Spring has finally sprung in Pennsylvania but it’s always possible another snow storm will come

“There are robins on the hill,” my dad said and we rushed to the windows and “ooohed” and “aahed” because in Pennsylvania we know that the sight of the robins in our yards means spring has sprung. Sure, the grass may still be brown and yellow, the trees may still be naked, and the flowers aren’t yet budding, but when the robins appear, back from their trip South, we know it won’t be long.

Soon there will be flowers (and for our family sneezing), warm days spent at the playground (though we already squeezed a playground visit in this week),

I have to be honest, during our first warm day this spring, I found myself briefly wishing for cold again. After months of waiting for weather warm enough to get the children out of the house, I felt a rush of anxiety at having to talk to people again while walking the dog and pushing my daughter up the hills on her bicycle. I’m anti-social at heart (which is weird, considering the 13 years I worked in newspapers) and find the older I’ve become the more I prefer sitting at home, reading a book, writing nonsense on here, or watching another episode of “Somebody Feed Phil.”

Not having to wear a coat to walk to the car or around the block was welcome for those three warm days, before cold weather set back in, though. I walked to the local diner on the second warmer day, after a family friend invited me for lunch. I was fed what was possibly grass with some dried cranberries, the smallest sunflower seeds I’ve ever seen and a pile of oregano. Apparently, I’m not as “natural” as I like to think and found myself wishing the black beans sprinkled on as my source of protein was a huge steak.

Showing that I’m not yet prepared for the normal warm weather walking of five paces behind my daughter on her bike while trying not to let the dog yank me onto my face on the sidewalk on her short leash, I decided to try to cut corners and let the dog pull my daughter on her bike. I wasn’t really going to leave the leash hooked there long, but truly thought the dog might pull her forward a few inches instead of yanking the bike onto its side and leaving my preschooler laying under it at the exact moment a local police officer drove by.

dsc_3797

The officer’s SUV slowed down and he looked through the tinted window at me as I lifted her off the sidewalk and checked her skinned elbow and grabbed the dog’s leash to keep her from running away. He gave me a thumbs up as if to ask “You okay?” and I gave one back to let him know I was and then waved a ‘thank you’.  One thing that is nice about small-town life is the local police presence.

He drove away and I looked closer at the mark on her arm was about the size of the top of a pin, but you would have thought she had almost lost her arm the way her lower lip was pushed out and she started making demands we turn around and go home. In the past two weeks, she’s become very attached to bandaids and seems to think she needs them on even the smallest scratches.

Even her animals are receiving their own bandages, especially if the dog happens to grab on to one of them and run off with it. Also in the past two weeks, she has become much more stressed about – well, everything. I had a feeling what she needed more than a bandaid was a nap after a couple of hours at the playground earlier with her dad and even more running through the house chasing the dog, before our walk.

DSC_3853DSC_3855

By Friday night the warm air had faded and I was receiving texts from my husband, who was at work, reminding me to turn on the heat. I refused, telling him it was still warm out and I wouldn’t close the windows and turn the heat on until I couldn’t feel my fingers or toes. This resolved faded shortly after that declaration and I found myself craving a warm cup of tea and the shawl that used to be my aunts. 

For now I’m happy to sink back into a little bit of introvert isolation, content with the excuse that it’s simply too cold to go outside and interact with others. And who knows, maybe we will have a March blizzard like last year and I’ll have even more of an excuse to stay inside.

DSC_3858DSC_3880DSC_3872DSC_3937

 

 

 

Let’s focus on living instead of dying

People are depressed. I mean it, people. People all around me are depressed.

I can’t turn around without someone standing there or writing somewhere that they are in mourning. The people who are having family members dying, or announcing cancer or abuse is all around me these days. I don’t get why it seems to be happening more and more but it’s probably because I’m getting older. Maybe I was in a fog as a kid and don’t remember all the death and tragedy as much?

I don’t know.

Or maybe people simply tend to share more sadness than happiness and that’s why we are all in the gutter of attitudes some days. We need to share sadness and sadness will happen, it can’t be helped, so don’t get me wrong here.

