Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Restored

It belonged to my grandmother.  I remember seeing it around her neck many times and thinking how pretty it was.  When she died, I was going through her jewelry box, and the sunlight in the room reflected off its silver.  I almost felt as if it was calling to me.  As I took it lovingly out of the box, I thought of my grandma and how much she loved her beautiful jewelry.  I placed the necklace around my neck and stared at its loveliness in the mirror.

The Jade was still beautiful even though it survived for over 100 years.  My grandmother loved Jade, and this piece was the one that invoked so many memories of my grandma. I remember her wearing it when we were playing cards; when she’d sit with me and tell me stories; when she was making her latch-hook rugs or reading.  Always, she would be wearing her jewelry – more often than not it would be Jade.  I wanted to wear this in her memory and as a constant reminder that she would always be close to my heart.

I have worn it ever since that day.  Over the years, people have often commented to me how lovely it is.  Every time I placed it around my neck I considered myself privileged to have the opportunity to wear it.  My husband had given me a sturdy chain for it so that I wouldn’t lose it and I relied on that chain to protect it.  That is why it came as a complete surprise to me when one day I reached for it, as I often did, and it was gone.

I frequently pray when I am driving, and reflexively reach for the jade cross as I pray.  This day I was in the driveway just arriving home from the store when I felt for the cross, and it wasn’t in its usual place around my neck. I panicked.   My heart did a little pitter-patter as I tried to remember the last time I saw it around my neck.  I searched the car, my clothes, and the grocery bags.   I traced back my footsteps throughout the day trying desperately to think of when I saw it last.  I never take the cross off, and I had become so accustomed to its presence that I just could not figure out when I lost it.

I enlisted the help of my family and called my friends to try and pinpoint when I might have lost it.  We all searched fervently for it, and I retraced my steps a thousand times – all to no avail.  I had finally chalked it up to having lost it forever, and I had myself a good long cry.

I cried over losing the cross because it represented so much to me.  It was my constant tie to my grandmother, and it was my constant companion when I needed to reach out and touch God.  I felt like I had lost my grandmother all over again.  I felt like I lost my faith in God because He knew how important that cross was to me and He just wouldn’t allow me to lose it.  I felt like I lost a piece of my heart that day.

In fact, I remember the day I lost the cross like it was just yesterday.  It was a day that I was feeling particularly sad.  It was close to Christmas and our family had just lost our brand new mini-van to an engine failure.  The van was repossessed because we couldn’t afford the $6,000.00 to fix it and we couldn’t continue to pay for something we were unable to drive.  We had just moved back into our home that we had rented out to a tenant who had brought our little house to the point of ruin where it was almost unlivable.  We hardly had any money to fix the place up, buy a new car and have Christmas for our three children as well as the two children we were caring for from Healing the Children.  The two children had been with us over the past year and would continue to be with our family throughout their extensive surgeries.   My husband, Bill and I were struggling with how we could continue to care for them. So, for these reasons, I was praying in the driveway for God to help see my family through this difficult time.  I wanted to go into my ruined house and somehow find the strength to give myself and my family hope.  Instead, I walked into the room in tears as I told my family that I had lost my cross.  To me, it was like the final straw in a series of little tragedies in my life.  I was in the darkness and was not sure I would ever see the light again.

The cross was missing for many weeks as the Christmas season drew nearer and my heart grew heavier with each passing day.  I struggled with the bills and the knowledge that Christmas would come, and we would not have much, if anything, to give our children.  I was still angry at God for letting me lose my cross and for not answering my prayers.  I was mad at Him for just about everything that was happening or not happening in my life.  Then, in the midst of all this chaos, our old car broke down, and we had it towed away.  I stood in the driveway watching the car fade in the distance, and I gave it to God!  “How,” I cried, “can it get much worse than this!”  “What,” I screamed, “would you have me do now!”  The answer He gave was simple: “Nothing.”  I could do nothing.  It was out of my control.  I had no choice but to say “uncle.”  It was about three weeks before Christmas and I had no idea where or when or how anything was going to happen, but I gave it to God and said (more like screamed), “It’s yours!”

It wasn’t more than an hour later that I got a phone call from the folks that had our car in the shop.  It just so happened they had an old van sitting there that they were wondering if we could use.  They wanted to give it to us because they thought that the work we did with Healing the Children was wonderful and they knew we had to stockpile the kids in the car we currently had.  Bill and I graciously accepted their offer.  Then, the same people talked to their church about us and gathered up a collection to help us with paying for the repairs on the car.

