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Forgiving the Naked Lady Tattoo and the False Teeth Abandoned in a Tuna Sandwich

forgiveness quotation quoteMy childhood nemesis: Roberta Sherard.

She flaunted perfection, from the house next door to mine, twirling polished pirouettes, a blonde ponytail floating in slow motion behind her. I tried to keep up, spinning and stumbling, bedecked with scabbed knobby knees, red hair doomed to frizz, by a Tony home permanent gone awry. Roberta spoke softly, poise oozing out her pores, a finishing school graduate. I reeked of awkward, spewed hillbilly slang like Warshington, gonna, and I-dunno, and I carried the mantra, “Debbie, settle down.”

Roberta’s father wore a suit and tie, called her princess, bored my family with tales of her delight fulness. My dad yelled, wore Big Mac striped overalls, told me to pipe down.

“No man is gonna marry a girl with big feet,” he’d say, pointing a greasy truck driver finger at my bare feet.

I coveted Roberta’s family, but I loved mine.

The McFarland’s were not without charm. Summers we’d put on neighborhood shows, an amazing feat, performed completely without the benefit of talent. No musicians, singers, dancers or actors, just raw desire to be the center of attention, and the guts to charge for it… a silver quarter per show.

Saturday’s we ’d canvas the block passing out hand written invitations, for Sunday afternoon’s back yard performance. A typical show, featured my lip sync to Ricky Nelson’s Traveling Man, sister Nancy’s loud version of Peter, Paul and Mary’s Kumbaya, accompanied by imaginary guitar strumming, and our star, little Danny, singing most all the words of Sukiyaki, a Japanese pop song from the 1960s. We served popcorn and lemonade for a nickel, and gave away taffy, because we didn’t like it very much.

By midsummer our crowds always dwindled, leaving sticky face Johnny and his whining sister, Margaret, alone on the grandstand of grass. Unwillingly to fold up the makeshift floral sheet curtain, we spawned an idea for an act, no child of the 1960s could resist.

“Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the dancing naked lady…”

naked lady tattoo US Navy
My dad’s genuine United States Navy tattoo.

Our risqué, bare bottomed star, a genuine United States Navy tattoo located on Dad’s forearm… and she could dance. Quarters jingled, filling the jar. We had it made. That is, until a power wielding censorship group of one, cancelled the dance, insisting Dad roll his sleeve back down. Mom never did have a sense for business.

One day, Roberta’s family packed their perfect possessions, and moved to a wonderland of princess worthy neighbors. Around this time, Dad’s toothless gums and the tattoo, turned from an attraction to an embarrassment. I grew to hate his stories, and loathe my one time heroine, the dancing naked lady. To my friends, NOT asking, he’d share the demise of his toothless grin.

“I left my teeth at a café’ on highway 99, stuck in a tuna sandwich.”

Thanks for sharing Dad.

Resentment seeded, bitterness took root. Like many families walking the tightrope between alcoholism and recreational use abuse… stuff happened… words carelessly tossed, lies slung, shame spilled, fists bristled.

When I looked at my dad, I saw nothing… except who he was not. The dad I loved for his loud voice, silly jokes and Popeye grin, disappeared. I forgot the man who provided for his family, fudged paperwork miles, enabling longer shifts. The good forgotten, leaving only the bad to define; a man who hurt the ones he loved with neglect and fists.

Over time, the naked lady tattoo shriveled and sagged. Her one time peppy, flirty dance, was at best, a sluggish, sway. Our relationship deteriorated, along with the tattoo. Bitter years of forgiveness proved too much to carry, spilling over, slopping onto my other relationships; husband, children, friends, co-workers, even strangers.

Alas, God moves ever forward, albeit seemingly behind the scenes, but oh so powerful! In His perfect timing, knowing the moment my heart reached ideal compliance, help came knocking in the form of a class called Surrendered Hearts. There I struggled, alongside three other women, clinging to ancient justifications for stacks of resentments. I listened… they listened… to tales of rage… to pent up screams. We cried.

For me, graduation meant forgiving my dad. I said the words, sincerely wanting to mean them. I forgive you Dad. I forgive what you did and what you did not. I mourned the dad I thought I wanted. I thanked Jesus for forgiving my judgments and bitter vows.

Shortly after the class completion, my mother died. That meant spending time with Dad. I wanted to be a good daughter, a comfort for my dad. My willingness to forgive, bought some patience, but not enough. Daily, I spent hours on the phone, listening to him complain. Nightly, I begged God to help me forgive him. Each day a clean slate, ending, soiled with new found rage for his latest rant attempting to justify wrongs done to my mom and siblings. If he’d just keep his mouth shut, maybe I could actually forgive him.

I don’t know how or when God removed the stain from my heart. I didn’t notice it getting lighter or less. One day, on the phone with him, I realized I cared. I felt love for the man he was, right then and there. The dad, the man with skin. While he talked on about what a good guy he was, God flipped the forgiveness switch in my heart. At least, that’s the best explanation I have.

More years passed, at least once a year he nearly died, springing back each time leaving the doctors shaking their heads in wonder. Driving his scooter, oxygen tank at his side, dad pressed on, losing the family home to gambling, nearly blowing his face off smoking Chesterfield’s while hooked to the oxygen tank, and getting slugged by a miscellaneous woman he somehow offended. Same old dad, but something was different.

That would be me.

