Carve Hearts on the Tree of Life

Proverbs 3:3 NASB

Do not let kindness and truth leave you;
Bind them around your neck,
Write them on the tablet of your heart.

2 Corinthians 3:3 NASB

being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.


Write God’s words with a Sharpie on your heart.
When you wear a necklace, let it be of LOVE or a HEART or the CROSS.
The cross is a symbol of death, but also of love and sacrifice for the entire human race.
Only God can turn death into life.
Keep the letter of the law.
And if not, the spirit of the law.
And if not, GRACE.
And if for no one else–for your own safety and benefit.
Carve into the center of who you are what God wants.
Write those words.
GRACE.
By forgiveness and kindness, we shall be known.
By bearing God’s image, we shall be loved, saved, and most of all, forgiven.

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Sister

I wish I had a sister.
I have two of my own.
But they were always busy.
I was growing up alone.

I wish I had a sister
Who took the time to teach
How to love myself,
How to aim beyond my reach.

Or even how to brush my hair,
Set makeup on my cheek.
I wish I had a sister
Not a rival, so to speak.

I wish I had a sister.
One that loved being my friend.
I wish I had a sister.
Someone to count on ’til the end.

Someone to value me.
Someone to hold me close.
Someone to pull me up and in.
Someone who let their feelings show.

A woman to show the way.
A friend to hold my hand.
A person who deeply cared.
Someone to understand.

I never had a sister
Until I finally went through birth.
My daughter is all I could ever want,
Best sister on this earth.

Christmas

Christmas isn’t special.
Christmas is just a day.
Christ wasn’t born on the 25th
In a lighted ornamental display.

There wasn’t any tinsel.
There was not one flake of snow.
There wasn’t any cocoa.
There was no electric glow.

Mary and Joseph
And a little baby God
Sharing time and space
With travelers abroad.

No one cared who they were.
No one even knew
What on Earth was happening,
Except for a special few.

Shepherds watched.
The stars flew close.
Entertaining angels bowed
And played Heaven’s host.

No food or present can capture joy
No movie or card can free
Tomorrow you’ll find your pretty box
Is empty under the tree

The only thing empty to find
Is one important place–
The tomb in the morning with Jesus’ clothes
Replaced with amazing grace.

Light the tree and sing your songs,
I won’t begrudge your choice.
Just don’t forget the simple birth
Of your freedom to rejoice.

Kathryn, Rachel, Irma & Torrence

This will be the fourth in a series of 5 short articles.
Irma blew through on September 10, 2017, the eye-30 miles east of our location.
We met Torrence just 1 day before Irma.

Previous articles:
Kathryn
Rachel
Irma

Torrence-#4


Torrence is tall. Intimidating. Large build. Emotionless face. Stone-cold stoic. Big guy. His face is like a smooth rock with dark gems shining from behind his modern frames. He is Navajo.

His voice, though. His voice. Soothing. Simple. Soft. Un-panicked. Unhurried. Reassuring. Masculine and strong, but sweet as a baby’s breath on your cheek. Ten thousand harps plucked at once. I’m sure Torrence has been trained to speak this way, but if you’re an angel, it probably comes naturally. Torrence was our voluntary angel.

We met Torrence during Irma. Sitting on a tile floor in a school cafeteria, staring up at towering Torrence. I felt like a scared, little kid. Looking for hope. Terrified that my apartment (just a town away) and all the tiny scraps of my life were about to blow away. Or drown. Or even worse, my life and the lives of my husband and daughter were in immediate danger from the impending storm. No one knew how bad Irma would be, but the weathermen all guessed (for days) it would be the worst storm in this century.

Torrence, however, gave us peace, information and cookies. 🙂 Cookies do help make a person feel normal somehow. Thank you, Cookies. But really, thank you, Torrence.

Torrence wore his Red Cross vest, cargo pants, sturdy boots and an invisible pair of wings. He took care of everyone around him. Without sleep. Without comforts.

While we all lounged around on the floor, trying not to complain about school lunch, hard surfaces or sharing bathrooms with 2,000 people, Torrence attended his flock. He would make his rounds with pertinent information, handing out treats and tranquility.

