Many stories this month so climb on board; it might be a brambling, dusty road on a covered wagon West.
Stagecoach: the trip begins
God has perfect timing. My friend Lisa had a hope chest. I hadn't seen or talked to her in over thirty-eight years but the thought of our friendship began the moment I found this old stagecoach trunk at a garage sale. Made of wood, leather and canvas, the real treasures are the stories locked inside.
It was a Saturday morning. I had work to do but instead, jumped into my jeep. My first stop was a local coffee shop. I stopped in and got distracted with items in the adjacent book store. I purchased a "Pride & Prejudice" canvas bag, a children's book about Edgar Allan Poe's, the Raven and finally a Star Wars Lego magazine. Random, I know but they were inspirations for stories I would someday write. I then jumped back into my jeep and just started driving. There is a meandering two lane road near where I live. It begins with cattle ranches but twists and turns into narrow corridors with large beautiful Oak trees. Weeping branches with long strands of moss cast not only shadows but create intrigue and mystery. My destination was a waterfall but God's map was my heart. Like the distraction in the bookstore, I lost track of time splashing in the pools of worship. I allowed myself the freedom to drink deeply from the life giving waters of prayer, scripture and praise. It was a memorable morning.
Realizing I was gone longer than anticipated, I hurried my pace home. One last stop... a sign that said, "garage sale" and an invisible ticket that said redemption.
I had been trying to think of the perfect gift for my daughter's twenty-first birthday. I found a vintage map of South Africa but I wanted something more. Time was running out. It was a year ago in July and her birthday was at the end of the month. I pulled into the garage sale and knew immediately I had found her gift. At the same moment emerged a thought of a long-forgotten friendship and so began the journey with this old trunk.
While I was not a reader, Lisa was an avid one. She introduced me to tales about women in history: stagecoach stops, the gold rush and ghost towns on the west coast. The declaration of independence, wars and the Salem witch trials on the east coast. The discussions were varied. I was surprised how much she loved the history of the United States. Equally baffled, I wondered why her stories didn't include relationships. My stories always included an element of romance. A great love was my deepest dream. Hers was the rich, vibrant heritage of history. It was in the bond of friendship that our voices began; our imaginations were the fuse to a sparkler on the fourth of July.
Stagecoach: a stop along the way
I have a vague, cloudy memory of an overnight trip with my father. These are the crude pieces of the story I remember. I was terrified to spend time alone with him. Maybe it was the sensitive, hard-wiring of my spirit but it was a deep, indescribable sense of uncomfortableness. We always had a broken down car that left an extra ingredient of unreliability; my sense of worry grew. I was maybe fourteen. Somewhere along the trip, he told me a story that left more questions than answers. At sixteen, my grandmother had been attending an all girls catholic school, either in the mid-west or back east (I am uncertain of the details) but either way, there was a romance and she found herself pregnant. A controversial predicament (a single teenage girl in the 1940's) demanded a drastic measure. Her brother Frank (a Spencer Tracey, 6'8" hollywood good-looking type) drove her to California where she sought refuge and redemption from her choice.
My head was swimming. I had never been close to my paternal grandfather but this was a new dimension to the equation. My father said my last name should be something else and the only thing he knew of his own father was that he was a helicopter pilot, by trade. If these bits of information were not enough, the arrows into the wagon continued. Because my mother was pregnant, he had to get married at nineteen because of me; i was the fork in the road that caused his pain, or so I heard. True or not true, this is what I believed and subtly had lived out in my childhood. My voice was quiet. My mind was busy. I remember driving home late at night with him. It was cold. A deep blistering cold and I didn't have a jacket. Because my father was afraid of falling asleep driving home late at night, he drove with the windows down. Frightened to speak up, I finally got the nerve to ask if we could roll the windows up; my request was denied.
I wanted this father-daughter trip to end.
A map, a voice and a dusty trail. What prompts people toward a journey? Running away, running toward?
Unlike the drive with my father at fourteen, my drive this Saturday morning with my heavenly father was anything but confusing; it was like a cool drink on a hot summer's day and I was open and available for the filling.
