Sunday, January 15, 2017

2016: The Year I Traveled Back in Time

Last year started, as years are known to do, on New Year’s Day.

I had decided 2016 would be the year of yes. Yes to my kids, yes to more clinging to Jesus, yes to trusting more, yes to adventure, yes to challenge. Yes. 

"No" was still used, but there were more yeses. 

So gathering up my year, I word-draw the neat pretty piles and the ugly messes of the last 12 months because we were made to remember. 

The stale wintry Ohio sky turned into a fleeting spring with the white bleeding heart that returned in the front, a summer garden full of tomatoes and peppers out back and a quick orange-brown fall and Honey Crisp apples from a favorite muddy orchard. I thought my wispy bleeding heart wouldn't make it back, but it did.

We skipped around Disney, saw Celtic Woman, and I changed my hair color, then changed it back. I tutored Challenge A and dissected the world in maps, good books and a cow's eye with enthralled budding teens. I got a license to teach Zumba and began teaching it to friends and strangers, who will become my friends. I went jet skiing for the first time ever, and, yes, my friend and I flipped our boat, and who knew that would be fun?

The year aged and furrowed its brow as I saddened more and more with the days.

There was a double rainbow that brushed away the dark summer clouds turning the sky into a canvas barely big enough for it. It was slippery wet not from rain showers but from my river of tears rushing down into hours.

And hours into months.

The flood rose higher and higher and I, flailing, knew I was drowning. And what do you do when a Nile isn't long enough to get your ache stretched across? What do you do when the dam of dark memories breaks? 

This year? I darkened, not only from the sun but from depression and anxiety.

My short-term memory had already been slipping while the deeper, longer one grew cleats, and I'm afraid my whole life is slipping. I couldn't tell you what happened yesterday, but 30 years ago? Different story. 

These old biting stories are newly vivid like that rainbow. My boy asks me to tell him a story from when I was a kid, and I panic in secret for the forty-ninth time. He wants a funny tale. He wants to know his mama better. He wants to get closer and I've been running away from the stories my whole life. 

They've been locked up in a closet in a house on Winterset Drive since I walked out.

Remembering can sadden and gladden.  It can choke and it can soothe. I used to think old painful memories were sought. But I did not invite these nasty things. This year, let’s face it, remembering was a kick in the stomach.

It’s what I did all year. Remember not meaning to. It all tromped back, invading my present. Or did I go back to my past? Until this year I thought time machines were only the stuff of fantasy. 

But God knew about the closet and turned me into a time traveler. Because He was coming after all of me, and He needed me to remember all of it, all of me.

For his writing assignment, my boy composed a story about two men who travel through a portal and into another world where friendly dragons and children play together. But the Deadly Fire Blasters appear out of nowhere to fight alongside their army of bad dragons, capture the good ones, and throw them and the children into the dungeon.

I’m like those two men, treading a dark portal and its outlying path to a bleak place I’ve been before. I have to see someone, and I’d rather be stuck in a dungeon with Grodd, who’s not a dragon, but a freaky, mind-controlling gorilla. 

Having left her long ago in that lifeless colonial on Winterset Drive, I’d vowed never to look at her again. I know she’s pathetic, and I can’t stand what I’ve yet to see. How will she look, how is she coping with misery?

I forget to breathe as I inch and push through. It’s beginning to look more familiar. I search untamed in the dark for the closet. There it is. The old 70s door tucked at the end of the narrow hall is smaller than I remember. I don’t bother turning on the light, so I just close my eyes, push my heart-shaped key into the hole and turn the knob.

There she is, a shivering, shriveling shadow. She’s weak, stubborn and alone. I can’t see her eyes, and I’m glad.

I’ve come to slay her when I need to love her. But I do neither. I only cry in the dark with my 16-year-old self.

I hold her tight in my arms for as long as it takes to unleash - to remember - almost 30 years of uncried hurt.

