Help Me Make It Through the Night

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The telephone awakened me from a sound sleep. My bedside clock showed that it was a few minutes past 1:00am. Caller ID on my phone informed me that the caller was my friend, Bill. What could he want to talk about at this hour of the night. We had talked earlier in the evening for almost an hour.

Bill apologized for waking me up. The sound of his voice told me that something was wrong. I couldn’t get him to share with me what was on his mind, or why he called me at this ungodly hour, even though I asked him more than once what was the matter. Rather than quiz him further or demand an explanation, which it was obvious I wasn’t going to get, I simply asked him, “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Talk to me, “ he replied. “Please help me make it through the night.”

Only a couple of days earlier we had been talking on the phone about our favorite song writers, and Kris Kristofferson came up in the conversation, where we had agreed that we both liked his music, and this song in particular.

“Talk to me,” he repeated.

“Would you like for me to tell you a story?” I asked.

“Yes, please.”

Drawing from my writing and my collection of days, I began telling him about a game my sister and I played as children, Runaway Orphans. Since Bill and I both grew up in the same town, he was familiar with the places my sister and I visited when we played this special game. I embellished the story and added drama to it in an attempt to entertain Bill with its telling and perhaps help him get whatever was troubling him off of his mind.

When I finished, he said to me, “Tell me another one.”

I then went into the story about the day I ran away from home when I was five years old.

“Another one?”

I dug deeper into my childhood, recalling our family tradition of making homemade peach ice cream on the Fourth of July every year and about my job of sitting on top of the churn while Daddy turned the crank. From there, I went into the story about my special brother, Johnny, and a story about my daddy’s pocket watch. As I finished this story, I realized I had been talking for well over two hours, and that it was very quiet on the other end of the line.

“Are you still there? Are you feeling any better now?” I asked.

Bill’s voice, barely above a whisper, answered, “Yes, I think I am.”

“Do you want me to tell you any more stories?”

“No, I think I’ll be ok now. Thank you.” And he hung up, leaving me wondering what had just happened. It was now 4:30am.

Bill never told me why he needed me that night. The next evening when we talked, I commented, “Well, we made it through the night last night, didn’t we?”

“Yes, “ he said. “And it was no small feat. I’ll forever be grateful to you for staying on the phone with me all night long.”

I never learned what was troubling Bill that night. Over the course of our three-year friendship, I discovered that he had his own demons he was battling, and little by little, one by one, he shared a few of them with me. He also recalled tidbits of his history and life as a journalist – he truly had the gift of the story teller, and could have me laughing uncontrollably or sympathizing with tears running down my face as he’d relate a tale from his past.

Bill also encouraged me as a writer. He never completely understood my style of writing – I am not a journalist or reporter, but a weaver of tales and a painter using words instead of paint of my memories and adventures through life. He would sometimes tell me that I needed to step away and be more objective in my writing, that I put too much of myself into it. I’d politely disagree with him, and he’d keep on complimenting me on my writing, even though I didn’t take this piece of advice. He said on many occasions that I was a better writer than he was. That wasn’t true. He was a gifted writer, a diligent researcher, and an extraordinary communicator through the written word. I could never do what he did.

One thing that Bill told me often was that he didn’t believe he would live to be an old man. He once said that he didn’t think he would live to see 70. And he was right. I guess he somehow knew his limits and sensed his life span. When a classmate of ours died recently, he told me he thought he might be next. I wish he had been wrong.

Bill was my friend. My heart is aching as I write tonight. I’ll miss hearing his voice, listening to him telling me about his latest writing assignment, and being the recipient of his praise and admiration of me and my writing.

I wish I could have had the chance to say goodbye.

“I don’t care what’s right or wrong,

I don’t try to understand.

Let the devil take tomorrow.

Lord, tonight I need a friend.

Yesterday is dead and gone, and tomorrow’s out of sight.

And it’s sad to be alone.

Help me make it through the night.”

“Help Me Make It Through the Night” by Kris Kristofferson

Goodbye 2016. Hello New Year.

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The New Year has a way of haunting me as January 1 draws nearer. I know it’s just another day, but for me it’s a time of looking back, taking stock of where I am right now, and gazing ahead for perhaps a glimpse of what is in store for me in the coming year.

The past few nights I have been awakened by dreams reminding me of my past and filling me with a mixture of regrets, feelings of accomplishments, and memories of pure joy, deep sadness, and even loss – all jumbled together in a sleep-depriving slide show of my history. As I contemplated all that is part of who I am, I reached out to God in gratitude for delivering me from evil, for walking beside me during trying times, for teaching me about what real love is all about, and for giving me my life.

