Marriage made in Heaven

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Steve and I had quite a beginning to our love story that you’ll want to read more about if you haven’t already, but here we’ll pick up where that part of our story left off.

Most folks would say we started off behind the eight-ball in our marriage. It’s hard to be deeply in love and not make unwise choices during a long engagement. We were grounded in our faith, and yet we still made some of those choices. We found out in June of 1980 that we were three, and on July 13 we walked the aisle in our tiny church in East Tampa and promised to love each other forever.

On our wedding day I was green with all-day sickness and Steve had the flu. We spent our three-day honeymoon unable to sleep too near each other, him burning up with fever and me with my face in a bucket. Thankfully we missed the memo that all these things were supposed to spell our doom as a couple. We loved each other, and we figured the “in sickness” part was just arriving a little early.

I was “Sixteen and Pregnant” before it was cool enough for a reality show. Truth is there was nothing cool about being a pregnant teenager. I watched my friends fall off like flies one by one, all but a tiny few who didn’t mind being seen with me. I resigned as band captain and left my beloved music program behind to finish the few classes I needed to finish school early. It was one of the loneliest times of my life with regard to friendship, but I will never forget how our parents and church family gathered around us and loved us through those early weeks and months.

Steve has always been my best friend. Because of that friendship rooted in our love for God, everything that has happened to us in life has happened to us, not between us. I really don’t know any other way to explain our relationship, or why we don’t argue, or why we don’t struggle in ways most people do. It isn’t that we never disagree; it’s that we approach everything as a matter of how we will work through it, not whether or not we will. We made a covenant on our wedding day that the D-word wasn’t even in our vocabulary, so we’ve simply lived our life together based in that safe place.

Our Love Story

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On Friday, August 31, 1979 my friend Cheri and I were on our way home from the mall. At a stop-light I noticed a blue 1965 Mustang stopped next to us, and about the time I noticed the driver’s afro bopping to the Blue Oyster Cult song shrieking from his radio, he also noticed me. I blushed and grinned, and for a reason known only to the Lord, I waved. He waved back.

The light changed, and since we had to turn left at the next light we fell in behind the Mustang. After both cars made the same turn I joked to Cheri that they probably thought we were following them. She grinned and said, “Hey, we should!” So we did, through a couple of turns, until they got smart and turned into a church parking lot. Spooked, we took off as quickly as her dad’s Beetle would carry us.

We should have expected that they would come after us. They were quickly behind us, so Cheri tried to lose them in an empty Winn-Dixie parking lot. Don’t judge. We were teenagers. To this day I’m not sure what Cheri was thinking when she drove straight to the apartment where my mother and I lived alone and parked in front of our building. I asked her if she’d lost her mind, certain those creepy stalkers were going to murder us before we could escape.

I hid behind my algebra book and Cheri tried to look busy. The guys got out of their car and I remember thinking as they approached ours that I was really not fond of the idea of dying so young. I was about to scream at Cheri for rolling down her window when she pointed to the afro and said, “Hey, I know you!” Bless Jesus, we could live.

Cheri laughed and we both sighed our relief, then we got out of the car to chat with the no-longer-total-strangers. Turns out about a year before, Cheri and Steve had been briefly introduced at a Tampa Jam concert. Briefly was working for me, since it at least assured me of seeing the morning. We talked for a while and before they left Steve asked if he and his best friend Dave could hang out with us sometime, and mentioned a concert that was coming up. We said sure, thinking we’d never see them again.

We bailed on the concert, of course, but I felt a little guilty we didn’t go, so I asked them to meet us for pizza after our high school football game the following Friday night. Friday came, along with a massive rainstorm that combined with a huge loss for our team and drenched us body and spirit. Cheri was in no mood to go out at all, but I convinced her to at least come to the pizza place and hang out for a while.

When we arrived Steve naturally paired up with Cheri (I assumed since they had been introduced) and I sat with Dave. Steve and I sat across the table from each other goofing off and making silly conversation (I recognize it now as massive flirting), and as the evening wore on I felt a heart connection with the tall, skinny Italian rocker with the big hair. They took me home and I introduced them to my mother, and after they left she said, “I think Dave is terrific, but I honestly think Steve is more your type.” I hurried off to my room so she couldn’t see the pink in my cheeks.

