Monthly Archives: November 2015

Ponderize: Isaiah 43:18-19

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Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old.

Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.     –Isaiah 43:18-19

  I love this. For some reason when I read it, its like seeing a wise old grandparent smiling at a child who cannot see what is a simple truth, and saying in a kindly voice, “Oh child, you can let go of that tattered blanket that you are clutching….it doesn’t keep you warm, or serve the purpose that you need. If you let go of it, you will be open to receive something new and better… something that is warm, and made to fully cover you!”

It really is a simple truth, yet sometimes we just can become blind to it. If we keep clutching the wrong thing…. our arms, heart, and mind are closed to receiving something new…. the right thing.

   “Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old.”

  Let it go. Its a message to free ourselves of what is not serving us, and anything that is holding us back from being where we should be, being who we should be, and achieving what we should. It could be a situation that is not working for us, a relationship that is misfigured, a career path that is making us unhappy…..but it could also be guilt, anger, resentment—negative emotions and mindsets that keep us from progressing. Mistakes. So often we beat ourselves up over past mis-steps in ways that keep us chained to the situation, and fearful to try again. We also tend to cling to, and continue on with our mistakes, and situations that are not really meant for us …out of hopes of somehow turning it around (or not wanting to even admit it is a mistake), and being afraid of losing the perceived time and investment. We fear if we let go of it, that there will be nothing else for us—that we will be empty-handed (we sometimes would rather clutch something that hurts our hands, than have them be empty). We have to have the courage to recognize mistakes, and step-away… otherwise we risk staying on the wrong path that will just keep leading us to more mistakes one after the other. In reality, the longer we cling to something that is wrong, the more damage that will happen, and the longer (and harder) it will be to turn ourselves around—and to have our arms free to receive something that is right.

  We are supposed to trust Heavenly Father. Trust his timing, his plan, his knowledge of what is best for us, and what we truly need. Our own understanding is limited, and often clouded by temporary desires, fear, inner noise etc….We often try to deceive ourselves, and block out both the voice of our own core self, and that of the Spirit when we are being told to set something down— that it is not what is right for us. We can bury those nudges and promptings, try to convince ourselves it is just our fears speaking… but true promptings will keep resurfacing until we act on them (no matter how hard we work to ignore the things we do not want to see and hear). We may creates excuses, or tell ourselves the nudges are just our fears of failure, but often it is our way of hiding the truth from ourselves that what we really fear is listening, obeying, and letting go—we so desperately want to cling, and believe that we can make the wrong thing work. It can be scary to relinquish ourselves to that trust in God ( and promptings), and risk those empty hands……but it is that very trust that can free us, set our feet on the right path, and bring the best blessings truly meant for us. We cannot progress if we limit our own selves, and do not even let Heavenly Father help us.

  Sometimes we continue to hold on to our mistakes, or things that do not fit us…. because we want to believe that if we have faith, that thing will somehow be made “right”, and then it will all work out. However, that is not always how it works. Sometimes that is the exact opposite of having faith/ trust in God. At times, it could be that we ignore his promptings, and continue to cling out of our own fears, and lack of faith. We fail to have faith that if we let go, he will provide us with something better suited to what we truly need. Its akin to clutching to a duck, and telling ourselves that if we keep holding on to it, and pray really hard, and have faith…. God will turn it into the unicorn that we really want, and need. In reality, we need to let go of the duck……so that God can give us the unicorn. Its all about true trust, and faith, and being able to recognize when we are letting our fears misguide, and trap us.

Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.

 This is basically a promise. If we let go, if we have trust…. he will always bring us something new, something beautiful. “Shall ye not know it?” Seems to be like asking, ” Do you not trust me? Can you not see I want good things for you, and will provide what you need?”

  He will bring us that new thing, no matter how dark or impossible we may think it is to do so. We may see barren desert with no water in sight, a fortress of wilderness blocking us from love…. but he will be able to cut through all of that, and provide us with what it is we truly need. Once again, our perceptions are limited… and our sense of obstacles, or fears that nothing else will be available for us….could very well be wrong, and restrictive. We have to trust that he will provide, no matter how scared we are, or how bleak it looks to our eyes.

