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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.

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!]

What Moved Me the Most About Hidden Figures Didn’t Happen on the Screen

Hidden Figures poster

The man at the box office appeared unsure when I told him I was the guest of a VIP.

“Hmm. What’s your name?” He checked his list, found my name, and gave me a look that conveyed “Should I know you?”

I played along and gave him my best movie star smile. “I have a friend on her way. Please be sure she is given a seat if I’m inside when she arrives.”

The December day was gorgeous — sunny and warm as usual in this part of the country. As I waited in front of the theater, I noticed a woman staring at me. After an awkward few minutes of smiling at each other, she approached me. I did not recognize her, and my mind started doing that “going through the faces file” thing. Nope. She was not there.

“Hello,” I said. That was as good an icebreaker as I could come up with at the moment. Who is this woman, and why is she looking at me like that? Is it the boots? I shouldn’t have worn the boots. Too casual for a VIP event?

“Hello!” Big smile. “Do you need a ticket? If you’re trying to get in, I can give you a ticket.” Another big smile. It looked almost motherly.

“Uh, no. I’m good.” I did consider telling her that I was Kevin and Christine Costner’s guest, but I decided to keep that little nugget to myself.

We chatted about the movie and our good fortune to attend a private screening before its release. I chose to turn my thoughts away from the initial impression she gave me and tried to enjoy our conversation. “Where is Meredith?!?” did keep popping up in my thoughts, despite my efforts to keep it down.

“Do you know Oprah?” Out of the blue.

I took a deep mental breath. “Personally? No.”

“She lives here, you know.”

My deep breathing may or may not have been audible that time.

We continued with more chit-chat about Oprah, the weather, and other famous people who live in our city.

“I know someone who lived in the South.” Her eyes narrowed and she waited for me to let this sink in.

Uh-oh. Was this woman going to reveal a family secret to me? Cruel slave owners? A lynching? Cousins with mysteriously dark skin?

She continued. “I asked her ‘Do you have maids?’ She said yes! I asked her ‘Did they go inside the house through another door?’ She said yes! I could not believe it!” Her eyes were so wide and her voice was so loud that I completely believed that she could not believe it.

“The movie is about to begin. Please take your seats.” Saved by the announcement, I bid the woman farewell. My friend had not yet arrived, but I was glad for the opportunity to move into a dark theater where I supposed I would not stand out as much as I did outside.

The back row was perfect — my friend could find me easily when she arrived. Her text explained that she had ridden her bicycle across town to the wrong theater — my mistake! — and she was on her way.

I wondered about the life of that woman. Why did she feel the need to share with me the things that she did? I felt sorry for her. She was laying a few of her burdens on me in a way that revealed more about herself than she probably wanted to expose.

Scanning the audience, and comfortable in my seat, I noticed that I was the only black woman in the theater.

Three years ago this month, the story of three women was released as a movie. Hidden Figures introduced the world to Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughn — black women who worked as mathematicians for NASA during the Space Race, and used their fantastic minds to put a man into space and on the moon. The movie goes even further to show how these women were pioneers in the areas of racial equality and equal opportunity for black women.

I heard nothing about them while I was growing up during the decades in which these women performed their now-famous work. In school, I loved studying math and science. Yet the only black women that I recall receiving glory from the adults in my community were singers and social activists.

I chose singing.

Finally. I caught sight of my friend entering the theater. She hopped over the back railing to join me. After an introduction from the film festival’s moderator, and a teaser for Kevin Costner’s Q&A after the showing, the movie began.

There was much for me to love about Hidden Figures: Untold history; proof that a PG rating can catch and hold an audience; marriage honored throughout; the excellent acting and captivating storytelling; and, best of all, an ending that left the audience with cheering and uplifted hearts.

The audience rewarded it with a standing ovation, and I was sure that Hidden Figures would be nominated for an Academy Award. “Best Picture” was my hope. It was that good, that entertaining, that educational, that moving.

