Coronavirus, Creativity, dreams, Faith, featured, Kathy Joy, Listening, op-ed, opposites, patterns, Pennsylvania author, poetic, ritualistic firsts, Sequestered at home, singing, Speak Wonder, spring season, Will You Hold My Story?

A Chorus of Peeps

“Good morning – “

“You’re up early!”

“Well, I wanted to catch you on your morning walk. I woke up wondering whether the chorus of spring peepers was singing around the lake yet.”

“It’s not quite warm enough. It’s only supposed to be 63 degrees in Erie today. Maybe next week.”

“Really?  We’re supposed to have another blizzard this weekend.”

“Well, that’s a Rocky Mountain springtime for ya. Once we hear them, we will have three more freezes – then, it’s truly spring!”

“The coming of the peepers foretells three more freezes?”

“Oh yes. There’s the onion leek melt, the sweet pea melt, and one more – I’m having a memory melt right now.”

“Ah, ‘Singing Spring’ comes in notes and melts, like your book.”

“None too soon.”  I’m huffing and need to hang up on this conversation in order to accomplish this morning’s walk.

Spring Peeper

“Hey, I woke up in one of those post-dream phases, the phase where you’re not asleep but not quite awake, either.”  But, my friend also has to go. We say our ‘goodbyes,’ and my thoughts turn inward, dredging up memories, I mean, really distant memories – from lifetimes ago. Mostly good ones. These memories came from this morning’s dream.

A recent National Geographic study polled people around the world—including more than 600 featured in just one study—who say they experienced a new phenomenon: coronavirus pandemic dreams.

Science has long suggested that dream content and emotions are connected to well-being while we’re awake. Bizarre dreams laden with symbolism allow some dreamers to overcome intense memories or everyday psychological stressors within the safety of their subconscious.

The study concludes,

The virus is invisible, and I think that’s why it’s transformed into so many different things.”—Deirdre Barrett, Harvard University

I agree with Deirdre. The virus is invisible, and I think that’s why it’s transformed into affecting our dream state.

I keep hearing about the virus. I have lost friends to it. But, we never really see it, do we? Most of us are prevented from seeing the worst of it, even with our loved ones.

This next season of social isolation comes with a promise of a new vaccine. It’s a trade-up.

So as I was saying, I was dreaming of my childhood lunchtime trade-ups. I was in one of those post-dream phases where you’re not asleep but not quite awake, either: the best time to rein in the edges of your dream and frame it before it is erased by cornflakes and coffee and morning light.

I remained as still as possible to capture the details.

We were all back in elementary school. As dreams rarely make sense, my classmates included pint-sized versions of people I have known throughout my lifetime, even my grandmother.

No matter that she was in grade school a full 60+ years before I was; dreams are like that.

So as dreams go – 

We were out on the playground. It was recess and lunchtime and a cluster of us were sitting cross-legged in a circle near the swing set. I remember there was a teeter-totter there, too.

We were trading lunches.

  • Two Twinkies for a homemade cookie.
  • Bologna for a PBJ.
  • An apple for a Hershey Bar … (is that a fair trade, really?)

A kid named Robert was in the circle, and he had a liverwurst sandwich. This detail rang true – there really was a kid named Robert in the first grade whose mom packed a liverwurst sandwich nearly every day. Maybe his mom had told him how the iron in it would make him grow up to be a muscle man, but Robert seemed to like it and rarely traded it out. He probably wouldn’t have very many takers, anyway.

I mean, liverwurst.

It was only a dream, but it had real slices of reality sandwiched in.

Maybe you, too, shared lunchtime negotiations back in the day.

You got rid of those vegetables and Mom was none the wiser.

We are almost always alert to something better out there. Trading.

Those murky-dream-drenched lunch swaps – snippets of real memories rising to greet me during the Great Sequester of 2020 and continuing through the springtime of 2021 with the promise of a trade-up. Is there a better vaccine to conquer our isolating fear of the real thing?

Trading lunch is metaphor-speak for what many of us are actually doing these days.

Opening our lunch pail, assessing the situation, and looking up to see what tastes better on that day. Negotiating a trade, pooling our resources, helping each other survive the “liverwurst” of life.

What if?

What if we traded sorrows for singing with a chorus of peeps?

Worry for watching the patterns. What is God doing?

Anxiety for trust in the available flavors and coming flowers.

News grazing for cloud gazing.

Swollen ankles for walking the dog.

Despair for Curiosity.

Trading trauma for a sweet pet whose fur accepts our tears.

These are good swaps, life-giving, even.

Switching out the bologna for iron-rich blood, if not liverwurst, then ribeye; trading the mundane for the moment you will savor and return to for a tasty reminder during a day of scarcity.

There’s a song lyric from a favorite musical that goes like this:

The clouded sun shall brightly rise,

And songs be heard instead of sighs.”

What a glorious swap!

A chorus of songs rising up to conquer the gloom – a goofy, ravaged, joyful mix of imperfect voices rise in natural praises every day.

Gathering momentum, drowning out the cries and making sense of the sighs.

I know the swampy spring peepers will lay bitsy eggs, attaching them to vegetation in shallow waters.  They may hatch in four short days. Their dream state will end in an energetic wetland chorus.

I rouse myself from my sleepy knowledge-memories to walk amongst the happy spring peepers, now camouflaged, who are not beleaguered by any virus. Their chorus will come melodiously and noisy overnight, regardless.

Crisp late-winter Lake Erie air has done its job. My lungs are woke. My stomach rumbles.

