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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Frito Pie Christmas

     I was nine years old when we moved to the Chicago area. We were originally from a very small town in Texas where winters were always extremely mild. My daddy really thought that we could handle an Illinois winter…I still laugh when I think about it.
     Christmas was right around the corner; it should have been an enjoyable time, but when we’d moved here, we’d left most everything back home. I don’t know what daddy was thinking at the time, but we’d only been allowed to bring our clothes with us; the washer, dryer, our toys, my brothers’ sports equipment and everything else had been left behind.
     Usually, I loved going to school; I loved to read, write and draw…the rest I could have done without, but these were my favorite things to do. However, because Christmas would soon be upon us everyone was talking about what they’d be getting for Christmas and were helping to put up the Christmas tree and decorations. Sally and Bobby kept asking me what I was going to do with my allowance; they were going to buy gifts for friends and family with theirs. Sounded like a lot of fun to me.
     Walking home I was like a little kid. I could see Christmas trees lit up and standing proudly in many a picture window. They were beautiful and I wanted so badly to go press my nose up against some of those windows, but they’d probably call the police on this little Mexican hillbilly (my Texas drawl was so thick, I’d been called a Mexican hillbilly a few times. LOL!!).
     Arriving home, I set my backpack, boots and coat by the front door (there had only been flurries last night, but momma had made me dress up as if for a blizzard). I looked at the corner where our Christmas tree should have been, but no matter how hard I looked it didn’t magically appear. I’d heard momma and daddy talking a couple of nights ago when I’d been about to make my way down to the kitchen to get a drink of water.
     “Chato, what are we going to do about Christmas for the niños?” momma asked.
     “I don’t know, Prieta. I paid the rent on this house and to get all the utilities turned on; there isn’t anything leftover. We can’t even buy groceries; we’re going to have to do with what little food we have in the house. I won’t start working until after the new year.” It sounded like my daddy had tears in his voice.
     We weren’t rich by a long shot, but they’d always been able to buy us a small toy and maybe a little something so that we could have a Christmas meal. Daddy was a pastor (pastors didn’t get paid a whole bunch) and we’d gotten used to doing without lots of things, but we’d been taught that we should appreciate everything we had, even if it wasn’t as much as other people.
     “Mi amor, God sent us here. He’ll provide, just you wait and see.” I could tell by momma’s tone of voice that her eyes were sparkling and that in her mind she was probably saying, “We’re gonna kick your butt, devil!” No matter how bad things were, momma’s faith kept us all going; that was just how strong my momma was.
     Momma and daddy weren’t home yet, they were out visiting church members and after they’d be looking for part time jobs or something that would help get us through the holidays until they started their other full-time jobs (being a pastor is full-time work and momma helped him with everything in the church so it was also a full-time job for her).
     My sisters Maxie and Gail and brothers Samuel, Alex and Shiloh were sitting in the kitchen talking. Maxie looked up at me as I came in, “Do you want hot chocolate or strawberry Kool-Aid with your toast, mija?”
     “Hot chocolate, please,” I responded.
     “Okay guys, we’re gonna have us a little meeting about how to make this a good Christmas for momma and daddy, okay?” Samuel was always in charge when us kids had meetings.
     Everybody started throwing out ideas at the same time; Samuel had to raise his voice a bit to be heard. “Raise your hand before talking. Sheesh, you kids are loud!” I think he sometimes forgot that he was just a kid as well. I mean he was barely fourteen.
     After we’d all had our say, we started to plan a Christmas that would make our padres (parents) happy. My teacher, Mr. Lipke, had given me lots of construction and tissue paper, tape, glue, scissors and glitter of every color before I’d left school today (he’d asked me what we were doing for Christmas and I’d answered him truthfully) so we’d decided to make paper snowflakes and garland and glitter the heck out of them, before decorating the house. We’d work on them for the next few days then on Christmas eve while momma and daddy were out, we’d decorate the entire house.
     My brothers had already started collecting coke bottles and anything else they could get money for and they’d use that money to buy something for a Christmas meal. My sisters had gone through all the socks we had and found some that didn’t have partners, so they’d use these to make stockings for us all and they’d decorate them with the glitter. They’d also decided to make hard anise candy to put in the stockings. Our abuela (grandmother) had taught us how to make this the Christmas before last.
     The boys had found an old bookcase at the dump yard and were fixing it up to look like a fireplace and we’d hang the stockings from that. We were all excited about everything we’d be doing for Christmas and thinking how blessed we were to have all these cool things to do. I dumped everything out of my backpack and found an envelope from my teacher, “Wish I could help you out more kid, but I’m hoping you can do something with this $10. Praying you have a very Merry Christmas!” I shrieked like a crazy thing and took off running into the kitchen and added my offering to the mix.
     We worked steadily every day that week, making the garlands, snowflakes and stockings. My fingers were all holey from the needle sticking them. My next door neighbors, the Ramos had given my brothers some stain for the bookcase and some wood they’d had leftover, so that bookcase came out looking like an actual, real fireplace. I could almost hear the crackling fire and feel the warmth. We’d tried it out in front of the heating vent in my hermanos’ (brothers’) room and every time the heat came on the orange flame colored tissue paper would crackle and move about.
     We’d all gotten up really early and waited for momma and daddy to go to their part-time job this morning. It would be their last day and we’d heard the panic in daddy’s voice when he’d told momma that they still didn’t have enough for January’s rent. Momma just told him to leave it alone, that God had their back; that had calmed him right down.
     Shiloh was our lookout and as soon as they’d cleared the driveway, he’d started yelling, “They’re gone now, let’s go down!!” We stared at each other and started grinning real big. For once we were gonna do something special for our parents. We couldn’t believe how lucky we were.
     Running downstairs, Samuel and Maxie gave us all little jobs to do. Four hours later we were finally done decorating (we’d had enough left over to decorate their bedroom too). Then Maxie and Samuel looked at each other and smiled kind of secretively; the girls would stay home and make the anise candy, while the boys went out and ran some errands.
     An hour later the anise candy was done and had been poured in the buttered cake pans. We cut it into squares before it was completely hard and now we were just waiting for them to cool completely before dividing and wrapping them up. It smelled so good and if my sisters hadn’t kept an eye on me I would have stolen a few pieces.
     The front door slammed and in came the boys breathing hard and shivering, “Maxie, it’s freezing out there! I’m glad we won’t have to go out anymore,” Samuel said, rubbing his hands together.
     “How cold is it out there, hermano (brother)?”
     “It’s 68 degrees out, can you believe it? And it’s supposed to snow and get colder later tonight too!”
     “I hope momma and daddy are okay out there,” Maxie worried.
     “God has their back and we’re gonna kick the devil’s butt,” we started laughing. We’d all said it at the same time. Our momma was really rubbing off on us.
     Maxie and Samuel sent Shiloh and myself upstairs to take a nap, we didn’t want to go, but they reminded us that we’d gotten up really early and if we wanted to be wide awake when momma and daddy came home, we’d best get some sleep. We shuffled up the stairs looking back occasionally, hoping to make them feel guilty, but it didn’t work and darned if we didn’t pass out as soon as we laid down.

