6AM

Author’s note: Yes, I know… a lot of people in the world get up long before 6AM. And some even like it. Me, it feels like the biggest battle I’ll ever fight in my life. The struggle is real, friends! 

There is nothing like the pain of being jarred from sleep by your alarm clock. When the sun hasn’t come up yet, and all the rest of the house is quiet, and, for good measure, it’s raining outside, the gentle showers playing a lullaby on the roof and windows. And in that moment of waking up, you’ve never felt more exhausted.

It doesn’t matter how early you went to bed the night before. Each new morning is World War III. You pray for the strength of will to haul your lazy bones out from beneath the nice, warm covers and begin your day. You’ve argued with yourself many times on this: you know you must get up this early if you hope to get any writing done because you simply Do Not Have Time once the day has begun.

But sometimes, at 6AM, you have no strength of will.

On those days, you go through the rest of the day regretting your choice to hit snooze and roll over, and you tell yourself that tomorrow, you’ll do better. But each new tomorrow becomes a bigger fight, and by Friday you no longer care because the weekend’s almost here and the weekend’s your chance to finally sleep in and not feel guilty.

That first minute after your alarm goes off is always the hardest. It’s in that first minute that you must choose . . . before you’re fully awake, before you’re really thinking clearly: Are you going to win this battle today? Are you even going to fight it in the first place?

Because if you can’t learn to will yourself in this one small thing, how will you ever find the will to accomplish bigger things?

As soon as you’ve cleared the hurdle, pulled yourself from the warm, safe, comfortable covers and opened your laptop, you feel good . . . like you’ve taken your first small step toward success. And as you sit there writing, with your cat curled up in your lap, and listen to the rain playing its melody, you can’t help but wonder . . .

Why do you fight this every morning?

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If I Could Step Into A Painting

There’s a painting on the eighth floor of an old apartment highrise,
Some mountains and a mountain stream amid a grove of pine trees.
I like to look when I am there, to picture my escape,
To feel and taste and see and hear the world beyond the paint.
If I could step into that world, I’d take you along,
We’d pitch our tents beside the stream and listen to its song.
We’d watch a golden sunset wash the mountain peaks with color
We’d listen to the silvery notes the flocking birds would utter.
I like to think of sitting there, within that pristine haven,
To smell the air and feel the breeze up there where earth meets heaven.
I wonder, do the building tenants wander there as well?
Do their own imaginations soar beyond their frail shells?
Would they come and meet us there, upon that spot of shore?
Or do they walk right past it without seeing anymore?

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Aftermath

Where to begin? he wondered. Palm trees lay like fallen giants across the road, broken twisted things mixed with beach wood carried inland by the storm surge, and puddles of brown water still pocked the yards. The street in front of his house was a river of trash and mud. His house, built to withstand these storms, had still lost half a roof, most of a front porch, and all of the windows. His neighbors had fared no better.

Now, the sun shone as if nothing had ever happened, yet a dark cloud settled ever deeper upon him. He picked his way through the ruin, boots sinking in the oversaturated earth. Too much. This town, this state . . . how could life return to normal in the aftermath? He picked up a small stick stripped of bark and hurled it as far as he could.

A dog appeared from behind some rubble. A golden retriever, his coat matted and dirty. He ran and leaped over piles of debris like they were hurdles in an obstacle course, disappearing behind a fallen tree, then reappearing, running straight toward the man with the stick in his mouth. The dog dropped the stick at his feet then looked up, expectation in his eyes and a smile on his face.

The man shook his head but picked up the stick. “Go fetch!” The dog took off at a sprint, returning moments later and dropping the stick at his feet.

Finding another one, he lobbed it into the street. The dog trotted off and quickly returned, gripping it in his mouth like some prized chunk of meat.

Twenty minutes later, every dog-sized branch and piece of beach wood in his front yard lay in a pile. The dog grinned up at him, panting as if to say, “What’s next?”

The man smiled in spite of himself, eyeing the fallen palm trees in the road and a handful of people standing around them. “What do you say, dog?” he asked. “Think we could tackle some trees now?”

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In This Storm

In this storm
I pray that you would show your strength,
Turn back waves,
Spare the lives who cannot leave.
Give them courage, give them hope,
Give them deliverance.

In this storm
I pray that you would reach down through the clouds,
Through beating rains,
And hold them.
Show them mercy, show them life,
Show them peace.

In this storm
I pray that you would speak through wildest winds
Help them hear you, help them find you,
Help them know you.

In this storm
I pray that all our hearts would meet,
Oh Lord.
Teach us contrition, oneness, truth,
And bind us in your love.

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Cleaning House

Wow, seriously, I have way too many clothes.

Hey! There’s that old sock I blamed the dryer for eating!

Man, where’d all this dust come from?

It can’t have been that long since I vacuumed . . . can it?

What’s that growing in the toilet bowl?

I used to love this wallet. Hey look, an old gift card! Wonder what the balance is . . . oh . . . that’s it? Bummer.