But something happened while I was watching the movie that is etched in my memory and my heart.

We were at the pivotal scene where Katherine Johnson finally lets her emotions take over to explain why she is away from her desk for long periods. She is at NASA in a room full of white men who have belittled and insulted her day after day.

The movie theater was silent as, through this scene, we all experienced — in one moment, at the same time — the hideous effects of racism.

Then, I heard it. I felt it. I looked to my left.

A older woman sitting next to me was shaking from her silent cry. I saw tears slowly rolling down her cheeks. She looked straight ahead, not once at me.

At that instant, I put aside the fact that I was the black person. I was the one who should be comforted, right?

Instead, I wrapped my arm around her shoulders. We each laid our head against the other’s.

“It’s not like this anymore,” I whispered. “It’s better now.” She did not reply, but that did not bother me.

It is hard to explain my emotions as I saw this woman’s grief. Suffice it to say that I felt a combination of pity, sadness, and love. For a stranger? Yes. For a white stranger? Yes. At a movie on the topic of racism? Yes. My God calls upon me to live this way.

I will never know what thoughts brought such sadness to that woman. She was up from her seat immediately after the credits.

Perhaps it was solely the power of the scene doing what it was designed to do.

Perhaps she remembered a past action which came back with a flood of guilt and regret.

Perhaps she had experienced an injustice herself — against her skin color, in her marriage, within a job position — and this scene was a reminder of a genuine hurt in her life.

Whatever it was, that woman’s silent cry was real, and it moved me. I will always connect her with this movie.

Later, as I remembered the woman I had met earlier in front of the theater, I realized she was crying silently as well, though in a hidden way of her own.

We all have a sad story to share. We all have hearts that can listen and empathize. If you haven’t seen Hidden Figures, please find a copy and watch it. Be moved by the story, and then make it your goal to be moved to help the hidden figures in your own life.

Here is the scene that evoked the tears, along with the following scene which shows Al Harrison (Costner’s character) and his reaction to Katherine’s revelation:

Katherine’s reply to Harrison’s question “Where the hell do you go every day?”

2020: I Can See Clearly Now

Happy New Year!

Flashback.

December 31, 1999, 11:55 p.m., stiff chair, home office:

Picture me in front of my Gateway computer, watching the digital clock tick off the minutes. I was alone and anxious. At midnight, the Year 2000 (Y2K) problem would either occur or not. If the experts were correct, my computer, their computers, the entire world’s computer systems would fail.

An event like that would be disastrous for me. You see, up to and including that very moment, 1999 had been a disturbing year:

  • In January, my husband came home for lunch one day. He let me know he did not want to be married to me anymore. 
  • He left, but half of the “marriage debt” that we legally shared did not. I had been a stay-at-home-wife/mom. Now I was on my own with a 10-year-old son and a typing service with two clients. Rent, food, utilities, and the debt from the marriage — there was more money due than I had coming in. Thank God for child support laws.
  • I gave my typing service an overhaul and called it a secretarial and design business. I worked brutal hours to get it established and gained a good stable of clients. Transcription, graphics, resumes, spreadsheets — without a working computer, I would not have a business. 
  • In November, my mother died of cancer at the age of 68.

And there I was, New Year’s Eve 1999, staring at my computer, after a year like no other, and with the world on the edge of sci-fi-esque destruction simply because a coder didn’t think about a new millennium.

Fast forward. 

