One Sunday Morning

The sun rose and peeked through the sheer curtains. Rose’s alarm shrieked. The loud bells caused her phone to jump on the side table. It was time for her to get ready for church. Blindly reaching for her phone, she shut the alarm off and pulled at the covers providing her a cocoon of warmth and tossed them to the side. She swept her bare feet across the bed to touch the cool wooden floor.

Rose softly tiptoed to the corner of the bedroom to grab her clothes dangling on the arm of the bedroom chair. Scooping all of the items of her chosen outfit, she headed to the bathroom hoping that she wouldn’t drop anything.

Round, piercing blue eyes stared back at her in the bathroom mirror. Rose fingered the wrinkles forming around her eyes. So many of them bore signs of laughter and smiling. Slowly dropping her hands, she couldn’t remember the last time she laughed in her home with Tom. Shaking her head as if to erase the negative thoughts, she reached for her makeup bag and went through her regular routine.

Applying her favorite deep rose lipstick, Rose headed downstairs to make her coffee and bagel to take with her to church. The smell of dark-roast coffee swirled in the air as Rose sliced her cinnamon raisin bagel. Hearing the Keurig sputter with the fresh brew, Rose found the interruption of the stillness comforting. The toaster signaled that her bagel was done with a soft pop. It had a delicious golden brown color. Placing the bagel on the counter, she generously spread honey nut flavored cream cheese across both halves. Gathering her bible, notebook, and pens from the side table on the porch she stuffed them into her purse. Purse hanging on her right shoulder she juggled her coffee and bagel in both of her hands as she headed to the garage.

Tom awoke to the sound of the garage door creaking open. He turned to the side and glanced at his phone. Man, it was only 8:30 on a Sunday morning! After pushing his phone to the side, he rolled over to see that Rose’s side of the bed was empty. “What was the woman up to?”

He shuffled to the bedroom window and sent the soft maroon curtains careening to the left and right. His eyes squinted in the new morning sun to see Rose pulling out of the garage in their sedan. An irritation, much like a bug incessantly buzzing around the ear, started to build as Tom’s eyes followed the license plate to their car fading away.

Pulling on his robe and donning his slippers he made his way down to his leather recliner. Switching the T.V. on to ESPN, he watched the highlight reel over the last couple days of dunks, goals, and homeruns.

The home phone blared. Interrupting one of the top plays of the year. Tom grappled to grab the phone before it went to the answering machine.

Hello?!” Tom’s voice was curt.

A man’s gruff voice traveled across the phone line. “Hello sir, are you the husband of Rose Cartmen?”

Tom sharply inhaled. “Yes, to whom am I speaking?”

The man’s voice was laced with authority.  “I’m police officer Grant. I’m calling to tell you that your wife was involved in a head on collision. We need you to come now. The accident was on Jefferson Avenue across from the train station. Do you know where that is?”

Tom’s heart pounded rapidly. His mind was in shock. This can’t be happening. His voice cracked as he answered the police officer. “Yes, I am on my way.”

Running towards the stairs, Tom took the steps two by two. It all happened in a blur as he found himself wrenching the handle of the driver’s side door to his sports car. All he could think was that Rose was dead. His mind kept whispering. “She can’t be….She can’t be.”

Tom’s sports car came to a screeching halt on the corner of Jefferson Avenue. He got out and started running blindly, pushing past people as he neared the scene. He ignored the constant whispering and looks of fear.

He saw the sedan flipped on its side. The driver’s side was caved in, the wheel hanging in a disfigured fashion. The current condition of the car completely changed from this morning. Tom stopped running and sharply started breathing in and out. His eyes scanned the perimeter looking for Rose’s auburn hair, her slender build, anything that looked similar to her.

After a couple of seconds, he spotted the stretcher with Rose fastened securely to the board. He  quickly walked toward it. He felt his heart beat faster. His eyes stung from oncoming tears. Her hair was matted to the right side of her head as dried blood covered the initial wound.

Mr. Cartmen?” A voice that seemed to float on the air reached his ear.

“Yes?” Tom answered in a shaky tone.

The EMT’s voice was calm and steady. “Your wife has encountered quite a few injuries. She has endured a blunt force trauma to the head by the window and her right arm is broken. It seems it was stuck between the armrest and she couldn’t get it out in time. We are transferring her to the ICU in Olathe where she can be better treated and closely monitored. Would you like to ride in the ambulance with us?”