Forgiveness benefited me. I was free to love and care for Dad, AS IS. Did I condone his actions? No. Did he sometimes make me crazy? You bet. But I loved… I love… I love my dad.

At some point, he quit justifying wrongs and attempted to right what he could. He died, with the faithful naked lady tattoo, loved. He left this world broken, forgiving and forgiven. He left, a dad, I’m proud to say is mine.

 

Coming in 2016 – In Spite of Us – Stalked by a Loving God

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Sample Chapter of our book

 

Second Preview Chapter From: In Spite of Us – Stalked by a Loving God

Christian Author Book Chapter Preview. In Spite of Us - Stalked by a Loving God

A few months back we shared a sneak peek chapter from our book, “In Spite of Us – Stalked by a Loving God.” Thanks to everyone for the encouraging buzz and interest in reading more! That felt so good we’re doing it again!

Our book is the story of an unremarkable couple pursued by God at every turn. It’s written in two points of view – his and hers – bi-chapterly. By the way, the His and Hers monogram belongs to my husband and me. It’s a true story of God’s perpetual grace in our lives, even through seasons of irreverent, stiff-necked refusal of His power and love.

The last preview, Chapter 14, featured my husband, Sandy’s point of view while meeting my colorful parents. This time it’s my turn to speak out as I experience dinner with his family rainbow of characters.

Here’s some general background to set the stage:

It takes place early in our courtship, after a blind date that should have killed the attraction, that miraculously limps on. We are 40-somethings, recent college graduates, beginning lives meant for 20-somethings. Stacked around us, at the relationship hearth, are piles of dirty laundry.

Sandy is three years sober, has perfect A.A. attendance, clings to a God of his own understanding. Coincidentally, before we met, he went through alcohol treatment with my brother Danny. An interesting side note: Sandy does not believe in coincidences.

I consider God a crutch for the weak, have no need or desire for sobriety for myself… BUT… I see the benefits it offers others… AND… I want Sandy to fix my brother using whatever powers available.

We hope chapter 19  leaves you wanting more as the last one did.

If you did not read our first preview, check it out here: Sneak Peek Chapter 14

Chapter 19

Roll Models 

Sandy ignores my eyeball darts, shooting across the dinner table. It’s my first dinner with his family. Laurel, the mom, stands over the table, rebounding orders like a devoted bat boy, wanting nothing more than to serve and please her team. Flavius, the dad, Mark, the brother, Robin, the sister and Sandy, demand more gravy, rolls fresh from the oven and another glass of milk. The words please and thank you are foreign to the masters of this slave, and no one but me, seems to hear her pleas for approval. New Author Preview

“Who wants more of this crap?” she asks. New Author Preview

Taking the bait, I ooh and aah like a fool, hoping someone, maybe Sandy, will join my chorus. New Author Preview

“Oh… oh my… these are the best rolls ever… Mmm-mmm… and this gravy! Sandy?  Sandy! Don’t you think the rolls are amazing?” New Author Preview

Talking over my solo of compliments, they joke, asking who posed as the roll model, each insisting the other’s buns match the rolls. I feel like I’m held hostage by The Three Stooges, plus one. Laurel ignores my orgasmic sounds of pleasure for potatoes and gravy, playing along with the roll model gag. New Author Preview

Later, she tolerates my help with the dinner dishes, frequently suggesting I join the others lounging in the living room. She pours the last of the bottle of Thunderbird wine into her glass. When the twist cap hissed earlier, all eyes turned her way, then diverted as if long ago the family agreed to look away. I wanted to say yes, when she offered me a glass, but I’ve realized I’d rather have none than a little. This is not the time nor place to let loose. Besides, getting sloshed with boyfriend’s mom is a dangerous game. I’ve walked that tightrope a time or two in the past.

Robin goes home, leaving the original Three Stooges in the living room, talking over a rerun of Bonanza on the television. I’m sitting at the kitchen table with Laurel. Her lovely, tall and elegant frame is mismatched with an, “I’m less than demeanor”. Waving away my rerun of oohs and aahs of the feast, she spills a story with the opening line, “I’m a bad person, you don’t know the things I’ve done.” I counter with, “No you’re not a bad person.”

Appointing me as judge and jury, she shares the details of her past like a vehement lawyer’s burden to prove her lack of worth to me. The story rivals “Gone with

the Wind.” It’s a real page turner, but I’d prefer to view it on the big screen, or better yet, read the book in private. Face to face with Scarlett in catharsis mode is beyond my comfort zone. In less than an hour I learn that Sandy’s oldest brother Jim, who was killed in a car accident, was not the son of Flavius. He was the product of a one-night stand, occurring while Flavius was away at sea, in the Navy. All through the story she emphasizes what a good man Flavius is to have married her anyway.

I perform acrobatic feats in body language and facial expressions, hoping Sandy will come save me. Alas, the men are busy poking fun at each other, comparing stomach bloats, oblivious to the melodrama unraveling in the kitchen.

“I told you… I’ve done terrible things.”

“No, no… it’s okay. Don’t say that.”.

My impersonation of Charles Manson in the morning, before coffee, finally grabs Sandy’s attention. He gathers our coats, as I sing a solo chorus of thank you, dinner was amazing, truly wonderful, thanks again.

“If you have any notion that I might be willing to live a life of hell like your mother, get over it,” I say before the car door shuts.

“What the… what’s wrong with you?”

“You treat your mother like dirt!”

He shakes his head, like I’m out of my mind. I make a mental note: Do not marry this jerk.

