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A Fresh Start After a COVID Year

Hi, Everyone!

Longtime blog subscribers: Thank you for hanging in there with me while I stepped away from my blog and as we all persevered through the past year.

New subscribers: Thank you for your interest in my work. With so much to read online, my aim is for my writing to be worthy of your reading time.

Sadly, the 2020 pandemic, and all that came along with it, deflated my desire to write. I also lost interest in reading. Crazy, I know. Even more, the crisis cut out the occasions we had to interact with others, which so often are my sparks for new stories. You probably felt this yourself — a lack of motivation and inspiration for partaking in activities that once were a daily and enjoyable part of your life.

How are you feeling now? With the advent of 2021, I still felt the motivation lack, but I also came to understand that things will never be the same. With that, I decided it was time to jump back into my blog writing even though I didn’t yet have a plan or any new writing to share. Of course, as soon as I made that decision, my creativity began to flow, and here we are today with my first blog post in over a year.

What’s funny is that, when I read through my personal Facebook posts from 2020, I saw that I was writing throughout the pandemic. I shared plenty of stories; 2020 was a unique and fascinating year, and we all had much to discuss.

Starting with a new and improved website is a good kickstarter. I read through my six years of blog posts and kept only a few for the launch. The Candela WordPress theme has a unique portfolio display, and the cleanness of its layout and typography made it my pick. When you visit my home page, you will see a portfolio set of my work displayed by type. I will add regularly to the work samples that you’ll find in the set. As my portfolio increases, the work will give anyone who visits a clear idea of my creative style.

Click here to see the portfolio/home page. Once there, you can either click on the featured work or click on a portfolio type to see my writing collection and samples. For example, click here to see my Fiction portfolio page. More to come!

On the home page is a menu icon (three bars) you can click to visit my About, Subscribe, Contact, and other website pages.

Currently, I am not active on social media for my writing, but that may change. I will add links via the website if I do jump back into that type of media. In the past, I posted frequently to Instagram and Twitter — entertaining but time-consuming.

Many of you let me know how much you enjoyed my first Story of the Month (SOTM). This is a self-challenge to bring you a solid work of writing each month, fiction and non-fiction. For now, I will use themes associated with each month or perhaps something newsworthy. My first story, published last Sunday, has an Easter theme. The month of May will highlight motherhood. I plan to have a lot of fun writing these stories, and I hope you will enjoy reading them. Click here to see my SOTM page that includes my first, along with teasers for early 2021 months that I will add later to fill out the beginning of the year.

How’s that for a fresh start? It’s good to be back. Let me know in the comments how things have been going for you during this pandemic.

April Story of the Month: I Heard the Clouds Say Something That Easter Morn

Easter Sunday, Late 1960s

The Lowe Family did not miss church on Easter Sunday.

Mom and Dad didn’t think twice about skipping it every other Sunday of the year, but attending the Easter service was a must do. It was like they figured the liveliness of Spring stirred God into bursting from his year-long patience with them. It was time to get into the pews before they felt his wrath.

Plus there was that whole “sin” and “Jesus died, but he’s alive” thing that they told us Easter was all about.

Mom and Dad had both been brought up to know God and the Christian faith. They shared those beliefs with us (me and five other siblings) in unique ways. For example, Mom told us that all the bad things we did until we were teenagers counted as sins against her. We felt crummy about that. So, Mom had a flock of well-behaved children; we lived in fear of being responsible for her being sent to hell.

I love my Mom and Dad. With all that life had handed to them, at least they tried. Besides the guilt they felt for not attending church throughout the year, perhaps they thought sitting under a fire-breathing pastor on Easter Sunday would burn off the thick layers of sin we had piled on all year.

As a child, Christmas was our main celebration of Christianity. My mother loved Jesus through her Christmas celebrations, and she made sure her children did, too. My young self cared little about my parents’ guilty feelings and only a bit more about Jesus’ death on the cross. Better than that, Easter meant new clothes and shoes, and the tangy smell of vinegar. Boiling water steamed up the windows and we’d draw pictures with our fingers. There was that miracle of colored drops transforming a stupid egg into a thing of beauty. That was Easter for me.

