Posted by: AMcGowan | 02/19/2012

Perfect World

Because of my family’s food allergies, we’ve become major label readers. And I have to admit, it’s disheartening sometimes. I mean, they sneak gluten into just about everything. Egg and dairy are all around us. Sometimes, just walking through the store, you feel like food companies are out to get you!

I was at the grocery store today, looking for relish that didn’t have food coloring in it. I know…food coloring? Cucumbers are green! Silly companies! Guess what? Couldn’t find any. My thought processes started buzzing. American food companies are following the way of the fashion industry. You’re probably wondering what I’m talking about—try to follow my though process, it can get a bit convoluted at times. American food companies are doing what the fashion industry has been doing for years. They are covering up imperfection in foods with dyes (rather like style mags cover up their models with airbrushing). But…in pickles? I’ve seen homemade relish and pickles—yep, still green. But, dare I say, not green enough? (Just an FYI—the foods the US exports to Europe have to be free of dyes because of a ban they instated due to safety concerns. I’ll let you ponder that one.)

Now, take a leap with me: our striving to cover up imperfection can get in the way of our spiritual life. A lot of people get so focused on the surface, they don’t ever take a peek inside. They are worn out trying to live up to other’s expectations. They are exhausted trying to be perfect and to do it all. People might put off starting a deeper relationship with their creator until they’ve got it all together. I do that sometimes, too. I plan to have a time set aside to spend with the Lord. But, I’ve got to get all these other things out of the way first! Or worse yet, people try to become perfect enough to approach God on their own.

The Bible says we can’t do it by ourselves. That we’ll never measure up, never be perfect enough to approach God. In our American perfectionism, this is rather a bummer. You mean, I can’t cover up my sin enough to approach God on my own? Mix in a little food coloring to make myself brighter and more appealing? Not so much. The good news is, Jesus says that if we accept Him as our savior, He’ll approach God for us. He’ll be our intercessor. God will forgive our imperfections and sins because the One who is perfect died in our place. We don’t have to wait until we have it all together, or cover up our sins or short comings, to deepen our relationship with God. We just have to accept the gift of grace Jesus offers to us.

Romans 5: 7-11 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Read in context here.)

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Posted by: AMcGowan | 02/14/2012

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Happy Valentine’s Day. Now, I know that the validity of this day is often called into question by naysayers who claim the greeting card industry started it all—but if you do a bit of research, you’ll find it was first founded by a pope to honor Christian martyrs. Then, in the 15th century it turned into a day to honor loved ones via gifts of candy and notes. And THEN the greeting card companies got into the game. So, people get all worked up about how it has to do with marketing and…well…it probably has a lot to do with it. After all, candy sales go up, and so do flower sales. But, it’s also a good excuse to tell loved ones how much they mean to us.

When I was in high school, my school sold roses on Valentine’s day to make money for programs. And every year I hoped to get one from someone—but I never did. A couple times during the day, rose deliveries would be made in the classrooms, and I’d hold my breath, thinking maybe some unnamed admirer would confess their crush through a rose. Throughout the day, you could see clearly who was ‘loved’ by the rose placed prominently on their desk, carried proudly to each class. For me, though, it was not to be.

What I did not know at the time was that one day I’d marry a man who gave me flowers throughout the year. A man who would make personal sacrifices for me time and again. Who would do anything to protect and provide for me and our two kids. Who would stand by me in trial, pray for me during illness, and rejoice with me in blessings.

And as wonderful as I think my husband is (and you may think your significant other is), there’s One who loves us better. He set the standard on love—one that we can’t possibly meet without Him.

But, maybe you’re not feeling so loved or lovely. You’re thinking, “What’s love got to do with it?” You might even be angry at where you are in life. If you are today like I was once, wishing and hoping to be loved and appreciated, feeling unnoticed—know that you are not only noticed, but fully known. And that sacrificial love has been given to you, a free gift for the taking.