The answering machine beeps as we walk through the door. It’s Danny, saying he’ll be swinging by tomorrow morning. I’m disappointed Haley and Jay are at their dads. They adore  Uncle Danny. His teasing leaves them begging him to stop, while asking for more. I suspect he wants to talk alone. Last week he was in jail again. He needs help. I have to do something.

I don’t know the, “how tos,” of brothers and sisters, I just know our rule book. There have been times when I wanted the little sucker gone for good. Like when he hid under my bed with a stuffed glove attached to a broom handle, or when he’d pop out from behind the shower curtain just when I turn on the light, or the time he knocked on my bedroom window at 6 A.M., with his pimply, yellow-toothed friends, pointing and giggling at my pink foam rollers. Still, he was, is and will always be, MY pain in the butt, and, when I’m not planning his demise, I love the idiot.

When I was thirteen, and Danny, nine, a silent, bond took place. Mom and Dad wanted to go to Esmerelda’s, a bar in the skid row section of Tacoma. They’d spent the day, doing what they called, “things for us,” and wanted some “adult time.” In the spirit of parental multi-tasking they handed us a handful of change, along with a couple of Archie and Casper comic books. Upon cautioning we should not to talk to strangers, they left us in the pool hall next door. Mom checked in every 30 minutes. It was fun. That is, until around 1 AM, when the semi-normal looking people left us alone with the remaining sour smelling men, whose chins dripped of snuff, after swigs from paper bags. Tired, we huddled on the floor, reading our comics. We kept our backs to the wall so no one could sneak up from behind, and our eyes downward. I felt a creepy stare coming from a guy with a spider tattoo on his hand. Danny felt it too, wiggling and pressing close to me. As the guy’s pointed toe boots shuffled toward us, my goofy little brother puffs up, placing an arm around my shoulder.

“She’s with me,” he said in a squeaky voice.

I looked up, expecting the guy to laugh. Surely even a dedicated ax murderer would think he’s too cute for slaughter. When my eyes met the man’s, it felt like when you have one of those naked in public nightmares. What did he see in place of the pair of redheaded, freckled faced, scared, dopey, ivory skinned kids? Danny’s skinny arm quivered atop my shoulder, his legs bent, preparing to stand and… what? Fight? That’s when I swore a silent oath to protect him all my days, and to quit calling him names. As we stood up together, a voice boomed from the adjoining door to Esmeraldas… it was Dad.

“Let’s go!”

With that, the pervert scattered like a cockroach in the light. My folks apologized for being late, explaining their helpless situation.

“Everyone kept buying us drinks. They wouldn’t let us leave.”

I’ve kept the vow, best I can. Except for the name calling. When he was sixteen, smoking weed and failing school, he moved from Auburn to live with my husband Jerry and me in Yakima. Together we shopped for the best high school, with me, barely 21, asking the school authorities questions like a mother of six. It’s always been Danny and me. Right now, he needs some help. He was willing to stand up at and fight for me, and I’m willing to do the same for him.

When he shows in the morning, he’s noticeably hung over. He refuses a Bear Claw, grabbing for a coffee cup like an old man reaching for his cane. I listen to the ongoing saga of court dates, car accidents, stalking collection agencies and girlfriends who exaggerate about his temper. I want to mention A.A., but he might as well be wearing a sign reading – I will bite the head off anyone who mentions my drinking.

“I need to ask you something, you can’t tell anyone,” he says.

He tears up. We light smokes. Sobs take over as he chokes, swallowing words.

“I’m having problems… sex… you know…”

‘Like what?” I ask, buying time.

“I can’t… I don’t… you know… C’mon you know!”

He’s crying. I’d do anything to help. Desperate, I resort to my one true talent, telling lies. Say what you want, lying is a skill, when used responsibly. It’s saved me many times, from a variety of threats, like jail, rape and getting fired.

“Sandy had the same problems. That is, before, he quit drinking. He told me all about it. He couldn’t function. Now he has no problem at all.”

“Really?” Danny asked, swiping the back of his hand on his cheek.

“Yes, really,” I LIED. “You know he goes to A.A. meetings every day. You should talk with him.”

“A. A. is bunk. I’m doing this other deal. It’s not just the alcohol. The guy I’m seeing takes a holistic approach. No carcinogens, sugar or white flour.  I’ve already paid $1200.”


 

Don’t Let This Common Dilemma Sneak Up on You

Man in very tall pants. High waisted pants. Another birthday… yawn. No biggie, collecting biological years is easy. How old you ask? Let’s just say I’m past a “certain age.” The worry is not the non-nonchalant inevitability of aging… no, it’s the preferred option over death. My concern is deeper, one that my husband and I discuss when alone and free of distractions.

I usually start…

“When do you think it happens?” I’ll ask.

“What?”

“You know, the pants thing?”

“Tall pants?”

“Yeah, tall pants.”

You know what we’re talking about. C’mon, we’ve all noticed, but dare not speak about it. It’s merciless, striking ALL the elderly, no exception, whether man or woman, short or tall, ex-pole dancer or plumber, we all end up with trousers hiked up to our armpits. What about the kids wearing triple sized jeans, gregariously sashed at the thigh? The ones walking around looking like toddlers packing a load? Yep… someday they’ll look like the circus tall guy walking around on stilts, belted at the chest.