My daughter was about to turn twenty-one; it was the summer before her senior year in college. In three years, her path had taken her to places such as South Africa (where she studied for five months), Alaska, Paris and Peru. Her musical tastes were eclectic as her vinyl collection expanded to include vintage classics such as Ella Fitzgerald. Her friendships were diverse since she continued a successful wedding photography business and at the same time worked on her Sociology degree. More importantly, however, God was raising her voice from a quiet, unspoken one to a voice that could be heard and she cracked the window of social media open just enough so I could peer in.
When I saw the trunk, I knew immediately it was the perfect gift. The daughter at the garage sale had received it from her father; she kept pictures in it. Because I had to go to the ATM to get cash for the purchase, I had the good fortune when I got back to meet her father. Had I been prepared for a garage sale with money and seeking something, I might have missed the best part of the trunk, the story. The father held the key.
It was the sixties. He and his friends used to party and hang out at an abandoned house in Ohio. Situated on the mambau river, this home, I imagined, represented the fork in his road. He found this trunk in an abandoned room there and held on to it for over fifty years until the day I purchased it. He told me he had researched the origin of the wooden box and knew it was a stagecoach trunk, in part because of the flat top design (as opposed to steam trunks which have round tops) for easy stacking on wagons as well as the leather, canvas and nails used to make it. He loved the trunk and loaded up his record albums and other possessions, (maybe a little pot hidden too, he said) and headed west on the road to California. It was the days of Jimi Hendrix, Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan; the music and poetry of a generation in transition and revolution.
The Maumee River (pronounced /mɔːˈmiː/) (Shawnee: Hotaawathiipi) is a river in northwestern Ohio and northeastern Indiana in the United States. It is formed at Fort Wayne, Indiana by the confluence of the St. Joseph and St. Marys rivers, and meanders northeastwardly for 137 miles (220 km) through an agricultural region of glacial moraines before flowing into the Maumee Bay of Lake Erie at the city of Toledo, Ohio.
Lovingly, I loaded the stagecoach trunk not in an open wagon on a dusty road but in an open topped jeep on a paved road and headed home. As I was reading about its location, I was struck with the personal symbolism of the "confluence of the St Joseph and St Marys rivers.
Coincidence, I know but it was my paternal grandmother that taught me three prayers: the Lord's prayer, the prayer of St Joseph and the prayer of St Mary. Always and forever clinging to these three prayers as a young girl, they were the life preserver for my heart. I know full well God doesn't need our words or our hard work but our hearts. It was about the time I found this old stagecoach trunk that I also found a regular prayer spot where I spend time with God; God spends time dusting the dirt off my road. At first I thought I had forgotten the words but like a river gravitating downward through the rocks, the words began trickling from the dark corridors of my heart into the pool of His love.
... I don't want to ever "google" the accuracy of the words; They hold deep, indescribable meaning as they are singing a tune of hope through the voice of a songbird across river waters. I whisper these prayers to myself but unlike when I was a little girl, I don't speak them out of a searching, desperate attempt for safety and protection from the storm but out of the translucent light of a rainbow because of the storms. I might say them aloud someday but some gifts are best left locked away in a stagecoach trunk. Where a year ago, at my age, I thought I had nothing left to give, God whispered you have the best to give; it is the song of your heart. God is indeed interested in resurrecting dead, lonely places. I would have never thought of Lisa had it not been for a stagecoach trunk and a couple of stories from years past.
Stagecoach: A drink of water
"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition." Steve Jobs
A fork in the road on the stagecoach stops of life. A voice... a voice, a voice. My husband and I attended a church picnic 3,000 miles away. The climate was different; the landscape was different. In fact the surroundings were not familiar in any sort of way. Our arms were full with gear and everything felt unfamiliar and hurried until I heard the voice of the pastor speaking. In a breathe, the atmosphere changed and the voice from the pulpit on a Sunday morning was familiar and oddly calming. I recognized it's sound because of the podcast I listened to six months before. I had never given it a moment's thought but in a breath everything changed and it spoke to me of the value of a voice
There is always a few bumps, bruises and scars on the journey. I have one on my left thumb. I was frustrated at my inability to communicate effectively. Through the years, I tried a loud voice, a soft voice and no voice at all but the intent of my words were like a faint mist in the morning fog. As the exterior words evaporated into thin air, the inside words became hard and brittle. The two tectonic plates moved away from each other and eventually the divergent result was a break in the core.
