Dignity, Faith, Family, Friendship, Intentionality, Jesus, Marriage, Motherhood, Personal Reflection, Worthy

Enough

Several days ago, I shared a photo on Facebook. Not a personal photo. Just a photo of some words that, on that morning especially, were relatable for me. It crossed my mind that it was likely relatable for others too, so I shared the photo and moved on.

Reactions and comments are still trickling in on that post, and it hasn’t yet left my mind. The text in the photo said this: “We expect women to work like they don’t have children and raise children as if they don’t work.”

I was already feeling this before my workday started on Monday. Although my son loves school and both of he and my daughter enjoy their babysitter, there is inevitably at least one day each week when one of them clings to me a little extra in the morning and expresses their wish that I could stay home from work with them that day. Also inevitably, that is among the hardest moments of my week. Monday morning happened to include that moment with my daughter.

I’m blessed with a good job. It is enjoyable, interesting work in a healthy environment with a solid team of people. I’m grateful for it and challenged by it daily. No matter what though, I am a mother. I am always first responsible to my family and then to everything else. So I work extremely hard to balance it all (again, a statement that so many of you can relate to, undoubtedly). Workdays, meetings, projects, schooldays, doctor appointments, drop-offs and pick-ups, mealtime and playtime and bedtime and everything in between. Balance is a constant goal.

On Monday afternoon, I had a brief meeting with my supervisor. A generous, flexible woman who knows the life of a working mother, I’ve been thankful for her understanding in this balancing act. Among other topics covered in this meeting though, she shared that someone in our office had voiced complaints about my comings and goings. This anonymous individual was bothered by what they felt were too many times I had to adapt my schedule to those school and sitter drop-offs and doctor appointments and sick kids and so on. While I was in no way reprimanded or told to stop adapting my schedule to those needs, I still can’t dismiss the disappointment that this is what someone thinks of the work I put in at my job. Whomever it is doesn’t necessarily know about the number of days in which I work through lunch, or the nine, ten, or eleven hours I put in when I’m working from home while simultaneously caring for my children. They don’t necessarily know why I arrived at 8:10 instead of 8:00, or why I had to work remotely from my home unexpectedly. They see what they see and form their opinion.

I’m going to be fully honest here. I want to look that person straight in the eye, possibly grabbing them by the collar, and say this: “I am doing the best I can do.” I want to inform them that I already know it will never be enough. Their input is not needed for me to know this.

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The current trend in women’s self-help/self-esteem culture is summed up in one phrase:

I am enough.

It crops up in articles, books, and social media posts with head-spinning frequency. I’d even wager that the image I used above was designed to serve that message. Those words are the mantra of many tired, over-extended, trying-to-meet-all-expectations women, and they are a lie.

I am not enough. You are not enough.

If we ever want to stop striving until we break, we must admit this. If we want to quit the worldwide, olympic-level competition for Instagram-worthy perfection on the surface while we are unraveling when no one is looking, we must admit this.

I am not enough.

If I were enough for my children, they would not need their beloved father or their dear grandparents and extended family. If I were enough, I would not need my husband’s partnership and love. If I were enough, I would not need my teammates and managers at the office. If I were enough, I would not need my church community, my writing community, my health and fitness community, my neighbors, or even those most precious friends who know the real me. Above all, if I were enough, I would not need my Lord.

I am not enough.

Certainly, I can understand the intentions behind the popular message of being enough. It is answering the emptiness countless men and women carry inside of them. It is speaking to the ways we punish ourselves for not living up to our or others’ expectations. It is reminding us that our worth has been forgotten. I do understand. But believing you are enough doesn’t admit your inherent need for others. Believing you are enough doesn’t admit your need for the Divine.

I am not enough.

I cannot do it all. I literally cannot. I only have one body, one mind. I only have 24 hours in my day. I am only capable of being in one place at a time. Unlike God, I cannot be all things to all people. Admitting this is not a detriment to my self-esteem. It is an enlightened self-awareness. It fosters a great amount of freedom, clipping the binding ties of strife and disappointment.

I am not enough. I am a member of a marriage, of a family, of a friendship, a community, a church, a team for that very reason. While I will always work to be my best, I will not misguidedly carry the weight of striving to be enough. I am not enough and I am happier for knowing it.

