Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Five Kids and a Flood


(How God Provides After the Storm)

 



The call for mandatory evacuation didn’t scare us; the city of Long Beach stretches between the Atlantic and the bay with less than a mile across. It often cried wolf before a storm. 

“Guys, don’t go crazy packing—we’ll be home in a day or two. Just two outfits and a sweatshirt.” Andrew dropped his baseball gear on the wooden floor next to Stephen’s new guitar amp; Elijah and Aaron left their video games on the coffee table. Jordan threw a few Barbies back in her toybox. I finished a load of towels and left them in a laundry basket on the floor.  

Gene shook his head as he stomped downstairs. “My mom refuses to leave, so I’m staying.”  

I grumbled, but at least our dog could stay back too. 

I drove our five kids to my parents’ home on Long Island’s north shore, away from the ocean. As the wind howled, trees cowered; one snapped and knocked down power lines. In the dark, I checked my glowing phone every two minutes. 

 Mom squeezed my shoulders in a bear hug. “Don’t worry. I’m sure they’re fine.” 

“I know.” I dialed again. Why wouldn’t he answer?  

After the storm calmed down, Gene finally called. “Everything’s destroyed.” 

“What?”  

“We’re fine, but the whole first floor is ruined.” 

“What happened?”  

“The ocean met the bay, and water rushed in like the Titanic; it filled the basement and rose two feet high on the first floor.” 

Was it worse than I imagined? 

“…Are you still there?”  

“Yeah. At least everyone’s okay.”  

“Hug the kids for me. I love you.” 

What now? 

If anyone asked, I’d smile and answer, “We’re okay.” We were a healthy family, had food and survived Hurricane Sandy; how could I complain?  

So we endured. God provided us with strength to deal with the many challenges and inconveniences. My mother-in-law stayed with relatives; we moved upstairs in her two rooms while workers gutted the first floor.  The kids slept on blow up mattresses or piles of blankets for two months. Without heat and hot water, we warmed pots of water for bathing. We cooked frozen food in a toaster oven. On Thursday nights, we gathered ten garbage bags of laundry to wash at the Laundromat and drank coffee. After so much was taken away, we rejoiced at every step back to normalcy. Even clean clothes. 

Government aid (FEMA) covered the initial cost of gutting our house, but we were left with a skeleton of a house without kitchen, first floor bathroom, or even doors. Finishing the house would cost five times what we spent on de-molding. 

Gene’s forehead creased as he spoke softly: “I know you want to keep homeschooling Jordan, but we have to be realistic.” 

My face muscles tightened. 

“If you work full-time, we can pay our bills…and we have two kids in college next year.” 

His whispered words sounded painfully loud, but I nodded. I knew. I wanted to curse the storm for changing everything, but I prayed instead. 

The day after we talked about me getting a better job, I was promoted at work; I’d work nine to five at double the pay. Thank you, Lord. Having more money helped, brought us closer to enough, but without having flood insurance, fixing our house still seemed impossible. Our home felt more like camping, like we’d be camping forever. 

******* 

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus. (Philipians 4:19)

Ten months later… 

Pastor Pete asked us, “How are you guys?” 

“Okay.” 

“Have you applied for help from Samaritan’s Purse Ministries?”  

They’d set up their offices at our church since the storm hit, but we never thought to ask. 

Four weeks after applying, we began telling ourselves, “There are so many people who need help more than us. We’ve been blessed with a healthy family, and…” but truth is we were disappointed before we ever got an answer. 

Five weeks after applying, we got a letter from Samaritan’s Purse—a “Yes” letter. Our house would be fixed—mended by the loving hands of God. 

Today, willing volunteers show up in orange shirts, ready to help us rebuild and share God’s love with our community. I look back at this year and the time wasted worrying, and He reminds me: “See how the lilies of the field are clothed?” (Matthew 6:28-34) How can I ever doubt how God provides again? Even after a storm.

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Goofy-footed on the Bunny Slope

 
 
 

 Me at age 12, performing a very dangerous skateboard trick.
Don't try this at home without proper training. 

 

Time to dream… 

Careful what you wish for…it might not fit. At age twelve, I wished I could hang-glide and skateboard. Knowing Mom/Dad wouldn’t go for the hang-gliding, crashing-into-a-mountain idea, a new skateboard topped my Christmas list. 

Dad’s portable radio was set on the twenty-four hours of uninterrupted Christmas music channel. Jingle bells danced in my head. But it wasn’t music keeping me awake—just the hopeful sound of wrapping paper crunching and possibly wheels turning on a new skateboard. My dream present. 

As soon as the slightest sliver of orange lined the horizon, I darted to my sister’s bedside. “Wake up, Laur! It’s Christmas!” She popped out of bed like our old Jack in the box—fast with a bit of morning squeak to her voice. 

“Let’s wake ‘em! I hope I get a baton.”  

The scent of candy canes and steaming coffee smelled like Christmas, like I might get that skateboard.
 

******** 

I opened colorful sweaters, a pair of earrings, and an art kit, but no big rectangles. 

Then mom hinted, “I think you both have one more gift hidden in this room.” With our hope rekindled, we dashed around the living room until we found our gifts. Laurie twirled her new baton, and I skated down the hall on my new skateboard. We declared this the best Christmas ever.  

Time to learn… 

In 1980, skate parks weren’t everywhere; Dad found one forty-five minutes away and signed me up for lessons. He warned me the place might be intimidating. 

The skatepark smelled like old tires and grilled hot dogs. I don’t know what I expected at a skatepark—girls wearing tutus? This was a boy’s playground--boys in band t-shirts and jeans. We were early, so I watched the kids skate up the ramp, twist and turn, and zoom back into it. I wanted to do that. It looked easy and scary…like the high diving board that didn’t look too high until I stood overlooking the water and shivering in my bikini. 