My brother has been going on for a couple of weeks about he and his wife’s plan for deleting their social media. It’s a good thing but you would think it’s a religious experience for them with all the philosophical statements my brother makes. Or maybe he’s just dramatic (thank God I never am. Ha. Ha.)

My brother has been answering some who ask about his reason for kicking the big “fbook” to the curb, by saying he wants to “make the best of his remaining years.”

He turns 50 in June and in his world 50 is the new 80. But it seems to be where we all are these days (including me) – this impending sense of doom and negativity. We remind ourselves so often that “life is short” and “you never know WHEN YOU WILL DIE!!” in warnings that are supposed to be encouraging that we have forgotten to remind each other to simply live.

I get it. We only get one trip around the sun.

We all die.

Life is short.

That message has been drilled into my head a lot over the years and just in case I didn’t get it I lost three relatives in nine months and a handful of community members passed away as well.

Death is coming.

It’s around the bend.

The grim reaper stands at our door.

But not yet.

Being realistic about death is fine.

Being honest about it is important.

Grieving is important and talking about our grief is very important (so this is not meant as a scolding to those who are grieving), but for all that is good and holy stop reminding everyone they are on the path to death, finding ways to weave it into conversations.

About two years ago death loomed over me like a dark cloud. Test results and severe hypochondria coupled with a mental breakdown had made me decide I had blood cancer and there was no hope. Every day I thought of death and how it was coming and eventually I stopped living. My dog of 14-years died, my aunt’s health was not good, and my husband’s uncle passed away.

One day I was out in our yard trying to make a garden, though I didn’t know why because I was sure I wouldn’t be around the enjoy it. Suddenly I heard a voice within me say “Stop focusing on death and start focusing on living.”

The voice of God? I don’t know but I know I hadn’t been thinking any positive thoughts on my own for about three months at that point.

We can’t really live if all we do is think about how we are dying.

We need to remind people they are on the path of life and life is good much of the time. Maybe telling ourselves we are simply walking toward a new life in the after life is a better idea.

Soon spring will be here and flowers will bloom and birds will chirp and the sky will blue again.

Why don’t we all look toward that new life instead of the grave?

“That’s not my crown! It’s Jesus’ crown!”

I had ordered a crown of thorns last year as a prop for a stock photography session for Lightstock and it has sat on the top shelf of our bookshelf for a year, occasionally being moved for dusting or straightening of books.

A couple times since the purchase I have heard my husband say “ow!” And when we ask what happened he’ll say “I just pricked my finger on Jesus’ crown!”

A month or so ago my son pretended to put it on his sister. The mock crown is made of real thorns. They hurt.

“Knock it off!” She yelled. “That’s not my crown! It’s Jesus’ crown!”

I knew there was a sermon, so to speak, in there somewhere but my brain is mush most days and this was one of those days so I just filed it away to think about another time.

DSC_3596

I took the crown down again a couple of days ago to photograph for stock photography again this year. The sunlight was pouring through our kitchen window perfectly and it was the first time I’d been inspired to shoot something in almost two months.

I laid the crown on my new Bible and in the center I placed a communion cup filled with grape juice and then two pieces of broken bread (incidentally, I accidentally purchased 1,000 sealed plastic communion cups. I have 999 left. Let me know if your church needs some.).

“That’s not my crown! It’s Jesus’ crown!”

Ouch.

If we as Christians truly believe Jesus lived and died and now lives again, then we must believe the full story and that is that the crown of thorns, of pain, of humiliation, was placed on his head and not ours.

And if he took our pain then he also took our sins, past, present and future. And if he took our sins onto himself then he also took our doubts, our loneliness, our health worries, our physical and emotional shortcomings, our failures and all of our questions.

He wore the crown.

He took the nails.

He carried the cross.

He entered hell so we didn’t have to.

The question is, do we really believe that?

And if we really believe that then why don’t we live like we do?