A to Z, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Love, Marriage, Writing Prompt

A to Z Flash Fiction: Diorama

D: Diorama

pexels-photo-421160Harold’s run stalled outside a brick bungalow on Cedar Street. The skyline was rimmed pink, with everything above still ink and stars. Daily, before dawn, Harold ran one and a half miles at an eleven-minutes-per-mile pace. Every single morning, except Sundays, and he did not stop for anything mid-run. Never.

“You’re seventy-two. It’s okay to slow down,” Harold’s doctor said at his most recent check-up. “Maybe mix it up with walking or swimming, something a bit easier on the joints.”

Harold lied when he told the doctor he’d consider it.

He checked the tracker on his wrist. The device was a gift from his son. Harold had scoffed at learning its features and tricks, or even growing comfortable with its bulk around his wrist. He was loath to admit to anyone how much he appreciated it now, with its details and data and graphs, its uncanny ability to measure the value of his daily movements.

Eight-tenths of a mile to go.

So, why had he stopped? Why did he stand, feet planted on the damp sidewalk instead of striking it at his self-regulated pace? He stood still because he was traveling through time, and travel like that tends to take a person’s breath away.

Inside the house, on display through a wide picture window, was a diorama of the past. A living room: white walls, gray sofa, black recliner, and two lamps glowing from each of the end tables framing the sofa. Family photos in frames. A book on the arm of the recliner.

A woman and a child.

Harold’s pulse throbbed. He felt it in his chest, in his neck.

“My girls,” he whispered.

The woman – slim, average height, pixie-cut chestnut hair – stood in the center of the room, her arms wrapped securely around the child lying against her, chest to chest. Her head was bowed with her cheek resting on the crown of her daughter’s blonde head. Her eyes were closed.

The child’s face was turned away from the window, tucked into the curve of her mother’s neck. She looked to be two, perhaps, clothed in plush, yellow pajamas. One little hand held the ears of a well-loved, stuffed bunny, and the other hand rested on her mother’s shoulder.

All was still. A three-dimensional snapshot of thirty years ago.

Harold reached for the tree branch above his shoulder. The coarse bark beneath his palm broke the spell over his senses. He pulled his eyes away from the house, away from the intimacy of the moment between mother and child, and forced himself to move.

At the end of the block, where Harold typically turned left to return home, he turned right. Then he turned right again, then left. He jogged into the cemetery, along the gravel paths to a headstone beneath a birch tree. There, he kneeled.

Harold waited for his heartbeat to slow. He laid his hands in the dewy grass and squinted at the sun mounting the treetops.

“I saw you today, Rosie.” He cleared his throat. “I used to see you everywhere. Everywhere. But it hasn’t been like that in a while. It was you and Sadie, when she was just a little thing. It was our living room. I mean, I know it wasn’t. I know it wasn’t you, or Sadie, or our home. For a moment though, it was, and it was the happiest and the saddest I’ve been in a while.”

He leaned forward on his knees, pressing his palms into the cold, solid stone. He rubbed the ridges of her name with his thumb and sighed.

“It was wonderful to see you.”

Harold stood, and ran home.

*****
Let’s get back to basics, my friends. Specifically, the alphabet. I’ll be writing a series of flash fiction pieces off of one word prompts, from A to Z. Enjoy! And if a word comes to mind for any upcoming letter, please make your suggestion and I’ll consider it for a prompt.

A to Z, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Love, Marriage, Writing, Writing Prompt

A to Z Flash Fiction: Catharsis

C: Catharsis

I walk two blocks west from my hotel and spot the wooden sign for The Griffin. When I asked the front desk attendant for a recommendation of both the best Reuben sandwich and the best whiskey old fashioned, this was his immediate answer.
As I push open the door, I loosen my tie and undo the top button of my white oxford shirt. I scan the

room. It’s large. Dark, polished wood, red accents, and brass hardware under dim, golden light create a weighty ambiance. There are about a dozen patrons inside, each silent or conversing in their lowest voices. The mahogany bar runs the full width of the front of the room. I pick a stool near no one and order my first round from an indifferent bartender. He keeps his eyes on a muted flat screen television on the adjacent wall. It’s a re-broadcast of this afternoon’s Dodgers-Giants game. While I sip my drink and peruse the kitchen’s menu, a man sits on the stool to my left.

