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Braking Points

Pausing in the midst of Life to ponder, pray and find footing to continue.

Month

January 2015

Porch Story–Chapter 15

rocking chairs “The trees are ready to give to the children tomorrow. I am thinking this is one of those ‘dust in the wind’ ideas, but looking out at the community, I realize how easily deceived we all have been. Looking to the MV Corporation for salvation, depending on the board of directors, the stock holders, the big wigs off in some big office complex in Dallas, Texas to look out for our families. Here we were thinking if you do good work, for honest wages, the company will provide. I know folks think I get in my ‘come to Jesus’ mode too often and be that as it may I also know that folks, Christians and otherwise, have stopped being a real community. They have all been touched by MV Corp’s actions, but rather than looking at their strengths, looking for solutions within the community, they are closing off, hunkering down, licking their own wounds or drowning them. It is as if they have forgotten that 100 years ago this place was little more than a dry spot blowing in the Oklahoma wind. Then the settlers, mostly farmers, formed co-ops, retail merchants came, for a while the train made stops carrying passengers and freight, a community was born from the collective needs of the families who settled here, like my grandmother, and Nancy’s folks. Lord, let these trees and the words I speak to these children tomorrow build a fire that will ignite real change. I cannot do it, but You can.” from Eleanor Brown’s Journal.

Nancy had picked up the most recent journal of Ellie’s. She had settled on her bedroom porch, weary from grief and the endless movement of the day. Brian had gone on into his old room when they got back from the funeral home. Mandy was with Clara. Finally, Nancy had time alone to reflect. She read the words trying to digest and gain some understanding of Ellie’s last days. She had argued briefly after the visitation with Clara. That did not sit well. Clara seemed determined to consider that her mother had deliberately driven into the path of the freight train. Nancy just as vigorously denied the possibility. While not a shouting match, both held their ground with Nancy grabbing the journal she now held from Clara. “Just let me read her final entries. I promise to keep an open mind.”

Clara hemmed and hawed but assented. Nancy understood her reluctance knowing herself that however open her mind it would take a point blank statement to change her mind.

The visitation had been packed with friends, family and gawkers. Nancy had arrived early, hurrying home to shower and change after the visit to her mom and Gavin. Brian followed in her wake, moving quickly forward toward the flower draped open casket and Clara. His arm went instinctively around her shoulders. She stood transfixed, her fingers wrapped around the ornamental handles of the casket, head inclined, her face carefully arranged and not unlike the death mask of her mother’s face. Nancy halted, took a seat at the back and watched.

She wasn’t eager to hurry forward. Mandy came by her reluctance to accept change and loss naturally, Nancy mused. When other people started drifting in, greeted by the staff, Nancy rose and moved to speak to the folks she knew, most of them since she was a child. Staying toward the back she shook hands, hugged, and made small talk mostly about the weather.

Pete arrived with DeWayne and their mother. Ann Stewart looked none too happy in the wheel chair Pete had obviously convinced her she needed…or he needed. Nancy moved away from Frances Ryan with a smile and a pat on the arm to join her brothers and mother. As she approached them, she noticed Mandy step forward, putting her hands on the wheelchair. Whether it was to assist her grandmother or provide her with support, Nancy couldn’t tell. Mandy’s face looked drained of color, her eyes red rimmed, but Nancy watched as she straightened her posture, lifting her chin resolutely. Frankly, she looked a bit like she was about to be executed.

Pete smiled as Nancy approached, “Hi Sis.” She acknowledged his greeting with a hug followed by hugs for DeWayne and her mother. Her eyes met Mandy’s offering unspoken encouragement. Both of her brothers she noted had managed to get cleaned up and dressed without a single word or suggestion from her. A tenderness washed through as she realized how interdependent they all were. Sometimes the constancy of someone or something goes unnoticed. Sometimes, Nancy thought with a little lump in her throat, I am not grateful enough for these two men and all they do.