Tom couldn’t believe he was having this conversation right now. This wasn’t possible. He knew fear was in his eyes. He looked at the EMT. “Please take me with you.”
The medical team, the EMT, and Tom all jumped into the ambulance. Heading west to Olathe Medical Hospital, Tom looked up at the roof of the car begging someone, anyone to save his wife.


To What Measure?

For the last month, Elaine noticed a growing irritation within herself. It came in tiny waves at first, burning the quinoa, failing to exercise, but over time the waves progressively got bigger and the force was crushing. She was frustrated with her limits.

Finances. Marriage. Friendships. Family. Teaching.

You see, Elaine is a measurer. Time is measured in seconds and hours. Her recipes are measured in cups and liters. Her worth is measured and determined by the world’s standards of success, smarts, or looks. Her days are measured by sunlight and her nights by moonlight. She is measurable. And that was the root of her irritation.

Paycheck to paycheck measured her limit for food, clothing, heat. Marriage consisted of fruitful times and hard, difficult times. The measure was the season that her and her husband, two imperfect people, found themselves fighting together in. Friendships are measured by investment or distance. Get-togethers and fellowship measure the closeness of family. Grades and lesson plans measure how much she would teach kids in one year or one day. Seasons are measured by snow, leaves, heat, and flowers. Her cell phone plan was measured by how much she paid per month. The car’s length of travel was measured by the amount of gas resting in the tank.

Everything in her life was measured. She was limited. Her focus impaired.

Elaine was suffocating from trying to cover up the rotten feelings reeking in her heart. Normal comments were met with disdain and hurt. Insecurity was on a rampage. Comparison blared in her ears everywhere she looked. Expectations took a dangerous turn. They were unmet and unreasonable which caused a bitter unhappiness.

Sometimes she covered the disgusted feelings with silence, media, or Netflix. Other times her tongue completely let loose and started a fire with her biting sarcastic comments towards family and friends.

She needed help, but help involved people hearing her story, her secret sins, her failures. She would be known and the practice of appearing “put together by patches”, that were tightly sown, would be torn, frayed. She would have to ask for God’s wisdom and strength, again.

Recently, the storm Stella decided to make her grand appearance by dumping her royal pounds of white fluff across the entire landscape of Northeast PA. For those of you reading from the southern states or those who weren’t affected by Stella, let me tell you that she threw many merciless, frigid blows.  

School closed for four days and Elaine, like many people, felt trapped. Thirty-three inches. Is this a joke? The soft blue walls of her home used to resemble warmth and comfort but with the mountain of snow burying her car and house she rapidly became the sweat-panted female behind the bars to her own personal prison cell. She couldn’t escape.

The time that was normally filled with teaching kids or grading papers was quickly filled with snow shoveling, piecing puzzles together, and drinking mounds of coffee. The man-made prison cell became claustrophobic, stifling life.

To make matters worse her relationship with her husband produced a little friction over the last month. Was it his fault? No, he was just the perfect source to release the tension or the lucky winner to pass the blame on, I guess. It was an awful thing to do, but her heart was blinded by paralyzing feelings of fear. Her best friend just became another obstacle.

Her focus was on her limits, her measures. Her focus was on other’s limits and measures. Truth be told because she was zeroed in on destroying her limits, she forgot about her limitless God. Her immeasurable God.

Elaine is me. I am limited. I am known. My focus has been consumed with the struggle of keeping my fears covered, being considered weak, being measured. I can’t do it all and it frustrates me. That’s why in Hebrews, faith isn’t defined as things you can see, do, and predict. Faith is believing in what you cannot see, believing that God will do as He wills and will care for me as He has promised.

From the beginning of the Old Testament to the end of the New Testament I have been given promises of His provision and care.  Promises like He will never leave me nor forsake me” (Deuteronomy 3:16), “His grace is sufficient for me” (I Corinthians 12:9), “You can come boldly before the throne” (Hebrews 4:16), or “I sacrificed my only Son for you, how much more than will I freely give you other things?”  (Romans 8:32) are laced with mercy, grace, and power. These things can only be promised if He is immeasurable. They are all encompassing.

My humble reminder is that He is not measured. He is not limited. He is mighty. He is powerful. He is in control. He is a refuge. (Isaiah 25:4)

I was choking on my own pride, my own strength. I was suffocated with my own expectations and lack of control. When my limits are pointed out, I remember that I am measurable and God is not. What a freeing statement. The bars opened. The room no longer stuffy. The pressure released.