Do you know that 24 hours before the Spring Peepers are singing under the tell-tale ‘X’ marking on their backs, they are wee black tadpoles swimming underwater? Full metamorphosis takes an uncanny 24 hours!

Oh, Get ready!

We will wake from this dreamlike state one day, looking to each other for guidance into the light of a New Normal. We will add our voices to the chorus frogs.

Pass me the Corn Flakes, I can hardly wait.

Kathy Joy
is the author of Singing Spring, one book in the Breath of Joy seasonal coffee-table series. This month, her children’s picture book released to the public, Will You Hold My Story? This Shell Silverstein-esque story features the adult idea of listening to a child’s tales in a Mister Rogers-esque neighborhood.

Click through to Amazon’s Learn More page here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08RLV59WH/
Will You Hold My Story? Book Launch Activities Here: https://www.facebook.com/events/749089085979643
Find Singing Spring Gift Book A Breath of Joy here
Africa, chapter excerpt, featured, Soothing Rain, Tonya Jewel Blessing

What’s in a Name?

By Tonya Jewel Blessing from the Bible study, Soothing Rain

I married into a family having the last name, Blessing. As Christians, we are commanded by God to share our faith and to be a blessing.

I believe we share the love of God both with our service and with our speech.

As a child, I remember singing, “Tell Me the Story of Jesus.” The lyrics still ring true today,

Tell me the story of Jesus. Write on my heart
every word. Tell me the story most precious, sweetest that ever was heard.

Fances J. Crosby

My husband and I recently met a man. He appeared to be a Zimbabwean refugee, but we’re not sure. We had some communication issues.

He didn’t speak English or Afrikaans (except to say “dankie” which means “thank you”). He was extremely thin and not very tall. He was perhaps 14 or 15 years of age. A number of his teeth were missing. His eyes and cheeks were sunken in, and his skin had a grayish tint from malnourishment. His clothes were ragged and torn, and he desperately needed a bath.

Here’s what happened

Chris and I were visiting a crafters mart in the town of Bela Bela, which is located about an hour and a half from our home. I use the words “crafters mart” loosely. The artisans display wares in a long tin-roofed shack with mostly open sides. The stalls are separated by faded cloths of varying colors.

Our new friend was working there as a “car watcher” of sorts. He didn’t seem to have the energy to solicit his services but made an attempt at directing us from our parking space. Chris held up his index finger motioning for the young man to stay put while we went and purchased some food for him. The love of Christ was shared through the nourishment we gave him, and our hand gestures: Chris pointed toward heaven and I placed my right hand over my heart.

The first several verses of Proverbs 30 describe the author’s search for God.

“Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in His hands?
Who has bound up the waters in a cloak?
Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is His name, and what is the name of His Son—if you know?
Proverbs 30:4 (HCSB)

The author of this proverb understands that God is very powerful. He talks about the LORD holding the wind and wrapping the ocean in His cloak, but the writer wants to know God’s name and the name of His Son.

The name “Bela Bela” means “beautiful”.

Who have you shared His beautiful name with today?

Are you willing to share His name each and every day?

Soothing Rain is a devotional written by Tonya Blessing and Sue Summers

Today, I’d like to recommend a fellow author’s book for the Easter season.

I found this Goodread’s review of The Zealots by G.K. Johnson and thought, I’d post it here.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Best Read for Spring Break! Two teen boys, seemingly innocuous, ramble around the hillsides of Judea until tragedy strikes. The incident begins to work on them, like a wedge inserted between them.

We are wooed into the kind of social pressures that turn young men into thugs. And, into these pressures, come temptations to right a wrong.

What I love about this book: Vivid scenes, accurately portrayed passion, the power of atoning actions to drain fierce guilt and replace it solidly with purpose. Not Sunday school.<br />This book is meant for teen boys, but I loved it. As much as I recall reading The Robe and The Silver Chalice in highschool.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/56498830-the-zealots

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Spiritual Theater – Better Than Magic

By Laura Bartnick from Welcome to the Shivoo

Magic is a popular descriptor these days.  Even Christians use the descriptors “magical” or “alchemy” playing on the idea of transformation or illumination apart from God’s creativity. Creatives can try to employ magic in a spiritual, holistic sense as though it were only a metaphor or allegory, but the practice of magic is not even close to the biblical ideas of imagination, wonder, miracles, transformation, and illumination. Magic removes the Wonderful One from the equation of creation by mimicking the wonder with a sleight of hand. It attempts to transform something or someone by blind equations of lesser powers and chemical substances. Cutting these cords between the wonder and the Giver may feel fanciful and creative, but the end is separation from God. Please know that an Illusion can be a purposeful sleight of hand, but magic is the use of deception to transform, confuse, snare, and kill. Alchemy removes the primary ingredient of God’s own purpose or design.

It was only when Adam and Eve broke confidence with their Creator that the wonder of God’s Spirit separated from them because God is Holy and cannot mingle with sin. The result was dying and death.

In love and goodness, the Lord devised another means of expression through connective blood and tissue in His covenant with us.

Imagine that God’s covenant was depicted in the performance of theatrical rituals and purposeful sacrifices. Did God mean to command that His people were to engage in the theater for purposes of illumination?

Imagine, also, that community laws and festivals allowed those practicing to gain a better understanding of His goodness and love. Imagine that they did not believe these edicts were legalism. How did it work?

