Month: September 2013

Crossing Mountains

It’s interesting the things I’ve learned about myself these past couple years. For instance, as much as I complained about Tim’s do-it-yourself obsession, I now find myself searching the Internet for instructions on how to fix things myself. I’ve discovered there’s a YouTube video to show you how to do just about everything. And I’m proud to say, if I carefully follow the directions, I can do just about anything.
My greatest achievement so far has been learning to ride a motorcycle. Of all the things Tim and I did together, riding was something we both passionately loved. So after taking a short riding course, I had my license.

At first I only took few short trips close to home. Then I got enough nerve to venture out with our friends on the flat, mostly straight roads in and around Orlando. But apprehension overcame me at the thought of joining those friends on their annual trip to the North Carolina Mountains.

Determined to live well regardless of my circumstances, I chose to not let fear hold me back.
But staring out the window as we towed the bikes up those last few miles of mountain roads to our destination, I began to second-guess my decision. Every twist and turn of the road became an obstacle course I couldn’t see myself surviving.
After a restless nights sleep, with my heart pounding, I sat down on the bike. The wet road and falling leaves added on another obstacle.

But when I pressed the start key and the rumble of my engine joined the chorus of the others, I felt a thrill. A new level of determination burned inside me. There was no way I was going to let fear stop me from doing what I love.
I whispered a quick prayer, “God keep me focused, smart, and alert.” Then I eased out the clutch and pulled into the middle of the line of riders.


Now, I wouldn’t call myself a great motorcycle rider. And I’ll never know how slow the guys took those turns for me. But I do know this; I crossed two types of mountains that day. And the one I crossed inside will carry me over many more ahead.
So much has to be rebuilt when we lose a loved one. And sometimes we have to overcome a physical fear to convince ourselves we can overcome the emotional ones. I’ve crossed both of mine on a motorcycle. And in an odd sort of way, I felt Tim was along for the ride.

And for that I thank the God who made me and those North Carolina Mountains.

How to get Mojo

I’d seen her do it many times. After getting dressed, she spins around, looks me in the eye, and with a girlish smile asks, “How do I look.” The answer is always the same, “You’re beautiful.” At 85, my Aunt Jeanne Marie is still the most beautiful woman I know.

At a time when the Internet daily shoves images of the ideal beauty at me, none compare to this woman who has so richly impacted my life.

I’m fascinated with a news segment called, “Stars Who Lost their Mojo.” A series of before and after photos of celebrities who’ve had the misfortune of getting older. But I’d like to challenge this standard. I’d like to say, Aunt Jeanne Marie never lost an ounce of her mojo, in fact she gained it as she got older.
Aunt Jeanne Marie, Nora, Sheila, and me

Once, as a little girl, I sat in the bathroom and watched Aunt Jeanne Marie go through her nightly ritual of washing her face. When I asked her what she was doing, she said, “Honey, whatever you do for your skin it will appreciate.” But today, Aunt Jeanne Marie isn’t beautiful because of the moisturizer she used.  She’s beautiful because of the woman she became.

Her’s was a life like most of ours, filled with grief and sorrow, joy and triumphs. But she chose to focus on the good. Like when she could have no children of her own, so she stepped in and helped my mother raise her six.

Today, she and my Uncle Eugene live in a little house in San Francisco. They don’t have much because they enjoyed giving most of their possessions away.

Aunt Jeanne Marie, my granddaughter Juliette, Uncle Eugene, my sister Sheila

It’s easy when we’re young to rely on our exterior appearance.  But by the time we’re in our fifties, our face tends to reflect the people we really are. Our wrinkles are the imbedded joys, sorrows, and tensions we’ve chosen to spend our lives focusing on.

I think Mojo should be all the good stuff that comes out when we choose to age well. I’d like to change our culture to value women like my Aunt Jeanne Marie. A woman who chose a life soaked in forgiveness. Whose mojo goes to the very depth of her soul.
I dream of a day, when my grandchildren will see a segment called, “People Who Gained their Mojo.” Picture after picture of sweet gentle old folks with laugh lines embedded in their faces and crows feet reflecting a spark in their eye. Because that’s a beauty fought for. A beauty that doesn’t come natural.

