What I remember

The sign just outside of town read “Population 750.”  That was over 35 years ago, but it was a proud moment when they put up the sign Welcome to Campbellsburg.  That road, Highway 421, runs straight through the city, turning into Main Street, and then back out again.  As a little kid, the city was big.  No one told me that I really lived in a very small town.

I had lots of freedom, within a range, to roam where I wanted.  My dad held employment at the bank on Main Street.  After school sometimes and on Saturday mornings, I could go to the free-range places in the center of town while he finished his work.

Cook’s Pharmacy, located just next door to the United Citizens Bank at that time, intrigued me with all the merchandise they carried.  For, aside from being a drug store, it was also a general store with a host of fascinating merchandise.  A small jewelry area, a toy section with a small assortment of stuffed animals, a magazine section (the former location of internet lyric searches and the latest issues of Tiger Beat), the school supply section, cards, and candy.  I spent my time at Cook’s browsing around, imagining how the school supplies would enable me to be a teacher or planning how I could save money for some make-up to use someday.  Elsie worked behind the counter, and she was always kind and gentle, even if I didn’t purchase anything.

Often, I visited Sue’s Beauty Shop.  My Nannie and many of the older women in Campbellsburg had standing weekly appointments to get their hair washed and curlered and set.  Sue and Pam let me sit in the dryer seats and watch and listen, and sometimes I volunteered to sweep up hair or straighten the nail polish display.  The smells of shampoo and permanent solution and woman perfume and hairspray fused all together and seeped out of the doorway, a screen door and a wooden door.  I liked the way the door sounded, first one and then the other, going in or going out, creaking just so.

The neighboring establishment to Sue’s produced odors of its own.  Just around the edge of the building, and through the heavier spring-loaded front door of James’ Java Shop, all of the aromas of drip coffee and hot griddle and fresh pie greeted me every time.  Four-top tables covered in vinyl tablecloths, wooden chairs with green pleather on the seats, and a soda counter complete with spinny stools–this is where coffee happened and where local farmers smoked their cigarettes and talked about stuff, where families could go to dinner as a special once in a while, where a kid could get a chocolate milkshake made by Eileen or Mamie.  The best hamburgers I ever remember came from that little kitchen and the modest culinary skills of Malcolm and his staff.  One of the most delectable treats, that I can still taste if I think about it just right, was a hot honey bun that Mamie grilled with butter on the griddle.  Sometimes, if she was talking to me while it cooked, it got a little crispy on the bottom.  No matter, because it still held the buttery sugary heat.  Maybe it even tasted better because she was busy visiting with people.

The Carol Ann Shop was next door to the Java Shop; the two businesses were connected by a hallway, so it was really logical to go after the Java shop, or before.  I could spend what seemed like hours in there, dreaming myself older so I could wear the women’s fashions on display.  I pretended in my mind to have a cash register and a store of my own where I could sell materials and a rainbow of thread spools.  Carol Ann babysat us often, and when she established her business, I felt she became a very important grown-up.

When I was little, that was my big city world.  A little town tucked away somewhere off of Interstate 71.  It wasn’t a perfect community, and I knew so much even then.  But it was and is one of the sanctuaries for my memories.  It holds stacks of photographs and movie reels of sacred spaces and tattered saints who lived life in and around Main Street.

 

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small seasons

I watched the sun beam off of the snow this morning, brightness stinging my eyes, but I could not look away. Sometimes I think to myself that if I could absorb enough of the glints off of the water or enough contrast of the grey dog against the blanket white or enough of the hush of mornings, then I could blend into the splendor and disappear for a while.

Life is not like that. Of course. Feet shuffled upstairs, and I knew my bed-haired son would soon walk into the rays of sunlight spraying the kitchen. The day would move forward from still and glistening, earth turning and moving the shadows to newly appointed positions. The dog begged for company, the boy needed direction, the girl-woman asked for my reading voice to bring church history alive, an index card held a neatly penned list of things to do.

An essential oil scent caught my attention, I inhaled deeply. Its name is Peace and Calming, and I prayed it into my system, into my spirit, with each long expanded breath. Please, God.

These days my heart feels small, squished inside a smaller box. It peeks outside frequently, looking for safe spaces to stretch and breathe. The beginning of daylight hours when the sun broadens the sky, when quiet leaves room for ravens and geese to be brilliant, when the cars have yet to rumble and whir, when I hear the sleeping breathing of my children—this might be the streams of quiet waters, the lush meadows where He leads me to rest. But fox-like and stealth, the noise gathers in many forms, and chaos pushes the lid on more tightly.

It doesn’t take much, it seems, for external chatter to morph into internal clanging and clashing. And the box wherein my heart lies becomes all the more constricted. I wish it weren’t so, that I didn’t feel rather breakable, but that instead I could say I felt stable and steady.

I hear whispered to me in the stolen moments of exquisite and heart breaking beauty, in the quiet before the last of the Walton children says Goodnight, that all shall be well, that there is grace enough even for small-box hearts. This, too, shall pass.  And to rest inside the little box, because it will not always be so.  Remain in my love, He says, while the fragile and small times are happening.  The spirit of the living God bids my heart to keep peeking out and to please keep letting the wonder in.

 

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gratuitous post of almost 300 words

This afternoon and evening, I had uninterrupted time in my own space to write and be still.  I had 600 words in a draft, a draft I had wrestled to the ground.  All titled and tagged and ready to preview then post.  My handy pen, my favorite Tul pen, had already been used to cross it off of my to-do list.

I saw the autosave happening several times over the hours.  It kept saying, saving draft.