1 John 4: 7-12  Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (read in context here)

Posted by: AMcGowan | 01/28/2012

I Can See Clearly Now

So, last week I posted about my nervousness in starting subcutaneous treatment for my CVID. Well, on Tuesday, I took the plunge (no pun intended!). I also had a lovely visit with an excellent nurse who trained me. She explained each step, and we got me numbed up for the injection sites. Before I knew it, we were hooking me up to the pump (this involves four subcutaneous needles and tubing being attached from my abdomen to the pump). Then she took my vital signs. My blood pressure is usually excellent, but on Tuesday, it was higher than normal. So was my pulse rate.

As I sat, she chatted with me and the infusion started. Every fifteen minutes the nurse took my vital signs to make sure I wasn’t having a reaction to the infusion. I watched each time she jotted the numbers down. As I relaxed and realized everything was going okay, my blood pressure and pulse dropped. Before I knew it, 2 1/2 hours had gone by and I was done. The nurse gave me a grin as she wrote down the last vital check—all at very normal levels. “You’re not nervous anymore, right?”

She’s was right. Sometimes facing that unknown can be worse than the actual event. And I have a pretty good imagination (thus the writer in me). Unfortunately, I’m also a bit of a pessimist—so I tend to expect the worst and am usually pleased with a better outcome. I didn’t have a reaction (so we put away the Epi-pen until next time), and I didn’t get a headache or nausea. I did get some pretty awesome swelling though, that has finally gone down today (Friday). I understand that gets some better over time as my body will adjust to the treatment.

Something else happened today that I did not expect. For about a half-hour, I felt a bit different. By the time I caught on to what it was, the moment passed. It was what can only be described as feeling well. There was an open window of healthiness, the sun streaming in, a lightness for a period of time in which I didn’t feel the groggy, achy flu-like fatigue I’ve had for so long. I don’t know how else to describe it. Then, before I realized it for what it was, that window crashed closed, and I fell to tears.

People who are chronically ill set a new level on themselves (at least this is my experience and the experience of my friends). This is what feels okay, this is what doesn’t (what passes for okay for someone chronically ill would feel quite sick by a healthy person’s body). I’ve spent so much of this past year feeling lousy, I think I’ve forgotten what it feels like not to feel icky. In fact, as happens often with CVID, I’ve felt worse and worse, less and less able to keep up with life for the past ten years. Tired from doing easy tasks, overwhelmed by decisions, catching every cold that comes by. Some friends chalked it up to age—but it’s not just that. Today, I had a window of proof.

I’m going to try, while I fight a sinus headache off tonight, to hold onto that vision, that view of wellness. Because of that window I glimpsed through today, praise God, I’m hoping for more—when frankly I was afraid to hope at all.

Ephesians 3: 20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (read in context here)

Posted by: AMcGowan | 01/18/2012

Everything’s Gonna Be Alright

Sometimes, I find it hard to write. Some days my head is so wrapped up in my own troubles, it’s hard to think clearly. I’ve been having such a time for the past couple weeks (thus my lagging blog).

So, here’s what’s up: At long last, after months of waiting and dealing with insurance companies and changing doctors and confirming diagnoses with second opinions, I’m getting ready to start treatment of my CVID (Common Variable Immunodeficiency). The intro packet from the medication company has arrived (still have to watch the how-to video), and I was just called and told my medication and pump will arrive on Friday. The last step is waiting for the nurse to call me and set up three training sessions.

It’s been a struggle getting here. And now that the day is near…I find I’m filled with trepidation. This is a life-long treatment—one I’ll have to do weekly, and that will cost a lot of money. Questions fill my head: what if it makes me feel worse? What if it doesn’t work? What if this is the quality of my life for the rest of my life?

I’m not often led by fears. I admit I don’t like the unknown. I like to know what’s coming, which is probably why I’m not excited about this. Logically, I know that I should put my hope in the unchanging love and care of the Lord. But, sometimes, logical thinking doesn’t help keep my emotions in line!

