Small Town, Georgia, Girl

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           I have a new baseball cap that labels me as exactly who I am. It says “Small Town Girl”. It has a map of Georgia embroidered on it with a star designating my approximate location in the state. It was a gift, and I love it!

I guess I’ve always been a small town girl, even though I was born in Piedmont Hospital in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, in 1948. But even though I was born in a large hospital in Georgia’s capital city, I never claimed Atlanta as my own.

I grew up in Decatur, Georgia, which during the 50s and 60s was indeed a small town. We were six miles from downtown Atlanta, which to the child that I was seemed like an awfully long way from home. It was too far to walk, so we had to take the trolley if we wanted to go downtown to go shopping at Rich’s. My mother didn’t drive a car, meaning that most of our shopping was done right there in Decatur. It was when Mama needed patterns and fabric to make clothes for my sister and me that we dressed up like we were going to Sunday School, hopped on the trolley near the Decatur train station three blocks from our house, and spent the entire day downtown, getting off the trolley back home in Decatur late in the afternoon, just in time for Mama to prepare our family supper. Sometime in my adolescent years, Decatur lost her small town status to become part of Metropolitan Atlanta. But she remained a small town for me until long after I moved away at the age of sixteen. Today, even though Decatur retains much of her small town charm, the traffic congestion and difficulty in finding a place to park that doesn’t cost me an arm and a leg, along with the variety of pricey restaurants, remind me that she really doesn’t qualify for “small town” status in my mind anymore. Even the houses on the street where I grew up are now priced so far out of my reach when they go on the market to be sold, I could never afford to live there these days!

Enter Monroe, Georgia, the small town I have called home for the past five years. Now, this little town reminds me more of the Decatur where I grew up than any place I know. Yes, we have our traffic snarls on Broad Street, especially when the big trucks are trying to get through town on their way from one of the interstates to the other, and when I am trying to come out of the Walmart parking lot during rush hour or on Saturday. It’s a lovely little town, with friendly people, welcoming churches, a terrific little community theater, a Saturday farmer’s market, lots of small shops for browsing and purchasing interesting items of all kinds, safe places to walk my little dog Sunshine, a strong medical community, and the warm touch of Georgia hospitality. People here wave as they drive by, and they pause on the sidewalk to say hello to my dog. They don’t ignore me as I walk past and will look at me and greet me with a smile.

If you had told me ten years ago that I would be living in Monroe, Georgia, I probably would have shaken my head, pondered in my mind just where Monroe is on the Georgia map, furrowed my brow, and asked, “Where? Why?” It isn’t important why or how I landed in Monroe, but I am happy that I did. I was even able to purchase a small home – one that I could afford – to set down a root or two. I am making this my home for awhile and claim this little town as my own, even though I am a transplant.

Small Town, Georgia, is a good place for someone like me. I live a simple life, enjoy listening to the birds singing in the trees around my home and watching the deer in the park, appreciate that nothing that I need is further than 10 minutes away by car (and I could walk if I had to!), and have made some very good friends. All this, and more, are what make me a true blue “Small Town Girl.”

In the novel that I wrote, “Fishbowls and Birdcages,” the main character was someone like me, a person who moved around from town to town, never quite belonging, and never sure just where Home was. She finally found her place, and it, too, was in Small Town, Georgia, although hers was a fictional town. She learned that the saying, “bloom where you are planted,” had a positive meaning for her as she developed her own identity and strength through her faith in God. Fran found her place, and I have found mine.

Yes, I am now officially a Small Town Georgia Girl. My new hat is proof of it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I Can Do It Myself,” said the Little Red Hen — Again

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“I can do it myself,” said the Little Red Hen. And she did.

I wrote these words last summer as I held my newly published novel, Fishbowls and Birdcages, in my hand, bursting with pride, and hardly believing that I had actually brought a lifelong desire to fruition. I felt like I Had Arrived. What else could I ever wish for in my life?

As I sit in the one space left in the living room of my little apartment that isn’t covered with various items symbolizing my life and all that is me and mine, surrounded by packed boxes and a rolled up rug, I look around me and again I can say, “I can do it myself.” And I can, and I am.

I never dreamed that I would ever live anywhere besides this little apartment, or one like it, for the rest of my life. The thought of living in a real house again was as far off my radar screen as the nearest star in the universe. A mere twinkle in the night sky, not worthy of my focusing on it for any more time than it takes to make a wish upon it.

