Category Archives: writing

Idle Words

But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.
Matthew 12:36 (KJV)

As a child I grew up in a Baptist church where three times a week, Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night I was in the pews. Dad was up front leading music. Mom was coordinating the nursery.  Sister was shining her Strawberry Shortcake mirror into the aged pastor’s eyes. Church was familiar, comfortable, unsettling, scary. All of the above.

Familiar and comfortable were the people and routines. The red of the sanctuary cushions and carpet, the curve of the armrest at the end of each row, the red Great Hymns of the Faith hymnbook to look through finding Fanny Crosby’s name (because Fanny), the tiny pencils and offering envelopes on the back of each pew, these all brought comfort and delight.

Unsettling was an open cross panel behind the pulpit, revealing the baptismal tank, or the atmosphere of the sanctuary was tinged with tension over a business meeting, or someone choose O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus for favorites night. These moments stirred anxiety.

Scary was the talk of judgment and hell and the end times. The rapture. The trumpet of the Lord. It seemed as if these days were imminently looming, and the only way out was 100% assurance by saying the Sinner’s Prayer, thus knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt with every head bowed and every eye closed, no one looking around.

Of course, I looked around, and if I was looking around how could I trust that no one else was?

I tried, but was never quite sure if I got it right. I never felt safe in God’s hands. I could never escape the shadow of a doubt. When that trumpet sounded and time was no more, I wasn’t certain that I would be there when the roll was called up yonder.

Those were terrifying thoughts for a child growing up outside of Washington, DC. Every midnight ambulance siren, train whistle, or police chase resulted in a frantic leap from bed to make sure my parents were sill in their room, and I had not been Left Behind.

How would I face the terror of the tribulation and the second chance that would only come if I did not receive the Mark of the Beast, enduring unspeakable torture inescapable even by death? The end of the world was always upon me, and I lived with a level of anxiety over my idle words to be given account of and shouted from the rooftops. I was a child full of words.

Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.
Luke 12:13 (KJV)

This was especially poignant, because the closet in my bedroom was the perfect hideout, clubhouse, safe place for secrets. It came complete with a sliding board (following the construction line above the stairs) and was where I told the most important things to my teddy bear or my sister.

I often pondered how all of those idle words were tracked. What would the judgement day be like, when I stood before God to give account? I pictured God turning to a card catalog, like the one at my local library only bigger, and pulling out a drawer with my name on it. There were all of my idle words, categorized.

How times change.

I never imagined the technology of today, where idle words abound and multiply. They are everywhere, our own and others. We share them in texts, comments, and emails. We carry them in our pockets on our phones. They can be retrieved with a click of a mouse or swipe of a screen or insert of a flash drive.

In having a Baabish talk with my children recently, we discussed the importance of being thoughtful and careful with the words they use and send in cyberspace. Some are newly navigating those waters. I am well-aware I cannot monitor every word texted, sent, or spoken. I can remind them that once the words go out, they stay out there somewhere, even if we do not understand where or how.

I tried to explain my card catalog story, but I might as well have been speaking a foreign language. Times. They change. Words. They remain.

Choose wisely, choose well.

Spring’s Arrival

Spring arrived in a flurry of flakes and in ice crusted to the windshield when I went to pick up the girls from school.

It came to me in a broken off tree branch found and gathered while walking Dewey.

Unexpectedly, catching me off guard, the words Happy First Day of Spring! called to me from my child’s school communication notebook.

The words Due to bad weather schools will be closed tomorrow. flashed on the screen of my phone.

It’s Spring!

Spring finds me nostalgic and with more space for story. The broken tree branch with its tiny buds brought to mind a memory long forgotten, yet recently stirred. It prompted me to collect, bring home, and place into water not only that branch but two other similar small ones.

I set them in strategic locations around the house to the tune of “BaaaAab!” when Riley noticed.