Oh cool, my college ID . . . huh, I actually look good in this picture!

Wow, there’s a lot of dead spiders. . . .

Yikes, they’re not all dead! Smash! Now they are.

You’d think I’d have noticed these cobwebs long before now!

How did I accumulate so many notebooks?

Sheet sets?

Empty gift boxes?

Old calendars?

Partially-filled albums and scrapbooks?

Wow, seriously, I have way too much stuff in general.

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Fractured Crystals

His car was a wreck: blanket flung over the steering wheel, pages of an old atlas scattered, doors ajar. And glass. Everywhere. Jammed into the crevices of the front seats, littering the floors, hiding under the floor mats, in belt buckles, in the open glove box, jamming the shift indicator. The projectile of choice, a large rock, lay where it had landed in the passenger seat.

With a sigh, the young man took another look through what used to be the driver’s side window. Then, opening the door, he knelt in the driveway and began to sweep some glass off the seat into a dust pan.

Too many thoughts chattered at him as the sun rose higher and it seemed that, no matter how thoroughly he swept, no matter how many dustpans he emptied into the dumpster, the glass kept reappearing. I didn’t need this today. Stupid idiots . . . don’t people have anything better to do? Wish I’d bought that car vac. Wonder if any of the car washes around here do interior detailing. Wonder what a new window will cost. . . .

Around noon, another dustpan full of glass was on its way to the dumpster when the light caught it just so, and the man stopped short. He dumped a few of the blunt pieces into his hand. They glinted aquamarine, and he squinted at them as though he’d never seen them before.

A few days later, when most of the glass had been swept and the rest vacuumed and a new window installed, he drove across town to a park on the shores of Lake Erie. There, taking a container filled with the fractured crystals, he walked down to the water’s edge and dumped them in.

*

The little girl splashed through gentle waves lapping at her feet. She had just arrived for her first summer camp at Erie Beach, Ontario, and she had been nervous about being away from home for a whole week. But now that she was here, it felt like the water was washing all the nervousness away.

She looked down at the smooth pebbles squishing between her toes, searching for beach glass. A bright sparkle caught her attention, and she plucked it from the grasp of the next wave rolling in. She gasped. It was tiny, no bigger than a pea; but it was a polished ball-shaped rock, the color of her birthstone, aquamarine.

She knew enough about beach glass to know that most of it was green or clear, like the broken bottles it came from. Sometimes she also found brown or dark blue pieces; but she’d never seen one the color of water, and as she looked at it, she thought it held more value than a whole jewelry box full of diamonds.

Clutching it tightly in her fist, she ran toward a nearby picnic table where a man sat watching her. “Daddy, look what I found!”

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To Grandpa

I wish I’d thought when I was younger to ask you about the war.

You’d tell me stories from time to time. The same stories again and again, until I stopped listening. There was something about Guam, Iwo Jima, about the time you took shrapnel to the head and your buddy right next to you was killed.

Knowing now what I didn’t know then, I can only guess at what you might have heard and seen and lived. The constant pounding of machine guns and bombs. Sand, seawater, palm trees exploding all around you. The ever-present smell of blood sticking in the humid air. Young men flung in pieces across the islands. Their final cries, quickly silenced.

I think about the you I knew . . . the man with bushy white eyebrows who laughed little but smiled often. Who prayed with his wife every day. Who joked around with his grandkids and bought them lunch once a week. Who worked hard and loved his family and never lost his faith.

How did you survive the war? How did you survive coming home? Was your life really as normal as it seemed?

Did you secretly dread Fourth of July celebrations? Did you ever cringe inside as your family oohed and ahhed over each exploding firework?

Did the festivities of this season take you back to a place you longed to forget? Or did they serve in memorial to people and events you longed to remember?

I wish I had thought to ask you.

 

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Dad’s Story

I wish I could find the words to say.

The right words, not what sounds sappy or sentimental,

But what’s true.

Life is exhausting sometimes,

Especially when everyone looks to you for answers

Or a million different responsibilities are yammering for your attention.

I sometimes wonder

How anyone survives being “man of the house”

Without losing their head.

But you do.

Day after week after month after year.

Working long hours to pay the many prices of family.

Dealing with all our big and little issues.

Giving time and counsel and love most of all, and still finding time to help others.

Praying for strength to fulfill all your callings and all that they entail.

I’m sure you have struggles, worries, and fears,

More than you’ll ever admit.

Who doesn’t?

Yet still you do your best to be a haven of strength to the rest of us.

As a certain songwriter so eloquently said,

Make your life a song.”

And you do, Dad.

Sometimes the notes are all discordant and wild,

Each new stanza a mystery, a burning question:

What lies ahead?

But as you so often remind me,

This is God’s story.

He’s got things under control,

He’s working everything out.

And so your own life is a story he’s telling,

One of adventure, of twists and turns,

And a hero who turned out all right.