She stepped away as they joined the line of people moving forward to offer condolences to Clara before edging away yet again to meet and greet. As she did a distinct authoritative voice rose above others outside the double doors in the vestibule. Immediately even after many years she recognized Colonel Frank Brown’s deep baritone, in muter tones a female voice tried to calm him. Delia, Nancy thought and headed toward the disturbance. It seemed Delia had the matter in hand by the time Nancy reached them, for she found the Colonel seated in one of the wingback chairs while Delia spoke in hushed tones to Mark Ryan and a well dressed woman Nancy did not recognize but assumed was a member of the funeral home’s staff.

Ryan’s Funeral Home and Crematorium had been a fixture in the community since Nancy had been a child, but it had expanded, redecorated and prospered over the years. Mark was the grandson of the original owner and his father still worked some since a heart attack had forced him into partial retirement. One thing was for sure, taking care of the dead and bereaved remained profitable. Nancy could have kicked herself for thinking that because she knew the Ryan family, attended church with them and they were kind dear compassionate people. What had gotten into her lately to bring out her cynical side? Gavin’s brain injury and now Ellie’s death had left her without the counterpoints she relied on to balance her tendency to the negative. Obviously, a new plan was needed and fast, before she became a crotchety old snit of a woman.

She’d rather eat rocks than have to deal with the Colonel and Delia, but someone needed to get them up to the front of the little chapel room so they could see their granddaughter and Ellie’s body. Since Delia was speaking with Mark, Nancy approached the Colonel. Touching his shoulder lightly she said, “Hello, Colonel. I don’t know if you remember me, but I’m….” “Nancy Stewart, no that’s not right. You are a Wingate now aren’t you? How are you my dear?” Nancy smiled in spite of herself. As far as she knew this was the kindest, heartiest greeting she had ever evoked from the Colonel. In past meetings he had always seemed a bit confused about who she was and why his daughter was hanging out with her.

Although he and Delia had been invited to her wedding, they had not attended, but did send a place setting of her china as a gift. That he could recollect her married name since he had never even met her husband in the thirty plus years they had been married astonished her. Delia noticed Nancy, broke off her conversation, joined them wrapping Nancy in a particularly warm hug with a bit of sniffling as Delia’s head remained buried in her shoulder just a second longer than was comfortable. Not that the hug itself were really comfortable. Her brain without the appropriate filters screamed, ‘Who are these people and what have they done with the real Colonel and Mrs. Brown?’

Her exterior remained neutral while her insides stewed. She had managed to escort them through the growing crowd to the front where Delia repeated her hugging with Clara, whose eyes met Nancy’s over Delia’s shoulder as if to mirror Nancy’s feelings. Brian smiled and greeted the Colonel, introduced himself. No, he was not Clara’s boyfriend, fiancé, they were old friends…Nancy was his mother and so on. Finally, he walked with the Colonel over to the casket, stepping back slightly so the older man could be alone with his only daughter. Nancy watched him, but did not move any closer to casket. ‘Not yet, I just can’t do it yet.’

She began inventorying the flowers, a virtual forest of color and greenery filled the area to the sides and back of the coffin. As her eyes moved she caught a bit of out of place color and then a tiny bit of movement among the baskets, planters and wreathes. Someone was back there among the potted and fresh plants. Suddenly, a large arrangement of fresh cut gladiolas began to waver, shifting slightly before tumbling to the floor, water and flowers spilling out. The water spread out across the floor splashing up and over the Colonel’s and Brian’s shoes. Nancy heard both Clara and Delia gasp as one, before she heard Mark Ryan’s assistant, the woman she had seen outside in the vestibule hurrying up with a towel to return the glads to their rightful place and soak up the water.

Nancy, on the other hand, moved toward the plants and around to the back of them. There among the foliage two pairs of wide eyes stared up at her.

“Jessie? Les? What on earth?”