After joining a PIDD (Primary Immunodeficiency Disease) support group, and hearing some of their trials and challenges, I realize that God has orchestrated a lot of things in my life to get me to this point. I’m thankful I’m not sicker. I’m thankful that I live within an hour’s drive of my immunologist (many folks have to drive 3+ hours to see one experienced with PIDD). I’m thankful that God has provided the money it’s going to take to pay for this. I’m thankful that I’ve got an excellent primary care doctor after many years of searching for that right connection. I’m thankful my doctors listen to me (this is a rarity, unfortunately, for many PIDD sufferers). As the list I type continues, I’m seeing a pattern here—that God does indeed have things in hand, and that I need to rest my fears on Him instead. I’m so thankful that I can.

I’m reminded that the Lord knows I was born with this. He’s known what is coming my whole life. He knew I’d grow more ill over time, knew where I needed to live to get good treatment, knew I’d need a wonderful supportive husband and kids–knew this was going to be hard. Although we aren’t near our families, we’ve been mightily blessed with supportive, praying friends nearby who understand and are there for us. You know who you are—thank you doesn’t begin to cover it. But, thank you.

When you feel afraid, how do you remind yourself of God’s ongoing provision in your life? I’d love to hear from you.

Romans 8:31-39 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (read the whole passage here)

Posted by: AMcGowan | 12/21/2011

And So This Is Christmas

The other day I had an opportunity to share my faith with someone who was confused about Jesus’ deity. And, as when anything like that happens, my faith deepened as I went about finding the verses of the Bible to share with him.

As it’s Christmas, the time of year when Christians choose to celebrate the birth of their savior, I thought I’d share a bit of what I found for my searching friend. I think the misconceptions of the world often infiltrate our ideas of who Jesus was. I often hear through the media that He was just a good man, or that He never claimed to be God, or that He was a just a prophet. Rather than listening to what others say, I think the best source of information is the fountainhead—the Bible. I’ve linked all the verses to read in context if you’d like.

The Bible says this about the birth of our Savior some 700 years before He was born:

Isaiah 7:9 Therefore the Lord himself will give youa sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, andwill call him Immanuel (which means God with us). (Full text here)

Isaiah 9: 6-7 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this. (Full text here)

Equally powerful are the statements Jesus makes about Himself:

I AM the bread of life (John 6:35)

I AM the door (John 10:9)

I AM the light of the world (John 8:12)

I AM the good shepherd (John 10:11)

I AM the resurrection and the life (John 11:25)

Before Abraham was born, I AM (John 8:58)

I AM the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End (Revelation 22)

Romans 5:6-7 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Full text here)

I know things are ramping up. There are family pressures, parties to attend, the perfect gifts to find, and a whole world of madness outside of our homes (and sometimes inside). But, I hope you join with me in celebrating our Lord’s birth this season, thanking Him for all the things Jesus is to us, and what He’s done for us. Mostly, I hope you slow down and spend time with the One, who gave Himself up for us as a willing sacrifice, a gift of love.

Posted by: AMcGowan | 11/28/2011

Living on a Prayer

In my last blog, I posted that people with chronic illness or pain have been through the gamut of trying to find ‘the thing’ that will heal them and how it can be hurtful when others try and force their ‘cure’ on them.

Let me be clear—I’m not speaking about people that want to come alongside the hurting and help. I’ve had many loving suggestions from caring friends. Most of those conversations were respectful and kind. I don’t know of anyone who takes offense at loving suggestions. I can tell they are loving because when I respectfully decline they say, “Okay.” And the suggestions stop.

If you fall into that loving category—thank you very much. And especially, thank you for the following: The most valuable comfort in my time of illness has been the friends and family who come and sit beside me in this trial to pray. And to listen. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is just to have someone listen and empathize.

Prayer. Seems simple enough. Unfortunately in our culture, it’s often the last ditch effort. We are doers and fixers. You’ve got a problem, they’ve got the solution. But, when the solution doesn’t work…well, you might have heard the following: “I can’t do anything for you so I’ll pray.”