He’s brought you this far and he’s not done yet.

The music plays on,

Blank pages remain.

There are still many words to be said.

I’m glad he gave me a part in this story

And glad, most of all,

He gave me you.

Love you, Dad. Happy Father’s Day.

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Dinkey Doodle

Once upon a time, a tiny gray and white kitten got her head stuck in a piece of wood.

Poor baby couldn’t even lift her head. Taking shelter in a cold shed filled with tools and wooden beams, she wore her piece of wood like a lead shackle until the shed’s owner discovered her. Very carefully, he cut the wood. As it fell from her neck, the little kitten tasted the sweetness of freedom and wasted no time seizing it with both paws . . . she shot out of that shed like a bolt of lightning, darted across the street, and somehow ended up on our front porch.

“If you feed her, she’ll never leave,” Dad said, which, for some reason, wasn’t too effective at discouraging us. Sure enough, she came back the next day, and the next, and the next thing we knew, she had a routine: each morning at 7 o’clock sharp, if her food wasn’t on the porch, she would loudly and tragically announce to the neighborhood that she was being starved to death.

Pretty soon, she had a name: Dinkey Doodle. Dinkey for short.

Little miss Dinkey had an acute phobia of humans: we would watch and laugh as the klutzy kitty tumbled over herself trying to stumble off the porch when we brought her food. At least once, she took a nose dive to the ground a few inches below and stumbled up all wobbly and trying to shake the fuzzies from her head.

Eventually though, she began to smarten up . . . if the humans keep bringing me food, maybe they’re not going to hurt me.

One day, she let me touch her. The next, she let me run my hand down her back. Before long, she wouldn’t even sniff her food until she had received her customary morning scratch-down.

We couldn’t bring her inside, due to a couple of old indoor cats who would hiss and scratch through the glass door every time they saw her on the porch. So, during the cold months, Mom got creative with a plastic storage tub and some old blankets. On the coldest mornings, not even food or attention would entice Dinkey from the nice warm snow shelter.

Oddly enough though, she loved snow. One wintery night, Mom looked out the window and saw Dinkey digging at the snow, pawing it into little balls. Then she started whacking the balls, batting them across the yard and chasing them as if they were a family of moles fleeing from hungry cat teeth.

Speaking of moles. It’s a minor miracle (or a testament to the size of our mole infestation) that she didn’t thoroughly exterminate them from our yard. We usually found them uneaten and in one piece on the front porch. Gifts for food . . . I guess she thought it was a fair exchange.

For five years, Miss Dinkey claimed us as her own. Five short years.

I think there’s an oversized swath of Heaven reserved for the animal kingdom; and if so, I imagine she’s chasing wisps of cloud like snow balls up there, living happily ever after as she loudly and dramatically demands attention from any resident crazy cat ladies and showers them with the gift of mole.

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The Worst Sentence in the World

From S.E. Hood: thanks to Joe Bunting of The Write Practice for inspiring today’s post. His ebook, 14 Prompts, suggests beating perfectionism and writer’s block by attempting to write “the worst sentence in the world.” It got me thinking, which got me writing. This is the result.  🙂

The worst sentence in the world is being a writer.

Seriously.

Writers are born with a life sentence. Our minds reel with the best way to string words together. Obsess about whether “about” or “over” is a better choice of words here. Debate whether a period or a semicolon should go there.

We conjure up people that have never and will never exist. Let them live in our heads like imaginary friends, telling us all about themselves, captivating us with their larger-than-life personalities. Yet we’ll spend hours dreaming up what kind of heck to put them through; trying to discover the most shocking or poignant ways to kill them off.

Ideas captivate us. Words fascinate us. Stories drive us.

Writers have to write. It’s hardwired into our DNA. There is no discussion. There is no argument.

But sometimes, we just can’t write. Words won’t come. Characters are silent. We stare at a blank screen or find other things to do because we just can’t do it.

You know what that’s like?

Imagine being dipped in boiling oil, then scrubbed down with sandpaper. Imagine swallowing a piece of cactus with all the spines intact. Imagine listening to an orchestra of scraped chalkboards and squeaky brakes.

No. More accurately, imagine a spectral sunrise. The music of rain and thunder. A soft wind rustling through pine trees. Rolling hills and undulating waves. A baby’s laughter, an old man’s smile. A hug shared between friends. Dreams hoped for, dreams realized. Dreams that will never be.

Imagine beauty that breaks your heart. Something divine, a hint of heaven. Your heart can recognize it, your soul can feel it, your entire being longs to express it.

But you can never quite capture the intangible with words.

Writers write, knowing words will always fall short. Knowing that perfection is impossible. And sometimes that knowledge overwhelms us, making us doubt our own desires and ask ourselves, “what’s the point?”

But writers find a way to write.

To see the beauty and paint some small glimpse of it with words.

It’s the worse sentence in the world, being a writer.

But somehow, some way . . . it’s also the best sentence in the world.

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