Is anyone safe? For years we’ve kept hope that our side buckle, hip hugger, generation, would claim victory over this tricky trouser hitch. Sadly, as we’ve crept into the “certain age” arena, we’ve witnessed the rise in waist lines all around us. We don’t exactly know how, why or when it happens. With each birthday the question nags away.

Is it sudden? One day, walking down the street, you catch your reflection in a store window, finding your trousers cinched snugly around your chest.

Or is it more of a paradigm shift in thought, a cartoon light bulb appearing in a bubble over your head? Standing in the mirror you make a sound decision, yanking jeans up over the gut, proudly parading around for all to see… but why?

Is it a dormant virus we carry like chicken pox, lying in wait for its moment of attack? If so, why has no one developed a vaccine?

Could it be a consequence of a seemingly innocent toddler fashion faux pas such as the footed sleeper or too tight Onesie? What about tall diapers?

It might be that we are victims to a secret force of prankster angels, trained in wedgies, who sneak up on those of a “certain age,” tugging toward the heavens.

No one is safe. Last month, my husband called me, visibly shaken after an encounter too close to home.

“My brother… it’s happening. I saw it with my own eyes.”

“What’s happening?, I asked.

“Mark is showing premature signs of… tall pants.”

Scared for his own future, Sandy asked his brother the tough question.

“So, what’s with the tall pants?”

In Mark’s case, his wife tossed his size 34 jeans out, replacing them with size 36, leaving him with pants falling to his ankles unless he succumbed to the under arm belt mode. But not everyone’s wife is the culprit. We all know a bachelorette, of a “certain age,” who tucks her boobs into her belt, and a horde of white haired bachelors whose suspenders end under the shoulders.

Seems I should say something profound here… like it doesn’t matter… worse things could happen… Hmmm… let me think….

No… not happening… it does matter!

You can’t stop it. I think we all know that. But, here’s a few tips to prolong this involuntary event.

Use the buddy system. Don’t go it alone. My husband and I keep check on each other. You’ll need a tape measure and a vengeance for honesty.

Watch for early signs. Premature cases of creeping waist lines appear to be spreading rapidly. Face the mirror, ask the defining question: “Have I gotten taller? No? I thought not.

Women only: If your bra and belt serve a dual purpose? You have been infected!

Men Only: One question… does it hurt? You have been infected!

Be aware. Safeguard against sneak attacks by scheduling periodic pant tugging times throughout your day.

Alternative care. Try sewing drapery weights into the hem of your trousers. We’ve yet to test this, but it should slow the creeping up process.

Denial is not your friend. Don’t stay in the closet. If you’re wearing a huge T-shirt disguising the tall pants underneath, tell someone and get help.

We encourage you to join a support group. As of this date, I only know of one—ours. Send us a photo, will give you a free, zero obligation evaluation of the pants situation.

Remember, admitting the problem is the first step toward recovery.

In Spite of Us - Chapter Previewhttps://debpalmerauthor.wordpress.com/2014/11/13/christian-author-preview-chapter-in-spite-of-us-stalked-by-a-loving-god/

New Christian Author Preview Chapter: In Spite of Us – Stalked by a Loving God

RatedWforWeird

The following is an excerpt from our book, “In Spite of Us – Stalked by a Loving God.” The story is about an unremarkable couple pursued by God at every turn. It’s written in two points of view – his and hers – bi-chapterly. Here’s a few things you need to know to set the stage: New Author  Chapter Preview

It takes place several months after their shaky blind date in that nearly comfortable stage.   They’re forty-somethings who’ve just graduated college, about to start lives meant for twenty somethings. They stand on the relationship hearth, laden with old baggage.

She is not interested in God… any God. To her, sobriety has no benefits. It’s rather like slaughtering a Led Zeppelin tune to make it playable in elevators. She’s been hurt, and if some guy thinks it’s going to happen again… well, he better be ready because this time guns are loaded. The question is this: Is she attracted to the soft-hearted, God-loving recovering alcoholic bent on becoming a better man, or the selfish, egotistical, biker bad-boy he used to be? New Author  Chapter Preview

He is three years sober and not going back to the party. He loves God… a God of his own design, picking what he likes and dislikes like a child forking through a salad. He sees the red flags she slaps him upside the head with, but hey, she’s not a convict, an improvement over past relationships. The question is this: Is he attracted to the kind, loving, woman underneath her facade, or the mouthy, arrogant bad-girl he sees as a challenge? New Author  Chapter Preview

The big question is this: New Author  Chapter Preview

Have they exasperated all patience or can God clean up their messy lives?

Oh… did I mention my husband and I are the couple, and this is our true story of God’s perpetual grace?

The sample chapter below is written in Sandy’s (my husband) point of view. It’s one of the more light-hearted chapters, when he meets my colorful parents.  It begins amid the current family drama, the murder of my mother’s cousin, Virginia.

Read the warning and take the risk if you dare. We hope the taste of our story leaves you wanting more.

RatedWforWeird

Chapter 14

Bet he’s never seen anything like it.

            After tedious hours of prep and quizzing by professor Deb, I’m ready to meet the parents. The door opens, I’m drawn into the land of the McFarland’s, a place I believed existed mostly in Deb’s exaggerated imagination. Dema greets us at the door with a hearty, genuine hug. I’m confused because she’s dressed like we’re going to a black tie event and my only instructions were to wear a real shirt with no funny saying on it. She’s all sparkly, with sequins and jewels, the infamous auburn hair and makeup done to perfection. I feel better seeing Mac stretched out on his recliner, dressed like a 1950’s cowpoke.