     “Come on wake up, mija!!” Maxie was shaking the stuffing out of me to get me to wake up. I started mumbling, “I dreamed that we were eating Frito pie, the way momma used to make…” I yawned really big and started closing my eyes again.
     “Oh no you don’t! Get up! Momma and daddy just drove up.” Maxie was helping me put on my prettiest purple dress and I could hear Shiloh complaining as Samuel  helped him dress, because he was still sleepy too.
     Rushing downstairs we waited for them to come in, it took a little bit because they were both wrapping themselves up against the harsh winter weather. We lined up in front of the almost new sofa my parents had bought at the garage sale down the street, practically vibrating with excitement.
     “Hey kids, we’re home,” daddy called out. They were taking off their coats and scarves and hadn’t seen us standing there. Shiloh and I giggled, but were shushed by Maxie.
     “Mi amor, I must be really hungry, because I swear I can smell your Frito pie,” daddy told momma.
     “Well, I must be really hungry too, because I can smell it too.” They turned at the same time and if they hadn’t been standing so close to the wall, daddy would have jumped back a couple of feet.
     “Surprise!!” we all shouted, but Shiloh and I added a little dance to it; we were just so excited.
     Daddy looked around like he couldn’t believe what he was seeing and started crying. Momma was crying too, but she was smiling through her tears. “Now didn’t I tell you God had our backs? This is all we need for Christmas, our family together.”
     “Well we all pitched in to make this a good Christmas for ya’ll,” Samuel said. Maxie led the way into the dining room where the table had been set with the dishes we’d purchased at the thrift store three days ago. Walking to the oven she took out the biggest pan of Frito pie I’d ever seen and from the fridge she took a nice cold pitcher (also a thrift store buy) of lemonade, a bowl of salad and a container of sour cream.
     “How…where…” daddy kept spluttering. All we’d had in the fridge for the last few weeks had been bread, butter, bologna and cheese. Maxie explained how we’d all worked together to make this happen and how we’d even done chores for some of the neighbors. The boys excitedly told momma that they’d finally turned in all the pop bottles they’d found down in the basement, along with others they’d picked up around the neighborhood and with the $10 gift I’d received from my teacher, they’d been able to buy the makings for this feast, as well as a few other things.
     We sat around the table for a while eating and laughing, then Maxi and Samuel said it was time to go into the living room. They handed out the stockings and we found that they’d also purchased oranges, apples, peanuts and those really delicious hard curly candies, as well as adding small plastic baggies full of hard anise candy and all those goodies had been placed in our stockings along with two packs of plastic soldiers for my little brother, Shiloh and a pack of jacks for me along with the paper dolls I’d seen at the thrift store. Because we were the youngest ones, the four older kids had decided we needed Christmas presents. Yeah, we were really, really blessed, but Christmas eve wasn’t over yet and pretty soon, unbeknownst to all of us, God would show my family once again that He always had our backs.

     It’s was 11:30 p.m. and we were getting ready to go to bed (we were usually in bed by nine, but momma and daddy had let us stay up late) when someone started pounding on the front door. We all ran down, hoping something bad wasn’t about to happen. Daddy looked out the peephole, “It’s hermano (brother) Lascano from church,” he yawned. He threw open the door and we all stood there in shock.
     “I’m sorry hermano; we were going to be here earlier, but we got lost on the way here. Merry Christmas!!!” He was dressed like Santa Claus and he was carrying the biggest Christmas tree we’d ever seen and behind him were several other people from our church carrying gifts and groceries. Hermano Lascano said he’d felt like God was telling him that he should help us out for Christmas and so he’d gotten several families from church together and they’d come to bless us, the way they’d been blessed by us. Momma and daddy just looked at them and started crying. They hadn’t told anyone what we were going through, but as usual God had come through for us.

     I remember this like it was yesterday. It’s one of my fondest memories and not because of the tree and gifts we received, but because working together with my sisters and brothers we’d been able to make a Christmas that my parents would always remember…and also because my sister made the best doggone tasting Frito pie...next to my momma’s that is.

* * * * * *
Hard Anise Candy
Prep.: 15 min. + cooling     Makes: 51 servings

Ingredients
2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup water
2 teaspoons anise extract or 1 teaspoon anise oil (You can also use other flavors if you want. I like almond or lemon or even blueberry. Anything you’d like to use, use!)
6 to 9 drops red food coloring (Adjust the food coloring to match the flavoring)

Directions:

  1. In a large heavy saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup and water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Cover and cook for 3 minutes or until sugar is dissolved. Uncover; cook on medium-high heat, without stirring, until a candy thermometer reads 300° (hard-crack stage).
  2. Remove from the heat; stir in extract and food coloring (if using anise oil, keep face away from mixture as the aroma will be very strong). Pour into a buttered 13-in. x 9-in. pan. When cooled slightly but not hardened, cut into 1-in. squares. Cool completely. Store in an airtight container. Yield: about 8-1/2 dozen.
Your candy thermometer has to be very accurate. Test your thermometer before each use by boiling water. It should read 212º. Adjust your recipe temperature up or down based on your test.

