The Secret {A Tall Tale Told with Love}

Samantha Hollis slumped under the weight of her backpack as she stepped off the school bus onto Worthington Way. Her door was three houses up the street on the left, next door to Mrs. O’Tool. She had to walk right past her house to get to her own. Her steps quickened and she tucked her head down as she walked. Her parents had not yet arrived home, so she could go to her room, shut the door, and bury her face in her pillow. Hopefully, that would cause her to suffocate and she would never have to live another day. She had her doubts about that, though. A person couldn’t smother themselves, could they? The desire to breathe would be too strong to overcome! She knew she’d end up jerking her head up from the pillow and gasping for air. By then, the pillow would be soaked with her own tears. Her mother would come home from work, ask her what happened, she would tell her, her mother would look concerned, maybe even sad or worried. Her mother couldn’t solve her problems. Nor could her father. Even though they both loved her with all of their hearts. Who could take away a broken heart? She thought God could, but, she’d been sad for a while, and God hadn’t taken it away.

Her thoughts swirled in her head as she stared down at her feet. She felt a presence as she passed Mrs. O’Tool’s house. She looked up quickly and down again. She saw the gray haired woman snapping beans on her front porch.

“G’day to ya, young Samantha!” Her Irish accent was soothing, so Sam looked up at her again, slowing her steps gradually.

“How about you comin’ over for a cookie or two? I got ’em just a minute ago outta the oven!” She set the pan of beans to the side and stood, holding up the corners of her apron, not wanting to spill the snapped off green bean ends in her lap.
“Oh, that’s okay, I gotta get home.”
“Nonsense!” Mrs. O’Tool smiled, “It’s just an empty house, and there’s time for a break before homework, aye?”
“Well…okay.” Sam smiled weakly. “I suppose I’ve got time for a cookie.”
“Thatta girl!” Mrs. O’Tool discarded the ends of the beans and opened up the wooden screen door, leading the way for Samantha. The door smacked the wooden frame loudly, but it didn’t bother Mrs. O’Tool, she was humming as she went to the kitchen. Samantha had been in her house before. She used to come a lot, but now that she’d entered the sixth grade, there wasn’t much time for visiting old ladies who made cookies and had doilies all over the place.

“Come sit yourself down.” Mrs. O’Tool pulled out a white wooden chair from her butcher top table. The legs scraped the floor. Samantha set her backpack on the floor by the chair and propped one elbow on the table, her hand under her chin. She sighed and then felt the tears welling up. By the time Mrs. O’Tool turned around, Samantha’s head was down on her arms and her tears flowed freely.

“Now, now, dear Samantha,” Mrs. O’Tool said as she scraped the legs of another chair along the floor and planted herself next to the girl, “whatever is the matter?” She patted Sam’s back and pulled her red hair up from around her face.

“Oh, I’m okay, I’m sorry, Mrs. O’Tool. It’s not you or anything…I should go.” Sam stood to leave, but Mrs. O’Tool would have none of that.

“Now, child, what kind o’ woman would I be to let a young girl run outta my house to her own empty one with herself all in tears?”

Sam blinked and wiped her cheeks.

“A bad one, that’s what kind!” She smacked her hand down on the table. “I certainly would not be a Christian woman, now would I? Now, suppose you go on and tell me what’s got cher heart breakin’ into tiny pieces before my very eyes?”