DSC_3618DSC_3683

Wasting too much time talking about Facebook and what’s on Facebook and what we saw on Facebook and oh my gosh blah, blah, blah Facebook

I can’t be the only one who is completely sick of talking about Facebook, thinking about what I read on Facebook, or wishing there was an IQ test before people are allowed to post on Facebook.

So yeah, here I am writing about Facebook again, but maybe that’s because I’m logging off Facebook for Lent. No, I don’t usually celebrate “Lent” in the strict sense of the word, but this year I am trying to focus more on relaxing, my relationship with God and simply detoxing my brain. And to do that I have deactivated my Facebook account for an entire – gulp – 40 days. (I do, however, have a business page that is being maintained by a “ghost account” simply for blog posts. I won’t really be checking it because not too many people see the page,  however, and I have no “friends” on the ghost account.)

Incidentally, the phrase “detoxing my brain” makes me think of sliding a toilet brush in and out of my ears and after reading the cesspool that is the current state of national news, I think that might be a good analogy. I’ve really been trying to avoid the news as I begin to detox, I really have, but almost every day I find myself peeking through my fingers, hoping something positive has happened, only to see it’s only gotten worse every, single day. It’s completely insane how crazy the national media is and I no longer know what is true or who to believe so I decided not to believe any of them. Part of my detox, therefore, will also be trying not to look at any news sites, which I have actually blocked on my phone.

Note I say “national media. My husband is a member of the small town news media, and I used to be, and that is a whole other “kettle of fish”, so to speak. Smalltown news is pretty tame and less prone to sensationalism, though some people are convinced that the behavior of the national media is trickling down to the local newspapers. They look for conspiracies even in the coverage of the school board meetings, as if any of the small town reporters have enough time or gumption to concoct stories slanted one way or another. Most small town reporters want to get in and get out of their meetings and go home on their meager salaries and eat some beans out of a can while binge-watching Netflix, since they can’t afford cable on their salary.

But I have digressed – as I so often do.

My brother and his wife have decided to completely delete their Facebook accounts after Lent, if not before. Adapting to a world without Facebook will be a challenge, but it’s needed, my brother, who will turn 50 in a few more months, says. Turning 50 has apparently caused him to reexamine his life and I’d rather he give up Facebook than dump his wife for a younger woman and buy a Harley during this phase. I’ll miss tagging him in all those memes about being the favorite child, but texting him to say so will do just as well.

I am torn between wanting to completely delete my account and keeping it to stay in contact with some friends and family, but honestly, most of those friends and family don’t actually speak to me, even on Facebook. Most likely I’ll decide to say good-bye to Facebook by the end of Lent. I highly doubt I will be missing much when I do and I might even have more time for other activities like I did when I took a break from the social media giant in December. The best thing about shutting my account down? Never writing another bloody blog post about Facebook and hopefully never talking about it again either.

Planning to take a Facebook break yourself? Here is a link to some tips I learned during my last Facebook break.

Risen Part 2

Find part one of this continuing fiction story here:

____
Josefa closed her eyes against the growing brightness of the rising sun.

There was only so much she had been able to remember from the day the man they called Jesus brought her back to life.

The rabbi, the teacher, the man who people in the city said was performing miracles, had performed one in her.

She had been dead, no heartbeat and pale, cold to the touch.

But at his word she was warm again, breathing, heart racing in her chest.

That first breath was like breathing for the first time. The air had never felt so fresh, so crisp, so new. She wished she could remember the words he had said when he brought her back or had even heard them. Her father told her days later what Jesus had spoke.

“ Talitha koum!”

Little girl, I say to you, get up!

Josefa still could not understand how it had all happened. She asked her father question after question that night when everyone had gone home.

The lamp had been extinguished. Only the moonlight lit the small home. Her mother had drifted to sleep, next to her, holding her close, afraid if she let her go Josefa would be gone again. One of her brothers was asleep on his mat in one corner. The other brother had gone home with his family, vowing to return in the morning to see her, make sure she was doing well.

“How, father? How did he bring breath back to me?”