The bartender immediately hands him a Budweiser without a word from either of them. He’s about my age, I discern from a sideways glance. His hands look older. Their calluses and knobby knuckles remind me of my father’s hands. My father was a union man in an iron foundry for forty-two years. I wonder briefly what this man does for a living, but the curiosity passes. There’s only one thing that occupies my mind tonight. One person.
My food order taken, the bartender brings me a second cocktail. I turn the glass in my hand. The slick condensation transfers from the glass to my fingers.
“Ricky?”
My neighbor on the next stool is peering at me with bloodshot eyes.
“Ricky! What’s it been?” he slurs. “A few years, I’d say. How you been, man?”
“I’m not Ricky, sir.”
His raspy laugh turns into a cough. “What are you going on about, Ricky? I’d know you anywhere.”
“My name is David. I’m not Ricky.”
“Aw, don’t be like that, man. It’s good to see you.” He swats my shoulder and almost slips off his stool.
I decide to ignore him. My brain returns to the same questions plaguing me since I flew to this city on Monday. It’s Thursday now. How’s it going to be when I get home? More of this? What do I want it to be like when I get home? That last question is the one I know I need to answer.
“You heard what happened, I’ll bet.” The man is teetering on that thin line between thoroughly intoxicated and sloppy drunk.
I stare into my glass after taking another swig.
“Yeah, of course you heard what happened to my Jenny.”
He doesn’t seem to care that I’m not responding. I look toward the bartender for aid but his eyes are on the already played ballgame.
“Can I confess the truth?” The man leans in as if he’s whispering, though he is not. “Sure, sure, I can. You’re an old friend. You won’t tell.”
I shake my head, wishing I’d stayed in and order overpriced room service.
“I think I killed her.”
My fingers stop tracing the rim of my glass. I turn my head a little and meet his eyes. They’re wide and bleary. He waits and I find my voice. “Listen, sir. I’m not Ricky. Maybe you need to have a water, or a soda, and sober up a little.”
 It’s as if I didn’t even speak. “Geez, it feels good to admit that. Really good. I mean, don’t call the cops or nothing. I didn’t kill her.”
I raise my eyebrows.
“But still, I think I killed her.”
He goes silent for more than a minute and I hope it’s over. It’s not.
The man downs the last of his beer. “She only took drives like that when I made her mad. Fast. Old roads. Curves and hills.” His voice fades out. There are fat tears on his cheeks. I doubt he even knows they’re there. “‘You’ll kill yourself, driving like that, woman!’ That’s what I used to tell her. ‘Good,’ she’d say. ‘I have a way to do it then when you make me want to.’”
I shudder at the darkness of this exchange he had, more than once, with Jenny, whom I assume was his wife. It sounds outrageous. Even as I think this, I am flashing back to the bitter words that filled the air of our living room Sunday night, and the cold indifference Josie and I maintained on Monday morning until I left for the airport. No calls, no texts. None, this whole week, and tomorrow I fly home.
“I made her so mad that night. Madder than I’d ever seen.” He pounds on the bar and the bartender looks our way. “Another, ya’ lazy barkeep!” he chortles.
The bartender shakes his head. “No can do, McNeil. I already called your cab. I warned you that bottle was your last for tonight.”
McNeil scowls. Then his expression clears and his focus is back on me. “Do you think she meant to do it, Ricky?”
My mouth is dry. My drink is empty.
“Do you think she meant to hit that tree? Maybe, man, maybe. Either way, it’s on me. I knew what I was doing to her. I knew. I killed her.”
“Cab’s here,” the bartender interrupts.
“I could’ve stopped her, Ricky. I could’ve made it good.”
He stands and wobbles in his steel-toed boots. I see the grief, the self-loathing, in the lines of his face and the drop of his broad shoulders. He’s a large, muscular man, but he walks like a weaker, older version of himself.
After I watch him go, I rest my elbows on the bar and my head in my hands. Josie’s face fills my vision. The bartender slides my plate in front of me, but I stand up and mumble that I’ll be back in a minute. I reach for the phone in my pocket. “I have to call my wife.”

*****
Let’s get back to basics, my friends. Specifically, the alphabet. I’ll be writing a series of flash fiction pieces off of one word prompts, from A to Z. Enjoy! And if a word comes to mind for any upcoming letter, please make your suggestion and I’ll consider it for a prompt.

Fiction, Flash Fiction, Love, Marriage, Writing Prompt

Take Out

She’d overcooked the pasta. It was pitched in the trash. The empty kettle landed in the sink with an echoing clatter. She lifted herself with some difficulty onto the countertop, and sat. The burner on the stove still glowed red as fire. Of course she’d forgotten to turn it off. Of course.

“Andrea?”  Leo’s voice floated toward her from the hallway.

Typically, she turned on the light over the front steps before he came home so he could unlock the door without fumbling in the dark. Of course she’d forgotten that too.

