That’s Not What Ships Are For

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While on our road trip with my cousin, Kate for the past two weeks, we had the time and opportunity to talk about many, many things, ranging from the silly to the profound.

Some of our conversations during those days on the road drifted away with the wind, while a few of them hit home with me and gave me cause to think seriously about some things in my life. One of these conversations centered around my feelings about my place in my family.

As the youngest of four children in our family, I felt like I was always being compared to my older siblings. They were smart, made good (and often, great) grades, and set their courses in life – and it seemed to me – with ease and little or no stumbling blocks. I had to study really hard to make good grades, and I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. Both of my brothers married their high school sweethearts, to whom they are still happily married after 60+ years. My sister married at the age of 25, and she and her husband will be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this year. They are all comfortably retired and living in homes that have been paid for and enjoying enviable financial freedom. As the baby of the family, and from my perspective, the black sheep, I look up to them and wonder what happened to me?

I bucked the system, and broke my daddy’s main rule about getting married. He wanted all of his children to have a college education, and desired especially that his daughters would have a career before marriage “to fall back on” should it ever be needed. My sister got a degree in nursing, which made Daddy very happy, especially since my mother was an RN. I, on the other hand, walked down the aisle at age 19. I was a sophomore in college and had no clue as to what I wanted to major in. It seemed sensible to me to get married and worry about college later, but it took some convincing to get my father to bend his rule and give his younger daughter away to my young teacher husband.

To add insult to injury, I got divorced, not once, but twice. Thankfully, my parents only experienced my first marriage failure and understood, even though their hearts were broken. Both died before Husband #2 and I split up in a crash and burn scenario five years ago. It wasn’t pretty, and nothing that my older siblings could ever imagine would happen to me.During those dark days, I often felt like I was a failure as a daughter, as well as a mother to my two sons.

During my first marriage, I was able to get my bachelor’s degree, and then at the age of 45 my Master’s. But I hadn’t achieved the financial success and comfort that I wanted, and after my second marriage fiasco, I found myself homeless for a short period of time, until I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and started all over again.

This is what I was moaning and groaning about with Kate on our trip. I was feeling sorry for myself, that at the age of 69, I am still working even though I love my job. And while I have made giant strides in the financial aspect of my life, I feel that I do not have the reserves I will need as I head toward my retirement years. She gently reminded me that while things are tight for me right now, I have a great potential at my fingertips, unlike my brothers and my sister, whose lives are in the final stretch, and they no longer have goals to reach or accomplishments to pursue. In many ways, my life still stretches out in front of me, with many adventures yet to be had, paths to wander, interesting people to encounter, and stories to write.

With Kate’s wisdom soaking into my brain, I changed my perspective and as Jimmy Buffett sings, I made a change in latitude and in attitude. The world is my oyster, so to speak. I am not pinned down to any one geographical area, and I have a lot of living yet to do.

It was after this conversation that we stopped at a little gift shop in the Amish country of Pennsylvania. A small plaque caught my eye, and I bought it. It spoke to me as a reminder of who I am and what my life should be. I don’t need to compare myself to my brothers and sister. My ship is different from theirs.

My ship is still at sea, where it is supposed to be.

 

 

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Four Quotes to Live By

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I heard the following quote somewhere along my way and wrote it down on a scratch piece of paper I found while cleaning off my desk recently. The source is not clear, but it is attributed to John Lennon, Paulo Coelho, an old Indian proverb, and the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. I recall that it was the movie where I heard it and wrote it down. I think about this when things aren’t going my way. It is:

“Everything will be okay in the end, and if it’s not okay – it’s not the end.”

Another quote that I try to live by is this one, coined by me in a moment of clarity while talking about the uncertainties in my life:

“Relax, and let life happen.”

And the third one – one I wrote a story about in my recently published book, Sunshine Leads the Way, is:

“There is no normal life, Wyatt. There’s just life.”

This was spoken by Doc Holliday as he lay dying, to Wyatt Earp in the movie, Tombstone.

As I begin the last week of a job I have had and loved for almost two years, these three quotes keep rattling around in my head. Leaving was not my decision, but that of the institution of higher education where I am employed. Higher ups decided that a part-time librarian was no longer needed, that a degree in library science was not necessary for the position. My job ends, and a newly restructured position will be announced soon. What it will be is still unknown.

This brings me to another quote that my friend, George, uttered – his own words – a few weeks ago as we were walking up the hill to his home after putting his chickens in their pen for the night. We were talking about our families, growing old, and slowing down in our lives. He said, wearily, “Sometimes I feel unnecessary.” I assured him that, indeed, he was necessary, and needed in many, many ways by lots of people and animals, but his statement resonated with me and lodged in my heart as I thought the same words and applied them to myself.

How can I weave these four quotes into the fabric of my life as I face a new path and the uncertainty of an income to supplement my retirement funds? Sometimes things just aren’t okay, and life is far from what I believe to be normal. My sons are grown and living independently on the west coast, across the continent from me. I have no grandchildren to dote on. Like George, I sometimes feel unnecessary. I keep telling myself to relax and let life happen. Everything will be okay.

But it isn’t that simple. Life changes. What looks like it might be the end turns out to be the beginning of something new. But what will it be? It’s scary, not knowing.

I need to take a few deep breaths, be patient, let life happen, and wait for the “okay” in my life to reappear. I’ll not search for “normal” in my life. I will embrace the changes in my life, and discover places where I am necessary.

As I look towards the future after this week ends, I think about my writing.

Will I have more time to write? Is there a chance that I may be able to supplement my income through my writing? Since I self-publish, is it at all possible that someone of importance may stumble across some of my writing, find value in it, and want to take a chance on me? Who knows? This could be a pipe dream of mine, something that will never happen.

But then again, it might.

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.

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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.