The Lowe kids looked sharp as usual on that Easter Sunday: Three girls in frilly dresses and pressed hair, and three boys in button-down shirts and pressed pants.

As we climbed into the car, I noticed the clouds. Cotton candy thick, the type that stirred a child’s thoughts and imagination. They were not unusual for the season, but on that particular morning, when I looked at those clouds, I felt like their fullness and brilliance were saying something to me. Something about God.

And right then I wondered: Did God ever think about me?

The preacher’s sermon was about Nicodemus, and he would shout and pound on the podium when he said the name:

Nicodemus! He came to Jesus at night.

Nicodemus! Didn’t want nobody seeing him there.

Nicodemus! You must be born again, Jesus said. Nicodemus!

He went on and on about this man who was afraid of his friends and didn’t understand a mystery. I wasn’t impressed: Okay, so, this Nicodemus man believed in Jesus. Good for him. I want my Easter basket. When will this be over?

And then the preacher started talking about Jesus coming back, and that Jesus would use the clouds to get here.

Clouds? I perked up.

“He died, YES! he rose, YES! and one day, I said, ONE day he will return!”

Return?

“To take you home to heaven, children!”

Heaven?

“He’s coming in the CLOUDS, brothers!”

The clouds? I looked out the window.

“In clouds of GLO-ry, sisters!”

Sisters? Me?

I had heard it all before, but this time that return in those clouds to take me sounded both scary and … wonderful.

The preacher was a sight. He was yelling about a rapture and a new earth, and he was taking throaty breaths between sentences, and he was slapping the podium, harder, harder, faster, faster, like it was the devil telling him to stop preaching, stop it, STOP IT!

Because someone’s heart was being moved.

“The Crazy Part” was my childish name for what came next. Everyone started singing with the choir. Men, women, and children were up, clapping, shifting, and stomping. Soon the Lowes were, too. It was infectious. Since church wasn’t the norm, I was a bit wary of acting that way in God’s house, like it was our living room with the Top 40 hits blasting from the radio.

The piano player was moving side to side, his shoulders working into a chunky rhythm of soulful song. Women were hopping on one leg, up and down the aisle and in the front of the pews, doing that dancing, “slain in the Spirit,” where those women would let go and let God.

This both frightened and humored me, especially when the old ladies fell to the ground, shaking and writhing and screaming. And I was embarrassed because they were sharing all of their female garments while they were down there. They didn’t seem to care. I looked at Mom, her eyes focused straight ahead on the preacher like nothing unusual was happening.

My brothers and sisters were trying hard not to laugh because we knew to whom that sin would go.

Soon the fans were fanning and the women were settled. The congregation was excused. The Lowe Family had appeased their God for another year.

We went home to the Easter baskets and all was well. Except, I kept thinking about those clouds. I walked to my bedroom and went to the window.

I looked out.

The afternoon sun was shining through the clouds just so. Majestic, soft and inviting. Glory!

Was he coming today?

I tried to imagine what home would be like in heaven. “Happy” was the word that settled in my heart. Things in my earthly home had not been going well. Mom and Dad were yelling, cussing, hitting, throwing. They talked about Jesus like he was something special, but their lives showed me another story.

I stayed there by the window, nesting in the hope of a safe and happy Day. Then the clouds moved on and I gave in to the enticement of kitchen smells and sibling voices.

Things were back to normal. Dad was fixing lunch and singing along with the radio. Mom was in the yard with a cigarette and a neighbor. Brothers and sisters were in front of the television, satisfied with their jelly beans and marshmallow bunnies. I grabbed my basket and joined them.

Easter Sunday. Tomorrow’s Monday.

It took me decades of selfishness and sorrow, topped with the frustrations of motherhood, to finally listen to a God who deserved my attention. When I made the great exchange at age 30, and gave my life to Jesus Christ for his, I remembered that cloudy Easter morn. Through the clouds, the preacher, the singing, the rolling-around old ladies — even our rare church attendance — Jesus the Risen Savior had been calling my name.

My greatest regret is that I did not answer him sooner.

But drops of grief can ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe;
Here, Lord, I give myself away;
‘Tis all that I can do.

(From the hymn “Alas, and Did My Saviour Bleed?” by Isaac Watts, 1707)

Ode to Bandit (And Beloved Animals Everywhere)

One year ago today, I made the sad announcement that my beloved Bandit had died.