It’s been said that God doesn’t often change our circumstances, but He does change our hearts in those circumstances. It’s so true. When I submit myself to Him, He gives me strength for that moment. I’ve often been in tears from exhaustion early on in the day. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve cried out and said, “God, I just need to get the laundry done, please help me.” Soon after, I’ll have the strength to do the laundry. Now…if you would have told me twenty years ago that I would be praying for the ability to do laundry (which I hate to do as much as the dishes), I would have laughed in your face. But today, it’s a different story! Taking care of my family is part of who I am, and not being able to do rudimentary things, like laundry, wears me down mentally and spiritually.

Prayer isn’t a magical incantation, and it isn’t manipulation of God wherein we say just the right thing at the right time in the right way in order to make God change His mind and do what we wish. Rather, it is powerful because of the One who answers according to His good will and purpose for our lives. And that’s what I desire: God’s will and the strength and wisdom to endure whatever it is I’m going through.

When you offer prayer in times of trial and a listening ear, you are the hands and feet of our Lord. I’m so grateful for those around me who have been there, praying and listening as we go through our trials. Thank you!

Philippians 4:6-7 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Full text here.)

Posted by: AMcGowan | 11/20/2011

Give Thanks

I’ve been thinking of something for a few weeks now, ever since someone quoted a Bible verse to me about being perfectly and wonderfully made. To the person who quoted it, it meant I should claim wellness. I think they were worried I was ‘settling’ for being chronically ill. I know they meant to be helpful, but it started another round of soul searching on my part. Was I doing everything in my power to be well? The answer, once again, was yes.

Most people are well-intentioned and have no idea what it’s like to be on the receiving end of suggestions, even Biblical references, after they have finally come to an acceptance of their situation, whatever that may be. People who suffer from chronic pain or illness have been through the gamut of searching—so if you know someone who is in that spot, please offer prayer and friendship, but know they’ve been on the journey searching for an answer for a long time, and they certainly aren’t settling for anything. People don’t mean to, but when they insist you try this one more thing, it’s like they’re saying you would try their one more thing if you really wanted to get well—and if you don’t try their one more thing then you are choosing sickness and pain. This is incredibly hurtful.

I’ve spent a lot of my life ill, and in being so, I’ve searched out web pages, done research, taken natural medicines, tried out tinctures and teas, changed eating habits, and took loads of supplements all the while searching for those things that would fix me. Let me warn you, it’s a dangerous road to travel. Several people I’ve crossed paths with have turned their search into an almost religious-like passion. And some try to force their conclusions on others. There is franticness in their lives, an out of control feeling, a grasping for that thing. If you just drink this thing, or eat this thing and avoid that thing then you will have complete healing.

Other good-intentioned folks have said something akin to: “You were made in the image of God, He wants you to be well.” I will say this to that: If He wanted me to be well, you can bet I would be. Right now. Immediately with no action on my part except prayer and petition. DONE. My conclusion is that it is for some reason, for His purposes I am not. Which leads me to my next point that upsets any number of people, and hopefully encourages even more: I’m okay with that. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that’s not an easy thing for me to say. But, it’s the truth.

Just like most folks, I have a tendency to thank God for the things that make me happy, make my life easier—and I forget that God is in control of the hard things like illness ( or please insert your form of loss or suffering here). Let me assure you, God is much more interested in my spiritual being than my temporary happiness (because my circumstances are always changing). So, I need to look at those difficult things and, because I know God is loving, be thankful for those things as well. Maybe I should be thankful for those things first because it’s during those hard times He draws me close, holds me up and carries me through. As Christians, we were never promised an easy ride—I’m not sure when that false teaching first arose (somewhere in the first century, I’m sure). But we are assured by His word that He never leaves us, nor forsakes us. And that is something to be truly thankful for.

Hebrews 13: 5-6 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,  “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? (Full text here.)

Paul, who suffered untold poverty, prison, shipwreck, illness, and pain while he lived a life passionately for our Lord shared the following:

1 Timothy 6: 17-19 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (Full text here.)

Philippians 4: 12-13 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Full text here.)