The two stood up obviously frightened, but as Nancy watched Les stretched himself out , speaking a voice that conjured a remembrance of herself trying to speak as a grown up. “Jessie and I came to pay our respects and offer our condo..condoll..to say we are sorry about Miss Ellie dying.” He was so serious and both of them were so scared that Nancy almost laughed, but fortunately got control of herself, before nodding solemnly and leading them around the flowers to the front of the casket where mercifully the mess was already cleaned up. She did wonder if either of their parents were present or knew their children were.

I WOULD GIVE ANYTHING….REALLY?

Morning
Morning
Around 7 AM this morning I set out to take Max and Emma for their first walk of the day. As they piddled around as they often do, sniffing every blade of grass as if that was the whole purpose of their walk, I stood still for a moment rather than rushing them along to get on with business.

Standing there observing the morning sky as wispy clouds blew across a magnificent pale blue dome, I whispered almost to myself, “I would give anything…” I stopped before completing the statement. The words intended were, “to capture that sky in paint, secure it to a canvas, sketch pad, or maybe to capture it in a photograph”. I stopped because as my husband has often pointed out, words often are prayers and my wistful expression needed examination before utterance.

Self examination serves to heighten personal awareness of thought patterns, motives, and actions. A step deeper is to allow the Holy Spirit to shine His spot light which reaches the corners and crannies better that self alone can do. What Would I Give Anything for?

Let me share some of the things I have said “I would give anything for…”

A cup of coffee
A soft bed
A decent meal
For the rain, or snow or wind or other weather condition to stop or start
For a bathroom
For a break…especially during a long meeting
To be able to sing
To be able to dance
A good medical report
For Christmas, especially as a child

I suspect you, like I reluctantly did, see a pattern, every single example I unearthed centered on SELF. Oh, I could spin them a bit and find some way of making them more altruistic, for example…”a cup of coffee, so I am kinder to others.” If it had just been me on this exploratory adventure, I possibly could have gotten away with some of that, but the Holy Spirit basically said, “Nah, its all about you.” He can be so stubborn about these character issues. He even suggested a few scriptures, pulled out God’s Word and highlighted it. One was:

“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (‭Luke‬ ‭12‬:‭27-34‬ NIV)

Once that inventory was as complete as I cared for it to be (the list above is just a sampling), He nudged me to consider the word, ANYTHING. To consider that Jesus called his followers to “count the cost” of discipleship and to “take up their cross daily” and to turn from anything that kept them (me) from following him. And again, since I was obviously struggling yet again with these facts the Holy Spirit pulled out the Bible:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (‭John‬ ‭3‬:‭16‬ NIV)

After that I carried Him with me to church by then He was being pretty silent as I mulled over what I had on the plate before me. At Babson Park First Christian Church this morning we had missionary guests, Vivak and Angela Lall with Mid-India Christian Mission. During Sunday School he spoke about their mission, the victories, the challenges, the political situation in India. He was a very interesting articulate speaker.

BUT it was his message during the worship service that hit me full force, which I suspect is what the Holy Spirit had in mind. The whole message seemed to address the conversation I had been having with God all morning, but near the end he quoted someone else as saying,

“If there is nothing worth dying for then is there anything worth living for?”

Shall I live clinging to my life, my family, my home, my health, my finances, my stuff as if I can actually HOLD them. Shall I hunker down in my little bunker terrified that I might lose something precious?

Or shall I open my heart, my hands, my life, ANYTHING and EVERYTHING. Shall I Seek First the Kingdom of God and trust the ONE who has saved me to keep His promises?Shall I trust the ONE who has loved me to love the ones I love?

Shall I give everything so I can live as if nothing weighs me down or holds me back?

Shall I love with abandon as God has loved the world and given his one and only son?

Then there it was again plopped before me:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (‭Romans‬ ‭12‬:‭1-2‬ NIV)

I would give anything to become a good and faithful servant of Christ my Lord.

