Monday, November 9, 2015

Stained Glass Prayers

I don't share fiction here often, but I am taking a class through Iowa Writers Workshop, and I am really enjoying the exercises.  Here is the piece I wrote for Lesson 6 (Immersion in Setting).

God, I miss her. It's only been a few days. I haven't decided where to spread her ashes or if maybe I should just keep them. I haven't thought about a memorial service, because no one but me gave Mom the time of day. She lived in her tiny old house, sleeping one door away from my son and two doors away from me. I moved in with her when my husband left. She's the only person who never did leave me. Even Sam, at five-years-old, packs his little suitcase every other weekend and drives away with his father.


Speak of the devil and he shall appear.

“Susan, I know you’re in there.”

The downside of husbands knowing everything about you is now my ex-husband knows everything about me, including where I go when I need to think.

“I’m not coming out, Rick. Move on.” I watch the doorknob at the foot of the stairs. It won’t matter if he touches it. It’s locked.

“Come on, babe. Let me in. I know you’re hurting.”

I close my eyes and curl my fingers into the red shag carpet. Colors dance across my eyelids. Stained glass images of Jesus are burned there from the windows lining the wall above my head.

"I dropped Sam off at my mother’s,” Rick says. “She can keep him all weekend if you need some time to regroup.”

“I don’t need to regroup,” I practically shout. “I haven’t effing grouped in the first place.”

He tries the knob. I open my eyes and watch the metal glitter in light from the stained glass. The white door is covered in red triangles and blue curves to match the waves Jesus walked on. The gold of the knob reflects a halo.

I’ve come here since I was a kid, since back when it was still our church and my youth pastor had an office underneath this staircase. He gave me a key. I never gave it back.

“How do you stand it in there?” Rick asks.

I’m normally claustrophobic, and this stairwell is little more than a closet, but the dark walls feel more like a womb than a tomb, and the red carpet is soft as the quilt at home on Mom’s bed. It smells musty with a hundred years of prayers, like they’ve soaked into the wood and glass and metal all around me.

I run one finger down a crack in the wall. It’s been there for ages now, but it’s gotten longer. The church should have their foundation checked. I should’ve had my foundation checked. Maybe, if I’d noticed the cracks like this one when they first started forming, my ex-husband wouldn’t be on the other side of the door, because he’d be at home with me, in my bed, still my husband, holding me through this hard time.

And maybe I would’ve seen how the cancer was spreading. I could have taken Mom in sooner. I could have insisted she see a new doctor, tried a new drug, prayed a hundred years of stained glass prayers right here with me.

“I’m not going anywhere, Susan.” Rick’s voice is so soft it barely carries through the wood. It nestles in the carpet beside me, and my throat swells.

“Go away,” I whisper, but my own voice is hoarse. It tumbles from my lips to my chest and lodges there. Rick can’t hear me. Mom can’t hear me. Nobody can hear me anymore.

The colors shimmer on the door and disappear. My head snaps back and I get to my feet. High above me, the stained glass has gone dark. The shining face of Jesus doesn’t glitter anymore. Now his eyes are angry slashes across brown skin. Behind him, storm clouds gather on this Alabama afternoon. Lightning flashes. For a moment, I can’t remember if this is real or not. Am I in a church or on the Sea of Galilee?

The doorknob turns again. This time it opens.

“Rick?” I look down, but it’s not my ex standing on the stairs. It’s a man with a ponytail. He wears a tan jumpsuit and carries a large cross. “Jesus?”

“No, name’s Bill,” the man says.

“Susan,” Rick appears behind Bill.

I feel weak and put a hand on the wall. The crack bites into my flesh, and I wince.

“If I could just squeeze past you, ma’am.” Bill takes a step toward me. “I have to get this crucifix up to the attic.” He’s a janitor. Or a maintenance man. What do they call them now? I can’t remember.

“I’ve got her,” Rick reaches around Bill and puts a hand on my shoulder. He moves me to one side and Bill walks past, the foot of the cross dragging on the carpet, Jesus’s tattered body floating by me. I take my hand off the wall and put it on his wooden skin. Then Bill is gone, the cross is gone, Jesus is gone, and the thunder outside shakes the building.

“There’s a storm coming, babe. Let’s get you home before it hits.”

I sink to my knees and lean my head against Rick’s thighs. “I don’t have a home anymore.”

“What? Of course you do.” Rick kneels beside me, pulling me to his chest. “I saw the will. Your mother left you the house and her car and, well, everything.”

I shake my head. There’s a broken communion wafer on the ground, and it cuts into my knee, but I don’t shift my weight. I don’t move at all.

“The house doesn’t matter,” I sob. “Mom… Mom was my home.”

Monday, November 2, 2015

Step by Step on Middle Places

I have to admit, before last week, I didn’t know what steps came after admitting you have a problem. For as long as I can remember, I have said and heard other people say things like, “Well, at least you admit that is a problem. That’s the first step.”

So last week, I shared about that on Middle Places and I went ahead and looked up the 12 Steps online. I shared the second step in that same blog post. And then I closed that window on my computer. Yesterday, I sat down with my laptop, trying to decide what to blog about this week, and I realized I should probably check out the remaining steps. After all, if I told you all about taking step one and step two, it wouldn’t hurt to share a bit about the rest of the steps, right?

It turns out, I have been inadvertently continuing my personal spiritual 12 Step program without even knowing the steps. Although, I may have steps three and four reversed in practice.

