Tamara Jorell

Writing life and the neighborhood

Writing life and the neighborhood

 

Finding Boaz

Husband snipped the ends from a dozen roses and divided them into four vases. He placed chocolates next to each, then strode to the kitchen, ready to spend the next four hours preparing a surprise Valentine’s Day dinner for the girls and me.

Curry chicken with garlic cooked over the fire in the pit in the back yard. Then came oysters with chorizo butter, mashed potatoes and gravy, and an assortment of cheeses and olives. 

The five of us at last settled into our places at the table. I surveyed the feast, moved by the effort.

“This is delicious,” I said to Husband. “But you’re not a fan of curry.”

“I’m a fan of you.”

He reminded me of someone just then, and I wanted the girls to hear it—again.

“Girls, I have a story for you,” I said.

Between bites, my three teenagers watched me.

“There once was a very kind man. He was a respected landowner too. One day, a young immigrant woman came to his field during the barley harvest. Poor people back then were allowed to pick up the grain left on the ground by the harvesters. So that’s what she did.”

“Mom, we already know this story,” Ricka said, resting her fork for a beat.

I nodded and kept going. “The man asked his employees about the young woman. They said her name, Ruth, and where she came from, and it was a country most people despised. So she was an outsider from a hated place. Then they told him Ruth had lost her husband, and she lived with her mother-in-law who had also lost her husband. She was taking care of the older woman when she could’ve just left her. Two women living together, trying to make ends meet in a time when widows had no options.

“The landowner caught up with Ruth. ‘I’ve heard about how kind you’ve been to your mother-in-law. I hope God blesses you for everything you’ve done. By the way, don’t go to another field. Stay here and you’ll be safe. I’ve told my men not to touch you.’

“Later, he invited Ruth to rest and have lunch with him. When she went back to work, he pulled his men aside. ‘Leave extra grain on the ground for her to pick up, okay?’ he said. And that’s what they did.

“Ruth went home that night and told her mother-in-law all about her day, and the older woman said, ‘That’s Boaz! He’s a relative of my husband’s. You should go back again.’ And so she did. Eventually the kindness of Boaz won Ruth, and she did something daring: she asked him to be a covering for her. ‘You’re my family redeemer,’ she said one night.

“Boaz accepted and lavished her with honor and compassion, and they married. The End,” I said, my vision going blurry.

“Oh, Mom,” Flicka said, tilting her head, her eyes soft.

If prayers travel a path to heaven, mine—that each of my girls would find her Boaz—have worn the trail smooth by now.

Last night we celebrated the pink and red plastic holiday a greeting card company invented by enjoying a fancy meal together. But true love doesn’t waltz in for one day in February. Instead, it sticks with the mourner. It leaves extra grain for the immigrant. It cooks a curry dish when it doesn’t like curry.

And it covers another with its own life.

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*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

The Loppet

“Should I register our family for this?” Husband asked, pointing at the Luminary Loppet event on the computer screen. “We’d do it on snowshoes, of course.”

Different sizes and shapes of candlelit ice sculptures and lanterns illuminated a magical winter race on frozen Lake of the Isles, one in Minneapolis’ chain of lakes. The video showed cross-country skiers gliding past glowing pillars of ice in the purple dusk. The beauty washed over me.

“Absolutely,” I said.

As the event neared, though, I checked the weather. The forecast said the temperature would hang around fourteen degrees on February 3, the day of the race, and the wind chill would be dangerous. Frostbite could occur in minutes. Would my Canada Goose jacket cut it? I’d wear snow pants too, of course, and all the extras, but would I survive this supposed-to-be-fun time with my family?

Two days out, we scrambled to order ourselves face masks and ski goggles. Husband picked up a box of hand warmers. We lined up our five pairs of snowshoes. When the evening of the event arrived, we donned many layers of clothing for our romantic date with Mother Nature.

At Lake of the Isles, we stepped into the excitement of a winter festival. Vendors smiled out from tents, strung with lights, at the check-in. We met up with our friend Joe and together the six of us struggled past our bulk to wrestle on snowshoes. At 7:30 p.m., our trek began.