And while the tears fall, the stench rises out of the quiet wreckage. She’s surrounded by everything else. The wild anger, shock over lost friends and family, ache of sadness, embarrassment, abandonment, humiliation, neglect, shattered dreams, old hopes and old memories meant to be sweet turned bitter by the rind of disappointment. The odor of my mother’s meanness and jealousy smokes. No one’s been allowed in. Her heart has been surrounded by high stone walls that are beginning their fall. 

The clamor of the crumbling grows as I finally turn on the light.

The stink turns into a perfume of acceptance and embrace. It was not only my mother who emotionally abandoned me when I was 16. I did too. When I stuffed it all in the closet, the meat of me, the best part, was thrown in there too, like the baby with the bath water.

But I’m still breathing, though in tiny ripples, so I say, “I’ve come for you. It’s over now.”

“This is all I know,” she trembles.

“Just you wait, it’s much better now. You’ll see.” I finger the heart-shaped key in my hand, tracing the edges.

“I’m comfortable here,” she persists, but her voice falters. 

“I know. But real love, giving and taking it, is wall-shattering. You’re going to really love now. You can’t love here. Besides I need you. I’ve always needed you, you’re the best part of me.”

“I’m the weakest and most damaged part of you.”

“You’re going to become the strongest,” I show her the key, but she doesn’t see it. 

“Not without a mom. I need her. I need a mom’s love.” She is so young and so broken up. She wipes her eyes, which never meet mine. “I want her to hold me tight and tell me she loves me,” she pleads. “I want her watchful eyes to be keen and her voice gentle and assuring. I want to take walks and hold hands and plant one of her thousands of flower pots with her. I want to watch her paint which she’ll never do again. I want all of her. Most of all, I want her to want all of me. 

“I’m not leaving without her.”

Heart sinking, I speak slow and steady. “She might have lost you, but Love has found you… and He’ll never leave you - ever.”

This God we have with the lightyears-long, galaxy-wide arms reached out and picked me up and sat me down in the Zumba time machine. 

The dancing Zumba people are the heart-shaped key that opened that heavy closet door. They believed in me when I didn’t. They saw a person I couldn’t see. They saw the girl in the closet and invested in her. They loved all of her, even the shriveled part.

Now I see her, and I’m finally beginning to love her too. 

It’s going to take a while, but Love will always remember, and it won’t always feel good. Sometimes, some years, like my 2016, buried memories will come out of the closet and fire up pain, refining you, rekindling your heart so it can breathe love again. Healing love. 

Love that heals is love that will not fail. It will be miraculous, mysterious, piercing but it will not fail when it’s real. 

It will be dangerous and precious. It will gain everything and lose everything. It will bind up a heart and break it. But whichever path it blazes, it will go on and on.

And so will I.

Friday, December 30, 2016

One For Me and One for Her: When You Remember a Gift

The gold bracelet in my hand has a little charm that dangles an engraved bouquet and the word Mom etched tiny. Shiny red Christmas wrap and white ribbon lay on the table, and I’m wondering why I’m giving her a gift this year. 

The last time I saw her was when I brought a friend to meet her and Christmas loomed ugly this year. The white lights, tinsel, manger scenes, pretty songs and plays only made it worse. 

My sixteenth birthday was not much better. Its white candle lights shined meaningless and so did the coppery gold bracelet she gave me for a gift. A relative had given it to her from her extensive stash of Egyptian jewelry, but I never once saw her wear it. She rarely wore her fancy things. Tiny diamonds and a turquoise bead made it striking to the eye, and it struck my heart sharp with the blade of shallow love. In the box it stays 29 years later. I remember that wretched birthday because it was a sweet 16 that went sour.

She had told me to leave that year. “If you don’t like it here, get out, go live with your father,” she retorted to my own tongue-lashes directed straight at her. 

“It’s always about you, and why don’t you let me talk on the phone, and I’m so sick of hearing it, and why did you and Dad separate, he did nothing to you…”  Except protect you.