 At times, it could even be a test of sorts. A means to teach us so that we can build in our faith and trust. If everything is just handed to us, if he turns all our ducks into unicorns….how would we learn and grow? True trust, is when you can let go, let yourself fall backwards…. and have faith that arms will catch you. If we remain rigid, and cling… if we are not able to let go…. then we are telling him that we do not really have faith in him. Its a harsh thing to think of, but so very true. Its just like the “trust fall” experiment—if you stagger, catch yourself, or even completely refuse to let go/ let yourself fall back…. you communicate to the other person that you do not have trust in their ability to catch, and protect you. So what does it say to Heavenly Father when we ignore the promptings to let go of something not meant for us, and refuse to let him catch us, and provide for us?

  It is scary. It is hard. It is supposed to be.

In order to grow, improve, and be open to receive the things meant for us…. we have to let go of the things that hold us back, and send us into the wrong directions. Mistakes teach us what is wrong, and what hurts us… so that we can truly know first-hand what is right for us, and where we should be, and where we should put our trust. Mistakes teach us how to trust, and the need for it…. but we have to let go in order to learn that. Following promptings, and letting go…. is how we demonstrate, and live our faith. It is how we open our door, and our arms… to Him. He will always provide.

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Aside

 

formyself

This originated as a FB post and conversation ( primarily about making health/ lifestyle choices), but I decided that since it is such a common issue that people struggle with, that I should make it into a blog entry and expand on it.

Improving ourselves, making big changes in our habits and lifestyles, and even altering our way of thinking/ viewing things…. can be very difficult to achieve, and yet is crucial in order for us to progress, and achieve goals (and who we would like to be). However, in order for changes to be real, and lasting…. they have to be something that we firmly want to do for our own selves. Real changes cannot happen just to please others, or for some kind of temporary gain (both purposes result in temporary changes, if even that). It all starts from within.

We all have layers of “self”/ conscious within us. The top surface levels are where our chatter is—our active thoughts, worries, reactions etc… and is also where we lie to, and attempt to deceive ourselves. Our “core self” is deep down, at the very bottom. That is where our truth is. Our core is where our true desires, needs, beliefs and personality exist. However, sometimes our surface layers try to resist what our “core” tells us—usually due to temporary wants and desires, fears, wanting things not good for us, wanting to please others, being scared to face truth, or act on things etc….We drown our “core-self” out sometimes with all that surface chatter and noise, but our core-self will keep prodding and shouting until we hear it….and will continue to do so no matter how many times we try to block it out, or deny what it is telling us. These mechanics are the very reason why we have to truly want something for our own selves, on all levels, and for the right reasons. Our core is our basement, and is where all the wiring and gears are. Thus, to make true, lasting changes for ourselves…we have to be able to get down in there, and re-arrange things. That is not possible if only our “surface self” is engaged in the act of making a change.

When we try to change something about ourselves to please others, or for an interim goal….it results in being a temporary surface desire, rather than something that our core is engaged in. We all do it. We want to lose weight for a special event, or to try to interest someone in a relationship……we want to stop smoking because someone else has given us an ultimatum, we want to improve our work performance to gain a promotion etc…… Often those goals in some form still involve making a change for someone else, or to “fit” ourselves in some way. Once the desired result is achieved, we often return to our old ways ( because what is the point of still doing it when you no-longer have to? ). Worse yet, if we did not get what we had hoped we would gain, we tend to see all our efforts as a waste, and then we binge on whatever it was that we had been restraining ourselves from (that we really had not wanted to change for our own selves anyway). This is why we cannot change for others, and why we have to be committed to something on every layer of who we are (down to our core-self) in order for a change to truly happen.

When faced with changes others want us to make, we can think it is a true and noble reason to make alterations to ourselves (especially when we really want to please someone, and fit ourselves to what it is they want). However, unless it is something we came to on our own, and that we truly want for ourselves (and not just to please others, gain a relationship etc..), any changes we make will likely just be temporary. Our true self ( that is not on board) will hammer away at us until it breaks free, and might even (again) want to gorge on whatever it was being restrained from.