When I clicked the Preview icon, it took me to a screen that appeared at first to be walking through the normal routine.  However, where the preview would be, there was this question:  Are you sure you want to do this?  Try again.  And the Try Again was a hyperlink.  So I clicked on that, and it took me to a New Post page.

The original post still open in another tab, I went back to it and tried again.  Before hitting Preview, I hit Save Draft.  The same thing happened twice again.  Instead of Preview and proofing it in the preview page, I proofed it in the Edit Post arena.

Publish.

Are you sure you want to do this?  Try again.  Yes, I said out loud, I’m sure I want to Publish.  And it disappeared.

All 600+ words gone.  No matter how many times I went back.  And no draft is anywhere to be found.

I could cry, but I really don’t have the energy for it.  And it’s bedtime.  The Preview is working just fine now.  I thought I was sure I wanted to publish those words.  I guess I will try again tomorrow.  But I did still technically post something I wrote.  So, there’s that.

Grace again, grace again, jiggety-jig.

 

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Retention of living water

Her feet and ankles peered up at her from the bottom of her pants.  Oof, she sighed.  Why am I holding onto extra water?

The internal conversation with herself and God paused as a customer came in the door.  Another customer.  A job with so many customers.  And today, the day where she felt swollen with extra already, she wished for no customers.

Outside, she said, let me serve you.  It is good to serve you.  Inside, she tasted the tears she had swallowed.  More extra water, salty retention inside.

God, she cried, forgive me for not loving others well today.  I guess, she thought, I am not loving you well either.  She reasoned it all into sinfulness, into not living from the deep places.  Because, most surely, living from deep places means abundance and free and joy, and not sinfulness.

When the work part ceased, the serving people part, she acknowledged to her co-worker, “Today was a blunder.  I’ve been a bit of an ass today.  Forgive me.”  He laughed it off, skimming the surface of her words.  She shrugged and swept the floor.  David Bowie sang and helped them finish.  They locked the door, and she went home.  All of the way home, the day followed her.

Returning to prayer, a habit and a manner of fact, she turned it over and over before this Jesus.  What does it mean to live from a deep and abiding place, really? she asked.  And she listened to the wind whistle outside her windows, watched the street lights streak their flame in the reflection of her glasses.

Her co-worker’s face surfaced in her mind as the interstate lines drew her further.  He had told her about his brother, and about a terrible tragedy.  He acted like it was not a tragedy.  But she saw him then, and saw him again.  She prayed, like she had when he told her, that God himself would be known, that this guy and his brother and the tragic circumstances would and could be redeemed somehow.  The prayer just happened, because she saw him.  She saw him.

The water she wades into, washes her feet, clings to her ankles, absorbs into her flesh.  The deep water of her soul, where she lives and moves and has her being–which has to be about the real and hard of the world even in the abundance and most certain freedom–intermingles with the depth and height and width and breadth of the Living Water, Jesus himself.

Oof, Lord Jesus, she sighs, you can have the extra things.  I know I can not hold what only you can, she prays.  And she watches the water wash it away.

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Ink and holy things

The music, loud and grating and more than a bit obnoxious, seemed to be pleasing to the tattoo parlor natives.  I sat on a plain black sofa, the kind with no arms.  Burnt orange painted concrete floors under my boots.  A gray wall and a brown wall met the orange on my right and left, both decorated with a melding of industrial recycles and vintage pieces.  Two old wooden skateboards hung beside some original artwork of trees.  Behind me, above the din of the musical mess and past the succulents that lined the dividing wall, stories with pen and ink were being told.

Humming needle pens, dipped into ink wells, then pressed into skin.  I could hear it, though I could not yet see it.  It wasn’t our turn.

My girls–one a woman, the other nearly so–waited for their artists to come and greet them.  Tattoos on a Friday.

When I was still in high school, a little while ago, and where I come from, tattoos were for men.  Particularly military men.  Or dared men.  Perhaps drunken men.  But men, and not women.  I don’t think I knew a woman with a tattoo until I was in my 30’s, also a little while ago.  I remember trying to make any kind of personal peace with that art work on her back.  It never occurred to me to look inside myself, to find the source of the subtle disquiet about it.  And the next time I had to wrestle with it, when my younger nieces got tattoos when they were a missionary family in Africa, the best I could come to was (like many things, and not always a bad answer, just not a thorough answer), “that’s just not how I was raised.”  It was out of place in my world, and disruptive in a low-rumble kind of way, almost indistinct, but knowable.

God began lots of disruptive work in my life in that 30’s segment, all throughout.  Tattoos aside, I think about it now, it was rather like a needled pen writing new words, creating rewrites and permanent inscriptions.  Most of it wasn’t pleasant, but it was painful in all kinds of ways.  Stinging.  Scraping.  Bleeding, scabbing, healing, learning to breathe through it.

It was a sacred and holy season.  Toward the end of the worst of it, I wanted to mark it.  I wanted to put a stake in the ground, and say, “Thus far the Lord has helped me.  I am not the same.”  I didn’t have to look at the disquiet about my friend’s tattoo, or those on my nieces.  It was no longer there.  The transfiguration opened the door of a cage, and I left lots of things sitting in the dung pile.  Holy and sacred dung leaving.  And I marked it with a tattoo.

That purple bird on my wrist whispers to me still.  The two purple birds in flight call to me, even right now.  Be unbound, they sing.

So when my daughter asked us, once again, if we would allow her to get a tattoo, we said yes.  Mark your story with identity as the beloved of God, we said.  Please.  It’s hard to ever run from when it is right there all of the time.  When my adult daughter sprang into my office to show me what she had finally decided upon after two years of listening and searching, I relished in her joy.  If the story of us is written over time, then I’m okay with idelible ink.

tattoos on a Friday

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