Mary

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A big theme of my writing for my capstone project is the idea of heaven. I like to contemplate heaven because so many people I love are there. I miss them. I lost my Grandma (above with my Grandpa…aren’t they the cutest?!) when I was eight years old. A little kid can only fathom so much about cancer. I barely grasped the concept. Sure, Grandma was sick, but she’d been sick before, and she would get better.

I practically lived at my Grandma’s house when I was growing up. One of the many benefits of being homeschooled was that I could pack up my books and take them to her house while my Mom took care of whatever she needed that day. I’d sprawl out on my stomach on her living room floor, kicking my legs back and forth as I worked through science and spelling and math.

“Which picture do you think I should use to practice my handwriting on, Grandma?” I remember asking her one day.

She had paused for just a fraction of a second. “Well, why don’t you describe them to me, dear?” Everyone was “dear” to Grandma Mary.

I winced. It was hard for me to remember she was legally blind sometimes. She had a way of looking straight through you with those gentle, clear brown eyes that made it easy to forget.

“Sorry, Grandma.” I’d hoped I hadn’t embarrassed her.

“It’s okay. I want to know about them. You tell me what they look like.” She closed her eyes and waited.

I peeked up at her for a minute but when she didn’t move, I began slowly, “Well…they’re, like, borders, you know, around the lines where I have to write.” I faltered miserably.

“Mm-hmm.”

“And, so, one of them is zoo themed. It has elephants and lions and a monkey and…stuff.”

“What is the monkey doing?”

I laughed. “He’s hanging from a tree with his tail and making a funny face at the tiger, ’cause he can’t reach him.”

She laughed, too. “What about the other one?”

“It’s flowers. Roses and daisies and….what are the ones that look like little white bells?”

“Lilies of the valley?”

“Yeah, those.”

“Oh, those are my favorite.” She opened her eyes and smiled. “Why don’t you do that one?”

It’s funny, but I look back at that time and realize that’s where my love for describing things began. I wanted my Grandma’s approval on everything, so I became a storyteller focused on describing things to the smallest detail for her. “Grandma, Mom bought me this new sweatshirt, and it’s reversible. Which side should I wear? One side is just pure sky blue, and one side has lilac and pink stripes. Well, not stripes, really, but…they’re…” I stopped, frustrated.

“Keep going.” She was always encouraging me to find the right words when I felt stuck. “What do they look like? Not stripes?”

“No. Well, they are, but…they’re those really skinny stripes. That make boxes because they crisscross each other.”

“Lilac and pink plaid?”

“Plaid!” That was the word. “Which side should I wear?”

“Oh, the sky blue. It’s perfect for this spring day. Is it nice outside?”

“SO nice, Grandma. It’s sunny now but there are the best puddles out front from that rain storm. Your lilacs are blooming in the back and they make the whole yard smell wonderful. Your violets are up, too–the dark purple ones and the white ones with the purple streaks like whiskers on the flower’s face. And so are those….what are those yellow flowers that grow on your fence? You know, the ones that make a tunnel that I can crawl through and it’s so thick no one can see me.”

“My forsythia are blooming already?!” Grandma loved her flowers. She patted her thighs in excitement, her traditional way of clapping.

“Yeah!” I loved being her eyes. I wanted to do what she loved. I wanted her to be proud of me.