It happened with a long narrow piece of wood. My intent was to break it in half with my foot as you would when breaking it across your knee. A dark, quiet path next to our house, the morning was overcast and cool. I sought an escape to my frustration but my vision was unclear and my spirit tangled. With my left hand, I held the long piece of slender wood and with my right foot, I pressed firmly, intentionally. With all of my strength and no voice at all, I poured my effort into one simple, impulsive act of defiance. It snapped... a gushing burst of pain. My thumb broke in two at the joint; later learning the term is called a "skiers" break, it seemed appropriate having narrowly missed injury on the ski slope years ago. Surgery and months of rehabilitation, I eventually regained the use of my thumb. There are good and bad ways to develop a voice; it is safe to say this was not a productive one. I live in a world where sound and noise drown the voices of it's people. Hurried schedules, making a living and raising families leaves little time for introspection and self-examination.
Where the scar on my thumb represents my voice needing to be heard, the allergy injection mis-hap twenty-five years ago represents my feeling of being alone. Without getting into the details (see March 2015), the doctor and nurses were taking measures against anaphylactic shock but once I was out of immediate danger, the process of stabilization began. Because my blood pressure had skyrocketed and then plummeted so quickly, my body was unstable. It took hours before I could even lift my head without my blood pressure becoming irregular. I had no audible sound or voice for the frustration of my joy being so quickly taken from me. After the immediate danger was over, the doctor went outside and asked my husband to not go to work but instead take our newborn son home. Because he was only three days old, my milk had barely come in. I was frightened and felt alone. I asked for some water.
My mouth dry, the medication plentiful but because I couldn't lift my head and the doctor's office was not equipped with straws, what should have been a simple request turned into a monumental task. My body would go through a myriad of reactions. The explanation was simple: the doctor tried to "hedge his bet" and inject anti-serum to counteract the poison that would quickly get to my vital organs (my heart) but the timing was off and it hit BEFORE the allergy injection which explained the mountain and valleys of unpredictability. Next, my body swelled up to the point that my ring finger on my left hand began to turn blue. Now my next thought was the extreme pain as I felt my heart beat through the throbbing restriction of blood to the tip of my finger. Excruciating pain was relieved by a jewelers blade as he cut off my wedding ring as I lay on a gurney.
I am fully aware of the negative dialog that takes place about social media. In fact, I rarely hear of any positives but as I reflect on the difference of my experience from this year in comparison to twenty-five years ago, i am encouraged. Culture has shifted to include the voice of it's people. Like a bird's song, it's sound is carried through the wavelengths of technology across dusty roads and over sunset skies. It was inevitable because a human's need for connection is so hard-wired that it's humanity adapted out of a sense of survival. Like the early pilgrims moving west in search of a better life, todays pilgrims are moving across oceans and continents in order to be seen and heard.
In earlier posts, I have talked about Myers Briggs personality profile and somewhere along the line read that INFJ is so rare it is mythical. In full disclosure, I should probably change the name of this website to "confessions of an INFJ" because of my thought process coupled with my "over-the-top" work ethic. Forever finding symbolism, connection and hidden meaning, my internal world is so complicated and tangled, that my external world must be neat and orderly in order to maintain a resemblance of order. Dialed tightly: at first I thought I had forgotten the words but like a river gravitating downward through the rocks, the words began trickling from the dark corridors of my heart into the pool of His love, the words emerged through my website. Like the compressed air escaping a tea pot on a heated surface, I began to speak out loud the deep passion in my heart. No longer a young girl in junior high school sharing stories about the history of the United States, out of the voice of a grown woman with life experiences and through whispered prayers, my voice emerged from my heart. Like the resilience of water, it found it's way through the cracks of a dried cement surface.
