How To Find What You Came Here For

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Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Sorrow Shared


When I got in my car that morning, the first thing I did was plug in my cell phone.  The battery had died, and for days I kept forgetting to charge it. 

It beeped at me as I pulled into the parking lot, signaling that I had voicemail—not surprising since the thing had been off for more than three days.  When I reached to unplug it, I checked the missed calls out of habit.



It was my friend’s phone number.  

Over and over again. 

For the last three days.

Our families had been close when we lived in Wyoming.  I used to joke that if I hadn’t married my husband, I’d definitely have married hers.  The two of them were an amazing couple.  She was bright and funny and loving, and he was brilliant and gentle and unbelievably caring.

Then they moved to Colorado, we moved to North Carolina, and between the two of us we didn’t talk as much as we should have.  We hadn’t lost touch…not yet…but we hadn’t talked in a few months.

I picked up the first message.

Then the second.

Then the third.

And finally, the fourth.

It was my friend, but her voice sounded different.  Instead of bubbly, or pissed, or any of the other extremes I was used to, she was quiet.  Something had happened, she told me each time, something bad.  Please call.

I didn’t want to.  I sat in my car and stared at my phone and thought of a hundred reasons to put it off.  I was already late for work.  It was probably no big deal.  Something had upset her, and she’d be over it by now.

But she’d sounded…off.  Really off.

I dialed, forgetting that with the time difference it would be 6:30 in the morning out there.  By the time I thought of it, she answered.

Mike, her husband of seventeen years, my alternative husband, one of the best people I’ve ever known, was gone.  Taken in the blink of an eye by a kid so drunk and high, he was ejected from his truck and walked away with barely a scratch.

I’d been her friend through thick and thin for over ten years, but I didn’t know how to be a friend in that moment.  All I could do was cry with her on the phone, separated by 1500 miles.




This post is my response to a prompt from Write On Edge to write a memoir piece about a friend.  I've never been a social butterfly, with a large complement of friends.  I tend to make just a few, and my natural inclination toward being a hermit makes maintaining those relationships difficult.  This couple was the first "couple" friendship my husband and I had, and we treasured it. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Wrapped in Love

I was branded from the beginning – a name I couldn’t read, but which made me hers.  I was created for her by her parents, to wrap around her and make her feel safe and secure when the arms of her parents couldn’t be there.

Her tiny fingers found my strings and twisted them endlessly, my soft backing held to her face in that twilight time just before sleep overcame perpetual motion.  I soon ventured beyond the bedroom and into the backyard, the front yard, the car.

I became her constant companion.  I covered her as she suffered through the chicken pox.  I wrapped around her to keep her warm at swim meets.  I soaked up her tears in the night when the world didn’t play fair.

In moments of anxiety, boredom, fear, sorrow, her fingers found my strings and twisted them tighter and tighter.  The loose strings transformed into balls of yarn that were teased straight only to be twisted again.

The wear and tear of love took its toll.  My fabric thinned.  My strings loosened, and some went missing.  Eventually, small rips and tears appeared…ragged testament to her love and dependence.  Despite my obvious shortcomings and defects, her love never wavered and neither did mine.

In the natural course of things, the time came for her to leave home and strike out on her own.  I was old, and fragile—too fragile.  After being at her side for every journey, I could not accompany her on this one.  Her room was suddenly empty and silent, and I was packed away.

I waited.

When I saw light again, she was different.  Older, more worn.  The child I’d known had children of her own.  I was unpacked, but not to take up my former position.  I have become a treasure, a keepsake.  Still loved, but with a more gentle and careful affection.  I am with her again.  I am home.


This post is a response to a prompt from Write On Edge:  This week, tell a piece of your story from the point of view of an object who bore witness.

I've written about my blankie - a large, tied quilt my parents made for me as a baby.  The blankets were something of a family tradition--my sister and I both had one, and most (if not all) of the babies born in our family had one.  Childhood designs had been drawn onto them, along with our names, making them ours.  I never went anywhere without mine - swim meets, family vacations, the playground--and it showed.

What followed you through childhood?  Do you still have it? 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Persephone's Tears

Click HERE for original


Anise shoved at the heavy skid, ignoring the sweat pooling between her skin and the gray coveralls she wore.  A glance over her shoulder at the fading light hurried her along.  The water would be coming back soon. 