“Oh, it’s just that I don’t have any friends! I had a friend, but today…” she paused as she fought fresh tears “…today, I found out that she was making fun of me for wearing these clothes. She said I stank! She called me “Smelly Samantha” to another girl. She told her I was a silly, stupid good-goody. I don’t know why she’s doing this to me. Just last week, I invited her to spend the night and we went to church together. We had a good time and I thought maybe, maybe the Lord had given me a friend. Mother said if I ask God for a friend, He would give me one. I thought she was it, but…” new tears were flowing. Samantha’s face was splotchy. Mrs. O’Tool took a box of tissues from the counter and Sam wiped her eyes.
“You say, she was nice to you until you went to church?”
Sam nodded.
“What happened at church, Samantha? Something must’ve happened.”
“Nothing! She went with me to my Sunday School class and the preaching time. We ate lunch and went home. Nothing bad happened.”
“What was the lesson on, dear? In your class, I mean?”
“Just about how that saved people should live consecrated lives and that means to separate from sin.”
“Is your friend saved, does she know Jesus personally?”
Sam paused. “I think so.” she sniffed. “I asked her that Sunday, she seemed like she was.”
“Well, it could be that your friend just doesn’t know for sure and she’s embarrassed to tell ya so. Or, could be she or her family are livin’ in some kind of sin. I don’t think she meant to hurt ya, dear.”
“But, I thought she was my friend, I thought God answered my prayers, and now look! I’m right back where I was. I have no one!”
Mrs. O’Tool leaned back slowly. Her eyes stared off and they grew misty. Sam wiped her own nose and face.
After a moment of silence, Mrs. O’Tool spoke. “Well, dear, God doesn’t always work the way we’d like. We often hear about how God answers prayer for this or that or the other, but we don’t hear about when God says ‘no’. He does you, know. Sometimes, He says no.”
“Forever?”
“Well, how can it be forever for the child of God? One day, we’ll be with Him in Heaven! He’s already said ‘yes’ to that! What can a few no’s on Earth be compared to Heaven?”
Samantha was looking down. New tears came. “You mean I have no hope? God said no and I’m going to be miserable for the rest of my life?”
“No, child, no, that’s not what I’m sayin’ atall. Come with me.”
She followed her into the living room. The room was all white. White shelves with books and pictures, white walls with framed photographs and even white wicker furniture. She reached up and pulled down two pictures.
“These are my boys.” Mrs. O’Tool’s voice cracked and a tear slid down her cheek. My husband and I worked hard to raise them right. We sacrificed everything so that they could grow up in America, where dreams come true. We had trusted Christ when a missionary came to our village in Ireland and led a Bible study. We read the Bible and prayed everyday. We did our best to live right, Frank gave up the pubs and the pipe, I watched my mouth and worked on my own issues. Then, one day, we got the opportunity to come to America! How excited we were! Our two boys, ages three and four, would have the best! They did, too. We worked hard and they learned to work hard. Ah…they were fine boys, they were. And I’m not just a sayin’ that! They had their faults, but, they tried to do right. When the war came, I prayed that God would bring them back safely. But…” her voice broke. “God said ‘no’, Samantha. He took my boys within two months of each other.”

Samantha looked down, not knowing what a twelve year old could say to this news.

“I think my Frank died of a broken heart. He was never the same.” Mrs. O’Tool sniffed. “I haven’t been, either. I wanted to die, too, when my boys died. Then, one day, I was reading my Bible -somewhat against my own will – and I read about when God sent His only Son down to Earth to die for me. For me, Samantha! How could He do that? And, a better question, how could I hate God for taking my sons? He had given His all for me, why not I for Him?”

Samantha couldn’t speak. She felt a solitary tear running down her cheek and wiped it away.

“I don’t say this to seem massively spiritual, dear, not atall…I’m so far from it. I often ask God why, why both my boys? Why could I not see my grandchildren? And I often come before His feet and weep for loneliness and grief. He helps me, child, every time. He sends me a rainbow, or a kind note from a friend across the sea, or a song bird to cheer me up. I have a lot of white walls in my house, but I like the brightness of it, it cheers me and reminds me of how Christ turned my old black heart white and clean with His forgiveness.” She looked at the walls with pride. “And sometimes, Samantha, darling, when it’s all I can do to even break the stems from my green beans, He sends me a beautiful red-haired Christian friend to cheer me! He lets me have her in for cookies, talk with her, cry with her, and help her along the path which Christ has led me so carefully for these many years.”
“Me? You mean I helped you?”
“Yes, child, you have. I’d forgotten the secret, until you dropped by today.”
“The secret?”
“The secret to living for God till your old and gray.”
“What is it, Mrs. O’Tool?” Samantha asked wide-eyed and a bit embarrassed that she’d missed it.
“The secret isn’t really a secret, child, yet so many seem to forget it.” She bit her lip. “Like I did. The secret is the cross.”
Samantha’s face broke into a grin.
“When you think of our dear Savior, child, nothing seems too hard to do. He died in the worst way ever, He was mocked, He was left alone, He was treated so miserably by those who claimed to be ‘religious’. If He could keep going, cannot we, dear? We have His Holy Spirit and His Word to help us.”
Samantha suddenly felt no more anger, no more sadness, no more loneliness. She felt…good! She felt happy! After all, she had her parents who loved her, and Mrs. O’Tool. And best of all, she had Jesus. He would never leave her. Never.
“Yes, ma’am. I think you’re right.” She embraced the woman at the waist. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”
“For what dear? I’ve done nothing special.”
“Yes, you have. You told me the secret, and you know…you’re the answer to my prayers.”
Mr. O’Tool’s blue eyes gazed into the green eyes of her young friend and they hugged again.
“Now, how ’bout you eat the cookies I set out for you. I only wish I could make them warm for you, they’re best when they’re warm, you know.”
“Oh, I can warm them in your microwave!”
“You can? Won’t it blow them up or something?”
“Oh no, just punch in 8 to 10 seconds and they are nice and melty, just like fresh from the oven.”
“Well, now! What do you know! Let’s try it!”

