Love is the Guide

Sometimes things happen in life that force me to reflect.  Reflection isn’t always easy…. just like looking in the mirror and acknowledging the cumulative effects of years in shades of gray and crevices along once-porcelain skin, reflection sheds light on ingrained patterns that led to some of my darkest days.

My weakest moments have shown me that faith is hope, and love is the way.  Not romantic love.  Instead, the love that is friendship and genuine caring for others; the kind of love that prompts me to do something just to make someone else smile.  Because, when I can’t find the strength to smile myself, seeing someone else smile is enough.

Love is the guide.

Love is seen when it's least expected
Love is seen when it’s least expected

This weekend, I visited friends that I haven’t seen in a few years.  I can think of many excuses reasons, but all of them are selfish.  I showed up on their doorstep unannounced, Easter Lily in hand, and they welcomed me without any hard feelings whatsoever.  We visited for hours, she shared some chocolate cake and hugs and we will go to lunch next month when I’m in town again.

This last year has shown me that when the passing idea to do something kind happens, don’t ignore it.  When the thought turns into an urging that keeps resurfacing, I should definitely do something.  With faith giving me strength and love as my guide, I’m ready to embrace the lessons that life has for me.

Have a beautiful Monday!

The Right Time

Sometimes we don’t have the benefit of knowing when our words or actions affect someone else, and sometimes we can’t see how or why things happen.  This post is about a chain of events that has affected me deeply- where everything happened at the right time; so perfectly that I know it’s more than coincidence.  This post may get lengthy, but I do hope you take time to read it.

I saw this rainbow when I stopped at the store at just the right time
I saw this rainbow when I stopped at the store at just the right time

I’ve wanted to write this post for nearly two weeks, but I couldn’t figure out where to begin.  Now I’m thinking it simply wasn’t the right time because more has happened since the initial events I wanted to write about.

The Sunday before Thanksgiving, I sat in church as the pastor delivered one of the most dreaded sermons: giving.  It has to be one of the most uncomfortable topics to discuss, both for the pastor and the congregation.  I have sat through many of these sermons, and frankly, have found some of them to be offensive and condescending.  I felt differently this time, though.  I heard the right words at the right time.  The thought came to me that I should write and let him know.  Just as quickly, I told myself that was crazy talk because of our history.  Here’s a brief summary:

I won’t go into a lot of detail because my kids could possibly get their noses out of their games and come across this blog, but earlier this year, after I filed for divorce and other things didn’t convince me to change my mind, my husband scheduled a counseling session for us with my pastor- behind my back.  He isn’t Christian and rarely attended church, so I saw it as manipulation (also concluded by other things he’d done.)  I went to the session, but felt forced into it.  The pastor affirmed that divorce is wrong and made a comment about how my hardened heart would cause me trouble in the future.  I was upset because I felt unfairly judged, but I continued to attend church, however, avoided the pastor when possible.

Still, for nearly a week, my thoughts drifted to the pastor’s words from the giving sermon.  On Saturday night, I wrote an offering check to give on Sunday.  I then penned a hand-written note to the pastor and folded it around the check before sealing it in the envelope.  In this note, I admitted that I had been thinking I would give an offering once my credit card bills were paid and I wasn’t living in a house I couldn’t afford and I now realized that this showed my lack of faith in God.  That check was a symbolic leap of faith to show that I was finally putting my trust in God that He would provide.  I also wrote that I didn’t really feel welcome there since the counseling session, but the money was for God not the church.  I wrote other things- a full page, in fact, but I can’t remember exactly what.

To my surprise, I received a letter from the pastor.  I don’t check my mailbox often, but I did on my way to work on December 9th (over a week after he wrote it.)  In this letter, he told of how he’d been discouraged because the offerings once again didn’t meet budget.  Some of his exact words:  “I said to myself, “You know, I’m not going to preach on giving anymore because it never makes a difference.  I don’t know how people can take it so lightly.  Then I read your letter.  Wow! It didn’t raise the offering any, but it reminded me of the real truth that it is God’s money and He always provides.  Your letter was like the voice of the Lord to me.”  He then assured me that I was welcome there and to let him know if I needed financial or emotional support.

