Thursday, October 24, 2013

White Shirt and Blue Jeans

At first glance the photograph in my hand could be the epitome of American women the past few decades.  Undeclared as a career woman or a housewife, the woman in her mid twenties stands with her back to the camera.  She is in her stocking feet, doing dishes at the kitchen sink.  Her untucked white blouse and blue jeans could belong to almost any woman in America.  Even the cluttered kitchen, lightly decorated, is average. 

But on closer examination some things stand out.  How many women have you seen do the dishes with perfectly erect posture?  And her hair, unlike the common ponytail, is long, though wound up into an intricate bun.  Still, wisps fly free of their bonds, testifying of the active day she has had. 
Even from the back I recognize her.  My mom probably engaged in the dish-washing ritual 85% of the nights I spent growing up in her house.  I shuffle the first photograph aside to smile at the next. 
Another familiar sight, my dad, handsome as ever, though younger then as evidenced only be the flecks of white absent from his hair; he wraps his arms around Mom’s waist and breathes in the fragrance of her hair.  Though I can’t see his face, his posture says he’s smiling.  Closing my eyes, I can picture his eyes dancing as they often do when he’s close to Mom. 
Remembering, I set the photo album aside for a moment.  Mom looks beautiful: doing dishes, waking from a nap, ready for church.  Dad sits on the couch watching her with intensity.  I’ve seen movies where a man caresses his girlfriend’s check.  Dad did that and so much more with his eyes.  Until I got well into my teens, I didn’t understand the way his mouth twitched and his breath came in quiet pants.  At last he would move, so that I thought we were ready to go to church or something; but he would spring from the couch to her side, sometimes wrapping his arms around her like the picture, other times brushing her elbow until she turned to kiss him, still other times just standing there like an awe-struck schoolboy content with her nearness.
I close my eyes and take a deep breath, releasing the heart-aching memories.  Those days can never come again.  I mean, Mom and Dad still treat each other that way.  It’s I who have grown out of the little boy looking up at things he doesn't even understand enough to notice.
In the next photograph my dad has convinced Mom to face the unidentified photographer.  She’s laughing in his arms, but they don’t reach around her.  Mom leans back against his chest, but her abdomen bulges.  I know by the date on the back of the picture that the baby is me.  Mom is glowing with the thrill of new life inside her. 
The last picture, perhaps as a fabricated punch line, shows Dad standing at the sink doing the dishes… which reminds me of the precarious tower of plates and cups in my own sink.
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Monday, March 4, 2013

Sand Timer

I'm a sand timer afraid to tip herself over again:
Afraid that again all her sand will pour through
And I'll be left standing on my head.
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Friday, April 30, 2010

Family Reunion

Once upon a time there was a little girl in a blue dress with a white collar and three pearl buttons.  Her name was Emily.  She went as a wondering child to a family reunion full of strangers more marvelous and varied than any she had read in storybooks.  Familiar characters had no appeal for her in this vast room, dressed up by tablecloths and her imagination into a party room equaling the dance floor on which the Prince had first swept Cinderella off her feet.  This little heroine could have been anywhere in the world, but she was in a community building in a little town in Oklahoma.  The attendants could have been royalty or fairies, but they were peasants, who are far less ordinary and certainly not plain. 

A certain man with dark hair and tall boots walked across the room.  From her perch amid silk flowers and lace-packaged soap favors, Emily watched his legs bend madly at the knees, cutting his height by a third whenever he took a step.  If this distant relative had been all in black, he would look just like the man on the cover of her book.  She looked longingly across the rows of round tables to one long, cloth-covered rectangle piled high with wrapped books of all shapes and sizes, waiting for the book exchange amusement scheduled after lunch.  There was one large book in familiar paper which Emily’s sister Jana had discovered.  Mom had wrapped up their nursery rhyme collection to give away, the one with the endless pages of strange pictures and dim poems!

Emily took another bite of the last butterfly cracker on her plate, savoring the crisp buttery flavor.  She and Jana were determined to retrieve their beloved book, more desired now than ever before.  They longed to turn the pages again, to laugh at the funny man with the knobby knees who looked like a cousin of the man laughing across the room.  Except his cousin might actually be her.  What an odd world! 

For lunch Emily had punch, carefully sipped to avoid staining her new dress, and a pickle, and more crackers.  Mom was there for the important moments of filling her plate.  Whether at other times Mom was distracted with all the people or it was Emily who was paying no attention to her family is hard to say.  An aunt belonging to her father’s mother said something to Emily’s parents, then turned awkwardly to the little girls, to whom she felt obligated to condescend.  Somehow she knew they were from Texas, and grasping for anything to say, reported first that her son’s girlfriend was from Texas, and said, “Bah, bah.” “Do you say ‘bah bah’?” she asked the confused sisters.  Jana, the younger, played with her food and ignored the aunt.  Emily, unsure how to explain that she was not a sheep though from Texas, politely shook her head and let out only the inkling of a shy smile. 

Focus on her lunch resumed, Emily bit into the bright green pickle and puckered.  This was not what she expected!  What tortuous vegetable disguised as a pickle had found its way onto her plate?  The bite-sized wrinkled thing with a stem tasted nothing like the hamburger pickles she ate nearly every week and at Wendy’s on the way to Oklahoma.  Seeing her disgust, Grandma realized that Emily did not favor sweet pickles, and quietly reassured her she didn’t have to eat it.  The wide woman on the other side of Grandma offered to consume the rest of the unwanted food, and Emily watched her curiously, surprised that anyone could relish the experience. 

With more good conversation and less attention to the ages of her audience, the same woman continued to talk to the two little girls, admiring the lace trimming the skirts of their matching dresses and discussing pickles, carrots, and broccoli, proceeding to a discussion of other foods that didn’t agree with her and their results.  Disinterested, Emily focused instead on the rosebuds carved into the frame of the loud woman’s glasses. 

When she had finished her lunch, Emily got permission to color, just like she did while sitting quietly in church.  Up on her knees to lean over the table, Emily tilted her head to concentrate on drawing a self-portrait to which she added glasses.  The likeness was so strained that no one would guess the identity of the girl on the paper.  For one thing, her hair stretched to the sky: the only way Emily had conceived to portray her long brown locks.  A young cousin passed by and cruelly teased the art on this point before sharing a secret to three-dimensional-drawing.  “Draw the hair down like this,” she explained. 

Before the recovering and grateful Emily could practice, the game began.  Each child in the family had a ticket, and in order they each chose a book and tore off the paper to exclaim over the secret contents.  Emily sat on the edge of her seat.  She eyed a prettily wrapped book on the edge of the pile.  Should she give up their book, and get something new?  Jana’s gaze was fastened on the book of rhymes, lest she forget which one was their coveted prize.  No; if Emily was called first, she would choose that one, and ensure that it returned safely to their home.  Each time another little boy or girl chose, the sisters leaned forward and held their breath.  “Don’t choose that one,” they thought, and trembled with relief as the others picked the smaller books.  Emily breathed deeply when she was summoned to pick a book.  Confidently choosing the largest one there, she brought it back to her lap. 

Though selected next, Jana could not be coerced into choosing a book.  She was angry with Emily for picking her book, and didn’t understand that it was theirs to share.  Emily had secured the book for their family.  Jana could share.  But Jana, who was too young to be consoled with logic and assurance, remained ungrateful.  Emily tried to ignore her.  When she turned away, Grandma and Mom were both asking why she had chosen the book they brought from home.  Didn’t they understand?  They thought she was silly, that maybe she hadn’t realized she could choose any book.  She had the prize she wanted, and hugged it tightly against her dress. 

