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masks

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Sometimes I get lost
and I can’t find me.
When I finally unearth her from beneath the dining room table
she sheepishly confesses she is afraid,
insecure.
Insecure!?  The life of the party!  Insecure?
She hangs her head and sighs
knowing I know
but won’t admit it.

I wonder how many others appreciate
the challenge of facing a crowd,
the torment of small talk,
the ordeal of hours spent smiling.

However, when I am still
and listen to the hearts of others
whispering beneath the noise,
I realise
I’m not alone.

 

just plain me

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Call me Jack.
Johannes Factorum.
Hansie-my-kneg.

While my heart longs for rapture,
my hands are Terra-bound
and flawed.

There is nothing I call my own –
no exceptional talent,
no remarkable skill,
no noteworthy knack.

I eulogise those who transport my soul
(the Leonardos,
the Blaises,
the JJRs,
the Yo-yos)
in wonder and beauty and joy.

But mine is to dream,
to plod in practicality.
And I’ll smile when I recall
that Robert called William “Jack.”

Hansie-my-kneg.
Johannes Factorum.
Jack.

You can call me Jack.

Immortality

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Everything I do smacks of forever.

I brush my teeth
never thinking this may be the last time,
the last time ever.

I live as if I have endless days
to fill in wanton abandon
or to just survive.

I love as I will,
when I will,
how I will.

I kiss my daughter’s forehead
as she lies sleeping,
unaware that
that caress
is a promise,
a legacy,
a link
and a glimpse
of eternity.

don’t let go

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over
over
overwhelmed
when a cubic metre of work
comes crashing down on my head,
knocking the wind from my sails
and pushing me

under
under
understand
I cannot see the forest for the trees;
I cannot see the tree for the bark,
the bark that bites
and bites to the bone

with
with
without
leaving marks on the flesh,
still extracting blood from the stone –
the stone that was once an impassioned heart
with fiery dreams and ideals

in
in
inside
this tumultuous cell.
We all hold hands in covalent bonds.
Don’t dare drop them –
for this is the hinge upon which
the universe hangs.

Deepest Treasures (part twelve — the final chapter)

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Mark lost all sense of time and hours seemed to pass as he sat. In reality it was probably no more than ten minutes, but it could have been a lifetime. He felt rather than heard Luke sit down next to him. Neither of them said anything for a few moments. Then Mark, without lifting his head, spoke. “I didn’t get it. All these years and I never understood.”

“Understood what?” Luke softly prompted.

Mark took a deep breath and lifted his head. As he exhaled he leaned back into the pew, looking toward the altar. “I take pride in my self-control. There is nothing in my life that I haven’t been able to manage. Until now. I can not bear this, Luke. I am confused and scared and lonely. I put on a brave face, but it is eating me alive. Talk about your cracked pots! I feel like my life has been smashed into a million little pieces.”

Mark rubbed his hands over his face. “But what you said today — how could I have never heard it before? Maybe I have been too wrapped up in myself. God wants me to let go and trust him. He wants to do something IN me.” Mark turned and looked at Luke. “And he’s started. I can’t explain it, but there is a peace — a real deep, solid rightness — deep in the heart of me now.”

Luke smiled at his friend.

“I’ve been going to church all my life,” Mark continued, looking to the cross at the front of the sanctuary. “I always thought I had to be perfect to please God. No matter how hard I tried, I could never get there. I thought I had to work harder, be better. But God is the perfect in me. Christ in me, the hope of glory. I never got it.” Mark’s voice diminished to a murmur. “Christ in me.”

Mark asked Luke to pray with him and they spent another half-hour together — thanking God, praying for Ann, praying for Mark, asking for strength. When they finally spoke the final “Amen,” they looked at each other and then embraced. “I love you, brother,” Luke said.

“I love you, too.” Mark wore a huge smile. “Thank you, Luke.”

“Listen, Mark, there is something I want to give you.” Luke got up and walked to the lectern. He took his Bible from the pulpit and strode back to Mark and sat down. “I promised to give this to you on your birthday. I know it is not for another month, but I think Ann would want me to give this to you now.” Luke opened his Bible to 2 Corinthians. There sat an envelope. “Forgive me, but I have been using it as a bookmark. I kept it in the most secure place I know, a place where I knew it would not get lost.” Luke picked up the envelope and turned it over. There in Ann’s handwriting was Mark’s name. “She wrote it shortly after your birthday last year. She told me to give it to you this year as a special present from her.” He held the envelope out to Mark.

With a trembling hand Mark reached out and took it. He stared at it, blinking several times. “I’ve got to go, Mark, but you can stay as long as you like.” Luke stood up. He put his hand on Mark’s shoulder. “She loves you, Mark. She loves you so very much!”

Then Luke left. It suddenly occurred to Mark several minutes later that Luke had used the present tense.

 

 

The diffused light of the early morning sun softly lit Ann’s face as she lay sleeping. This was Mark’s favourite time of day and he cherished every moment as he gazed at her. How peaceful she looked!