I teared up.  My words reached him at just the right time.  And the knowledge of that reached me at the right time as well.  I would never ask for a handout, but knowing emotional support was available came as a relief.  He ended the letter instructing me to be at ease and know they were here for me.  Life didn’t feel nearly as heavy.

That is where I first thought this post would end, with the message that we should never shy away from complimenting or showing love because it could very well be a case of the right words or actions being delivered at the right time.  But like most late-night infomercials, life said, “but wait… there’s more!”

The same day I read the letter from my pastor, I got home from work to find a pallet of pellets sitting by my front door.  (Pellets are a type of fuel made from recycled wood products and sawdust and are packaged in 40-lb bags.  I use these in my pellet stove to heat the house.)  I searched the plastic wrapping and found the store phone number and called because I knew there was a mistake.  The woman looked up my information and said, “aw, that’s so sweet…. all it says here is ‘gift.'”  I asked if she was serious and she said, “sweetie, someone gave you a $300 gift, be happy.”  I was, but I still cried.  I have no idea who did this, but I hope they know how grateful I am. I’m able to keep the house a little warmer, which is good for my younger son (that is another post.)

This is what a pallet of pellets looks like after I unloaded it into my garage
This is what a pallet of pellets looks like after I unloaded it into my garage

The gift of heat came at the right time.  Knowing I have what I need to heat the house until at least mid-January lifted a huge burden.  My house has been on the market since before summer and I’d been told winter months are slow for real estate, so I settled in for a long winter.

A few days after that generous gift, an offer came on the house – it’s now in escrow.  I found another (much smaller) house and she accepted my offer.  Inspections are next week.  It’s all happened so quickly and it’s a blur – especially during the holidays, but it’s all happened at exactly the right time.

Last week, I qualified for a home loan.  Even with the worst-case spousal support payout to my soon-to-be-ex, I qualified.  More relief.  As I was reading through the required documents, I saw ‘divorce decree’ listed.  The loan officer confirmed that the final decree was needed to fund the loan.  Trial is scheduled near the end of January, and my new house is scheduled to close the beginning of February.  If my house would’ve sold during the busy summer season, I wouldn’t have been able to get a loan.  I didn’t know that.

All of this is proof to me that even if things don’t happen on my time, they do happen at the right time.  It’s also shown me there is comfort in loosening my white-knuckle grip on control and trusting that God will provide.  I have a feeling that as I learn to share more freely, I will experience some positive life-changing side-effects.

If you’re reading this, it means you survived this lengthy post.  Thank you for not giving up!  I will keep up with blog reading as best I can, but the next month or so will be really crazy for me.  Just know, it is only temporary 🙂

Have a beautiful Monday and I hope you enjoy the blessings of the season!

The Companion Broker (Fiction with photo by Emilio Pasquale)

Okay, it’s been a while since I’ve posted a collaboration with Emilio, where I write a story inspired by a photo he provides.  It’s completely my fault!  See, Emilio gave me this photo to write for September.  I have no excuse for my delay, other than 2015 isn’t landing at the top of my “best year ever” list 🙂   If you haven’t checked out Emilio’s blog before, you really should – click his name to link to his site…. I gave you three chances here!  I’ll stop rambling now – the story begins right after the photo.

Photo by Emilio Pasquale... story by me!
Photo by Emilio Pasquale… story by me!

I had a knack for finding the broken ones.  I would take them in.  I would love them.  I would lose myself in them.  Each time, I thought my heart was full enough to make them whole.  Each time, the shine tarnished and I escaped with a little less of me.