While grown-ups retrieved purses and hats and finished making plans for the afternoon, Emily and Jana, who had given up naps the past spring, sat quietly enjoying the pages of their beloved book.  Jana, won by the patience of her sister in offering to share the book, was considerably appeased.  They laughed at the cow shown mid-jump above the moon, and asked each other questions about the three round-faced men sailing in a wooden shoe among the stars. 

After an hour at a park in the sunshine in which wiggles were released and solitude embraced, Mom and Dad and Emily and Jana visited the reunion reprise, in a dark noisy parlor belonging to a busy but happy woman and her equally funny husband.  He told jokes that must have been funny, since all the parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles laughed.  There were less children at this party, and Emily was tired of company.  She felt very unimportant, and sat accordingly in a corner, where she met the lady. 

The lady had white hair, by which Emily knew she was very old, because even Grandma only had a little bit of white in her hair.  She was slender because she had never been married and never had babies.  But she was kind to children, and laughed like one not yet worn out by the rambunctious children in the world.  Her lips curved in a pleasant smile, and her long hands held a plate full of olives.  What childhood obsession had made the little black fruits a favorite, she couldn’t recall. 

At first the woman just smiled her pity at the lonely child.  Then she got an idea.  The lady taught Emily a game.  Glancing to ensure she had the girl’s attention, she stuck one olive onto her little finger, looked back at Emily, and then took a satisfied bite.  Using the remaining olives as bait, she coaxed Emily to stand by her knees.  Offered an olive herself, the little girl wrinkled up her nose.  Two lonely girls, one old and one young, took turns in a corner: the child putting olives on fingers and the woman plucking them off with juice-darkened lips. 

When the fruit was gone, Emily moved to the floor, where she saw a collection of bells on a shelf.  She wanted to touch the fragile crystal and ceramic.  But bells make noise, and she didn’t want to get in trouble.  Jana, joining her, was easily persuaded to be the one to test the bells.  For their first choice they found a cow bell.  The deep brass instrument was heavy, and made noise like dropping a plate on the floor.  All the grown-ups noticed.  Then the sisters got to sit in their grandparents’ laps. 

Jana played with Grandma’s bead necklace and listened to her talking about cakes and pies and ovens that made the house too hot in the summer.  Emily cuddled against Grandpa’s strong chest.  Her mind was not much improved by discussions of market reports on grain.  Gradually she began to wonder instead how he had lost his hair. 

Mom and Dad’s voices combined with the aunts’ and uncles’ to form a quiet hum.  A blend of sunset light and the rumble of the air conditioner made the room seem fuzzy.  Emily’s head bounced once, and her eyelids lifted, fell, and rose again.  Across the room Grandma shifted Jana so she was lying across her lap.  The clock above the mantel ticked like footsteps on a sidewalk, like car doors opening and closing, like breathing when fast asleep. 

To God be all glory. 
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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Coral Wedding

Amie traded her soft white t-shirt for a long white dress: capped sleeves, layers of fabric the texture of seafoam for the skirt, and a sash tied round her in an elaborate knot people called a bow. She was about to do the most disrespectful thing of her life, upsetting the small town world that had been her home all her days. In her mind there had never been any question about the marriage. And if it took until the actual ceremony for her parents to understand how serious she was, Amie’s will was enough to go through with it.

Bekah piled ringlets of Amie’s soft brown hair onto the crown of her head, letting a few representative rebel-curls take their independence down the side of her friend’s cheek. Maid of honor, Bekah was already dressed in the rich coral counterpart to Amie’s gown. The dresses were identical except for the length of their skirts and the color. A surreal scene met them in the mirror, neither girl excited or nervous, just going through the next step in the act that was set for them.

As down payment on the agreement they had made, Amie had possession of the groom’s keys, and they clinked in her hands. She criticized the reflection’s posture, and dared it to make eye contact with the world – a world that didn’t know what was coming, but ought, if it would only look anyone in the eye. Marriages in their little community were arranged. Nobody questioned it, and few worried about it. Theirs was not one of the customs of gross abuse, of marrying children to old men, or of beating wives who were unsatisfactory. Some cultures chose partners for their children from among the strangers in the wide world, but this town’s choices were mostly limited to the miniature metropolis of the few nearby villages and farms. Generally the couple had grown up together, and some had connived to be matched with their favorites.

Today was Amie’s wedding: the 13th of August. The groom was a good man, with strong attractive features, and a respected job sufficient to provide for a family. Named for his grandfather, Nicolas had been friends with Amie as long as he could remember. She went her own way, picking wild flowers in the morning and changing the oil in the family car during the afternoon. Her hair darted in curls behind her ears and over her shoulders. He’d grown enough in the last two years to be taller than her by two inches, and teased her about his new-gained height incessantly, repayment for years when she called him ‘shrimp’ and ‘dwarf.’ Once he had been ashamed to know that she disdained him. Today he was glad, and smiled to himself in the mirror.

Nick’s part of the arrangement was to book a hotel for after the wedding, a fact the whole town would have discussed by the commencement of the ceremony: which room, how expensive, how many nights. Only at that thought did a sigh escape him. Was it from the dent the terms put in his wallet, or from just a bit of wistfulness? Amie owed him. Even if all their childhood scores were erased, she would owe him for playing his part today. What a culture of obligation they lived in!

A church sanctuary filled with the couple’s neighbors, and Nick’s closest friends stood along one side of him, watching as each bridesmaid paced the aisle to the front. Finally Nick caught sight of Bekah, and his heart betrayed him. Amie was just behind her, a fairy likely to disappear with any sudden breath. Music Amie had picked for the occasion sang through the room. Bekah moved more quickly than normal, but Nick had expected that. He didn’t know exactly how Amie had planned the next part. “Line!” he yelled in a panic to his guys, who wore dress shirts a lighter peach counterpart to the bridesmaids. Nick pointed at the door behind the bride. The runaway turned her head to see them moving as one pale orange wall to bar the exit. Another door opened at the side of the chapel, one of the caterers there for the event holding it at the ready. Amie was much nearer the door than Nick, and Bekah had all her wits about her, leading her friend – who seemed almost to be holding the bridesmaid’s sash – to the door.

Those assembled gasped and began to cry out for something to be done, but it was too late. Nick ran out through the kitchen, after the girls, who were in his car, exactly as planned. He thought he saw Bekah wink from behind the wheel. As soon as they were gone, Amie’s father arrived at Nick’s back, a heavy balding man whose panting gave the younger man some concern. Offering his arm, the two turned back inside and sat at one of the tables clothed in apricot linen for the reception.

“Sorry,” Nick said first, and the patriarch eyed the boy with suspicion.

“She took your car.”

Nick nodded, realizing how obvious his guilt would be. The getaway was only possible because the girl had his keys. Still, no one would take better care of his car, he reassured himself.

Closer relatives handled the dismissal of the guests and helped with the clean-up. Untying bows wound about the aisle seats gave Nick time to think. Madness had overtaken him. Even if he’d changed his mind, there was no way locking Amie in the sanctuary would change hers. He should have pulled her aside and told her he really wanted to go through with the wedding, that he liked her well enough to spend an exciting lifetime together. Exciting. It would have been. He shook his head. The bigger madness was considering asking her back. Nick didn’t want to marry Amie any more than she was ready to marry him, and he was ashamed that he had almost cowed under the pressure of expectations.

Groomsmen and bridesmaids alike gave him pitying farewell glances. Hours after most of the guests had gone home, Nick set the box of haphazardly piled decorations in a chair and sat down beside them. People must have though he needed to be alone, because the room was empty.

Soft jingling came from his right, from the door by the kitchen. Had she jingled on the way out, too? Amie was back in her jeans and white T-shirt, hair still piled on her head, but drooping into the secondary style that told a story of adventure. Her head tilted as she extended the keys arm’s length towards him, still a bit out of reach. “Thanks,” Nick said, and sat up to grab them.