He had moved four years earlier into an apartment close to work and close to OSU campus, so most of the other residents in the building were partying college students. He paid rent and a mortgage and in return was given the lonely life of a single father, very little sleep, and migraines.

I moved in with him and left the bracelet at home with her.

And now 29 years later, I give her a bracelet for Christmas. She usually doesn’t like anything I buy for her, but she says thank you and will never wear it, just like I never wore mine. So why in the world give her a bracelet?

To her, the bracelet I give her will also seem like a shallow love, because she doesn’t believe I love her truly. Paranoia leaves no room for trust. She can’t trust love. She didn’t trust that Dad loved her till the day he died, and she doesn’t trust that I do. love. her. I didn’t trust hers at sixteen, and she doesn’t trust mine now. 

But even though I couldn’t trust her love back then, she tried to love me with all she had - she had a bracelet.

So the one I give her now is the same - not a shallow love, but a trying love. I’m trying to love her, though she can’t receive it. Her befuddled mind can’t take it, like my teenage mind couldn’t.

Our bracelets are just the same - tokens of a love that tried and hoped against everything that it would be taken. It wasn’t then, and it isn’t now. But it doesn’t matter, because it was all for me to finally understand. I needed to give her a bracelet, because if she can take that, then she can take my love. It must have been the same for me when I was sixteen. I still have mine.

She had given it to me hoping that I would take a sick mother's unfelt, broken love.

My heart is sad, but my mind is clear, and the bracelet I bought her last week from the mall is a mirror of the one she gave me so long ago. 

Two hearts that are broken and can’t trust. Two loves that can give but can’t take. One daughter who’s trying this year.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Becoming Sister-Conscious: My First Zumba Class

When God takes action in your life, you'd better watch out and you'd better not cry. 

All at once, I am teaching Zumba to a bunch of ladies from church.

My Egyptian sisters, excited to move and have fun together, might have danced unsure, but they danced.  I told them over and over they were doing fantastically, I’m not sure if they believed me.

How did we women become so darned self-conscious? When in the world does the poison of it penetrate the soul and mind?

It’s all over the world, not just Egypt. It’s in the Americas, Australia, Canada, Germany, France, India, South Africa.

It’s in our heads.

These women, so beautiful, don’t yet know after just one Zumba class how bad it was for me at first. They don’t know (yet) how uncomfortable and downright intimidated I was the day I shuffled into my first class at the gym. They’ve never seen my two left feet in action. Ha.

They don’t know (yet) how Zumba grabbed it by the horns and wrestled it out of me.

Dancing is fun and feeds the soul, but a Zumba experience can give you the shameless tenacity to grab the beast of self-consciousness bare-handedly by its horns and simmer down the loud lies that sneer at you from the mirror.

The mirror doesn’t lie, you say. We say it all the time to our beautiful curvy bodies that did nothing to deserve the verbal abuse.

But what if we were each other’s mirrors? What if in the space of a blink we could see ourselves in each others’ eyes? We are all very much the same though our journeys might differ. 

Our eyes tell our story, and, like mirrors, they don’t lie either.

On the first day of teaching a class by myself, I missed my Z-sisters, but I was like a little girl who can’t contain her excitement over a slew of friends coming to her birthday party. For the entire hour, I was all giddy, not believing they showed up, the 22 of them.

Not sure if I said anything intelligible when one sweet girl told me that had I not offered the class to this group, she wouldn’t have done it. She wouldn’t at a gym, only in the safety of our group. 

And the mom who lost her little boy to brain cancer, the one I had prayed for, begged for. The whole army of us had heaved the ache on the cross and a little on each other till the very last minute, till there were no more minutes and no more hope of him sticking around. Can a mother’s heart ever beat again?

I kept an eye on her just to check and, well, honestly to satisfy my awe. I might teach her Zumba, but she just might teach me how to keep going when a heart shatters, how to keep smiling when the only feeling is pain.