For the first time since she’d come to Persephone, indentured for an impossible sum, she had some hope.  The rise and fall of the ocean tides had hidden this cave from every other miner in her camp.  They’d stuck close to the well-mapped tunnels, preferring safety over the chance of a finding a big strike.

She was after something bigger, something that could fund a trip back to her homeworld.

The ground shifted under her boots, restless and rumbling.

“Time to go,” she muttered.  She’d found some good stones, nothing that would catch any undue attention, but enough to offset what she was charged for her tiny tent and two meals in the mess.

As she turned, the toe of her boot caught on the edge of the skid, tumbling her down the slope of the natural shaft she’d been working.  Her light bounced away as she landed in a heap.

“Perfect…that’s just PERFECT!” her scream of frustration echoed endlessly and followed her to the corner of the small gallery she’d landed in.  She bent over to pick up her wayward light when a flash of red had her knees going weak, and she sat down hard on the smooth rock.

"Persephone’s Tears.”  Her shaking hand reached out to pry the first of the three glowing stones from the porous rock they’d been born in.  A Tear the size of a grain of sand could pay an indentured’s way home, and cradled in her palm were three stones the size of a baby’s fingernail. 

She was going home.







This post was written in response to a prompt from Write On Edge with a 300 word limit: 
“The cure for anything is salt water….sweat, tears or the sea.”
~ Isak Dinesen, pseudonym of Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke
If you are going with Fiction, have your character resolve a problem using one of the three (or all three!!!). 

Please tell me what you think of Anise's story in the comments! 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Moving On

When the ground rumbled under her feet, Paige didn't even bother looking up.  The launches were daily now; rats fleeing a sinking ship.  Or in this case, a civilization fleeing yet another planet they'd managed to destroy.

This was the fourth planet the human race had colonized since leaving Earth; that exodus had been so long ago that the number was meaningless.  Besides, each new planet had brought with it a new measure of time.  Paige had managed to work out a relative time line by researching the meteorological records that had been kept on each planet.  It had been an ambitious project and her mentor had advised against starting it.

"What's the point?" he'd asked.  "How do records from other planets apply to this planet?"

She'd pushed it, and he'd eventually given in, throwing  up his hands and waving her off in the direction of the massive archives that had been created on Earth and updated and transported to each new planet.  Technology had advanced, of course, but the basic concepts had remained the same.  The sheer volume of information had been nearly overwhelming, at first.

Twelve years into her project, Paige started to see the beginnings of a pattern emerge.  A pattern that alarmed her and gave her a sense of urgency to complete assimilating the data.  When it was complete, the report was massive - after all, it included every weather report and study done on every planet they'd ever colonized.  She presented it at the annual conference, and was roundly ridiculed.

This wasn't new, they told her.  Everyone knew what had happened on those previous planets, the mistakes that had been made.  Safeguards had been put in place on Caesar Prime to ensure that the environmental issues that had driven their species across the galaxy like gypsies would never happen again.

Paige shook her head and hurried across the parking lot to her office.  The Center for Atmospheric Sciences was nearly empty, so she could walk in a straight line from the transpo stop to the front door.  She spared one glance at the dark blue sky before pushing through the heavy glass door and into the cool comfort of the lobby.

They'd lived on Caesar Prime for almost fifteen full generations; so little time, geologically speaking, and yet plenty of time for them to repeat mistakes they'd sworn to avoid with this planet.  Now her research was key in saving the human race from itself once again.

She sat at her desk and wondered, again, if it was worth it.  She and her colleagues had argued that abandoning yet another planet wasn't the answer.  There was still time to fix what had gone wrong, to go back to the restrictive measures that had been in place when they'd first arrived on the planet.  They'd taken their case to the people, and asked for a vote.

The results of the vote had been clear.  Not enough of the population was willing to give up the amenities they'd become accustomed to: massively oversized individual transportation, constant climate control...all those things that everyone could do without but would rather not.

She stared through her window at the trail of steam left behind by the rocket as it thrust toward the massive building project orbiting their planet.  Another planet had been found easily enough, and now they were busily building the ships that would ferry the bulk of the population to a clean, new world.  Paige wondered how long that world would last.

They could solve even the most complex problems easily, except the one that caused the most trouble:  human nature. 