Posted by: AMcGowan | 11/15/2011

For Jack

It’s times like now that I’m glad I write. I can put my memories, my feelings on paper, and that gives me a bit of relief. And today, I need that relief–we had to euthanize our kitty. He’d suffered from illness for most of his life, and lived quite a long time for a kitty with feline Leukemia, although he went downhill quite fast this past weekend. He was 4 1/2 years of age.

Our Jack was a spitfire at 5 weeks, taking on our adult cat, Spookers, and winning. Spookers lost his voice after hissing at Jack so often, but he never put Jack in his place. The alpha cat (if there is such a thing) had clearly arrived. At two pounds, he’d taken over, making it clear through his actions we lived in HIS house, not the other way around. Even so, he feared non-family members—so most outsiders never got to see his fuzzy, cuddly side. But, I assure you, he had one.

We first met Jack as our family was out for a walk. A small, orange bundle of fur hopped and skipped across our path. We were dismayed that no one claimed the little guy. After two weeks of advertising, we realized he’d been dumped and decided to keep him. He immediately ingratiated himself to our family through cuddles, goofiness and fun.

Partially due to his own personality, and partially due to illness, Jack was highly OCD. He had ingrained routines like walking my husband to the door every morning on his way to work and giving the scratching post a good going over. He didn’t like variations on his routine. One time my husband left (Jack scratched the post) then came back inside with something he got from the car. Jack hissed at him, upset that he’d come back—Ken’s role was to leave and not come back until dinner time!

Jack hated things out of place, letting us know how unhappy it made him to have a sock left laying around. He had a great fear of slippers (even doll slippers). My kids would position slippers around the house to keep him from places he shouldn’t be, away from toys they didn’t want him getting hold of. He had a passion for pipe cleaners (the kids use them for art projects), and could some how sniff them out no matter how well we hid them. He loved drinking from the faucet of the tub. He would chase plastic Easter eggs around the house (only the green ones). He scampered about after tiny Lego blocks up and down the wood floors at 2AM (groan!). He enjoyed hiding under things and racing out to grab our toes. His favorite perch was on top of the entertainment center—I think he was keeping an eye on his pride (I fancy he believed himself to be a tiger). Wherever there was activity, there was Jack—sitting on our school books, climbing into grocery bags, sleeping in game box lids.

When Jack was a kitten, he loved to be pushed in the doll stroller. Even as he got too big for that, he still enjoyed being wrapped in a blanket and rocked by my daughter. He would steal bracelets, necklaces and had a soft spot for My Little Ponies (would carry them around the house by his teeth). The kids often had to build barriers around their things (remember the slippers!). I wondered when company came over if they’d think we had some odd habits or collections!

It’s hard to say what I’ll miss the most. Jack would often sit on a small chair in the kitchen and watch me cook. I got in the habit of telling him what I was doing. He seemed so curious and interested—much like the kids when they were younger. I’m sure if he had thumbs, he would have been quite the chef. After watching me for a bit, he would flop down and press his feet to ours, a sign of submission and love. And then, every night, at about ten, he’d climb onto my lap and purr himself into a pre-bedtime nap. He was my therapy cat. A constant companion. My cozy friend. I’m so glad God chose him for us, and I feel so privileged to have had him in my life. I’ll miss him so.

Posted by: AMcGowan | 10/23/2011

Everything Must Change

I love the sound of the geese flying overhead as they leave thePacific Northwest for warmer locales. I know that some are really just moving from place to place here, because they stay in the area. But most are on their way south.

I remember once when my daughter was about 6. We had just parked the car and I saw multiple V’s of geese flying overhead. I rolled down the windows to let in the sound of their honking and grinned at my daughter, wanting her to share in my excitement. “Hear that sound? Those are the geese flying over on their way south. They’re leaving for the winter.”