Reenacting the Lord’s dramatic events kept His purposes in mind. They helped people look honestly at processing life His way. The codes and laws provided a means to treat others respectfully and compassionately.[i]

And, many of these feasts and played-out dramas were great experiences for the community. For individuals. Yet, because sin began to mar God’s creation, God would implement new theatrics, mighty works and wonders, to rescue people as He’d promised. Things like Moses and Aaron’s feats before Pharaoh, lifting up the walls of the Red Sea, providing enough oil to get His people through an assault, bringing birds and manna to eat, later, feeding the thousands with a loaf of bread and a few fish. Preserving His own. Time and time again. The drama of Queen Esther and Mordecai saving the Jews, Daniel in the lion’s den, Joseph’s technicolor coat, and the dramas of David and Goliath are still favorites in Christian theater.

In God’s creation, He contemplated rescue for any who were deaf, blind, lost, or paralyzed. He even contemplated resuscitating the dead.[ii] Passover and Resurrection are the primary and unique colors of God’s creativity. He saves souls and transforms them.

If you have been taught that winning souls is a fruit of the Spirit, check again.

The nine fruits of the spirit are listed in Galatians 5:22–23 as love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Against such things there is no law. Benedictine monks would call these spiritual practices “the conversation of life.”[iii]

So while God is primarily creating, rescuing, resuscitating the dead, we are co-creating, co-rescuing, co-resuscitating the dead. It wouldn’t surprise me to discover as we are working out our own salvation,  that these spiritual fruits will appear in artistic endeavors. Yes, they will appear in writing, and in the stressors of life’s interactions with others, but these characteristics will also win souls.

If you are a creative individual, then practice drawing from the tree of life. Bear good fruit, fruit connected to the Giver, the Source, not disconnected magical fruit.

HERE ARE SOME EXAMPLES

RITUAL FIRSTS. What does it mean in priority, to have a first child? We know that in biblical history the first child obtained the first and best, most complete blessing. The first male was dedicated to God because God claimed him.[iv] He was destined to assume the role of family leader, given authority, double inheritance, and special rights.

THE PATTERN: The Law forbade the disinheriting of the firstborn in a family.[v] The first animal to breach the womb was to be sacrificed to God or redeemed by an offering.[vi] When God reached over the first to bless the second child, He was making quite a statement, which made news several times in scripture. Jacob and Esau experienced it.[vii] Jacob later reenacted the experience with Ephraim and Manasseh.[viii] Reuben’s right as the firstborn of Jacob was taken away because of sin.[ix] When God made the earth, giving creative-mimicking powers to the first man and woman, He signified a right, rule, and inheritance over the animals and plants and other created things. Yet, in Colossians 1, Paul uses the word, “preeminent” to express the position of Christ in relationship to all things in heaven and on earth. Jesus, the Second Adam, has all rights to everything. These instances are recorded because of the anomaly: the rule of firsts was broken.

BREAKING THE PATTERN: “The Word,” personally refers to Emmanuel, God with Us. The Son of God came as the incarnation of the Father, taking on baby flesh comprised of honor and glory as beings beheld Him full of grace and truth. Our most specific right, rule, and inheritance is found in Emmanuel. Not only is He LORD, but He is also our dramatic pattern, God’s ideal Son and men are foreordained to be conformed to His image.[x] This Word of flesh creatively clothed Himself in humility, even washing the dirty feet of His followers (see the character arc?).

Christ obeyed His unique purpose to redeem us through a torturous death. He imagined, ordained, and accepted His own destination on the cross for the joy that was set before Him.  Separated from God the Father in death, He was raised again in triumph. Jesus is the first fruit of the resurrection from the dead in this drama of life,[xi] and many will follow Him in a twinkling of an eye.[xii]

Which do you think is more important to God?

a) any artistic ingenuity that births a curiosity of mind and pulls at spiritual heartstrings, or

b) the creative ingenuity that designs and manufactures a new tool to use, or

c) clear preaching or teaching to others.

Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright offers us the idea that if a set of actors faithfully follow a director, a script, and the stage direction to act out four scenes of a written play, they could be trusted to faithfully improvise a fifth act.[xiii] The details and director of this story are critical.

What does it mean to have the first fruit crop and to actually give it back to God, to give God the first fruits of your labor?

Imagine a seed germinating underground in the winter and then springing to life with the first buds of summer becoming fruit. Giving our first fruits creates an image of personal absolute reliance in the goodness of the Creator, that He will supply all you need. Additionally, this reliance is a form of giving honor. It is a model of weaving life together with His community of faith. He indicates this tithe is for sharing with the community depending upon His care, and for charity.

If you are a creative person, you require a lot of time to yourself nurturing creative processes: exploring, thinking, drafting, experimenting, journaling, producing, and working through many technicalities to produce something original or special, to improve on someone else’s prototype.

In all this excitement and stress, be sure to take time to just be with the LORD. Enjoy His gifts. His gifts are more than benefits. Enjoy His rewards. His rewards are more than benefits. They are reflections of the Giver’s heart.

Take note. These are personal embraces of God to you. And, through you, these gifts are to be primary nutrition for the community of faith and then also your gifts are for charity to strangers and foreigners to the faith.

The details of God’s law, the written word, and fleshing out the Christ, came much later in His own story and revelation. God must create before any of His other plans take hold, according to His own ordinances.

UTTER DEPENDENCE

The first thing we understand as creatives and makers is that we are utterly dependent on something or Someone higher in power and creativity than we are.  Someone Who is organizing a bigger picture of which we are a part. If we breathe in and breathe out with intention and cognizance, we can suddenly experience this human dependence on a Giver of Life and breath and health.