This post is a response to a surprise prompt from Write On Edge - to use the picture at the beginning of the post to write a short fiction or memoir piece.  We were supposed to write something quickly - tell me what you think in the comments!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Scarlet


 

Scarlet gazed through the window of her stone prison.  She let the fine tapestry slide smoothly through her fingers to cover the window in false color and turned back to her cell.

Time had dribbled away, in fits and starts, until there was none left for her.  Tonight, her captivity would end; if all went according to plan, she and the land she’d sold her body to protect would finally be free. 

She shook back the flowing hair that had inspired the name her captor called her and focused on calming her mind and spirit.  The beguiling scent from the bubbling pot suspended over low flames and glowing coals called her to the fireplace.  She’d learned her captor’s tastes well, and the soup she’d made was designed to inflame his appetites…all of them.

“Scarlet!  My one consolation in this desolate purgatory!” 

She schooled her expression into calm obedience and turned to face the big man as he slammed the heavy wooden door behind him.  He hadn’t knocked, of course.  Why would he, when he owned both the castle and the woman?

“My Lord,” she affected a deep curtsy, knowing it bared her alabaster neck.

The hand that grasped her arm to pull her inexorably into his embrace no longer caught on the fine material that draped her body.  Debauchery had replaced the rigors of combat; callouses had softened the same way hard muscles had.  Still, there was enough of the battle-hardened soldier left that she dared not try brute force to win her freedom.

When his lips covered hers and his hands slid with surety over her lush curves, she ignored the screams of instinct and forced herself to remain pliant.  That it was becoming so easy to do so was just another grain through the hourglass.

“My Lord, your dinner waits…” she offered, moving away with sinuous grace to fill a waiting trencher. 

“What have you made for me tonight, my siren?” 

She looked down, feigning submission.  “Mushroom soup, my Lord.  A local delicacy I thought you would enjoy.”

His greed and lust spurred him to finish the soup quickly, barely noticing the delicately nutty flavor of the mushrooms she’d carefully cultivated in the darkest part of the castle.  He pulled her into his arms again, but this time she pulled away slowly and stepped back a few paces.

Scarlet watched the telltale flush of the mushrooms rise in his broad cheeks as he stumbled to his feet to follow, signaling their deadly course.

“Come to the balcony my Lord, you seem flushed.”  She backed away, stepping lightly onto the ledge, her silver eyes flashing in the light of the moon as she pulled back the tapestry.

“Yes, some air…” he muttered vaguely, lumbering to the low sill of the waiting window.  The world seemed to hold its breath as he tottered, reaching for her slender arm.

As they fell together into eternity, her scarlet hair and dress flowing around them in a brilliant trail, she wrapped her arms around him to whisper, “My name is Silraen.”




This post is a response to a prompt from Write on Edge to write about "flavor."  I confess that I did exceed the 400 word limit by a bit, but since this is the first time I've ever broken that limit, I throw myself on the good will of my readers.  I wanted a story that was not the typical, fair maiden triumphs over the evil conqueror sort of thing, and I was inspired by the picture above.

As always, please let me know what you think in the comments! 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Give Us A Little Squeeze, Love

For Christmas this year, both my husband and I received Amazon gift cards from his parents.  This is our favorite gift to receive for two reasons:  Amazon sells books, which we are shamelessly addicted to, and they also sell all manner of interesting things like Bento boxes (which are awesome for packing lunches), household gadgets, random items of clothing, and...pasta machines.

After perusing the offerings separately, we decided to pool our gift cards and buy a pasta machine.  Our family happens to be huge fans of pasta...all kinds of pasta...and hubby and I like cooking.  It was delivered today, so of course we had to try it out.

We learned an important lesson on our first try:

On the first pass through the rollers, the dough will tear and have holes and will generally look completely ruined.  Do not despair!  Fold the dough over and send it through again.  And again.  And again.  And again.  Eventually, the dough will smooth out and as you decrease the distance between the rollers and increase the pressure on the dough, it will show it's hidden strength, becoming so strong that on the thinnest setting it will stretch until it is nearly transparent and still not break or tear.

Life's like that, too.

So many times, the pressures and stress of life have stretched me thin, tearing holes in my life.  Financial problems, medical issues, family trouble - all of them have, at one time or another, ripped huge gaping holes in the life I thought we were making.


It seemed that as soon as we had things patched up, we'd go through the ringer again and new holes would show up.  Patch those, and...you guessed it...back through the ringer again.