In reverse, expecting others to change themselves for us (no matter if it is something for their own health and well-being), very rarely works. Ultimatums essentially insure that whatever change you are desiring for someone else to make will most likely fall-apart—you essentially are setting that person up for failure. They might try really hard to do whatever it is you want of them, but in the end their true self will smash it apart with a wrecking ball. They have to be able to come to it on their own, for their own self, and without feeling pressure, or expectation—they have to want that change on their own. Something I often ask clients is, “Would you have wanted this for yourself if they were not in the picture?”…Or…. “Would they have wanted this, or come to this on their own without you?”  If “no” is the answer to either of those questions, then it is a change that is not being done for the right reasons, and it will have very little chance at being lasting. Take a moment, think of changes you made in the past to please others ( maybe even under pressure of an ultimatum). Did they stick? Are you still implementing those changes?

Sometimes people will feign at making changes in order to achieve what/who they want. They will make promises, and even sometimes a few initial motions at that change for the sake of appearances…. but often just long-enough to get the other person off of them, or to get that person to commit to them. As soon as they think they are in the clear, they will revert to their normal habits, and who they really are ( thus why it is important to not trust words, but rather to pay attention to actions). Often people will try to force others into being ready for relationships, or want to convince them that their love and desire compensates for the hesitation of the other—and thus try to force things to happen prematurely, or with someone who otherwise would not/ does not want to get involved on those levels. These are examples of relationship-related expectations of changes/ choices by others that will likely not be for the right reasons, and thus will eventually result in destruction in some form. We cannot push our agendas on others… even if they try to please us, eventually their “core” will fight against what does not align with it.

Addictions. This of course is one of the most difficult, and needed areas for personal change. It is also of utmost import that we do not pressure loved ones to “do it for us”….or to whip-out ultimatums, or threats of leaving etc… because again, any changes made under those conditions will likely only be temporary, no matter how much that person wants to please, and keep us in their life. In order for a person to truly be able to fight that kind of battle, their core self has to be armed with sword and shield…..and completely want, and be ready to do it for their own self. If we shove someone into it before they are ready on their own, they may end-up standing against their demon in their underwear. Even once changes are achieved, it may still be a battle they have to revisit at times…. and thus our job should be to support, love, and encourage them in healthy ways focused on their welfare, rather than anything we want for ourselves ( unless it is something harmful to us, then we may need to remove ourselves under those kind of conditions). They need to feel secure in our love and support, rather than judged, guilted, or pressured. That is the often the best way to help someone struggling with those kind of issues.

If a person truly wants to do something for their own self, and are engaged completely on all inner-levels….then making others happy, and achieving various other related gains and goals etc… can be contributing factors that help to bolster, and increase the conviction that they already have.

Sometimes we have to accept that a person is not going to change, or has no desire to do so on their own. It can be difficult if it is over something that is deal-breaking. We may not be able to change others, or choose for them…. but we always have the option/ability of making changes for ourselves– and sometimes that is in the form of letting-go, and removing ourselves from situations that are unhealthy, or not working for us (when the other is not able to make real changes to their core self).

I can think of many examples in my own life when I have either failed, or succeeded because of the reasons behind attempts at changes. Years ago when I was investigating a big choice…. I had to refrain from talking on the matter with someone who was really eager for me to make that choice, because I did not want the risk of them (and my desire to make them happy) impacting something that was so important, and personal. It was confusing to that person, and even difficult to resist at times, but it was what I personally knew had to be done in order to make sure it was something that I felt, and wanted for my own self. It was hard, but it insured that I made that choice for the right reasons. Had I just done it to please, I might have skipped crucial thinking/ steps that ultimately led me to investing myself “on all levels”.  Sometimes it can be a matter of knowing our own selves, and what we have to do to make-sure others are not the reason for big changes and choices that we make for ourselves.