The word ‘race’ is a strange word for our wintry wanderings with hundreds of other outdoor enthusiasts across a frozen lake. No one tried to blow past anyone else. We snowshoed or skied or walked together, enjoying the luminaries. Our clothing was warm, and the winds backed off. Instead of water pit stops, this “race” had a hot chocolate stop. The sky—never completely dark in a city—whispered, What about me? And I acknowledged the loveliness of her muted orangepurplegrays.

After several miles, when our legs and hips told us it was time, we headed in the direction of the car, crossing a portion of Lake Calhoun on the way. This lake wasn’t lit up like the other. I shivered at its haunting magnificence, most of its snowy expanse untouched by humans.

And that night, we all won the race.

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Breakfast

A knock at the back door.

From the other room, I hear Husband’s footsteps pass through the kitchen. The deadbolt clicks, then our alarm system’s computerized female voice announces, “Back door,” to let us know it’s open. A real woman speaks now and Husband answers, their voices muffled by walls. Curious, I saunter into the kitchen.

“Hang on,” Husband says to our visitor. He grabs an empty plastic Target bag from the dispenser and heads for the fridge.

When adults come to our back door it’s usually an emergency, like the time a woman pounded on the glass, begging us to quick call the police. But she didn’t need to say it; her bruises and blood quickened my steps to the phone.

I glimpse the woman outside our door now. This one isn’t bloodied, but she shifts her weight from one foot to the other like she’s struggling to balance on a paddleboard, on waters that are too bumpy. She darts looks around her. Her mouth sags.

“Where’s the peanut butter?” my man asks me.

I pluck it from the cupboard and hand it to him. He bags a partial loaf of bread too, the remainder of the milk, a fistful of granola bars, and a few apples from the bowl.

He gives the bag of food to the woman, and she passes out of our lives by way of the back yard’s gate.

Husband pours himself a cup of coffee.

“So?” I say. “That lady? Was she okay?”

“She didn’t have food for her kids for breakfast.”

I nod and pour myself a cup of coffee too.

We don’t talk about the event again, because life is made up of small things, and this is just another one.

Sometimes the blaring needs around us turn into white noise. We treat the symptoms of pain when they knock at our door, or when they cross our path outside our property lines. But they don’t go away.

We can’t fix people—I can’t fix people—but we try anyway when the invitation comes. Now I imagine what an emergency room doctor feels like: serving the injured but not seeing the healing—if there is any—after the patients return home.

I could live a different life, one where I don’t see wounds as often as I see breakfast. But that’s not real, so I’ll stick with this one.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

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*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Snow day

The wind rattled our Ranch-style house in Middle River. Had our place been a victim of a snowball fight in the night? It appeared so; great clots of snow stuck to my bedroom windows, obscuring the view.

I flicked my gaze to the clock. 5:35 a.m. The blankets on my bed usually kept me in their cozy clutches on a school morning, but not today. Maybe they sensed my excitement at what was to come.

I padded into the kitchen. Outside the window whiteness swirled, and the crabapple in the front yard was an apparition in the dim light. A gust picked up a load of snow from the roof and flung it off, blotting out any sign of the tree. My siblings and I wouldn’t be expected to brave these conditions to go to school, would we? Was fifth grade really that important for me to risk my life getting there?

I scurried to my parents’ room. The only one in the world who had the power to call off school that day was still in bed next to Mom, his arm curled around his transistor radio. The brown, leather-covered box crackled out weather updates, and my heart lurched with hope.

“Dad, Dad,” I said, making prayer hands, “please call off school today. Please.”

The superintendent of three small schools in northern Minnesota, wearing boxers and a v-neck undershirt, threw his legs over the side of the bed and stood. “We’ll see.”

I pranced back to my bedroom, a smile splitting my face in two. The day was mine—I just knew it. Adventures beckoned, and I tugged on my snowsuit.

 

On Monday, January 22, 2018, I navigated a snowy city to collect my girls. I thought of Dad calling off school decades earlier when blizzards blasted our tiny town near the Canadian border. On stormy days, he got dressed in the wee hours and drove the country roads a few miles in each direction to see if they were passable. He would make a decision about school and report it to KTRF, the radio station in the neighboring town of Thief River Falls.  

Winds whipped up the falling snow as I sat in the Honda at Target Field waiting for my high schoolers to emerge from the train. I scrolled through my phone for weather reports. The girls soon tromped through the precipitation to the car. When they opened the doors, snowflakes and exuberance blew into the warm space.

