And The Sparks Fly Upward

Here’s a new piece of flash fiction I wrote for my writer’s group meeting this weekend. Let me know what you think!

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“Attention! American Rail number 541 to St. Louis, Memphis, and Montgomery will be departing from track twenty! Passengers…”

Please board now, Lydia finished the oft-repeated announcement in sync with the voice. She’s been in the station long enough to hear it a half dozen times as well as those for trains heading to more exotic destinations. It didn’t matter; she wasn’t scheduled to take them; her trip was only home to New York.

Why Mama felt it necessary to send to Chicago for my trousseau is beyond me, Lydia thought. There are fine designers in the city, but to make it “just so”…

She barely remembered the city when she’d arrived that morning. After all, she could have been no older than eight when they left. Buildings that once loomed leviathan seemed paltry in comparison to the Empire State Building she watched growing taller each day. Still, she’d wandered the streets, hoping for a whiff of nostalgia.

Since her father’s textile factory had been relocated to New York and her family’s social status a rung higher, very few of Lydia’s decisions had been left up to her.

Even her impending marriage to one Phillip Yancey Langer, a man she’d met a handful of times and shared only fragments of polite conversation with, had been arranged. He wasn’t hard to look at, that was true, and he laughed more often than most. Still, in a few weeks she’d be exchanging vows with a stranger and sharing a bed with him for life!

Once it was settled, her mother had contacted her designer to create Lydia’s wedding dress and other clothing, and while everything from cut to color had been decided via telegram, the only thing that she couldn’t do was stand for the fitting herself.

That’s why Lydia, for once, had insisted on traveling to the city on her own—even refusing to go if her one demand wasn’t met. And after a great deal of railing, her father had stepped in and forced his wife to stand down.

Can’t the woman understand that I need to breathe somewhere she isn’t, just once? Lydia thought as she sat on the railway bench, her fingers nervously drumming on the suitcase she carried. Many of the outfits, including the wedding gown, needed last minute touches and would be mailed to New York within the week. Three, however, had been folded and packed in the dainty blue suitcase she carried.

It feels much heavier than something holding three dresses should, Lydia thought. Like a case of cannonballs.

Still, she would dutifully lug the prize home and don all three in turn to let her mother critique her product, analyzing it the same way her father might a new fabric off the loom.

“Attention! American Rail 194, non-stop to New York City, will be arriving on track twelve in ten minutes! All passengers please proceed to track twelve at this time!”

Oh, hell, Lydia thought. Already? I’ve been away fewer than twelve hours put together and still haven’t drawn a deep breath. It’s not enough!

She stood, grabbed the handle of the case, and tried to pick it up. But suddenly, it seemed too heavy to lift. She stood watching crowds of people getting on and off of trains, going places she’d never been and would likely never go, and felt utterly alone.  She felt her shoulders slump—a position she’d likely know forever after, in spirit if not in body.

No, she suddenly said to herself. I don’t have to. Not now. Not ever.

She snatched the suitcase from the bench and marched to the ticket booth.

“Excuse me, sir?” she asked the bespectacled man behind the counter. “What trains are leaving in the next ten minutes?”

He consulted the schedule at his elbow. “Well, miss. We have three going out now. One’s headed to the Carolinas, another for Texas, and a third to the Midwest. But don’t you already have a ticket…”

“Texas,” she exclaimed. “I want to exchange mine for a ticket to Texas.”

“Alright, miss,” he stammered, taken aback. “It stops in three cities—Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio.”

“Dallas,” she said without hesitating. She handed over her ticket, paid the difference in fare from the money she’d stashed in her pocketbook, and thanked the man before turning to go towards platform three where her train was waiting.

It was only when the porter asked her for her bag that she realized she’d left it behind, and the thought made her smile.

Etch A Sketch Moments

I don’t know about anyone else, but I have a tendency to get into ruts. I become comfortable in a routine, and I stay there so long I border on turning into an Ent.  Now, while there is some pleasure to be taken in routine, especially in the security and predictability it provides, it is also dangerous because it makes me myopic. I tend to only see what is directly in front of me, and like a Beagle after some elusive scent, I put my proverbial nose to the ground, only to look up several miles later in a place I don’t recognize and without a clue as to how to get home.

However, I can always count on God to provide me with something I’ve come to term “Etch A Sketch Moments.” If you’re my age or older, you remember the toy I’m talking about. The red frame, the dual knobs, the line that snaked its way across the flat, gray screen as we turned them in frustration. I don’t know about the rest of Generation X, but more often than not, my tongue was often stuck in the corner of my mouth in total concentration as I tried to draw Castle Grayskull or Soundwave, my favorite Transformer. Unlike the talented soul who created the reproduction of Van Gogh’s The Starry Night in the image to the left, my attempts at art often ended up looking more like something Salvador Dali might have created after a long night spent consuming Ouzo and playing Cootie (in that order). All I ever created were lopsided stick figures all connected by a tether, because I could never figure out how to double back and cover my lines, or the generic depiction of a house–blocky, square windows, triangle roof with a smoking chimney hanging off it at a perilous angle, and a door smack in the middle.

Not Mine, But Close!

When I put my creation on display, my poor family members would all put their heads together to try to discern the meaning of the Rorschach Test I’d created, hoping to guess correctly and avoid hurting my feelings. When they’d guess “Choo Choo Train” instead of the Thunder-Tank from Thundercats or drew a blank at my rendering of the scarf wearing and umbrella toting fawn, Mr. Tumnus from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I’d perform my patented eyeball roll (which could never be interpreted as anything but exasperation) and shake the poor Etch A Sketch until my otiose attempts at creating visual art were no more.