Instead of having a warm fuzzy moment with my daughter, I learned something about her character. Unbeknownst to me, she had a deep-set fear of change (she’s still not happy about it, but it’s better now). Rather than share in my enthusiasm, she began to cry, “I don’t want the geese to leave!” In seconds, she became inconsolable. She wanted me to bring them back. I tried my best to assure her they would be back in the spring, but nothing I said made any difference to her.

I can identify with that. This past year I’ve had become accustomed to a new way of living. After a lifetime of illness, I was diagnosed with CVID (If you want to know what that is, please read here). The diagnosis explained why I’d been sick so often (starting at 4 mos with tonsillitis). But, at the same time, it ushered in this new phase of change, of letting go, of slowing down (consuming fatigue as my body does it’s best to fight off germs the best it can), of learning to protect myself from illness (RUN!) and how open doors in public places without touching them.

As glad as I was to get the diagnosis, I’ve fought the idea of it. I wanted a cure-all treatment. Now that I knew what was broken, I wanted the doctors to fix it. Well, that’s not to be. I can be treated with SCIG (subcutaneous immunoglobulin via weekly home infusions for the rest of my life), but I can’t be ‘fixed’ medically. I might have to fight this fatigue for the rest of my life. I’ll always have to be careful of germy places (i.e the public). And the treatments are quite expensive (so much so no one really wants to tell you how much they cost). We thank the Lord for our insurance and His provision to pay for it when I start in January.

Anyway, I didn’t want to have a chronic illness. I didn’t want to have a disability. I wanted my life back. But, what I came around to is this is my life. We had to change dramatically when my son was diagnosed some time back with a-typical celiac and other food allergies, and here we go changing again. It’s disconcerting, uncomfortable, and it’s really not much fun. But, God’s helping me handle it. I listened to a sermon today that reminded me of a very important truth:

God doesn’t often change our circumstances, but He can change us through our circumstances. And He’s ALWAYS with us.

Change is an un-comfy thing. But, like my daughter, with the Lord’s help I’m getting better at it. And I’m so thankful for that the love of the Lord is unchanging, never faltering, and always sustaining.

Psalm 9:9-10 The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you. (Full text here.)

Psalm 46:1 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. (Full text here.)

Posted by: AMcGowan | 10/09/2011

Short: Swing

“Well, you can’t have it!” She screamed loud enough for the whole neighborhood to hear.

Jimmy slammed the door in Macy’s face as she tried to follow him into the front yard of his mother’s house. He felt her eyes on him as he approached the aging swing hanging sideways off the old oak.

“Why does that old thing matter to you anyway? You were never here to use it.” She stood on the other side of the screen door as the accusing tone in her voice raked over him. Macy didn’t seem understand his penchant for keeping everything. Or at least his trying to. Did she forget how he’d owned nothing for years?

“I’m doing my best to clear out this house, and all you want to do is pack everything away.” Macy pushed open the door, stood on the steps and put her hands on her hips, a stance that told him he was on her last straw. Some things never changed.

Jimmy wiped his eyes and pretended to ignore her. He turned over the swing seat and saw the initials carved there. His finger followed their outline, bumping over rough, cracking wood. He glanced back at his wife.

“I don’t expect you to do anything. I just want it.” Taking out his pocket knife, he cut the single lasting rope that held it suspended over the ground for the past twenty years. Satisfied, he tucked it up under his arm, ignoring the splinters that poked through his shirt and into his flesh.

“Fine. You keep whatever you want. Go rent a truck and haul all that garbage out of here by Monday. Whatever’s left is being donated to the poor.” She pushed past him towards her car.

Jimmy grabbed her as she moved by, pulling her towards him. She swung around, wrenching her arm away. He put his hands up and took two steps back. “Listen, I appreciate your taking care of everything all this time, Macy.” She wouldn’t meet his eyes. “I know you did a lot.” Her head snapped up, eyes blazing at him. That got her attention.

“I did it all.” The last word ground out past her teeth.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t here.”

“That was your doing.” The bitterness in her tone didn’t shock him. The accusing looks didn’t either. He deserved her wrath.