“I asked Mr. Aponte if we could have a snow day tomorrow,” Ricka said.

I chuckled. As if the principal of one city school could alone make the decision. “And?”

“He said, ‘We’ll call you.’”

Nature worked hard that night to put a halt to our plans—to pull us into an adventure. And true to Principal Aponte’s word, they called us.

After the shoveling the next morning, the girls donned bikinis and bolted into the back yard for The Snow Dive Challenge, which wasn’t a dive at all, but instead a quick roll through the nine-inch deep accumulation. Drawn by all the shrieking, the dog zipped outside too, probably hoping to join in on all the reindeer games. Within seconds, though, it was over. The girls dashed back inside, leaving the animal cocking her head at the back door.

 

Dad and the local radio station announced the weather cancellations of my childhood; robocalls and the internet announced my girls’. A hallmark of my snow days? Snowsuits. A sign of my girls’? Swimsuits—at least this time. But whether announced by airwaves or on a website, whether we’re bundled up or bared, a snow day is a free day.

And there’s always adventure.

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*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

The birth announcement

The infant cries floated to me as I folded laundry in the basement. I dropped a towel back into the basket and listened.

“Did you hear that?” I said to Husband.

He muted the TV. “Hear what?”

The cry drifted to me again. I pointed up, indicating the floor above us. “A baby crying.”

“No.”

Three-year-old Flicka and almost two-year-old Ricka—our only children at the time—were asleep. I already knew their sounds, and neither mewled like a newborn anymore.

I shrugged. Husband resumed his TV show. The laundry again beckoned.

Throughout the early months of 2003, I heard the sound of a baby a few more times—always at night. What could it be? The Crying Baby Kidnap Lure flitted into my mind. As the story went, a serial killer meandered about, playing a recording of a fussing baby outside women’s windows in an attempt to draw them out of their homes. But the claim had been refuted, and the cries I heard came from inside our house. What else? The girls didn’t own any noise-making dolls. But I read online that cats could sound like babies. Likely cause, if we had any.

My days overflowed with the stuff of life: laundry and dishes, groceries and cooking, parks and story times, Flicka and Ricka. And I forgot about the mysterious crying in our house.

One night, when Husband was on an overnight trip for work and my little ones were fast asleep, the phantom baby cried again.

This time, I offered it up. I don’t know what this is, but it’s Yours now.

A month later, we learned some news: baby #3 was in the works. The cries in our house ceased—until Dicka emerged, and then the sounds belonged to her.

Ruling out insanity, I puzzled over the phenomenon I had lived. Some would call it a premonition, others a flash of the prophetic, still others a subconscious desire. I thought of Sarah, Mary, and Elizabeth—three mothers from ancient times—told in advance that babies would be born to them.

Maybe the gift of a birth announcement can come in any way at any time to anyone. And maybe it had come to me too.

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*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

 

Flu season

Husband sneezes five times in a row, and I cringe at the forceful outbursts. They’re so loud I want to cup my palms to my ears. This might be the start of something, and I make a beeline for the kitchen, heading straight for my box of Emergen-C. And do I have enough Fighting Five to slather on the bottoms of my feet tonight, just in case? Husband scoffs at Thieves Oil, but I know better.

We’ve made it so far, so good this flu season. His sneezing done for now, Husband reads me an article online.

“There’s a new killer Aussie flu,” he says with the same emotion as when he tells me he’s heading out to shovel snow. “They’re calling it H3N2.”

I furrow my brow, remembering the H1N1 flu and how it gained traction in the United States—and in our house—eight years ago.

“I’m too sick to drive you to school,” I had said to Flicka, my third grader, one day in early June of 2009.

She was sick too, it turned out, and so was Ricka, my second grader. We languished on our beds for a while, the girls missing their last two days of school before summer break that year. Preschooler Dicka would’ve been there with us too, of course, but my sickness had muffled my memories of her.

When we visited the doctor, he informed us we most likely had H1N1, the Swine Flu. Right on cue, and despite her fever, Ricka made a joke about Miss Piggy.

“So what about this new thing? This H3N2?” I say now. “How bad?”

