Short Stories

I have written two short stories solely for the purpose of exploring individual characters from a longer work. There were two benefits to this exercise. First, I got a firmer grasp on each character’s motivations. Second, I was able to procrastinate on the longer work and still claim to be writing.  The following excerpt is the first couple of pages from one of these exploratory shorts.

She drove from the east, and the sunrise glowed from behind her, softening the dry, ragged contours of her destination. For a moment, it seemed that the town regained its youthful flush and swagger when bulging cattle cars lumbered from its tiny depot to Chicago slaughterhouses, and tankers, swollen with oil, slid in from the west.  Ivy ignored the illusion. She knew that the mid-day sun would burn it away and return her hometown to its weary habit.

Minutes later she parked in front of her mother’s home on a street of neat one-story houses that were pounded together at the end of World War II. Once as bright and eager as the newlyweds crossing their porches, these homes now squatted comfortably, their faces faded and worn from years of raising families.

A sidewalk, cracked and uneven, led to her mother’s front yard where a courageous bit of garden welcomed visitors.  It was a lush patch in the small town where much of the landscaping looked as if the owners had left for vacation and forgot to pay the neighbor’s kid to water the yard. There were roses, lavender,ornamental grasses, and tough succulents. There were heavy blossoms reaching for the sun on stately stems, and shy shade-lovers creeping out from below the taller growth, anything her mother could keep alive in this reluctant earth.

In the kitchen, Ivy’s mother was just straightening up from the oven, and her hands, engulfed by quilted mitts, grasped the sides of a formidable roasting pan. The oven released its heat in a breath laden with roasted garlic, vegetables, and rich meat, the familiar Sunday afternoon fragrance of her mother’s kitchen.

“Sugar,” her mother exhaled the endearment as she set the pan onto waiting trivets, “Sugar, can you pop the casserole in there? I don’t think I can bend down again after that.”

“Sure Mama.”

After easing the oven door shut, Ivy straightened and turned to see her mother holding out a length of pressed red and white gingham. Tiny roosters strutted across the small checks.

“Don’t want you to splash anything on that pretty dress.” She gave the apron an impatient shake and then pressed it into Ivy’s hand.  “Would  you rather have mine? I think it’s longer–might even cover your whole skirt.”

“No, Mama, this is fine.” She ducked her head through the neck strap and fumbled with the ties before her mother stepped forward, and putting her arms around Ivy’s waist, secured the apron.

“Welcome home, baby girl.”

“Thanks Mama.” Ivy kissed her on the temple, right where her mother’s thick, blonde-white hair met the soft skin of her face, now reddened from her time in the cramped kitchen. “I don’t even wear these at home,” she admitted.

“Well. I know I always made you wear them in this kitchen.” Her mother paused in front of the refrigerator and stared for a moment at the faded red OKLAHOMA! magnet that memorialized her lone venture from her home state. “Remember the blue and white one with the eyelet lace?” She pulled the refrigerator door open, freeing a wisp of cool air to swirl at their legs, and began handing fruit to Ivy.

“I loved that apron!”She laid the fruit on the counter. Pineapple, banana, strawberry, kiwi. “Didn’t it have a rainbow on it?”

“No, no, no, that was your fourth-grade apron. You know, you loved to wear the blue one and pretend that you were Dorothy.” Her mother pulled a white paper napkin from her own apron pocket, folded it in half, and pressed it to her forehead  and above her upper lip.  “You would wear that apron all day and carry Stripey around in my wicker yarn basket calling him ‘Toto’. You made it to the grocery store once in that get-up and almost to church another time before we noticed.”

“That poor cat,” Ivy laid the pineapple across the cutting board and removed the top and bottom with quick, heavy strokes. “No wonder all his hair fell out before he died. I tortured him and Stanford medicated him.” She rubbed her thumb over the pineapple’s prickly surface and smiled, “I wonder what Stanford’s patients would think if they knew he started out on cats?”

Her mother frowned at the bowl she was cleaning, “Your brother’s patients adore him. Finish that fruit and toss it with the lime juice. Family will be here soon.”




Conversation with Myself

Do you see those people who don’t live in your house,

wear your clothes, sleep in your bed,

speak your thoughts,

and think,


“Divinity stitched you together in their image.

You are masterpiece and mystery walking by me,

dust and holy breath.”


Or do you keep that for yourself;

love, buried where it cannot grow?



There is Always a Beckoning

img_1105I felt restless last year. There was an uneasiness in my faith, a shifting of sands, and something else, too.  A sense of distance between myself and my First Love. And, as I’ve experienced many times before, when there is a distance, there is always a beckoning, a sweet, gentle invitation to draw near. Sometimes the call is to prayer, forgiveness, or to community. Often,  I need time for quiet, solitary meditation. This time, I was drawn to the life and words of Jesus.