“I know it was.” But, there was something he didn’t understand at all.

Glancing back at the old house, the only home he’d known really, he decided the question had waited long enough. “Why’d you stay married to me, Macy?” He didn’t look at her. Rather, he hoped she was already driving away in her car.

“We made a covenant.”

Jimmy closed his eyes at the pain he heard in her voice to avoid seeing it in her face. “I broke that, didn’t I?”

“No. You never did. Least ways, I don’t think you did.” She sounded strange. Regretful?

“I’ve been in jail for twenty years. That’s not enough to break it?”

“No.” Resentful.

“I robbed a bank and that man died because of it. That’s not enough?”

“No.” Macy’s voice was just above a whisper.

Jimmy moved away and sat down on the front step. He slipped the swing seat from under his arm, tracing the dedication. “Did they use it?” He heard her step closer, then stop.

“Yes.” Her voice choked. “They’d push each other and pretend you were pushing them.”

Pain. Clear and bright it tore through him. He’d missed his children’s growing years. He’d missed being married to the most amazing woman he’d ever known. He’d missed taking care of his mother in her aging years. Missed Christmases and birthdays. Flu’s and chicken pox. First days of school, first dances, first dates and first broken hearts. He’d missed his mother’s funeral. For what?

“There’s nothing I can do to set things right. God knows I tried.”

“God knows?”

He glanced up at her face, wondering at the tone she’d used.

“I think so. I talk to Him about it.” Jimmy shook his head in shame. “Those men I was with. They knew they had me. They found a stupid desperate kid who wanted nothing more than to take care of his wife and new twin babies. They promised him things, things deep down he knew they’d never deliver on. And that stupid boy agreed to drive their car for them.” He shook his head at the memory. Even now he could feel the fear and excitement that had welled inside. He’d gripped the wheel, ready to make their escape as soon as they climbed in the car. He’d gun the engine and they’d make off with everything he needed to take care of his family. No working sixty hours a week at a minimum wage job could give him that kind of security. Their bills would be paid in minutes. They’d be set for months until he could find another job. And then the next one.

He would have never stopped.

“I thank God the police caught me, Macy.” They hadn’t caught the others. He’d been honest at the trial, he didn’t know their names, didn’t know where they lived. There was a public outcry. Someone had to pay for that security guard getting shot. Jimmy paid.

“Did I hear you right?”

Tears welled as his eyes met hers. “Yes, you heard me.”

“You had to suffer for what those men did. You lost everything for them!”

How could he make her understand? “If the police hadn’t caught me, I’d have gone right on taking the easy way. The kids would have grown up with a father who was a criminal.”

“That is how they grew up.”

He shook his head. “No. They grew up with a father who paid for the crime he committed.”

“You didn’t commit that crime.” She sniffed. “Robbery. You should have been out in five. You paid for someone else’s crime.”

That was the rub. The very thing that opened his eyes to God. “I needed that time to turn my heart around. If I hadn’t got caught, who knows what kind of man I’d have become.”

She shook her head at him. She probably thought he was crazy. “You haven’t become any kind of man.”

Macy’s words cut him. She hadn’t let the kids come by more than once a year to see him. She blamed it on the prison atmosphere. She only came to see him three times a year, claiming it was too hard to see him in there. None of it was true. She was punishing him, over and over again for the mistake he’d made.

“Are you ever going to forgive me for being weak?”

“I don’t know that I can.” Tears streamed down her cheeks.

He glanced down at his hands, rubbing his thumbs over the seat. “You know why I made this?”

“I have no idea. But your mother insisted we put it up in the yard.”

“So part of me would be here.”

She tried to snort, but it ended in a sob.

“Sometimes it takes a man a long time to realize what’s important to him.” He held out a handkerchief to her. Taking it, she dabbed her eyes.

“You had to go to jail for twenty years to see what’s important?” Anguish laced her every word.