The big obvious change for me this last year has been in the area of improving my lifestyle and diet to achieve weight-loss. I had losses in the past, but because I was usually focused on short-term goals and reasons, and had not addressed the true reason behind my habits (comfort source), I always slipped-back as soon as something stressful happened, or when what I had wanted did not result. Now, because I have addressed the root-cause and fully-engaged myself…..I have made solid changes that I feel have become my *new* habits, and I was able to maintain myself despite a devastating event that occurred this last year. The difference is simply being fully engaged, and wanting new and different things for myself…to be healthy…. not just in the short term, but for the rest of my life. I am still working on reversing past damage, but have no doubt that with a little time I can get myself down to the person I truly am, and was supposed to be all along.

So, the message is…. truly evaluate yourself honestly when it comes to making changes for yourself, or expecting others to make changes. It is crucial that we truly want it for our own selves—otherwise we could end-up making mistakes, reverting in ways that damage us even worse than before, or doing things prematurely in a destructive way that makes us fear, or even decide against working towards those changes at a later time. Always ask those important questions ( would you (or they) come to it, and want it on your (their) own?). Know yourself, be honest to yourself, and be true to yourself…. all of those are keys towards true self-improvement and growth, and knowing what we need to achieve those things.


 

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Lasting Changes Require Committing 100% on Our Own, for Our Own Self.

Ponderize 11-17 –Proverbs 22:24-25

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Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt no go:

Lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul.  –Proverbs 22:24-25

   I chose these two verses because they stood-out in regard to their potential relation of dealing with abusive situations (or avoiding them to preserve our own welfare and health).

  It is always difficult to deal with those who have anger issues, especially if it is something they unleash on others. When it is someone we love, we want to find ways to make excuses for them, believe it will get better, or even try to tell ourselves we somehow are the source (thus if we change things about our own selves, they will be happy, and no longer have their issues). Really, none of that is true. We should not ignore the behavior (or blame it on other things), we should not try to lighten the truth of things/ tune-it-out, and we most definitely should not blame our own selves (which is natural, because it gives us a false sense of feeling in control of something that really is not in our control). When allowances and excuses are made for those who have anger/ abusive issues…. all it does is prolong, and increase the amount of damage that they will cause to you, or to others ( if there are children involved who could be harmed either directly, or indirectly via seeing the anger displays, or someone else being hurt or demeaned).

Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt no go:”

  This is very direct ( though I believe “man” can be replaced with person, because really it applies to women as well…..who I know from first-hand experience can have these issues), and bluntly says that we should stay clear of those who have any kind of anger issues. I suspect “furious” is used to describe any kind of violent actions that occur along with angry outbursts. I view this kind of as road signs— “Danger!”, “Do Not Enter!”, “Hazardous Conditions Ahead!”—essentially a direct warning in scripture intended to help us avoid harmful conditions…..physically, emotionally, mentally…. and spiritually ( because anger/ abusive people can hurt us on all of these levels).

Lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul.

  There are so many ways that we can be internally impacted and changed by the behavior, and anger of others. Firstly, it is very possible to slide into their ways, even it is not who we ourselves normally are. Over time, abusive behaviors can become “normalized”…..so we look for ways to adapt to the person and situation. For some it can be to constantly give ourselves over in attempts to appease them, or it could be by taking on some of their traits in order to try to communicate on “their level”, or combat with them. We may find ourselves yelling, and having our own emotional/ angry outbursts because it seems to be the only way to communicate with them. They very well may press and push us to fight with them so that they can better unleash their anger, or even use the response against us (make-out that we are then the bad one). Some people use moody displays, demands, anger etc.. as a way to constantly test others to see if they will comply with them, soothe them, give-in to their demands etc….or even as ploys to prove that they are loved (or as a way to manipulate what they want). They are toxic tactics that should never be ignored, or excused-off as “insecure”, or anything else (meant to “downplay” the issue)…..because they cause harm to others, and are ultimately self-serving. Essentially these are not the signs/ behaviors of a healthy, loving adult…. it means that their interests and motives are more focused on their own needs and wants, no matter what they may say in contrary at other times.