And now, today, on New Year’s Eve, I turn the final page of 2016, the pages filled to overflowing with my words, thoughts, prayers, and wishes. I close the book, but I don’t seal it. I can always return to this year in my memories, and be reminded of this great and wonderful gift called life and of the year of 2016. A new book awaits me, its pages blank and ready to receive whatever each day decides to grant me.

Last year I wrote a list of things to NOT DO in the New Year. I didn’t accomplish my goals entirely, but I can report proudly that I have not put on a sports bra backwards in 2016. (See my blog from last year to read my list: https://jennielousdays.wordpress.com/2016/02/01/my-to-dont-do-list/ ). But I also have to admit that I fell off the chocolate wagon over the Christmas holidays, and I enjoyed far too much candy and cookies. The New Year is a good time to re-group, get back into good habits, and take a bold step forward.

2016 is waving goodbye as she approaches the door into years past. She is taking with her tender memories of dear friends I have had to say farewell to this year, of great personal accomplishments that at times seemed daunting and unattainable, of prayers for healing and those answered prayers, of fears over the fate of our nation during the most disturbing political race I’ve ever experienced, and a plethora of moments and days that brought tears to my eyes merely from the pure joy of being alive and acknowledging my small place in this remarkable universe.

As she moves closer to that door, 2016 pauses to glance back at me and with thumbs up and a broad smile, she wishes me Godspeed into 2017.

I pull out my book with blank pages, and I am ready to write!

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.

My To-Don’t-Do List

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I’m a little late with New Year’s resolutions, of which I swore off of years ago. Instead I have decided to do something a little different this year. I am making a To-Don’t-Do list. This list doesn’t represent things in my past I wish I had done differently, of which there are plenty! My list consists of things I want to remind myself not to do.

  1. Don’t let hurts from the past keep replaying in your brain. Let them go, Jennie!
  1. Don’t make excuses for your daily walk, especially in the winter – you won’t melt in the rain or freeze to death in the cold. You have warm jackets, hats, and gloves, and a good raincoat and umbrella.
  1. Don’t neglect to thank God every morning for the brand new day and every night for everything! Remember the lessons you’ve learned about gratitude and grace.
  1. Don’t eat too much chocolate, and don’t reach for the Reese’s Peanut Butter cups in the grocery store. You don’t need them!
  1. Don’t neglect praying for your sons every day, several times a day.
  1. Don’t forget to play “toss the toy” with Sunshine when you come home from work in the evenings, even if it late. She misses you when you are gone.
  1. Don’t let housework get in the way of going outdoors to do something fun. You live alone – it can wait!
  1. Don’t procrastinate on sending someone a note, phoning a friend, or sending a friendly email when you get a mental nudge to get in touch. It could be an angel delivering a message for you to act upon.
  1. Don’t frown. Or even look solemn. People like to see your smile.
  1. Don’t forget to sing, at least once a day. You don’t have to do it in public. In the car is good. Also remember that you share a bathroom wall with your neighbor next door. Don’t sing in the shower!
  1. Don’t pick the last flower. Leave at least one for someone else to enjoy.
  1. Don’t walk when you can skip.
  1. Don’t overeat. You know you feel better when you aren’t stuffed.
  1. Don’t wish your life away. Remember to live in the present, prepare for the future, but don’t obsess over what might, or might not, happen.
  1. Don’t beat yourself up over past mistakes and failures. Focus, rather, on the lessons you’ve learned, the grace gifts you’ve received, and the person you are becoming.
  1. Don’t forget those lessons you learned! And don’t make the same mistakes again!
  1. Don’t worry about your looks. You are 67 years old. You’re not supposed to look like a spring chicken. Don’t fret over what time is doing to your body. Remember that it is your vehicle for getting around in this world. Focus on staying healthy and in good working condition. Again, think about gratitude!
  1. Don’t put your sports bra on backwards again. It is much more comfortable when worn the correct way.
  1. When picking berries, fruit, or vegetables, don’t stand on an anthill. This is another lesson learned that you know you don’t want to repeat – ever!
  1. And finally, don’t ever stop writing. You know you are more grounded and centered when you write. Even when you don’t feel like it, you usually have something that you can say. And maybe, just maybe, some of your words may reach someone to help them along their way. Who knows?

As I Bid Farewell to 2015 (and also 2014)

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My collection of days for 2015 is at an end. My journal book that I began in January of 2014 is full. I have three pages left in it, which I will fill up before 2016 begins. A new journal book waits quietly on my bedside table, full of empty pages, ready for my words to embrace it. A new year beckons.

Over the past two nights, I have gone back and read my journal of the past two years. Interesting! Oh, the journey I have been on! I can now see the road map clearly as I read what was not in focus at the time of my writing. I re-live the smooth paths as well as the rocky ones, the sunny days and the stormy ones, and feel the scrapes on my knees as I recall my falls and miss-steps. I hear the laughter in my voice over joyous days, and the gut-wrenching sobs over days that brought anger, fear, loneliness, and confusion to my life.