On the kitchen counter

In my room

Long ago, a little girl received a letter in the mail from her grandpa M. In it she was reminded that spring was on the way, and that it was the perfect time to be watching the tree outside of the living room window for buds. She was encouraged to choose a branch to observe and sketch daily or every few days. This process would help her to slow down and notice Spring’s arrival. The little girl felt special and seen.

The memory remained tucked away in my mind until I was walking and noticed the broken-off  branch. I remained curious as to why I would be so interested in the buds opening and why I would want to bring it home to put into water and continue to watch when the memory came flooding back.

It helped me understand why I love the tree in my neighbor’s yard that can be seen from both my bedroom and TV room window where I often sit to think. Lately I have been focusing on the branches and sketching them as I ponder. I understand more why I love it in the fall. The changing branches remind me of the gift of seasons and the passing of time.

Thank you for the gift of a memory, Grandpa. Your words made a big impression on a little girl.

Feeling Joseph’s Story

Monday found me in Genesis 40-42 after a miserable night of insomnia culminating in a delicious snow day morning. I sat in a comfortable space ready to delve further into the Joseph story, one often used as a Look how God worked everything out in the end! Evil for good, good wins!

This is true. And good. But as I arrived at the end of the day’s reading I could feel Jacob’s anguish. I know that anguish. I could feel Joseph’s tears. I’ve shed similar tears. I was experiencing the story and not just taking in the facts. This began some journaling on the passage, not to be confused with an exposition on the subject. Following are my observations from Joseph’s story:

Jacob exclaimed, “You are robbing me of my children! Joseph is gone! Simeon is gone! And now you want to take Benjamin, too. Everything is going against me!
Genesis 42:21 (NLT)

I know the feeling that everything is going against me, even as many things are for me. God was sustaining Jacob’s life and his sons’ lives. Joseph was still alive, yet in the moment Jacob didn’t know. He felt everything going against him. While feelings are not truth, they often reveal how we are experiencing our present truth in light of our past.

~Earlier~

Speaking among themselves, they said, “Clearly we are being punished because of what we did to Joseph long ago. We saw his anguish when he pleaded for his life, but we wouldn’t listen. That’s why we’re in this trouble.”
“Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy?” Reuben asked. “But you wouldn’t listen. And now we have to answer for his blood!”
Of course they didn’t know that Joseph understood them, for he had been speaking to them through an interpreter. Now he turned away from them and began to weep.
Genesis 42:21-24 (NLT)

I feel Joseph’s grief upon hearing Reuben reprimand his brothers.

~Earlier Still~

When Joseph’s brothers saw him coming, they recognized him in the distance. As he approached, they made plans to kill him. “Here comes the dreamer!” they said. “Come on, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns. We can tell our father, ‘A wild animal has eaten him.’ Then we’ll see what becomes of his dreams!”
But when Reuben heard of their scheme, he came to Joseph’s rescue. “Let’s not kill him,” he said. “Why should we shed any blood? Let’s just throw him into this empty cistern here in the wilderness.Then he’ll die without our laying a hand on him.”
Reuben was secretly planning to rescue Joseph and return him to his father. So when Joseph arrived, his brothers ripped off the beautiful robe he was wearing. Then they grabbed him and threw him into the cistern. Now the cistern was empty; there was no water in it.
Genesis 38:18-24 (NLT)

Years before, many years before, the brothers had seen Joseph coming, and, out of envy and contempt for his favor and dreams, made plans to kill him. Reuben heard their plan and suggested an alternative, pleaing with them to throw him into an empty cistern. Later he planned to rescue Joseph.

This argument happened before Joseph arrived on the scene. He witnessed none of it as his robe was torn off and he was thrown into a cistern.