  It can really twist us around, and confuse us to have someone seem so charming, sweet, and loving one minute, and then the next have them raging, crying, making demands etc….. We may even put-up with the negative behaviors hoping that the sweet/ charming side is the real them, all the while ignoring the damage caused by having to cater to them, and put our own selves aside. We also may ignore the affect on us from dealing with the stress, and the constant worry that we have to monitor our own selves to prevent them from exploding again. No one wants to believe that someone they love is abusive, or selfish. We sometimes may even try to believe we can fix them. At first, being obliging can seem like the loving thing to do, but overtime if it is an on-going situation it can strip us of our our own sense of self, cause us to lose our sense of worth, and to ignore our own pain and needs. That is not how loving relationships work—- they are supposed to be equal give and take, and support each other’s needs on equal value. One person’s needs, moods, desires, anger etc… should not matter more than the other’s. So essentially, angry individuals can change how we ourselves act, think, feel etc… be it by infecting us with their behaviors, or stripping us down into shadows of ourselves through our tedious efforts to appease them.

  The truth is, if a person is not happy in their own self….. we cannot make them happy. We cannot fill what is lacking inside of them. We cannot solve their issues for them. They may think we can, or even should…. but it is impossible. Relationships are meant to help, support, strengthen—but they are not supposed to completely fill someone, give them identity, validation, or be a soul source of happiness ( yet sooo many people seem to think others are the key to solving their inner issues, and run person to person for that reason… always blaming their failed relationships on others). A person has to be able to regulate their own moods, and be happy on their own—-depending on others to do that for them just means sucking the life out of those other people….a constant never-ending drain that will never solve what only they can solve for themselves. This is why it is dangerous for us to be in those kind of situations. They will drain us as long as we let them, and likely not even notice (or care about) the damage that it causes to us.

  There are so many types of abuse, and thus so many levels on which we can be damaged. Even words can strip us down inside, and make us doubt our own selves, and feel we are not good enough….. especially if we feel like we are failing to make the other person happy ( and do not see that the real problem is that they themselves have a lacking that only they can fix for their own selves). There is nothing good that can come out of dealing with someone who lashes out in anger in any form…..it always will create damage.

  My mother ignored the abusive actions, and anger issues displayed by a man she was engaged to…. and married him anyway. I was the one who ultimately paid the greatest price for that choice.  Abuse ( in all forms) can continue to steal our life away from us long after the abuse itself has stopped. It is always best to leave as soon as someone demonstrates destructive, or aggressive behaviors. Some prices should never have to be paid.

  As for applying “learning his ways” to my own self….. typically, I am a very calm person mood-wise, despite everything I went through. I do not yell, snap, take things out on others, or in general have negative moods of that kind. At most, I may get a bit quiet and introspective at times, or just want to talk things out that are worrying me. I very rarely feel actual anger, and it takes a lot for me to feel that emotion. However, there is one exception to all of the above. There is a family member who quickly makes me feel tight inside, and on edge….irritated, angry….. I suddenly lose my usual patience, and do not feel like myself. I do not like myself when I am around them. I find myself snapping in responses, and acting impatient with them. This person has this same affect on others, and it largely has to do with their having narcissistic issues that prevents them from considering others, or listening etc… Essentially, they are in their own bubble, and not only do they lack the ability to consider the needs of others, or consider things beyond what they want/ have in mind ( no matter if you tell them repeatedly that it won’t work, or will cause hardships to other people)….but they also can be very vindictive when they feel other people have slighted them in some kind of way (this is my attempt of briefly explaining someone/ a situation that is actually very complex, and has a long history of manipulation, and abuse). The combination of past history with the person, their behaviors, and the struggle to communicate with them etc… drains energy, and causes myself ( and others) to take on similar characteristics….often as last-ditch efforts to get them to listen. For this reason, I have learned the need to distance myself. I have employed it as best as can be done for a long time now, while still taking care of their needs when needed. I still love them, but I had to recognize not only the past damage that they caused to me, but also the negative affect they have on me in the present—the reaction that I have to them that turns me into someone I do not like, or want to be. It is not easy, not in the slightest. At times I even feel guilt for how I feel, and for not being able to help more.. but in the end we just sometimes have to recognize that we may not be able to control others, but we can control things on our end. Sometimes it is imperative that we take the measures needed to protect ourselves from harm…. in various forms. That does not make us bad people, or selfish. It makes us people who love ourselves, and our loved ones enough to do what is necessary to protect, and reduce the potential for harm. Sometimes we truly have no other choice but to step away.