Continue reading on Middle Places

Monday, October 26, 2015

Confession on Middle Places

I sat in the early service Sunday morning and I felt good. My usual defensive posture wasn’t entirely gone, but it felt distant. The liturgical reading for World Communion was taken from a poem, and I loved the words. Even my son’s teenage I-Don’t-Want-To-Be-Here slouch felt normal.

As I wrote in my journal and listened to my husband preach, I realized this makes two Sundays in a row that I have felt safe in church. Granted, both of these Sundays involved my husband giving the sermon, but they were at two different churches. The first one was a little country church that felt so much like home. I couldn’t help but relax there. Every hymn was familiar, lyrics I grew up singing from the pages of a red Baptist hymnal.

I don’t think the hymns or the location or even my husband made the biggest difference though.

I think the change began with confession.

Click here to continue reading on Middle Places

Monday, October 19, 2015

My Safe Place on Middle Places

Today, I sat in my therapist’s office and talked about my grandmother’s house. I am starting EMDR therapy, and that means I will be going backwards in time. I will be revisiting the scenarios that have left me a big ball of anxiety this year. While doing this, my therapist wants me to have a “safe place” to land inside my brain, a mental place I can visit when I need to regroup.
As soon as she said, “safe place,” I pictured Grandma’s house.
It’s not that nothing bad ever happened there. I cannot tell you the nights I spent afraid of ghosts and spirits living in the walls. And, lawdy, my cousin Richard found all sorts of ways to torment me. Threatening to lock me in the cellar and feed me possum stew were his favorite “jokes.”
It’s not about the absence of stressful events. It’s about being a kid and being 100% myself.
I didn’t fit in at school. I got made fun of for having the wrong clothes, crooked teeth, greasy hair, etc… The boys I liked never liked me back. Friendship was often a minefield in elementary and middle school. I was also living with undiagnosed ADHD. I was disorganized, always in trouble for not keeping my bedroom clean enough, always losing papers or turning in messy assignments.
But not at Grandma’s house.
Continue reading on MIDDLE PLACES.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Currently: Now for October Eves

Current Books: I am about halfway through Small Damages by Beth Kephart. I also have a book of short stories open near my chair. I read a story between novels. I recently finished Wonder and More Happy Than Not. Both were amazing books.

Current Playlist: I'm still listening to Oceans (Donde Mis Pies Pueden Fallar) a lot. Other than that, I have been catching up on Writing Excuses and the Happier podcast.

Current Shame-Inducing Guilty Pleasure: On Sunday, I watched the first 10 episodes of The Fosters on Netflix.

Current Color: Poppy red

Current Food: I just bought candy corn and peanuts.

Current Drink: Coffee with caramel-vanilla creamer.

Current Favorite Favorite: Encouraging feedback on my first writing assignment for a class I am taking.

Current Wishlist: Our Disney trip to go well.

Current Needs: Self-discipline when it comes to getting my tasks completed efficiently. I need to de-clutter my office and set up a writing area where I can concentrate and get some work done. I have a lot of it to do.

Current Triumph: I handled a crisis with my oldest while Corey was out of town without losing my composure.

Current Bane-of-my-Existence: My own self-doubt and fear. Also, middle school math.

Current Indulgence: Eating out way too often.

Current Mood: Mostly good, tense from time to time.

Current Outfit: Jeans and a CLS t-shirt, Chucks, banned books bracelet, bright blue socks

Current #1 Blessing: Our Disney trip is paid for. Dining reservations are made. Hotel room is booked. Park days are scheduled. My best friend and her family will be there with us.

Current Quote: “Doubt is unsettling to the ego, and those who are drawn to ideologies that promise the dispelling of doubt by proffering certainties will never grow. In seeking certainty they are courting the death of the soul, whose nature is forever churning possibility, forever seeking the larger, forever riding the melting edge of certainty’s glacier.” ― James Hollis

Current Photo:
Ready to head to Memphis for Carrie: The Musical

Title taken from:“Listen! The wind is rising, and the air is wild with leaves, We have had our summer evenings, now for October eves!” ― Humbert Wolfe

Writing to Understand Myself on Middle Places

I don’t regroup quickly.
Take this move, for instance. Even when it was clear to both my husband and myself that he had finished his time as a youth minister, I could not wrap my head around leaving the church we were serving. Slowly, God walked me into acceptance and then I was able to fully embrace the new path.
The key word there is “slowly.”
And, I admit, slow is relative. More than speed, my regrouping requires solitude. I don’t think clearly when someone is standing there waiting for me to think. I hate being asked, “Where should we have lunch?” I don’t know. If you had asked me yesterday and given me a day to think it over and research restaurants, maybe I would have a suggestion. But now you are waiting on me to decide and my brain has shut down.
If I struggle that much deciding on a place to eat, you can just imagine me working through big things like naming my children, picking which literary agent to sign with, choosing whether or not to homeschool, and figuring out my stance on controversial issues currently in the news.

Continue reading on MIDDLE PLACES

Monday, October 5, 2015

Alone on Middle Places

Sometimes I don’t believe in God.

It’s not often, but there are moments when I step outside of myself and shake my head. I don’t get it. How can any of this be true?

But then I reconnect.

Sometimes, the reconnection is strong and I am bowled over by God’s presence. How did I ever doubt?

Sometimes, the reconnection is loose, and my grip remains uncertain. Am I sure? Was that God or just coincidence? Did I hear the Divine’s voice or my own?

Continue reading this post on MIDDLE PLACES


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