And that’s just what they did.
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The Richest Lady I Know

Note: The following is a short story from my imagination during a recent bout of insomnia. Nothing below is true, all characters are fictional. Thank you. 🙂

I hurried my two oldest kiddos into the house from playing outside. The wind was blowing ferociously across our bare lawn. The heat had taken its toll, not to mention the two month long drought. What little grass left was brown and crunchy. But, what else could you expect from central Texas in summer? Just as I figured, the dirt had blown into the entry way from the kids going in and out! I’d have to sweep again. As I made my way through the house, I saw that blocks were on the floor; paper and crayons, too. Didn’t I just tell them to pick up? Suddenly, the wrinkles and blemishes in my entire home glared at me as though under a spotlight: The rug was worn, my rocker-recliner was threadbare and shabby. My dishes didn’t match, nor my flatware. My only wall decorations are some photos that are over two years old. How could I have Camille over? Why did she want to come by my house? She dripped of wealth. I’d seen her wear a fur coat before, and her husband’s suits were always the latest fashions. I never told her that we bought most of our clothes, including my husband’s suits, at Goodwill! Heavens, no! She’d laugh me outta my own house!

“Children! Get these blocks and art supplies off o’ this floor! Emily, get the vacuum and go over this living room floor. I told you children that my friend, Camille was coming over, now hurry, please!” I sounded tense, because I was. I had my special chicken supreme in the oven. I’d baked some cookies, praying all the while they wouldn’t burn, not today of all days. They didn’t, so I felt a slight tinge of relief. But the real stress hadn’t begun. They hadn’t even come yet! I just needed to get through this visit with Camille and Rick, then everything could fall apart. But not yet.

I ran into the bathroom for one last once over of myself. Yep, just as I thought, bags under my eyes, split ends, unpainted nails. I had hoped I might find a supermodel looking back at me, but no such luck.  I looked like myself, like a worn out Pastor’s wife. I patted my nose with a bit of powder, thinking back to days gone by. Camille and I had been good friends in school. We had so much in common. We dreamed of marrying good men, having families, getting jobs and “having it all” – family and money. Our paths took slightly different directions when I gave my life to Christ as a Senior in high school. Camille was happy for me, and claimed to know Christ as well, but she decided to stick with her plan to go to college and get that good paying job. She did it, too. She became an investment banker and met and married, Rick, a lawyer. They had a boy and a girl, a great house, nice cars – everything we had dreamed of as girls, Camille had gotten.

I met Jim at my church. We became friends, then much more. He had grown up in church and was such a godly man. I admired his walk with the Lord and couldn’t believe that a spiritual and good looking man would want me. We married after a brief engagement. I never went to college, but gave myself completely to my husband. He was called to the ministry, and I was called to him. I’d go to the ends of the earth with this man. We never had much money, and whenever we seemed to be getting ahead, I’d find out another addition to the family was on the way. The children were such a joy! I loved being home with them, reading to them, teaching them, loving them. I learned to sew and cook. I even took up cross stitching, something my high school self would have never done!