The last year had become progressively more difficult. The disease, which had crept stealthily like a cat stalking its prey, had finally pounced with fury. The Ann he knew had retreated deep into some sealed sanctuary. But as she slept, Mark would watch her and reminisce. He would go through memories, his most cherished possessions, and relive them. Doing this helped him believe that she was still there somewhere. It helped his heart to trust.

Quietly, so as not to disturb Ann, Mark took the envelope out of his bedside drawer. Carefully he pulled out the well worn, handwritten letter and read it again.

My dearest Mark

How precious you are to me! I thank God for blessing me with the most gentle, supporting, loving soul-mate in the world. I can not begin to describe to you the depth of my love. It is beyond anything else I know, intertwined with the love of our God.

I am writing this to you while I can still form words. Already they are being stolen from me, one by one, and I am afraid of the day when they have all disappeared. But then, perhaps it is grace for me that I will be in a place where I am unaware of the loss.

I don’t understand this disease. I know beyond certainty that the “me” I am will not be lost. God who made my spirit will keep “me” in wholeness in himself. But I am afraid that this broken mind will soon no longer be able to be used by my spirit. I will then be separated from you, not in body, but in spirit, and that makes me sad.

I grieve for how this disease will treat you. My heart breaks for you, precious Mark. How I wish I could save you from what lies ahead. But I have to entrust you into the hands of our God — asking him in mercy to give you supernatural patience and grace.

Whenever you need assurance of my undying love for you, take this letter and read it again, and hear my soul’s eternal cry, “I love you, Mark! More than life itself, I love you.”

Always and all ways
your
Ann

Mark blinked back the tears and slid the letter back into its case. He looked at his wife. God, how he loved her! And how his heart ached with the absence.  A tear escaped and rolled down his cheek. He wiped the moist trail with the back of his hand.

Someday soon Ann would have to go to the home they’d chosen. Soon he would be unable to care for this earthen jar.

Ann slowly opened her eyes and seeing Mark, she smiled.

Soon. But not today.

Deepest Treasures (part eleven)

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Mark later felt quite embarrassed when he thought of his outburst. He prided himself on being a person who was always in control. Lately he felt like the whole world was spinning out of control. Luke had looked at him with such compassion and whispered in a quavering voice, “I miss her, too.”

Friday night Ethan arrived with a piping hot pizza and ice cold beers, announcing that he planned on staying the weekend. Saturday morning Luke came for his usual visit toting a box of fresh donuts. “Hey, you guys have to stop feeding me, or I’ll be big as a house!” Mark quipped. Luke gave his godson a bear hug and they all sat together at the table feasting on fried dough and hot coffee. Luke was engrossed in Ethan’s latest news.

After thirty minutes or so there was a clatter from the bedroom followed by a soft whimpering. Conversation immediately stopped, the men all rose as one and walked to the room. Ann was on the floor rocking back and forth. A lamp had been knocked off the bedside table. She looked up at them when then entered. There was such fear in her eyes that Mark’s heart dissolved within him. He got down on the carpet and held out his arms to her. She leaned into him and allowed him to put his arms around her. Gently rocking back and forth, Mark hummed softly, tucking her head neatly under his chin. Luke and Ethan looked at each other and waked quietly out of the room.

On Sunday morning Ethan encouraged his dad to go to church. Mark declined saying he’d rather spend the time with his son. “Dad, really, it’ll be okay. Mom and I can have some time together. We’ll sit in the living room and listen to one of her favourite CDs.” Mark finally agreed. He dressed and got into his car. He didn’t want to attend church. He hadn’t been in over six months. Going now would be uncomfortable.

He started the engine and backed out of the driveway. I’ll just go to the city garden and park the car under a tree, he thought. He drove with his window down enjoying the feel of fresh cool air against his face, his mind empty. He came out of his reverie as he realised that he’d driven to the church building. He pulled into the parking lot, intending to turn around and drive back out, but several families recognised him and waved. Now he felt obliged to stay.

Creature of habit, Mark sat in his usual pew — halfway up the aisle on the right. A handful of people said hello as they found seats. He smiled back and mumbled a return greeting. No one else sat in his pew. He was relieved when the service started. Soon the familiar liturgy began and Mark repeated all the familiar phrases. There was something soothing about the rhythm, something tranquil in the worship. He felt his body slowly begin to ease.

Luke took his place behind the lectern and smiled out at the congregation. His eyes seemed to linger on Mark. He read the epistle passage from 2 Corinthians 4, verses 6-9:

“God who said, ‘Let light shine out of the darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. He gave this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not us. We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed, perplexed, but not in despair, persecuted, but not abandoned, struck down, but not destroyed.”

Luke looked up, smiled and said, “This is the Word of the Lord.”

“Thanks be to God,” the congregation recited.

“I want you to think of the possession you value the most,” Luke began his sermon. “Does it have monetary value? Car? Camera? Computer? Maybe it has sentimental value. Family heirloom? Photo albums? Letters?”

