Thursday, July 11, 2019

Nostalgia Takes Me Home

     This was written for my series on Home. I submitted it to a writing contest, so the format is a little different. I hope this takes you to the place in your mind where home resides.
At the mention of the word “home” mental pictures come into focus without prompting. Each of us has roots that inform the way we view the world, and in particular, the little corner of the world we inhabit.
     When I’m feeling nostalgic, the word home transports me back in time to a little town in West Virginia. My roots were firmly planted in The Mountain State. The little grocery store at the end of the street was my destination on hot, summer days. Slipping in the back door, bare feet inching along on the cool, concrete floor, I’d make my way to the ice cream cooler. Orange push-ups were my favorite, as I searched through the familiar treats awaiting my taste buds.
     The pictures running through my mind reveal a little girl, hair flying in the wind, as she pedals her bicycle up and down the street she called home. I don’t remember being afraid of much back then, life was ideal. 
     I remember a lush, green hillside with a copper headstone, the name etched in raised letters telling of beginnings and endings. For many years there was a single name, and then my dad’s name joined hers. Nostalgia and longing for what once was beckons me to this quiet hillside. These people were my home of origin.
     My picture wouldn’t be complete without the memory of going to a little house on Second Street in West Madison. The most wonderful woman and her husband live there, and loved me well. Her hugs enveloped me, her hospitality taught me how to extend grace. I learned the meaning of unconditional love through experience, not preaching.
     That girl grew up, married, and left home, ventured to another small town in West Virginia where she established her own home. Young and ready for a new life, that little town became her home for the next six years. This was the place where sheep, goats, and horses meandered down to the little log cabin we lived in. The tiny kitchen, perfect for two, is where I honed my skill of baking pies, making the dough from scratch. This was also the place where the nursery sat empty, except for the cat that delivered her kittens in the closet…six times.
     The next move took us away from our beloved West Virginia to a state that is as beautiful, yet different, in a thousand ways. Our feet were planted in the sandy soil on the coast of South Carolina for several years. The sound of children’s laughter was a gift through adoption, and home took on new meaning. The simplicity and complexity of being a mom nurtured my heart in a way as never before. My desire to make home a place of comfort and security was overwhelming, yet I embraced my role and treasured the years of child rearing and homemaking.
     The in-between years of launching children from the nest were rocky. I didn’t know how to make a home without them coming through the door at the end of the day. Eventually, I adjusted, but not without pain and soul searching. It took many years to settle my anxious heart. 
     As I’ve grown older, home has become the place I stretch my weary self at the end of the day. It’s the place my hands dig in moist soil, planting flowers that make my heart smile. It’s the place where my favorite seat in the house is a rocking chair on the porch overlooking a sloping front yard. The view of the sun setting paints a picture in my mind of perfection. My kitchen is the place I prepare meals, roll out dough for piecrusts, and brew steaming pots of tea. The kitchen is the heart of our home where we gather for conversation, the breaking of bread, and the studying of the Word.
     Life is in constant transition, rife with stress, and the daily calling each of us must answer. Having a place to sink into the love and warmth of family gives strength for each new day.
     The address of our home has changed through the years, yet the timeless feeling of love, security, and homey comfort lives on. The people you surround yourself with have the power to evoke strong emotional connections that draw you into a cocoon of being home.
     At the heart of this fifty-something woman is where that little girl still resides, the little one reaching into the freezer for ice cream, content with simple pleasures. May she always reach for the simple gifts of family, faith, and home, knowing everything is a gift from God.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

When We We Were Ten, An Heirloom

This is an essay I wrote for a writing contest through the Foothills Writer's Guild. I'm posting it today in honor of my mom on Mother's Day. I hope she knows how much she's been missed through the years. I carry her memory with me through words and photos.