“You might not make it,” Husband says, his eyes sparkling with humor, “because you’re weak.”

I toss him a look. “Hey, what about you?”

“I’ll be fine, because I’m constantly testing the boundaries of my genetic capabilities.”

“Right.”

I was hardy and generally healthy, except for when I contracted Scarlet Fever last spring.

“Didn’t Beth in Little Women die from that?” I asked the doctor.

“Maybe?” She shrugged, then patted my arm. “But you’ll make it.”

Since the recovery from my archaic-sounding illness, I hadn’t suffered even a sniffle.

Husband unleashes another series of sneezes so violent I’m afraid he’ll shake his brain loose.

Who’s the weak one now?

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*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Words

Trixie and I sat in her living room on New Year’s Day, scrolling through our phones, each of us searching for just the right word.

“How about ‘manumission’?” she said after trying on a handful of others.

“I don’t know that one,” I said.

She read me the definition. But the word wasn’t mine this time—or hers.

Our New Year’s celebrations together at her home had hit the seventeen-year mark. Her family and ours had been friends for so long our blood ran together, mingling our holidays along with it. And these two-day gatherings at the end of the year birthed new ideas for Trixie and me.

In the past, while we lazed around in pajamas, she and I talked about exercise and fitness. While we munched on cheesy bacony things, we discussed tips for healthy eating. But in recent years, while waiting with our families around the TV for the ball to drop in Times Square, my friend and I enjoyed a new pursuit: words.

The words we selected for ourselves at December’s end would set our vision for the new year. Sometimes they stuck; sometimes they didn't. One time, Trixie chose ‘release’ and liked it so well she held onto it for a couple of years; I toyed with ‘surrender,’ but gave it up right away.

This year as usual, our families lounged around while Trixie and I hunted for words. But life at her house had changed.

“Mom, would you like a cup of tea?” my friend said, rising from her chair. “I have mint.”

Her mother lived with them now, and the older woman’s growing needs altered the family’s home life, blurring their future. Challenges had crept onto their calendars and confusion into their days.

Trixie delivered tea and patience anyway.

What word for 2018 would fit my friend’s life? And which one would fit mine?

The memory of a yellow glass candle holder—a gift from an aunt and uncle for my last birthday—flicked into my thoughts. The company that crafted the piece had assigned it a word: FEARLESS.

The idea of fear—or not fearing—flowed through me like my ethnicity. I would speak at a women’s conference in March. The theme? “Fear Not, He is With You.” The verses I stumbled on almost daily? “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid…”, “For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-discipline…”, “Do not fear for I am with you…” I didn’t need to strain to hear my word for the year.

On the evening of January 1, we packed up our things and said goodbye to Trixie and her family.

“I have my word,” she said, pulling me into a hug. “It’s ‘grace.’”

“And ‘fearless’ is mine,” I said.

Goosebumps speckled my arms. I blinked hard to clear my vision.

This year, our words had chosen us.

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*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

52 weeks, 52 sentences

“What are you writing for the blog this week?” Mom asked me as she washed the last of the dishes at her kitchen sink.

After our three-hundred-and-thirty mile trip to her place on the farm in northern Minnesota, we were snug. I had initially hoped for some snowshoeing time over a few days, but the minus twenty-seven degrees outside—and now Mom’s nudge—warmed me to the idea of staying inside and writing.

“I’ll come up with something,” I said. “Any thoughts?”

“How about pulling together a story using one sentence from each of your blog entries this year?”

“I like it.”

***

Here’s the incoherent outcome (and if any sentence piques your interest, visit the blog for the full—and hopefully clearer—story):

I had first encountered the three little ones years earlier when their dad dropped them off in our yard—along with their dog Daisy—for an unexpected visit, then disappeared. This wasn’t the first time my teen and the first-grader had sparred. I took my struggle to the mat and sat in the presence of the One who owned it all. Maybe blessings would come in the form of no more home break-ins or packages stolen from our front steps.

While I was trying to imagine the reason for a woman jumping, nude, from an upstairs window in The Barn by John Wilde, voices interrupted the gallery’s silence.

“From back there, you looked much younger.”

“Hm,” I furrowed my brow. I flopped an arm over the end of his kayak and gagged all the way to the riverbank.