She was roped into it, but I hope she comes again. She ended all her little phrases to me with Habibi (my love). Her eyes said, I don’t know what I’m doing here, but you’re sweet. She barely knows me. But we both know pain, and our eyes tell it straight.

In a Zumba classroom, a sad, stressed-out, self-conscious soul can get a little relief and a whole lot of love. Because we’re all in this together. We all carry around some hardship from the day, the year, the life. You and me and the whole lot of us, we’ve all got somethin’.

So when the music fills the room and the feet step and twirl to a rhythm, we’re all dancing together. We’re de-stressing, letting go, laughing, panting, sweating - together. Nobody’s judging. Not even the most subtle stare, smirk or pointing finger would survive in this hot energized room with the blue carpeting, wide windows and three doors.

But there’s infinite room for rocking with the beat, braving new dance moves, tripping over feet, bumping elbows, building up sisters, love-bonding.

Self-conscious is defined as “excessively aware of being observed by others.”

In our newborn class, I hope we will “observe” each other - look out, protect, support, smile, laugh and sing. I hope the others watch out for me. I’ll be watching them like an ostrich on her egg. I’ll be sister-conscious and love-conscious. We’ll be “aware of being observed by others” - and love it because the eyes don’t lie.

In a sister’s eyes, I can see her hurt and her joy, and I can see mine. I can see my own experience in her because she’s been there or is there and we’re both just being vulnerable enough to shake it out, shake off the muck and share stuff. We can do that here. Then without even trying, we find ourselves showing the compassion, empathy, vulnerability, loyalty and love that was always there but got buried under the yuck. 

We dig it out in Zumba, like shining a mirror spotless, so we can see our reflection.

Friday, December 2, 2016

An Unexpected Lesson in Love

Bird, by Anastasia Bibawy
 A Black Friday find at The Limited - $5! How could we not?

She smiles at me, and my heartbeat skips. She doesn’t have to say she loves me. She doesn’t have to say anything at all. She’s just amazing, and I’m in awe of her. Her deep brown eyes look right into mine and hold my gaze.  She’s beautiful and adorable. She constantly cracks me up with her silly and witty ways - one minute sweet and girlish, the next tough and spunky. I want to be just like her. When she grabs my hand and holds it, I silently beg her not to let go. There are times when I think she knows me more than I know myself.

She loves me. It’s hard to believe I could be loved like that, that my little dress-up-loving girl is not going to change her mind one of these days. It’s painfully hard. I’d turn down a box of diamonds for this… for the rock solid belief that I’m good enough to keep around. If I could just believe it, if not for my sake, for hers...

The Thanksgiving sun’s rays beat through my bare window onto me and every corner in the room. Can anything hide in that light? Can I hide in love’s light? Real love uncovers stored up lies nursed over a whole long lifetime. It exposes the icy boulder that blocks the workings of that love.   

What is real love? The shocker is that it needs taking as much as giving. It has to, because real love can’t reject. But the flowing waters of give-and-take hardened to a frozen block in the quarter-century-long winter of my life. 

It can be just as hard to take love as it is to give it.

This little girl grins silly at me, almost winking, "Mommy, I love you way more than you love me.”  Can a seven-year-old possibly be struggling with this too? Is it more common than we realize - the hesitancy of accepting love? the fear of trusting it?

“Not possible, Cupcake. I've loved you since you were born, since before you even met me!” 

“Nope,” she chirps. “Doesn’t matter, I still love you more. End of discussion!” 

We do this everyday, and she usually gets the upper hand of the banter. But at such a young age, does she need to self-protect? Does she (and I) find it so hard to believe love is returned equally? Does she really not believe that I love her just as much, no, way more?

As I wrestle with this and curse my relentless habit of overthinking everything, she fixes her almond eyes on mine, exposing me. "I love you more than anything, Mommy.” It’s hard to believe I could be loved like that.

Back teeth grinding, I tell myself to shut up and just believe it. 