~Then~

Then just as they were sitting down to eat, they looked up and saw a caravan of camels in the distance coming toward them. It was a group of Ishmaelite traders taking a load of gum, balm, and aromatic resin from Gilead down to Egypt. Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain by killing our brother? His blood would just give us a guilty conscience. Instead of hurting him, let’s sell him to those Ishmaelite traders. After all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood!” And his brothers agreed. So when the Ishmaelites, who were Midianite traders, came by, Joseph’s brothers pulled him out of the cistern and sold him to them for twenty pieces of silver. And the traders took him to Egypt.
Genesis 37:25-28 (NLT)

~Where was Reuben?~

Some time later, Reuben returned to get Joseph out of the cistern. When he discovered Joseph was missing, he tore his clothes in grief.
Genesis 37:29 (NLT)

Reuben was not around, because he returns later to discover Joseph missing. This causes him distress as the brothers kill an animal for its blood and prepare their story of Joseph’s demise. Joseph’s life becomes a meanwhile as he is lifted from his family’s story and dropped into Potiphar’s house.

Years pass through chapters indicated by phrases such as in the course of time, some years later, some time later. Clues such as pregnancy, birth, adulthood of children born, death of the mother, indicate that daily life continued for the brothers and Jacob just as it did for Joseph who was placed on a different track.

Life went on, routine events punctuated by significant ones. Joseph faced the trauma of false accusation and imprisonment, of being forgotten by the butler for two years after predicting the butler’s release in three days. He held hope that he would be soon remembered while being long forgotten.

When he is finally released and brought before Pharoah, things begin to turn around. He is 30 years old beginning the seven years of plenty. He is married to Asenath, a priest’s daughter who bears two sons. Joseph names them from his story.

Manassah ~ God has made me forget my troubles and everyone in my father’s family.

Ephriam ~ God has made me fruitful in the land of my grief.

Though life circumstances have changed for Joseph, there is still grief, lost time, questions.

He is 37 when the famine begins and 44 at its end. His brothers are older than him. His father describes himself as a grieving white-haired man. (42:38)

During the time of famine, Joseph’s brothers appear before him. He recognizes them, remembers his dreams, and begins to be harsh with them. He questions and accuses. He imprisons them for three days, changing his mind from sending only one back home to keeping only one. He gives the imperative to return with the youngest.

This results in a conversation among the brothers, overheard and understood by Joseph. The mood takes a turn.

After Reuben says, Didn’t I tell you not to go against the boy, but you wouldn’t listen. And now we have to answer for his blood! (42:22)  Joseph turns away and begins to weep. (42:24)

The timing of the weeping struck me as I read. It came after he heard his brothers specifically name the wrong done to him. He is made aware for the first time that one of his brothers had spoken up for him. However cowardly, weakly, or poorly done, someone had not been in agreement. This, coupled with the changed hearts of his brothers, was a story-changer for Joseph.

For years, the data he had to work with was that all of the brothers hated him and had been unanimous in the decision to harm him. He carried that as he was sold into slavery, falsely accused, thrown into prison. Even as life began to change for the better, there was still an undercurrent of sadness and loss.

With this scene, the story lens shifts, more data is collected, and floodgates of tears are released. No facts of Joseph’s story change. A single traumatic event at the hands of his brothers after being set up by his father altered the course of his life, but redemption is close at hand through the path of weeping, grief, and repair of rupture.

I get to continue in this passage next Monday. Sometimes we have to sit in the unresolved sadness for awhile, in that space of grief and lament, where it feels as if all is against us, even when we know how the story ends.

Composting the Fart: No. 3

Hi, it’s Riley again, here with another edition of COMPOSTING THE FART. More baabishness awaits in this one post. Please, computer….. please don’t explode of baabishness…… Anyways, let’s move on to the first one…

You’re in your room, reading a book. It’s almost lunchtime and you decide to go downstairs to see what’s for lunch. You walk out of your room and you go down the stairs. You walk over to the kitchen and as you walk in, you hear someone in the kitchen. They’re opening the oven and you hear a loud creaking noise, then something is put inside the oven and it is closed again with another CREEAK. You walk all the way into the kitchen and you see BAAB. Now, you realize she has just put pizza in the oven to warm up, and you casually walk by her when suddenly…. you realize…… she is wearing a scarf indoors. I mean, who does that?? It wasn’t even COLD inside the house!! (No offense to anyone who wears scarves indoors when it is pretty hot….. but…… I mean…. that means you’re a baab, too………………….) You walk out of the kitchen knowing that you’re having pizza for lunch. I think that the creaking of the oven was probably NOT the oven……. just saying……….