FRITO PIE


SERVES 6

FOR THE CHILI (in a pinch? Open up a couple of cans of Hormel's chili and add some of the ingredients for extra flavoring, if you want. It might be lots quicker, but when it's homemade you feel really accomplished.)

12 lb. ground beef
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped (I love onion so I use 1 large)
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Kosher salt, to taste
2 tbsp. ground cumin
2 tbsp. chili powder
2 tbsp. dried oregano
2 tbsp. freshly ground black pepper
14 tbsp. garlic powder
1 tbsp. paprika
3 large La Preferida pickled Jalapeños (or you can use 1 12 tsp. cayenne pepper)
2 bay leaves
3 cups whole peeled canned tomatoes in juice, pureed


FOR THE FRITO PIE
1 (10.5-oz.) bag Fritos-brand corn chips
Shredded white and orange cheddar cheeses,
sour cream,
sliced jalapeños,
minced red onion,
sliced scallions
cilantro leaves, to garnish

Instructions
1.    Make the chili: Working in batches, add beef to a 6-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat, and cook, stirring, until browned, about 10 minutes.
2.    Drain beef in a colander, and return pan to heat with oil.
3.    Add onion, and cook, stirring, until caramelized, about 15 minutes.
4.    Add garlic, season with salt, and cook until garlic is soft and lightly browned, about 5 minutes.
5.    Add cumin, chili powder, oregano, pepper, garlic powder, paprika, cayenne, and bay leaves; stir until smooth and fragrant, about 1 minute.
6.    Add reserved beef, tomatoes, and 1 12 cups water, and bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 45 minutes.
7.    In a 9x11 cake pan, put down a layer of fritos, then a layer of your chili mix and sprinkle with cheese; I usually do three layers and then add crushed fritos to the very top and sprinkle cheese on top and put it in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the cheese on top is bubbly. Remember it’s already cooked you just want to melt the cheese on top.
8.    Serve with sour cream and garnish with cheeses, jalapeños, onion, scallions and cilantro.

(You can also do it this way instead if you want. Divide chips among 6 serving bowls and top with some of the chili; garnish with cheeses, sour cream, jalapeños, red onion, scallions, and cilantro, if you like.)

P.S. I also add green olives and mushrooms to it. Make the recipe your own and add stuff that you like to it.

Thanks again for another opportunity Blue Bell Books!!
http://bluebellbooks.blogspot.com/2015/12/short-story-slam-week-36-dec-31-2016.html

Hope ya'll can take some time to stop by and read some of the other writers' posts. There are some really awesome writers on there. Thanks for stopping by!! <3

Monday, December 28, 2015

My Description of Love? Why Family of Course!

I don’t know if you’ve ever wanted to beat a family member or not, but right now I did! Finding this sticky mess on my face and hair was not at all funny. My brothers all knew I slept heavily when I was exhausted, so they’d waited for me to pass out and had proceeded to paint my face with different colored frosting and had whipped creamed the almighty heck out of my hair.
Waking up a few minutes earlier, I’d heard the football game loudly in the background and giggling from one of my nieces, “Ooh Tio! Tia’s gonna beat yo butt when she sees that.” Automatically correcting her I yawned and mumbled, “…your butt, mija…y - o - u - r.”
Another giggle sounded, then a hurried, “Shhh!”
I walked through my brother Max’s kitchen which smelled of ginger and spice and everything nice, and I’m not talking about my young nieces, it just smelled that good. Since I knew the way by heart I kept my eyes closed and just moseyed along until the gentle bubbling of the table top fountain I’d bought them last Christmas told me I’d arrived at my destination right outside the water closet.
Mumbling to myself, I wondered out loud, “Should I turn the light on or not? Nah! Just get your business over and done with dummy.” Sitting on the porcelain throne I lifted my hand to run it through my curly reddish brown hair…my fingers got stuck. What should have felt like baby soft curls (I’ve always hated that I have hair like a baby’s. I mean for goodness sakes, I’m 55 already!!) was hard as a rock and it felt like horns sticking out of my head.
You know, I can’t even tell you if I was actually finished or not, I was just in a such doggone hurry to see what disaster had befallen me. Rushing to the light switch by the door the big toe on my right foot hit something really hard, “Judas Priest Iscariot, I hope you burn!!!”
I could hear giggling right outside the door as I snapped the light on and turning faced the mirror. After a horrified gasp, I screeched, “Sandblasted poopheads, peanut butter and jelly and everything I hate. You are so dead hermanos (brothers)!!!”
I heard guffaws as I opened the door and found the entire hallway full of as many members of my family as would fit.
“Hey there guys, which one of you did this to me?” I was smiling as I asked. That I wasn’t yelling, kind of scared the perpetrators, because Antonio, Miguel and Jose looked at each other quickly, then down at the floor. Everyone else grinned and pointed at those three, soon to be sorry suckers.
“Tony, you’re paying for my Beautiful You Spa visit tomorrow. Miguel, you’re cooking supper for the familia for the next two weeks and Jose, you’re going to baby sit my grandkids, also for the next two weeks,” and looking around at the other guilty parties, “and for those of you who could have stopped them, but didn’t; I expect you at my house early Saturday morning. We’ll be cleaning and painting, unless it rains or snows, then we’re inside doing early spring cleaning, okay?” I chirped merrily. A round of groans was followed by, “yes, ma’am…” from everyone in the hall as they walked back into the living room.
An hour later I walked out into the hallway with my face as red as a beet; it had taken me that long to get the stains off my face. They had put quite a bit of food coloring in that frosting. Now that the shock of seeing frosting tic tac toe thingies all over my face, with “The cat wins!” written on my forehead and my hair sticking out every which way had worn off, I had to admit it was quite funny. While I’d showered, I’d laughed until the tears had run down my face.
Just before rounding the corner into the living room, I heard Tony say, “Mama, you were right. The only way Chelly would let us help with her house was if she thought she was punishing us. It worked…but, now I have to pay for her spa visit tomorrow.”
“Shut your boca (mouth), mijo (my son)! I told you to make her mad, but nooo you three clowns had to act like idiotas (self-explanatory. LOL!!). You deserve everything you’ve got coming to you. Jajajajajajaja!!!” You know, old ladies cackle when they think something is funny? I finally managed to take the grin off my face before walking back into that testosterone infested room.
I made myself comfortable on the recliner and checked my Pro Football Pick’em scores; so far I was ahead of everyone (out of 14 games, I’d won 13. My brothers hated when that happened, since I had no idea what football was all about).
Someone had asked me a few weeks back how I would describe love and I hadn’t been able to at the time, but now as I started to doze off again, I realized that love was familia, even if the guys sometimes act like poopheads. I hadn’t wanted to bother them because they were always so busy, but they’d found a way to help me out anyway. Yeah, family was the best and I was blessed with mine.
As I yawned and rolled over to go to sleep, I heard giggling again, “Ooh Tio Miguel. Tia Chelly’s gonna kill you when she sees that you posted those pictures on Facebook!!”
My heavy eyelids began to close in sleep and I thought to myself, “Yeah, I love my familia, but Miguel you’re so dead when I wake up,” and smiling I went to sleep.