“He is as He has said,” her father whispered as he answered her questions. “He is the son of the most high God. I never would have believed it until he brought you back to us.  Just a teacher can not do these things. A simple man does not have this power. He is the Messiah, Josefa. The one the prophets spoke of. We must believe now and live our life as He would.”

How would Jesus live life? She didn’t know. Should she pack her things and follow him? Maybe she could learn more about how to be like him. She was scared. Now that she had been given a second chance what would she do with it? It was the uncertainty that scared her. Yet something in her had been ignited. She felt a rush of anticipation as she pondered her future days.

Whatever she did with her life it had to be something meaningful, something magnificent, maybe even spiritual, something worthy of the Son of God taking time out of his teaching to bring her from the darkness of death to life again.

The whole world looked different in the days after he’d come.

Colors were more vivid.

Sounds were more beautiful- all sounds – even the sounds that once drove her to the brink of insanity- people passing in the street, donkeys braying, men arguing in the market, women gossiping, children laughing when they should be working.

Smells and tastes were different.

Oh, the tastes of all the spices and the softness of her mama’s bread against the inside of her cheek.

She savored food now, held it against the roof of her mouth, and soaked in the flavor with her eyes closed.

Always now she let her sounds of pleasure at life escape her and while her parents once chided her for what they called her exploits they now smiled and laughed, simply overjoyed she was still here for them to love and be loved by.

“Josefa, come with me to the market,” her mother was gathering baskets to carry any fish or fruit they might buy.

The market was crowded but Josefa didn’t mind. It was exciting to see the different fabrics, smell the food, hear the laughter of those trading and bargaining.

“Did you hear about the man Jesus healed?” She heard a man behind her talking and tilted her head so she could hear better.

“I heard he spit on him,” laughed the other man. “Are we to really believe this man is the son of God? Spitting on people to bring healing?

Both men were laughing now.

“I don’t know about his ways, but many are speaking about his miracles. Who am I to say he is not who he says he is?”

“But if he is, then we should be gathering an army, Levi. An army to finally overthrow the Roman rule.”

“I don’t know if he is here to lead us out of rule,” one man said and shook his head slightly. “He said in the temple we should give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

The other man snorted. “What does that even mean? This Jesus speaks in riddles. He’s not even a real leader or teacher. Why do people follow him? We need a warrior, not a storyteller.”

“Josefa!”

Her mother’s voice startled her.

“Josefa, hand me that basket for the fish. We have to get back soon for supper. Pay attention.”

“Yes, mama.”

She handed her mother the basket and turned to see if the men were still there but they were gone.

_____

Four is the new terrible twos

“I’M NOT DOING ANY MORE SCHOOL WORK UNTIL MY BROTHER SITS NEXT TO ME AT THE TABLE!!”

Her little voice pierced my eardrums and grated on my nerves like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Papers, pencils, and crayons scattered across the floor with a swift move of her fierce little hand. Next, she took aim at the battery for my camera and the charger it was connected to sent that to the floor with a bang.

DSC_3479For the last week, I had been laying my hand against her forehead to see if she was coming down with something, anything, looking for any reason for her Horrid Henry-like behavior. Since no fever was detected next on the list was to call the local Catholic Church to see if they still perform exorcisms in between press conferences to defend their innocence in abuse cases.

She was sitting with her head down on the table, her little feet dangling off the bench, kicking them back and forth as she revved up for her tantrum.

She was wearing the same outfit she’d had on for three days – a long sleeved dress and long pants with a brown leopard pattern. On Saturday she’d fallen asleep before I could negotiate a peaceful ending to the outfit change. On Sunday I knew we’d never make it to church if we stopped to let her pick the ten outfits she normally does before she gets dressed.  I promised myself I’d begin a peaceful settlement when we returned. Negotiations failed and I somehow let it go an extra day. So there she sat, her clothes probably caked to her now, while she started her new tactic of whining instead of verbalizing.

“Your brother is in the bathroom, I can’t make him sit next to you,” I told her, throwing up my hands in exasperation.

“I won’t do work ever, ever again if he doesn’t sit with me!”