The paradigm shift in my perspective was not that I had a voice but that I had no trouble communicating. The intent of my words moved quietly, softly and with no effort at all as my faith journey included people with a similar thought process. New and old friendships bubbled up through deep fishing pools of water. One by one, as I made the effort to reach out to people, God was covering conversations through the song of love, as my voice began to emerge. This realization gave me courage to begin examining the stories and experiences in my life though the lens of faith. While I once asked for a drink of water, this year I was receiving milk and my surgery in November was no exception. God was re-writing my story from loneliness and fear to inclusion and bravery.
There is a link between the mind and stomach and because my mind is aways busy, a mass (equivalent to sixteen weeks pregnant) had been growing and causing havoc on my body. Ironic that the doctor used the term pregnant because blood tests revealed biologically it was still possible for me to become pregnant but technically it wasn't so surgery was my best option. State of the art medical equipment, a top-notch hospital, an experienced doctor and a skilled surgeon was a vast contrast to a mis-hap allergy injection. I had no fear as I walked into my pre-opt appointment. No fear until the doctor explained the surgery would be preformed while I was on my head for three plus hours necessitating the dialog that there was a slim possibility the blood vessels in my eyes could burst causing blindness. Now this was a bit of a game-changer since social media had created a community of friendships through words and pictures. I knew full well the possibility of that happening was slim but I also knew the possibility of me receiving somebody else's allergy injection (equivalent to 1000 times too much) almost causing death was small too. I was frightened.
The evening before and the morning of, I prayed. I prayed for the doctors, I prayed for the people that care about me and I prayed for the surgery. Where I once was quiet and self-sufficient, this time I used my voice through social media and sent two group messages; I communicated that I was scared and I needed the support of their love. It was early in the morning. The sun was just breaking though the darkness, the air was cool and light; I could hear the orchestral sound of birds in morning song. Text messages of love and support came through the lines. One last message and then I slowly, quietly closed my phone in the parking lot of steel and concrete and walked into the hospital brave and ready. I whispered, "God- thy will be done, not mine" in this hour.
Only one blade to cut the ring off of my finger; two blades to cut the mass from my gut. A gurney and no water; private room with HGTV. A doctors whisper to go home; A doctors enthusiasm to share IPhone pictures. Lots of contrasts between these two experiences separated by twenty-five years of life. The result was an appreciation. Not only would I have something to write about but I now know the deep blue value of someone who hears my words. My faith has grown, my love has grown and my community of people I care about has grown too. Where a fly fisherman catches fish jumping to the surface, God knew the bait necessary to catch me would be a dropped line into deep waters. Fear held me back but freedom has moved me forward. The result is a deep love on the shores of life and a stagecoach trunk of stories as I make the journey west.
Twenty-five years ago, I remember a doctor's office staff standing over my body injecting me readily with shots, one after the other to muffled voices desperately demanding action: again, again, again... and the faint retreat of my mind down a dark tunnel, frightened and alone drifting away. I will never forget the very seconds I came out of surgery this time. I was in the recovery room. There was nobody around. There were three things, so simultaneous, it was almost as one. As if designed through the father, son and holy spirit, my thoughts were uncluttered and untangled. I quietly, slowly opened my eyes: I could see - there was no blindness. Next, as if in a dream, I could hear a voice I recognized and trusted; no words, just a song of love. Lastly, the sound of my own voice breathing one word, redemption. A peace covered me like a blanket and a soft smile drifted onto my face as I awoke from the fog of anesthesia. I was no longer alone. In His infinite wisdom, my faith grew. I felt unafraid and loved.
Stagecoach: a voice out west
Changing my music; the sound of the journey shifted. Where sound from the pulpit in a winery on a Sunday morning was calming and familiar, it was the beauty of sight changing familiar skies. Having just said good-bye to people I care about on the East coast, my melancholy spirit was open for the filling. My husband and I boarded the plane to California. I sat in the window seat, headphones on. I was wearing my new prescription sunglasses. Slowly, effortlessly, our ascent upward through brilliantly blue skies seemed oddly reassuring but not in any way I had seen before.