The tendency to try and pretend to be immeasurable is still there. I can promise there will be another attempt for gripping power. I will in some time be taking another swing at control. What about you? Are you discouraged? Is your heart entangled with your failures and insecurities? Take it to the one who promises to give you grace to help in your time of need. My conclusion is this:

Every day you need His grace, therefore; every day you are in need.

Breaking Free

Rose heard the song on the radio slowly fade in the background. Going to church for the first time was one of her favorite memories to replay in her mind. She turned the switch on the radio off and walked back to the sink to dry the dishes. The silence was heavy. The swish and squeak of the towel rubbing against the dishes offered a therapeutic rhythm.

She put the dishes away and made sure the kitchen was in pristine condition. The black speckled counters sparkled and the floors had a freshly cleansed glow.

Her favorite part of the day had come. Putting the water-filled kettle on the stove, she pulled one of her favorite mugs out of the cupboards. The mug was decorated with delicate pink roses and soft, swirling green vines. It was delicate and lovely. In the pantry she scoured the shelves to find her number one pick for tea–country peach. Securing the tea bag in the mug, she waited patiently for the kettle to signal the water reaching its tumultuous boil. Mug in hand, she shut the lights off in the kitchen and meandered over to their whitewashed porch with the sturdy wooden swing.

A refreshing, light spring breeze broke through the screens of the windows tossing some of Rose’s hair to the side. Lying beside the swing was Rose’s leather Bible, notebook and favorite pens. This was her resting place. The place where she was surrounded by the symphony of sweet cricket noises or where the soft rays of the sun descended behind the black canvas of mountains.

Her swing started to creak as she rocked back and forth. She spread out her Bible, notebook and pen across the landscape of the swing. She flipped the pages of her Bible, searching for the highlighted passages she always found comforting after a verbal slam from Tom. Naturally, her fingers turned to the book of Proverbs. She desperately needed the book’s wisdom.

“The plans of the heart belong to man,

but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.

All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes,

but the Lord weighs the spirit.

Commit your work to the Lord,

and your plans will be established.”

Proverbs 16:1-3

Her eyes read the comforting words over and over until they started to blur. Tears quickly formed in her eyes. She prayed for Tom often. His greatest need was salvation. She knelt to the ground. Her knees found the indents on the floor that were born from numerous times she entered into prayer. She lifted up her eyes towards heaven to plead for the heart of her husband to know the truth about God, to know that HE was what Tom needed. The only one to transform a heart so broken would be Jesus himself.

Rose reached for the box of tissues sitting on the edge of the end table next to the swing. After blowing her nose and wiping the wetness from fresh tears off of her face, she laid her Bible and notebook on the end table and stood up. The “war” she was dealing with was not the torrential snide comments or the outbursts of anger from Tom. The war was knowing, believing, trusting that God heard her, saw her and knew her. It was a constant battle that she had to fight daily or sometimes hourly.

She softly closed the screen door to the porch hoping not to interrupt Tom as he watched MLB on the flat screen. The time in her resting place gave her the opportunity to pull away from the real world and pick up the scattered pieces, to go forward in the power of the one who truly loved her.

As she approached the living room, she listened to the batter crushing his hit for a home run. Cheers erupted from the speakers. As the noise grew louder, her heartbeat pumped faster. Being in the same room as Tom always made her nervous. Rose yawned and looked at the time. It was 10:00 on a Saturday night. During a commercial, Rose kissed Tom’s forehead and said goodnight. He didn’t pull her in for another kiss. He didn’t even respond.

From the outside they appeared happy, but from the inside their relationship over the years had grown cold and distant. She sighed as she climbed the stairs to their bedroom. Going to her closet, she picked out one of her favorite outfits for Sunday. She pulled out her blush pink cardigan that matched her cream top. For the bottom of her ensemble, she added her charcoal grey pencil skirt and low heels. To complete the look she partnered a gold necklace and droplet earrings. Sunday was her favorite day of the week. She remembered the faint smell of vanilla wafting in the foyer. People stood in groups with coffee or tea in their hands while they held their Bible in the crook of their other arm. Conversations exploded as people talked about their weekends or their daughter’s/son’s basketball games. It was lively and it was comforting.

Rose set her outfit to the side. She heard Tom coming up the stairway. She quickly brushed her teeth in the bathroom and folded down the covers of the bed. Tomorrow was a new day. One of her favorite days. All she had to do was close her eyes. For tomorrow she would be with her friends.

What Rose didn’t know is that she wouldn’t be sitting in the beloved church pews the next morning.