The following week I called Steve’s house “looking for Dave”. Of course he wasn’t there, so Steve and I chatted for a little bit. He mentioned that he was going to the mall later to buy a present for a fraternity brother and asked if I wanted to come along. As casually as I could voice it, I said yes, then promptly hung up the phone and went dashing through the house to find my good jeans and the red button-down with the gold lame’ stripes.

As we arrived at the mall, Steve mentioned that “The Muppet Movie” was playing at the cinema and asked if I’d seen it. I said no, so he invited me to the movie. I was beginning to feel really comfortable with this guy, and I still marvel at how easily I fell for him since I had grown up watching my mother struggle in relationships, had seen her used and abused by men, and had fallen into a wreck of a relationship myself at the tender age of barely-fifteen and paid a high price for my misjudgment. Steve made me feel safe.

And so we come to the corniest part of our story, when Miss Piggy sees Kermit and her eyes twinkle in that love-at-first-sight way and Steve kissed me. After you stop gagging and laughing, I will tell you that it was the most perfect kiss on the planet, ever—even better than Westley and Buttercup at the end of “The Princess Bride”. It was gentle and sweet and it melted my heart into a puddle then and there.

A few weeks later as my feelings for Steve continued to grow, it hit me like a freight train that it was going to kill us both when we broke up. Everyone broke up. Broken relationship was all I’d ever known. I hadn’t uttered the word love in regard to Steve because there was still that part of me that fearfully withdrew at the thought of giving my heart to a man. It’s hard to describe the terror that overtook me when I realized I loved him. So I did the only thing I felt would save us both: I broke up with him.

I asked that he not contact me, knowing it would take nothing for my will to break. He honored my request, and I cried for the next two days straight. After a weekend of misery and a painful heaviness I can’t even describe, I finally called a friend, who called him for me and nudged him to call. I told him there was something important I wanted to tell him but it needed to be in person. He said he’d pick me up from band practice the next night.

The whole ride home after practice was quiet. Scared out of my mind, I couldn’t even make small talk. We stood outside the Mustang the way we had done many evenings before, him leaning against the driver’s door and me leaning on him with his arms around me. Every time I tried to find my voice nothing would come out. Finally he took my face in his hands and said, “I love you.” Tears came quickly as I said, “I love you, too.” I don’t think I hit four of the twenty steps up to our apartment that night. I felt I could fly.

A month later he asked my mother if he could propose to me. We would go on to joke for many years about me thinking if I hadn’t been in love with him she would have made me marry him. She gave him her own wedding rings, and on November 17, 1979, he asked me to marry him. At my choked out “Yes!” he put the engagement ring on my finger. It was my 16th birthday.

Trampled Roses

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I was there the day it happened, and my heart was rent with grief

As my precious rose lay battered, crushed of petal, torn of leaf

And I cried for all my children who have drained that bitter cup

As their pleas for mercy echoed and their anguish floated up

Please believe me, dearest daughter, this was never my intent

For such pain to be made perfect my Son’s precious blood was spent

There is nothing where you’re standing that can wholly heal your heart

But believe me when I tell you we won’t always be apart

The memories and scents that haunt your dreams and cloud your days

Will one day dissipate and you will truly know my ways

But for now I have a gift for you that just your heart can see

It’s a picture I have drawn of two embracing, you and me

The image I will leave with you while you must walk your sod

And you will be my darling girl and I will be your God

So hold it close and don’t forget one truth that never died:

Evil will not always boast what Love has crucified

Dreamer

 

I watch my reflection in a shattered mirror
Tracing the anguish within every line
Fingertips stinging, it just doesn’t matter
As pain meets with pain of a similar kind
I follow the jaggedly smash-shattered pieces
And think what an irony stares back at me
A face of distortion and numb disconnection
A spectre I never intended to be
I take a step backward and study me closely
My image beginning to slowly improve

Silently cursing the power that holds me
I dig for the will and the courage to move
Hearing a whisper, I feel I am falling
And bracing myself believe this is the end
I wake to a wind that has scattered the mirror
And find me now safe in the arms of a friend

 

Virginia Holliday

She sits there looking silly with her hair piled high,
And she grins with no teeth and stifles a sigh;
She waves like a fool when a ‘Vette drives by,
Then she giggles at the grass and the sky.

She’s no more than five or six, but she’s really forty-two,
And she always wears a flower in the buckle of her shoe.
She’s frightened of her shadow, and she loves the color blue,
And she sketches in a book she got from Uncle MacAloo.