Then he did a double-take. “Twenty-seven years,” said the man, motioning for the dog to sit.

At 11:30 that night, Husband and I heard voices outside on the street.

“Get out of your vehicle and put your hands over your head,” he said, his amplified voice resonating throughout the alley. He bends down to pluck a long stick from my yard, and I hold my breath. So much for sleeping late.

If only I had known then what was to come. Usually I look out on a brownish lawn, seeing cars flash by as people begin their way to work.

“A guy just stole a t-shirt.” They covered it with blankets and tarps and ran three straps lengthwise and two from top to bottom, securing it for the trip.

“Okay, you’re off the hook,” I announced.

After a busy weekend of running loads over to the new place, Dallas phoned me on Monday morning.

I sigh now because of The Incident in that ancient garden. “Time to go, honey.”

On this side of eternity, though, I don’t see anything new. Advanced cases of head lice, trips to Urgent Care for fungus or urinary tract infections, burs stuck in Afros, cussing two-year-olds.

“Let’s run to Blockbuster,” Husband said when I returned to the chalet. We’ve all done it.

“ARE YOU GOING TO WATCH THIS MOVIE?” she said.

Are you looking for a volunteer activity for a group? And that’s where everything started to go wrong. I peeled off the bandana blindfold.

“Here you go,” Husband said, handing the kid a hotdog. And I’m glad I’ve never made rules around it that could’ve quashed the fun.

I think of a little girl who once stayed with us. She hauls a cardboard box across the alley to my house and unloads its contents onto my dining room table.

“Okay, go,” I finally say, and she lopes toward my new white couch.

Hardship probably creates the best memories. And stuff is only stuff, so use it. Then it came to me.

“Here, catch,” I’d say, tossing marshmallows to my little passengers in the back seat.

“Wow,” Husband said.

Two months after the break-in, a salesman came to our door peddling security systems. Why me? I thought of how little I cared about my toenails. Sometimes the silent messages are the loudest.

“It itches,” I howled to a nurse.

There’s definitely a scar there.

“My heart is beating, and I’m breathing.”

But life wasn’t always so good between Mr. Neighbor and us. After all his trouble, I wouldn’t be courteous if I didn’t order a half pint. And for a week, I forgot all about David Joy, my up-until-then favorite doll. But rest assured, the new object of her affection will lend a hand and save her from herself.

And that’s the end of this thing.

***

Happy 2018, readers! May the New Year be one of clarity, humor, and good ideas.

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*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Movie time!

In late November, I phoned Comcast about the amount of our cable bill, which had crept up on us like holiday weight gain. An employee assured me that yes, they could lower it, since we had been loyal customers for fifteen years. In a sudden craving for something sweet, I asked if they could also add a cable package, simply for the Hallmark Channel and only for the month of December. My wish was granted, and I invited the family to join me at our new holiday entertainment buffet. But only one person accepted my invitation: Flicka.

“Let’s see if we can watch one Christmas movie every day in the month of December,” I said in the Triple Dog Dare tone of Schwartz in A Christmas Story.

My girl accepted the challenge, and her stamina matched mine. She and I devoured movie after movie—and not just on Hallmark. We dipped into Netflix and Amazon for some seasonal saccharine too.

“Have we seen this one?” I asked her last week, scrolling through Hallmark’s movie schedule.

She squinted at the offerings. “They’re all starting to look alike.”

“There are only a couple of plot lines,” I said.

“Yeah, I noticed.”

I grabbed a notebook. “Let’s make a list of common themes.”

The following are our findings in holiday movies (and we may or may not have discussed these at length over goodies):

1.      The main character, always a female, is most likely young, pretty, single, white, and blonde. She’s often a workaholic and lives in a city.

2.      She takes an ex, co-worker, or friend (who’s attracted to her, but she’s oblivious) home for the holidays to fake that he’s her boyfriend/fiancé to please her mother who constantly pressures her to find a man. And a tangled mess ensues. (Plot #1)

3.      She goes back to the small town of her upbringing to plunge herself into a cause like saving a bakery, inn, or other, from destruction or commercial redevelopment. She rediscovers the spirit of Christmas and a sense of community, while reigniting feelings for a past love. Her city boyfriend/fiancé surprises her with a visit, and her life unravels—for like five minutes. (Plot #2)

4.      A funeral or inheritance brings her back to her hometown at the holidays. She doesn’t want to be there and has long ago lost her Christmas spirit. But things change when she finds love and cheer in the place of her childhood. (Plot #3)

5.      The young woman’s mother—if not desperately wanting her married—is dead, and her father has remarried a woman who’s very nice, although the younger woman doesn’t think so. (She hasn’t gotten over the loss of Mom yet.)