But then, one day a couple of months ago, a thought popped into my head. Maybe I could buy a house. Or maybe the thought didn’t just pop in; perhaps it was planted. It so happened that in the prayer group I joined last winter included a real estate agent and a mortgage banker, who I know were put in my path to play a pivotal role in this crazy idea of mine. I began praying to God to light a path for me if this was something that I should do. My new friend, the real estate agent, volunteered to carry the lantern for me along this new path, and we began looking for houses I could afford. They were few and far between, and among those we visited were homes I couldn’t imagine actually living in. Who would have a small house for sale, one in my price range, and one that had been someone’s beloved home, and one that was looking for me?

Besides, could I do this on my own, all by myself? If the Little Red Hen could do it, then maybe I could, too!

One by one, things started happening – strange and wonderful things. The light on my path remained bright, in spite of bumps in the road and many hoops to jump through. Encouragement greeted me everywhere, even when I felt like I needed to forget about this venture and stay put where I am. I found a house I really liked – it seemed to draw me in and call me by name – but the asking price was $15,000 more than my budget allowed. My agent encouraged me to make an offer, and I did. A week later, I had a contract on the house, not at the price I felt was my upper limit, but at one close enough that I felt I could handle it.

It hasn’t been easy. I’ve been on the verge of throwing up my hands and proclaiming “I quit!” a few times in the process. But the light on the path has remained constant, and the promise, “I will take care of you,” has been a daily reminder to me, evidenced through the encouragement from my friends and family, my daily devotionals, and my inner desire to have a home of my own.

Yesterday morning, I was awakened by my phone chirping and announcing I had a text. The words from my mortgage banker friend were, “File is clear to close.” I cried, I jumped out of bed and twirled. I thanked God.

And then I took my dog, Sunshine, for a walk, and took a photo of my lighted path.

path

I move into my new home next weekend.

I’ve Been Busy!

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The other day at work, one of my co-workers asked me, “Have you been writing much lately?”

I had to confess, “No, I’ve been too busy. Although I have been writing in my journal. But that’s about it.”

So, what has been keeping me too busy to sit down to write on the two projects I have underway – 1)sending out queries on the non-fiction book I completed last spring; and 2) wrapping my brain around the beginnings of a new novel which has found its beginnings on paper, but is mostly swimming around in my head?

To begin with, summer happened. And with summer came gardens, making marinara sauce from my fresh tomatoes to store for the winter and fresh pesto from my basil, reunions, hot, hot, hot weather where the only refreshing place to spend an afternoon was in the swimming pool, and one other thing.

And what is that one thing that has kept me too busy to write, other than pouring my heart out in my journal on a nightly basis?

It all started so innocently. I live in a small apartment in an old house that has been converted into three apartments. This summer, the walls began closing in on me. My throat was itchy for no reason that I could account for whenever I was home for any length of time, my two house-mate neighbors moved out, leaving me wondering who would be moving into the two apartments, and I began feeling like the need for a change was in the air. I started checking the rental websites for my area of Georgia, only to find that rental houses were far too expensive for me to afford, and most of the apartments in this area either don’t allow pets or had no vacancies.

I began thinking that maybe I should look into buying a house. I prayed to God to light this path if it was the one I should take. I followed up by asking a real estate agent friend if she would like to carry my lantern on this uncharted path upon which I was embarking. And with this, we began looking at small houses as they became available in my town.

As we searched, and doors were opened and then closed, my journal was the welcome recipient of my fears and anxieties, as well as my excitement over the possibilities of purchasing a house. One day, my agent/friend showed me a small home that I loved, but the asking price was well over my maximum limit of how much I could afford. “It’s negotiable,” she reassured me, and after a few sleepless nights, some really crazy dreams when I did sleep, and a lot of prayer, I made an offer.

Long story short, I now have a contract on a pretty little ranch about three miles from where I now live. I am excited and terrified at the same time. Who’d have ever thought that I would be in the position of being able to buy a house – all on my own?

But then, I go back to four years ago. I was looking at this little apartment that I am now getting ready to leave, knowing that I couldn’t afford it. There was no way my monthly pay check was going to cover my expenses! I was excited and terrified, but I knew in my heart that this was what I needed and where I needed to be. And somehow, some way, I paid my rent every month, kept up with my monthly expenses, and was even able to save a little money here and there along my way.

So, here I am. I’ve been busy – busy finding a house that fits into my price range, busy doing the math trying to make it work, busy worrying and fretting over all things unknown, busy praying that God would light the path for me, and busy jumping through all the hoops required for purchasing a home.

If all goes as planned, closing on my new home will be September 30, and I will move in the first of October. A new chapter in my life is beginning, one as exciting as any I’ve had in my lifetime. God has provided a light for my path, which leads to the front door of my new home.

Indeed. I’ve been busy.

Those Who Sling Mud….

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usually have dirty hands.