The baby’s crying shook me from my reverie. I ran to get him and on the way, I heard a knock on the door. I suddenly felt sick to my stomach. I glanced at the clock on the stove. An hour early! Emily had just finished vacuuming and was winding up the cord. “Emily! Hurry up, she’s here! Get that put away!” I barked. Trent, my oldest boy, swept past me without a care in the world. “Trent! Go wash your face!” I snapped in a loud whisper. He scooted off in the direction of the bathroom and I tried to compose myself as I went toward the door.

I smoothed my skirt and plastered on a weak smile.

“Ronni!!” The tall, blonde wearing a blue silk dress shrieked my nickname and made me jump.
“Camille! Come in! It’s so good to see you!” I lied. I felt my heart rate increase exponentially. I wanted the floor to open up and swallow me. She surely must feel as though she’s visiting a third world country.
She squeezed me in a warm embrace and I soon felt a bit more at ease.
“I haven’t been called that name in ages!” I laughed, while motioning her inside. “Hello, Rick. Good to see you.” He smiled and gave me a polite embrace. Naturally, my children came bursting in, with smiles and helloes. I worried what they might say, or ask!
“Why’d she call you ‘Ronni’?” My son inquired.
“OH! What an adorable little boy!” Camille exclaimed. “How old are you, dear?”
“I’m seven. I’ll be eight in two months, one week and three days.” Trent said.
I laughed. “But who’s counting, right?” I said with a nervous laugh.
“So, why’d she call you that?” He asked me, again.
“That’s what we all used to call your Mom in high school!” Camille explained. “It’s a nickname for Veronica.”
“I like ‘Veronica’ better.” He said.
“Emily, please get the baby out of his bed and change him for me. Before you go, Camille,” I said, turning to her, holding Emily around the shoulders, “this is my oldest, Emily.”
“What a beautiful girl!” Camille chimed.
“Thank you.” Emily replied, as though we’d drilled her on what to say. Which, we had.

I shooed the children into the bedroom to play so I could visit with my guests. I glanced at our bird clock – it made a bird call on the hour – to see that Jim wouldn’t be home for another 45 minutes, thinking they would be arriving then. He’d been up most of the night at the hospital with a family who’s teenager was in a car accident and was desperately needing to work on this Sunday’s sermons.

Camille did most of the talking. She told me all about our classmates (I hadn’t gone to the 20 year reunion last year) and what they were doing. The divorced ones – Trace and Jill Monroe, Bob and Susan Landon.  The poor ones if she only knew. About Sam Crowder who was in jail for forging checks. All the while, she never looked at Rick. He sat there, nodding agreement, making general comments now and then, but never really involved.

“Did you hear about Mr. Worthington, the principal?” She said, sitting up straighter.
“No.” I said “What about him?”
“Rick, go get that scrapbook outta the car for me.” She said without looking his way. Rick got up and headed for the door. Was that a look of disgust, or maybe it was just fatigue? I wasn’t sure.
As soon as Rick left, Camille, sighed. “Oh, I’m so glad he’s gone! He just sits here like a bump on a log. I’m surprised he’s not snoring, that’s usually what he does. We’d be divorced, too, if it weren’t for the kids. Kara is a senior this year and Jake is right behind her. When they’re gone, I’m gone!” She said in disgust.

“I’m so sorry!” I said with great concern. This news and attitude shocked me. She fiddled with her diamond wedding ring, nearly the size of a walnut.
“Well, you know, that’s how it goes.” She said, tossing her blonde curls. “He is just so boring. We’re in a major rut!” She rolled her eyes, then paused looking around at the family photos on the wall. “You’re kids certainly are cute. I could never do what you do, sit around the house all day, wiping noses and other things. I was so happy when mine got past that!” She said with a laugh. “Are you happy, Ronni?” She asked me, with a look of genuine puzzlement.
“Yes, I am.” I said boldly, sitting up straighter in my denim skirt and casual button-up shirt. “I’m very happy.” I felt guilty for saying it though, after my behavior earlier that day. I’m sure my kids would have answered differently about my happiness, after my display earlier. I started to be more honest with her, telling her that I struggle to be happy sometimes, but our conversation was interrupted by the sound of the door.