  It actually was of great help to me to discover something in scripture that instructs us not to form relationships with those who are angry/ abusive, and to essentially leave/ stay away ( “thou shalt not go”). It even warns of the damage that can be caused to us. It helps confirm to me that I am making the right choice in distancing myself from the family member who can be abusive. I also am glad to have a scripture reference that I can provide to others who are in harmful situations who may feel that they are being selfish, not honoring the other person, or commitments like they think they should….etc…. it just can be a help knowing that even scriptures instruct that we should protect ourselves from those who have anger issues, or are harmful to us.

 

 

Short Story. “Matilda”.

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Last night I was looking for something, and opened a couple boxes that have been closed-up for years. It was like finding treasure chests filled with pictures, production programs, newspaper articles (from past shows), old letters folded into squares (that have yellowed a little)… etc…. In the mix I also found a few old papers and projects from my OSU days. The following is a short story that I wrote for a fiction writing class (I was able to retrieve it off of an old disc as well).

 

Matilda

  Matilda once convinced me that she was a genuine creature of magic. I had no reason to not believe her—she was the girl who could invent games with nothing more than paper clips, and rusted bottle caps. She looked at life with unique perspectives, and had a talent for always making the most out of circumstances. It wasn’t until I was in my teenage years that I understood why adults would look at her with drawn expressions…. or why other kids alienated her, and cringed when forced to choose her for their dodge-ball games. To me, that ten-year-old neighbor with the scabbed knees and self-cut, jagged hair was the friend who could ensnare me into the spell-wrought web of her imagination.

  Matilda could transform our shared back yard into an enchanted forest. The tangled, withered blackberry bushes could cause death at a touch, and the creaky, old swing–set (which was prone to tipping over) served as the “Quartz Castle”. I never questioned her when she told me that the huge, plastic bat was an ensorcelled sword. She would guide me on dangerous quests where that wondrous weapon enabled me to battle mystical beasts, and assist in removing the curse set upon her—typically a magical concealment of her true identity (some kind of lost fairy queen, gifted sorceress, or she-warrior). The theme often had a similar structure—a girl who secretly was special and full of strength, but for some reason was hidden and unseen by everyone ( save me).

  Rainy afternoons were my favorite. Sheltered under her stairs, we would consume hours attempting to out-scare each other with wild stories. Matilda invariably won, but she always listened to my stammers with earnest, wide eyes, and provided enthusiastic comments and suggestions for plot turns.

  Matilda’s house was inflicted with a chronic case of chaos and acute clutter, but the piles of laundry and old newspapers did nothing to dampen our endeavors at having fun. Her father was a withdrawn man who worked a lot (and spent too many late nights out at a bar, according to my mother’s complaints). He pretty much let Matilda do whatever she wanted. There were not any restraints within those walls—no one to yell when you did not pick up after yourself, or when you made too much noise re-enacting a scene from “Knight Rider”. Yet, there never was a parental voice to interrupt your play with offers of Kool-aid and balogne sandwiches either.

  We were on fifth-grade winter vacation the morning that I trudged through the slush over to Matilda’s house—anticipating the completion of our construction of a snow-fort. As I knocked on her splintered door, I inspected the donated Christmas tree that was still bound in wire, and propped against the porch where it had been left several days before. I played with the frothy puffs of air that appeared out of my mouth, and became increasingly curious when I did not hear Matilda’s customary eager steps pounding through the house. The sharp cold attacking my nose prompted me to turn-back towards my own warm home, but just as I began to descend the front steps, her door opened. She blinked at me with sleepy eyes, her chestnut hair even more disorderly than normal. I was startled to see that she was still wearing her Spiderman pajamas, but before I could tease her on it, she turned back into the house without saying a word, leaving the door open in an invitation to follow.