“I’m here.”

Leo draped his suit jacket over a dining chair and came to stand before her. He rested his hands on her knees. She lightly bounced her heels off the cupboard below her. He smiled, leaned in for a kiss.

“I ruined dinner.”

She watched his nose wrinkle, then he covered the last two inches between them, claiming his kiss.

“I don’t care,” he whispered.

“I can’t focus today. The whole day,” she said emphatically.

“We’ll order take out.”

He went for a second kiss but she leaned past his face to lay her cheek on his shoulder. She inhaled his scent. Leo wrapped his arms around her waist, lifting her from the countertop. She draped her arms around his neck and pressed her knees against his hips. His muscles tightened to hold her steady while he walked to the sofa. When he laid her down there, she saw a wet circle on his shoulder. She hadn’t realized she was crying.

“I left the stove on.”

He returned to the kitchen, then back to the sofa a moment later. “You rest. I’ll order our food.”

Andrea closed her eyes. The resulting darkness was speckled with prismatic lights; beautiful lights she wished she could stop seeing. “I don’t know if I can do this,” she whispered. Opening one eye, she focused on the framed snapshot of her and Leo hiking Mount Moriah. “I have to do this.”

Leo was on the phone, muffled through the walls between here and their bedroom. He’d be changing into jeans and a t-shirt. She remembered the warmth of his chest against hers as he’d carried her from the kitchen; the steadfast beating of his heart. Ba-boom. Ba-boom. Ba-boom. She envied it. Her heart raced and stuttered more every week.

“It’s the medication,” the doctor always answered with a wave of his hand. The irregular heartbeat; the shaking hands; the pain in her legs; the lights in her vision; the inability to focus her mind; everything had one of two answers: “It’s the medication. It’s the tumor.”

“Are you resting?” Leo called from the bedroom.

“Mmmhmm,” she responded, far too quiet for him to hear.

She felt sleep approaching. Each night she welcomed it with a vague thought that it might be perfectly okay if she did not wake up. Come morning, when her eyes opened and she saw Leo on the pillow beside her, she felt overwhelming relief that it had not been her last day. Would that morning sentiment eventually dissipate? This was the question she pondered as she drifted out.

When Andrea woke, moonlight filled the gap in the curtains. It was a spotlight on Leo, slumbering in the leather easy chair beside the sofa. His neck would be sore from the angle of his surrender to sleep. His plate and fork were on the coffee table, empty but for a few bits of rice. A clean fork and knife
were on the table in front of Andrea. Their arrangement suggested a plate had resided between them, until it’d become obvious she wouldn’t be roused from her sleep. She knew she’d find it carefully wrapped and stowed in the refrigerator.

Propped against her fork stood a small rectangle of paper with red lettering: the slip from inside Leo’s fortune cookie. Andrea picked it up. She stood, slowly, and moved to the shaft of moonlight to see the words he’d wanted her to read.

“A true companion journeys to the same destination, and will carry you when your feet will not.”

Andrea clutched the paper in her fist. With a kiss to his forehead, she woke Leo. He stood, lifted her in his arms, and carried her to their bed. She rested her ear on his chest, seeking that reliable rhythm from inside of him. She rubbed her thumb against the soft stubble on his jaw, and prayed she’d wake up again tomorrow.

Family, Gratitude, Intentionality, Love, Marriage

The Paper in My Purse

There’s this paper that I keep folded up and tucked away in my purse. It is a bit of treasure that I bring with me practically everywhere. I think I’ve gone through five purses in the last seven years, and that paper has found its place in each one. Today, I unfolded it for the first time in perhaps a year and read each beautiful word printed upon it.

The black ink is still clear on the paper, but the yellowing of its edges has begun. The creases are tearing. It felt a bit delicate in my fingers today. 

The lines that fill this page were written by my husband, long before he was my husband. I still remember my awe when he sent me the first two stanzas, a mere two weeks after our first date. If I’ve ever come close to swooning, that was the moment. Here I was, lingering in the dawn of our coupledom, wading in and testing the waters. Then, he offers this collection of words born in his heart and pulls me under.

Love requires taking chances. It requires wading into deeper waters and losing sight of your former shore. My husband more than anyone else has taught me this. Love also, for me, requires words. Words of beauty and truth. Every time I look at this worn page in the pocket of my purse, I’m thankful my husband understood that from the start.