“Filled her up,” she replied. They looked at each other for a while, not needing any words to ascertain that the ordeal hadn’t been too bad yet, and that neither one had any lasting regrets.

Nick nodded. “You want to come over tonight?” he asked in his old friendly way. The question was symbolic. Nothing had changed, and there were no hard feelings.

In a step Amie was at his knees, tracing his arm towards the keys at his fingertips. Her mesmerizing eyes held his. “To your hotel?”

Nick arched his back to pull his face away from hers, and blushed. “That’s not what I…”

Amie laughed, standing erect. “After today, I don’t think it would be a good idea.”

The main doors into the foyer pushed open to let Amie escape. Every part of the plan was finished. Bekah had been dropped off at home, where Amie had changed back into street clothes. Nick had his keys, and the place was pretty much cleaned up. Next came the step Amie was still unsure about: facing her parents. When she found them at their car out front, Mom was still shocked – an entirely unreasonable response given the numerous times Amie had warned she would not go through with the wedding. Dad was angry, red-faced and huffing. Their family would have to drop out of society, maybe move away, for the shame of it. No other daughter in memory had run away from her own wedding.

It had been disrespectful, and desperate. Amie liked to add that the escape had been daring, right there in front of everyone. All it took was that one time; now she was free. No one would try to match their son with her again. Quite honestly, Nick was the most likely to succeed with her. When even he didn’t match up to Amie’s ideals, the line of suitors was down to none.

Dad told her to get in the car, and they drove home in silence. After unloading the car, still no words were offered to scold or to question. Mom closed herself in her room, and Dad sat on the couch, watching his daughter. Amie would have to begin the conversation. He would force her to start her explanation on her own.

Fishing for the shortest path to the end of the lecture, Amie began with reassurance, “Nick knew.”

“There’s plenty of blame to share.”

“He wanted to. He agreed.”

Eyebrows arched.

“This way isn’t for us…” Answers were harder to come by when the interrogator already knew them and still wasn’t satisfied. Several minutes more of quiet passed.

“You looked beautiful today,” the man choked. No anger could stem his sentimentality. Perhaps he, too, was relieved that custom had been breached.

Amie moved towards him, and sat, back to the couch. She leaned her head on his knee. “I’m sorry this is hard for you,” her words whispered against his slacks.

“Nick’s not a bad young man. I thought you might even have chosen him yourself, if that was our way.” Dad pulled his glasses by the bridge and wiped them on his tie. “You could have been happy.”

Breathing deeply against his knee was all she dared. Who could know better whether they would be happy? Nick had agreed with her, all along. Only for a moment at the peak of the excitement had he doubted, and afterwards he knew again that they’d both been right.

Had running been ignoble? Should she have slammed him with her bouquet at the altar, stood facing the crowd to tell all what she thought of their tradition? The option had been considered, and Nick had been rather against it. Bekah argued that was more confrontational than required, and would only make matters worse when facing her parents.

What now? Could she go back to life as normal, pretending there had been no wedding? Amie’s hometown was otherwise a beloved place. Leaving wouldn’t be her first choice. She had friends here, and though she wasn’t willing to marry him, she was reluctant to lose Nick’s friendship. A threat of destiny chilled through her heart, and a sob pulled itself from her chest. In the choices given her, Amie stood by the direction she’d gone. Lately the limited options had seemed to carry her. This, her most defiant move ever, was also the most constrained. Life was going where she would rather not.

Mom came into the living room and sat down beside Amie. She rested her hand on the young woman’s curls. Dad shifted his leg to bear the weight, and Amie realized she was still crying. No one said anything.

Days went by and still no one said anything. Mom and Dad were reconciled to what had happened. Not that they understood. Amie was bothered that they seemed content to not comprehend her choice. How would they help her move on? Were they punishing her? Was coping truly as difficult for them as it was for her?

Bekah met Amie for lunch, which turned out to be dessert only. When there’s no way out, chocolate makes the truth go down better. A few months younger, Bekah hadn’t been paired off yet, but she was ready. Her sweet temper and skill as a listener nearly guaranteed her happiness. Additionally, wearing the chiffon bridesmaid sash as a headband today set off the faintly freckled skin of her dimpled cheeks: a sight that was turning a few eyes for a second look. Amie fought against crying again when she realized that her best and dearest friend would in a few months be less accessible to her, even if Amie stayed in town. The married club tended toward exclusivity, being that everyone of a certain age for miles around was a member.

The girls watched each other, Bekah concerned for where Amie would go next and whether she would be happy there; Amie imagining Bekah as a housewife and momma. Moms were good around here. So were husbands. With a few exceptions, even the kids were pretty easy. Amie was always an exception.

Nick entered the small café, not the slightest hesitation in his step or expression before he was at their booth, chatting as the friend he’d always been. Already dreamy, it was a short leap for Amie to picture her two friends together. The idea startled her in its obvious positives. A moment more had her convinced such was the secret wish of each. Finally a few contemplative bites more of her pie allowed Amie to conclude that there was no conspiracy, no understanding or verbal confession. Nick was a good man, and would not have betrayed faith even on an engagement so temporary as his had been with Amie. Now?

Nick and Bekah sat side by side across from Amie, the guaranteed seed of a new way of doing things. The collaborators in Amie’s rebellion could be the first to reap the benefits. Love unfolded before her eyes. A man charming a woman was a rare sight in those parts, but Amie knew it. Nick stroked the soft tail of the scarf Bekah wore, and her fingers trembled against his on the table.

She ought to say something witty, a taunt to – to what? To bring herself back to the center of attention? To make less awkward the most natural thing in the world? To interrupt the developing happiness of two of her favorite people? Amie ate the rest of her pie in silence, seeing the world with new eyes. The sounds from the café stove and cars on the street harmonized with the reflections off forks casting shadows through the salt shaker.
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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Spring is My Lady's Domain

Spring is my lady’s domain
Autumn the field of her brother
Winter waits on yarning old women
Summer sweeps in young children’s laughter.

Time is the tale of seasons
Space present in jumbles of ways
My friends dance in the streets of lifetime
God catches men home full by joy-worn days.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Lori's Choice Part 23

Not for younger readers. The subject of Lori's Choice should be screened by parents before minors read it.

Finally the guests and bridal party were gathered at the little reception. Cake was cut. The bouquet was thrown. Rebekah caught it. Lori had to borrow it back a few minutes later when they went up for the final pictures.

The photographer asked the groom to kiss the bride and the rest of the bridal party exchanged glances. Caleb looked at them all and reassured them, “It’s ok. I’ll be good.” He closed his eyes to envision the picture-perfect kiss, and Lori impulsively stood on tiptoe to plant one on him instead. He forgot about looking good. The photographer got a perfect shot, several perfect shots, in fact, before they were done. Mom rolled her eyes. Pastor Greg tapped Caleb on the shoulder. “Your guests, they’ll want to greet you,” he said.

Caleb wouldn’t let her hand go. The young Mrs. Donnigan tugged it free to hug her dear friends before they left in his blue, um, Ford. For one night Anna was staying with Mom. One night. Lori shook with excitement and held tighter to Caleb’s hand.

The truck was decked with streamers and cans trailing off the bumper, but nothing worse. They made plenty of noise bumping over the dirt road to home. At the homestead Caleb parked the pickup and carried Lori over the footbridge, careful not to drop her in the water, and over the threshold into their new house. It looked quite different than the last time she’d seen it, that fall. Tess and Ryan and Caleb had all been busy arranging furniture and putting up the curtains Lori provided them.

