love motivated every step to the cross. And love held him there.

We have no right to be even acknowledged, let alone in the presence of Holy God, in our sin-ravaged state.

But God…

Rescued.

Redeemed.

In relationship.

Thanks for reading along.

~j

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Memories: Papa and Teddy Bear Love

My grandfather had a gentle heart, patient Southern drawl, and slow-moving ways. Mommy’s daddy towered over everybody, and his lanky, six-foot-eight frame ducked through doorways when he came to visit. Wet-combed, thin hair lay flat in the morning, but the shorter hairs on top rebelled as the day went on.

Every memory is filled with sweetness to counter my deep longing to see his soft, creased face again. There were games of “Stick ‘Em” in the living room chair. He sat quietly with a soft smile on his face. I heaved a giant hand or foot wherever I could manage and “stuck it” in place. In his big hands corn husks and bandanas became dolls, paper took flight, and leaf “boats” floated in rain puddles.

Hundreds of faded black-and-white snapshot memories drift through my mind, but a precious one is saturated in vibrant color.


There were four girls now: eight, six, four, and tiny. Suddenly I was a big sister. The baby was loud and red-faced a lot of the time. Mommy’s friends made a fuss over her. “She’s adorable!” they said. “Is she sleeping well?” they asked. “What a good baby!” they said. They had to ask, “How are you managing four girls?” “Daddy’s really outnumbered now, isn’t he?” everyone said.

Can they see me? I wondered.

We picked my grandparents up from the Amtrak station. Nana squeaked in high-pitched, happy-about-the-baby talk and did the grandmother things. Papa came with her.
Yay! Papa will play with me! Everyone else is too busy. Papa made time for me.

Dinner time. Pots and pans. Bang! Clang! Plates and silverware. Clink. Clink. “Jenny, go outside! You can’t be in here while we’re making dinner.”

I was in the way. Again. Navy blue tennies scuffed down the hall and out the front door. I plopped down on the warm concrete porch, feet dangling and kicking the edge over and over. My scrunched-up face rested in tightly-clenched fists. Why did they send me out? Mommy and Nana don’t like me.

The door creaked, and Papa ducked out into the sunlight. He eased down

next to me. His legs bridged over the front walk, and the grass flattened under the weight of his giant feet. One hand settled next to me.

He was a good listener.

“Papa, they don’t like me in there. They send me outside all the time.” My tennies bounced off the concrete.

“Oh?”

“Everybody’s too busy to play, and they keep telling me I’m in the way. They don’t like me anymore. The baby came home, and now I’m always in trouble.” Tears finally came. I kicked harder.

“I think you need this.” A small teddy bear came out from behind his back. The chocolate-brown body was worn and nubby and more flat than fat. The yellow fabric on his paws and nose was faded. Above his nose was a threadbare spot. Two curves of black stitching formed a happy mouth. Hard plastic eyes glinted in the sunlight.

“For me? Thank you! I love him.” Teddy nearly disappeared in my tightly wrapped arms.
“I love you. And so do they,” he nodded toward the noisy, open window. “They’re almost done in there. Your Nana and your mom will just tell me I’m getting in the way, so I think I’ll just stay here.”

TeddyBear (3)

“They tell you that, too?”

“Yup.”

I pulled me feet up and shuffled into criss-cross-apple-sauce. “They don’t like you either?”

“They do. I still get in the way.”

I thought about that.

We talked about the sun heading for quitting time. I told him the porch was going to turn orange. I showed him the tiny, black ants husling along the cracks of the sidewalk between lunchtime popsicle stains and their hole. Busy, busy!

The front door creaked as Mommy held it wide open. “Daddy and Jenny—it’s time for din-din.” I squeezed Teddy once more.

The steaming-hot chicken pot pie landed upside down with a plop! The crust was broken and leaking. A short, sweaty glass of milk waited beside it.


Thanks for reading, friends. Do you have a sweet story related to a precious relationship? I’d love to read your short story. Share it in the comments below…

~J

Water, Water, Everywhere…

As I reflect on my life, I’m sensitive to something I’ve glossed over more recently. As I explore it, bear with me. Maybe we’ll discover something unique and useful as we go.

I was thinking about water—different kinds of water. Water can be completely still in stagnant puddles. It can be strong and forceful in  the motion of white-capped waves. There’s something between those two that has always been the topic of my archived blog—gentle motion as the result of an impact, ripples.