http://bluebellbooks.blogspot.com/2015/12/short-story-slam-week-35-dece-17-to.html

There are lots of awesome writers on this this week's short story slam. Take a little bit of time and read some of their poems or stories. You'll really enjoy them. 
Have a wonderfully blessed New Year's Eve and Day. Stay safe. Love ya'll!!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Forgiveness

          
         Laughing with pure glee I drove towards home. Working long 12-hour days, six days a week for the past six months had completely exhausted me. I’d worked hard and without complaint and that had given me good standing in my boss’ eyes. Today I’d been informed that I was to be given a raise and had been cut down to four days a week; I would now be working forty-hour weeks and have three-day weekends. Woo hoo!! I was feeling so blessed and I couldn't wait to get home. It had been so long since I’d had any energy and all I’d been able to do on arriving home was to eat and crash. I hadn't spent much time with my husband and I missed him so much! I stared out the window as I drove past Latham’s Fresh Produce and my mouth started watering. Oh man, as soon as I got home I was going to cook up a storm and stock the freezer so Scott could have meals whenever he wanted them; today my husband would get the home cooked meal he deserved! I made a sharp turn and waved to Sheriff Dodd as I made a U-turn; all he did was shake his head and keep going.
          Selecting Scott’s favorite fruits and vegetables was a labor of love and I spent 20 minutes squeezing fruit and vegetables and then carefully choosing only the juiciest. Molly Gutierrez was checking out and told me they had a sale on steak, chicken and arracheras at Bebo’s Meat Market and handed me a bunch of coupons and I was off to buy some more of my husband’s favorites.
          I ran in with my honey do list and right back out and made a pit stop at Mark’s Gas and Grub and grabbed some candles on the way out. I’d been so looking forward to our anniversary and I was going to make it a special one and then surprise him with the raise.
Sometimes I still couldn’t believe my amazing luck at having been blessed with my wonderful husband. First and most importantly, Scott was a Christian and he was always so supportive of me. He was a very talented architect, but eight months ago because of downsizing he’d lost his job at Booth, Dardman, Saxon and Associates. He’d tried for two months to find another job and then when it seemed that we might lose our house he’d agreed to let me go back to work for my old boss and he’d found a part-time at Jake’s Mechanics downtown. I hated that I hadn’t seen much of him lately because of the mandatory overtime, but those long days had definitely been worth it.

I arrived home and quietly parked the car. Scott’s car was already in the drive. Maybe he’d come home early from the shop to plan something special. I opened the side door, brought all the groceries in and started putting everything away; in my head I was already planning all the meals I’d be cooking for him and what we would do on our days off. I knew he’d be so happy!
Furball jumped up on the counter and knocked down the empty metal fruit bowl and from upstairs I heard giggling and then a gasp.
“What was that?” a female voice asked.
“Our cat probably jumped up on the counter again. Don’t worry, my wife won’t be home for hours yet,” Scott responded bitterly.
The giggling and other sounds started up again, but I knew it had to be my imagination, so I slowly made my way up the stairs and swung open the door to my bedroom. I felt all the blood draining from my face.
“Scott?” I whispered.
“Oh God!! Honey wait!!”
As if from a distance I could hear Scott shouting my name. My face went numb and I felt like there were hundreds of ants crawling over me, biting as they went. There was a loud roaring in my head and I needed fresh air.
“Fruit…vegetab…meat…I-I need anniversary...” I knew what I was saying didn’t make sense, but I couldn’t make the right words come out and it felt like my lungs were struggling to take in air.
I turned and walked woodenly down the stairs. I think I picked up my purse along with the keys, but I wasn’t sure. I got in the car and backed out of the driveway knocking down the trashcans, “Oh I forgot to take the trash out this morning,” I said dazedly.
Not quite sure what I was supposed to do I drove to Burlington, three hours from our town. I needed my mother.
**************
I don’t know how I arrived there in one piece, but I did. I parked the car in the driveway and made my way inside. My heart was still beating like crazy in my chest and now my head was pounding as well, but I still hadn’t cried. I knew I’d feel better if I talked to mom.
Passing my father and brother in the living room, I made my way into the kitchen. Mom turned from the stove and started towards me.
“Mom, I caught Scott w-”, I didn’t get a chance to finish. She put her hand back and slapped me full across the face knocking me to the floor. I got up with my hand on my cheek, I didn’t understand what was going on and I wouldn’t have been surprised to see the Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling in the room. “Mom?” I was so dizzy and everything was slowly turning white around me.
“Scott has been calling like a mad man. He’s so worried about you. How can you be so selfish!?!” she screamed at me. “I thought I’d brought you up better than this. I’m so ashamed that you let something like this upset you. Men do that; it’s in their nature, so get used to it! Now wash your face and go home!!”
The buzzing started again, but louder this time. I felt like I was in a Peanut’s animation. All I could hear was, “Waa, waa, waa, waa, waa.” I shook my head slowly from side to side, cocked my head to the side as if that would help clear the roaring inside. As if from a distance, I watched as my father rushed in the kitchen along with my younger brother. They were talking to me, but all I could see were their mouths moving and there was no sound coming out. My mother was obviously explaining the situation to them and when my brother turned to me my first instinct was to put my arms up and cower. He touched my face gently, his face and eyes filling with rage as he turned on my mother. My father must have realized what had happened because he turned on her as well. I took that opportunity to walk out.