I ignored her and went to the kitchen to start cleaning the pan for lunch.

Her brother came down and I asked him to sit with her but now she had worked herself up to a wail, the same wail she’d been sounding for almost a week now – anytime she didn’t get what she wanted, when she wanted, even though half the time she never said what she wanted, but simply cried and whined and kicked her feet.

I burned my hand in the hot water trying to clean out the cast iron pan to make lunch. It made me even grumpier.

“I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU WANT!” my screams were now matching her own and for good measure, I tossed a fork, which bounced off the counter and shattered the McDonald’s collection Garfield class I’d bought for my husband to replace the one he’d had as a child.

Now I was mad at her and myself. It was a standoff of uncontrolled emotions and suddenly I realized I had dropped my emotional maturity to the level of a 4-year old. A 4-year old who was still trying to figure out how to navigate her emotions, while I was 41 and supposed to already have it all figured out. I shouldn’t have a fuse as short as a preschooler and I knew it.

DSC_3490

“Let me hold you,” I told her finally, no longer caring what her original breakdown had been about. She climbed into my lap and leaned into me her little body warm and heavy against me. Tears were still rolling down her cheeks as I rubbed her back and absentmindedly patted her bottom as  I rocked her.

It grew quiet and she sniffed.

“Mama?”

“Yes, sweetie?”

“Are you patting my butt?”

“Hmm….um..yeah, I guess I was. I thought it was your lower back.”

She pulled away and looked sideways at me.

“Okay. That was disturbing.”

She climbed off my lap with her finger in her nose and shook her head.

She’s been skipping naps of late so when she passed out against my chest early in the afternoon, an hour or so after this. I texted my husband and said, with much relief, though a bit of regret, “she’s asleep and I have to pee.”

I held that pee in until my bladder almost burst because I had a plan to enjoy the last chapter of my book in blissful silence.  That hour free of preschool manipulation was certainly welcome.

And then my preteen began to extol the virtues of his latest video game discovery and the silence was broken, but, hey, that’s life.

 

Part 1: Risen

Each day her memories grew stronger of the day she’d come back from the dead.

The sobs, first in grief, then in joy.

The declarations of praise.

The laughs of disbelief.

The gasps of amazement.

She hadn’t been able to move at first.

She felt weighted down.

Her mind was racing and she tried to remember why she was on her cot in the middle of the day.

Dizziness. Weakness. So warm.

She’d fallen to the ground and her father had placed her here on the cot.

Then – darkness.

She remembered the deep sleep, the voices of her family fading into silence.

“Jairus! The rabbi! He has not come! Tell him to come! We are losing her!”

Josefa bolted upright.

Her body vibrated.

She felt as if she had been struck by lightning.

A tingling feeling rushed from the soles of her feet to the top of her head. She looked around the room, dazed. Three men stood on one side of the room, looking at her in disbelief. One burst into laughter, seeming to be delighted at the sight of her. Another had his hands and face raised upward, his lips moving but no sound coming out.

A fourth was standing before her, hands outstretched, a peaceful expression on his face.

Suddenly her parents were clutching her to them, both taking turns to kiss her and cry. Their voices were loud, unabashedly loud, sounds she’d never heard from them before. They were always reserved, quiet, certain to look proper to the community around them.

What had happened? Why did she suddenly have so much energy when she could remember feeling so weak only moments before?

Josefa heard his voice, soft, gentle, yet firm.

“Do you not see? Your daughter is alive. Get her food, drink. She will need her strength.”

How could someone speak with such authority yet also with such love?

“Yes, of course, Rabbi.”

The voice of her father was reverent, trembling with emotion.

The water against her lips was cool as voices spoke excitedly around her.

“Praise be to God!”

The man who had told her parents to bring her food sat next to her, placed his hand on her forehead. His eyes were full of kindness, of life. When she looked at him it seemed as they were the only people in the room. She could hear only his voice, see only his eyes.

“Josefa, your life has been returned to you. Go forth and live it fully.”

His hands were warm as he cupped her face in them. He kissed her forehead then gently lifted her face to look into his.