My present is made up of their pasts, the cracks in my broken heart filled with pieces of their pain.  Desperado, Cat’s in The Cradle, Father of Mine, Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough… their burdens set to music. As I sped down the remote highway, I played each and every one of these songs, over and over. It’s funny how the years of heartaches wrapped in catchy melodies slid along the hardened spaces of my soul with such ease. At least the tears reminded me that I was still alive.

This time, I didn’t care if I lived to give again. Phillip had been my latest broken bird, on the verge of falling into the dark abyss. I scooped him up and nurtured him. For three years, he greedily fed on my love and affection until he was strong enough to fly. And he flew all right… straight to my ex best friend, Sarah. I took his bad and gave him my good. It all cancelled out in the end and left me… empty.

Off to the right, a row of rusted old cars and a seen-better-days ranch caught my eye. On impulse, I pulled onto the shoulder, kicking up a cloud of dust and gravel behind me. When the dust settled, I stepped out of my car and eyed the street sign perched atop a leaning metal pole. I didn’t know which was more ironic; the fact there was a street sign marking a span of dirt that could barely be considered a road, or that the sign read “Opportunity Way.” I doubted opportunity traveled back-roads.

I walked for a little ways until I came to a waist-high wooden fence that encircled the yard. For a time, I perched on the fence, staring at the row of cars. I couldn’t help but relate to them; we had all been shiny and something to look at back in the day. But now… well, I cried.

I didn’t want to think about it, but I suspected I would always see the lost ones, broken, looking for validation and something that felt like love to make them okay for a while.  I could see my future so clearly… like beggars pleading for loose change, their eyes would search mine for a bit of my soul they could have.  On my strong days, I would turn my head and quicken my pace. “I don’t have any,” I would mutter.  It would be true.  If God was merciful, they won’t pursue me. They would see I was as broke… broken… as they were. They would sense I had nothing to offer, no hand to grasp in desperation.

“Howdy, ma’am!”

I startled, losing my balance and fell back into someone’s arms. I twisted my neck and glimpsed a not-completely-unattractive man, possibly in his early fifties. Exactly what I don’t need. I jerked my weight forward and steadied myself on the fence.

“You’re welcome,” he said.

“I didn’t thank you.”

The wood bounced as he hoisted himself to sit next to me. He shrugged. “I was overlooking your lack of manners.”

I clenched my jaw, but kept my gaze focused on the cactus that took root next to the blue car. “Speaking of manners, it’s not polite to interrupt someone’s thoughts.”

He smiled. “Maybe not, but when the thoughts are thunk on my property, those rules don’t really apply.”

“You’re right. I’ll go.” Before I could slide off the fence, he touched my arm.

“You’re welcome to stay.” He shifted his gaze toward the cars. “Lots of people come here to think. It keeps me in business.”

“Business? What kind of work?” I thought maybe mechanic, but his khaki pants and pastel blue polo shirt didn’t fit.

“I’m a companion broker, you could say.”

“Companion broker?” The words tumbled around in my head as I tried to figure out what that meant.

He laughed. “Lemme explain. I help fix people.  This highway is traveled by lots of lonely people; people with heavy stuff on their mind. Sometimes all they need is human connection.”

My eyes widened. “So you’re a pimp? That’s horrible!”

He lifted a rhinestone and gold-plated Zippo from his pocket and lit the cigarette hanging from his pressed lips. “No, not a pimp. I mean, sometimes people are looking for that, but usually, they just want to talk so they don’t feel alone.”

“Not a pimp, huh? That blinged-out lighter says otherwise.”

“Hmph. One of those.” He shook his head and exhaled a trail of smoke.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

He shrugged. “Bitter, disillusioned and bearing scars of past loves. I’m guessing you’ve convinced yourself you’re on a journey to find you, but really, you’re running from who you are.” He paused to exhale another puff of smoke. “You judge me because it makes you feel better about yourself.”