**************

I drove around for a while; I don’t even know where I went. Then all of a sudden I thought, “If Scott can do it, why can’t I?” I drove until I came to a bar and took a few twenties from my wallet and walked in. I don’t exactly know what I planned to do, but by then I wasn’t exactly thinking clearly. All I could hear was my mom saying, “Men do that; it’s in their nature. So get used to it!”
What did that mean? Had Scott done this before? Was this something I had to learn to live with, to accept? I walked in that bar and handed my keys to the key guardian at the door. I didn’t drink and had no idea what to order, so I asked the bar keeper for advice.
“Sweetie, whiskey’s the way to go for what ails you. Here it’s on the house and don’t leave with any of these scum buckets, ya hear me?” she asked cracking her chewing gum. I nodded, I was still so much in a daze and wasn’t sure if this was real or a dream.
A few guys came up and asked me to dance and in sheer defiance I agreed. I danced for a couple of hours and then I realized that what I was doing wasn’t making me feel any better. I felt so dirty like I’d been standing in garbage all day; the cigarette smell and the liquor that everyone was drinking seem to seep slowly into my pores.
I walked up to the bar and handed Lindsey my other set of keys and a slip of paper with my phone number and address on it, “Can you call this number and have them pick up the car please?”
“Sure honey. Are you okay?”
I think I nodded; I’m not sure and walked out. I walked and kept on walking. I didn’t know where I was going or how I was going to get there I just knew I had to walk there. I stepped on something sharp and glancing down realized I didn’t have my shoes on. “I wonder where I left them. Scott just bought the…” A tight ball of misery started up slowly from my stomach and suddenly exploded in my chest.
The tears that wouldn’t come before began pouring down my face and wouldn’t stop. I started screaming, “God, help me please!!! God, where are You!!!? God…please God, I need You!” I was shaking so hard and I knew I had to sit down someplace before I fell over.
Looking around I saw I was on the bridge going back into town. Somehow I’d walked all the way back and hadn’t even realized it. Walking over to the rail I stared into the water and started sobbing again. I carefully climbed over the side railing and just sat. The water looked so inviting; so cool and calm, nothing like I was feeling right now. A dreamlike calm just kind of slid over me and I remembered that I couldn’t swim. All I had to do was to bend over a little bit and I could end this pain.
I stood up, removed my glasses and sniggered just a bit at that (oh vanity, thy name is woman), closed my eyes and leaned forward and found my left arm caught in a tight grip. I grabbed the pole closest to me with my other arm and glared through my tears, “Let go of me. Can’t you see I’m busy!?”
“Yes ma’am I can see you’re busy, but I don’t think you should do what you’re thinking of doing,” the young officer said gently. “Can’t we just talk for a bit?”
“I don’t want to talk,” I whimpered.
“Well how about if I do the talking?” he smiled as he asked.
“O-okay, but don’t touch me anymore.”
“I won’t touch you, if you promise to just sit there and you let me come over on that side to talk to you, okay?” he asked softly.
“All right,” I said with a raspy voice.

“So what’s your name, ma’am?” he asked.
“You said you were going to talk. Why don’t you tell me what your name is?” I demanded hoarsely.
“Sure, no problem! My name is Officer Gabriel Angeles,” he smiled as he held his hands up in the air. “I want to help you, but I can’t if you don’t tell me what happened.”
I don’t know how it happened, since I really didn’t want to talk, but I found myself telling him everything.
**************
“Do you know what I almost did?” I asked in disbelief, tears rolling down my face. “I was willing to let myself get picked up and have sex with a total stranger just to get even with him. What was I thinking?” I began to shake uncontrollably and wrapped my arms around myself.
“Most humans react that way. Someone hurts them the way you’ve been hurt and they want to hit back. The problem is it only makes things worse, not better. You know?” he asked.
“I just don’t understand what’s going on. I feel so lost right now.”
“Well I’m sure that once you’ve spoken to him, talked it all out, maybe gone through couple’s counseling you’ll come to a point where you’ll be able to forgive him.”
I turned my head and stared angrily at him, “What did you say? Forgive him? No! I don’t think so. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do that.” The sobbing started again and I had to gulp several times before I could speak. “He slept with her in the house we chose together, in the bed we’ve shared since we got married. H-how am I going to be able to forget that?” I was shaking again and it felt like someone had physically taken my heart and was ripping it painfully in two. “How is it possible to forgive someone who betrays you like that? The only man I’ve ever wanted or been with is my husband, that he could want someone else says, I’m not enough for him,” I said quietly with an occasional shuddering sob. “I’m just not woman enough and it hurts,” I said with finality. My nose was running and I could have cared less what I looked like. I allowed my grief to completely envelope me and rocked to and fro as I wept.