What is eye opening to me as I recall the days of the past two years are the changes in me and the growth that has taken place. When I began the journal, I was at the end of a 20-year marriage that had left me reeling from personal tragedy and loss, unsure of who I was or what my purpose in life was. I was testing the waters on a new relationship, one just as toxic and dangerous as the one I had just been freed from. I didn’t see it as 2014 began, but as those first journal pages turned, I saw myself quickly realizing the darkness bearing down on me, and ending the relationship within the first month of the year. It was tough and venomous-appearing, but deep in my heart, I knew it was what I had to do. It was at that moment in January of 2014 that the little girl who once had stomped her foot and declared to her mother, “I can do it myself,” returned and took control of her life.

As 2014 and 2015 unfolded in my journal book, I saw threads of growth and transition within myself. Frustrations repeated themselves over and over, as I maneuvered my way through my days, figuring out the best way to travel through them. Joy returned to my heart, in many different forms; I let go of the old and embraced the new. I saw patterns of growth, spiritual and mental, as I read my own words from the days of these two years. Indecision and confusion led to answers and revelations. I could actually see myself “becoming” – change was written on almost every page. These two years have been pivotal. I grew up. I accepted myself for who I am and where I’ve been- scars and all. I discovered and owned up to myself as a flawed, bruised, and damaged person, but also as a flower opening up to bloom. As Fran, the main character in the novel I wrote, kept harping on, I learned how to “bloom where I am planted.”

The end of 2015 is days away. My journal book is completed. These two years are over, and I will tuck this book away in my drawer of personal treasures.

A new collection of days eagerly awaits my footsteps. My new journal book rests next to my bed. Her pages are blank today.

I am ready.

NOTE: If you haven’t read my novel, Fishbowls and Birdcages, I invite you to take a look. This has been one of my most fulfilling accomplishments of these past two years. It is available in paperback and Kindle version on Amazon.com.

The Liebster Award Nomination

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I want to thank Natalie of Buster! The Quixotic Area Blogger for nominating me for the Liebster Award.
The Liebster Award is an award that is passed from new bloggers to others bloggers who need more readers. In a blog post, you must answer ten questions, and provide a link to whoever nominated you. It’s an amazing idea that benefits new bloggers by providing exposure and a solid network of fellow bloggers.

Rules:
Once nominated, make a post thanking and linking the person who nominated you.
Include the LEIBSTER AWARD sticker in the post too.

Nominate 10 other new bloggers that have 200 or fewer followers who you think are worthy of this award. Let them know they have been nominated by commenting on one of their posts. You can nominate the person who nominated you.
Answer the ten questions asked to you by the person who nominated you and make ten questions of your own for your nominees.

Lastly, copy these rules in the post.

I have to admit that I don’t follow a lot of blogs regularly, mainly because of my work schedule. The two that I follow have already been nominated for this award. I am not going to ask them to answer another group of questions.

Natalie of Buster! The Quixotic Area Blogger  I love her blog. I can relate on so many levels!

Brian of Brian Hampton It is a good way for me to keep up with what he is doing.

I also follow John Pavlovitz of Stuff That Needs To Be Said, but I am sure he has over 200 followers. I can’t say enough about what reading his blog has meant to me. I don’t feel so alone on my faith journey anymore, and many of his posts have my name written all over them.

These are the 10 questions Natalie of Buster! The Quixotic Area Blogger requested I answer.

1. Why did you start your blog? It actually began as a book I wrote to give to my two sons about ten years ago. It was a collection of memories of days of my life, from my earliest childhood memory to the present time. My son, Brian, encouraged me to start a blog and helped me set it up, so that I could continue writing about my days.
2. How long have you had your blog? I began on Blogspot.com in 2008, and moved to WordPress in 2013.
3. What inspires you to post? Anything and everything! What keeps me going are the comments of readers who are somehow touched by what I write or who relate on some level to my writing.
4. What’s the last book you read? Church Snitch, by Brian Hampton
5. The last piece of music you listened to? “Help Me Make It Through The Night”, sung by Willie Nelson
6. East Coast or West Coast? I have one son on the east coast, and one on the west coast – can’t choose favorites here.
7. What is the hardest thing about keeping a blog going? Taking the time to think and reflect about what I want to write about. Also, I am working on my second book, and I spend a lot of my free time on it. 
8. What is the easiest/most rewarding? Most rewarding is receiving a comment from someone who enjoyed reading my blog. The easiest is when an idea writes itself.
9. What would your last meal be? Pizza, with lots of cheese.
10. If money were no object, what would you be doing? I would be spending half of my time at my beach house, and the other half at my mountain cabin. I would be walking, hiking, collecting shells and stones, reading, baking bread, and writing.

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.