Though I grew up in the church and have heard or studied portions of the bible over and over, there are only one or two books that I have read and meditated upon from beginning to end. The gospel stories, for example,  are as familiar as a cozy, well-loved quilt. But, familiarity is not intimacy, and last year, I  was aware of a heart-deep desire to look closely at the life of Jesus as captured by his first biographers, and to carefully read and consider the words he spoke.

Suddenly, I was no longer satisfied with segments, or by any number of paraphrases or commentaries.  I wanted, quite simply, to read from beginning to end. I wanted to take it all in at my leisure and consider the readings in prayer and meditation. Most of all, I wanted to respond to my Love, who urged, “Let me tell you who I AM.”

So, for the last several months I’ve been doing just that. Matthew seemed like the natural starting point, so I cracked open my study bible, laid out some fresh paper and started reading. Sometimes I scour reference materials when my understanding needs a bit of a boost, but mostly I read, reread, note a lot of questions, scribble some thoughts, meditate, check out cross-references, pray, and read some more. I have no set schedule, only the desire to better know the one I call Lord.

Over the coming weeks I’ll share some of the summary thoughts and observations that I jot down as I make my way through the Gospel of Matthew. For now, I’ll say this about the experience: it is good to be near the One I love.


Unpacking Old Friends

One of the pleasures of moving into a new home is tearing open boxes of books to rescue the favorites packed away for the duration of the move.  When driving cross country in a suburban packed with seven humans, space is precious. In fact, the only physical book I carried along on this recent journey was a pocket-sized bible that I tucked into my purse.

E-readers saved me. I had hours and hours of reading available with the press of a few buttons, and I am so grateful that I was able to carry a virtual library in the palm of my hand.  Still, there’s nothing like a real, bound book.

I like the weight of hundreds of pages in my hands. I like thumbing back to reread a passage, or holding a place with my finger because I know I’ll want to experience a particular phrase one more time. I like the straight edges, firm covers, the sound of shifting pages, the mysterious fragrance that belongs only to books. My e-reader sustains me in difficult times, but it is a thin sensory experience when compared to the comfort of real books.

Wherever I’ve made my home, I’ve always kept a stack of good reads on my bedside table. It’s an optimistic volume of reading material. Some books lie unopened for weeks, but I like to know that they are there, whenever I want them.

This was the box that I  unpacked yesterday evening, my bed side table collection, packed away to declutter our last home for showing. I pulled out Patchett, Bonhoeffer and Lee, adding them to Dillard and Kingsolver, picked up for pennies at a library sale last week, and L’amour, gifted by my mother, who knows I have a fondness for his short stories. It was a joyful reunion, welcoming these old friends to my new home.


Six years ago, when my family moved from a  suburban lot in Texas, to the feet of Great Smoky Mountain National Park, I felt we had entered Eden. Rivers brimmed with water, the landscape curved voluptuous, and trees covered hills and mountains in the rich, warm shades of autumn.  Soon after our arrival  I wrote the following.

I grew up beneath the outstretched arms of a century-old native pecan tree, its limbs reaching up and over our historic two-story home.   In winter, bare branches were stark sentinels against the cold blue sky.  Then spring  brought flush after flush of leaves, softening the severe lines .

There were other trees on our property, too. In  memory, my father planted any seed, seedling and transplant that had a chance of surviving. There were ash, live oak, jujubee, pecan, mesquite and pine trees.  And though the great pecan tree towered over all, the patriarch of our yard, every one of them gave us the dreamy shifting patterns of light and shade that carpeted our play yard.

For the last six years I have lived without the shadows of trees.  My suburban lot, scraped bare to facilitate quick construction, was bereft of even the tiniest of trees.  Sunlight, at all times during the year, struck our faces unfiltered by leaves, branches, or fruit.  The grass was always warm and bright beneath our feet, neither marked nor cooled by the shadow of overhead beauty. The soft, mysterious light between the shadows of trees was missing.

Now I have it again, almost to excess, an abundance of light and shadow, dark patterns and mellow autumn light moving across my children’s upturned faces as they stretch out their hands to catch the drifting colors.

After three years in the eastern United States, we moved to California and lived on three acres in the central coast mountains of Santa Cruz county.  It was a whole new world of trees, tenacious, always green despite drought, and never mindful of seasons.  There, our land was speckled with coastal live oaks, a living playground made for exercising body and imagination.

Redwoods still towered in little pockets here and there outside of the great forest parks.  A beguiling foot path curved past an old farm shed and led us to a fairy ring of  the ancient giants. Beneath their evergreen branches, upon the cool, soft carpet they laid for our feet within the masses of pale,  voluminous ferns, we stepped back in time to the fragrance of fecund, unplowed earth.

Now we’re back on the east coast and as we wound our way to our new home through familiar, brightly-hued landscapes, I looked forward to again experiencing the change of seasons with my old friends, while in the pages of my mind are pressed the memories of all the trees I have loved.