“It’s early, yet. You hungry?” Lori opened a cupboard.

“Yes,” Caleb said, but his eyes hinted he didn’t mean it literally.

“Caleb, you’re a fool.”

“Come on. You going to start nagging already?”

Lori smiled a huge smile. “Everyone in that whole church back there is thinking it. You didn’t have a goofy smirk, for which I’m grateful, but you had that eagerness I can’t explain. It’s not quite like you.”

“This is the married me,” Caleb said.

Lori shook her head.

“Tell me. Describe what I did. I know I rather lost my head.”

“Well, you did ok at first. You weren’t paying much attention, but that’s understandable," Lori's smile was teasing, like the afternoon driving back from town. "At least you were following the general flow. When you started whispering, I knew you’d been thinking your own thing instead of whatever the lyrics were saying, but that was ok, too. Then you paid close attention for the vows and the ring, which is the most important part. You said ‘I do,’ just fine. In fact incredibly." One tiny tear glistened in her eye. The emotion had been carried away on the moment before. Now, in remembering, she was more vulnerable. "I wasn’t sure I could make it through my part after that." Mischeivous again, she went on, "However, after you said ‘I do,’ the married you seemed to want to hurry up and get to the married privileges. Is that what you were thinking, or is it just me?”

Caleb laughed at the impression he’d given. “I’d say that’s not really what I was thinking. I was reviewing our vows, and what you meant by how you said it, and your little fingers in mine, including the one with the ring. I missed Pastor Greg saying to kiss you, and then I didn’t know what to do. After hopefully not too long a time, I recovered, but then I was embarrassed and just wanted out of there. Sorry.”

“Oh Caleb,” she laughed for him. She stroked his cheek. He blushed a little, but mostly just stood there admiring her.

“The day for which we’ve waited. Isn’t it precious?” he asked.

“I love you,” she said.

“We should have put that in our ceremony somewhere,” Caleb added. “Do you want me to tell you how you did?”

Lori tilted her head to listen.

“You came into sight just as your entry music finished the first bar. Clinging to your dad’s arm, you walked towards me. Or maybe you flew. I know it seemed fast. You were graceful every time you moved. I got mesmerized watching the way the dress flowed when you stepped aside, turned, even just shuffled. When Anna made a little noise you gave her a quick look. Otherwise your eyes were on mine. I suppose that’s because I was watching you, too. Probably not the plan for success in making it through a ceremony as scheduled. Your voice was soft and tender." Caleb seemed to listen to his memory. "I thought you were bypassing the mind filter and speaking straight from your heart. When I missed my cue and looked to you, you waited, then hinted without moving anything but your eyes. For a second that seemed like eternity I thought, ‘This is it,’ and you leaned in when I bent to kiss you. After that you looked so stunned by my kiss that I was worried you would faint. Rather than catch you as you fell, you ended up off the ground, crying out in surprise, just as a young bride should, and clinging to my neck. Your veil fell into my eyes as I walked, but you were smiling, delighted, in the moment. And then the moment I will never forget. I wish I had a picture of it. Not for me to remember, but so I can show our great-grandkids. It will be so hard to explain you there, that ring of white flowers,” Caleb caressed her circlet, “and you beneath it, waiting and trusting and loving.”

Lori got a more exhaustive tour of the house. “I moved some of my things into the bedroom,” Caleb told her last. There were flowers on the dresser, reflected in a large mirror that hung just above it. And a whole stack of throws and quilts lined the hope chest at the end of the bed. In a corner was a space for Anna’s crib. But there were other things, things that reminded her of Caleb. There were books, and a shelf full of journals. A picture hung on the wall opposite their window. Lori spun around slowly to take it all in. Once she’d made two full rotations, Caleb closed the door behind them.

The room was small. It took him not two steps to reach her.

Lori’s eyes fluttered open when the sunlight made it to their window. Caleb looked down at her disheveled crown of white flowers. He was propped up on one elbow. He didn’t know how long he’d been like that, but his arm was asleep, so he estimated it was a while. She smiled when she saw his face. Instinctively she sat up and pulled her knees under her chin.

“Good morning, Caleb Donnigan,” she said.

“Lori,” he kissed her, “Donnigan,” another kiss, “I love you.”

To God be all glory.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Lori's Choice Part 22

Not for younger readers. The subject of Lori's Choice should be screened by parents before minors read it.
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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Lori's Choice Part 21

Not for younger readers. The subject of Lori's Choice should be screened by parents before minors read it.

Circumstances necessitated the delay in purchasing a wedding dress. Mrs. May promised to devote herself to its construction as soon as they thought she was close enough in size to be fitted. Pastor Greg would perform the ceremony. They had persuaded him to do it even though as a children’s pastor it wasn’t usually his job. The senior pastor did do the premarital counseling, and persuaded them to let him do part of the ceremony as well.

Caleb was less and less able to meet with Lori for outings and planning. The ranch was at a busy time of year. So busy, in fact, that Caleb had asked Lori for permission to hold off on a honeymoon for several months. She missed him, but still agreed readily, recognizing God’s providence in working everything out perfectly. This way Anna would be old enough that she could stay with grandma (either one or both) while they went off to have fun.

For a week or so, Lori went through a time of insecurity whether this was the right thing. Tess attributed it to the fact that she was not spending a lot of time with Caleb, whose confidence Lori always seemed to rely on. One night he called her, having been informed by his mom that Lori needed to talk. “I’ve missed you. Are you doing ok?” he began.

“Fine. Just a little nervous. I feel like everything is new, but I keep thinking I shouldn’t feel that way. I mean, I have loved you a long time, and I am a mom already. But it’s so different. And getting married, that’s new.”

“That sounds normal. You’ve no idea how amateur I feel. You’re not too nervous that you think we should delay?” Caleb worried for a second that his bride would back out. Maybe he should have married her sooner.

“No, not that.” Lori was feeding Anna as she propped the phone on her ear. Caleb smiled at the sound of his baby eating while neither of them were talking. “I just needed to hear your voice, I guess. Anna misses you, too.”

“Impossible,” Caleb argued.

“You should see her, honestly, Caleb!” Lori laughed. “They say babies can’t really smile this young, but ‘they’ lie. She even looks sad when you’re gone.”

“You’re just sad when I’m gone,” Caleb told her.

“Fine. I can’t prove it to you. If you won’t believe me, there’s nothing I can do.” “You want to come over for lemonade tomorrow?” Caleb invited.

“Love to. I’ll even leave Anna with Mom, ok?”

“You don’t think she’ll miss me too much?”

“Maybe. She might be too distracted missing me.” Lori was quiet for a while. When Caleb didn’t say anything, she commented, “Oh, I have so much to do, but I don’t care. I need a break. Will you be working?”

“On and off. You can watch,” Caleb encouraged.

“Ok. You know, there was a time when I thought the farmer’s wife life was tops. Now I’m not so sure.”

“That was in autumn, right after harvest, wasn’t it?”

“I suppose.” Lori adjusted the phone so she could cradle her sleeping daughter in the other arm.

“Caleb, Anna’s asleep. I need to put her down. Is it ok if I go?”

“Love you, Lori.”

“I love you,” she said.

To God be all glory.
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A Glimpse of Hope

by Melian

She stood at the shoreline, the water lapping at her bare feet, the loose ends of her hair whipped around her face by the wind that had come up in the last half-hour; it's breath on her cheeks the only thing keeping her believing that this was reality and not just a muddled dream she'd somehow wandered into.

Her eyes were fixed unseeingly on the clouds that settled thickly over the gray waters. A familiar burning ache grew in her throat and her heart stood in her eyes, though no one was around to look in them.

Everyone was gone. Parents had packed up their children when the breeze had begun to pick up and the increasing cold of the once balmy air had finally chased everyone else away.