Familiar songs on my computer, the song of worship filled my heart. My gaze was continually outside as the journey west continued. Suddenly, the most amazing scene happened. As if I was looking at the Pacific ocean on a sunny California day, the horizon was a brilliant ocean blue color; the white billowy clouds contrasted magnificently against misty water. Translucent colors filled the sky in every direction. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet: seven colors, every color of the rainbow cast it's light in every direction. The sight took my breathe away. I looked around to see if anyone else saw it. Nope, people minding their own business with eyes in computers, books, airplane screens or eyes completely shut, they saw nothing.
I looked outside the tiny oblong shaped window again; yep the beauty was still before my eyes. Simultaneously, a worship song I love came piped through a thin wire attached to ear bulbs in my drums; my heart beat faster. Blinking, I imagined the scene would be gone but this time the colors were even more vibrant. I drank in the deep pools of the unimagined as my spirit felt it's calm.
Checking my reality, I lifted my sunglasses up (but not off of my head). The scene was gone. Everything looked normal: blue skies, white clouds and no color in between. It was my sunglasses! I bought them for the first time only a few months ago and they have quickly become my most prized possession. I have an eye Astigmatism which means my vision is blurred "due to the inability of the optics of the eye to focus a point object into a sharp focused image." My glasses not only have a strip across the center to see at a distance but has a bifocal strip on the bottom for close reading. Interestingly, I can see and read fine but my glasses bring everything into focus more clearly. The light must have been refracting in such a way upon my sunglasses that they were causing an illusion of color. Frankly, I didn't spend much time thinking about why, I just enjoyed the view beyond my lens. I'm glad I did because I have never seen it again. One flight, one light and my eyes wide open to see it's beauty.
My eighteen year old daughter and I had a morning drive (an hour and a half) to an annual doctors office. She sat in the passenger seat of our AWD vehicle. Communication with her friends through text messages and instagram pictures on her IPhone, she was feeling the inclusion of being with friends. Symbolically, she was on one highway of technology. In my sundress, Ray-Bans (different sunglasses) and white leather sandals, I was enjoying the drive. It was a beautiful day in southern California. The waves gently crashing alongside the Pacific ocean, bright blue skies, it reminded me of why people made the journey from the East to the West in a covered wagon with all they owned. This morning, however, we were each on separate highways but the road of silence would soon meet at a yield sign.
We broke the silence by stopping at Starbucks. Each with a cup, culture sat between us. Getting back in the car, I asked my daughter to put on her music. Worried about the availability of data on her plan, she reluctantly agreed. We got back on highway 101, the highway linking the north-south routes of California, Oregon and Washington and drove along the Pacific ocean toward a doctor's office.
As a catchy melody began to beat, my heart beat faster too. My upper body in motion, my voice in song, I started the strange "animal ritual" of a driver dancing. Eyes focused forward, spirit focused inward, I was consumed in the light, transforming air of music. The tune crept slowly into the car at first; it was just a breathe. Subtly grabbing the attention of the "shot-gun" position, my daughter must have rolled her eyes as she captured my actions on "snap chat" to send to her friends. I didn't notice at first but my peripheral vision hinted to a change in perspective. The map changed when I heard the words, "mom- do you even know what you are singing about? (1975-Chocolate). I said, "nah- I don't listen to the lyrics". At that moment, a yield sign caused our trails to merge. The interchange was technology, the direction was communication and the map was a change in our dialog.
The train whistle blows, "all aboard." As I sat the last morning of my vacation on the shore of a small lake; not the larger one where I grew up but a tiny one in comparison, I got out my colored pencils, journal and a pen. I drew the scene before me, a single fisherman in a boat on glassy water; two poles immersed in water, he waits. The silhouette of mountaintops, pine trees and a train meandering through weathered tracks; it moves. A speedboat's sound disturbing the quiet and causing waves; it disrupts.
This journey began with a stagecoach trunk. As I reflect on the recent years of my daughter's college education, I think not of the books, nor of the albums but of the people along her dusty trail. Like the previous owner of the trunk making the journey to California in the early 1960's, my daughter too makes the journey into uncharted territory. It is within the water of people's lives. Hearing the faint whisper of their words, she was changed (and continues to be changed) for having met them. This was an excerpt from a card I wrote to her:
I started with this quote:
"We cannot know truth, which belongs to God alone, but our task nevertheless is to seek to know what is true. And if we offend gravely enough against what we know to be true, as by failing badly enough to deal affectionately and responsibly with our land and our neighbors, truth will retaliate with ugliness, poverty, and disease." Wendell Barry
I started my response:
"You have intellectually faced the ugliness of injustice, the poverty of broken souls and the disease of crippling ideologies. In the process however, discovered God. He is there in the quiet whisper of voices longing to be heard. He is there in the laughter of friendship. He is there in the solitude of your soul. Seek Him and you shall find him."