It didn’t stop there.  A day later, a friend called and said she was drumming up help from her church for us. Soon, people from her church were donating furniture to our family.  They helped us furnish our entire house in one week!  It wasn’t uncommon for me to drive up and see a dresser or a couch sitting in the driveway. 

But God’s blessing didn’t stop there.  About a week later, I got another phone call from a friend, Jean, who works at Saks.  She called me because every year their store does Christmas for a charity.  She asked the employees if they would consider helping us since we take care of children from Healing the Children, and she knew we could use their assistance this year.  Again, we graciously accepted her offer.

But, God’s blessing didn’t stop there.  My son, Billy, was coming home from school one day when he noticed something glittering in the grass on the side of the driveway.  One tiny bit of silver had caught the sun in such a way that he was able to find it.  When he investigated, he found the silver on top of pieces of jade that used to be my cross.  He gathered up the pieces and brought them into the house and handed them to me with tears in his eyes.  I held the shattered cross in my hand and cried anew both out of happiness for having it back and sadness because it would never be the same.  I put the pieces in a box and thanked God for at least giving me that much of it back.

So much happened in the ensuing week that showed me how incredible God’s blessing can be when we give our lives to him.  We had a whole crew of men from our church show up at our doorstep to refurbish our house.  They transformed our house back into a livable home in just two days.  I was in awe of His remarkable provision for our family.  But, nothing could have prepared me for what happened next.

Christmas day came with a flurry.  Thanks to the incredible generosity of the folks at Saks, we had more than we could ever have envisioned.  Not only did they provide Christmas gifts, but they provided the tree and all the trimmings.  I cannot find the words to express the kindness we were blessed with from people we didn’t even know.  My friend, Jean was like our personal angel.  What she did for my family and me went far beyond the material things of Christmas.  She embodied Christ’s love and spirit.

There was one Christmas gift that Jean handed me herself.  She just happens to work in the jewelry department at Saks, and she said this was a special gift she had picked out herself.  I opened the box expecting to see some lovely piece of jewelry and I did.  It was a truly beautiful piece.  I burst into tears when I saw it, and must have cried for an hour on her shoulder because it was all wet when I pulled my face away.  In the box was my fully restored cross – exactly as it had been before its tragic demise.  Only, this time, it was even more beautiful with its lovely polished silver.  Jean explained to me how delicately the jeweler had to restore the broken pieces and that I would have to be careful with it.  I couldn’t believe it.  I never thought that anyone would ever be able to put the pieces of my cross back together again. I was wrong.  God can do anything if we just step out of His way and let Him.

It took many broken pieces of my life that one Christmas for me to realize that God can take those broken pieces and make them into something much more beautiful than they were before.   Every time I touch my cross, I am reminded that it represents the brokenness of Jesus and, at the same time, it represents His promise to us.  Through Him all things are possible.  Believe it!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Senior Citizen Discount

Granted, it was a long, harrowing day.  One of my very best friends in the world had already hung up the phone on me, at least, ten times and I was tired, worn out and frustrated.  I’m sure I looked like hell warmed over.  I was standing in the check-out line at 7:00 PM buying dinner for my family of seven. The beer was in the front of the items I was buying.  Following the beer were the fish, meat, shampoo, rabbit food and I don’t know what else.  I was prepared for the question from the check-out lady.   I expected her to ask for my ID concerning the beer.  I had my license ready for presenting.

The six pack of beer was the real reason for my trip to the grocery store.  The other things were just an afterthought (or a cover-up depending on how you want to look at it).  I knew that I had to feed the kids and hubby something so I went through the motions of buying some essentials.  The rabbits hadn’t had food for about a week, so I figured the rabbit food and carrots would make up for my total lack of responsibility.

Anyway, as I was saying, it was a long, harrowing day.  I have a crucial job for which I get paid the big bucks, (by the way, while standing in the check-out line I received an emergency phone call from my daughter Katie informing me that there were no wipes to be found and my daughter, Lulu had a stinky pull-up).

Where was I?   Oh yes, I was saying that I have an important job.  My job requires me to be able to juggle twenty tasks at once while writing $100,000+ grants with last minute deadlines.  Not only am I expected to juggle twenty things at once, but I must also remain friendly, kind and cheerful to everyone I meet.  (Did I mention that Lulu needed wipes?).  Where was I?  Oh yes, I was talking about my job.  Normally, I can juggle twenty things at once, but this particular day I was “in training” to learn how to input data.  In my office, I’m known as the data queen.  I even have a pin that says “show me your data.”   I live to input data.