Second:

You’re walking downtown with Baab because Baab says she needs ‘FRESH AIR’. Well, I could’ve guessed that she would need fresh air because of the oatmeal stench of her room….. Well, you’re walking and you’re talking with her about things. BAAAB wants to talk about FEELINGS and that sort of thing. You’re diverting her from the subject by talking about other things in your life that just MIGHT change her mind from talking about all that other junk.. You finally find another thing to talk about, when suddenly Baab stops on the sidewalk.

“A DIIIIIIME.”, she says in her most BAABISH VOICE. “Remember that DIMES are my SIGN to remind me to keep PURSUING my GOALS and keep on GOING.”

She bends down to pick it up, and I’m surprised she didn’t break her back…… but that was the most baabish things she’s ever said………… EVERR.

(BOBA FETT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) (He’s my favorite Star Wars character.)

Lastly but not leastly, here’s a typical everyday thing of a BAAB….

I was writing this post at my dining room table when my little sister asked me to move because she was doing her chore which was cleaning up the dining room. I didn’t want to move, but Baab said she had a place where I could write this post. I followed her into her room, and she pointed to a place next to her closet….. It was a desk-ish thing that has a chair where you could sit, and the chair had a pillow and the desk was covered in BAABISH things. There was a spot where I could set the laptop down so I could write there, though. Baab called it her WRITING SPACE. Where she writes her BAABISH stories and things.

I just think it’s BAABISH that she makes these little NOOKS (<– that’s what she calls them, and it sound baabish) where she can do her BAABISH things.

Anyways, that’s it for now! Thank you for reading this, this is Composting the Fart!

-RILEY

Re-entry

Last Monday morning looked much different than this one. I woke at 4, head full of thoughts. I spent time writing out a story of 19 year old me, then loaded the car, ate a quick breakfast, and exited my friend’s house in the pre-dawn hours. It was time to begin the final leg of my journey.

GPS set arrival time at 12:30, but I knew there would be stops pushing it further back. Still, it was a helpful estimation and motivation to begin putting miles behind me. I was ready to be home.

I would hit the ground running upon return. Monday was choir day. It was also pre-assessment band concert day for two of my children. Thursday and Friday were days off of school for parent conference. Tuesday and Wednesday remained for unpacking, regrouping, and tending to all that was missed in my absence. There was lots to tend.

Friday and Saturday brought an overnight trip to Northern Virginia to witness one son’s performance in a band battle and to celebrate another son’s birthday. I did well at placing the remaining children in overnight care before realizing that we had done nothing for the pets, causing a scramble. Sunday was my turn to solo parent so husband could attend a class in Springfield, MD. There is not a pause button for life.

This morning I rose after a night full of restless dreaming to a feeling of futility. I struggled to move from my bed to face the day. The tired was to the bone. It made for a rockier than usual Monday routine. I helped with breakfast and lunches, remembering that I had not taken time to restock the snack drawers or assess the bread situation in the fullness of the weekend.

People snapped at each other. I fought back tears of discouragement and frustration. We somehow managed to get out the door and to school. I returned to walk the dog, call my sister, leave a voice mail, and send my son off to a day of studio recording with his bandmates.

Then there was quiet. Real quiet. That is when the text came through. A new friend connection from Certificate 2 training had read something that she was sitting with and sent the link to me. I opened it and wept. She asked questions about my tears and spoke truth to my heart. It was a sweet place of being seen.

Monday morning continued with Bible reading catch up in a chunk of Genesis. Before opening my Bible to the designated reading, I cried out to God to show me where he is in all of my mess. He gave me an answer as I read chapters 32-39, through the stories of Jacob and Joseph. I journaled this response.

God,
You are in the wrestling, the dreaming
You are in the scandal, the scheming
You are in the calling, the trapping
You are

He is.