Adam received the first body with fingers to wield tools to put inspiration into existence, to create things. Without a physical body, how would all this godlike inspiration find a use, an expression, or an outlet? Think about how you express yourself in an abundance of physical acts of your will and of your unconscious behaviors e.g., facial expressions that escape the body with or without words.

There is a myriad of expressions in the Logos to draw from. Winemakers understand that they are completely interactive and dependent upon the weather and soil, and Who creates the nutrients in the soil and orders the rain and wind?

Much of your own creative success lies beneath the surface until it begins to resonate with others. When you are spurred by a catalyst, something new spontaneously combusts from your soul. Comedians find their talent because they discover that others find them funny. It is a gift. So, in the beginning, God’s gifts in and around you provide your raw material. What you pull together and release into the world will make for your tribute to God.

Your creativity, at first, is not often the finest expression. It shows spirit, but may lack gloss, detail, proofreading or testing. The hook, the skill, the expert choice of the right material may be missing. The performance style may need direction, and sometimes your work even lacks the proper context. Some things are invented before their time, and because they are out of pocket, people don’t recognize the significance of what has been created. This is a gift, too.

Leonardo da Vinci created many mechanical tools and systems because people needed them. On the sly, Leonardo’s God-given creativity caused him to experiment with human medicine and cadavers. He was looking into things banned as unorthodox at the time, but which later were proven to be important medical breakthroughs.[xiv]

In her book, Plain and Simple: A Woman’s Journey to the Amish, Sue Bender wrote, “I never thought to stop and ask myself, ‘What really matters?’ Instead, I gave everything equal weight. I had no way to select what was important and what was not. Things that were important didn’t get done, and others, quite unimportant, were completed and crossed off the list.”[xv]

Sue was referring to her habits of keeping her house clean, grading papers, and visiting friends, and to her desire to produce art that was special so that she would be thought of as special. “Accumulating choices was a way of not having to make a choice, but I didn’t know it at the time. To eliminate anything was a foreign concept.  I felt deprived if I let go of any choices.”[xvi]

As a creative, do you ever find yourself confused about how to prioritize your interests and activities? Do you feel like a jar of river water all shaken up, unable to be still long enough to let the sediment settle into its layers? Deciphering layers of each character and layers of the story itself takes time.  Meaning takes time.  Time, work, rest, and reflection are cyclical gifts.

Notice, part of the communication cycle is meditation or rest, not of words, but of simply being human and enjoying relationships in spiritual reflection offered as “Sabbath.”  Don’t neglect your God-ordained quiet interludes, but rather to think, receive dreams, and rethink. Jesus said the Sabbath was made for human benefit.

Creating in a personal void is really creating with the raw materials given by the Heavenly Father, both the acid and the sweetness in a life, and the opportunities given by the Great Designer. Like a child is utterly dependent upon his or her parent for the raw materials of life, and for some directives and guidance, so a Creative is dependent on the Creator’s supply and purposes. If He stops everything. That’s it. If He opens an avenue, a journey, and favor in a direction, that is the direction we will most assuredly take and find purpose.

Yahweh commanded his prophet, Hosea, to marry a “wife of whoredom”.[xvii] This Hebrew term indicates illicit sexual behavior.  Moses used the word in Genesis 38:24 to refer to Tamar’s posing as a shrine prostitute in order to entice Judah to do his duty under the law by her since he had refused to give her his son in marriage, as was her God-ordained right of survival. In both cases, these theatrical acts were ordained by God for purposes that took time to unfold and to be understood. Sometimes, images given to creatives to use in our work are means

the Lord uses to teach us as we are mulling them over, implementing them, and offering them to our audience.  These images and tools are gifts entrusted to and for us for our good, and then as we hone and share them, they become gifts to others.

Jesus went to the desert to be alone with His Father God for 40 days.[xviii] Moses ran from Pharaoh into the desert where he stayed for the rest of his life as a nomad.[xix]  Not all who wander are lost.  Jesus became so full of His experience with His Father that when Satan came to tempt Him, Jesus’ retorted, “I have food you know nothing of.”[xx] When Moses left all of the riches, authority, and the attachments of his stepmother and her royal household behind, he found his exquisite wife and became the leader whom God intended for him to become.[xxi]  All this came to being through communion with God. To find meekness through self-examination as Moses did, or strength to face all the temptations of life as Jesus did, consider the solace of the Father’s company alone when you need direction.

BEING CUNNING WITH RAW MATERIALS

Creativity is, in essence, being “cunning.” This word has taken on a sour connotation, as has the word “creative,” but biblically, cunning is only defined in the positive sense. It means being ingenious, gifted with finesse, wise.[xxii] Yet, if you set something newly created before an audience, it might not appear all that good. You might get a stunned look, a jail sentence, or nervous laughter for reward. Being a creative person requires that you continue to focus on the standards of the craft to improve. Standards belong to the Lord. Ideas, lyrics, melodies, and fairy tales are improved with practice and honing, with measures of accountability and with renewed teamwork. New renderings and settings often improve upon the original. Yet, none of this improvement or public applause will exist without embarking, creatively formatting, plotting the vision.

Understand, the Godhead always creates first in the Spirit with His Word. He creates for His own circle of joy! His creation formed and decorated a setting for us to experience belonging.

All good ideas, all good results from hard research, all good inspiration are directly given from the Creator’s hand. Often, He even gives His inspiration and anointing to those who do not recognize Him. Everybody serves God’s purposes. We are all servants. This is why incredible art and the classics in literature exist apart from having been created by a believer in the Triune God.  His boundaries and purposes are not ours.