Porch Story–Chapter 14

“I hate Delia! I hate Delia! I hate Delia! She is not my mother! So I don’t care what Granny says, I do not have to honor her. ” From Ellie Brown’s Diary, 1974.

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They found their grandmother, where Nancy had the previous day, sitting in a chair next to their father’s bed, apparently reading the newspaper to him.

“Brian! Amanda! You are both a sight for old eyes,” exclaimed Ann Stewart brightening as she watched her grandchildren advancing toward her with Nancy bringing up the rear.

“Hi GiGi!” both exclaimed almost simultaneously, leaning in to hug and plant kisses on Ann’s cheeks. Mandy sensed a new frailty in her grandmother, a slight change of posture, a shrinking, but there was no denying the brightness and twinkle in her eyes that seemed to take in everything around her. GiGi was still there, the bright sharp woman who had let them build forts with blankets while she herself played the monster coming to capture them, the woman who had cooked their favorite foods, and tended them when they were sick so their Mom could teach and their Dad take care of the farm. And there was the bite of it again, Dad.

For the longest moment she purposefully kept her attention on her grandmother, trying desperately to control the panic that had her heart racing and her gut in knots, a smile plastered on her face. While peripherally Brian moved from his grandmother to the bed, Mandy froze. It took every ounce of self restraint that she could muster not to run from the room. She could hear Brian talking softly to their Dad which only reinforced her panic.

“Mandy?” Her grandmother’s soft tone startled her. She jumped ever so slightly as if zapped by static electricity. She looked into Ann’s face finding no reproof only the same love and encouragement she’d found all those times in her childhood when she hung back from some new challenge. First day of middle school popped into her brain.

She had stood petrified in front of the full length hall mirror, wearing the seventh outfit she had tried on, the debris scattered across her bedroom evidence of her indecisiveness. She hated everything she saw in the mirror, especially her hair. Why oh why was she the only one in her family to inherit the Wingate carrot colored curly mess? On the verge of breaking into sobs, feigning illness, her stomach indeed did not feel right, her grandmother had stepped in behind her clutched her shoulders and swung her around on her heels.

“Amanda Wingate, you will not let fear keep you from sixth grade! You look fine and this isn’t about looks anyway, this is about growing up and becoming everything God wants you to be. If you hide in your room, you may be safe, but I can’t guarantee that. So my advice stop looking in the mirror and start looking out at the brand new world of middle school.”

None of what Gigi said made any sense, but the look in her eyes, the same look she had now had propelled Mandy out the front door. Mandy’s memories of that first day were vague, but she had not died of embarrassment in fact her middle school and high school days were some of the best ones she had. That encouraging, challenging look that only Gigi could produce stared up at her now.

Mandy swiveled on her heels, took in the bed and its occupant, looked into the face, yes still her Dad, but so still, so vacant, SO not her Dad! The panic threatened again, but before it took hold she stepped past Brian, leaned over, laying her head on her father’s chest and hugged him.

“One giant step for Mandy.” Brian quipped.

“Really! Brian!” She turned and punched him in the arm.

**************

Delia settled in the back of the large SUV. The Colonel had insisted on sitting up front with the young–they were all so young–Airman 1st Class, who had been assigned to transport them for the funeral. Delia studied the landscape as they left Wichita Falls headed north. They had never been stationed here, but having made the obligatory visits to Frank’s mother and Ellie over the years, she felt a calm familiarity with the surroundings. The flat land with the dome like sky created a sensation like living in a snow globe, except for the infernal heat.

She hadn’t napped on the plane. She’d been a bit anxious about Frank. A military officer herself she’d never been one for maternal hovering or sentimentality nor was she now, but her new found faith had prompted unexplored feelings toward others, especially Frank. Not that anxiousness fit with all she was absorbing, in fact, hadn’t they just read, where was it? “Be anxious for nothing.” Maybe Philippians or Galatians, one of those. He had stared straight ahead, ram rod straight in his seat for the entire flight. Conversation with him had been perfunctory, so Delia had prayed not just for him, but for Clara and for herself.