December 31, 2019, 11:00 p.m., comfortable sofa, living room:

I am typing on a MacBook Air, which is pretty much the size of my old Gateway’s keyboard with about a million times the power. Twenty years have zipped by:

  • Today we laugh about Y2K.
  • I did not remarry. In the early days of the divorce, I felt that, as a woman, I was deficient in every way. After a pitiful time of trying to convince myself otherwise, I prayed that God would help me to remember who I was in His eyes. He did. That was the beginning of my total satisfaction with being a God-dependent woman. I think men are wonderful, but having time and space all to myself is a gift — definitely not for everyone, but it has been God’s plan for me. 
  • (Side Note: Recently, a co-worker asked me if I had a boyfriend. “No, I don’t. I haven’t had a boyfriend since I met my ex-husband forty years ago.” I gave her my divorce details and ended with this summary: “You really can enjoy the company of men without sleeping with them.” I don’t know if the women who were listening bought into that bit of wisdom, but they all nodded their heads — thoughtfully, at least from what I could tell. Perhaps a little shocked? I laugh when I think of that conversation.)
  • When my son began high school, I retired my business and took on jobs as an administrative assistant. For over a decade, I have enjoyed a steady income and — hallelujah! — company-paid medical insurance. Self-employment is fulfilling, but it is tough to keep your finances in the black when you live in an expensive town and don’t have a second income for the household to enjoy. 

Through it all is God. Present, knowing, unchanging, loving, and forgiving. God carried me and set me down in perfect places, though many of those places would not have been my choices. When I think back on these 20 years of heartbreak, joy, and everything in between, I can see clearly — with a spiritual 2020 vision — that God was, is, and always will be in control of my life, allowing and withholding in ways that He sees best for His purposes, His glory, and my good.

Writing stories, serving my employer, suffering through illnesses, laughing with family, watching loved ones die, or celebrating in a friend’s joy: I want to see and do all of life through God’s eyes, and with the clarity that these past 20 years of His faithfulness give to me.

What is your 2020 vision, goal, focus, hope?

The beautiful art in the photo was created by Cassandria Blackmore, my glass-shattering friend. Visit her website to see more of her awesome work.

“Your Blog Helps Me” — A Precious Message From a Reader

From July 2018:

“Hi, Darla —

Just wanted to say hi and say I’ve missed reading your blog. Or rather to ask if you have not been writing it. I rarely comment, but I love your writing and subject matters. I especially loved the post about your hero, your brother. It moved me (I keep it to re-read occasionally). I had an awful childhood, lousy youth, life-threatening automobile accident at 21 that changed my life, tried to commit suicide, and then was saved. Had a wonderful 36 years with my wonderful husband and suddenly lost him to multiple myeloma and horrible doctor care. Then I crashed and 16 years later I’m trying not to waste what little time I have left. Your blog helps me. Anyway, hope you are doing well and enjoying life.

All the best,
[Reader’s Name]”

Your blog helps me.” I responded right away to her message. I told her that, after a time of focusing on other things and having website technical issues finally solved, I was planning to return soon to sharing my stories. Inspired by her words, I looked towards 2019 with a sparkle in my eye.

December 2018 was a good month. The printed, first draft of a novel was in my hands. My 2019 list of goals was long, organized, and exciting. It was time to get my writing life restarted. On January 1, 2019, I posted an adorable photo of my nephew, which I hoped would inspire all of us for the new year.

Before the end of that month, though, news arrived that put a stop to everything I had planned. I felt like a deflated balloon and lost all desire to create. Writing stories and blogging moved over to my “Maybe Someday” list.

But here we are now, close to the end of the year. The January shock has turned into a gift of greater faith. One day I might share that story. For now, my plan is to return to storywriting in 2020, knowing absolutely that my words may help someone.

Two days after Thanksgiving, I tracked down and reread that email from July 2018. Her words struck me this time in a familiar and more powerful way.

I hit “Reply” and typed a message to let her know I had not forgotten her words, and that I was on my way back to sharing stories.

My message returned with a reply: “The email account that you tried to reach does not exist.”

I double-checked the email address. No, I had not made a mistake.

And so:

Dear Friend:

If you see this post, please know that I treasure your message. I hope that you are still checking my blog now and then, and find that I have returned to writing. I feel honored to know that my stories helped you through your life challenges. Though 2019 was a particularly troublesome year for me, I am confident that God will help both of us to move forward in whatever it is that He wants us to accomplish in 2020.

Sincerely,

Darla