I loved my mother like that. Somewhere in the yellowed 70s' photos, she loved her children. But somewhere along the way, she changed her mind. Well, her mind changed her. A chemical imbalance will do that. It warped and complicated her beautiful mind. And though her love for us might not have vanished, it was masked and became excruciatingly hard to see. And somewhere along the way, I wore the belief that I am unlovable.

For my daughter's sake, I need to believe her instead. 

How do you get to believing the one thing that could change your life when all your life you were told the opposite? How do you get to believing you’re loved unconditionally now when back then you just weren’t?

Sometimes I get surprise messages from heaven at exactly the right time and the right place. And that’s wonderful. But sometimes I need to draw near. I need to bang on the door. 

So I opened the Bible and found this about being loved…
  • ...As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved… Colossians 3:12
  • For God so loved the world… John 3:16
  • So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us… 1 John 4: (13-21)
  • I will seek him whom my soul loves.. Song of Solomon 3: (1-11)
  • See what great love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. 1 John 3:1
  • I will call them “my people” who are not my people and I will call her “my loved one” who is not my loved one…  Romans 9:25 
In my need to overthink everything, I forget everything that really matters. He has always loved me… more.  More than my mother, father, sister, brother, husband, children, close friends love me,  He loves me most. Yes, I needed my mother to love me better than she did, and I need to love my family and friends better than I have. I need to believe they love me. The relationship will even sweeten if I let them love me. But it won’t happen by gritting my teeth.

It's a matter of brave, gritty trust.

The truth? Loving Him most gets me believing in other people's love. Even my mother’s! His love melts the thick iceberg of confusion and doubt. It makes everything and everyone make sense. It says, I'll do what you say (1 John 5:2-3), I'll talk to You (Jonah 2:7), I'll trust You, (so many on this, but my favorite Isaiah 26:3), I’ll love You with all my heart, soul and mind. I’ll love You most. Isn’t that what He’s always asked for?

And He replies, "I loved you first. I love you more." We love Him because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19) I have every reason to trust it and no reason not to. Trust.

Amelia and I can debate about it till we're blue, but she has to know and trust this one thing. Of all people, He loves her more. He loves her most.

Loving Him most is what will get me believing in people's love… and will get me taking it.

It’s illogical but couldn’t be truer. The more I love Him, the more I can believe you love me and let you do so. Isn't He the original Love, perfect, eternal love? The whole idea came from Him anyway.

So because I love Him, I can believe you. It'll be breathtakingly beautiful the day I believe you when you tell me you've got some love for me - 

and I take it.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

A Story

 I don't usually write fiction, but this is a brief attempt. It evolved slowly but lucidly. 

An Angel, Her Garden and Me

An angel came to the door. She knocked, tilted her head to the side and said, "Hello, my darling girl, can we be friends?”
Her smile, warm, sweet and true compelled me to throw open the door to my house and heart. I clasped her hand and showed her every room. I thought she might like the moon outside my window, so we lingered there a while. 

Sitting by the fire under the sky, she asked, “It’s perfect right here. Do you sit out here a lot? I would every day!”

I longed with an ache to show her my breathtaking gardens with one thousand playful, graceful flowers of hundreds of kinds, because I suspected she’d feel at home in such a spot. But they only existed in my head, so I played her a song instead.

She watched me and listened intently as I tried to forget she was there so I could play well. She was distracting me with a smile that seemed just for me. She loved my song. She might have even loved me.

I swallowed the flood of tears before they seeped out. She squeezed a hale arm around me. "I know you're teary and glum. Come to my garden, where I dance and play and where you will too. You can be silly, sad or still, and still I'll think you're beautiful."

Me, beautiful? 

Striking beauty illuminated her golden face. Her flowing hair reflected all the colors of lily, poppy, sunflower, delphinium and rose. 

We held hands and walked and walked under the sky. We laughed and cried together and there were no hours, just one precious moment after another crystalizing into a myriad of memories that no one will ever steal.