Friendship Friday ~ Esther

I know what you do in your spare time. 

Esther’s knowing eyebrows move up and down rapidly. She says this each time I tell her, or she overhears, that I have eight children. She seems to know what everyone does in their spare time. When a portly man passes us on deck she looks to me and says, I know what HE does in HIS spare time.

Esther is 88 with bright eyes and a foggy mind. Attentive to her appearance, her thin white hair is updone with various clips and combs, topped with a black floppy bow. This gives the appearance of a crown which helps me to remember her name. Queen Esther. The black bow is a fixture of her look each time I cross paths with her.

She introduces herself as Esther the Pester, but I cannot bring myself to call her that as so many passengers do freely. Hey, Esther the Pester! To me she is just Esther.

She is the one who ends up with the heartiest portion of food at our plated dinner each evening. While my plate arrives with a small piece of fish and some steamed vegetables, Esther’s is piled high with pasta, topped with a chicken breast or two.

Oh my, I’ll never be able to eat all of this. Do you want some? This question is rhetorical, as Esther begins cutting into chicken and sliding pasta onto my plate. She comes from a time when it was a sin to waste so much food. I agree that it is wasteful, but how did I end up the starving child that Esther must feed?

I take the food onto my plate graciously, for along with the generous sharing of her food is the generous sharing of the wine she has brought on board. It is not a bad tradeoff. My glass is filled and refilled copiously.

Esther was a beauty in her day, I am told. I believe it. Her eyes still sparkle, and her smile is free. The deep wrinkles on her face give her character and don’t seem dour at all. She, or someone who loves her, is attentive to her appearance. She looks attractive and smart in her dress.

Each night the photostaff takes several pictures of our table. Esther looks lovely in every picture. She really does. This hints that she looked pretty good once upon a time.

I used to live in Hollywood at Hollywood Studios when I was younger. Several other girls who lived there became actresses in movies. I could have, too, but I wouldn’t cooperate. She says this with that up and down eyebrow movement of hers. It’s pretty clear that cooperating would have involved sleeping with someone somewhere along the line.

This conversation took place eight years before its time, back in 2009. The media had not yet exploded with Hollywood (and beyond) sexual harassment allegations. If hashtags were even a thing, they were not yet mainstream. I was just a young woman listening to an old one relate her life experience and a part of her story.

I assure Esther that I’m glad that she didn’t cooperate or we might not be sharing a table on this cruise ship. I have no other words to offer. Only presence. We sit.

If I get ice cream for dessert will you have some? What flavor should I choose?

Something in me senses that Esther is a Butter Pecan kind of girl, which is exactly what I request for her.

I am right!

My Real Valentine

From the first day
I saw your face
I hoped that we would be
More than friends
Acquaintances
I wanted you to see

That I found you special
Uniquely designed
And in your eyes
And in your smile
I saw that you were kind

You brought such joy
Into my life
Such laughter and such fun
And deep inside
I wanted you
To be the only one

That I would walk next to
To have and to hold
And I believed
With all my heart
Our love was strong and bold

But fragile was
The seed of love
We wanted it to grow
Impatient and impetuous
We simply did not know

That you cannot force love
Demand it be strong
And after many lonely years
We found where we went wrong

We’re standing now
Together here
We’re facing each new day
With boldness and integrity
We’re learning how to play

 It’s knowing what we’ve lost
That helps us be found
Our hearts are drawing close again
We’re coming back around.

Happy Valentine’s Day ’18 to the Love of My Life who has made me laugh and feel safe from day one. You are a gift, Steve McClay. Thank you for becoming more real with me through all the seasons, especially those winter ones. Something beautiful is growing from all of this compost. I just know it! Something beautiful already has. Our love.

This image created with Wikki Sticks was stuck to my car window by Steve in 1987. I saved it in my scrapbook for posterity.

***The header image is from a helium balloon that I deflated and saved to remember the playful love of my then boyfriend, now husband. Thank you for your steadfastness, Babe. You’ve always been the best Valentine.***