When We Were Ten, An Heirloom
By Cindy O'Brien
     Family pictures are the connection between generations. They tell a story without words, a story of love and loss, pain and sorrow, and remind us of the significance of certain events. No two stories are the same because every family has its own unique way of living. However, every family has its share of tragedy and triumph. The pictures we pass down from one generation to the next tell our story.
     While sitting at my writing desk, my eyes wander to the pictures on the shelf above me. Various family photos stare back at me, faces of those long gone haunt me. I want to know their stories; the ones lived in private. What were the dreams that went unfulfilled, the family secrets never shared? What did a typical Monday morning feel like, and what were the sorrows that kept them awake through the night? Time and life circumstances intervened and questions went unanswered.
Cindy - 10 Yrs. Old - 4th Grade
     Two little girls, ten or eleven years old, sit in separate frames on my shelf. I recognize the girl on the right. I remember the day the picture was made when I was in the fourth grade. Were my bangs long enough to put behind my ear, or would the photo capture the tooth I broke while twirling around the seesaw bar? 
     The girl on the left is a mystery, though I know her name, and shared a home with her. She taught me how to sew, and how to care for a home and family. She taught me about faith and perseverance, and yet so much was unspoken.
     If I could reach into the photo of my ten-year-old self, I’d take her face in my hands, and make her look into my eyes. I’d tell her to be curious, speak up, and ask the hard questions. She was such a timid little girl. Most of the time, the book in her hands diverted any attention to those around her, except maybe her beloved cat, Boots. The world she lived in was quiet and structured. I want to tell her not to be so critical of herself. Her fifty-something future self is still dragging that burden. I’d tell her to enjoy reading, but lay the book aside and find something to laugh about.
Juanita - 10 or 11 Yrs Old
     The picture sitting next to my ten-year-old self is more precious to me than diamonds or gold. My mother, hair in pigtails, freckle faced, and almost smiling, rests a few inches from my own freckled face. The resemblance catches my breath every time I look at her. What did that little girl do for fun? Did she have girlfriends? Did she like to read like me? Her childhood was saddled with The Great Depression and World War II. Did those events affect her everyday life? Did she enjoy the simplicity of the early fifties as a teenager? What were her dreams as she stood on the edge of freedom? Photos reveal a young woman at the cusp of everything good and hopeful. That woman beckons me to know her. But, as sand through an hourglass, that time is gone forever. 
     Her life was cut short by cancer at thirty-eight years of age. The memory of the two of us, heads together, comparing our ten-year-old selves would never find a place in my history. We passed in and out of each other’s lives for a few short years. I carry her DNA, her voice, hands and feet, and yet she is unknown to me. 
     The ache of missing her has lessened with the passing of time and years of counseling. There will always be a mother-sized hole in my heart that no one else can fill, though I’ve tried. I’m left with a photo, an heirloom, a reminder of little girls who grew out of their freckles, and for a fleeting moment, shared a love that will never die.

Happy Mother's Day to all the women who've poured themselves into my life. You know who you are and I love you! It takes a Godly village to raise a child, and my God has been faithful to place wonderful women who have loved and mentored me.

As a side note, this piece won 1st Place in a non-fiction category in the Spring 2018 Foothills Writer's Guild contest.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Home for the New Year

A new year always means a fresh start for me. I love cracking open a new planner; each month a possibility for new experiences, coffee dates, small group nights, celebrations, ministry opportunities, and even medical appointments. My planners are a record of my history in the making. I often return to past years and am reminded of special events I’ve been blessed to experience. It helps keep me humble and thankful for the life God has granted.

For the last several years I’ve chosen a word or theme to focus upon. Last year was all about simplifying, and I plan to continue the process. As I’ve pondered the new year, I keep coming back to “Home.” I tried to dodge this one because it seemed too obvious, but the word won’t leave my thoughts. I decided to stop fighting, and see where it leads.

My thoughts of home run deep. As I pondered what to write, it occurred to me that I needed to trace my feelings about home, and logically, the place to return was my foundation. As children, we form many impressions and habits that continue throughout our lives.

My home of origin was with my parents and younger brother. I have warm, sentimental feelings about a little house on First Street in my hometown of Madison. It’s the place I felt safest in my growing up years. After leaving the security of this little nest, life took many dark detours. The structure wasn’t as important as the simple, loving, and protected sense of being “home.” My life as an adult has centered on capturing that sense of love and security. 

As a child of the sixties and seventies, my life was simple, and predictable. Our world revolved around the church and school events. Summers were for long days of playing outside, cookouts with neighbors, church camp, housework, and lots of reading. During the school year, life involved sports, cheerleading, church activities, and lots of reading. I don’t remember having much homework in the elementary years. 

Home was about family. It was that one place where I was known and accepted; the bedroom I cleaned every Saturday morning, and the rhythm of meals with our family of four every evening. It was the every-other-Thursday nights of eating at Canturbury’s Restaurant; ordering the same thing for years…cubed steak, homemade french fries, and applesauce. It included the regular visits we made to Ma Bailey’s, and Papa and Aunt Phyllis’ house at least once a month, after church on Sunday. They each lived an hour away in Logan County. My introverted self thrived in this small world. 