Jim and Rick had met outside and they were talking about golf, and how Jim would love to play.
“I’d love to take you out later today, if you’d like to go.” I heard Rick say.
“Rick! You said we could go to the mall today on our way home! How can you just go and make other plans like that?” Camille burst out.
It was an awkward moment. Jim tried to make excuses for why he couldn’t go. I stood silent, trying to think of what to do or say. Just then, we were saved by two bickering children and a fussy baby coming out of the bedroom. I was never so glad to hear crying in my life! I went to the back to tend to the matter when the smoke alarm started blaring.

I ran from the bedroom into the kitchen to see smoke billowing from the oven!  The others came running in, leaving very little wiggle room in my small kitchen. Camille started coughing and fanning in front of her face. I opened the oven only to be greeted by more smoke.
“Is it burned?” Jim asked me.
“No.” I moaned. “It looks like it spilled over into the bottom of the oven and what fell is certainly burned. And burning!” I said, pitifully. I reached for a cookie sheet on the counter beside me to slide underneath my casserole dish in the oven to keep it from spilling over any more. As I pulled it toward me, the edge of the cookie sheet caught my glass measuring cup and sent it crashing to the floor into a million tiny pieces. Just then, Molly, my four year old, ran past me, right through the glass!
“MOLLY! I screamed. “You’re cut! You ran barefoot through that broken glass! Everybody stay back!” I yelled. Molly only looked at me questioningly. Her feet were fine, though I don’t know how it happened!

Rick started opening windows and doors. I pulled the casserole dish out of the oven, praying it was done, grabbed a broom and started sweeping up the glass. The spilled food on the oven was still burning, sending up plumes of smoke. We all coughed. Rick and Camille went outside, saying their eyes were burning. Mine were too. More from the tears stinging them than the smoke. I used a spatula to scrape up the spilled food out of the oven, hoping to stop the continual burning. Jim helped me the best he could. Flies soon came in to join us due to the open, and screen-less, windows and doors.

After several minutes of work, the kitchen was usable. I got the food on the table, and it was edible, praise the Lord. We swatted at flies for a full three hours after the fiasco ended, and I’d have to give my oven a good scrubbing. It would take two days for the burnt smell to fully vacate the house.

After serving everyone, I sat down, placing my napkin in my lap. I picked up my fork and made eye contact with Jim. A faint smile crossed his lips, then a bigger one. I started smiling, too, and before we knew it, we were laughing! We laughed and laughed…Camille and Rick stared at one another, as if to say “What made us decide to come here, again?” Jim reached for my hand across the table, tears glistening in his eyes from laughing so hard.
“The food turned out fine.” He said, softly. “It all worked out fine.” His words were few, but his eyes said  much more. They said, “I love you. I’m here for you, no matter what.”  The fears and feelings of inadequacy in Camille’s presence melted away. None of it mattered anymore. I looked at the little faces around my table, some chewing politely, others not so politely. Each one enjoying their meal, contented, happy. We didn’t have fine china or crystal. I knew I’d never have a mink coat, yet, I felt as though I owned a whole closet full! Camille and Rick were uncomfortable, probably embarrassed for me, but I didn’t mind anymore.

I served dessert and then we all moved into the living room to visit. The kids were free to play outside – and get dirty- while the baby napped. I was so glad Jim was home. He was comfortable in any situation, unencumbered by feelings of “measuring up” to anyone. I’d always liked that about him.

Soon, it was time for Camille to go. We all stood up, making our way out. As we got to the door, Camille and I embraced. She pulled back and looked at me. She seemed to be trying to think of the right words. Finally, she said, “Ronni, when you decided to marry Jim, and give up going to college, I couldn’t understand it. Why would you want to do that? Even today, on the way here, I was feeling so sorry for you.” She paused, looked down, and then into my eyes more intently. “But now, I know why you did it. I don’t feel sorry for you anymore.” She sniffed a bit, and I noticed her eyes were misty. “You’re the richest lady I know.”