Torrence spoke so frequently with our family that I began to feel bad. Unworthy of such care. Our cafeteria floor neighbor even remarked at his attention.

“Do you know that guy?” she asked.

“No. We just met him. He’s Red Cross. He’s just nice.”

Torrence embodied Christ. All of my childhood and adult education about Jesus and his intention were summed up in Torrence’s actions. Christians all talk about being more Christ-like, but Torrence is doing it.

He’s calm. He’s caring. He puts others first. He had a pregnant wife at home and he’s 1,000 miles away helping strangers in a dangerous situation. When other people are leaving the state entirely, Torrence is rushing toward the storm. Thank you, Torrence. Thank you for your time, your dedication, your sacrifice and your skills. But most of all, thank you for your gracious care and protection. You were there in case things got crazy. I’m sure we didn’t see the full potential of your capability, but I’m so thankful to have met you.

When you meet someone who acts the way you want people to act, how you aspire to be? It’s a good feeling. It’s meaningful. It’s important.


From the first moment I met Torrence, I couldn’t shake the feeling that he looked exactly like my German grandmother, Kathryn. I mentioned it to my husband. He just looked at me like, “Huh?”

They look nothing alike. He’s a tall dude. She was a short white lady with blue eyes. He’s nice. She was a hard-edged crone. But I had this ethereal, wispy connection to her spirit through his rugged features. I don’t know why. I just don’t. But she was there in his face. Strange how we connect the dots.

And as I thought more about his face, he reminded me of my friend Rachel from high school. But in my mind, she’s a petite African-American teenager. Torrence is in no way feminine. But these two women from my life are there in his face.

All completely different. All there together. What does it mean?

Kathryn, Rachel, Irma & Torrence

This will be the third in a series of 5 short articles.
Irma blew through on September 10, 2017.
This was my first experience in a hurricane.

Here’s the first article, if you missed it. Kathryn
Here’s the second article, if you missed it. Rachel

They all relate by the final article, I promise.


The photo above is from just before the hurricane hit. You wouldn’t have known anything was happening. We were in a well-protected school, rated to withstand a Category 5 hurricane. We chose that shelter by luck. Maybe more than luck.

Written just a few days after the storm.


We had our power restored  by the first day after Irma hit. We were lucky, so very lucky.

First, let me say, thank you, Florida Power and Light! You are working hard to restore everyone and you had us back up the next day. Thank you so much!

Second, everyone we encountered during Irma was safe and as kind as people in a crisis can be.

Third, when we got back to our place, everything was just as we left it. The only damage–two eaves were blown out and the attic/under-roof was exposed. No big deal. The condo association will repair. We were so very lucky. Luckiest McLucks-a-lot. Unbelievable.

Had Irma not swerved at the last minute from the coast and taken a hard right, we would have lost everything, undoubtedly. I can’t express how thankful I am.

I am troubled by the undeniable climate change. I am troubled at our growing dependence on things and phones and computers. I am troubled by the chaotic world around us. But at the same time, I am deeply humbled. I am appreciative of those people in a dark world who carry light with them. The people who try to make the world a better place. The people who try to make sense of the world around them. The people who rush to the trouble, and carry out the survivors.

We met a Red Cross volunteer. He seemed to be our personal angel. He would check on our family, update us with news, and even brought us cookies. 🙂 He was truly the embodiment of Christ. So thankful for him. Donate to Red Cross if you are inclined. (More about our angel in the next article!)

Our daughter had to spend her birthday in a storm shelter/elementary school. On the cold, hard cafeteria tile. Surrounded by strangers. No one even realizing someone had a birthday. (I thought about finding a treat and lighting a candle, but decided not to embarrass my 14 yo, LOL) Everyone just hoping to live through Irma. We tried to make it as good/fun as possible for her, staring down the threat of a potential Category 4 hurricane. But it was tough.

But we are here. We are alive. No injuries, no damage, in the scheme of things–no problems.