I can't tell you how many times we went through the ringer, its rollers squeezing us and pressuring us.  Eventually, we realized that each pass through the ringer got a little easier.  The rips and tears and holes got smaller and were easier to patch.

All that squeezing, all that pressure, all that stress and trouble, made us stronger, more flexible.  We don't tear now, we stretch.  Things might get thin enough to see through, but we won't break.

So, give us a little squeeze, love.

How about you?  Is life sending you through the ringer?  Feeling stretched thin?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Goat or Sheep?

Matthew 25:31-46

Did you know that goats are believed to have been the earliest animal humans domesticated? Charities give goats to communities because they’re easier and cheaper than cattle to keep, and incredibly useful…dead or alive. Aside from meat, they give particularly nutritious milk, their dung can be used for fuel, their bones, hair, and sinew can be used to make clothing, building materials, and tools, their hide was used to make water and wine bottles and parchment, and their intestines are used to make surgical sutures.

In the Bible, they’re considered a clean animal, and they’d be slaughtered for an honored guest. They were used as sacrifices - on Yom Kippur in the Jewish tradition, two goats were chosen and lots were drawn. One would be sacrificed, and the other allowed to escape. Goat hair curtains were used in the tent that housed the tabernacle, and their horns could be used to make the shofar, a horn used in Jewish ceremonies.

Goats are intelligent and independent. They don’t need much watching over because they’re quite good at taking care of themselves.

Which one is the goat?
Sheep, on the other hand, are every bit as useful as goats - in fact, it can be quite difficult to tell some breeds of sheep and goats apart - but they definitely need watching over. They have a reputation for being mindless followers, who don’t often think for themselves. In “Wee Free Men,” written by one of my favorite authors, Terry Pratchett, one of the characters refer to sheep as, “just bags of bones, eyeballs, and teeth, lookin’ for new ways to die.”

Right about now, I’m thinking that being a goat sounds like a good thing. We value independence and self-sufficiency. Combine that with usefulness, and you have the model of a contributing member of our society. An admirable person.

But our scripture today is pretty clear about what happens to goats - they go to hell. Why? If goats and sheep are virtually identical, what is it about being a goat that is so bad it deserves being called cursed and consigned to “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels?” Good question.

I had two friends in junior high and high school. Jenny and Shelley. They were twins. When I met them, on the first day of eighth grade, they were sitting at the table just in front of me. It was my first day in a new school, in a new state, and I was working on being as miserable as possible.

These two girls sitting in front of me turn around to face me at the same time, and suddenly I was looking at mirror images. I couldn’t tell them apart. They looked the same. They talked the same. They didn’t wear the same clothes at the same time, but they shared their clothes so that was no help at all. I got around the fact that I couldn’t tell them apart by simply never calling them by name.

Then, after a while, I could tell them apart. 

It was little things. I noticed that if someone dropped their books, one of the twins would rush to help. The other one would laugh…then help. I noticed that if someone we knew changed their hair or showed up with a new jacket or purse, one twin never noticed unless it was pointed out but the other twin always noticed. One held her head differently when she listened to you. One had a habit of nodding if she agreed with whatever you were saying. Little things, but they were differences.

They were different people. No matter what else about them was the same, they were still different people, and they approached the world from slightly different angles. As small as those differences were, it was enough to tell them apart as I spent more time with them. It was enough for me to start to prefer spending time with one over the other. By the time we graduated from high school together, it was so easy for me to tell them apart that it was hard to remember a time when I couldn’t do it.

It’s the differences that matter. No matter how alike sheep and goats are, it’s the differences that matter in this scripture. 

Most of the time, we hear this scripture when it’s time to contribute to mission funds and food drives and prison ministries. It’s a good one, and well-known because of it, but it has another side…another angle.

This scripture is not just about how we treat the people around us, it’s also about how we respond God’s Word and the people who bring it to us. Remember in the scripture, BOTH the sheep and the goats came to Jesus. Until He divided them, they were one flock. One congregation. They all followed Jesus.

They were the same - twins in their faith. But Jesus looked at them and immediately saw the differences. 

The goats believed the same things the sheep did, and they were part of same congregation as the sheep, but just like my friends from school, it was their behavior that set them apart. Remember when I said that sheep and goats can be hard to tell apart? That’s true in church too. In fact, it can be so hard to tell a sheep from a goat, that you might not even be able to tell which one you are yourself.

