Monday, January 1, 2018

Be Careful What You Ask For

2017 was a lousy year for blogging. The last blog in this space was almost a year ago. On January 16, 2016, I posted about how restless I felt. How the sense of being pushed into something new had overtaken me to the point of distraction.

Apparently, God was preparing me for the next stage in life.

My "word of the year" for 2016 was "servant." I prayed frequently for a direction, telling Him, "I'll go where You send me. Just show me."

Well...you know what they say about "being care what you ask..."

Within the next three months, I applied for a job in Birmingham, Alabama, interviewed and got the job, and by March 17th--almost exactly two months from the previous blog post--had relocated to a different state.

I had been in Nashville for more than 50 years.

Seriously. Yes, I really am that old.

Starting March 20th, I became the managing editor for New Hope Publishers, which was owned by the Woman's Missionary Union. The upheaval didn't stop there. On September 1st, the ownership of New Hope transferred to Iron Stream Media. I was promoted to associate publisher.

When I chose "servant" as my word of the year for 2016, I truly thought I'd be working more with my church, perhaps doing more volunteer work with its ministries, and giving time to the programs. I had agreed to be on a committee.

I had no idea God was about to take me seriously with my vow to "go where You send me." I thought I'd be packing food boxes.

He sent me to Alabama.

I have good friends, best friends, in Nashville, who I don't see much anymore. I'd been in the same church for more than 24 years, an integral part of their choir. I had raised my daughter there, and she'd been gone less than a year. My grief was (and is) unexpectedly still quite raw. My doctors were there--I'd just started to get my diabetes under control. I miss all that more than I can put in words.  It's been a disruption, a ripping, a struggle.

It's been a blessing.

The upheaval will continue. I plan to move again in March. I'm becoming reacquainted with cousins I have not seen in 40 years. I'm sometimes stunned how comfortable the family connections are, even after all that time. I'm still learning the city. I'm searching for my "tribe" here--writers, artists, a church--which I have not had time to pursue. And Iron Stream is about to launch a custom publishing line, which I will head up. Change is still in the air.

So my word for 2017 is "listen."

Because, more than ever, I know God has plans for me, just as He does for all of us. If we listen.


Monday, January 16, 2017

Siren Song



Lately, I’ve been unbelievably restless. I don’t know (right now) if this is a call to move, to try for a different kind of work, to spend more time writing, or to get rid of a lot of junk that’s slowly filling my house. The last time this happened, it was the junk...and the writing. I got rid of a LOT of stuff, cleared out some space, and did some re-arranging. I wrote a book. They helped. At least for a time.

Then my mother died, and I moved much of her stuff in with me. I already had all her quilts, but I squeezed in a lot of household goods, with the idea of selling some later. Only “later” never came. And I’ve continually added to the piles (mostly books), until now, I can’t really breathe. I look at every stack, and think, “That could really go.”

So it’s time to start tossing, recycling, and selling. I’m going to sell some of the quilts (if I can). I have two Tell City hard rock maple accent tables. A set of black glasses. Books (LOTS of books), CDs, and DVDs. Art. Picture frames. Some cross-stitch pieces. Sheet music (LOTS of sheet music). And pretty much anything else I think I can live without. If this doesn’t resolve the restless, then I know what’s next.
 
I’m a nomad. Always have been. The longest I’ve ever lived in one location is eight years, and that almost happened by accident. Five years is about average, and I’ve been in my current location for almost six. Stuff makes me feel cramped, and I’ve been surrounded for far too much stuff for far too long.

It won’t be quick, so you may find progress reports from time to time. But it’s time to make room and gaze once again at the horizon. After all, you never know what’s out there…

Friday, January 6, 2017

Fun Flash Fiction: The Haunting of Sharonda Connor

Sharonda Connor looked closely at the seller’s agent, Maria. “So why, in this hot market, is this house so cheap?”

The red flared in Maria’s face to stroke level, and she cleared her throat. “Well—”

Upstairs, maniacal laughter erupted, echoing around the walls and bouncing down the steps into the living room. The sound softened to a deep gargle before ceasing.

“They’re motivated?” Maria asked, her face now a lovely purple.

“Ah.” Shar released a relieved sigh. “It’s haunted. I thought maybe something was wrong with the septic tank.”

Maria tried to protest. “No. Really. There’s no such…I don’t think—”

More laughter interrupted her. This time sounding from behind the kitchen walls.