I miss her.

~~~~~~~~~

In a place where you’ve transcended time and space, where redemption has won, you are free.

Your name is engraved in eternity, the concept of sadness baffling; from there, I know you’re watching me.

In a place where you observe me, your loving eyes so clear,

With the brightness of the sun below you, no more pain. Not a single tear.

My life decisions occasionally arouse fear. Would you approve? Would you be proud?

Where the purist is given salvation, the symphony plays for you harmoniously. Loud.

Instantaneously, I realize my doubts are unfounded, my worries without cause.

For when I close my eyes and listen with my heart,

I swear I can hear your applause.

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Call of the Wild

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I don’t always write depressing stuff; I promise. In fact, I love to write humor….especially when it pokes fun at myself.

I’m sitting in the library innocently working on my homework when it happens again. The quiet atmosphere of the peaceful valley is turned into a jungle as a girl waltzes by and the boys instantly straighten up. It’s like watching something from Animal Planet; the males preen themselves, trying to impress the female, who spreads out her feathers while pretending not to notice.

“Hey hey, what’s goin’ on?” One of the hopefuls asks smoothly.

Her lower lip sticks out in a cute pout. “I forgot my credit card, and I have no cash, and I’m starving!” She leans on his shoulder as she clutches her stomach to emphasize this point.

The peacocks turn into lions, fighting to see who will come out on top. The lion who brandishes his credit card like a flag wins. “Getcha self whatever ya want, babe,” he croons.

“You’re adorable!” She pecks his cheek and accepts his card. He gloats over the rest of the pack. He’s the Alpha dog now.

I shake my head in wonderment. I’ve tried to learn this little flirting game all my life with no success. I always end up embarrassing both myself and the poor victim who attempted to play the game with me. The preening and seducing is too much for me, and I pack up my stuff. I have to go grocery shopping anyway.

As I drive, Cosette and Marius sing together, “For this isn’t a dream; not a dream, after all.” How did she learn this art, while I’m left floundering? She was raised in isolation by an ex-convict, for Pete’s sake.

I’m in the checkout with my milk and eggs and a bouquet of roses catches my eye. February 13th. I decide to buy them for my Mom; my Dad is great, but he doesn’t really care about Valentine’s Day.

My items are being rung up, and I dig through my wallet for cash. Where’s Mr. Alpha Dog when you need him?

“What’s this, now?” The cashier holds up the bouquet.

I blink at him, wondering if I’m being Punk’d. “Roses?”

“No, no.” He looks at them and frowns sadly. “A pretty girl like you should never have to buy flowers for herself.”

That’s my cue, I know. It’s time for me to say something witty and cute in response. For a wild moment, I consider hopping up onto the conveyor belt and planting a kiss on his cheek. I’ve got nothing else.

He’s waiting for a response from me so he can deliver the next line in this script everyone but me seems to have memorized, and I finally unstick my tongue from the roof of my mouth. “Well, I’m not buying them for myself. They’re for my Mom.”

“Oh.” I’ve done it again. The mood is killed. I’m like the Ancient Mariner, only my actions are always unintentional and I don’t have a beard. Nevertheless, I’ve clumsily shot the preening peacock and turned him into a limping bird. “Well, I….hope she enjoys them.”

I take my bags and retreat in shame. I’m pretty sure I had my nose stuck in a book when God was passing out flirtation skills.

Chronic Pain

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I’m very much a realist. While some of my creative stories will occasionally end “happily ever after,” with the marriage salvaged or the desperate couple pregnant, it’s more likely that my ending will leave you in tears or make you think. I hold Ernest Hemingway’s advice very closely: “Write hard and clear about what hurts.” So I do. Even though it hurts, I write…and in the process, I heal.

I don’t like to hurt. I’m not the best at being vulnerable. I’m horrible at it, actually.

Those of you who are close to me know I’ve been living with the chronic painful condition of endometriosis for the past 10 years. I’ve dealt with doctors and surgeries and hospitals more than I’ve cared to. It’s a struggle. Sometimes the battle is just getting through the day with a forced smile; sometimes I’m victorious. Sometimes I’m not.

Those of you who are very close to me know that someone very special to me was diagnosed a few months ago with a chronic disease. There’s a small difference between this infirmity and mine. Mine’s not fatal. Cancer is.

Pain.

There’s something so final about the word chronic. There’s a brief moment of silence before a life-changing event. A mere second stretches into what feels like hours as the world freezes; it’s a peaceful quiet that makes me wish that moment would stretch on forever. That moment  right before the father beats his child, or the semi truck crashes into the car, or the doctor delivers the message.