Rain began to fall from the heavens, cool and fresh. She loved rain. She loved it when she was happy and perhaps even more when she felt as she did at that moment, for it seemed to shed tears for her and the moan of the wind gave voice to the cry that was in her heart.

A sand castle stood near her feet, the by-product of someone's earlier visit at the beach. It's thick walls were beginning to flatten as the foam crested waves dashed against it and the rain beat down on top of it--like so much of her life, she thought. So many dreams and plans and relationships had come tumbling down around her as the life-rains poured down and before she could even catch her breath the pieces were carried off like sand castles by the sea.

Rain drops mingled with tears on her cheeks memories wakened new pain in her numb heart. Conflicting thoughts and emotions struggled inside her but the only ones that formed themselves into words escaped her lips in a breathy whisper "You know God. You know."

She took a deep breath that threatened to break into a sob and lifted her eyes from the clouded horizon. She caught sight of a hole in the storm clouds high over her head--a small patch of blue sky beyond the storm. A small ray of sunlight escaped through the opening and sparkled on the water, making it dance and speaking peace to her heart. Another deep breath of ocean air felt like balm on the shattered pieces of her heart and she squared her shoulders. There was blue sky beyond the storm clouds, warmth beyond the cold. And even if the rest of her life was as stormy as that day, she would always have her bit of blue sky to hold onto--there was always the promise that one day the whole of her existence would open up in a bright expanse of clear blue; perfect, peaceful and perpetual. There was always hope.
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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Accident into Reality

I wrote this because I was inspired; it might be a little violent...

She checked her speedometer and wondered the tenth time that morning why she was going so fast. Mindlessly tapping her brakes to bring her down to the speed limit, she stared ahead. Just at this point of her morning commute, the road pointed straight at a vista of some of the most spectacular mountains in the Colorado front range. Some days they took her breath away. Other days, like this one, she barely saw them. Instead she had a mental image of herself in her dirty gold 4-door.

Life had been a series of previous commitments the last few weeks. So much of her day was either routine or dictated that she hadn’t been thinking about how she ought to spend her time, or why she was doing any of these things. Being busy made life something to look forward to; it kept her going. But a hectic schedule was also distracting.

Ahead to her right a lone man dressed in baggy pants, and a white hat matching his long white shirt stepped off the curb towards her. The nearest cars were a block ahead, but she knew no one was behind her either. He would make a casual crossing right after she passed. He advanced slowly, but came so close she thought her mirror might brush him as she passed. At the last minute he lunged ahead of her car onto the pavement and was crushed beneath her wheels.

She slammed on her brakes, maybe making matters worse, and checked her rear-view mirror to see whether the stoplight behind her had released its traffic. All in a moment she had her flashers on and her cell phone out to dial 911. As she talked she got out of the car, grateful the lane was wide enough to leave space for her to kneel beside the man, not flat like you would think, but crumpled in an odd way, behind her car. No medical or emergency training had prepared her, but instinct and good sense took over. She didn’t move his head or neck, instead checking his abdomen for heavy bleeding. The phone held to her ear, she got out the most important information in short pants that startled her. Was she hyperventilating? “Accident, pedestrian.” She gave the cross streets.

The cell phone beeped a warning that its newly charged battery was dying. She really should get that replaced. The first car carefully went past her, and another pulled slowly to a stop about a car-length behind her: a larger SUV driven by a level-headed man in a suit. Jumping down from the higher interior of the vehicle, he left his suit jacket behind on the seat. A 911 operator was telling her to stay calm and to make sure she was not in danger from traffic when her phone alerted her to its death with a cheery chime. Frustrated and with a sore neck, she let the phone drop, freeing her to do more for the man who, she thanked God, was still alive.

It seemed like five trains of thought moved at once. What had happened? She replayed the scene over and over. What should she have done? Could she have known? She saw his face again and again, unbroken unlike the one on the ground at her knees.

She prayed. Mostly it came in an unbroken series of God’s names, or just the repeated cry, “God, God, God!”

Her hands continued to work, assessing her patient even though she didn’t know how to treat him. She looked around for the ambulance that wouldn’t come for several more minutes. That’s when she finally realized someone was helping her. He was asking what had happened.

She was talking, too, trying to share the jumble of facts in her head, and sounding coherent in spite of herself. Concerned for the shock she must be going through as well, the stranger put his hand on her shoulder. He moved to the injured man’s head to do a little first aid she remembered vaguely being taught in swimming lessons more than ten years ago. He checked to make sure his windpipe wasn’t blocked and there was nothing in his mouth on which he might choke. “Do you have any water, cloths, paper towels?” he asked.

She leapt to her feet and back to her car, hands sticky with blood. The door was still ajar, and the car was still running. She turned the key back towards herself and left it in the ignition. Reaching behind the passenger seat, she pulled a mini roll of paper towels off the floor. Then she retrieved her water bottle and hurried back.

“Good,” he said, and began to gently rinse the man’s mouth of his blood. He soaked a paper towel in the fresh water and told her to clean the more minor wounds on his arms and apply pressure if any larger wounds were still releasing blood. She willed him to breathe as she moved, and kept talking to the patient, telling him what she was doing and why, and praying aloud for him.

At last the sound of sirens grew and drew near. The road filled with lights as the barricade of police cruisers arrived. Officers emerged from the car and gently coaxed the good Samaritans back from the scene. An ambulance squealed and honked its way through the intersection, and EMT’s had swung open the doors, lugging bags of gear, before the vehicle even stopped.

A couple officers with notepads interviewed the witnesses for the report. Her hands began to shake first, and then her knees felt like they would give out. She tried to answer their questions. “I was going about 41 miles per hour. I’d just checked, and slowed down. Excuse me.” She sat on the pavement, blood on her skirt, blood on her hands, and her stomach beginning to get queasy at the smell. She stared at the EMT’s lifting the man onto a stretcher. “I saw him, thought he looked like an irresponsible kid who was going to make a break for the crossing right after I passed. He got a head start towards me and then literally… he… dove…” She tried to look at the boy’s face to focus. His eyes were shut, and now that the medical team had cleaned him up, she could see ragged lines of scrapes and dark patches of swollen bruises. And then she cried, the sound pouring out of her like vomit, as though all the ache in her insides could be purged in tears and groaning.

The SUV man’s reassuring hand touched her back. She opened her eyes and realized her hands were too gross to wipe away the tears or cover her stained face. Blinking, she could see the stone in her ring spark through the stains of blood. “Can we get some water,” the officer called. He knelt in front of her. She turned her hand in the sun to see the glitter. As of yet he hadn’t seen her license, didn’t know how old she was, only knew her name. Maybe he should try to call her family. But she hadn’t requested it. Was she telling the truth?

“My name’s Drew,” said the man whose suit was ruined after his rescue attempt. He sat behind her now, and she felt both of his strong hands on her sleeves. His hands were stained from the triage as well. The officer who had interviewed him stood by, noting that the man hadn’t seen the accident, only the aftermath. He said the girl had spunk, and was doing a good job trying to help when he pulled up. “They need to know what happened.”

She nodded. She knew. But hearing the facts, simple, repetitive, helped.

“Here, wash your hands. He took the water bottle the EMT brought over and began pouring it beside her, while he reached for her hands to move them under the slow stream. Her fingers stretched apart, then closed. She felt them stick, and opened them apart again. Eventually the water carried the mess away. Immediately her hands went to her face to brush away the slower tears. While her eyes were covered, she focused on other senses. She heard cars, chirping brakes, engines, the air blowing across her hair as the cars passed. Against her legs the pavement was rough and hard. Behind her she was aware of something softer to lean against, and she realized, gradually, as she opened her eyes and turned her head, that Drew was holding her. Perhaps he thought she might faint.