As she walked across our crunchy grass toward her luxury car, I felt the same way.
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My Favorite Things

I thought I would post of a few of my favorite things today. Not because I “love” my possessions, but rather because I feel that I often take my belongings for granted. I fail to thank God for the little things. I don’t say “Thank you, Lord, for hot water.” I take hot water for granted. There are people in foreign countries that do not enjoy hot water, or even running water (forgive me for not using the old “running down to the crick to fetch it” joke…wait…I think I just did! Oh well.).I am so blessed with thousands of things that many the world over do not enjoy. 

So, here are the things for which I’m thankful, in no particular order. These are the things that I enjoy; my favorite things. 🙂

1. Thick, warm socks on a cold morning.
2. My homemade hot cocoa mix.
3. Coffee Mate French Vanilla Creamer
4. Folgers Coffee (with above creamer)
5.Jiff peanut butter
6. Wal-Mart only minutes away.
7. Hot shower on a cold night.
8. Using new CRAYOLA crayons. (Yes, I like to color.)
9. Access to the WORLD WIDE WEB! Yeah, baby! haha!
10. Johnson & Johnson’s baby lotion
11. The color purple…the actual color, not the movie. 😉
12. The library.
13. Warm, furry throw blankets.
14. Hershey’s Pot of Gold candy.
15. The smell of a new Bible. (Which I enjoy about once every 3 years when I replace a Bible.)
16. Looking through homeschool magazines and catalogs.
17. Olive Garden
18. Reading aloud to my children.
19. Exercising – what a blessing to be able to move my body! Something I take for granted often.
20. Reading books and internet articles.
21. Dippin’ Dots ice cream – isn’t it neat-o?
22. Visiting historical sites, especially those relating to past presidents.
23. Eating lunch with my hubby.
24. Hearing my hubby preach.
25. Writing on a chalk board.
26. The satisfaction of removing a stain from the carpet.
27. Mowing the yard and the smell of freshly cut grass.
28. Writing my day’s accomplishments on a calendar.
29. Planning birthday parties.
30. Making cute cakes for birthday parties.
31. The thrill that comes from seeing God answer my prayers.
32. Visiting my Uncles’ farm (formerly my Grandparents’ farm).
33. Hugging my sister.
34. Standing on the hollowed ground at my Dad’s grave, knowing that I weep only for a season; I will see him again.
35. Writing – trying to get the words right. Trying to make my life sound interesting on the page. 😉
36. The way my husband looks in a shirt and tie.
37. The way my Mom always lets me pick out the restaurant we eat at when I join her for lunch.
38. The fact that my Mom can diagnose learning disabilities. I think that’s cool.
39. Making my Mom and sister laugh.
40. Chocolate.
41. Wendy’s hamburgers.
42. Subway sandwiches.
43. Christmas.
44. My birthday (it’s good to be alive!)
45 Talking to friends.
46. Meeting new missionaries and seeing familiar ones!
47. When my kids come up and hug and kiss me for no special reason.
48. Seeing my children demonstrate Christian character traits (This one should be first! There’s no greater joy!)
49. Hearing my children read and seeing them write.
50. Warm chocolate chip cookies with ice cold milk.
51. Singing! Fa la la la la laaaaaa!!!! 🙂
52. The joy that comes from doing right, especially when it was hard to do.
53. Hearing my babies laugh.
54. Meeting a need for someone.
55. The smell of honeysuckle.
56. A full moon on a clear night.
57. Snow – when I’m blessed enough to see it.
58. The sound of rain falling on the roof.
59. Seeing a cluttered space be restored to order. It’s a comfort. haha!
60. Tucking my kiddos in bed each night and going to bed knowing that for now, they are all under one roof.

I could go on and on, but I need to stop and tend to my little ones. I think I’ll go give them a hug!

Thank you, Lord, for your blessings on me.


Valerie

A Little Experiment

I have a wonderful blogging friend over at Thoughts from a Homemaker’s Heart who is an expert photographer. For some time now, I’ve admired the drop shadow effect she’s used on her photos. I found a tutorial online and gave it a whirl. It kinda looks…grainy. I don’t know if I did something wrong, or it’s just the quality of my camera. Anyway, I wanted to see how it would look in a post.

So…that is all! 🙂 Have a great day!

Valerie