Journal Entry, 2/27/19 AM: “Bandit is not doing well. Please take him, Lord, to end his suffering.”

February 27, 2019. The day was cold, and it was raining hard. Bandit was 14 years old, had lost a lot of weight, and could barely walk. But that morning, while he was outside — he did love to play in the rain — Bandit found the strength to make his way through a fully-fenced backyard in search of a solitary place to die.

When I arrived home from work, the rain was still coming down, as it had been all day. Then, I heard the news. Bandit had not been seen since 10:00 that morning.

It is safe to say that I went into a bit of shock. When I left Bandit that morning, he had spent thirty minutes in my arms. Yes, I had prayed to God for his suffering to end, but I could not have imagined that his taking would be in such a heartbreaking way. When I heard that Bandit was lost, my mind saw him in terrible ways: lying under a bush, alive, cold and soaked, still suffering and near death; dead and covered with the things that crawl from the earth to consume corpses; and worst — dead, in the middle of some nearby street, picked to pieces by crows.

I cried loudly as I rushed through the front and back yards, peering under bushes and cars, calling his name, all to no avail. I tried to pull myself together as I called the City animal shelter and gave Bandit’s description.

My dear neighbors, Tom and Nancy, placed a “Lost Animal” report in NextDoor to get the word out in the area.

Nothing.

Journal Entry, 2/27/19 PM: Love that cat so much. I hope he isn’t suffering. God sent that cat to me during the horrible days of divorce, when I felt lonely and rejected. Bandit was so affectionate from Day One and to the end. I knew the end was near. Still, I wanted him to die in my arms — not alone.

That evening was the first time in decades I had trouble sleeping. Where was Bandit? I assumed he was dead. The worst part of it was not knowing what he had gone through and where he had died. It cut into my heart like a twisting knife.

Journal Entry, 2/28/19 PM: He’s in God’s hands — that’s where. Peace in that, but sad that he’s not here while he’s so old and frail. Strange how things change in a blink. God allowed this bit of tragedy. One of the saddest days of my life. I miss him. I wonder why God took him from me in this way. I want to bury his little body if it’s somewhere outside.

We love our pets like they are members of the family, don’t we?

Bandit had become a star on Facebook, with his feline perfection and ability to give me great joy. I received many comments of condolence. How is it that a human being can be so in love with a creature who can only speak to you with a lick to the face or a paw to the cheek — or a purr as he nestles, for the last time, in your lap, enjoying your hand-strokes across his fur, and looks up at you with complete adoration while you wonder what you did to deserve such unconditional love.

Journal Entry, 3/1/19 PM: SOMEONE FOUND BANDIT!! The Cat and Bird Clinic left a message for me in response to the lost ad. A woman found him Wed AM and took him to the clinic. Thank you, God! Bandit had not been outside very long. The clinic put him on an IV, but he died there on Thursday, 2/28/19. So grateful to God that He led a person to Bandit, and that he was with people dedicated to helping cats specifically. I will never be able to give back to God what He gave me by providing a safe, warm, loving place for my beloved Bandit to die if he couldn’t be with me.

Bandit had been in God’s hands, and I knew that he would be, but this? As I spoke with the clinic, I imagined the expert treatment and care that Bandit received there. What’s more, the woman who found him PAID for the care. I mumbled my thanks through bittersweet tears, and said I would mail a check to reimburse the kind woman.

Bandit was cremated there.

Journal Entry, 3/3/19 AM: Last night I dreamed that Bandit was here, but I was the only one who could see him.

Last week, one of our students came to school in tears. Her pet dog had died, and she was visibly sad the entire day. I was able to speak with her about Bandit and how I was still mourning him a full year after his death. She said, “I’m so sorry,” and I know she completely understood. We consoled each other over the loss of good friends.