“I put on my brakes as soon as I saw him dive,” she managed to say, followed by one long, slow breath. “I don’t know if that was good, but it was reflex. I got right out of the car, and dialed 911. He was behind the car a few feet, and curled up in odd angles. Why would he do that?” She turned with her question to her companion. “If he wanted to commit suicide, why not a bigger car? Why not a lot of cars? Why mine? I was just on my way to work.”

Her mind made note that she was late for work and should probably call them. But she didn’t want to. Should she call her mom? What did people do before 911? Were the mountains still there? She looked up to check. Wouldn’t someone just lead her away? Tell her what to do? She was mentally exhausted, making enough life and decisions in five minutes to last her for years.

Exchanging a glance with the officer as he said it, Drew offered to check her car. “Let’s see if there’s much damage.” He stood and lifted her to her feet, then guided her towards her car. The ambulance was just pulling away. Her cell phone remained, lifeless, behind her car. She was vaguely aware that traffic was backed up, being reduced from three lanes to one. “Not too bad,” Drew pointed at the bumper and distracted her from watching the retreating ambulance. Coming around to the front he noticed more dents, and blood. He stooped to look under the car. The officer shone his flashlight. “Maybe need a little more work here. Check the alignment and shocks, and this axel. Do you think it needs towed?” he asked.

The policeman shook his head. No. Both men agreed without a word that she didn’t need to be driving. “Can I see your license?” the officer asked, filling in the date and time, recording her license plate, on his form. She pulled it out of her purse. Her calves still burned like they might stop working, so she sat down on the seat once she handed it to him. Drew walked away, and she leaned towards his leaving, ready to say something if he wasn’t coming back. She hoped the words that would come would be more honest than a thank you. She didn’t want him to go yet, and wasn’t willing to admit that he had the right to get on with his day.

He came back soon with her cell phone. “Battery?” he asked, and tried a smile. She nodded. “Did you say you were on your way to work?” he hinted.

“Yes. I guess I should call in.”

He took off to his SUV. “I’ll get my phone,” he said.

“Hey, you know, we should really move this to the side road up there, stop blocking traffic now,” the policeman took a moment from his report to say.

“Can you drive to just up there?” Drew pointed to the first turn. “I’ll follow you.” Answering the proffered cell phone, he said, “Hang on to it.” She clung to it like a deposit on his promise to follow her. A little after the light behind them turned red, the line of cars thinned enough to let each of them in and back out at the turn. She pulled up beside a peaceful residence with a tree out front and a mailbox. Every house had a mailbox. The mountains were still visible over the roofs of the houses on her left.

To her relief, the recently washed navy blue SUV parked behind her, and she opened the door while she borrowed his phone to call her office. “Everything ok?” he asked once she had scanned the number pad for the off button.

The black and white sedan of the police fleet turned onto their road and did a U-turn to park across the street. “I feel bad leaving them hanging.”

“Where do you work?” he made small talk, trying to set her at ease.

She kept running her hand through her hair, pulling it back from her face. He tried not to stare at the darkening blood stains on her skirt. “At an eye doctor’s office. Should you call in?”

“No,” he waved at the phone still in her possession and wondered when to suggest that she call a friend. She might break down all over again. “I don’t have to report. My schedule isn’t that fixed. If they want me, they’ll call.”

A few more minutes saw the completion of all the police had to do on the scene. He confirmed her home phone and asked if she’d be all right.

“I’m ok. Thanks.”

Drew watched her steadily. He didn’t know her, but he had studied people, and he doubted her. She would be ok. Right now she was ok, depending on what you wanted her to do. She wasn’t going to work. She wasn’t driving. So far she wasn’t calling any friends or family.

Her mind reviewed the scene after the accident. What happened and when. What did she say? What did he say? Was he praying, too, or just her? Did she pray out loud? She remembered him saying “amen” to her prayers. When the ambulance finally arrived, after the police, he’d said “Thank You, God.” She remembered. Things were sharper now than even when they happened. Her world was recovering sense and order. All she wanted was a shower and new clothes, then maybe a good long Jane Austen movie – no explanations, no cries of concern. But maybe she should try to go to work. She’d call after a shower.

“I think I’ll go into shock soon,” she said absently.

“No you don’t,” Drew moved a step closer and interrupted his silent consideration of what should be done to distract her with more conversation. “You live close?”

“What?” her face lifted up like the break of the morning, refreshed and eager. “Yes.” She pointed and told him the nearest major intersection to her home. He noted it was a residential neighborhood with trees and parks, a few apartments between rows of 30 year old homes.

“You can come back for your car later, and I could give you a ride.” He saw her shrink back at the offer, but continued. “Is there someone at home you could call?”

So he had to go. He didn’t even have to stop to help at all. God had allowed the situation to come to her. She couldn’t have very well left. But this man was staying long past the call of duty. His hand prints were on her sleeves. Maybe he was an angel. Though it seemed unfair comparing her need to that of the suicidal young man now at an ER somewhere, she needed an angel. If he was an angel, he wouldn’t mind her asking. If he wasn’t, he’d be flattered or amused. She decided to go for it.

“Me?!” He showed the first real smile since she met him. “No such luck. But I can still give you a ride, or don’t you take lifts from human beings?”

“I don’t want to be a bother. You’ve done so much you didn’t have to. This isn’t your problem. I can call someone.”

“If you want to. But would you take a ride from an angel?” Drew pressed. He wanted to help. Even if she called someone else, he wouldn’t leave her alone until they were here. She would most likely break down again. He might break down. He prayed more urgently.

“Maybe. I mean, I’d feel bad if God sent me an angel to help and I said no. But you have other things to do.”

“What if God sent me? What if this is what God wants me to do?”

Her eyes brightened. “That’s possible.”

“Or you could call whoever ‘someone’ is, and we could drive to the ER to see if we can check our patient’s status.”

“I’m curious, but I think it might be fruitless. All the privacy laws now.” Her voice had changed. It was stronger, and slower. She was less nervous now.

“Do you want to try?”

“I don’t think so.”

Drew accepted her answer and took a few steps toward her car on the sidewalk. “Get your purse, and your keys. Is it locked?”

She checked the door. “Good.”

Once snugly inside his superior-sized SUV, she leaned against her window. He watched the road intently, stealing glances to check on his charge whenever he could. The radio played the Christian CD he had in, and she hummed the tune quietly. She was trying to decide what to do when she went home. Her mom would be borderline hysterical. And someone would have to take care of her and explain everything. They’d probably have to call her dad at work. Or maybe she should call him first.

Still worried she would go into shock, Drew asked some more questions. “After we get close, you’ll have to tell me where to turn. Is someone going to be there? I don’t think you should be alone.”

“It might be harder dealing with the people who are there,” she admitted, “than an empty house. I’m the oldest of six kids, and at least two will be at home. My mom should be there, and she’ll be a – upset.”

“Your dad?” Six kids! Was this a blended family, or was she Mormon?

“At work.”

“Do you need to call him?”

“I thought about it.”

“You can borrow my cell phone again.” He pointed to where it was charging, but went on before she could reach for it. “So where do you go to church?”

“The Baptist church up the road from the accident. South.” Drew could almost imagine her turning a compass to figure out the direction, just like a girl.

“I work at a Christian ministry in DTC,” he volunteered. “We interview, survey, and describe speakers, and help coordinate getting them in for an event. Most churches could do it on their own, but we cut down on the work. And we do reviews and classification of Christian books, too.”

“Turn here,” she pointed. “You’re a match-making service for Christians and ministries, then. What spiritual gifts does that apply?”