The Call To Forgive

The yelling was loud and piercing. The kitchen’s cabinets seemed to shake with the waves that his voice created. His booming tone slammed against her ear drums as the insults were hurled one after the other.

“You always complain!”, “Why can’t you do anything right?”, “Can we not have chicken, for the umpteenth time this week?!”

With each verbal slash, her heart deflated just a little bit more. Each morning seemed to awaken the same fears inside of her. She couldn’t shake them. The thoughts wouldn’t fade away. Will it ever end? Would she ever measure up? It felt like a war that she would never win.

The process never seemed to end. If the house wasn’t clean, she knew when he came home the matter would be blown up to the extent that any outsider peeking in would wonder if World War III had started. The end result would leave her identity lying in shrapnels on the floor.

She was tired of picking up the scattered pieces. The glue haphazardly holding them together were quick fixes to ward off the next blow. It hadn’t always been this way. She rubbed her eyes trying to relieve the threat of hot tears ready to stream down her face.

Back when they were teenagers Tom would hold her hand and rub her back. He used to compliment her hair cuts and the new dresses that she would wear.

She remembered the day Tom asked her to marry him. It was perfect. Well, the weather wasn’t so great, but she obviously wasn’t paying attention to the rain pouring down like buckets around her.

One of her favorite hobbies consisted of perusing old bookstores and finding old novels by Jane Austen, Mark Twain, or Tolstoy. Their writing was beautiful. It was intricate and poised. She loved the way their stories seemed to come to life. With each word the main characters would leap from their “prison like pages” that held them captive. The story would unfold and she was utterly captivated.

Tom knew that she was a die-hard book collector. Taking that as his obvious cue, he proposed at the old bookstore where she purchased her first novel- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. The ring was placed right in the middle of the book. He said so many sweet things, but she only heard the last four words, “Will you marry me?” Of course she said yes. How could she refuse? He was the love of her life!

Snapping back to the present, she shook her head slowly, side to side like a pendulum. Years had gone by since the sparks seemed to fly. The late-night coffee dates spent dreaming about the future and where they would go together were distant memories.

Her hands plunged into the soapy dishwater. She scrubbed dishes caked with the leftovers from dinner. The methodical circular motion caused her mind to wander. She relished the silence. The sound of the water’s waves swishing against the sink offered her a break from words laced with anger and disdain.

The radio behind her played soft worship music. A beautiful melody reached her ears. Her fingers reached the volume’s dial to turn it up.

“They say it only takes a little faith

To move a mountain

Good thing

A little faith is all I have right now

But God, when You choose

To leave mountains unmovable

Give me the strength to be able to sing

It is well with my soul”

Rose listened to the lyrics as they hung in the already weighted air. Each word pulled on the tattered strings of her heart. Even if God didn’t take her out of this situation, He was her only hope.

When she and Tom had been married almost five years, one of her friends invited her to go to church with her. At that time, she and Tom were going through the first stages of yelling and hot displeasure. The invitation seemed to be a lifeline. It allowed her to be away from him, giving her an opportunity for just an hour to not be a disappointment, to not incur another tongue lashing.

Walking up to the building’s front doors and entering into the sunny foyer, the new environment gave her room to breathe. It was incredible. She saw her friend off in the distance waving to her. She moved through the crowds of people en route to her friend.

After meeting up, Rose went to find her seat in the large hall. She sat and listened to what she assumed were the church’s announcements about upcoming events, summer camps, and so on. The speaker asked all of the people to stand as a whole host of instruments sounds filled the room. Singing engulfed the chasm of space. Rose didn’t know the words to any of the songs, yet somehow it was so joyful to just watch as people sang and smiled.

Soon after the singing was done, a man came to the front and asked them to pull out their Bibles and turn to Romans. He spoke of sin and how it infects the soul of each person. He said that not one person, not even one was “righteous”. He spoke of a man named Jesus, who was perfect and blameless. He said that Jesus loved each person in this world so much that Jesus came to earth to save them all, but had to go through a horrific death to do so. But that was not all. He said that Jesus rose again and conquered death so that we could be free from sin; so that we could have NEW life.

Rose sat in the pew dumbfounded. How can it be that Jesus would die for her if she was this awful sinner? How could he forgive when she had obviously chosen over and over again to sin? The man standing at the front put Romans 5:8 on the screen.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

God loves her, this world that much that when she didn’t know Jesus he still died for her? It was then that Rose knew she needed to learn more about this so-called Savior.