Still, I would rather be a friend of God, a beloved of the Creator, than a mere servant. Wouldn’t you?

I hope you understand that you, personally, your good, and your work in conjunction with His image are of high priority. He invests a lot of Himself into you on a daily basis. You’re always welcome to the Shivoo! He’s said so many times, in many ways.

“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,  so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.”[xxiii]

Rule 1: DEPENDENCE. Breathe in.  Consider your own dependence on the Creator. Let your body become a living sacrifice to God. Imagine offering each part of your body to Him. BREATHE out with His authority.

 

[i] Lev. 1–27.

[ii] Matt. 11:5;.

[iii] “Benedictine-Values,” MaterChristi, last modified 2019, materchristi.edu.au/benedictine-values.

[iv] Exod. 13:2; 22:29–31; 34:19.

[v] Deut. 21:15–17.

[vi] Exod. 34:19.

[vii] Gen. 27:1–29 BSB.­

[viii] Gen. 48:13–22.

[ix] Gen. 35:22; 49:1–4.

[x] Rom. 8:29.

[xi] 1 Cor. 15:20.

[xii] 1 Cor. 15:52.

[xiii] N. T. Wright, “How Can The Bible Be Authoritative?,” Vox Evangelica 21 (1991), p.18.

[xiv] “Science”, Anatomy in Leonardo da Vinci., N.P., https://www.leonardo-da-vinci.ch/science.

[xv] Sue Bender, Plain and Simple: A Woman’s Journey to the Amish, (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991), 89.

[xvi] Bender, 141.

[xvii] Hosea 1:2.

[xviii] Matt. 4:1–11.

[xix] Exod. 2:15–21.

[xx] Matt. 4:1–4.

[xxi] Exod. 2:15–21; 3:1–Deut. 4:5. These passages of Moses’ life tell of how he met and married his wife, and how he became the leader God intended him to be leading Israel

from captivity and later provided Israel with God’s own instruction on how to live.

[xxii] W. L. Walker, “Cunning” In The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, edited by James Orr, N.P.,1915. http://classic.studylight.org/enc/isb/view.cgi?number=T2446.

[xxiii] Col. 1:9–10.

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adult content, books recommended by librarians, Bridges, Change of view, Charmayne Hafen, Creativity, featured, How To, improvisation, learning, marital love, Marriage Issues, nurturing life, redemption, rest and work, short stories

Ferris Wheel Vacation

By Charmayne Hafen, a short story about marriage

My legs are sticking to the seat again.  I squeeze my eyes shut and peel my thighs off the black vinyl.  They make a sucking sound and I think of the algae eater on the side of our fish tank at home.  I see its large, fleshy mouth cover a round portion of the glass.  It moves along from one side to the other, cleaning and polishing its distorted picture window.

Michael stares out the windshield, miles away from here, miles away from me.  His mouth is clamped shut, locked against anything conversational or intimate.  The algae eater is more intimate.   Does the world look as perverse to him as it does to me?  How is it the sun can burst through thick white clouds? How can it color the day with that brilliance dripping over every tree, oozing over every car, and shining the casement of every building we pass?

This time together in our vehicle is dark, dreary, and foreboding.  We’re on a weekend trip to save our marriage.  The sky should be in silent mourning, holding back its cool breeze, waiting for the end to come.

I release the pent up air in my lungs and glance sideways.

Michael has a piece of Juicy Fruit between his teeth.  His mouth moves up and down as he chews.  The movement is comforting.  It looks similar to the motion a mouth makes while talking.   Perhaps he will speak to me and feed me a few morsels of his soul.  My soul continues to starve.

My stomach rumbles and tells me the Cheerios I fed it two hours ago have dissolved and made their journey through my bloodstream.

“Let’s get something to eat,” I suggest, suddenly buoyant with the sound of my own voice.  Silence can become so thick and heavy.  Michael continues to stare at the highway ahead.  I follow the direction of his eyes and squint to see if there’s something out there  I’m missing.  Sun, trees, shiny, expensive cars, a hint of smog against the blue sky….a typical weekend day in Southern California.

“Where?”

The question comes unexpectedly.  My dazed gaze slams against it.   My eyes refocus on Michael.  “Where what?”

Deep furrows stack up across his forehead.  “You said you wanted to get something to eat.  Where do you want to go?”

I shrug.  “I don’t know.”  I can tell without looking that Michael is rolling his eyes.  Michael doesn’t know our marriage is coming to an end.  He doesn’t realize how important this trip is.  His annoying little wife is going to leave him if something doesn’t change. “Sushi.”

The furrows dig deeper into Michael’s forehead.  “Sushi what?”

“I want sushi for lunch.”

“Oh yes.  Of course, you would want sushi; especially since I hate it.  Why do you always do this?”

“Do what?!”

“Oh, now comes the puzzled look.  That’s all part of it, isn’t it?”

I enunciate each word. “A part of what, Michael?”

“This game you play.  You announce you’re hungry.  I ask where you would like to go and you pick something that you know I hate.”

I prop my bared foot up on the dashboard and wiggle back into my seat.  I’ve assumed the battle position and I’m going in for the kill.  “No,” I shake my head.  “I don’t know, because you don’t talk to me.  You don’t tell me anything; not even what you like to eat for lunch.”

“I’m not participating in this discussion.”  Michael’s knuckles turn white as he grips the steering wheel.  “I already know the outcome and I refuse to make excuses for who I am, Sam.  You knew I wasn’t much of a  talker before you  married me.”