Officer Angeles and I sat on that ledge for what seemed like hours; he talked and I listened in between bouts of crying.
Every once in a while he’d stop talking and just sing a song. He sang Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus his voice soothing me, the words to the song so powerful that it was as if I could feel Jesus’ arms cradling me.
“Jas, do you believe in God?” Officer Angeles asked.
“Yes I do,” I responded with tears in my eyes, then with a startled look, “I never told you my name!”
“Lucky guess. You just look like a Jasmine,” he said smiling.
“How does someone look like a Jasmine?” I asked hoarsely. “I’m done talking. You’re just delaying the inevitable.”
There was silence, then something that sounded like a sniffle. Turning to face him I was startled into asking, “Officer Angeles, why are you crying?”
“Jas, is life so horrible that you don’t want to live anymore?” he asked. “Before you answer that question, let me ask you another. How do you think God feels when a husband or a wife cheats on his or her spouse? Can you imagine the pain He must be going through? Even worse how do you think He feels when someone He loves dearly takes his or her own life?”
“Why is He in pain? I’m the one Scott cheated on. Me!” I screamed.
“Yes, you’re right he did cheat on you and you should be hurting, but are you saying it’s unforgivable? What if he’s truly sorry and wants you to forgive him?”
“I don’t know. I’m hurting so much right now. I’ve never felt like this before.” I gulped. “For our wedding day we wrote our own vows and we promised that we would love each other forever and that God would always be the focus; the cornerstone of our lives. How is it possible for something like this to happen to Christians?”
“Jas, you know that Christians aren’t perfect. They make mistakes in life like everyone else. The only difference is that because they’re Christians they feel conviction and they come before God and bring their sins to Him and if they’re truly repentant He forgives them. Haven’t you ever done anything that you knew was breaking God’s heart?” Officer Angeles asked.
Through my sobs, I answered, “When I was fifteen, I started hanging out with this group of girls that everyone told me were trouble, but I wanted to be cool. We went to the mall and we went into this cute little shop and they told me that if I wanted to keep hanging out with them I’d have to steal something and I did. They patted me on the back afterward and told me I was finally one of them, I was so ashamed.”
“Yes and then finally four days later after much prayer you went back to the shop, took responsibility for the theft and then told those girls you didn't want to hang out with them anymore, didn't you?” he asked.
“I did. I asked God to forgive me and I know He did, but I felt that I needed to take back what I’d stolen and then I had to forgive myself as well,” she responded, then turning her head sharply, “Wait a minute! I didn't tell you about that!”
“No you didn't  but your Father knew all about it and He heard your prayers.”
“I had no idea my dad knew what I’d done, but how do you know?”
“Your dad knows my Boss really well. They talk about everything and my Boss tells me things like this. He was really, really proud of you,” he said.

Starting in almost a whisper he began to sing another song, one I’d heard before, but hadn't really had the time to really listen to.

"Blessings" • Laura Story

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
And all the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

'Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love
As if every promise from Your word is not enough
And all the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we'd have faith to believe

'Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not,
This is not our home
It's not our home

'Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can't satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise
<•>
13 I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.14 Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LordPalms  27:13-14
*
 “Officer Angeles, can I ask a question,” I asked, “and will you answer it truthfully?”
“You can ask me anything and yes, I will answer you truthfully, I can’t do anything else,” he responded.
“When I found Scott with that woman, I went home to my mother. Scott had already called and admitted to what he’d done, but instead of being angry with him, she said I was selfish and that it was just something I’d have to get used to. Is it true? Is this something I’ll have to live with my entire life if I go back to Scott?” I could feel the tears flowing down my cheeks again. “If I feel like this now, is this something I’ll have to endure every time he does this?”
“Jas, your mother had a very sad childhood and she’s been carrying a lot of baggage with her and she has yet to give all of that up to Jesus. She and your father have been married 36 years and he’s been faithful all this time, because first and most importantly, he loves God and secondly, that makes his love for your mother even stronger. Now let me answer your question. No, this isn’t something you’ll have to get used to if you go back to your husband, but you do have to cry out to God and ask Him to direct your paths. That is the only way, you’ll find your way out of this darkness.”
My body began to shake again uncontrollably and with a hoarse voice I cried out, “God if You’re really hearing me; please, please help me!!”
Officer Angeles tugged on my hand and leaned over to whisper in my ear, “He heard you, Jas. Now I’m going to let go of your hand and get back over on the other side of this ledge. I think your husband wants to talk to you.”
In surprise I looked down and realized that he’d been holding my hand this entire time. I looked up at him and smiled, “Thank you,” I said quietly.
Turning my head I looked straight into Scott’s eyes. He never looked away from my eyes while he quietly thank Officer Angeles, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” he said repeatedly.
Climbing over the side he sat down and looking down at the water, he began to cry, “I’m so sorry baby. I’m so, so sorry. I was feeling worthless as a man for not being able to take care of my wife and I took my eyes off of God. I’m not excusing what I did. There’s no way I can. I broke God’s trust and yours and if you don’t want me back I won’t blame you, but if you give me another chance I promise that I will be the best husband that God ever created. I won’t ever betray you again. So please, please give me another chance,” he began to weep and somehow I found my arms around him.
I didn’t know if forgiveness was possible, but looking at this broken man in my arms I could tell he was truly sorry. I didn’t know what the future held for us, but I was going to give it all to God.