There was a period of several years when home, as I knew it, disappeared. Losing the structure and security of my parents left me struggling emotionally and physically, and left an imprint on my heart. Because of my early struggles, home came to mean something much deeper as the years passed. 

When I became a parent at twenty-seven years of age, I wanted to create a stable home for my family. I understood too well the affects of not providing love and security to my children. It wasn’t always easy, and many sacrifices were made, but I’m thankful for the years of our home life. We made many memories I’ll forever cherish.

I’m thankful for parents who lived out their faith in front of me, giving me a foundation to secure my life in Christ. Without that beginning, I wouldn’t have known what to reach for. Never underestimate the value of giving your children stability with heavy doses of unconditional love. When the storms of life come, and they do for everyone, they will have something to cling to; a home base to return to when life becomes too hard. 

I’m not sure where this will go for the remainder of 2019, but I want to begin a conversation. As Dr. Dobson said in his long-running radio program, “Turn your heart toward home.” I look forward to the journey.

Friday, January 4, 2019

The Simple Life of a Country Girl

2018 was a year of transition. Again. It was also a year of hard work, heartache, and joy. You could probably say the same. That’s the rhythm of life if you’re breathing. The joys are sweeter when we face adversity. 

We built a house this year. A farmhouse. I’m really hoping and praying this is my forever home. It was truly a labor of love, very different from the last house we built, lived in more than nineteen years, and raised our children in. At this age in life, the need to impress anyone is gone, and the desire to build something for a new season dictated our choices.

My theme for 2018 was Living Simply. I wrote several blog posts centered around this theme. Building a new home enabled us to embrace a simple and uncluttered floor plan. Now it’s time to live fully, without the stress of building, moving, and all the decisions that surround the process. 
View from the front porch

Until I moved to the country I didn’t understand how much I needed quiet. I couldn’t grasp the joy of the view from tall windows revealing deer grazing in the front yard, hungry birds crowding feeders, and sunsets that leave you speechless. I look forward to having tea on the front porch every morning as the sun comes up. The best things in life cannot be bought; they are experienced. The simple gifts of friendship, family, and service are given from God, who knows our deepest soul needs. He is the giver of every good and perfect gift. Living in the country has provided margin for me to recognize His gifts more fully.

I began an intentional journey toward a more simple life in January. My goal was to reduce the amount of clutter that claims my attention, but as I pondered the subject I realized it was more than the physical clutter that weighed on me. Emotional and mental clutter are more dangerous than the junk I’ve moved from house to house. Learning how to let go of this kind of baggage has allowed me to enjoy living in the present instead of being anxious about the future.

What will the next twelve months hold for me, and you? If there’s anything I’ve learned over the last few years, it’s that life is full of surprises, some good, some not so good. But I believe I can trust the One who made the stars, sets the sun in the western sky, and loves us more than we could ever imagine. He says in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” 

Welcome, 2019!

Monday, October 29, 2018

Buried in the Depths of the Sea

Walking on the beach at sunrise recently, I couldn't help but notice the beach littered with broken shells. The raging storm from the night before forced pieces of God's handiwork on shore for everyone to see and trample through.

As I moved along the beach, images of the broken pieces of my life lay before me, as if washed onto the shore of my soul. I recalled the pain of sorting through the shards of anger, resentment, grief, unforgiveness, and shame. My brokenness was hidden unless you got close enough to see my jagged edges.

An interesting thing about the ebb and flow of the tide is that the same water that emptied her rage also has the power to carry it back to the depths of the sea. The beach is eventually wiped clean with smooth hard sand, ready for walking.

That's what God did for me. He allowed the storms of my life to find their way to the surface, spread them out across the canvas of His light and truth, and then, He washed me clean, carrying the burden of my brokenness back to the deepest part of the sea. Peace wafted over my soul, as the rhythm of His mercy and grace gave me hope for a new day.

What storms have you faced, or are in the midst of now? Might you be tiptoeing through the debris of your brokenness, looking for a clear path? He can lead you through the painful journey to a life free of broken pieces.

The Word says His mercy is new every morning, great is His faithfulness. Just as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, you can trust Him to bind up the wounds of your brokenness, and set you free to walk in freedom.

I don't ever want to forget His power over my life, the love He demonstrated to me, and the hope of eternal life with Him. All the broken pieces were worth the knowledge of walking in freedom.