6.      The idyllic and festive small town often has a holiday-related name: Evergreen, Snow Falls, or Hollyvale, to name a few. Flicka and I wonder how a wintry name for a town feels for the characters in July.

7.      The city man she ultimately rejects (in favor of the small town guy) has undesirable qualities, but they’re not too bad. The small town love interest has a past she’ll have to get over, but that’s not really too bad either. The new man (small town guy) is single, because he never found the one, or his wife died; he’s never divorced.

8.      The main character is lovably clumsy, adorably bad at cooking, or inept in some other cute way. But rest assured, the new object of her affection will lend a hand and save her from herself.

9.      You can count on an elevator scene. And who gets stuck in the elevator? That’s right; the woman and her new man—probably before they even like each other!—and there’s mistletoe hanging in there. Uh-oh.

10.   In the final scene, the new couple embraces outside at night. They suddenly look up. It’s snowing! And they act like they’ve never seen snow before.

Holiday movies are as delicious as the cookies we nosh while we watch, because there’s love at the end. But remember that story about the man and his young pregnant wife looking for a place to stay, and they’re out of options? They end up giving birth to their baby in a barn, and shepherds come over for a visit.

There’s love at the end of that one too. And it’s my favorite.

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*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Judy

Forty-four years later, that new rubber smell still reminds me of Judy. And the long wait.

But it was all about waiting back then.

The shininess and sparkles of December helped take the edge off the slowest possible passage of time. For one month, miniature elves glided up and down the drapes—by magic!—on the dining room window. Red felt and cotton stuffing transformed old Folgers cans into Santa’s boots to hold caramel corn. Mom threaded our mittens, one on each end of a long string, through our coat sleeves. Red hots and those little silver balls, now deemed inedible by the FDA, speckled the green cornflake wreath cookies. When I was school age, chocolate milk replaced the usual cartons of 2% that last day before Christmas break. The cafeteria morphed into a theater, the movie projector spitting out flicks like The African Queen or Wait Until Dark.

At home, the Scotch pine in the living room squatted over mounds of paper-covered packages for a little too long; the anticipation was as agonizing as a stomach filled with too many Spritz cookies.

I was three years old in 1973, and the wait for Christmas was grueling. Finally, it was time. I shredded the wrapping paper on a box that cradled the best doll in the whole wide world. I named her Judy. Like a real mom, I sniffed her head. That new rubber smell! I bathed and dressed her. I kissed her face. And for a week, I forgot all about David Joy, my up-until-then favorite doll.

I think of another wait—humanity’s grueling wait—spanning thousands of years, with no commercial shininess or sparkles to distract it. Finally, it was time. And the angels shredded the sky with the best news of all. A baby! But it was no ordinary baby, this one. This one wore both divinity and flesh and smelled like a better way—and the cure.

Take heart this Christmas: The wait was worth it then. And it’s worth it now.

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

 

Mr. Neighbor

“Look who’s feeling festive today,” I say to the family, nodding toward the front window.

Across the street, Mr. Neighbor is taking advantage of the almost sixty degrees in late November like the rest of the city. He strings up green Christmas lights first, then red. I smile at the swags of old-timey bulbs and memories of the man’s words from years ago. It’s a secret code, that outdoor illumination of his. And the warm message shines through our windows just fine.

But life wasn’t always so good between Mr. Neighbor and us.

The man first pounded on our screen door one day in the spring of 2004, fuming over the installation of our new central air unit (read The air conditioner for the full story.) I was eight months’ pregnant with baby #3, and my other two—only two and four years old—clung to me like my worries, so when he extorted an apology, I caved. I only wanted to disappear inside the house again with my babies and deadbolt the door.

But Mr. Neighbor's issues went beyond our new modern amenity. In the days to follow, erratic behavior exploded all over his property, its shrapnel ripping even deeper into my sense of security.