“Listen, Mr…. Mr. whatever-your-name-is, you may think you know my story, but you don’t!” I clenched my eyes shut, hoping it was enough to keep the tears back.

“They call me Big Guns.”

I stifled a laugh. “Big Guns?”

He pushed up his shirt sleeve and flexed, I think. “See what I mean?”

I saw a barely perceptible bulge in his bicep. I shook my head, “I’m sorry, but those aren’t even purse pistols.” I laughed, almost forgetting that moments ago, I wanted to cry.

“Come on,” he said as he hopped off the fence.

I didn’t move. Following him seemed like insanity.

“Trust me. You need to see this.” He held his hand out, waiting for me to grasp it.

Impulsively, I took the invitation and his fingers curled around my hand. “Is it more impressive than what I’ve seen so far, Mr. Guns?” I shocked myself with the flirtatious tone in my voice.

This time he laughed. “I think you’ll be amazed. You can call me Thomas.”

I followed Thomas to the row of rusted cars. With his back to me, I slipped my tinted gloss from my pocket and swiped a quick coat on my lips.

“These cars were my dad’s hobby, but he passed away three years ago. I can’t bring myself to get rid of them, yet I don’t have the expertise needed to restore them either.”

“I’m sorry for your loss.” I didn’t know what else to say.

“I found another way to use them to honor his memory, though.” He opened the door to the first car and gestured for me to look inside.

Paper filled the inside of the car clear up to the windows. “What is all this?”

Thomas smiled. “These are letters from the lonely. We’re all broken in some way and these letters allow those passing through to let go of some of their burdens.”

“What do you do with the letters? Do you read them?”

“I don’t read them. I leave them here so the intended recipient will find them. There’s no such thing as coincidence; our paths cross for a reason. Some people write letters, but others read them and take one with them when they go. All I ask is that writers include their name and phone number, and when you take a letter, you contact that person.”

Companion broker… it made more sense. “Do these people ever meet?”

He shrugged. “Some do. I’ve gotten a few letters thanking me, but really, I’m just doing God’s service.”

“God’s service?”

Thomas smiled. “I used to be a pastor but disagreed with the human way of organized religion. So, I decided to minister to people on my own, according to God’s word and Jesus’ principles.”

My cheeks flushed. “I-I’m so sorry, I called you a pimp.”

“And you laughed at my biceps.” He closed the car door and led me to the blue car. “I think this one might have what you’re looking for.” He pointed to a notepad and pen on the dashboard. “Write a letter, or take a letter, it’s up to you. Take your time.”

I watched as Thomas shuffled away, dust trailing behind him. A pastor. Unbelievable. I turned my attention to the mounds of paper filling the car. I shoved them aside so I could sit. I wondered why he thought I’d find what I was looking for here. I didn’t even know what I sought.

I grabbed the paper and pen and wrote my first tentative words. The rest of the words followed swiftly and before I knew it, both sides of the page were filled. I hesitated. Then with a deep breath and long exhale, I scrawled my name and phone number. After I dropped the paper onto the pile, it felt like a weight had been lifted from inside me.

The dense pile swallowed my hand, and my arm up to my elbow, before I grasped a page. I held it up so I could focus on the scrawled words. I can’t believe I’m writing a letter to leave in an old car for some stranger to read. I smiled. My letter started similarly. By the time I got to the end, my eyes blurred. I swiped the wetness from my cheeks with the back of my hand.

Seth Mitchell.

My breath caught as I stared at the familiar name. A buried past, exhumed and resurrected by one hand-written letter. I folded the page into fourths and shoved it into my back pocket. Twenty years felt like a span of a few breaths. That letter transported me from middle age to mid-twenties. I stepped out of the car and slammed the creaky-hinged door behind me. The thought crossed my mind that the old car was a time machine of sorts.

Maybe Seth had been right back then… that love wasn’t enough. Maybe I was right in my proclamation that time doesn’t heal all wounds. Maybe right or wrong no longer mattered.