“It’s perfect,” Shar declared. “I’ll take it.”
***
And they wasted no time. Laughter as Shar loaded in the boxes, although there was a sudden hitch in the howls when she hung up a skeleton in her office and stashed the formaldehyde-filled specimen jars on the shelves.

Then, as Shar nestled in to her bed that first night, the whispering started, circling around her room as if they were hovering over her bed. Shar listened a moment, then spoke aloud. “You’re wasting time. Seriously. If you keep it up, I’ll just take an Ambien. You couldn’t wake me up if you flung me around the room. And I might just scare the crap out of you.”

Silence. Annoyed silence, complete with two sniffs and a low “hmph,” but silence all the same.

Shar slept like a lamb.

But the laughter and whispering continued the next day as she put up books and plumped throw pillows for the sofa. Lights flipped off and on occasionally. Typical stuff. Until Shar dropped onto the sofa for a bit of television. No remote. She tossed pillows and looked under cushions. Nothing.

Then…snickers. Like children trying to hide a secret.

Shar released a long deep breath and stood, hands on hips. “Okay. Here’s the deal. I work with the local pathologist. Dead bodies. Murder victims. Murderers. And they all chatter endlessly. There’s no whiner on the planet like a dead serial killer. Self-pity worse than a toddler, going on about their mommies and nonsense that would just make you puke. All y’all are really going to do is annoy me to distraction. But I ain’t leaving. So get over that part.

“But I’ll make you a bargain. Y’all shut it, and I’ll trade off TV shows with you. One for me; one for you. Otherwise, I know exactly how to make things worse for you. I happen, for instance, to like the scent of sage—”

The room turned instantly frigid.

Shar fought a grin and continued. “And I have a friend who kills her own chickens for food. I’ll have her bring a few over here, and you can spend eternity being followed, pecked, and clucked at.

Frigid became arctic.

“Or you can share the space with me. I’m gone all day. Screech to your heart’s content. I come home, you be quiet, we’ll do tv, bedtime. So. Decide. Flick the kitchen light. Once for no. Twice for yes.”

Two sniffs. A grumble. A hack. A crooked picture straightened. Then…the kitchen light went on and off. Twice.

Shar nodded. “Excellent. How do you feel about The Walking Dead?”

Two flicks.
 
Supernatural?

An excited half dozen flicks. And the remote edged out from under a bookcase. Shar picked it up and flopped down on the sofa. Well, she thought, look on the bright side. I’ll never have to put in a security system. She turned on television and called up Supernatural. “They are cute.”

Snickers. And a long sigh.




(c) 2017 Ramona Richards

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Being Positive After Loss - A New Year's Resolve

I don't make New Year's resolutions. I learned long ago that they are good intentions with lousy follow-through. I may be a creature of some routine, but I am not a creature of habit. I don't get up at the same time every morning (it varies from 3am to 8:30am), but I do try to start work by 9am. This, of course, may mean eating breakfast at the dining table around 4am or sitting at my computer at 9:30. I recently changed how/where I put on my socks and shoes.

Some of this comes from moving a lot, both as a child and an adult, being forced to find new routines. Part of it is that I'm probably have some form of ADD. Focus has always been huge issue for me, more so as I get older.

And much more so in the last year.

Yep. Almost a year. Rachel died February 19th.

For the past year, I've become increasingly negative toward the world, and my responses on social media more biting. Took me awhile to see it. Took me even longer to understand it. Yes, it's been a bitter year for many people. We've lost a lot of people we admired and cared about. Some people are facing an elected president they despise with an icy resolve. Global events have been wearing and wearying.

But my turn to the bitter had a more intimate source.

After the initial burst of grief and numbness, I re-entered the world. I look normal. I mostly act normal. I'm not one to sit around on a stump and blubber. I go out with friends. I have good times.

Then the bitterness pops up, sometimes barely under control. In fact, I was with a friend yesterday and realized, too late, how negative I'd been all day.

The root? I'm still sad. Unrelentingly sad. A dark sadness that erupts in shower sobbing sessions, or overflows of tears if I dwell a little too long on the fact that my daughter is dead and I'll never see her again here. And for me, this is a stage that I'd prefer to keep private. If I don't talk about her, it's because I can't. Not now.