  I scrambled in behind her, and deposited my layers of winter clothing (that my mother insisted that I could not survive without) on the already tumultuous floor. When Matilda led me into the under-stairs alcove that was lit only with a small lamp, I expected her to launch into a new story. Instead, she plopped herself onto a cushion stolen from her living room sofa, and wrapped a faded flannel blanket about herself protectively. Her eyes trailed to an open album spread before her.

  I seated myself across from her, and then fidgeted with the long-strands of yarn attached to the shag carpet. As I combed, and meticulously lined-up the bright-yellow threads, I worried that Matilda’s out-of-character sullenness was something like what my mother said caused my older sister’s moods. It scared me to realize that Matilda really was a girl. I had never considered the matter before—she was nothing like the doll-huggers from school. She could spit farther then me, and out-run any of the other boys in our neighborhood. Barefoot.

  Un-nerved by the silence, I leaned over to look at the album. They were pictures I had never seen before…of a pretty blonde toddler dressed in a red velvet dress; her cheeks flushed like fat apples. Each picture depicted the girl opening a different gift, and a kind-faced woman who had glossy, dark hair was constantly by her side—assisting to remove the layers of shiny paper. I followed Matilda’s eyes to the bottom of the right-hand page, and the last visible photo. The child was pictured again, her hands and impish face squeezed tight in glee. Various gift bows were stuck to the down of her baby-fine hair, and she was seated on the woman’s lap, caught in a tight loving hug. Slowly, I realized that the child was Matilda, and I felt pretty bad for taking so long to recognize her. Her hair had darkened, and well….the disheveled girl before me had little resemblance to the plump, immaculate toddler in the pictures.

Is that your mother?” I asked her quietly. She nodded, and a hand escaped the blanket to slowly trace the shape of the woman’s face. I shifted, taking a tight grip on the thick carpet…. unsure how to handle the awkwardness of the situation. Matilda had never spoken about her mother before—save for wild fantasies involving magical queens and super heroes. I really had never put much thought into the matter. All I knew, was what my mother had told me a long time ago—that Matilda’s mother had died, and that it was not polite to talk about it. Curiosity erased my mother’s sharp face, and careful cautions from my mind.

She’s pretty.”

  Matilda’s hazel eyes raised, easing my discomfort by finally revealing an ember of interest. “ Really?” She asked, looking back down at the frozen images with admiration.

Sure,” I answered. “ She looks like she was a lot of fun. Was the weeble-wobble play-ground a present from her?” I absently pointed, and drew her attention to a photo shot under the massive, white-flocked tree that was smothered in clumps of crumpled tinsel. The lights on the tree (the huge kind with painted bulbs that get really hot), had interfered with the flash of the camera, resulting in streaks of light surrounding Matilda’s mother’s bent head. Coupled with the tender expression on her face, to my young mind, the lights made her look like one of the angels painted on the walls of my Sunday school classroom.

  A soft smile crept across Matilda’s smudged face—wrinkling yesterday’s attempt of a star tattoo that had been drawn near her left eye with a purple magic-marker. I recognized the distant look in her eyes that initiated every story she told.

Yeah, she was fun,” she explained. “ She use to sing a lot…like while cooking. There was this silly song about a sleepy rabbit she would sing when she tucked me in for bed.”

  Matilda’s voice paused, and her face tightened in thought. “I wish I could remember how that song went.” She thought some more, then hummed a couple lines, but gave up…. dissatisfied with the results.

I use to love it when she vacuumed, ‘cause she would let me stand on the machine, and then push me about while making car sounds. And sometimes,” she continued, “ We would eat lunch off of my toy china, and she would pretend to feed graham crackers to my Raggedy Anne doll.”