My eyes are rolling.  I wiggle my head back and forth.  “That’s such a lie.  You did talk to me when we were dating.  The first year we were married you told me what you were thinking and how you were feeling a lot.”

“It’s easy to talk when life is sweet.”

Michael continues to stare straight ahead.  I wish he would look at me. “What are you saying, Michael?” I almost hope he’ll ignore my question.  He does sort of.

“You see that man on the side of the highway?”

I turn my head and look out the window in the direction Michael is pointing.  A guy who looks like he could be Michael’s age carries a large, orange trash bag.   He walks and stoops down, picking up pieces of trash that lay scattered along the highway.  I shrug. “What about him?”

“I’m just like him.”

Now I’m wondering why I ever wanted him to speak.  He’s not making sense and I’m starting to feel depressed.   I let out another sigh.  “The air is getting stale in here,” I reason while rolling down my window.

Michael slams the air conditioner switch off.  There’s another mark against my name today.  First sushi, now rolling the window down while the air is on.  “You’re not like that man at all.”  I’m hoping to divert his attention from my most recent offense.  “That man is doing community service for some crime he’s committed.  He’s probably on his way to jail.”

“I’m already there.”

I can’t read him.

The side of Michael’s face is a blank. “What’s that supposed to mean?”  I prop both feet on the dash, hoping to appear unshaken.  I feel a quiver start at the center of my stomach and ripple against my ribs.  I really need to eat.

“My life is a prison, Samantha. I may not have committed any crime but I’m still in jail just the same. ”

He pauses. Nothing more is said. That’s it?!  That’s all he’s going to say?!

“You see why I don’t talk, Sam?”  This time he looks at me with a smug little grin scribbled on his face.  I wish the algae eater were here to suck it off.

“Forget lunch,” I say, turning my head towards the window.  “I’m not hungry.”

“Are you kidding me?!!” Michael starts to yell. The car is slowing down and he pulls over on the side of the highway. The tank is sitting on empty. “We’re out of gas! I thought you got some this morning!”

Gas. The one thing I forgot. Great! “I’m sorry, Michael. I forgot.”

“Well, this is just wonderful!”

He won’t talk to me after he calls the Uber ride. He tells the driver he has to get a container of gas from the nearest gas station which he’s already located on his cellphone.  It’s only a few miles away. I wander around the embankment on the side of the road for awhile and then sit in the car with the passenger door open, waiting.

He is silent after he returns with enough gas to get us to the station. I notice his jaw clenching for miles.

Our gas tank isn’t the only thing on empty.

By the time we reached our hotel on the beach, our relationship is dry as a southern wind.

The world looks so small from the fifteenth floor of this Holiday Inn.  I am right now, standing carefully on the balcony of our hotel room.  This must be how the world looks to God.  We’re a bunch of ants fighting over the crumbs of life.  Maybe if I threw all my problems off this balcony, they would become as small as the dotted people and cars below me. Maybe they would just disintegrate from the force of the fall.

Michael is in the shower. He’s trying to cool off. Things got pretty heated after we passed the man with the orange trash bag.  Then, of course, the car ran out of gas.

That was my fault.  At least in Michael’s eyes. I think he sees one version of me all the time-a screwed up. I was supposed to get gas yesterday.  I didn’t.  Lisa called, and I got distracted from my errands. Michael could care less that Lisa was in a crisis.  All he knows is that we have now missed our cruise to Catalina Island.

I still say it’s partly his fault. He didn’t check the gas gauge when we got in the car this morning. I know he was tired and grumpy.  I know we were running late and that I should have gotten out of bed sooner. Still, I wasn’t the one who kept him from checking.

I suppose it doesn’t really matter anyway. 

I’ve decided I’m going to leave Michael.  I don’t really have any other choice. If I don’t leave, I’ll go crazy.  Life is just hell when we’re together.  He works at the bank all day. I talk for eight hours to cranky people who won’t pay their bills.  We come home, eat dinner and stare at the T.V. until it’s time to go to bed. Then we get up and do it all over again.  Nothing is fun anymore.  See what I mean . . . hell?

We used to like each other.  We even loved each other, I suppose.  It’s hard to believe with the way things are now.  We’ve joined the rest of the world and we’re fighting each other for the crumbs.

Michael used to write “I want you” on the bathroom mirror with toothpaste. We took some long showers then.  Some mornings he would sit straight up in bed and grab my arm. “You!” he would say. “It’s really you. I thought you were just a dream!” I would laugh and smile at how good those words felt.

I can see the ocean from where I’m standing.  It’s so grand.  So is the sunset.  It makes me sick to think of how this beauty is being wasted.  How can I watch the sky burst into flames and feel cool, ocean air on my skin when my marriage is ending?  I won’t look at the ocean.  I’ll just watch cars and people from this isolated perch.

My eyes follow a stream of cars into a large parking lot.  

To the right of the parking lot, the red and yellow neon lights of a Tilt-O-Whirl blink on. Then I notice the flashing white lights of a roller coaster and the bright green and purple sign for The Zipper.  A carnival!

I don’t think about what I’m doing.  I grab my purse just as Michael shuts the water off.  “I’m going to a carnival,” I yell at the bathroom door.

“What!?  What carnival?”

I don’t answer. I slam the hotel door shut and keep walking down the carpeted hallway.  I smile.  It feels good to leave him hanging.  He deserves it after saying that nonsense about being in jail and then claming up for the rest of the trip.

I’m breathing heavily, partly because I’m walking so fast and partly because I feel so free. Exhilaration claims me like I’ve just been let out of a dark, musty closet.  Maybe Michael and I are both in prison.