Stagnant water has some appeal at first glance. It’s smooth like glass, nonthreatening, and looks peaceful. But something else is going on. Check out stagnant water areas, and the ecology is pretty consistent. While certain kinds of life can found there, some general rules apply:

Stagnant: adj

1. (of water, etc.) standing still; without flow or current
2. brackish and foul from standing still
3. stale, sluggish, or dull from inaction
4. not growing or developing; static (Dictionary.com)

Spiritually speaking, I hope I am never in the stagnant water category for long. Not to be confused with periods of rest, times of slowing down, or seeking direction—stagnation is an eventual standstill leading to something foul. The closest thing in Scripture related to stagnant water is the “sluggard” (Proverbs 6:6,9; 10:26; 13:4; 19:24; 20:4; 26:14). Over and over, we are warned about complacency and laziness. Our stagnant condition, when we find ourselves in it, can be our responsibility to a certain extent. We absolutely must be active. The stagnant condition is detrimental. I’ve experienced it, and it was a tearful wake up call—a wake up call I hope always happens whenever I settle into this state.

The other extreme water condition that came to mind was the strong, forceful motion of white-capped waves. So much is going on with this water. It’s in motion, impacts everything it touches, and can be heard a long way off. Captivating, exciting, and maybe overwhelming—waves can be so impressive! Some of us dream of riding one. Others wait for one to crash near on the beach. I can stand watching them pound the beach all day, awestruck!

Wave: 
1. a disturbance on the surface of a liquid body, as the sea or a lake, in the form of a moving ridge or swell. n.
2. to move freely and gently back and forth or up and down, as by the action of air currents, sea swells, etc. v. (Dictionary.com)

Dictionary.com listed more than a dozen definitions of wave on the site, so I picked the two that made the most sense in this context. A disturbance on the surface, a swell, back and forth or up and down movement. There is untamed power in the foamy wave’s crash on the beach, and maybe there’s something soothing in the repetition. The motion is consistent. Forward and back. Forward and back. Powerful advance…followed by retreat. I don’t want to be known for that kind of life. I want to be known for a life that moves more forward than back, one that progresses and matures. No one really wants the life characterized by fear at the sight of a little conflict, or the one that languishes and dies. The only retreat I want to be known for is something like Luke 5:16 (withdrawing to spend time alone with my heavenly Father).

No, I’ll take the little splash that leads to the ripples on the surface. The beauty of it is that there is a specific cause and effect. In my case, it’s Truth causing a disturbance in the surface as it hits. It doesn’t seem like a lot of power, but it travels outward, impacting the water in every direction. Truth advances outside of my small world, and it’s a matter of simple hearing and living according to the truth I know—sometimes sharing with words.

Thanks for reading along. This post is a rewrite of an older one, and I like it so much more this time around. I hope you enjoyed it. Water is a theme in my life much of the time.

~j

What Do You Want in 2017?

Ally Bishop at Upgrade Your Story offered a brilliant challenge to writers in 2017, and I took time to noodle it and respond. If you’re a writer who doesn’t get excited about New Year’s resolutions (short-lived or beaten into submission for months on end) this idea may be encouraging. Take a peek at the question:

What do you personally want out of your writing this year? This is just for you. It’s not word count, a finished manuscript, or sales. What do you want from the craft?

As a writer, I want to craft authentic, believable characters on the page, the kind that draw readers in and captivate them for a while. A story can be plot-driven, but there’s no substitute for meaningful characters we fall in love with, cry with, or want to support and protect in light of the events or other characters in the story. A character whose temptations and choices make a reader say out loud “No-o-o-o, you don’t want to do that!” or “Yes-s-s-s! I’m so proud of you!” really works on the page and has the potential to make a difference in the reader’s life.

Real people have real, felt impact on others’ lives. For better or worse, lives are changed by relationships. (I want to write about that!) The characters on the page interact with one another, with me (the writer), and the reader. There’s powerful potential right there! But life isn’t scripted, and it’s not narrated as like some play-by-play scrawled on the page. A reader needs enough detail to construct a sensible scene, and their grey matter takes it from there.

