Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Earrings

Last summer, after my mother passed away, I had been in a deep sadness, unable to find a reason to smile or laugh. Nothing made me happy, and the weight of loss lay deeply on my soul.

I saw in my email a note from Guidepost magazine. I'd sent them several of my writings before, but had totally forgotten about it from all that had gone on with my mother's failing health. When I opened the email, I saw that they accepted one of my stories! Joy flooded back in. A reason to smile, and even to sing once again! Someone had recognized something good in my writing. And of course, it was an article I'd written about my mom. The timing couldn't have been better.

I want to share that article on my blog today since everyone may not be subscribed to "Mysterious Ways," Guidepost's sister magazine. It is not as I originally wrote it, as their editors had an idea to focus on the earrings. I had to make a few changes to my first draft. Looking back now, I see exactly what they intended. May you be blessed by the little story you are about to read:

The Earrings
     Mom’s earrings. I had to find them.
     I dug through the top drawer of my bureau, rummaging through my jewelry box and the knickknacks accumulated over the years. Printed scarves, strands of beads, dried flowers. Where were those earrings? I could see them clearly in my mind. Pink teardrop diamonds framed by rhinestones. Costume jewelry from the nineteen fifties, certainly not worth much. Yet Mom had to have them.
I’d been at my parent’s house earlier filling their pill containers and washing a few dishes left from the night before.
     Mom had been sitting at the kitchen table, nibbling the corner of a jelly donut and licking her fingers like a little kid. Her wiry gray hair stood on end around her face. Food from the previous day stained her sweatshirt.
     “Kar,” she asked, using the nickname she always called me. “Do you have those earrings I gave you? The ones with the rhinestones?” She stared at me expectantly as if she needed me to understand.
Dad and I glanced at each other. I knew what he was thinking. How in the world could she remember something like a pair of earrings when she could barely remember the names of her grandkids? Dementia had turned my mother into someone I barely knew. And here she was trying to tell me something with those earrings—giving me a clue of some sort. But every time she mentioned them, I felt like we were speaking two different languages. Like I was losing my mother all over again.
We hadn’t always been close, Mom and I. When I was little, she suffered from deep bouts of depression. She’d been in and out of hospitals for most of my childhood. She got better around the time I entered high school. A time when we became like best friends. We remained that way until three years ago when Mom was diagnosed with dementia. Now every day only seemed to bring more darkness as Mom became like a stranger. I was worried for her. I was worried for Dad and me too. What did the future have in store for us? What little did it hold for Mom?
     “My earrings,” Mom said again.
     “I’ll look for them when I get home,” I told her, giving her a kiss. “I promise.”
     Now I picked though the clutter in my bureau, searching for a pair of earrings she’d given me some twenty years ago. She’d gotten them from her mother and then passed them on to me. I’d never seen her wearing them. Why were they so important now?
     I turned to a small wooden jewelry box, one I’d kept since I was a kid. I nudged aside my grandmother’s gold locket and an old cameo pin. Underneath a tarnished seahorse necklace, I saw them. Two brilliant pink gemstones. Mom’s earrings!
     The rhinestones twinkled, casting prisms of light against something else in the box. A piece of paper so worn I could barely read the writing. What was it doing in there? I picked it up and stared at it, recognizing it at once. A page ripped from my girlhood diary.
     I plopped down onto my bed as tears welled up in my eyes and then made their way down my cheeks.
     February 14, 1970, it read. Mom went to the hospital in an ambulance today. . .
     The memories flooded back. Valentine’s Day, 1970. Mom was thirty-three and I was eleven. Too young to know the full extent of her battle with depression, but old enough to know it was bad. Mom would arrive home from one of her hospital visits with dark circles under her eyes and a haunted look on her face. When relatives and friends came to visit, I’d hear whispered words like “crazy” and “suicidal.” Dad did the best he could to take care of both Mom and me, but I felt so alone. I’d escape to my room, soaking up fantasy books and writing in my diary, trying to imagine what it would be like to have a normal mother and a normal life.
     That Valentine’s Day, her admission was different. Mom had been rushed to the hospital. She’d suffered a cardiac arrest in our upstairs bathroom. I’d watched terrified as she was taken out of the house on a stretcher. I thought I’d never see her again, that she was gone. That her depression had finally caused her heart to stop. But a week later, Mom was back at home. And she was completely different.
     The dark circles were gone and her face glowed. When she spoke, I noticed that the confusion, anxiety and sadness had vanished. There was a lightness to her step I’d never seen before. My parents became affectionate once again. Laughter replaced hushed voices and secrecy. Mom finally fulfilled a dream of becoming an antique dealer. And several years later, at the age of thirty-nine, she gave birth to my brother. Life settled into the kind of routine I’d always envied in my friends’ lives.
     I didn’t question Mom about the change, too afraid the spell would be broken. It wasn’t until four years later, when I was in high school that my mother shared what had happened that Valentine’s Day.
     “You remember my cardiac arrest, Kar?” Mom asked one night while we made dinner together. “I didn’t tell you the whole story. I didn’t tell anyone except your father. I was afraid people would talk.”
     “What do you mean?” I asked.
     Mom paused. “Kar, that day in the hospital, I died.”
     I stared at Mom, confused. Died?
     “I remember falling in the bathtub,” she said. “But the next thing I knew, I was at the hospital, staring from above my body on a hospital gurney.”
     She felt herself floating away and found herself at the entrance of a dark tunnel. The further she traveled through the tunnel, the brighter it became. She became wrapped in a brilliant light, unlike anything she’d ever seen. The feeling of complete love washed over her, surrounding her. Yet after a few minutes, Mom felt herself being pulled back. All at once, she was on the gurney again. She heard the doctor’s exclaim, “She’s back!”
     “The light was so pure,” Mom said, a starry look in her eyes. “Like an all-encompassing love. That’s the only way I can describe it. I got a glimpse that day, sweetheart. Of the joy waiting for us all.”
     I stared at the page in my hand now, and the earrings—their light so brilliant, so like the light that returned to Mom’s eyes that long-ago Valentine’s Day and the light Mom encountered when she died and came back.
     She knew. Somehow, even in the midst of her dementia, Mom knew that I needed a reminder. Of the joy that awaits her, and the light that overcomes darkness.