Now with Frank in the front seat making a little conversation with the Airman, she leaned back and napped. They’d be in the midst of the storm in very little time, a storm that the Delia and Frank of 40 years ago had created. “Oh, Ellie,” she thought as she drifted into sleep. “I am so sorry.”

The Blood of Christ

I have had this in my head for several days, the power of the blood of Christ, covering so completely, filling the crevices where sin can hide. The blood of Christ like a transfusion works on the inside of the believer so that the outside of the believer manifests Christ in the world. It’s power is more than a fire screen, it is a river carrying the believer to the throne of God.

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Porch Story–Chapter 13 with Introduction

Note from Carolyn: I have been off for a couple of months, Thanksgiving, Christmas, the New Year…I also started a new blog exploring my seventh decade. If you are interested it is at http://www.lifeinmyseventhdecade.wordpress.com. But I don’t want to neglect Braking Points nor do I want to fail to finish “Porch Story” for myself if not for anyone else. I also want to continue to share the bits and pieces that I find encouraging and enlightening in scripture, prayer, meditation and the act of living life in the here and now. BRAKING POINTS..times to stop, look and listen. So with that here is the 13th chapter of “Porch Story” for anyone who cares to read.

Chapter 13

“While the doctor talked, my mind only partially engaged with what she was saying. CAT scans, PET scans. lab results. diagnosis, treatment options, on and on…I drifted away. They say at the moment of death your life flashes before your eyes, but I have always had flashbacks to earlier times, mostly at night when the devil tries to bring up every transgression I have ever committed. But while the doctor talked, I suddenly remembered holding Clara, immediately after her birth, hearing her healthy cry, and watching her latch on to my breast, suckling as if she were starved. Before I could stop them, tears rolled down my cheeks not because I was dying but because of the beauty of that moment with Clara in my arms for the very first time. It will be saying good-by that I will hate the most.” From Eleanor Brown’s Journal

With Clara’s luggage packed inside, Brian scowled at his sister, obviously miffed by her avoidance of his phone calls, hugged his mother and bid the threesome of females good-by.

“Are you headed to the house, Brian?” Nancy inquired.

“Later I thought I would go visit GiGi and Dad.” He leveled his gaze at Mandy, “It wouldn’t kill you to go visit them too.” He even cringed at the judgmental tone in his voice. Mandy glared back, but held her tongue, shrugging her shoulders slightly. Nancy studied the exchange between her two children before pointedly turning to Clara and asking, “Mandy’s been camping here. Would you like me to help you get settled, before…?” Hesitantly, she waved her hand around the room the untidiness evident. “before we tackle the journals?” Her voice quivered.

Clara reached out, touched Nancy’s arm then collapsed again into the safety of her hug. Traces of moisture spilled onto both of their cheeks intermingling. In that instant both grew unaware of time or space or the occupants who were inhabiting it with them. Brian and Mandy unaccustomed to seeing their mother cry shared a silent inquisitive look, their own animosity dampened by their shared concern.

Finally, Clara shifted away from Nancy, scanned the room and spoke, “Why don’t we meet for supper…”

“At our house.” Nancy interrupted, looking pointedly at her children and not at Clara.

Both shared uneasy glances and then nodded.

“Are you sure?” Clara asked.

“Yes, and then we can talk about how we want to carry out Ellie’s wishes.”

“Ok. And, Mandy, would you consider staying on here with me? I think having company in this big house would be good.” Clara stated, not at all sure she really wanted company.