Irma hit at around 8-9 pm Sunday night.
We left the shelter around 7 am Monday morning.
Got home around 9 am Monday morning.
Had water to shower. (Had gone without shower since Friday morning, gross!)
Got power back on around 7-8 pm Monday night.
Got internet back today at around noon!
We are whole again. Still praying for anyone who is still out of something.

Tonight, we make up for cafeteria tile and storm sheltering. We’re going rollerskating! Her favorite. Happy birthday, Lil. You made it to 14! and then some. 😉 I couldn’t be prouder or more thankful than I am for such a wonderful young lady. ❤


You are either moving out of a storm or headed into one. No one is without weather. It’s about who you have in your boat when the waves hit. Right?

Kathryn, Rachel, Irma & Torrence

This will be the second in a series of 5 short articles.
Rachel was one of my closest friends in high school.
When we were seniors, she was probably my best friend.

Here’s the first article, if you missed it. Kathryn

Rachel-#2


Rachel is short. Really short. I’m very tall for a girl. We are friends. We are oddballs. In every possible way. I’m overweight. She wears glasses. I have a two-tone mullet (okay, maybe I was the oddestball). But we both like Duran Duran in a small town where Country is king.

Rachel has an athletic build and powerful legs. Small face and, impossibly, the same metallic eyes as my grandmother. It might be the glasses, it might be the hardened edge against a chaotic life. It might be the soulful stare of a mind that’s lived ten thousand lives before this moment. It might be she’s a guardian angel or ancient shaman and no one, not even her, knows it.

It is worth noting that Rachel is the only African-American girl in a Midwest farm town. Not because she’s different, but because it’s the late 80s and the middle of the country. We are only 30 miles east of Kansas City, but we might as well be in the Ozarks. We grow up with red necks and racists. Bigots and brutes. Ignorant sons of bitches who say mean things, do mean things. Inherited thoughts from an even more unenlightened generation of drunks and dullards. Alcoholics give birth to alcoholics. Idiots give birth to idiots. Mean people give birth to mean people. Ignorance begets hatred. Not always, but a lot. Not everyone in this small town is a bigot. But a lot.

I remember meeting Rachel’s mom. She was so funny. One of the nicest moms I ever met. She started telling me about the bias they encountered. Over and over. Walking into the local bingo parlor and every white face whipped to see who just opened the door. (They probably would have done the same to any outsider, honestly. The bingo crowd was a small enclave of smoker gamblers. Hell, I was shot some looks in the bingo parlor for talking over the number call. But I’m sure it didn’t help that they were black.)

“Do I have chocolate pie all over my face??” she quipped. I died laughing. So did Rachel. No one had ever been so open and direct with me. That’s the kind of mom I want to be. Drop-dead honest and funny.

Rachel was smart. Whip smart. Just like her mother. She was clever, full of jokes and laughter, and worldly. She knew and cared about the things that I loved. Or the things I didn’t know I loved until I met those things.

She let me borrow her Rich Hall Sniglets compilation and I almost lost the book in study hall when I burst out laughing at one of the entries. The Sniglet in which Hall (et al) describes someone sharpening their pencil. Specifically, the movement and perfect synchronization of the Sharpener’s butt to their hand as they crank the tiny handle. (Can’t find the actual entry, so I forget the word. 😦 Ack! Please comment if you remember!)

I believe I spit all over myself and almost peed my pants in a totally silent room. I nearly lost all bodily fluids and control. I shook violently at the stifling. My face contorted. Flushed with blood. Anyone who couldn’t see what I was holding might have thought I was having a seizure. I was definitely shot a look from the study hall teacher attendant, much like those bingo hall side-eyes. Although, this look had also a small touch of concern for my well-being. I was embarrassed and hysterical all at the same moment.

Rachel always knew about the coolest thing. She was the coolest person I knew. She changed my idea of people. She stood everything I knew on its head. She taught me to be confident in the face of fear. She taught me to be fierce. Loyal. Brave. Nice to those who weren’t. Assertive to those who required it. And honest. Even when it’s difficult or embarrassing. Not by lecturing me, but by example.

She taught me I could be myself without having to apologize for it. She accepted me. I accepted her. For whatever we were.