During lunch that day, I pulled out my novel and came to the chapter where the family had agreed to keep a lost dog. I was astonished as I read this: “Mma Ramotswe was touched by the sight. There was something particularly appealing, she thought, about children lavishing care on an animal. They were repaying, in a way, the love and care given to them, showing that the message that we should look after one another had not fallen on stony ground. A child who loved a pet was showing the love that would in due course be given to another, and that was a reassurance. Love was like rain: there could be periods of drought when it seemed that love would never return, would never make its presence felt again. In such times, the heart could harden, but then, just as droughts broke, so too could love suddenly appear, and heal just as quickly and completely as rain can heal the parched land.” (From Precious and Grace, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Series, #17, by Alexander McCall Smith)

“They were, in a way, repaying the love and care given to them.” As a child of God, I felt as if I was receiving a lesson from Him through this author’s beautiful words. My love for Bandit was another way for me to “repay” the love and care God has given to me. Bandit was a gift, and loving him was thanking the Giver. With that, I shall always remember my beloved Bandit as one who gave me the opportunity to show love for my awesome God.

Journal Entry 3/5/19 AM: I miss Bandit’s presence. A sweet creature to pour love and care into — now I can give that to someone else. Whom shall it be?

Maybe it’s time to “repay” God again in this way. Kitten or adult cat? [Update: I adopted a cat in March 2020, right when COVID hit!]

Children, Cookies, and Frank in Uganda

I was sweeping the front sidewalk when three boys approached me.

“Hi! Would you like to buy a cookie to support Frank?”

Who??

They presented their “Support Frank” flyer. No misspelled words. Good grammar. Neat handwriting. And the boys were so polite and well versed as they told me about Frank and his dire circumstances. They even had a bowl of cookie bites for me to sample before buying. Genius!

“How much?” I asked.

“Well, the price is pretty steep. Two dollars each.”

“That is steep. But I’m not only paying for a cookie, right?”

“Right!”

“I’m paying to support …”

“Frank! Yeah!”

“What are your names?” They told me. “I’m Mrs. McDavid. I live right here, so be sure to stop by and let me know how Frank’s support is going.”

One of the boy was looking at me quizzically. “Hey! I think I know you! From Laguna Blanca!”

He told me his name. Sure enough, I recognized him as a former student. How could I forgot the little redhead? He was visiting his friend who lives in the neighborhood.

We chatted about how things were going for him at his new school. Then, I got an idea.

“I’ll be right back.” I went inside, grabbed some money and my cellphone, and returned to the boys, who were still smiling and waiting patiently for this old lady.

“Can I take a photo of Frank? I want to remember who I’m supporting.”

They thought that was pretty cool.

“Okay, now. Here’s two dollars for my expensive cookie.”

“Thank you” after “Thank you” came freely from the boys. Genuine and appreciative.

“Oh, wait,” I said, and with much drama I pulled a five dollar bill from my pocket. “More for Frank because you boys are so nice!”

That floored them. “Wow!” and “Thank you!” and “Really?”

I was having a thoroughly great time with this, and the boys didn’t seem to mind my silliness as we talked about my money trick. However, it was time to get back to my yard work.

“Goodbye, friends! I’m proud of you! I hope you get a lot of support for Frank!”

They started to leave, but my redhead friend stopped and said, with a hint of concern, “Would you like another cookie for that?”

This time it was I who was floored.

“No, no, no. Keep it all for Frank.”

They waved and left, and I thought about the innocence of youth. Thank God for it.

When I saw the trio headed for a neighbor’s door, I yelled, “Tell them Darla sent you!”


Thumbs up to the parents of these gems! The homemade cookie was delicious, too!

But Now She Sees

I had the privilege of singing “Amazing Grace” this afternoon at the memorial service for a dear woman and longtime member of my church. Rosemary was 97 when she died. Her losses of hearing and sight began when she was in her fifties.

To end the hymn, I planned to repeat the first verse, the last line being “Was blind but now I see” — a reference to the author’s spiritual change after becoming a Christian.

But it turns out that God wanted something different. For when it came time for me to sing that last line, the words we all heard instead were — through no prior thought of my own — “She was blind, but now she sees.”

My voice shook and tears fell as I sang those words directly to Sue, Rosemary’s daughter, from whom I sensed a beautiful peace. I cannot adequately describe this precious moment, but I hope you get at least some idea from what I write here.

Rosemary sees. After 40 years. Now. In heaven gazing clearly at her God with love and awe.

I tell you, there is no greater joy for me than singing the Truth.