How she found me, I don't know. Dare I hope? Somehow she really knew me. She must have loved me.

Though I had only just met her, I felt that I was only hers and that she was only mine. I thought we could live in this little paradise forever and that I'd get used to her smile. But neither happened. I thought our love, hers of gold and mine of silver, was the garden key that we would hide in a secret place and later forget. I thought we would sparkle together forever. 

But it was not to be so. 

"I must leave now," said she, and I grope for words and air.

"But you just came. We've only just begun," I protested, my thoughts scrambled to form something more convincing.

"I have other gardens," she confessed with a wink and a smile. "But I'll never forget you. You're my darling girl. I'll always love you."

"Other gardens?" I pine each minute for her to stay just one more. Of course. She could claim as many as the stars.

"This one is yours. Draw many here. Let them see your smile and feel the warmth of your love. Here, let them feel joy in any weather, under any sky. Your joy will never leave you because you have too much to live for, and most of all, you've discovered true love.  And all is well.  All is well! Farewell, dear one!"

We embraced, and, as we pulled apart, she smiled wide, cupped my face in her hands and peered into my eyes with hers, deep and clear.  She kissed my cheek and was gone. 

I found myself in our spot under the moon by the fire where we had been sitting before. The night seemed colder and the sky darker. But I'd drum it till I was blue if I had to. All is well. All is well. 

And in the breeze I heard a hum that sounded like her singing,

I know you can do what you want to do
  be who you want to be.
You must know it too. 
Do you see what I see?
I believe in you!

Friday, November 4, 2016

I Can't Wait to Love You: When I Showed My Mother to a Friend

Numerous autumns have had me claiming that there's little more amazing than the majesty of rich color, deep and mellow, like sun rays spilling through stained glass in a cathedral - fall's rainbow.

But recently another amazing thing happened. I showed my mother to a friend.

It was her idea, and I didn't like it. And I told her so several times.

But when the people you love, including your friend, confidently agree and gently urge, you need to realize you're not always going to be right.

I decided to trust her... and husband, counselor, brother and daughter...

It's going to be fine, they said. It's a good idea. It will be good for you.

So with a million knots twisting my entrails, we pulled up to the nursing home and parked. "Are you sure you want to do this?" She knew I was begging her to say no.

She was sure, but I was not.

The week earlier, I had told my friend all about Mom. I had splattered all over the table the dreaded words and technical terms like schizophrenia, paranoia, anger, fear, conditional love. She might have headed for the door.

I watched her eyes as I described the running 40-year-old mom scenario that I know so well.

"You might enter her delusions because you're my friend." I felt as if I should be whispering like in the old days. "Then she'll believe you're dangerous and never allow you in her presence again.

"Then you'll walk out, like the others did, and we'll be done."

I know it too well. Same old pattern, same old tragedy, written on page after page of my life story, turned slowly, quietly, unnoticed. It seems like a million friends were lost to me because either Mom had stolen them away with her madness or I had pushed them away with my fear. So I had stopped ages ago allowing friends to see my mother.

By the morning of this planned 15-minute visit, a million knots coagulated in me - one for every soul I had pushed away over 25 some years, including the one sitting in my passenger seat, who was not about to be pushed away or anywhere.

"You'll still be you," she said. "It doesn't matter what she thinks of me. You'll still be the same to me."

So my friend and I and my million knots rode the elevator to the second floor, knocked on the door, and I held my breath.

"Mom, this is my friend Mollie. Mollie, this is Violette..." The words ran together into one syllable.

The three of us smiled, laughed and talked about Zumba for twenty minutes, and twenty times I told myself to let Mom see our friendship. Twenty times I silently commanded myself to let her see, stop being so scared. Every minute my brain yelled, Be yourself. Let her see you have good friends despite everything. No more hiding.

There's no way of knowing how she feels about me having a solid relationship with a girlfriend. She didn't handle well my friends in the past. No one is safe from the invisible unflinching grip of her paranoid delusions. No friend of mine is immune to entering the muddled mess of her mind where reality and illusion collide.