The skate park sounded like a thunderstorm during a concert. Dad looked at me with his mouth moving. “What?” 

“Ready?” 

I nodded yes, the wrong answer. 

The instructor, Matt, about eighteen, squeezed a tight helmet on my head. I felt like a pre-school student on her first day. His wavy black hair skimmed his shoulders. Dark eyes. Cute smile. And he could skate. I was sure I was ready for the big ramp, but Matt brought me to the mini-ramp, the bunny slope of the skate park.  I stepped on my board, ready to push up the incline… 

He smiled or was it a smirk? “So you’re goofy footed?”  

“I’m what?” Aside from red as a radish, did I look as silly as a cartoon? 

“You start with your right foot forward.” 

“Oh, yeah, I do have goofy feet.” I knew that. 

He laughed. I melted like a shrinky-dink. 

“So what do you want to learn? How to drop into the half-pipe? Kick-turn or do a fakie?” 

I stared at him. Totally blank. Do skaters speak another language? “I want to skate on that ramp and learn how to turn.” 

“It’s called the half-pipe; and you kick-turn like that guy’s doing. Watch him. Or do a fakie, switching lead foot without a turn.” 

He demonstrated a kick-turn a few times and left me to practice. So I practiced and fell, practiced and fell, practiced and fell, while Matt talked with the only other girl there, the cute redhead selling hotdogs.                                    

Where were all the beginners? Am I the only one with a sore bottom? Are they all born with the ability to kick-turn? Where are the girls? The expression “fish out of water” came to mind. I wanted to turn around and swim back to my little pond, practice skating down my driveway with only my cat to watch me fall.  

Time for truth… 

I’d like to tell you I met the challenge, stuck it out, was the first girl to skate the half-pipe; I broke my arm, but didn’t give up, so you could cheer: “Good for her.” And cry tears of joy. But the truth is I quit, said: “No way am I going back there. Please don’t make me.”  

Thank God I have a nice daddy who didn’t want me to break any bones; he was happy to hammer two nails in the garage to hang my pretty skateboard right next to the pogo-stick I got last Christmas. 

Time for a new dream.
 
(written for Faithwriters.com weekly writing challenge--1st place editor's choice)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Rise and Shine




Awake for cake, maybe? 

 

Something is wrong about getting up before the sun, but I do. Waking to moonlight could explain my werewolf mood of the morning. Pure willpower and possibly too much defaf coffee before bed force me to dash upstairs to the bathroom. I don’t want to, but in our house of seven plus grandma, it’s the only way to have a peaceful shower.

My soul is just not ready to start the day. Or ready to start their day…
 

At first, gentle words grace my lips, full of love for my sleeping children: “Rise and shine, my little chickadees. Time to get up and go to high school.” Just like Snow White singing to her bluebirds. Okay, minus the little chickadees, and minus the rise and shine part. “Get up,” said in a reasonable decibel.  

Ten minutes pass. 

“Get up, Elijah.”
 
“I am.”

“You’re not.”

“I’m going.”

“You haven’t moved.”

 

“Get up, Aaron.”

“I am.”

“You’re not.”

“I’m going.”

“You haven’t moved.” 

Twenty minutes. 

And no sign of my boys anywhere but snoring under the covers in a room that smells of rotting broccoli. I’m sure fur is growing along my spine and claws are breaking through my paws—I mean hands. The bark builds inside me until I burst out: “Elijah! Aaron! Get…up…NOW! You’re going to miss-the-bus…AGAIN!” When Gene and I named our little boys, I never imagined a day I’d be screaming the Bible prophets’ names out loud for the neighbors to hear.  

The full moon hides behind the poplars, and the morning fog dissipates, but I still want to howl. 

Next the empty threats: 

“If you miss it, you bike to school.”

“No taxi money today.”

“Your dad left already, so no free ride.”
 

The walls shake a bit. Could I cause a small earthquake with my bark? 

Finally, the boys get up, but I’m not done. It’s hard to talk with fangs poking my lip. But if I don’t announce the time every ten minutes, they’ll miss it by default, and say they didn’t know how late it was so they stopped to tie their sneaker. They could be a shoelace off from catching the bus. Sometimes it’s the lost sneaker or missing backpack. Today it’s a “Can’t find my socks day.” My heart races as if I’m trying to catch the bus.  

“Hurry! You’ve got two minutes!”  

“I forgot to brush my teeth.” Elijah disappears upstairs. 

“One minute! Where are you Aaron?” He flies past me and out the door. 

“Bye, love you.” 

“Love you too. Have a great day.” My fangs begin to recede. 

Elijah sweeps by me next. 

“Bye, love you.” 

“Love you too. Run!” But I know the time. 

Two minutes later, he’s back. “I missed it.” 

I sigh; all the bark in me, expended. He smiles, knowing the werewolf is gone like the bus. And I won’t bite. “Could I please call a taxi?”  

The rolling clouds do suggest rain, and I wouldn’t want him sick, biking in the cold…so I call. 

Before my daughter’s turn to get up, I open my Bible and read Ephesians 4:26… “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry…” In this case, the moon. As sunlight streams in through the window and warms my face, shame fills my body. I failed again, let that werewolf out and barked half the morning away. I close my eyes, pray, and let the warm sunshine travel to my heart. I know I’m forgiven. Again. 

Maybe I’ll do better under tomorrow’s waning gibbous moon. 

********** 

This is dedicated to all the werewolf mothers of teens…I can’t be the only one. There is hope that we’ll be ourselves again. Graduation day?

 

 

 


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