I’ve often wished that my mistakes were as easily erased as those crude drawings, but alas and alack, life is not as simple as the Ohio Art Company would have it to be.

However, when I say God provides me with “Etch A Sketch Moments,” I don’t mean he gives me some sort of celestial mulligan. I mean that He sends someone or something into my life to shake me out of a certain way of thinking, to erase some stale and lifeless pattern I use to interpret the world. He removes all those limits I and others have placed in my life and makes me see the world in a different way.

Today, a wonderful gentleman named Christopher Coleman spoke at our weekly chapel at In Touch Ministries. You can click on his name and visit his website where a more detailed testimony can be found, but here’s the long and short of it. When he was born, the doctor’s pronounced him dead and went on to work on delivering his twin sister. Fifteen minutes later, after another doctor worked on him, he began to cry! He had been without oxygen for fifteen minutes, and doctors told his mother to send him to a home and forget about him because he had cerebral palsy and would never walk, talk, or speak.

Well, thankfully, she didn’t…and he did.

Now, he’s a college graduate (the only one in his family) who travels around the world telling his life’s story and showing people that God is truly able. When Christopher was called by God into ministry, he asked the Lord, “Do you see me? Do you see my hands that won’t stay still, my feet that go in every direction but the one I want? Do you hear my voice that’s so hard to understand?” God replied to him, “I don’t have to look. I made you. You are exactly what I planned for you to be because I don’t make junk.”

He shared several scriptures with us during his presentation–my life’s verse, 2 Corinthians 12:10, and the story of the cripple at the Pool of Bethesda found in John 5. With regards to the latter, Mr. Coleman pointed out that Jesus Christ asks an odd question, one that bears some consideration. He asks the crippled man, “Do you want to be made well?” What is this man’s answer going to be “No”? He’d been a cripple for thirty-eight years, unable to provide for himself or move without aid. Of course he’d love to be healed! However, Christ asks him because, if made well, this man would be compelled to spend his days walking and telling as many people as possible about the blessing he’d been given by Jesus. He would no longer be living for himself because his body would be a living testimony to Jesus’ power and mercy. I’d never considered it that way before but the truth is that Jesus understands our wants better than we do. I love it!

Throughout his talk, Mr. Coleman amazed me with his wit, his positive attitude, and his joy. He said that people often look at him and wonder, “How can he, with all his physical challenges, be so happy when I am whole and miserable?” The answer is a relationship with God! Not having that one amazing thing can alter and skew our perspectives in such a way that we forget just how blessed we are–how loved and how cherished we are by God the Father.

Sure, I could always want for more money, more things, more security, but no matter how much I acquire, none of it will never make me happy. Thankfully, that’s not what makes me feel joyful. From time to time, I do get into ruts as I mentioned earlier, and I forget the things for which I should be truly grateful. I can look over those things, take them for granted, and forget just how marvelous they truly are. For instance, I am, above all, a child of God who will one day be with Him in heaven. That alone is cause enough for lifelong celebration. However, while I am here, He blessed me with an amazing family who loves me unconditionally, a husband who cherishes and cares for me, a mind that is able to handle complex ideas and problems, and a body that is healthy and whole despite my illness. Yes, I have Multiple Sclerosis, and I tell you that I am thankful for it because it is what keeps me mindful of God’s hand on my life. Without it, I was on the completely incorrect path. I wasn’t relying on Him, and I wasn’t living the way He would have me live.

Now, I wake up most days and wiggle my toes to make sure I can still feel them. I blink my eyes and check to make sure I can still see. For seven years, I have been able to do all that and more! Let me tell you, when you have MS, it can compromise your life in a multitude of ways, so when I wake up each day and discover that I can walk, talk, see, and do any and everything I want, every task I complete is done in joy. Taking out the trash is more fun than a field trip to the zoo, and running errands is more fun than a shopping spree on Fifth Avenue because I can do them without a struggle! However, there are some days I roll out of bed and don’t think about that simple truth, and that’s when little things frustrate me. I lose my gratitude, my perspective gets skewed, and my life is much less mirthful for it.

Mr. Coleman was God’s way of sharing that truth afresh with me today. I am like him in that I have that thorn in my flesh that Paul spoke of in 2 Corinthians. But my thorn is not Paul’s thorn, and it isn’t Mr. Coleman’s thorn. Ours were given to us at different times and for different reasons because we all have our own roles to fulfill in the furtherance of God’s kingdom. However, as I looked around the chapel today and saw my co-workers being taught and blessed by him, I was reminded again that, like the cripple by the pool, my body is healed so that I, too, can be a witness for Christ. Like I often did with my Etch A Sketch, God shook me up today and erased all the crooked lines in my mind, and He will no doubt help me create a more accurate rendering of my world.

I have but to consult Job 5:6-9, 17-19, the words of Eliphaz, to keep my perspective accurate. He tells his friend Job:

For affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble spring from the ground; yet man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward.But as for me, I would seek God, and to God I would commit my cause—Who does great things, and unsearchable, marvelous things without number. . . .Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects; therefore, do not despise the chastening of the Almighty.For He bruises, but He binds up; He wounds, but His hands make whole. He shall deliver you in six troubles.Yes, in seven no evil shall touch you.