The 12 by 12 foot living room is furnished for a room three times its size, so you have to cross the room walking sideways. Greetings barely obliged, Dema presses start on a VHS tape she’s had paused and ready for us since we left Yakima. The 60-inch projection television can only be seen from the two recliners placed directly in front, where Mac and Dema sit, both armed with a stack of remotes. Deb and I sit on the orange velvet love seat, our knees sideways so we don’t knock over the glass table in front.

For the next hour we watch news clips recorded from all three major television networks. Deb warned me this might happen, to which my reply was, “No, they wouldn’t do that.” After this, I will not question Deb’s facts. The newscasts escalate from a missing person to murder, while Mac and Dema insert background information, sometimes pausing to make sure we are keeping up.

            Hindered by the sideways view and the interruptions, this is my best translation of the drama: Virginia is Dema’s cousin. No one agrees whether she was on husband six, seven or eight. She has a son named Lynn, a sailor who visited once and made homemade pizza from a box. Virginia had lots of money because of her husbands, that she spent on diamonds and high heels. Dema says Virginia was spoiled as a child. She should know since they took baths together. Virginia was missing four days, with her car mysteriously parked in the driveway. Husband number six, seven or eight, claimed she vanished. Lynn, the pizza making son, flew to Spokane, hoping to help find his mother. Suspicions grew. The police brought search dogs, finding poor Virginia buried in the garden along with the carrots and potatoes. The last news clip shows the husband in handcuffs being carted off in a police car.  An autopsy revealed she had been shot. Everyone is relieved that Aunt Myrt, Virginia’s mom, is not around to see this.

            I’m exhausted and we’ve just begun. Again, Deb was right, insisting my intro to the McFarland’s be brief, without Haley and Jay, who might blab something we don’t want known.

 “I don’t want them to know we’re living together,” said Deb. “If we stay overnight we have two choices – separate rooms, pretending what we all know not to be true – or same room knowing the rest of the family is pow-wowing outside the door, chanting tsk – tsk – tsk.”

Considering our options, a short day trip seemed best. When murder and mayhem conversation dies off we move to the next dramatic scene.

            “Have you shown Sandy the bar?” Mac asks, knowing we’ve not left the front room.  “Bet he’s never seen anything like it.”

            “You haven’t… come on,” Deb says, motioning for me to follow. She side-winds through her childhood habitat, like a snake crossing the desert, while I, new to the obstacle course, bump knees and elbows, unskilled at walking sideways. Mac and Dema follow. She carries a 16-ounce tumbler of scotch and water, room to room, like a portable oxygen tank. The story from Deb is that her mom confesses to the doctor a two drink habit, omitting the constant refreshing and topping off.

            I’ve spent time in bars, all types… redneck, biker, highbrow… dives to swanky black tie joints… home bars, makeshift bars, tailgate specials. Yet none prepared me for the, “McFarland’s Bar.”

Deb’s eyes are begging me for words, but I don’t know what to say.  When words fail me, she involuntarily covers for me, chattering nervously, cooing and fidgeting like a cross between a dove and a quail.

“We had the bar built. It’s regulation. So are the dozen stools,” Mac says.

There’s a mirrored back bar with shelves stocked and ready to fill any drink order. And… Elvis is in the room… rows of gold and silver Elvis bottles peering down from shelves installed around the ceiling. There’s a black light, 20 beer signs, a booth style table and a life size poster of Mac dressed as a woman… an extremely ugly toothless woman with a huge nose… just imagine if Popeye had a sister.  What comment am I to make? Deb is trying to cover for my silence.

“Did you see the disco ball? Cool, huh? Did you know the poster is Dad? The ceiling is painted black for the strobe lights. You should really see what it looks like at night…”

Any moment Deb’s going to shove me on her lap, cram her arm up my butt and move my jaw up and down, like Edgar Bergan and his Charlie McCarthy doll. I open my own mouth to comment, but not fast enough to delay what’s coming next.

Deb’s classy, attractive, soft spoken mom calls me over to the bar. She’s lined up a collection of ceramic figurines. I obey her call, nearing the harmless looking monks and frogs. Then she hands me a monk.

“Turn it around,” she says. “Isn’t that awful?”

As I turn the monk around, he transforms into a ceramic penis. Why is this happening? Dema keeps saying how awful it is… I want to agree. Then she hands me a frog, asking me to turn it over. Do I have to? Deb gives me a “just do it” look.

“Isn’t that awful?” Dema asks again.

I manage a laugh at the anatomically enhanced frog. It’s not that I can’t handle the joke. I feel like I’ve been captured and thrown into someone’s really bad X-rated home movie. Finally, I speak.

            “Deb, where’s the bathroom?”

            The conversation turns from ceramic phallic symbols to towels as I follow Deb’s finger pointing down the hall.

             “I copied your idea to roll towels on the shelves. I really like it.” I hear Dema say to Deb.

            I try to open the door to the bathroom, but something is behind it. I slide through sideways, finding a huge hook on the back of the door holding a stack of robes. The door’s heavy and hard to close on the carpet, but I manage. Standing at the toilet staring at a tall shelf above it, I count 56 hand towels, 49 bath towels and 62 wash cloths, neatly rolled and stacked like cord wood stored for the winter. If a bus load of people needing a bath arrive at the McFarland’s, they’re covered for towels.