Parents who've lost children warned me about this stage. The stage when the excruciating grief is intermittent and awkward. When it can change your basic personality, if you don't stay aware. So...it has; and I am.

So my resolve is to stay aware and challenge myself. To refuse to let the numbness take over. To accept the sadness but not to surrender. To let productivity carry me forward and upward. To put a challenge in front of myself every day to achieve just a little be more along the way. To start each day as a blank page to be filled not with routine duties but new and embracing ways of living, working, and worship.

Here's hoping it's one habit I can keep.



Monday, January 2, 2017

The Value of an Orange


Teach us to realize the brevity of life,
    so that we may grow in wisdom.
Psalm 90:12 NLT

As a toddler, I loved watching my dad do stuff. I'd mimic him driving and working in his shop. When I was older, he taught me to shoot and fish. And I’d watch him, fascinated, as ate an orange. 

First, he’d roll the ripe orange between his palms for a few moments, then sniff it. Then he’d take his pocket knife and drill a hole around the stem, cautiously pulling free a small cap, with much of the white stem from inside still attached. Then he’d suck much of the juice out through the hole, mashing the orange with his fingers. After a few moments, he’d pull the fruit apart, slowly pulling the sections from the rind, eating the remaining meat.

I’ve never seen anyone else eat an orange like that. He savored every morsel. Only later did my mother explain that when they were growing up, oranges were a rarity, like many other things in the 1930s rural South. The Great Depression hit area hard, and oranges were expensive, shipped in by trucks from Florida, and usually only seen around Christmas. Kids would find them in their stockings, and they were a prize worth celebrating. The way my dad ate an orange was designed to waste nothing, not even a drop of juice, and to prolong the enjoyment. And I seldom eat one today that I don’t think of him.

Knowing how much my parents had lacked during their childhood made me sad. As I grew up, however, I saw the wisdom their lives had engrained in them as well. They were practical people, fixers and tinkerers. Nothing went on the trash heap unless it absolutely could not be fixed…but if that were the case, it was slung free with no regrets. They moved on, and did without if there was no money to replace it. But my dad was also a barterer, and he once traded a car for a paved driveway. Another time he traded his bush-hogging services for half a cow. They found a way.

I learned some of their wisdom, but not nearly enough, so this verse from Psalm 90 resonates with me. My dad died at 69, a reminder of life’s brevity. Now, in a time when so much is disposable, when older people are sometimes “invisible” to those around them, I pray we’ll take the time to absorb what they have to offer. Because there is so much to lose.

Prayer
Thank you, Lord, for the wisdom you have granted those who ask. Let us listen to them and remember your gifts in our lives. Amen.  


Sunday, January 1, 2017

Book Challenge 2017 - #1

I like this idea a lot. Not original, obviously. I lifted it from Facebook user "Bookman Scholar," but I'm going to go for it in 2017. And I'll blog about each book I read and where it fits on the challenge. I also will not use the same book for more than one category. For instance, the one I'll be finishing in the coming week is set in England, a mystery written by a female, and features places I'd love to visit. I'll choose one of those for the challenge.

Do you have a beloved book that fits in the other categories? Suggest it! I'm open to ideas. If you're a writer with a book coming out in 2017, nominate yours! For instance, I've read a LOT of classics, but nothing by Jane Austen (don't faint). I tried to read Emma when I was in high school, and completely lost interest. I haven't tried anything since.

So suggest away. This is a LONG list!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2017: A Time of Service


As I mentioned in last year’s“word of the year” blog, sometimes the word is something that just pops in my head, a moment of inspiration, with no idea how or why. This year’s word—bloom—turned out to be a little deceptive. I thought it was about expanding and growing. I had no idea that it would come to mean healing, recovering from the dark winter of loss and grief. But God knew.

This year, however, I’ve been led to it as if I’m being herded in that direction.

Servant

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working on a book on art and theology. One of the pieces, Esther Ausberger’s Servant, kept drawing me back. After forgetting to do my morning devotion, I opened The Upper Room to December 20th…based on John 13:33-35. But when I looked up the verse, there’s John 1:4-5 staring me in the face: “So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.”

Two of many.

This is not just about serving others. It’s about serving Him. Being open to that in ways I never have before. Challenging myself. Trying new things at His guiding.

Scary.

Taking a deep breath and diving into the New Year with hope and determination. I suspect it’s going to be a wild ride.