But a few knots came undone as we walked out.

"We're still friends, let's go get lunch," my friend confirmed. I want to believe history will not repeat, that Mollie will not be affected by scary mental illness or change her mind when everything sinks in. Then it hit me like clouds parting and November sunshine bursting through the windows.

It doesn't matter. Though Mollie was meant and willing to help me break free of fear's grip, there will be others who won't be as comfortable. It's okay. They won't break my heart because a heart already broken can't help but let the light in.

When a heart breaks, light seeps through the cracks, and the hidden things can come up into the open. The fears fizzle. I hid my mother and hid shame, abandonment, rejection, lies about me. But I also hid my true feelings. I hid my love, because I didn't believe it was real. I believed it was like hers.

I showed my mother, brought her out to be seen for who she is and it all broke out of hiding, loosened from my grip everything, including myself. Now I can see myself, and I can be seen. I can loosen the rest of the knots in my stomach and thank my friend a million times for stirring up the unraveling. I can loosen the fears and let love loose.

The cracks of my broken heart leaked in light, exposing everything that matters. Now I can see my love was real all along. Every tight knot coming undone sets me free to love a person - one person for every knot.

To all you million people coming my way, I can't wait to love you.

Friday, October 28, 2016

When You Have a Fire on Your Hands: Fire and Truth

"Do we hold hands enough?" I ask slowly at the table. I can't remember a time when me and my mother held hands, and I'm kind of wincing about it now.

The two older ones look confused at first. But then my almost-adult daughter flashes a very sly smile. "Not really into that actually, you understand..."

The budding teen who noticed it first smiles warmly, "You don't have to worry..."

"Don't worry Mommy, you do." Little one grabs my hand and squeezes.  Nuzzling my cheek, she says, "So you won't be sad, Mommy." 

They know the sadness I've been staring straight in the eye in this climb of the last two years. They know it hasn't been easy, and it hasn't been their fault, and it hasn't been mine or even my mother's. 

But it was nasty then, and I thought it should be tucked in the dark and stay there forever.

The sky is already black before the fire quietly roars up, and the marshmellows, chocolate and graham crackers are readied. The warm glow from the fire shines on us and reveals her lounging sideways on the folding lawn chair with her eyes peering up. Thousands of stars this cool night adorn the moonlit canvas like silver sequins on a black dress.

This child hates attention and hides everything including her face from the camera. Sometimes her deep eyes match her deep thoughts and their meanings vibrate like the fire. But she'd rather keep those secret. She fights her own fire of inner changes, confusion, boredom, easily annoyed, the growing pains. 

And when the firelight shines on her face, everyone can see it. In her element, she's happy.

Someone cracks a joke and she smiles wide, and it's going to be okay, because the truth is out. When the struggle is pushed out into the light, it loses its grip. Someone can help you. Someone can show you another way.

Casting light on the truth about the inner chaos sets you free and you can let yourself be loved, because now someone can really know you. They can love the real you. The truth sets you free.

When the firelight of love and truth was thrown on the darkness of my fears, I could see it all like never before:  rejection, disapproval, suspicion, guilt, shame. I nursed them for half my lifetime in the dark. But Love's fire came down all over these prized possessions and showed me a thing or two. 

Don't we all have a fire or two to extinguish? Giant and tiny, public and private, spoken or unspoken, they flame up everyday, no?  The real question is what is the extinguisher made of?  In the good moments, quiet talks and gentle phrases pour over hot tempers and scowling faces like sweet, cool water.

In my crappy moments, my own hot temper feeds the fire like a gas line. A warm smile quiets a fire in our house. An angry frown or sarcastic smirk sets it blazing. When we slow down and talk about it, the cool current of patience reveals the root of the problem. We find out what sparked it and can figure out how to solve it.

We find the truth of it so it can be fixed. We can love, be loved and be healed.