Never Lose Sight of This

It’s been forty years now since the day I hopped into Tim’s Chevy Nova, and ran away to Georgia to get married. We were young, pregnant, and selfish.

For the next thirty-five years Tim and I fought. Mostly to get our own way. I cooked and cleaned and felt entitled to his appreciation. He mowed the grass, fixed everything and felt entitled to the same from me.

We had great moments of supporting one another.  He bought me cameras, sewing machines, computers, everything I needed for my many hobbies. And I helped him fulfill his dream of building his own house.

But too often, our sacrifices had long strings attached. They came heaped with preset expectations.

Determined to make a good life for ourselves, we worked long hours. Then we battled each other over the right to spend our free time the way we saw fit. Tim wanted to hunt and fish. And I wanted to ride my bicycle.

Then cancer crippled him. My life halted and became engulfed in his.
I bathed him, tied his shoes, and helped him in and out of his wheelchair. Eventually, I committed all twenty-four hours of my day to him.
The highlight of our lives became a moonlit walk around the lake by our house.

In those last two and half years of our marriage, a beautiful transformation took place. In essence, as we both laid down our lives we gained a profound grace. No longer able to pursue our own desires, we turned our attention to each other.

Tim became focused on what it cost me to serve him. He constantly apologized for what his cancer put me through. I became committed to making the rest of his life the best it could be.

Once we each took our eyes off ourselves, we saw a beauty in each other that we’d never seen. We developed a profound love we never thought possible.

Jesus says, to follow Him we must pick up our cross daily. I now know what that means. I must learn to give up my life. Tim’s cancer taught me this is where a beautiful life begins. It’s not in getting what I feel I deserve. It’s in what I give away. And the greatest gift I can give is myself. I just pray I never lose sight of this.

The Ever Present Gossip Mill

They met on a blind date. It was a whirlwind romance. In ten years they had six kids, I was number four.

She had no idea he’d be so abusive.
In 1957 they moved into a little house in Arlington, Virginia. My father got through the days with at least one bottle of vodka. My mother did her best to get away from him. She called the police, we escaped to hotels, but she always went back. She said she felt safer knowing where he was.

 One April night when I was ten, he held her at gunpoint at the dining room table. She got away and locked herself in their bedroom. All night he tried to get in. By morning he was enraged. With a sledgehammer, he beat down the door. She closed her eyes and fired from the small pistol she had squirrelled away. My father stumbled into my brother’s bedroom, fell to the floor, and died.

Not long after the dust settled, Mother moved us ten miles south and a world away. For me, it was the start of a whole new life.

Unable to sell the old house, it sat vacant for months. People broke in and camped. They vandalized the walls and fixtures.

One Saturday morning, Mother dragged us back to clean. By early afternoon, I escaped to the front porch. A young boy I’d never met walked up. With his hands shoved deep in his pockets, he shuffled his feet, looked down at the sidewalk, and shot glares up at me. After a few minutes, in one run on sentence, he blurted out:
“A woman shot her husband in that house, then she buried him under the picnic table in the back yard, and he comes back and haunts the place.”

For the first time in my life, I got slammed with the pain of gossip. How, I wondered, could I ever explain the tragedy that happened behind these walls? How my father’s death broke the spirit of my mother. And damaged the souls of the siblings I loved.

To this day, I get squeamish when conversations turn to gossip. When I find myself adding my part, my stomach churns. I’ve never quite figured out how to back out without sounding self-righteous. More than once, I’ve been accused of being naïve for refusing to believe that so and so is sleeping with him or her.
There’s always more to every story. And always more people whose feelings can get hurt. This story is my reminder to keep things to myself. To honor other’s secrets. And to not add to the ever present gossip mill.