And then the silence shatters and the world crashes around me, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Chronic. Nothing we can do.

People blink or raise an eyebrow when I mention the topic of my senior capstone project. I’m writing about what? It ends how? Why would I do that? What’s the point? What’s your message?

My message is that life is hard.

Horrible things happen to people who don’t deserve it. The single mom loses her job, or the seemingly devoted father suddenly abandons his family after 15 years, or the newly engaged woman is diagnosed with cancer, or there’s a deadly car crash on the family vacation. Horrendous, unspeakable things happen….so I write about it. It’s therapeutic. People call me morbid when I say that, and maybe I am. I don’t know.

I just know that chronic pain isn’t only about physical ailments. I know people live with emotional wounds that I cannot even fathom. My heart breaks for them. For my loved ones. For myself. For the broken world in which we find ourselves. I ache because I know that’s not how my God intended it to be. I write and I have faith because I know “He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). I believe this with all of my heart; I don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t.

So I fight. I fight through the pain and the heartache and the mess that breaks my Savior’s heart even more than it breaks mine. And I have hope that someday, everything will be set right again.

Faith.

I hold tight. It’s the only thing stronger than chronic pain.

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An Objection to Frozen

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I don’t want to be a Scrooge, especially since people are calling Frozen the best Disney animated film since The Lion King, and I tend to agree. I won’t reveal any spoilers, but it was so nice to see a princess movie veer off the normal “girl in distress gets rescued by the handsome prince” storyline and I appreciated the love of family Disney chose to implement. I wanted to stand up and applaud at the end. The music was beautiful and I loved the movie so much that I saw it twice. (I’m pretty sure I was the only 20-something woman in the theatre without a little daughter. At least the first time I saw it, I had the excuse of my little brother and sister.)

I do, however, have one issue with the movie.

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Oh, Disney. You were so close.

It wasn’t until the second time I saw this movie that the words from the song “Fixer Upper” really set in. (If you haven’t seen the movie, the lyrics can be found here.) I sat straight up in my chair, making the five-year-old girls surrounding me look at me even more warily than they had been before. First, I was just the crazy grown up watching a cartoon with another crazy grownup; now I was the indignant, crazy grown up watching a cartoon with another crazy grownup.

I doubt those five year old girls will read this, but hopefully impressionable pre-teen girls will. Maybe even adult women who need to hear this message will.

You cannot save or change a man, no matter how much you love him. I promise. It will not happen. Please don’t try. It’s not fair to him, and you will only disappoint yourself. (Guys, the same goes for you. The damsel in distress/charming prince relationship only works in Cinderella.)

I understand some people claim that it was written to remind Anna to show some love and compassion towards her sister, but that argument unravels a bit when the lyrics are considered.

He’s just a bit of a fixer upper
He’s got a couple of bugs
His isolation is confirmation
Of his desperation for healing hugs

Nope. It’s a sign that you need to get out. Fast. Let me say it again: You cannot change him. You cannot save him. You are not Jesus.

People have told me I’m overreacting, over-analyzing, and over-thinking this, but as someone who used to fully believe in and romanticize the “I can save him if I date him” mentality, I can tell you that this song is potentially detrimental. We all talk about the danger of little girls receiving unrealistic expectations from society about their looks, but no one raises an eyebrow at a song that suggests that Anna just put aside her misgivings and help out this poor, troubled guy by dating and/or marrying him.

Being pressured into a relationship never ends well, nor does dating him to repair him. Don’t let him and his wounded soul that you want to heal (or his rock/troll family) try to persuade you otherwise. I applaud Disney and Frozen for several reasons, but I think they fell a bit short of the mark with this song.

There is, however, one redeeming quality from this scene. I’m pretty sure we’ve all wished for an Olaf when a supposed knight in shining armor just turns out to be a lunatic in tin foil.

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What do you think? Did the song bother you, too….or do I just have a frozen heart?