She wonders why they laugh at her, whatever she might say,
But she pretends that they are all just people in a play.
She heard her grampa say one time that she was born that way,
But it really doesn’t matter to Virginia Holliday.

Another Blue Monday

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My dear friend and sister-of-my-heart, Suz made this delightful mug rug and coffee coozie for me, and especially since it’s such a lovely shade of blue I thought this might be a good time to share it. I parked it atop my Child Development class notes, partly because that’s kind of where I live lately, and partly because the colors all match.

On a side note, if you ever order a Dunkin’ Donuts Coolatta, be prepared for a coma in a cup. I had to ice this one down like mad to deal with the sweetness. And if it’s too sweet for me, you’d better run.

Happy Blue Monday, loves.

Blue Monday

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Christmas Morning Waffle House Breakfast 2015

Her spirit floated heavenward on Tuesday and we formally said goodbye on Saturday and it’s felt like Blue Monday for nearly a week. I mostly feel like I don’t have much of a right to miss her since I couldn’t spend a lot of time with her on a regular basis, but miss her I do. I always loved extended family gatherings when we could sit off in a corner and I could listen to her stories of family and teaching and anything else that popped into our minds. She would always mention that she was dying, and my face would darken and she would hasten to mention that she wasn’t sad about it at all because she knew where she was going.

It isn’t always easy to have a happy outlook about what is going on in this life, and some Mondays are especially Blue. I love the weekly happies she always posted, and I’d like to try to join with so many of her other readers and friends to keep that tradition up here, at least as often as I can. Even when I feel somewhat less than happy.

I love you, Smiling Sally. See you on the other side.

 

Smiling Sally

Why I beg you not to buddy up with the bottle

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This is an open letter to my children’s generation about drinking. I am asking for your consideration and I’m not above begging you to hear me out.

There was a backlash after Prohibition. That isn’t uncommon, really, with prohibitions of any kind. The pendulum swings and the bad thing is suddenly the most wanted thing on the planet. And once that happens, society finds a way to make it acceptable and that progresses to it being desirable and before you know it the once-avoided thing has become the goal.

I know it isn’t quite that simple, but back in the day booze was bad and everybody knew it. Husbands drank and abused their wives and children and left their families for a new life somewhere else. Wives drank and escaped reality and took their own lives. Grownups drank and became reclusive and lost their friends. Teens drank and wrecked their cars and killed innocent people walking home from ball games.

Once upon a time believers in Christ decried drinking for a variety of reasons. It was unbecoming of someone focused on fleeing all appearances of evil. It caused onlookers to stumble, and that made it not worth risking. It altered thinking, and believers didn’t want to be taken outside of fully functioning faculties, especially if they were responsible for other people’s lives and safety. Outside of “a little wine for the stomach”, alcohol simply didn’t have a place at the table of the saints.

Then the pendulum swung with a mighty force and suddenly it made a believer more “real” to imbibe. Before long the cool Christian kids were throwing back shots and sipping spiked punch right alongside those whose moral compass had never been challenged by the power of strong drink. It became a thing to nurse a beer with a cool-sounding name at Bible study, celebrating how real everybody is. Nobody can accuse them of being holier than thou–no, sir.

But see, I remember a darker side. I was little, but I remember watching alcohol destroy lives and families, one of which was mine. I saw it tear into both of my parents, and when I was a teen it tore into me and I wrapped myself in its embrace to escape the shame of having been forced into the drunken encounters I endured as a little girl. I hurt, and alcohol became my friend.

Only it wasn’t my friend at all. And it could have cost me everything had I continued to give into its pull. Thank God I didn’t. And today I have a pretty hard time seeing it as cool or hip or acceptable–for anyone, but especially for those who endeavor to follow the Creator of these minds and bodies that even a drop of alcohol eats away.

Today booze isn’t treated as bad. It’s kind of a pal, really. What’s hard for me is when I see the damage that “pal” is doing right under our noses. The accidents, the abuse, the blood, the brokenness, the loss. And by the time most people realize its potential for destruction, it’s too late. The young girl who dies from the shots taken at her twenty-first birthday party. The young man who is convinced he hasn’t consumed enough to impair his ability to safely drive but kills himself and someone else’s only child because he was wrong about his limit. It’s too late.

So I’m begging you to consider something. Is it worth it? Would it still be worth it if the worst happened? I look back at all that could have happened to me but by the grace of God didn’t. I see people today who are grieving unspeakable loss and feel pretty sure they would tell you no, it most definitely is not worth it.