“Do you understand?”

She nodded meekly, not sure she truly did understand, but knowing she wanted to.

The man her father had called Rabbi stood and turned to the other men in the room.

“Peter, James, John, we must leave. There are others who need us.”

Her parents took his hand, kissed it and then each cheek.

“Rabbi, how can we ever –“

His voice interrupted them, he gently shook his head, raised his hand.

“This is a gift. Treasure it. Tell no one what has happened here. This gift is for your family alone.”

Josefa could hear members of the crowd outside calling to him as he left.

“Jesus! Jesus! Are you who they say you are?”

“Tell us, Jesus. Are you truly the Messiah?”

“Jesus, your followers say you call yourself the Son of God. Who do you say you are?”

_____

(This post was previously published, but I needed to make some changes. The story will continue in future posts.)

Can you give me a sign, Lord?

Reading the Bible as a reference for a story I’m working on, (Plus I should be reading it more anyhow) I noticed there are a couple of different times it is noted, at least in the NIV version, that Jesus “sighed deeply.” I’m not sure if this translation from Hebrew and Greek is correct or not, but it cracks me up. I can actually see Jesus rolling his eyes in his particular part from Mark.

“The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. 12 He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.” 13 Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.” (Mark 8:11)

In my head, this is how it went down: “Seriously? A sign? Why do you people always want a sign?”

Mocking tone: “‘Give me a sign and then I’ll do it.’ It’s like you just want to procrastinate in doing what you know my Father is asking you do to. Just believe it or don’t. Don’t wait for fire from heaven. If it is God’s will you’ll begin to see your path clear, if it isn’t, the path will be closed. I really don’t have time for this. I have others who listen and don’t ask me for signs. Disciples, let’s blow this village.”

And then he pivoted on his feet and walked away.

So anyhow, I have these decisions to make in my life and I need a sign. You think God will give me one?

 

When we rode in the back of the station wagon with no seatbelts and spun ourselves off the merry-go-round

“Mom wants to know if you wanna go to my birthday party.”

The inside of Jake’s father’s store was full of candy, soda, and junk food. Jake was standing behind the counter with a handful of candy, wearing a white t-shirt and his jeans sliding down off his butt. He smelled like boy sweat and his face was smeared with dirt.

He shrugged.

“Yeah. Okay.”

He snatched a pack of Big League Chew Bubble Gum off the shelf and started shoveling gummy worms into a plastic bag.

“Dad. Can I go?”

His dad grunted, never looking up from the register.

“Cool. See ya’ later.”

We ran out the front door of the store and climbed through the back hatch of the station wagon. Jake had a wad of gum the size of a softball stuffed in his cheek before we even pulled away from the curb.

There weren’t any seatbelts in the back and we bounced around like empty soda cans as the car turned each corner, mouths full of gummy worms.

My other friends were shoved in the rest of the seats. Jake was the only boy.

It was my 10th birthday.

Mom was taking us to Pudgies Pizza for an impromptu party.

Our faces were smeared with pizza sauce when we piled onto the playground and climbed on merry-go-rounds without safety bars and swings made of hard seats. We swung high and metal brackets squeaked and the set shook like it might fall down around us. When our bellies were up in our throats we let go and landed on feet, on knees, on rears. We laughed and got back up again.

The metal slide tore at our skin on the way down and our legs were pink from the friction.

We spun ourselves wild on the merry-go-round until we almost threw up and the world blurred into a million colors. Jake flew off and fell on his back into a mud puddle. He stood up and grinned, his cheek full of bubble gum.

The backside of his pants were a muddy mess. Mom laid a blanket in the back of the station wagon for him to sit on.

Back at the store he jumped out, yanked his jeans up around his waist, held them in place with one hand.

“See ya’ later,” he said. He shoved a gummy worm his mouth. His hands were still covered in mud. His hair was matted to his forehead with sweat.

He ran up the stairs. The door slammed closed hard behind him.

I climbed back into the cargo area of the station wagon and pulled the tailgate closed.

This was life in the ’80s.