            “There are 56 hand towels,” I say to Deb as I squeeze back through the door. She shushes me while peeking in.

“Oh, that looks great Mom. Rolling the towels saves a lot of space.”

            Dinner, however late, is worth it. I’d been told to expect greatness and my hopes were not denied. The table was set with U.S. Navy flatware and individual platters, not plates, crowded with heaping plates of southern fried chicken, mash potatoes, country gravy, biscuits and corn. Seated in unspoken assigned seats, with Mac at the head of the table, I remember one of Deb’s warnings – “Whatever you do, don’t pass the food in the wrong direction, it drives Dad crazy.”

            He passes the procession of steaming bowls ceremoniously clockwise. I try, but curiosity wins, forcing my hand to pass the corn upstream, against the current.  Dema accepts the bowl with a nervous grin… Deb and Mac place their forks on the table, staring me down as if I’m the one who buried Virginia under the carrots. Not wanting to delay indulging in this feast any longer, I retrieve the corn, sending it clockwise. I know what we’ll be discussing on the ride home to Yakima.


 

 

Are Your Expectations Dimming God’s Power?

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Every day he’d march through the historic windy town of Ellensburg, turning right onto Main, passing by my store with the flapping Antiques flag. His warning blasted a block away, allowing time to move inside or duck behind something. Potential customers, eyeing the sidewalk display of old iron beds and steamer trunks, would follow me as I’d slip through the door. From a safe distance, we’d cringe at the sound of his angry words. As the clamor of the one man parade blew by, they’d look to me, eyes wide, faces begging for solace and comfort.

“Blankety blankety blank blank blanking blank blank!” he’d scream, shaking a fist at the invisible tyrant walking next to him.

          “It’s okay. He’s harmless, “ I’d say, peeking out from behind a gargantuan 19th century wardrobe. “It’s a form of Tourette’s Syndrome.” Noting their distrust, I’d add, “ Really. Nothing to worry about.”

One day, while on a ladder washing my store front windows, I hear the cursing turn the corner. There’s no time to scurry down the ladder, so I stay put, pretending oblivion to his noisy presence. I feel guilt and shame for being afraid. How can I shun a human being as if he’s invisible? It’s wrong.

Town talk claims he’s not violent, yet everyone seems to avoid him, and store owners complain that he runs off customers. My feelings of wrong doing linger, leading to eventual prayer and resulting in a sense of conviction. Befriending the cursing crusader became my mission. For starters, a simple greeting… Hmmm… Hello? … Good morning? … Howdy? … How ya doin’?

Every day, as the obscenities drew near, I’d pose in the door, ready to shout a cheer filled greeting. But as the angry banter closed in, I’d panic, stepping back through the door, breathing as if I’d just ditched a serial killer. This went on for days,… okay weeks… and some of that time I failed to even attempt communication.

Then, one day courage arrives (TA-DA!), like a late dinner guest I’d almost given up on. I was ready. When the string of expletives shadowed my door, I stood tall shouting above the swearing.

“Good morning!”

Glancing my way he replies.

“Blankety blankety blank blank blanking blank blank!”

What? I was shaken and confused. This is not what I expected. I did what I felt God would want me to do, and… and… he yelled at me!

I’ll get back to this story, there’s more, but let’s pause a moment.

Am I the only one who does this? Plays let’s make a deal with God? Spouts sentences, whether verbal or in thought like, “If I do this then you’ll do that. Right God? “If I’m good you’ll reward me and it will look like _______________ “ (fill in the blank).

His word says:  Matthew 7:9 NIV: “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Of course he doesn’t specify whether that bread will be white, dark, buckwheat or cinnamon toast. How many times have I thought God was not listening to my petitions, only to find out later that the answer was in front of me all along, just not as I’d pictured it. Worse yet, not the answer I wanted. God was not following the script I had prepared for him.

A simple personal example: My husband and I asked God to give us a sign if it was time to close our 16 year old antiques business. We’d asked this before when stress was high and sales were low. Each time, something obvious would happen that turned the business back around. So this time we were expecting something similar. Maybe that designer from Montana will show up with his big truck again, or the gals who bought out my entire line of estate jewelry will come back for more.

The morning after our prayer, news came that our last subcontractor was moving out. That meant we were losing money, not gaining. We should have thought immediately, “Oh, okay God, thanks for the prompt and clear response.” Instead, we scrambled, searching for ways to keep the doors open. Thank God, in the middle of a discussion to take on a hefty loan, we heard what He was saying.

 

Please know… I AM NOT saying we should shrink our expectations of God’s almighty power and desire to bless us. That’s not the point at all. He wants to bless our socks off. But, we, or at least I, don’t always recognize the blessing because it is not what I thought it should look like.

The timing was perfect for closing the business. Once we crawled out from under this burden, we could see the stress… the desperation. We’d been frantically bailing with a holey bucket, trying to keep afloat, safe from the sharks of failure. Little did we know God had a plan for us. Much better than our script… more creative… written by the Author of Happy Endings. Today we enjoy our home business, still dealing in antiques, but leisurely, with no overhead and stress free.

 

Back to the story…

I continued to greet the entrepreneurial cussing master. Days, weeks, months my exuberant greetings reaped only creative profanities. Then on a day no different than any other, it happened… after a simple “Hello.”

He stopped… motioned for the invisible antagonist on his left to wait, looked me in the eye and said, “Good Morning.”