He shook his head, unable to make her understand. She would stay married to him forever, because of a vow she made before God. But, it’d be like they were strangers. He didn’t think she’d let him live in the same house with her. There was nothing he could do to change her mind.

His gaze traveled over the porch, stopping on a looped rope he’d intended to use to secure the boxes on the trailer they were pulling. Standing up, Jimmy grabbed the rope and headed towards the big oak in the front yard. He tossed the rope high, slung it over the branch, and then he did it again. Fall leaves rained down over his head, showering him with the dust of passing time. He secured the swing seat and patted it.

“Let me push you.”

Macy shook her head at him. Then her eyes went wide. He could see almost see the light turn on in her mind. She’d finally remembered.

“We used to swing together, in the park.” Her voice was just above a whisper.

“That’s right. You said you felt free when you were swinging; lifted up, the ground rushing by, but you were safe. You said you’d always want to swing with me. That you felt like nothing could touch you when I was pushing you. Invincible.”

Tears streamed as she clenched her eyes closed. “We were kids.”

“We were in love.” He patted the seat. “Let me push you.”

Macy crossed her arms over her chest. She shook her head at him.

“Please. Then you can go.”

Jimmy didn’t know if it was the word please or the promise he’d let her leave. Whatever it was, she gave in. Walking slowly towards the swing, she turned her back to him and slipped down onto the seat, the ropes creaking against her weight as she settled back. He put his hands over hers, gave them a squeeze and stepped back, pulling her on the swing with him. Then, he let go.

He pushed her, again and again, and watched her legs instinctively go out and back, pumping. He gave her a harder push. She let out a quick gasp and laughed. Ten years fell away.

“Not so high.”

“Swings are meant to go high. That’s the whole point,” he repeated the same words he’d used all those years ago. Fifteen more years stripped off. She was above him now, head tipped back, looking through the branches.

“What do you see?” He took a quick peek past the orange and yellow of the dying leaves.

“Blue sky.” Her voice came in a wisp to him as she swung away.

He smiled as joy met and mingled with bittersweet regret. They’d never be the same, but he’d always have this. He pushed her again, but he didn’t need to. She was on her own, pumping higher and higher, laughing now. Then, as if someone blew a whistle on the playground, she slowed her legs and came back to rest in front of him. He stood behind her, once again putting his hands over hers. She didn’t move away. Instead she leaned back, her head coming to rest against his chest.

“I missed you.”

“Me, too.” This was it. Goodbye. He braced himself for the pain he knew was coming.

Macy stood and stretched in front of the swing. Her hair was mussed and interwoven with tiny bits of leaf and moss. She ruffled her hair, shaking out the lose pieces and gave him an embarrassed smile. Then she came around behind him whispering in his ear, sending a shiver of hope down his side. “Your turn.”

Holding his breath, Jimmy met her eyes and found warmth there.

“You going to get on, or what?”

He nodded and squeezed his body in between the ropes. Again, they groaned. He put his feet up, feeling like a little boy. He felt her hands wrap over his.

“Ready?”

“I’m set.”

Her hands pulled him back, and then she gave him a heaving push. He was much bigger than she was, but she got the job done. He began pumping his legs back and forth. Laughter bubbled up from his chest. The ground swung away and back, his stomach pulling down with gravity at each pass. Her hands pushed, her voice laughed and then he heard a thud. Turning behind him he saw Macy sprawled along the ground, shaking. He jumped from the swing, out of instinct. Landing hard, he felt his ankle give a bit. He’d pay for that tomorrow.

Racing to her side, he saw her shuddering was from laughter. He knelt down and began pulling bits of earth and tree from her hair and clothes.

“Are you okay?”

“I tripped over the root.” She kept laughing, drawing him in to share her joy with him. As their smiles faded, she focused on the sky above. “Thank you for the swing.”

“I’m glad you liked it.”

Macy’s locked her eyes on his. “We need to take it with us. I want you to put it up in the back yard.”

“For the grandkids?” A hopeful confusion washed over him.

“For us.” She took his hand. “For us.”

Copyright by April McGowan 2011

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