<>«»<>

          Celia dusted off the album and sitting down turned and patted the sofa beside her. Turning to the first page she slowly smoothed her hand over the photo that showed a young man in his late twenties with his arms around a younger woman. He was trying valiantly to smile for the camera, but there were tears in his eyes and so much pain; the woman’s face full of disillusionment. Turning another page she pointed out another photo of the same couple to Jacey; this time the smile on the young man’s face was genuine and there was a half smile on the woman’s face. 
“That was taken a few months after they started living together again,” she said. Pointing to the opposite page she smiled, “Here they’d just found out that she was pregnant with their first child and they were so happy.” That same couple was holding on to each other for all they were worth; love and happiness shining out of their eyes.
“Mom, why are you showing me these pictures now. Shouldn’t we be meeting the girls at the bridal shop?” Jacey asked.
“I made the appointment at the bridal shop for 12:30 so we’ll make it in plenty of time and I’m showing you these pictures the way my mom showed them to me the day I decided to marry your father. That first picture your great-grandma forced on them knowing that dad had cheated on mom.”
“You’re…what!? Grandpa cheated on grandma?!” Jacey burst out. Looking out the window she watched as grandpa Scott walked hand in hand with grandma Jas, stopping every once in a while to brush back her snow white hair, kiss her nose or whisper in her ear. She watched as grandma blushed and giggled. “I can’t believe it, looking at them now. Are you showing this to me, because you don’t want me to get married?”
“Honey, I’m not showing you these pictures to dissuade you from getting married, I’m showing them to you because you have to know that marriage takes a lot of work and that sometimes married couples have huge struggles, but if they work hard at it they can overcome anything.”
A gruff voice from the doorway interrupted, “Sweetheart, what your mother is trying to tell you, is that sometimes men, even Christian men make mistakes, but that God and godly women like your grandmother forgive and a so-so marriage, becomes the best marriage because of that forgiveness,” Scott said.
“Baby, Christian women make mistakes too and if they want forgiveness, then they have to learn to forgive. It’s a two-way street!” Grandma Jas said, smiling as she leaned against the living room door. Slowly she walked towards Scott and taking his hand in hers, she kissed it tenderly and with a big heartfelt sigh said, “Sometimes we think that prayer or even screaming out to God never reaches His ears, but I can tell you that it does. He listens, forgives and gives us second chances.”
“How do you know that grandma?” Jacey asked.
Settling comfortably in Scott’s arms, Jas repeated their story, ending with, “We’d gone through therapy and we knew that our marriage would be stronger than ever, because this time we wouldn’t let anything take our focus off of Jesus. We went to the police station together; I wanted Scott to properly meet Officer Gabriel Angeles. He’d only seen him briefly when he’d come upon us at the bridge. This man had spent hours with me; talking, singing, holding my hand and he kept me from killing myself, but when we got to the police station they had no idea who we were talking about. They didn’t have anyone there by that name and even the description I gave them didn’t ring any bells. The car he’d used was one they’d stopped using over a decade ago,” she stopped to take a deep breath. “I remember calling dad and asking him the name of the friend he’d told about me shoplifting. Dad didn’t even know I’d ever shoplifted. Somehow, someway Officer Angeles and his Boss knew something that nobody else ever knew. I believe God sent me an angel that day, because He knew that Scott and I had something else to do for Him and a stronger marriage to make and we have. We counsel couples all the time and because we’ve been where they are now we know how to help them. We’re able to show them that forgiveness, true forgiveness can completely change a marriage and for the better,” she smiled up at Scott, “God gave us a second chance and we took it.”
Scott looked down at his Jasmine and the love in his eyes was blinding, it shone so strongly. He looked over at his granddaughter and with tears in his eyes said, “The biggest problem with what I did is that I forgot my first love. I took my eyes off of Jesus.”
Taking his wife’s hand they started toward the front door, “We’re gonna go smooch over by the lake. You girls have a good time shopping for the dress.” Leaning down he kissed his wife softly on the lips and together in Christ they walked outside.

<>«»<>
Forgiveness
Matthew West

It’s the hardest thing to give away
And the last thing on your mind today
It always goes to those who don’t deserve
It’s the opposite of how you feel
When the pain they caused is just too real
It takes everything you have just to say the word
Forgiveness
Forgiveness

It flies in the face of all your pride
It moves away the mad inside
It’s always angers own worst enemy
Even when the jury and the judge
Say you gotta right to hold a grudge
It’s the whisper in your ear saying, “Set It Free”
Forgiveness, Forgiveness
Forgiveness, Forgiveness

Chorus
Show me how to love the unlovable
Show me how to reach the unreachable
Help me now to do the impossible
Forgiveness, Forgiveness
Help me now to do the impossible
Forgiveness

It’ll clear the bitterness away
It can even set a prisoner free
There is no end to what its power can do
So, let it go and be amazed
By what you see through eyes of grace
The prisoner that it really frees is you
Forgiveness, Forgiveness
Forgiveness, Forgiveness

Show me how to love the unlovable
Show me how to reach the unreachable
Help me now to do the impossible
Forgiveness


I want to finally set it free
So show me how to see what Your mercy sees
Help me now to give what You gave to me
Forgiveness, Forgiveness