Fiction, Flash Fiction, Love, Marriage, Writing

Normal – a Flash Fiction Piece

“I won’t sleep in our bed.”

“What was that, ma’am?”

I glance at the cab driver. “Nothing.”

“It’s alright, ma’am. I talk to myself plenty.”

Do what’s normal. It’s what my aunt advised for after the funeral. After. Everything will be marked as before and after now.

Sliding the clasp of my necklace back behind my tired curls, I whisper at the empty seat beside me, “We’ll talk about this at home.”

Do what’s normal.

Pay the driver.

Nod at the doorman.

Press the elevator button.

It dings its arrival. Is it always that loud? Two others board the elevator with me. Strange since the lobby echoes like a canyon yet I didn’t hear them approach.

I grow impatient once the doors close. “I won’t sleep in our bed, Ian. I can’t.”

My fellow passengers turn, chins over shoulders, then lower their eyes to the floor.

The doors open and I exit before speaking again. “The guest bed is comfortable. Don’t worry about me.” I stop, key in my fist. “Can you worry where you are?”

The breakdown starts in my knees. It will spread to my back and my arms, then my whole body will collapse to the floor. I picture myself curled on the green straw welcome mat in front of the Lancasters’ door. “No.” Digging the key into my palm, I walk.

“Fine. I’ll sleep in the damn bed. Are you happy?”

The question does me in. I shove our door – my door – open and fall down in privacy. When the shaking and the tears pass, I roll to my back; knees up, feet planted. There’s a tiny run in my tights that I pull at with my fingernail until it tears over my thigh. I stand and remove my black heels, ruined black tights, and black dress. When I drop the tights in the trash, I linger two seconds before adding the shoes and the dress.

Do what’s normal.

“That’s why I have to talk to you.” Normal is talking to Ian about the day, the news, the basketball game he’s watching that I don’t care about and the book I’m reading that he doesn’t care about.

In our bedroom – my bedroom – I pick up our wedding photo from the desk. “This won’t do.”

From the bookshelves, I dump a box of photographs on the carpet. With the pictures spread in a half moon, I survey them without seeing details. I can’t endure the details. “Where is it?” I shout a second before my eyes land on it. “Oh, Ian.”

My favorite one. I trace my fingertip over his cheek, his mouth. I ache for a kiss. I haven’t ached like this since our first years together when we still made love more nights than not.

“We’ll talk more tomorrow.”

My black bra and panties go in the trash too. The photo goes on his pillow beside me. I fall asleep flat on my back, hands resting one over the other on my stomach, like him.

Friendship, Love, Marriage

Seven Years Ago

Seven years ago on this day, I went to dinner with my sister, our mutual best friends, and the husband of one of those friends. We ate at one of our favorite restaurants, Good Company, in Appleton, WI. The hostess seated us around a large circular table in the front section of the first floor of the large, two-story restaurant. Later that evening we would attend a concert at a local church. Our conversations probably ran through a gamut of topics. I don’t know. I only remember one.

I told them about a coworker who lately was offering frequent smiles and inquiries into how my day was faring. Occasionally he invited me to join a group of peers for lunch. Sometimes the flirtation was clear but more often he left the impression of straightforward, genuine friendliness. After encountering him each workday, I usually wondered two things: was I assuming too much about his interest and, if not, then why the hell was he interested in me? I’d sit in my chair behind the reception desk, running reports, handling mail, and finding ways to pass the slower hours. He’d walk by to reach our adjacent show room, on his way to fix whatever technical issue had cropped up on one of the machines. Eye contact, smile, small talk or a joke, then the day rolled along.

I consistently turned down the invitations to lunch. I kept the small talk brief. I silently questioned why this guy bothered to talk to me. My skepticism was not because I was clueless – which might have been excusable considering my lack of adult dating experience – but because I was afraid. Oh, how I was afraid. All the seeds for that fear were planted in earlier years, having nothing to do with this man and everything to do with me.

At dinner that night, as we waited for our entrees to arrive, my closest friends listened to me talk about this man. Eventually, one of them interrupted me with a single demand: the next time he invited me to lunch, I had to say yes. I laughed and she asserted the demand more vehemently while the others added their support. They did not relent until I agreed.

I spent the rest of that Saturday evening negotiating with the fears in my head. I spent the remainder of the weekend debating whether or not I hoped my coworker would invite me to lunch just one more time. The following Tuesday I shared a meal with my husband for the first time.

The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.
Joseph Campbell

A couple months after that first lunch date.

And 6 1/2 years later.