It has been a rough few months. I knew I needed to make a change in my life, but I wasn’t surefooted enough to take the step until a few weeks ago. The signs had been pointing in the direction I should take for several months, but I tried first to work around them, and then ignore them – neither tactic worked. I finally made a decision when my body let me know in no uncertain terms that I could no longer safely accomplish some of the more physical tasks of my job. I was also very weary of the drama whirling around me and knew I needed to free myself from the battering winds. I felt like I was doing the right thing for myself, and for those involved. It seems, however, that I took a misstep along my way, and ended up wiping mud off of my face and body.

This has made me take a closer look at myself, who I am, what I say, and how I present myself to others. I admit that I got caught up in some of the gossip, drama, and other not-so-nice things that were part of my everyday life. I wish I could go back and un-say some of the things I said when I participated in this activity, but I can’t. I wish I had been stronger, more assertive, and less swayed by what was being said to me, what was said within earshot, and what I observed daily. I wish I had turned a deaf ear and minded my own business. I wish I had kept my mouth shut at certain times.

So, now that I am a recent recipient (and it isn’t the first time) of the drama du jour and workplace gossip, I wish I were braver, or perhaps more reckless, and could sling a little mud back. But I am choosing to let it all go, to walk away quietly, and to learn a little something from the experience.

But one thing I certainly can do is wash the mud off of my own hands, step out of the mud puddle, and set up housekeeping on dry land. The drama and gossip will continue without my assistance – I am sure of it – and someone else most likely will be the lucky recipient of future mud pies.

Gossip is a terrible thing. My son, Brian, wrote a brilliant one-act play entitled “Gossip.” Reading it, and seeing it performed clearly shows how damaging gossip can be, and how it reaches far beyond the giver and the recipient. This play is making its rounds worldwide, and I invite my blog readers to grab a copy or catch a performance of it. It is available for sale through Pioneer Drama Service. I need to read it again and be reminded of its lesson.

For me, my hands have been washed, and I intend to keep them mud-free.

Born Again! (But Not How You May Be Thinking)

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Three years ago today, God grasped me by the nape of my neck, yanked me from an environment I had no business being in, and tossed me into almost two years of uncertainty and fear. He had to go to these extremes to get my attention, but then He answered my simple, but repetitious and pleading prayer, “God, please deliver me.” I thought I was finished writing about and re-hashing this episode of my life, but it’s not quite ready to let me go.

One of Jesus’ sayings, one that I never quite understood, was, “You must be born again.” Today, looking back at the past three years, I totally understand it, at least as it applies to me. I don’t think Jesus had me and my circumstances in mind when he was teaching his disciples about the Kingdom of God, but the message resonates with me and addresses me on a very personal level.

When I was escorted in handcuffs to the Walton County Jail and invited to spend a long night in a cold holding cell, being born again was the last thing I was thinking about. I didn’t know what was going on, or how this was going to impact my life. As events unfolded over the next several months, my fears multiplied with each new nightmare and surprise thrown my way. I was drowning, trying to tread water, but all the while feeling like I was gasping for air and grasping for something to hold onto.

I look back to my new birth as the day Brian and I danced in the July rain at my friends’ home, where I had found a safe haven and had “escaped to.” I still had many obstacles to maneuver and trials to face, but getting soaking wet while dancing with my son and with a glass of wine in my hand was in fact a kind of symbolic baptism for me. I truly feel like I was born again and given a new chance during that summer shower.

Today, I feel like a new person. My life is fresh and vibrant, and I look at myself through a brand new set of eyes. I thank God continuously for answering my “deliver me” prayer, and I am grateful for all that happened, because it has brought me to who I am and where I am today. I look back at my past, and ask myself, “How could you……?”, but I know there is no clear answer. I had to go through that to get to this.

As I compile my journal entries from those two years, along with emails that I sent to family, friends, and lawyers on a regular basis, it is becoming a strange kind of travelogue. In typing my thoughts, which were handwritten on legal pads each day, I can see my own metamorphosis from who I was to who I am. While it brings back memories of the pain and exposes frailties about myself, it also maps the path I was on and marks all of the grace gifts given to me along my way. I don’t know that I’ll publish this account once I have it all put together, but I want to have it organized and in one place in case someone some day should want to read it.

Mainly, I am doing it for myself.

Two Years – What a Journey!

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Two years ago, over the Labor Day week-end, I left my safe harbor nest of two months at the home of my friends, Lynne and Terry Mays, and moved into my little in-town apartment in Monroe, Georgia. I couldn’t afford the $500 per month rent, but I was determined it just had to work, and I knew that this was a step I must take. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it, I was scared to death, and I feared the future. I was a mess, on a new journey on an untraveled path, but I knew it was a much better one than the one I had been on.