Drew did a double take. From prayers that consisted of calling on the generic “God” to asking him whether and which spiritual gifts he used in his job? He took another turn per her direction, and pulled to a stop in between houses. “Here?”

“Until I call my dad.”

“Well, I guess we use administration and discernment. We pray a lot, and study the Bible so that we can be alert if we come across something that might not be orthodox or biblical.”

“Which happens a lot.” It was a statement. She used the rear view mirror to scout her house. “Can I use your phone?”

“Go ahead.” Drew listened to her lead into telling her dad what happened. Twenty-three. Lives at home. Baptist. God-empowered, if what I saw today is an indication. She’d been amazingly calm when in the middle of the emergency. He meant to ask her if she had first aid training.

She used her free hand to massage her neck. “I’m fine. Just a little shaken up. I called work. They’ll be ok for a while. Yes. I need to change. Where? I’m right outside home, but wanted to call you before I went in. Do you know if Mom’s home?”

To God be all glory.
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Monday, March 10, 2008

Lori's Choice Part 20

Not for younger readers. The subject of Lori's Choice should be screened by parents before minors read it.

Caleb got a call one late spring evening. “Caleb, darling,” Lori said placidly, “the baby is coming. You want to meet us at the hospital?”

Caleb let out a whoop and jumped to the ceiling. His dad and mom rolled their eyes at their normally quiet son, gathering their things to go with him. Ryan was at a youth group outing, so they left him a note telling him where they went, and to call Michael.

At the hospital in the city, Caleb went in with Lori for a little while before the labor got too strong. He talked her through several contractions, promising to be in the waiting room praying through all the rest. Ryan arrived unexpectedly at the hospital about midnight. “I’m gonna be an uncle. You think I’d miss this?” he grinned. Caleb clapped his brother on the back and continued pacing.
At about three, as is the uncanny habit of newborns, Lori’s baby entered the world. Caleb came in a few minutes later, after the room was cleaned up a little. Lori held the little girl in her arms, smiling proudly at her beloved. Catching the doctor’s attention, she told him, “Her name is Anna Grace… Donnigan.” Her smile was tired.

Caleb bent to kiss her forehead. “Sure?” he asked.

"I decided that a long time ago,” she whispered.

Anna cried. Lori handed her gently into Caleb’s arms. He’d been getting lessons from his mom to prepare for this. Before the nurse took Anna to complete the post-natal regimen, he rocked her skillfully.

“I think she’ll have spirit, Caleb,” Lori said.

“She looks like you,” Caleb observed.

“I’m glad.”

Mom cried. Tess held her and cried too. Dad and Mr. Donnigan stood just inside, forced to move closer towards the weary mother each time a doctor or nurse came through. The grandfathers looked tired, but reluctant to leave. All of them had already invested so much love in this little infant. It didn’t matter anymore where she came from.


At the baby shower Anna got lavished with more baby things than one little girl could ever need. Lori wrote out her thank-you’s right away. She cried a lot after the first week, due to some temporary frustrations over being a single mother coupling with her rapidly fluctuating hormonal emotions.

To God be all glory.
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Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Lori's Choice Part 19

Not for younger readers. The subject of Lori’s Choice should be reviewed by parents before minors read it.

Tess had Lori over for long talks whenever Caleb had a long day of work. They needed to be able to talk without interruption. Lori had lots of questions about the life she’d agreed to. Sometimes Mom came with Lori. Tess and Mom hadn’t been close friends before. Now Tess’s quiet, persistent faith began to erode Mom’s bitterness. Soon the three women were praying together for the marriage that would be, for the pregnancy, and for the baby.

One day Lori surprised them all by praying for the father of her baby. She prayed he would be caught and convicted, that he would hear the truth of God’s forgiveness in prison, and be saved. Lori continued, “Help me to forgive him and move on. God, help my heart to be full given to Caleb. I feel I owe him that much, at least.”

Tess and Mom exchanged looks, both puzzled over what was in Lori’s heart. But neither of them dared ask. They kept praying in their own hearts that Lori would grow in godliness.

Marybelle joined their prayer and planning meetings when she could. She lent a youthful enthusiasm to their discussions. Her heart was unquestioningly faithful to her heavenly Father, her influence on Lori’s sometimes turbulent spirit was welcomed by Mom and Tess.

Right before Christmas Caleb and Lori sat down to decide on a date for the wedding. In the end Lori had her way, and they scheduled the wedding for Midsummer’s Eve. Plans then began in earnest for invitations and facilities.

The baby continued to grow safely in the womb. Lori got cravings for chocolate ice cream like she’d never had before. This caused her to gain an unusual amount of weight for her, but it was just enough to keep her doctor happy. Caleb backed off on wrapping his arms around her, enabling him to wait for their marriage for further physical affection.

Lori worked with Caleb to choose baby names. Every time Lori spoke with him, he noticed she had more assurance that God was showering her with His grace. Caleb recognized that it was easy to be so thankful when times were good, so Pastor Greg frequently reminded him that Lori had been like that even when she was without hope to ever be married, and facing the raising of her child alone. Together they agreed that if Lori had a girl, her name would be Anna Grace. They couldn’t think of a counterpart to Grace for a boy, so they settled on Matthew Nathanael, which meant the same thing, “Gift of God.”

Janelle came through with great skill in planning things like the baby shower and wedding reception. The shower was scheduled for a week after Lori’s due date. “Don’t go late,” she instructed Lori.

“I’ll try,” she said. Lori was more than willing to oblige. By this time the novelty of being so round had worn off, and she was ready to hold a baby in her arms instead.

Caleb leaned on his pastor and his dad for wisdom in growing in love with his bride. Since they were moving so fast, he felt rather overwhelmed. But Lori’s heart was ever his, willing to embrace whatever he offered. He was by now grateful for the extended time of engagement that enabled him to prepare even more.

To God be all glory.
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Friday, December 28, 2007

His Treasure

Last night Abigail didn’t get enough sleep. In fact she was sleep-deprived for the week, for various reasons. And she was tired of trying to excel in life, tired of paying attention. The spiritual weight of decisions was wearying her. Without proper expression for spiritual exhaustion, she manifest the feeling by sitting down in a chair, alone in the church foyer, and telling herself that she really needed to cry. No tears came.

A swarm of hungry people were filling Styrofoam plates with little smokies, deviled eggs, cookies, and various unrelated potluck dishes in the church’s fellowship hall. Abigail had just received a bit of news that needed processing before she joined the crowd. When she walked down there one of two things would happen: she would either feel immensely lonely, surrounded by dozens of people ignoring her, or she would pretend to be alright when someone noticed her. She could pretend, but she hated to.

So until she composed herself, sufficiently surrendering this new weight to God through rapid, almost unintelligible thought-prayers, she would stay here in the still hall. No one would miss her; no one could help; and it didn’t matter.

But that was the old reality. Now there was someone who would sit by her if she were at the fellowship meal, someone who didn’t need her to pretend to be alright, and someone who noticed she was gone. Matt came looking. The walk was short, and unhurried. After all, the meal wasn’t mandatory, and he wasn’t really worried that anything horrible had happened to her. Glancing first towards the closed and dark sanctuary, and then round the perimeter, he soon saw her. She sat in one of those pretty, deceptive chairs that promise overstuffed comfort, but whose cushions refuse to yield when you sit in one. The backs are stiff, affixed at the wrong angle, and cheaply made. Yet they give a room a decorator-defined atrium look, so churches buy them.