“I’d like that, thanks.” Mandy turned to Brian, “I think I will go with you to see GiGi and Dad,”

“Let’s all go,” Nancy said, “and give Clara some time to rest and get settled. Oh, Clara, your grandparents will be here this evening. They have a driver bringing them from Wichita Falls.” The look on Clara’s face prompted an unexpected laugh from Nancy, full bodied and deep and then she found she could not stop laughing. The shocked looks on her children’s faces rather than tamping her outburst made her laugh even harder. Clara’s face twisted slightly before she too dissolved in a fit of giggles. Brian and Mandy stood uneasily to the side before smiles brightened their faces.

It felt good to laugh, Nancy thought. Ellie would have been laughing with them. In that moment Nancy knew her eulogy needed less sentimentality and more humor. It needed to be a realistic portrait of a complicated but wonderful friend.

“I will follow you all over to see Mom, GiGi, and Dad.” Nancy said as the Wingate’s left Clara standing in the living room of Ellie’s house.

>>>>>>>

“Have you ever seen a dead person?” Les asked Jessie. The others had gone except for Jessie’s little sisters who were camped in front of the Burton’s TV, watching Sponge Bob. The Burton’s still had cable service, a fact not lost on Jessie.

“No. Have you?”

“No. Maybe we should go down to the funeral home and take a look at Miss Ellie…you know, before tomorrow so we don’t act too shocked or something.”

“What do you mean?” Like on a slab, or one of those drawers like on TV?”

“No, I heard my Mom talking to someone on the phone and they should have her in a casket all prettied up by this evening sometime. We could walk down and go see her.”

“I d-don’t know,” Jessie hesitated, stuttering slightly on the words, “What if someone sees us? Or, if she looks really bad. I mean she was hit by a train, Les?”

“Lots of people go to viewings. It’s respectful,” Les said proud of his use of the word “respectful”. He liked practicing new words, but that didn’t mean he wanted to learn a new language. He hastened to add, “My grandmother says the funeral folks use all sorts of make-up and stuff so folks just look like they are sleeping.”

“Should we take something…like flowers…I don’t have any money, Les. My Dad says we are probably going to end up in the poor house…but I don’t even know where the poor house is, do you?” Jessie had been storing up all the tidbits of information she could accumulate from her parents arguments since they were laid off, trying to prepare herself for whatever was coming. She had a boatload of negativity that she carried everywhere she went. She knew it was all bad, but she didn’t understand most of it.

“Nah, we can just go and pay our respects,” stated Les, a tone of authority in his voice.

“Ok,” Jessie murmured. “What time?” She eyed Megan and Cindy across the room, knowing she would have to get them home and find something for them to eat. She rose, grabbed her sisters’ hands over their protests and dragged them toward the door.

“Oh, Jessie…dress up like for Sunday School.” Les called after their backs as they retreated through the hedge.

>>>>>>>>>

The phone rang almost as quickly as the Wingate’s were gone. It was Matt Ryan at the funeral home. Could she bring something for Ellie to wear and did she want to view her mother before they put her out for the public? It struck Clara that who ever wants to see their parent dead before or after the public, but she simply said that she would pick a dress and yes, she would appreciate a few minutes alone with her mother. Apparently her worries about the funeral arrangements were uncalled for. Ellie had made all arrangements two weeks before. Matt Ryan knew her mother was dying before she did. Childishly, she decided she had never liked the man and then, had she ever even met him?

She found the dress, shoes–shoes? whoever sees feet in a coffin?–jewelry, all in a bag, clearly marked in Ellie’s broad script, “For my funeral”. Lump in her throat, she pulled the bag off the hook. Carting them out, she stopped dead in her tracks. How was she getting to the funeral home? Guess I will have to take the Mighty Moose. Backtracking through to the kitchen she grabbed the keys to her Mom’s GEO tracker, a relic from the 1990’s, which she found in the garage. Thankfully, it started right off. Matt Ryan had remarked that Ellie’s viewing room was filling up with flowers and other memorials, so they wanted to get her out as soon as possible.

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God forbid that folks had to wait to get a gander at the woman who had been hit by a train. Clara grimaced as she and the Mighty Moose took off.

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