One skill I’d love to master is telling a good story with these kinds of characters but giving just the right amount of detail. In the name of “clarity” I spell everything out. (I can almost hear myself say it—“No reader is going to misunderstand me!” ) Goodness! Readers are ever more clever than I give them credit for. If I tell them everything—which requires more words than a reader could possibly want to invest in—I’ll just end up boring them to death.

Now, all that up there is awesome, but there’s one little monkey wrench in the whole thing. My WIP is a memoir. So, the another part of this craft “focus” for 2017 is connected to embracing reality (I’m writing a familiar character, me!), finding the significance in the story (Why should a reader invest their time, mind, and heart in this?), and exploring the purpose of the story (A story has powerful potential, and I want to unleash that!).

I try to guard against the ugly places a memoir can go. This isn’t the time to craft cathartic “yack” on the page. But I don’t want to ignore the significant people, events, and experience that could benefit others. As I think about it, this is the time to explore the potential in my story and discover its shape, size, and weight.

Ally suggested writing vignettes to process pieces of story (changing the POV from my own to someone else’s), and I think that might be the perfect solution to some of the memoir mayhem. I tried it once and liked it—the difference between I and she was stark and wonderful. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Let’s see where the rabbit runs in 2017…

Thanks for reading along! If you’re planning writing goals for this year, I’d love to see what you’re thinking about. Let me know where you’re sharing them so I can take a little look-see.

~j

Remembering with Purpose

Do you wonder how a collection of my memories could be useful in your life? I’ve walked circles around that question and come to a sweet pause—the path diverges right there. I’ve gawked at the train wrecks in my storyline, captivated by the damage and long-term consequences. That never led to healing, transformation, or victory. The myopic perspective emptied the story of any sweetness, light, or power.

Story is powerful. We can experience refreshing, exhilaration, and even healing when we take time to read about others’ victories and deep soul transformation. How much greater the impact when the story reveals the presence of the Lover and Rescuer of the soul through the highs and lows! During the good, bad, and desperate moments in our lives it takes special eyes to see Him. (He is there, I promise.)

For me, to lean in or not to lean in; that’s the question!

Today I’m thinking about my story in a little coffee shop in Iowa. (I love to write in little, caffeinated hidey-holes.) The opportunity to share the beautiful plot twist written into my story by the Author of faith sprawls in front of me, and I’m taking it.

When I sat with little vignettes and tried to capture them, the purpose emerged from the shadows. I remembered details, but I took extra time to find three things: the power in the memory, the plans of the Enemy, and the presence of Jesus. These three pieces are important to the transformation that follows. They are also common elements in every story. Mine. Yours. Everyone’s.

Then I began to think about two questions that have the ability to shift perspective on nearly any life story.

What do I believe about God based on what has happened to me?
What is true about God based on what is written in Scripture?

Something settled in my soul in those two questions. I almost heard and felt Kachunk! in my spirit. These questions begged to be answered, and I understood why. My perspective about God is critical. It’s only in relationship to Him that I can understand some of the story details, events, and characters. I may never understand the hows and whys in my story in this life, but I have no hope of a healthy viewpoint or healing without God.

I hope you’ll have keener insight into your own story after reading White Wave Crashing. When my eyes took in the scenes of my life at a glance, I overlooked the presence of Jesus. I was angry He overlooked the indelible ink falling to the pages of my life. Was He invisible? Unconcerned? (The answer is, “No!” but it took time to discover that.) I hope you find that to be true as well. He loves us. Deeply. And He wants to sit with us in the exuberant joy, the deep sorrow, and the painful grief.

When you begin to remember, I hope you’ll find healing for your soul, too. There is victory over the enemy of our souls when we step forward and tell of the things God has done.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on remembering…and its purposeful place. Share below or at my  Author Page.

Blessings!

~j

Memory: Exploring the Gift

Early memories are somehow indelible and nearly transparent. How surreal! I recall some of the images as crisp as today. The rest is faded and far away. It’s right here and just beyond the border of remembrance all at once. It all swirls into a brilliant mix of incredible and wonderful and frustrating.

We have been given an amazing gift in memory. The scent of my Nana’s oatmeal cookies. Dew-kissed, purple Irises in my childhood front yard. My many pets. All of my life with family and friends lives there.

I’ve been thinking about memories today. I’m thinking about capturing them, and I’m reminded that I’m tempted to use more and more words, piling them up on the page. But it may be better to leave room for the imagination.