His treasure sat wedged into a corner, sitting straight, but with her head tipped back against the winged headrest. Her mouth was open a bit, and her eyes were closed. This morning had been crazily busy, between Sunday school and friends and the various errands that occupy church in the mornings distracting men from God and His people. So this was the first time he observed her. How had he stopped mentally photographing Abigail’s every image? Now she sat, her long, full skirt exhibiting a natural grace that belonged both to it and its treasured owner. Unbidden, his mind called her “his treasure.” Each time he rationalized it. They were only courting. Nothing was certain. That was the whole point. But he knew he loved her, and didn’t Proverbs say that a good wife was worth more that rubies? The blouse she wore, even askew, was modest, and drew his attentive eyes up to her face. Her open mouth made him laugh quietly to himself again.

Sleep was so peaceful. She must be worn out. Part of that was his fault. He was stressing her out. Unable to help himself, he’d been in a pattern of assured future alternating with self-doubt and second-guessing. She refused to let him pretend everything was normal. “I don’t want to do anything that doesn’t mean something,” she’d told him. “Well, I’ll play games and do things that don’t mean a lot, but I don’t want to do anything that means the opposite of reality. If things aren’t ok, and we need to be praying, I don’t want to just hang out and watch a movie.” Matt thought that meant she loved him – the real way.

Sliding into the equally uncomfortable seat on the other side of a potted plant and ministry flyer coffee table, he reflected that he knew what Abigail meant. They were courting now because he had realized that no matter what, he wanted to be there for her. He’d wanted to help her, to cheer her up, and… just be there. He wouldn’t take distractions for a substitute. And after he had started, Matt realized that exercising real love, like a brother in Christ should, had opened an entirely different and unexpected door. As he shifted, half of his brain wondering who manufactures foyer chairs, and the other half continuing his philosophical musings, he realized that once again, he was where he was because he wanted to push through and get to the real her.

Abigail wasn’t deeply asleep. When his foot slipped from the leverage that was keeping him comfortable in his chair, and hit the leg of the table, she opened her eyes. Raising her head and sitting up straighter, she finally got the message that her mouth was open and deliberately closed it into a smile. Seeing the change that had arisen between them since being fellow church members to trusted friends was a mystery. Being awakened from less-than-elegant posture didn’t leave her self conscious. She wasn’t even shy.

“What’s up?” he asked, dragging his reluctant eyes from the pattern in the carpet that half-matched, half-clashed with the colors in the upholstery. He cued a piercing gaze that told her he was masking seriousness in casual.

Peace dropped off of her face like a disguise at a masquerade. “Oh, everything. I don’t know what we’re going to do with Sunday school. Joan’s not going to teach. But I don’t want her to feel badly. It isn’t her. It’s everyone. Nobody is to blame. God is just bringing my need-to-be-made decisions all together, and I’m overwhelmed. He hasn’t told me what to do yet. I’m glad he told some people what they should do, you know?”

She wished he’d wrap her in his arms. If he asked her to marry him, she thought for the thousandth time, she’d say, “Tomorrow.” But as long as the longing to be held was the driving force behind her enthusiasm, she was deep down glad that he hadn’t asked. Anyway, if he held her, she wouldn’t be able to see that tender glance: the one she hoped was part of his character and not just a romantic side effect. Someday she’d see him offer it to their children. Her cheeks flushed, and her distracted eyes slipped a cautious look back at him. Caught! He’d noticed she wasn’t paying attention.

In fact he’d caught a bit more than that. God blessed him with insight into the spiritual struggles of those he loved and prayed for. The extra copper tinting on the tips of her ears, which made her look a bit elven, told him she hadn’t been taking her thoughts captive. Not that it was wrong to think of things like being a parent. There were just safer times emotionally to do such things. When he got embarrassed his temples burned, and he wondered absently if her ear tips were warmer now. Someday, if he remembered, he’d brush his finger against it when she blushed, and find out.

Now he was doing it! They had to get out of there. There wasn’t much more he could say to answer her dilemma. Usually she already knew every side to the story. “It’s just hard,” she’d explain, warding off further lectures or fix-it suggestions. Instead, he directed her towards food. “You’re grumpy when you’re hungry,” he said.

To God be all glory.
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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

I Saw Below Me Stars Above

The wind was barely blowing,
As I woke from sleep, mid-night.
The starlit darkness calling
My heart, my soul to take flight.

I rolled and slid
From under tent
Beneath the trees
My bare feet went.

The night was warm,
The clouds asleep.
The voice of starlight
Continued to speak.

My soul, it willingly listened,
My feet grace-fully obeyed.
My eyes beheld the wonders, this
Blessed night displayed.

The trees were tall,
Thick overhead,
I looked for stars;
Saw pines instead.

My feet meandered as a river,
Lazily bound for sea.
Until a sight, off bow from quiver,
Shot through my eyes –pierced me.

The sight, a sparkle of crystal flame,
Reflecting off the lake,
My eyes now heard, along with my heart,
The voice that urged me to take

This journey out of sleep,
Toward my rendezvous
To see a sky, so heavy-thick,
It denied a definite hue,

Specked with bits of heaven’s fire
Reflecting in my eye.
My feet continued carrying my heart,
To, in the lake, see sky.

My meanderance led me to a rock,
A fortress against gentle waves
Hewn by time’s catastrophe,
Yet, within its skin, held minute’s graves.

I stepped from dirt
To cold, damp stone.
The lake with the voice
Of night-stars shone.

As I advanced toward the edge,
Their reflection sang a song to me,
“Jump. Forsake your forest-dwelling feet;
Let warm, night-air carry ye.”

Again, my soul, it listened,
And again, it, I obeyed.
The water, deep, with reflection, sweet,
A symphony in my soul played.

I ran up the ancient grave of time
Threw myself to the night before me.
The warm air smiled, and so did I,
Thanking God that I was free.

For one moment, I, surrounded by air,
Saw with heart and eye.
I saw below me stars above,
And fell peacefully toward the sky.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Lori's Choice Part 18

Not for younger readers. The subject of Lori’s Choice should be reviewed by parents before minors read it.

A few weeks later Caleb was with Lori, shopping for furniture. She insisted she would love to sew all they needed in the line of curtains and cushions and tablecloths. Quilts would undoubtedly be provided by dear old friends and relatives. He smiled admiringly at her enthusiasm. “I have a blue pillow that would match this chair, and we could put a bench against the east wall,” she carried on.

“Don’t go overboard. I don’t have a million dollars,” he reminded her.

“I’d be happy with a select few things. Like tons of chairs and a bed and…” she giggled, “Oh.”

Caleb shook his head and kept walking. “Lori?”

She breathed deep of contentment. The happiness had mellowed out to a tolerable level in the three weeks since he proposed. “Yes?”

“When do you want to get married?”

Lori smiled a bit, “I’ve been thinking about that. I think it would be weird to have my wedding night while I was pregnant.”

Caleb nodded thoughtfully. “I thought of that. But I want to be there for you when you’re in labor and stuff. I don’t want you to have to do that alone.”

“I never planned on doing it alone, before I got pregnant. But I’ll make it.”

“So what timing were you thinking? I don’t want to wait too long,” he added quickly.

“I don’t want to leave the baby too soon, if we’re going to take a honeymoon. And if we’re not, that’s ok. I’d be just fine with that. But if you wanted to, I want it to work for us. So maybe a month or so after the baby is born? Like June or July?”

Caleb promised to think about it. They kept a list of furniture they were considering, and they parted until another day.

It soon became evident to their whole Bible Study on Friday nights that something serious was going on between Caleb and Lori. Lori of course had told her small group friends as well as Marybelle, and invited them to be bridesmaids, too. Caleb told a few close friends. But after a month of engagement, Caleb made the announcement to their group that he was going to marry Lori that summer.

Pastor Greg was thrilled to hear the news, but not surprised at all. He immediately prayed a prayer of thanks.

To God be all glory.
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