Then he went back to yelling at his invisible debate partner.

Have Teens Crossed Over into the Twilight Zone?

You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into…

The Twilight Zone?      TheTwilightZonePoster1

Nope… you’ve entered into a Christian youth group such as the one on Wednesday nights at Vineyard Christian Church in Yakima, Washington.

If you’re like me, you approach teenagers gingerly, or not at all. When God tugged at my heart to support my husband’s decision to help with the youth group I replied…

“Really?”

I get God choosing my big-hearted hubby to work with youth… he’s just like them only biologically challenged. But me? Please. I had already survived a couple of teens. Why would I do that again? (Note: My teenage grandson gets a disclaimer because… well… I know him. He’s a great kid, different from all others. He’s… mine).

God ignored my whining. He’s had a lot of practice with that – i.e. the Israelites. My first night I climb the metal steps to the designated youth zone, deafening noise blasting through the door, I wonder what heinous acts of mischief are underway.

teen8I’m expecting huddles of teens practicing eye rolling and sulking techniques while jabbing at each other with verbal sticks. If I had a tattoo it would read SKEPTICAL across my forehead. After all, at their age, I’d already involuntarily ridden in a cop car and could have penned the book “Smart Mouthing for Dummies.”

Walking through the door, I catch them, inhibitions set aside, getting their goofy on – carefree as toddlers in a room full of balloons. They pause mid giggle when a new youth walks through the door to shout a welcome and usher them into the zone with non-verbal cues saying, “it’s okay… check the annoying awkwardness at the door. You won’t need it here.” teen7

Baffled, I settle in as the youth leaders, who need badges so they can be identified as such, gather the group for worship. Not ready to trust, I’m incapable of entering into a time of worship myself, so I study each face. Some sing freely, ethereal in stance. Many rest in quiet reverence. A few, like me, witness, question, contemplate. Later I learn that the group is a hodge-podge of faith – ranging in time – cradle to not yet – and depth – deep to highly doubtful.teen9

A tear drop surprises me when it splats on my hand. I sop pools from the worry lines on my face with a tissue. My thoughts travel back to a pizza parlor buzzing with cheerleaders and jocks from my junior high days. Feelings of shame and embarrassment surface along with the details of my failed attempt to join the group with a simple “Hi.” My moment of courage swiftly shot down with bullets of mocking, finger pointing, name calling and snobbery. Wanting to show indifference and prove myself unscathed by their attack, I pull a fat cigar from my purse, (stored for just such an occasion?) and flipping the Zippo lighter open, puff away Clint Eastwood style. The audience review? The Good the Bad and the Ugly – minus the good part. I stared them down in a “go ahead, make my day” manner. Smoke swirling round my face as I sent a subliminal scream across the room, “I don’t need any of you. Not now, not ever.”

Is that when my heart hardened? That vengeful day puffing away on the cigar? I don’t really know. Maybe.

I continue searching faces finding nothing to discredit the sincerity of these young people. The spirit of worship remains as they divide boy/girl for prayer groups. Emotions shaken, I choose a safe place for continued scrutiny.

One by one the girls share, trusting that their personal package of hurts will be handled with care. They speak of divorce, abandonment, abuse, bullying… dreams crushed… innocence stained… hateful words tossed their way… trust shattered. Hands touch shoulders, stroke hair, pat knees.  teen3

The leader, a Mom with a big life of her own, tenderly guides them along. Her soft voice speaks words of hope and encouragement to willing, open hearts and ears. Heads are bowed. Names lifted. Prayer received and given like wise Moms partaking before passing an oxygen mask to their child.. breathing in life, before giving it away.

Prayer time ends. Laughter and chatter return. Volume cranked up.

I feel odd… as if something broke… not busted into pieces, but blasted open, exposing light and air. My thoughts return to the pizza parlor and the faces spitting mean words my way. I look closer. They’re young… fragile… hurting… scared. I see God’s children living in a shattered world. My heart breaks… for them… for myself. I’m grateful for groups like this one where our youth can be safe and real with each other. A place where it is more cool to be kind than cruel.

We live in a world where beauty and ugliness coexist. Blessed lives… cursed lives… joy… sorrow. A place where acts of kindness and unimaginable horror live side by side. Where the unthinkable occurs – children are murdered… children commit murder.

What do we see when we look at our youth? Or anyone, for that matter? Do we have expectations of light? Or darkness? Do we expect, imagine, judge based on our past hurts? I know I did…I know I do… I hope not to any more.

TMI – TOO MUCH Information – Writing About S E X

bed2

Confession: I’m writing this blog because I can’t face the blinking cursor on the screen today. You see, I’m at the scene in my book “In Spite of Us,” when that three letter word… S E X… needs to be addressed. Blink… blink… blink.

I’m the Mom whom, when two neighbor dogs presented a perfect opportunity to talk to my children about… S… E… X… well… I choked, telling them a silly story about the doggie dance. Focus successfully diverted, we searched the car radio finding the perfect song to accompany their dance.

Fast forward years later? I still avoid the subject. At least, this time I have a legitimate concern. You see, I’m writing about two people before they knew God. A couple stumbling in the dark, clueless. Who are they? They’re not strangers or make believe characters in my head…

That couple is … us.