All I knew in that moment was that I needed to find out.

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Thanks so much for reading! If life cooperates, the plan is to have another Emilio photo/story collaboration posted in December.  Stay tuned 🙂

Oh, Dear (Fiction inspired by Emilio Pasquale photo)

This story is inspired by Emilio Pasquale’s photo. I didn’t ask permission to post the photo here, but you can view it in another window by clicking the link on the first sentence. (Trust me, you should see it!)

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“Yes, Mr. Collins. The cabin will be set just how you requested. I took excellent notes.”

Samuel tapped his fingers on his desk. “You’ve got the dozen pink roses and the box of truffles in the bedroom?”

“Yes, sir.”

He exhaled. “Thank you, Josie. Everything has to be perfect; exactly like it was twenty years ago.”

He hung up the phone and rested his forehead in his hands. He knew his future depended on the success of the upcoming weekend. Twenty years ago, he had taken Deana to the rustic cabin on their honeymoon. They hadn’t had much money and, although the cabin was only two hours north of Phoenix, the climate was a world away. Three weeks ago, Deana moved out. Now, he had to prove to her that he still loved her. Recreating our honeymoon for Valentine’s Day is perfect!

He picked up the phone again and pressed the first programmed call number.

“What do you want?”

He gulped. “Listen, Deana. Just give me a chance.”

“I’ve already given you too many.”

“Please, just meet me at the Ponderosa Inn and Cabins on Saturday.” When the silence dragged on for several awkward seconds, he continued, “Cabin 9. Just one more chance. Please.

“That’s where we spent our honeymoon.”

“I remember.”

“I don’t think-”

“Don’t think, just show up.”

She sighed. “Fine.”

He exhaled and his shoulders slumped with the release of tension. “The room is ours at two, if you want to head up early. I have a couple things to take care of, but I’ll be there by four.”

She snorted. “Another one of your business weekends, huh? Never mind. We’ve been through-”

“No!” He took a breath to calm his panic. “No, wait, it’s not like that. I’ve reserved two hours of spa time; you pick the services.”

“Oh.” She paused. “They have a spa now?”

“They added it a few years ago.”

“Okay.”

He smiled. “You won’t be disappointed.”

He hung up the phone and dialed the Ponderosa Inn.

“Hi, this is Samuel Collins,” he said once the front desk picked up the line. “I need to schedule two hours of spa services for Saturday.”

“I’m sorry. The spa is fully booked until Sunday afternoon.”

“How much would it cost to make it happen?”

“Sir, it’s Valentine’s Day. The schedule is full.”

“Okay, okay.” He ran his fingers through his thinning hair. “Can you call people who are scheduled between two and four to find out if they will sell their appointment? I’ll pay any price.”

“Sure, Mr. Collins. I’ll see what I can do.”

“I appreciate it, Josie.”

***        ***        ***

On Valentine’s Day, Samuel called Deana. “Yes, the spa appointment is all set. When you check in at the front desk, ask for Yolanda and she’ll get you started.”

“I’m impressed. I didn’t think you could pull it off. I always planned our vacations.”

“I’m full of surprises.”

“Wait a second; you didn’t have your assistant set everything up, did you?”

“Actually, no.” That would’ve been smarter. “I’ve made our dinner reservations for 6pm, so that should give you enough time to get ready.”

“All right.”

“I love you, Deana.”

The line disconnected. She’d avoided saying she loved him for months. He didn’t pick up on it at first. A twinge of pain ran through his chest. He should’ve asked questions. He counted out twenty-three one hundred dollar bills; enough to cover the spa appointment and tips. He folded the wad in half and shoved it into his blazer pocket. He grabbed his overnight bag and headed to the car.

At four-twenty, he parked his car in the dirt parking to the left of the main building. He patted his pocket and strode into the lobby. The heat from the fireplace across from the front desk enveloped him as the door eased closed. He detected a sweet smell commingling with the pine scent, and just then, he noticed the plate of chocolate chip cookies on counter.