Everything I had in my possession fit into my Honda Civic as I drove away from the Mays’ home. I unloaded the car at my new place, unlocked the door to the apartment, and after a few trips back and forth from car to new home, I was in. I didn’t have much. Almost all of my personal belongings were still at my house in Social Circle that I had left in July. The only furnishings that first night in my new home were a canvas lawn chair and an air mattress. Before I moved in, I had purchased a few necessities- a shower curtain, a small frying pan and spatula, a cheap set of dishes, and a toaster oven. My brother and sister-in-law had given me some sheets, and I borrowed a couple of towels from the kennel where I work. I was ready for my first night in my new home.

I lived this way until later in September, when I was able to go back to my previous home and retrieve some of my things. Even with what I was able to get, the apartment was still pretty bare. I continued sleeping on the air mattress on the floor for another couple of months, when my cousin, Laura, gave me a lovely bedroom suite, and nephew Steve brought it to my new home for me.

Friends and family circled my wagon to support me and to help me furnish my new home, and thanks to some very special ladies from my church, it wasn’t long before I had a pretty adequately stocked kitchen and linen closet. They were wonderful! Somehow, they knew exactly what I needed, and unselfishly gave me more than I would have ever dreamed of getting. Another friend kept me updated on yard sales in the area, and I was able to pick up some very nice additions to my home from things other people were discarding. He also gave me an old sofa that he no longer needed.

Almost a year later, I was back in my former home, going through the last things remaining after an estate sale pretty much emptied the house, and found a few more of my personal treasures. Both happy and sad, I brought them home, where they added to the coziness of my little apartment and made me feel good and bordering on whole again.

As I look at my home today, two years later, I still don’t have a lot of furnishings, and what is here I have dubbed “contemporary divorce.” But my home is filled with family photographs, special books and photograph albums, and other treasures that hold sentimental value to me. It is a warm and welcoming home, and with my little dog, Sunshine, we are a family.

My collection of days over the past two years have included days of fear and uncertainty, loneliness and heartache, and introspection and soul-searching. But as I write this and look back over this time in my life, I see myself in a way I never could before, and I have a sense of contentment and serenity about my life that at one time I doubted could ever exist for me. I continue to live frugally, as my financial situation nudges me to keep me on edge if I let it. But I have regained my sense of purpose, I can feel the raveled edges of my life getting trimmed and smoothed out, and I am adapting to my new life.

I don’t know what my life would be like if I had chosen another path to travel. I only know that the scenery on the one I am now on is very nice, the vistas stretch my imagination and invite creativity, and the quietness that I now experience allows me to have time for meditation and for discovering the spirit of God that surrounds me and nourishes me.

Two years. It seems like a lifetime. In a way, it is.

A Yoke and a Journey

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Today is the two year anniversary of the day I drew up every ounce of courage I had and set out on a new, and at the time, terrifying road. I didn’t know what my future held for me, but I did know that I couldn’t continue on the same path I was traveling if I was to have any kind of future at all.

As I think back on that day, and as I reflect on the scripture from today’s sermon at church, I see myself that day with a yoke so heavy around my neck, I knew I would never be able to carry it alone. Somehow, I made it through the day, and at the end of the day, my yoke was a little lighter as I met Brian at my new temporary home where the tears that had been unable to flow for six months freely ran down my cheeks and blended with the summer shower as we danced in the rain and shared a bottle of wine. The fear was still with me, the terror of the past months, and uncertainty of the future hadn’t left me, but I was no longer carrying my burden alone – there were others there to help me.

With the passing weeks and months, people appeared on my path to help me with my yoke. Family and friends circled  my wagon to protect me, to encourage me, and to be my foundation as I journeyed through this frightening time in my life.  Friends, both old and new, held out their arms to me, uplifted me when I was down, and provided me with support I had not even imagined on that fearful day in July.

Now, two years later, I am the same person, yet a different person. Someone recently said to me, “It’s as if nothing happened. It’s all behind you now and in the past.” Yes, that is true in many ways, but everything has happened, and while my two-year trek through the wilderness has had a wonderful ending, a great deal happened to me and around me, which has affected me in many ways, and has changed me forever.

Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light”.  I still carry a yoke, and life isn’t easy. But through my faith, and even my lack of faith at times, I have discovered a joy I didn’t know before, friendships I never anticipated, selfless acts of generosity from surprising sources, and a new perspective about my life.

For those who read my blog who have been part of my journey, I thank you for sharing the weight of my yoke and making it lighter. I only hope that I will always be there for you to perhaps lighten your load.

Two years – a piece of a journey – a collection of days.