  I watched Matilda closely as she fell into another round of memory-searching silence. After a while, it was broken with an unexpected detonation of laughter. I looked at her curiously as she rocked on her cushion, hiccuping between her giggles from lack of air. She gave me a sheepish expression, as if just realizing that she had not shared the cause of humor with me. Gaining control of herself, she let the blanket fall to the carpet, and leaned forward so that her elbows rested on her thighs, and her face pressed towards mine.

One time,” Matilda began, “ She made this play-dough for me out of flour, salt, and water. We used cutters to shape the dough like ginger-man cookies, and then we decorated, and baked them so that they looked real. After dinner, she sent me out to Dad with a whole plate of them—and he really ate one! You should have seen his face! He tried to eat it, thinking that the cookies were real, and was afraid he would hurt our feelings if he told us that the cookies were bad. Mama laughed so hard that she cried.”

  The image of her happy mother was easy to visualize as Matilda resumed her laughter and rocking, threatening to loose her position on the cushion. Imagining her quiet father in that predicament caused me to combine my own laughter with hers.

  Wiping at her eyes, and then pushing back at her tangled-hair, Matilda’s smile did not falter as she proceeded to share another memory. “She smiled all the time too, no matter what. Even when her hair started to fall out on her pillow, she smiled.”

  I stopped laughing, startled at the picture she had just presented, and at first I wondered if I had heard her wrong. I thought of asking her to explain, but her soft voice rambled on, and soon had me thinking of other matters.

When they had to take off one of her legs, they brought her home from the hospital in a wheel chair. I was only four, so at first it really scared me, and I cried because it hurt to see her like that—you know?” Matilda looked up at me, but continued before I could answer.

She wiped my tears off, and told me that there was no reason to feel sad. She said that she had traded her leg in so that she could have the special chair—because wheels were much more fun to move around on than plain old walking. I remember that she pulled me onto her lap, and gave me rides around the kitchen to prove to me how much fun she was having. When I asked if I could give one of my legs to have a chair with wheels too, she laughed and gave me a hug. She told me that I wouldn’t have to because she would share hers.”

Matilda’s face darkened, and she whispered in a tight, diminutive voice, “I miss her.”

She bit her lower lip as her eyes glazed with hot tears. “Mama told me that she was going to have to go away, and that when she did, she didn’t want me to cry… or to be sad. I didn’t understand what she meant by going away. I thought it was like one of those trips to the hospital, and so I promised her that I wouldn’t.” Struggling with her words, Matilda attempted to wipe away the failure of her promise with the back of her hands.

When Grandma dressed me in a new, dark dress, and lectured me on how little girls are ‘pose to behave, I thought I was being taken to the hospital to visit Mama again, and I couldn’t wait to show her all the presents everyone had been giving me—even though it wasn’t my birthday. But she wasn’t in the hospital. She was in a cold, black box—shiny like my Mary-Jane shoes. When I tried to lean out of Dad’s arms to ask her why she was sleeping in such a strange place, he pulled me back, and covered my mouth. He told me that Mommy had gone away, and that she wouldn’t ever be able to wake-up. After that, all I remember is not believing him, and calling out for her to tell him that he was wrong—and then I was taken away, and I never saw her again.”

  Matilda’s head drooped, and she hid her face and shaking shoulders from me with her uneven hair.

  I didn’t know what to say to her. It was Matilda who was always brave and strong—not me. Looking at her, and thinking of what she had just shared with me, I realized where it was that Matilda had received her spunk—that creative nature that lured me to her. I told her what I thought, and the comparison to her mother caused a slow smile to claim her tear-streaked face. She gazed at the photos for a while longer, still wearing that dreamy smile…. leaving me to sit in silence in that alcove where in future years she would give me my first lessons in kissing.

  After a time, she looked-up, and treated me to one of her crazy, illusory tales—as if nothing out of normal had passed.

  She never really spoke about her mother again, but occasionally over the years, I would spy that photo album open on the bed. The picture of her sitting on her mother’s lap eventually appeared tucked within her wallet. For Matilda, that woman who had so briefly been in her life was the light that inspired her—just as Matilda will always be mine.