I don’t know how I made it out of that one-song town. I don’t know how I had a black friend.

My dad was an alcoholic, a racist. Not always bright and definitely crazy. He would come home and complain about the n****** at work. He said he even stabbed a black man at work one day with a screwdriver. I don’t know if that’s true? He said a lot of crazy things.

He said the man attacked him first. He had a stab wound in his leg to prove it. (That could have been from anything! By his own hand even.) I was personally ill and deeply concerned by the description, but you just didn’t question the man. It is humiliating to even hear this story, relay this story or be related to someone capable of this act. To know someone who is willing to hurt another human being physically. It’s disgusting to me. It is humbling and worrisome to be powerless in changing your life, the life of your loved ones or the world. You would think my father would lose his job if that actually happened. But in this culture? I don’t know now.  I do know this: my dad was completely capable of stabbing anyone and the meanest human I personally knew.

And Rachel was the nicest. I’m glad I had Rachel. She changed me. She taught me something my dad couldn’t. Or wouldn’t. Embracing something or someone different than what I grew up to know wasn’t difficult. If all you know is pain? The first person or opportunity that looks like something other than pain is welcome. Appreciated. Loved.

We understood each other. I was understood for the first time by a smart person. For the first time I loved someone different. If I did nothing else for anyone ever? I at least did not carry forward the burning torch of racism for myself or my daughter. And I’ll never forget Rachel’s eyes.

Edited

Tonight I’m grateful
Even for the hateful
Trouble and mistakes
That brought me to this place
With you.

All roads lead to Rome
And you, my love, are home.
If I would have settled for Love’s first draft?
I wouldn’t have learned the artful craft
Of writing.

Editing is necessary for any great story.

 

Kathryn, Rachel, Irma & Torrence

This will be the first in a series of 5 short articles.
Kathryn is my grandmother.
Above–her home in the 40s. She kept chickens out back.

Kathryn-#1


She washes people’s clothes for money. She is a woman who works hard and seldom rests. She does not tolerate humor or fuss. About kidding around, “There’s a little bit of truth in every joke.” Meaning: jokes are hurtful. Barbed jabs meant to demean and humiliate. Laughter is a luxury. Feelings are downright obscene.

She is a force of will.

Grandma’s hair is yellowish white, faded from stress, time and negativity. She keeps it tight in a bun and hairnet. Her face is just as faded. Her beauty quickly spent on marriage, children and hard times.

She always wears a dress. Not a fancy frock, but a well-worn print. The only days she didn’t wear a dress were those spent in a factory during WW2.

She wears sensible shoes. Always. Black leather with a low heel. The kind that deform feet into fleshy, pink lobster claws.

She has a large, round nose and large, droopy Buddha-like lobes. Those ears have heard ten thousand centuries. Those earlobes were made for clip earrings. She has ten thousand clip earrings. Never wears them.

Hard, metallic eyes that saw her father’s mistreatment of her mother. Those dark beads saw his fortune taken away as well. She saw her comfortable childhood home revoked and replaced by a dirt-floor shed.

There’s a picture of her when she was 5. Small. Golden. Tiny, pursed lips. Serious. Head cocked. Like a dog listening to a child practice the clarinet. Droopy earlobe kissing the receiver of an old-fashioned candlestick phone. Impossible. I only knew her as a crinkled crank in her 80s.

A very handsome young girl. She marries in her teens. Only to quickly lose her husband’s farm to the tax collector. She rears 3 children through the Depression, Dust Bowl and war. She raises and kills chickens with her hands. She milks the cow (the one they could keep from the lost farm). She sews. She cleans (not well). She cooks.

She hardens; she resolves. She is determined to forbid fate from having its destructive way.

She works hard because she doesn’t know anything else. She works hard because she learned that you can’t rely on anyone except God and yourself.  She works hard because that is her pathway to happiness.

She works hard because everyone is counting on her.

If I stop moving, I’ll die.

These are her lonely, driven thoughts. She is an ever-swimming, scarred-up shark who’s tired of the feeding frenzy and bloodbath.

She dies from heart failure.