Unfortunately, this same day there was a $25,000 grant deadline.  My former friend, Linda, who was taking the brunt of writing the grant, had called me a minimum of six times before 9 AM.  I explained to Linda that I was in data training for at least the next four hours, but would do what I could to help during breaks.  By 10:00 AM, my former friend Linda and I had exchanged words, hung up the phone on each other and vowed never to write another grant together for as long as we both shall live.  I was frustrated because I was unable to help her with her terminal computer virus that kept infecting the grant and she was angry that my data training was taking up all my time.  Things were getting ugly!  We were at a point where we needed a referee to handle our phone calls.  Meanwhile, the data guy was trying to train me and three other ladies with weak bladders.  Needless to say, things were going a little slower than he had planned.

By 5:30, when I left the office, I saw the data guy turn his car in the wrong direction headed away from the airport.  I wondered how long it would be before he came to the conclusion that he was going in the wrong direction.  At that point, I realized that we hadn’t even fed him lunch.  All he had to tide him over, should he become hopelessly lost, was a stale donut and a cup of yesterday’s coffee.  Oh well, it was too late to help the data guy.  All I could do was hope he would realize the Gulf of Mexico was west of the airport and eventually turn around.

Meanwhile, I was on the cell phone with my no longer former friend Linda crying and making amends.   After I had hung up with her, I called my babysitter to ask if Lulu was still there because I forgot who was supposed to pick her up.  She informed me that Lulu was indeed still there.  I apologized for being late to get her and rushed to pick her up.  When I arrived at the babysitter’s house, my husband was already there getting Lulu.  I asked him to please take her to soccer practice with him so I could go grocery shopping and make dinner.

I drove home, grabbed my checkbook and left for the grocery store.  So, like I said, I was in line at the check-out counter when I got the phone call about the wipes.  I thought I had some in the truck, so I didn’t get more.  I stayed in the check-out line with my checkbook, driver’s license and discount shopping card in hand.  I was poised to begin writing my check for the amount shown on the register when the clerk scanned my card, looked up at me and asked, “Do you have your driver’s license?”  Yes, I said as I handed her the license to show I was old enough to purchase the beer.  “Shall I take off your senior citizen discount?” she asked.    “Oh I’m sorry,” I replied in my most sarcastic voice, “I forgot to get wipes for MY baby.”  Then, I turned, made a beeline back into the store and rushed to the hair dye section. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Plastic

Author’s note: I wrote this little story for my students as an example of creative writing.  I invented this “plastic” teacher although she might have bore some resemblance to a teacher that most of my students knew (not me).  I didn't have the fake boobs in my student's copy of the story (I added them to this story).  Now, that didn't sound right did it?  As anyone who knows me knows - I don't have fake boobs!  Now I'm just rambling.  Anyway, I thought I’d post "Plastic" on my blog for fun.  This will be my last post for a while as I am heading to Texas to visit a good friend for a few days.

Plastic
Plastic.  That is how I’d describe her.  Like a Barbie doll with fake boobs and slinky plastic legs that never need shaving.  The perfect Barbie doll right out of the box before it gets handed to the doctor child holding the scalpel, scissors and pruning tools awaiting surgery.  She walks on stilts that crane her ankles to precarious heights where they struggle for air.  Her skin is tanned and turkey basted to a perfect roasted brown.  Her lips bleed rose-red to match her perfectly shaped fingernails that give the perception they’ve been stained by the raw red meat she just tore apart.  Her fangs must only come out at night, but I know they are there. My vampire teacher sucks the blood out of us and paints her nails with it at night in her musty black cave.  
We sit in her dungeon room with no windows and listen to her silky voice speak her insincere assurances that we all won’t fail.  Sometimes she falls off the tightrope shoes and we all struggle to muffle the volcanic laughter threatening to erupt.  No one dares break the thick stale air with laughter for fear of the walls crumbling from such unfamiliar rumblings.  
Her benign name belies her poisonous bite.  Miss Collins will gnaw at you until you want to scream.  She’ll gnash at your brain until you spill its contents in hopes of finding the answer amidst the mush.  And, if you are lucky, she’ll only make you write the answer a thousand times until your hand turns to stone and your fingers cramp into permanent curly fries that she’ll want to eat next.  
“Jonathan.”  “How are you coming with your creative writing?”  She asks in her fake southern drawl as if to sooth me into showing her my paper.  “Almost done, Miss Collins.”  I reply in my super sappy gotta love me voice.  She doesn’t buy it.  She’s coming over.  She’s reaching out her wretched claws as my essay hurriedly retreats from the desk.  Too late.  She’s snatching it from my gr---------------asssss------pppppppppppp.