The air is cool and salty.  My skin tingles and I walk even faster.  I’m smiling at everyone I pass. Little girls, little boys hopping and skipping. Teen flocks. Young lovers. Older couples hand-in-hand. I’m still a few blocks from the carnival, but I can already smell the salty-sweet mixture of hot dogs and cotton candy.  My stomach cramps and growls.  We never did eat lunch today.

There crowd grows-the little kids now with sticky, cotton candy mouths and wild eyes, tired parents clutching balloons and stuffed animals, couples with hands locked together or arms around shoulders and waists.

I stop at a hot dog stand and take my place in line.

Plump, juicy links rotate slowly on a wheel at the left side of the metallic counter.  Ten people wait in front of me.  I feel impatient so I look around, trying to take my mind off my hunger.  My eye catches a glimpse of a giant Ferris wheel off to my right.  Bright red, blue, and yellow lights wink on and off, outlining the spokes of the wheel.  I step out of the line and walk towards it.  The hot dog can wait.  I love Ferris wheels.  They’ve always been my favorite ride at carnivals.  When I’m at the very top, for an instant, I feel like I’m flying unleashed.

There’s another line, not as long as the hot dog truck’s, for the Ferris wheel. Dinner time is the perfect time to catch a ride. I step up.

“Can I ride with you?”

Michael is standing beside me.  His hair is still wet from the shower and his face is flushed.  He must have run all the way from the hotel.  His light blue eyes seem even paler against his red skin.  I  smell the spicy musk of his aftershave.   Surprisingly, every inch of me is glad he’s here.  He remembered to check my favorite ride to find me.

“Yeah, I think that would work.”

“Good.”

We don’t look at each other.   It’s like we just met and we’re both feeling shy and awkward.  It’s kind of exciting.   Out of the corner of my eye, I  see him looking at his hands or his shoes-anywhere but at me.  I feel a chuckle rising in my throat.  “So what made you come?  I didn’t think you liked carnival’s anymore.”

Michael clears his throat.  “Well, I don’t but I couldn’t see any point in sitting alone in that stuffy hotel room all night.   I mean, we drove all this way.   It would be stupid and a waste of time.”

Why can’t he say he wanted to be with me?  Why does it have to be about wasting time or not wasting time?

The Ferris wheel stops.  We climb into a bright blue carriage with a little umbrella swinging overhead.   I slide to the middle of the seat and wish I could slide over a little further.  I don’t want to be next to him but I don’t want to look like a child. Michael slides in next to me and rests his hands on his lap.  At least he isn’t putting his arm around me.  Somehow, this makes me even angrier.  “Don’t forget, Sam,” I coach myself, “he’s only here so he can avoid wasting time.”  The carriage lurches forward and we’re off the ground.

The cool, evening breeze is stronger and colder above the beach, the waves of the Pacific. I try to focus on the bright lights of the carnival below, on the moonlight bobbing in ripples on the waves of the ocean.  I can’t distract my mind from the fact that I’m a bundle of nerves, and freezing.  Goosebumps give texture to my arms and legs.  I should have put something warmer on before I left.  These shorts and tank top aren’t made for an evening out by the ocean, what was I thinking?  Michael notices my bumps and asks if I’m cold.

No, your presence just thrills me so.  Another unspoken thought. “Maybe a little. I’m all right though.”  Michael’s tan arm slides across my shoulders. I’m tempted to wiggle a little closer. The warmth of his body feels uncomfortably good but my anger still feels too right to let go of just yet.

“I’m not in prison because of you, Sam.”

This catches me off guard.  I lose focus of my anger.   “You’re not?  I thought that’s what you meant, that our marriage is like a prison.”

“No.  It’s just life.  There’s so much pressure.”

Our carriage is moving backward, descending to the ground.  The pull of gravity, along with Michael’s words, makes me heady.  My anger evaporates with the sea spray.  I see myself tossing a few problems off the balcony at the hotel though I remain silent, almost holding my breath.  Maybe he’ll keep talking.  He does.

“I don’t like who I am anymore, Sam.   All I do is work and complain about how awful everything is.  And, I hate what’s happening to us.  All we do is fight.”  I slide closer to him and press against his side.  His hand squeezes my shoulder.

“I swore things would never be this way when we first got married.  I made a promise to myself that I would not live a mediocre life like my family and friends. So far, this weekend places us square in their camp.”

“We’re just living like a couple of algae eaters,” I say looking up at him.

Michael smiles.  I’m wishing I had my camera so I could take a picture of his face.  His smile is so beautiful and so rare anymore.  “What do you mean by that?”

“We’re viewing life through our four algae-covered windows, like our fish tank. And it’s always distorted.”

He nods his head.  “So how do we change the view?”

We’re at the top of the wheel again.

“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” Michael smiles, remembering the self-help book we read together months ago.

“We are products of our past but we don’t have to be prisoners of it tomorrow.”

I nod in agreement. “We change tomorrow’s view by what we’re doing right now,” I answer.  “Wow. The world looks a lot different from up here, doesn’t it?”

“True.”

“If we threw our problems off the side of this carriage at the top, they would seem a lot smaller.”

“You’re a strange one, Sam.”  Michael is smiling again.  I love his smile even more than Ferris wheels.

“I know.  That’s why you’re so madly in love with me.”

Michael scratches his forehead.  “Yeah, I’ll buy that.”

We ride the bumper cars and eat greasy hot dogs.  Michael kisses me in the funhouse in front of a mirror that made our heads look like bloated ticks.