... whatever path you decide, know you have discovered the real gifts in life... the ones that don't cost a dime. They are the ones you take with you to heaven so when you get to the place far beyond the rainbow, you smile welcomed by a Kingdom of life, song and people deeply loved by a King and a father who love us more than we can fathom" Me
My daughter cracked open a window of her life through social media. Open just a little in order for the world to see a new landscape and hear her song. As I watched her life, my life changed too not only through words spoken in her website and pictures through her photography business but in the friends she welcomed into our home. Her life was spilling into mine and in the process, my voice grew to an audible sound.
A voice, a voice, a voice.
It was a father's love that changed everything.
Follow the trail backyards. In faith we frequently talk about the sacrifice of the son. What about the sacrifice of the father? Would he be willing to give up his life in order for the son to have a different lens with which to view his life? Would the prayers whispered in the quiet of his heart be audibly heard in the next generation? Would love surpass our understanding?
Gifts: a story, a song and a voice. The song is the voice of it's people. Our voice is the only way our neighborhoods and our world is going to change. I would like to think life is linear, a neatly carved out road with clearly marked road signs pointing the way. It does for some people. But there are also the wayward travelers on dusty, meandering trails. Spirits - independent, wild and adventurous, they are willing to sacrifice all for the hope of something better. On the trail of unpredictability, they forge new directions. God loves them too.
I know my father's voice; he loves all of his creation. From the tiny, insignificant ladybug on a leaf, to the songbird singing softly across the water's shore, he welcomes us to the life-giving waters of His love. Take a look at the beauty of a sunset or the stillness of rain and you will find him there. His voice. Sometimes He is loud; sometimes quiet and sometimes with no sound at all, He will get our attention. He will travel through the cracks of social media, through the mud-stomped path of our work places as well as the canvases of our homes in order to scatter seeds of hope. He sits in a small fishing boat, lines in deep blue waters. He travels forward through the power of a train cutting through insurmountable mountains. He marches in with the loud thunder of a speedboat causing waves. He searches for the ones he loves. He goes out into the biggest storms; and comes back in quiet footsteps. His love seeps in.
I needed this stagecoach trunk not only to see how the voice of my daughter was changing and spilling into my voice but in recalling the stories of the past, I was forging a voice all my own and welcoming other pilgrims along my dusty trail home.
As I whispered the word, redemption love seeped into the dry brittle cracks of my heart and a song uniquely my own began to be sung. God has perfect timing. With new sunglasses, I could see my biological father not as he was but what he could be. A dreamer, a wayward traveler, a man of faith with deep thoughts and a love for history. I could see the stagecoach ride out west. As his mother sought refuge from her choice, her faith spilled into my life through three prayers. Where the deep passion of my heart was hidden and never audible, it began to bubble up through the hot springs of words softly written. In taking the reins of my own life and running intently away from where I started, I left something behind. I needed faith and love in order for my story to spill out upon my shores: like a river gravitating downward through the rocks, the words began trickling from the dark corridors of my heart into the pool of His love. Love is the treasure locked away.
God's voice whispers the names of those he loves. He calls us to a new perspective. It is a voice that softly sings across the water's edge, through the canvas-covered wagons, past the train on an abandoned track, above the wings of a plane and deep into the screens of technology to find us. Like a bird sitting on a branch of rustling leaves, it's song calls us through the trails of life. The result is a story ... and a stagecoach trunk.
Made of wood, leather and canvas, it is just a box. Or is it?
Horse video and California pictures provided by Fotolia; other pictures provided by me; U-tube for Rolling stones; Webster's dictionary or Wikipedia for additional information.
A person who searches for depth and beauty in the simple things.