A brunette with large eyeliner-rimmed brown eyes greeted him with a smile. “Good afternoon.”

“Hi. You must be Josie?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I’m Samuel Collins. I wanted to thank you for your help getting this weekend set up.” He pulled out the wad of bills and peeled four bills away. He handed her the cash. “This is for you.”

Her eyes widened. “No way!”

“Do you have an envelope?”

Josie reached into a drawer to her right and pulled out a letter-sized envelope with three green pine trees stamped in the upper left corner.

He took the envelope from her manicured fingers. “Are the Davenports dining in the main room tonight?”

Josie’s nails clicked the laptop keys. “They have a six-thirty reservation.”

“Perfect. I owe them for the spa appointment.” He stuffed a few bills into the envelope and tucked the rest into his pocket. He handed the envelope to Josie. “Please see that this gets to those who attended to my wife today.” His phone vibrated in his pocket and he checked the screen. Deana. He tapped the screen. “Hi, hon-”

“What is wrong with you?” she shrieked.

He pulled the phone from his ear and turned away from Josie after catching sight of her perplexed expression. “I have no idea.” He didn’t know how to answer. “How was the spa?”

“Nice, until I got back to the cabin!”

“Why? I had them set it up exactly how it was for our honeymoon.”

“We didn’t have two deer in our bed on our honeymoon!”

“What?”

“Two deer. In our bed!”

“Hold on.” He turned to Josie. “She says there are two deer in our bed?”

Josie nodded. “Yes sir, just as you requested.”

“I didn’t ask for that!”

She pulled out a manila folder and flipped through some papers. “Right here.” She handed the paper to him. Scrawled in purple ink was, ‘two deer for our anniversary.’

Samuel rubbed his forehead. “No!  It was supposed to be a card that read, “To my dear for our anniversary.”

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If you didn’t check out the link to Emilio’s photo at the beginning of the story, here’s a second chance. You really should see the photo that inspired this story – it’s awesome!

I purposely left the ending open so you can determine how it plays out. If you’re a romantic, then she ended up finding the mixup “endeering” (sorry, that was really bad) and laughed at the mishap and they lived happily ever after. If you are a cynic, then she was so mad she drove home that night and reconciliation hopes were dashed 🙂

I still have a lot of “stuff” going on, but I couldn’t resist this distraction from the weight of life. I appreciate all the kind comments and prayers that many of you have sent my way. You all rock! I hope to be back more regularly soon.

You (Can’t) Complete Me

Eagle's nest near Woods Canyon Lake (AZ)
Eagle’s nest near Woods Canyon Lake (AZ)

Time moves like grey clouds on an overcast day.

Shading,

shifting,

shadowing.

My future, hazy, rolls on the horizon.

My perch, compromised;

my insecurities, exposed.

I used to think you completed me.

I bought into the fallacy;

           partook of the trickery-

My cup runs over, but still, I’m empty.

Incomplete.

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Inspiration: Though written in first person, the poem is not autobiographical this time. For some reason the phrase, “you complete me” came to mind today. I’m not so sure someone else can complete us. I think we have to be whole and comfortable in our “self” before we can commit to love. However, I’m not a total pessimist- I do believe we can find someone who compliments us by bringing out our better qualities.

In this poem, the broken person realizes that no matter how much the other person gives, it’s not enough. Looking back on the relationship, with the perspective of the time invested, he/she sees an uncertain future. The person has grown to be cynical from the realization they were duped by the idea someone else could make them whole. “My cup runs over, but still, I’m empty” – this acknowledges that although life has bestowed numerous blessings, the person still feels hollow inside.

Of course, if you saw something entirely different in these words, you’re right, too!

Thanks for reading and contemplating my words. Have a wonderful rest of the week 🙂