It’s after midnight before we make it back to the hotel room.  Michael is wide awake.  Hanging the tiny stuffed bear he won for me from his ear, he dances a strange male dance and manages to peel his clothes off, somewhat awkwardly, at the same time.

The only thing I can say for the rest of our little trip is that we didn’t quite make it to Catalina.  Missing our cruise turned out to be the best thing that could have happened.

We’re on our way back to the real world today. 

I’m driving. I’ve decided not to leave Michael. Tomorrow is Monday but I don’t think it will be the same as every other Monday.  In fact, I don’t think our life will be the same. We’ve made a new vow to change our view at least once a week.

I’ve got a strong craving for sushi and Michael has agreed to try it again. He’s talking about the things pressuring him. I’m listening. Together, we’ll break down the pressures of life with a new perspective from a higher viewpoint. Things have definitely changed.  We’re entering a new age, a fresh season and this time, our gas tank is full.

Charmayne Hafen is a contemporary issues author with Capture Books. Typically writing on faith issues for teens, her youth books and children’s books are clean reads, full of adventures, compassion, and mystery. Hafen’s writing displays empathy and redirection for marital health and the welfare of children. She holds an MA in group counseling and obtained her B.A. in Journalism from John Brown University. She is currently working on her first adult novel.

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Artistic development of a children's book, breath of joy, grief, Guides, Listening, nurturing life, second grade, short stories, Speak Wonder

Listening is Love

By Kathy Joy, author of Will You Hold My Story? a Picture Book

Listening is a verb. I looked it up. If you need a quick reminder, a verb is “a word expressing action,” according to Webster’s.

Hmmmm. “Action” suggests movement, flow, shifting, adjusting. If anything, listening seems passive, fixed, static.

We moms know a little about the action of listening. I am a mom, but I still need my mom to listen over the dining room table.

When you really think about it, listening takes a certain skill set. It involves intentionally hitting the “Pause Button” of your day and entering into another person’s story. And their story matters. Your choice to listen to it is an action of love toward them.

There’s a cute story I heard once, about a little boy who wanted desperately for his Mommy to know everything about his day. The lad burst into the kitchen where she was prepping the evening meal. As he told his fabulous story, she continued dicing, slicing and sauteing. I’m sure she heard every word; we moms are professional multi-taskers.

Still, that wasn’t enough for the boy. He became exasperated. “Mom!” he cried out. “You’re not listening!

“Oh, yes, honey. I’m listening,” she replied.

“No! I need you to listen with your eyes.”

Wow.  The kid has a point. Listening, if it’s truly an action word, involves putting down the spatula and locking eyes with the storyteller.

Listening is something we think we are doing, when in fact we are pushing the storyteller to the margins; hearing him on the periphery. We think we’ve heard the story, but oh! How much we miss.

I am guilty as charged. Countless times, I have “listened” to the ones I love while checking my phone, scanning the menu, watching the weather channel and searching for my car keys. Is this listening? Really?! No, actually, not.

I’m practicing hitting the “Pause Button”

I’m practicing hitting the “pause button” but I’m not as successful as I’d like to be.

This happened recently when my daughter tried to convey something to me in the car.

Distracted listening is not intentionally loving. It’s minimizing. The storyteller can’t be sure your mind, much less, your heart was open to retaining the information. We are telling that precious soul we are taking in words, but not absorbing the weight and importance of the words.

How likely will this lovely daughter, this marvelous human being, come back to me with new stories to tell? The odds are getting slimmer.

I need to hit the Pause Button, silence the phone, pull the car to the curb, and just listen.

Now, before you think you are already well-versed in the art of listening, I have a simple challenge: try listening with no agenda. Go ahead. Try. It’s really hard. Honestly — I sat with a friend recently. As she shared her story, pouring out her heart, I could hardly wait to find an opening and tell my own story.

This is really not okay. Because, in that place where my brain was buzzing with the answers, the opinions, the questions and my own stories, I was missing her words. And they weren’t just words; they were pieces of her heart, laid out there on the table — bare and trembling and aching to be heard.

To march in with my pat answers is a lot like pushing her stuff to the edges because my stuff is far more interesting.
That’s kind of rude.

Listening is love

Listening is love. It’s an act of the will, an intentional nod in another person’s direction. When you love the storyteller, you need to be willing to listen without formulating your answers. That person really doesn’t need your opinion; she needs your humility and grace. She needs your ear and your uncluttered mind. She needs you to lock eyes with her, so she knows without a doubt you care.

This is exhausting. No wonder listening is a verb — the action of truly listening is a workout. Your listening-muscles will ache later, but keep at it. You just never know when a storyteller needs you to be ready.

Listening is love. Just ask my mom – she’s really good at it. I’m quite sure that’s why I carry all my most precious stories to her kitchen table. She pours tea. She sits across from me and gives me the gift of her undivided attention.

Thanks, Mom! Thanks for listening with your eyes.

Kathy Joy is the author of the children’s book, Will You Hold My Story? When her husband died suddenly, she had no one to listen to her grief and so she hired a counselor. Sally, the grief counselor, wisely advised Kathy to find someone else to hold her story alongside her.  But sometimes people can be so distracted by their activities and their own families, that God decided to create pets. Dogs are especially suited for cuddling, and walking beside you, and listening to your story. Listening moms and friends are absolute treasures.

 

 

Ages 4-8 Will You Hold My Story?

Meggi Beth and old man in Will You Hold My Story? by Kathy Joy

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