Friday, April 26, 2013

My Peaceful Valley



It was so beautiful and peaceful here at Heaven’s Valley and every evening we parked ourselves either on mama’s porch or mine to enjoy the setting sun and the sounds of wild life. The evergreens seemed to come in every color of green you could imagine. Occasionally you’d see a pop of color when a Texas Red Oak or the purple leaves of a Jacaranda shouted for attention. The air was so clean and pure and on the nights when sleep just wouldn't come I’d discovered that opening my windows so I could smell the trees and feel the breeze on my face would finally lull me to sleep.
Great-grandpa Antonio had bought 200 plus acres over a hundred years ago and had built his Simone a huge one-room shack right in the middle of it all. Over the year’s grandpa, mama and later papa had added rooms to it to accommodate our growing family and the original room had become the kitchen.
Grandpa always told the story of how mama, before marrying, had added room after room to make things easier for the family. She’d added a huge living room and a bathroom massive enough to fit the entire family. Four bedrooms and a laundry room later, she’d decided a basement was needed and with the help of her best friend Russ they’d started from the outside and dug down into the ground and under the house. It had taken them three months, but they’d done it. Touching the stonewalls and hand-hewn wood beams still brought tears to Grandpa's eyes at the thought of all the hard work and love they’d put into it. On occasion he’d start laughing until he cried when he remembered the loads of rock and dirt they’d brought out by the barrel load. He swore it took them another three months before you could see their skin through the caked on dirt.
All in all, two hundred and one, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren had been born to my great-grandpa and great-grandma on this land and I swear we added more little ones every year. I’d tease Mama and say, “When God said be fruitful and multiply I really don’t think He meant just our family Mama!” Her response was always the same, “Baby, there is so much love here, that we can’t help but share our love with others and so we grow.”
Of the eight children born to my parents I was the only one still left at home. My brothers and sisters were either married or in college, but we always got together for holidays or weddings. The valley was a perfect spot for weddings, since we had our own little chapel on the lake. 
Mama’s hard work on the house had given grandpa the idea for sharing his love of our valley with others and so Heaven’s Valley had been born. Two years ago, Grandpa had retired and the land and family business had been turned over lock, stock and barrel to my parents. Loving the valley as I did, I’d decided to help my parents with the business.
There were four man-made ponds on our property with six cabins around each and a nice big area for a bonfire. Papa had added other conveniences to each site to make it easier for families to attend to their needs. It did my heart good to hear the laughter and see the joy in those faces as I did my rounds every morning.
Tonight you could hear and feel the excitement across the valley. It was July 4th and as usual papa was doing his best to outdo himself from the previous year. He wanted the guests to have something wonderful to remember until their next visit. We’d set up a bonfire and the biggest barbecue he could think of with a surprise fireworks display at the end.
The Fourth of July wasn't just important because it celebrated our Independence, but it also gave us a chance to celebrate family. Not only did Heaven’s Valley overflow with guests, but also every aunt, uncle, cousin and sibling showed up along with boyfriends, and girlfriends. Mama was always prepared and would split up the masses so that they either stayed at the main house or with Uncle Russ and Aunt Kat or with me in my house by the lake. 
Pleasantly tired from all the day’s work I relaxed on mama’s back porch with Aunt Kat. The stars were so bright that you could actually see the clouds in the sky. I turned to her and exclaimed excitedly, “Look Kitty Kat!! That cloud there looks like Jesus is peeking out from behind a big puffy cloud to check on us!”
Chuckling she bent over the railing, but the cast on her right leg wouldn't let her bend over too far. “Darn it!! This dadgummed leg of mine won’t let me move comfortably girl. Ya got your picture taking thingy with ya? Snap a picture for me please, so I can show your Uncle Russ later.”
I’d never seen the sky so lit up and I felt like God was giving us a personal light show. The stars twinkled brightly and after taking the picture I closed my eyes and I swear I could hear the stars singing me a lullaby.
The main house sat up on a hill and we could see all the lit up cabins as our guests either drove or walked the paths leading down to Lake Whereyouat (don’t ask me where the name came from, I have no idea).
Mrs. Freeman, who worked one of the campsites, drove up into the driveway honking like a crazy person. Saray, my oldest sister and her three youngest daughters rushed out of the house chattering with excitement. They wanted to get there early to find a good spot. I guess they’d forgotten my house was right on the lake.
Janna, Saray's eldest, stuck her head out the door, “I’m not going anywhere Aunt Izzy. My feet are swollen and this baby is kicking the heck out of my insides. Judd and I are just gonna relax in front of the TV and watch the new Dallas reruns.” I grinned at her amazed that they’d had the nerve to bring another lord of destruction into the world.
“Oh darn it, I can’t read this print,” Kat growled. “Hey can I borrow your glasses a second, pleeease! I just wanna see how this book ends.”
“Ooh, don’t tell me about it Aunt Kit Kat!! I want to read the ending for myself,” I shrieked.
Yes, it’s true! To my shame I must admit to always reading the end of a book first. I’d been waiting to read Nora Roberts’ Witness for a while, but had made the mistake of lending it to Aunt Kat two months ago and she’d only started reading it tonight. Never again!!
The buzzing in my pants pocket startled me and reminded me it was time to make my way down to the lake. My bladder began complaining ferociously and I realized that I hadn't taken a potty break since lunchtime and took off at a fast run.
There were four bathrooms in the house and the first three were in use. I prayed Psalm 23 and ran as fast as my tired legs would let me (okay, my circumstances weren't actually that dire, but it sure felt like it at the time). The open door to the fourth bathroom beckoned me and with a deep sigh of relief I shut the door, pulled up the toilet seat and gasped; the toilet was full and no matter how hard I tried it wouldn't flush. Looking around frantically I located the plunger and started working it against that mess, but it wouldn't go down. I was so frustrated and everything looked kind of funny. Rubbing my eyes to clear them I realized I didn't have my glasses on and before I had the chance to open my mouth to shout Aunt Kat’s arm reached in and handed me my glasses.
Looking down at the toilet I realized why it wouldn't flush. Someone was gonna be in a heap of trouble. I pulled out the RCA remote control to the brand new television, the mini shiny ice bucket I’d bought mama four weeks ago, two butter knives, a plastic sausage and oh no…mama’s dentures.
All of a sudden I heard a shriek...and a giggle. The shriek was my mama. She’d realized that her dentures were missing and in their place was half of a chewed up apple. The giggle was my great-nephew Eli, Janna’s oldest, who at four years of age was an accident waiting to happen and if I missed my guess this year he wouldn't be making his fifth birthday.
I figured I could wait until I got home, but I was now on a mission to save a life. I scooped Eli up in my arms, shouted to Janna that I was borrowing him and took off.
          Yep, Fourth of July was always a lot of fun here at Heaven’s Valley, but apparently the fireworks had started early this year. Flinging the lord of destruction over my shoulder I laughed as I heard mama roaring Eli’s name and ran for the safety of the lake.