Keep in mind, I grew up with images of married couples like Lucy and Desi pecking a kiss on the cheek before retiring to their twin beds decked in matching chenille spreads. Both wearing more armor than a roman solider… her in the full boudoir attire – duster, nightgown, feather puff slippers, night cap and he all buttoned up in pajamas, robe, and slippers. It’s the picture our parents attempted to plant, unknowing that a sexual revolution would blow in with the sixties not only stripping off dusters and slippers, but leaving us without our bras for support.

Stop! I see you rolling your eyes… (especially my single friends). You know where I’m going with this and you’re right. Yes, If I had it to do over, I would honor the marriage bed today. Stop it… you rolled your eyes again. I know it sounds like I just downed a triple cheese burger, fries and large shake and now while bursting full, I’m claiming I would choose to abstain.

A little background… 

Thank You God that I’m not the same person I used to be. Time was when I thought God was some jerk in the sky hovering with his giant rule book waiting to smite people who wouldn’t obey. All this fuss while ignoring that people were hurting all over the world. So, I plugged my ears, froze my heart and turned my back on a nit-picking God of legalism.

But He didn’t turn His back on me. He stayed. Massaging my heart. Whispering… a truth. Revealing a lie. Never leaving me. Returning my scolding hand to His face with open, welcoming arms of Grace… for years… plus more.

Mind boggling transformation and brain renewal take time. It’s a process. Today I love God’s book of rules. I no longer picture a mean old rule mogul waiting to pluck the wings from helpless victims. Instead, I see a doting Father who wants His beloved children to receive the blessings that come when His loving and supernaturally thought out commands are followed.

Staring at the blinking cursor I’m still a little tempted to write my story all spiffed up and Christianized. But it wouldn’t be true. And worse? It would dilute the magnificence, the wonder, the super-sized power of His miracle. If the sins of our ancestors like King David and Bathsheba, were omitted so as to keep the story G-rated, the Bible would be a thin, trite paperback story rather than the Greatest Story Ever Told.

So, with God’s help, I will conquer the blank screen.

Note to our children… we apologize for the TMI and the PDA in this blog.

Note to our grandchildren… we were just dancing.

ARE YOU PREPARED FOR THE BEST CASE SCENARIO?

Mrpotatoehead2The Naked Truth About Mr. Potato Head

No one ever asks me twice – “What’s the worst that could happen?”

     BE PREPARED became my childhood mantra, on a family trip to Yosemite Park in 1960. Showers were number one on the to-do list, after traveling three days in our new Aristrocat trailer. We had a quart size pickle jar filled with change – quarters, nickels, pennies and  … DIMES.

“No use wasting money… C’mon little Debbie,” said Grandma, prying my fingers off the doorjamb. She snags two towels and my new yellow flip flops with one hand, while the other locks onto mine, towing me down a dirt path to a dank building with a plank board sign reading, “SHOWERS 10 CENTS.” Inside, four cement stalls line the walls, each with a coin slot just like the mechanical pony outside of Woolworth’s Drug store back home.

Naked, as ordered, I keep my eyes fixed on Grandma’s crooked toes. The dime clinks into the slot, warm water relaxes my mind, curiosity slips in. Naked is not natural in our family, so nude to me is like the cartoon version of Porky Pig – pink, smooth, no hair. Nothing in my seasoned eight years prepared me for Grandma’s immense, pendulous breasts framing her round, protruding belly above a black furry patch staring back at me like an evil Mr. Potato Head.

Right then, I vowed – ALWAYS CARRY A DIME IN MY POCKET!

Adopting a “dime in my pocket” mind set can save the day. Heck, even the Boy Scouts pitch – BE PREPARED. My question is this – In preparing for the worst, do I also anticipate for the best?

I wonder how different my days would be if I packed my bags for BEST CASE SCENARIOS.  Am I prepared for the best thing that could happen? Do I watch for miracles? … Or just potential disasters.

What if the next time there’s a knock at the door, I fling it open in expectation of His wonder, grace and mercy? What if I remove worry, fretting and anxiety from my daily luggage and replace it with hope and expectations of His wonder?

Are you peeking around the corner ready for the biggest miracle yet?

Mathew 6: 25-34 NIV

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

WHAT MY DOG TOLD ME ABOUT GOD

My dog worships God, does yours?

Picture this–

Husband, Sandy, is downstream skillfully casting his line, content. Meanwhile, further upstream, I’m fighting to untangle my line, irritated with the bush that grabbed it from behind me – (don’t ask). A mere ten minutes since we arrived at our favorite fishing hole, I dare not ask for help, not yet. Waving and smiling downstream, masquerading as competent and relaxed, I shield the frazzled scene with my back,  tackling the lassoed bush. Victorious, line free,  I check for snakes (a common ritual), and select a log, facing the TARGET fishing hole.

Slipping on rubber gloves, thinking of Sophie’s Choice, I select the unlucky worm, destined for surgery by hook. Scoping my cast target, I notice Gabe, our yellow lab, standing midstream up to his belly, gazing purposely, nose upward. Through his big brown eyes, I see the magnificence of the rock striations, the wonder of the trees, the brilliance of the sun’s light show, and the splendor of the breeze tickling his ears. Even the birds chirp praise while circling above him, nearly a halo, fearlessly aware that this Kingdom moment overshadows his desire to chase.

My eyes wide open, I join in worship, watching Gabe wag his tail for God’s sake… literally. I know the many faces of my dog –  a special face for hungry, lonely, playful and the distinct look of shame when guilty… but this look? Praise to God almighty.

Isaiah 11:6   The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.