Writers, you offer a precious gift when you trust readers to explore the memory in their own way. Avoid wordy manipulation. Offer the gift.

Readers, unwrap it gingerly. Explore it tenderly and fully. Then create conversation in response. It’s all about embracing others’ story lines and treasuring them. Allow yourself to be moved, then pass along your beautiful soul transformation to others.

Have you embraced another’s story today? Have you explored it deeply? Have you been changed by someone else’s life experience? Have you been generous with the gift of soul transformation to others who might also be changed?

Blessings as you go…

~j

Early Memories: Gorgeous Horses

Gorgeous horses! Their size was intimidating up close. At a distance, tails swished to shoo flies. Standing next to them, the hair whipped, and I gasped. Most of the horses tied to the split-rail fences waited in the bright sunshine patiently. Some stood still as statues. A few gently shifted their weight. A spirited horse at the end of the line pawed at the ground, hooves thumping.

A wrangler matched the riders with horses, and the mount-up began. “If you know what you’re doing, go ahead and mount on the left, people,” he called out, “The rest of you, wait!”

The half-day trail ride was a splurge. It was the first one I can remember in fourteen years of family vacations. Every trip contained a few unexpected gems, activities so special they only happened on a vacation. Maybe once a year. Maybe once in a lifetime.

The ride was deeply etched in everyone’s mind for different reasons. The oldest girl rode her own horse, a mellow, dappled trail mare. She was thrilled to be given her own horse and couldn’t stop talking about it! Next in line, a stocky bay mare slowly plodded along under Mom and the five-year-old. A big, black gelding, named Snake, easily carried Dad and me with eagerness and some bounce in his step.

The heaving motion of the beast was fascinating. It was a lot to take in—the creaky western saddle, the trail framed by trees, and the river we followed for a while. Dad was funny. He kept saying “Whoa!” and “Whoa, Nelly!” Sometimes he gently tugged the reigns, and sometimes not. When the horse wanted to scratch his flanks on a tree, there was a hard yank in the opposite direction. It was a fun ride. I didn’t know what a trail ride should be, but this was amazing!

The cool shade of the river trail, the noisy river, the meadow where the best riders could trot or gallop, and the barns that finally appeared around the bend—it was all a fabulous adventure.

At the end of the ride, most of the horses walked right back to where the started. Riders wanted pictures with their horses. Quick snapshots were taken, the riders dismounted, and the wranglers began tying up the horses one by one. The oldest girl and her horse were captured on film, even while she was still going on about being trusted with her very own horse. Click! The next picture on the roll would be Mom and the middle daughter on the chubby bay. Click!  The final picture was almost an afterthought. I was put up on the big, black gelding. Click!

And it all went wrong.

Snake was spooked by the sound or the camera flash. He turned and bolted with three-year-old me still in the saddle.

Voices hollered.

“Hang on!”

To say that was a natural instinct is an understatement. Some really smart guy built saddles with a big, old “handle” in the front, and that’s what my chubby little fingers hung on to for dear life. But with each stride, the jostle felt bigger and harder.

The dusty ground flew by. The stirrups bounced.

“Let go!” popped out of the faraway hollers.

That made no sense! Why would anyone let go?

The whole thing was tiring. My tiny, sweaty fingers couldn’t grip the handle much longer, and my exhausted arms ached. My short legs couldn’t land hard in the saddle one more time.

Looking down, I caught a glimpse of darker dirt and tufts of dry grass in slow motion.

Thud!

Snake slowed and wandered into the riverbed, riderless. He casually drank the cool, rushing water until the wrangler came to get him.

When I sat down to capture the early memories, I was surprised. Apparently, I was quite the little stunt baby at two and three years old. I had never put that together until I saw the scenes next to each other like some kind of wrinkle in the timeline.

I obviously turned out just fine after this little episode. (I don’t find it traumatic anymore.) You may find it frightening, and it was in the moment, but please know it all worked out…

“Didn’t I ever tell you about Bumbles? Bumbles bounce!” ~Yukon Cornelius¹

I hope you enjoyed this little scene. If you’re writing some of your early memories, what have you found most challenging, precious, healing, or enlightening about the process? Comment below.

~j


¹ Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) (TV)