It doesn’t make you cooler to drink. People around you might like the shared experience. They might make you feel good by saying you are more approachable, more “real” when you pop that cork. But I have to tell you that what I feel when I see you drink is deep sadness and disappointment. I feel deflated in ways I can’t come near wording. I try not to say too much, because I know the truth is you really don’t want to know what I think.

It isn’t that I think you are a lesser person because you drink. Far from it. It is because of your value that I bother to write these things at all, because they are more painful to word than I can possibly explain. It’s more that I hate what drinking takes away from you, what it risks for you and others, what I’ve seen it do that I’d rather you not experience.

So I say very little out loud but I pray deeply that the lure of drinking loses its hold and that you move on in your life uninhibited by the loss of brain cells, that you go forward made safer by the lessened risk. I pray that you see more clearly that consuming liquor is not necessary to an amazing life, and that it stands more of a chance of preventing one than making it more likely.

And I love you. Whether I know you or not. And I want you to have the best chance possible to live the full life you were meant to live alongside those you love. I want you to have a better chance of not living out the sadness I’ve seen. That is my heart.

Purpose

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It seems to be a common thing lately for me to discover my One Word for the new year sometime well into January. This year my mind kept dancing around a circle of words, with the common theme of “purpose”. Intentional. Planned. Purposeful. So I settled on Purpose to catch it all.

I think about how much in life seems to happen randomly. My belief in the Sovereignty of God keeps me from believing too far down the randomness trail, so divine intention makes more sense to me than just blind chance in the workings of life and the spinning of this big blue ball.

Since starting college I have become keenly aware of the ambiguity of my personality–a down-the-middle split between meticulous planning and wild creative abandon. I love winging it, throwing caution to the wind, flying by the seat of my pants. But when it comes to school and all that is riding on my performing well and learning all I can, I find little room for britches-flight. In some ways that is a good thing. In other ways, I think I’m missing something.

In this focus on academic writing, assignment submissions, deadlines, expectations, striving for excellence, APA format, and criteria specifics, I sense a gaping hole where creativity is supposed to live. Does it matter that I’m earning straight A’s when I feel like there’s a crater-sized hole in the big picture?

Is there a way to live this life intentionally but with ample doses of spontaneity? I really hope so. I’m not sure I know how to live any other way.

Linking up with #OneWord365

Missing Words

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Being a full-time college student has been a blessing. It has reawakened my creaky brain and widened parameters and reignited my love for education. Three semesters in, I’m doing better than I expected. Not that I expected to do badly, but it has been thirty-something years since I was last a student and I wasn’t exactly sure how it was going to go.

One of the drawbacks has been the lack of time and brain cells to write creatively the way my heart craves. I miss it so much I can’t describe it. I also miss reading, which goes alongside the creative writing by feeding into it in ways textbooks just can’t mimic. My stack of to-read books is toppling off my nightstand and begging serious attention.

Steve and Rosie are out shopping tonight. I was politely but decisively left alone at home, which isn’t so bad I guess considering 1. I love being at home alone, 2. there might be some shopping for something I shouldn’t see, and 3. I have a pulled muscle in my back and would likely slow them down considerably.

So here I sit, trying to remember how to write sentences I don’t have to submit by a deadline for a grade.

I see writing challenges here and there, like the “letters to something-year-old me” and I long to dive in and write, but I’ve somehow lost my gumption for the kind of writing that involves my heart, my soul, dare I say my opinion as though anyone outside a couple of people cares how I feel or what I believe on any topic, really. I think I’m still holding onto the outlandish notion that somehow, someday, someone besides my immediate family is going to care about my printed words.

Like last year, I’ve been mulling over my “Word” for the coming new year. Last year I gave up on it entirely until about halfway through January when I clearly received the word “Aware”. I have to say, that one has been a doozy. I had no idea at the time what it would come to mean. Now I know. It has been a bittersweet unfolding. I’m a little scared to ask for next year’s little gem.

One of the biggest happies here at semester’s end for me is the fact that my statistics class didn’t kill me. I was sure it would, or at least leave me horribly maimed. I can’t begin to word how much work it took outside of class to grasp the material well enough to get an A in that class, and let me just say that I still feel giddy every time I recall that it’s over.

Next semester I will be taking six classes, during which I will be taking my first teaching certification test, culminating in the earning of my Associates in Arts degree and then official entry into the College of Education in the fall, so my word for 2016 needs to fit because I’m going to need a good one.