Mark immediately thought of Ann. Then he shook his head; Ann wasn’t a possession.

“Now think of what you do to protect that possession. You have to protect it from rust and decay. Mould, mildew. Protect it from damage or thieves. You lock it in a safe. Put it in the bank. Pack it in cotton wool. Insure it.”

I can’t protect her, Mark thought. She’s slipping away and I can’t hold her.

Luke went on, “God, as we have seen time and time again, does something that seems foolish to us. He does the opposite of what most of us would do. He takes the most precious thing and he puts it in a clay pot, in a fragile, flawed, ceramic jar. As I am sure you have gathered from the reading, those clay jars are us!”

Luke continued talking, but Mark wasn’t listening anymore. He was thinking about clay pots and treasures and how easily ceramic jugs break. He was thinking that Ann was his treasure, his most beautiful and precious treasure, and that she was hidden deep inside a broken vessel. He wondered whether the treasure was still there. Maybe the treasure that was Ann seeped away when the container broke.

Mark was brought back to the sermon when he heard “diamond wedding ring . . . “

“ . . . diamond wedding ring in a ziplock. It’s like putting a Rolex watch in a brown paper bag. Why does God do something so crazy?” Luke paused. “So that it will be obvious that it is his power in us, not our own. Our imperfections show up all the more clearly his greatness. Later in this same letter to the Corinthians Paul says to them that he will boast gladly of his weaknesses, so that everyone can see that it is Christ’s power in him. God tells us, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’

Mark wasn’t thinking of Ann anymore. He was uncomfortably thinking of himself. I am weak. I’m falling apart. My whole world is imploding. But God wants me to be weak?

Luke’s next words went straight to Mark’s heart.  “We don’t have to be in control. We don’t have to be perfect to earn anything from our God. We don’t have to have all the answers, all the ticks in all the right boxes, all our lives sorted out. God knows that we are flawed and broken people. He chooses to put his treasure in these broken pots. He does that so that his light and life will shine brightly through the cracks.” Luke smiled out in love at his little flock.

It doesn’t make sense, Mark reasoned. Boasting of weakness? “I’m falling apart, coming undone.” Is that how it goes, God? You want me to be humiliated?

“That’s why Paul goes on to write,” Luke continued, “‘We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.’ God who began the good work in you, God who put that treasure deep inside your broken lives, will continue by his power to perfect his good work until the broken pots are made new and whole. Amen.”

Mark was stunned. It was almost as if Luke were speaking directly to him. The words echoed around and around in his head. You don’t have to be in control. Let go! God knows. God understands. God has put a priceless treasure deep in you. Let him shine through you. His grace is sufficient for you. His grace is sufficient for you.

Mark’s body went through the motions of the service with the rest of the congregation. Stand. Sing. Receive the blessing. Sit. But his mind was whirling around the revelation he’d received. As the rest of the cheerful, jabbering company slowly filed out of the sanctuary, Mark sat, head slightly bowed pondering what was happening to him.

My Closet

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The proud white cupboard stands on the side of the longest bedroom wall, tyrannising every other piece of furniture with its size alone. One look at the intimidating giant and my resolve to clean it out evaporates into humid regret. My conscience is only assuaged with the most binding of promises: “NEXT Saturday. I’ll have more time then and I can tackle the job with confidence and determination.”

Saturdays come and go, yet the towering monster stands unchallenged, gloating with supremacy. Then, in a sudden and violent fever one Tuesday evening, I muster up the courage to face the villain. Breathing deeply, face set with resolve, I slowly and deliberately march toward the enemy. I place first my right hand on one small round wooden doorknob and then my left hand on the other. I fill my lungs to capacity and as I exhale I pull the doors open toward me.

This fiend has feasted for far too long. He is full to overflowing as is evidenced by the pillar of hats which tumbles to the ground at my feet. At eye-level there runs a rail the width of the creature and from this clavicle hangs every kind of clothing known to man: shirts of various colour and sleeve length, thick and thin cardigans mostly in assorted muted tones, long full skirts and floral patterned dresses, waistcoats, trousers and scarves. Shelves above this strut hold the barbarian’s brain which is crammed full of old boxes, which are in turn crammed full of sentimental souvenirs. Fishmoths, like tiny endoparasites, slowly digest the bowels of each cardboard crate, leaving a white trail of death in their wake.

Weapon at the ready I purposefully hit PLAY on my portable jukebox and crank the volume up to HIGH. Then, singing “Heart of Rock and Roll” at the top of my lungs, I thrust my bare arms into the belly of the beast and pull out gut-loads of garments. I am thrown off-balance and tumble backwards onto the bed shouting, “Take that, o, thou foul varmint!”   I do hate spring cleaning.

 

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Writers’ Hub Challenge #4:   Where the Skeletons Live

The Prompt: Describe your closet. The Twist: Keep it short (but knock the reader’s socks off).

 

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