Goats have heads like rocks, and they will slam their heads up against just about anything. They almost seem to enjoy it! And you never want to turn your back on a goat. They won’t always butt you in the behind, but when they do you’ll be feeling it for days!

People acting like goats will butt heads. Anything up for discussion is worth arguing about, any decision is worth criticizing. Sometimes, they’ll act supportive and wait until backs are turned to strike. That’s not to say things don’t need to be discussed or even argued…they do! But if all you do is argue and criticize without suggesting an alternate solution, or if the only solution you’re willing to discuss is your own…well then, you might be a goat.

Goats have a reputation for eating just about anything. That’s not entirely true. They will taste anything, just to see if they like it…and sometimes that leads them to eat things they probably shouldn’t, and then they don’t eat the things they should.

People acting like goats are attracted to things that don’t feed their souls, and ignore the things that will. We say we don’t have time for daily devotion - but it takes, ironically enough, an act of God to make us miss our favorite TV show…or tear us away from our computers and cell phones. We don’t have enough money to tithe what we should, but we do have enough to pay for the data plan on our smart phone, or go to the beach for a weekend, or buy our lunch instead of packing one. If you can find a way to be home every Wednesday night to watch Survivor, if you can find the money to buy lunch, but you can’t find time for Bible study or you can’t find the money in your budget for a tithe…well then, you might be a goat.

Goats are escape artists. They will find a weakness and exploit it until they can escape the safety and security of their fence. People who keep goats can find themselves going out to look for escapees at all hours. They also find themselves mending a lot of fences.

People acting like goats are always looking for a weakness to exploit so they can leave. They’ll collect slights and hurts like precious gems until they have enough to justify leaving. If they don’t agree with what the pastor says on Sunday morning, or how they do visitation, they’ll avoid coming to church, or hold back their tithe, or just find a new church they think will suit them better. Goats don’t try to repair the fence, they just keep working at it until the hole is big enough to let them leave. And they leave others to mend the fences they broke. If you find yourself complaining about things you don’t like, but not doing anything constructive to fix the problem…well then, you might be a goat.

Maybe we don’t want to be a goat, but we’re not really comfortable as sheep, are we?  We don’t want to be mindless followers, who can’t think for themselves.

So it’s a good thing that sheep aren’t actually stupid, isn’t it? On the barnyard scale, pigs typically represent the geniuses of the farm, but sheep come in a close second. It’s easy to mistake sheep behavior for stupidity, and I know that’s their reputation. For people outside the church, that’s our reputation too - we can’t be bothered to think for ourselves. We come to church so we can be told what to think and how to act. 

Being a sheep doesn’t mean that we stop thinking for ourselves. It means that we recognize that we need to do more than just say we follow Jesus…we have to actually follow, and that means allowing ourselves to be led. We recognize that we are stronger as a congregation than we are alone. We allow God’s Word to shepherd us, guide us through the decisions we make.

When we are sheep, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, taking care of the sick, and visiting the imprisoned come naturally. Problems that get in the way of serving are addressed and resolved as a group. Goats can’t get those things done, because they’re too busy being goats. 

But again, remember that both sheep and goats were members of the same flock in our scripture today. Just coming to church, being a member of a congregation and hearing God’s Word, doesn’t make you a sheep instead of a goat. Your actions do.

No matter how often you hear God’s Word, if you fail to act on it - at home, at work, at church - you are being a goat. And it doesn’t matter what your reasons for being a goat are. Jesus didn’t ask the goats why acted the way they did. What matters is that if you are being a goat you are not being a sheep. You are not living your life as a follower of Christ and there are clear consequences for that.

We are all goats in one way or another, that’s human nature. We are goats at home, we are goats on the road, we are goats at work, we are goats at church. We don’t have to be. We can overcome that nature to be the sheep who are willing, not only to hear God’s Word, but to live by it and allow it to guide our actions. 

Today is the first day of 2012. A new beginning. We are told we should begin as we mean to go on. So let’s begin. Take a hard look at yourself today. Are you butting heads instead of working as part of the group? Are you spending more time with your computer than you are with God? Are you giving more money to your cell phone company than you put in the plate on Sunday morning? Are you so busy looking for a reason to be unhappy that you miss the moments of joy? Are you tearing down fences, or mending them?
 
What will you be in 2012? Personally, I’m hoping to be less goat, more sheep. I hope you’ll join me.