This is my actual diary entry that I'd found. 


Saturday, April 14, 2018

I Am Not What Fear Says

What went wrong today? It was a lovely, warm, sunny day. All my preparations had been done for the upcoming author event. Little gift bags were colorfully put together; a big basket and afghan also completed for a giveaway. People were kind and by all rights, nothing should have been negative.

Why then did I falter so terribly? My palms sweated, my hands and voice shook. My throat dried up and felt as if it was closing on me. Darn body! I couldn't trust myself to give a good talk. All the other authors did excellent in my opinion. We had been kind and courteous to one another, listening as our fellow authors spoke. But when it came for my own turn at speaking, I completely dropped the ball today.

Life is like that sometimes. No matter the preparation. No matter how confident we feel, how good we put ourselves together, something can sneak in and loosen the best laid plans. The enemy wants nothing more than to rob us of our joy, or hit us at our most vulnerable. For me, it has always been about insecurity. I have often felt I will never measure up to others. They do everything better than me.

It had been a rough work week. Our boss has been on the warpath with several office changes. I had felt stressed to the point of not sleeping well. I had a bloody nose that wouldn't quit the other morning and I scared myself to death with it. Just an all around yucky week. I am the type of person who enjoys having something to look forward to. So it was with happy anticipation that I began planning to make the author event something special. I had all of the perfect words to say. The blog I was going to read from was heartfelt and the writing, good.

But there I stood at the head of a room filled with women and I began the comparison game. If I had stayed in the moment, if I'd have spoken from my heart as I had wanted, I think I would have had the confidence I needed. But the minute I tried to turn the page I was reading and my fingers wouldn't work, the old voice of "you are failing; you aren't good enough; you are making mistakes" kept nagging at me. My own voice croaked like a frog, and I stumbled and stuttered over what I wanted to say.

Did anyone notice? I was sure they all did. I felt certain that they were wondering why they ever invited me in the first place. After all, I only sold one book to top it all off.

Tonight I'm going to pick myself up, dust myself off, and know that I did my best. Though fear stood solidly before me, and lies tormented me, I am NOT what fear says I am. I am bold, confident, redeemed, loved, accepted and worthy. I am what God says.

When you find yourself in such a moment; when fear beckons and calls you nasty names, plug your ears, sing a great worship song, and remember "Whose" you are.