After a while, though, the jagged times smoothed. I set my attitude to cheery and baked cookies to share. I summoned my resolve and clasped onto hope. Persistence. Patience. Presence. But my efforts with our neighbor across the street were met with six years of silence.

At Christmastime in 2010, Mr. Neighbor showed up at our front door. No pounding this time. Instead, he beamed, thanked me for the Christmas card which meant more to him than cookies, and held out a promise: “Tell your girls I’ll put up Christmas lights next year. Just for them.”

“And every year for six years now, he’s made good on his promise to you,” I say to the girls after retelling the old story.

Across the street, Mr. Neighbor fastens a wreath to his front door. Ricka heads out of the house, steps onto the porch, and opens the screen door. She calls his name. He stops his work and turns toward her.

“Thank you for the Christmas lights,” she says.

And he’s beaming again.

 

(*You can read the happy 2010 story about Mr. Neighbor in the final paragraphs of Dexter.)

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*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

The Thanksgiving ride

The truck gobbled up the miles on Highway 94W, and I sipped my latté in the passenger seat. I slid on a pair of sunglasses and eyed the snowless landscape flying by outside the window. Our family of five was all together, something that was growing harder as the once littles matured into bigs. Across state lines and on the other side of the day awaited more family in Valley City, North Dakota.

I turned my gaze to our teenagers in the back seat. “What are you thankful for, girls? Let’s each say something.”

“Food,” Ricka said, popping a French fry into her mouth.

“My dog,” Dicka said.

The day before, I had driven Lala, the family dog, to meet our friend Trixie who agreed to watch her for us over the Thanksgiving holiday. During the transfer at a place in Woodbury, our exuberant animal bounded from the car and hurtled through the open door of Trixie’s Jeep. The canine wagged her entire body, and I already knew what she was thankful for: three days of playtime with Trixie’s Great Dane, Sarge.

“And that dog left me pretty easily yesterday,” I said. “What am I, chopped liver?”

“If you were,” Flicka said, “she would’ve stayed.”

“I’ve got another thing,” Ricka announced. “I’m thankful for my sisters.”

Flicka smirked. “I’m so glad you thought of us after food.”

But Ricka was on a roll. “And I’m glad I passed my driver’s test after three tries.”

“You’ve said three things already,” Dicka said to Ricka. “Hey, stop touching my blanket.”

I shifted my focus to Dicka. “Anything else to add?”

“I’m just gonna stick with my dog, I guess.”

“I’m thankful I have a good relationship with my family and that God has helped me figure out what I’m doing in life,” Flicka said.

Behind the wheel, Husband straightened, tweaked the rearview mirror, and peered into it. “He has?”

Flicka tilted her head and shot him a look.

“Okay, I’m thankful for my family,” Husband said. “And for friends who make going to work enjoyable.”

“I have one more thing,” Ricka said, waving her hand. “My heart is beating, and I’m breathing. So that’s good.”

She laughed, but her words lodged in my chest. Heartbeats and breaths—the essence of our time in skin. The gift of momentary life.

For in him we live and move and have our being.

Life in a family: our hearts beat in sync as we make our plans, and our lungs breathe together through whatever days we’re given.

Car rides laced with happy chaos along the way are good too. They’re very good.

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*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

More scars

Last week, I asked you about your scars. Here are some of my readers’ stories:

*****

I have two older brothers. They used to beat me up ... a lot ... for no reason! I was very small and they were not, so my normal defense was to run as fast as I could for as long as I could in the hope of finding some place safe to hide until they got bored and left. At home, that was usually in the bathroom where I could lock the door. That sense of relief only lasted a few moments before they were able to unlock the door with a nail and then I would collapse in terror and scream. 

On one occasion, I was caught out in the open, with no safe haven in sight! It happened somewhere between 4th and 6th grades, outside of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, at the corner of South Latah St. and West Cassia St. in Boise, Idaho. My older brother was, once again, chasing me in order to beat me up. He will claim that I was calling him names or something, but it was probably an unprovoked attack. I was running for my life! I soon realized that I was about to be caught, so I dove behind a tree that was near a corner of Sacred Heart. If my brother went one way, I went the other way, keeping the tree between us. This didn’t work for very long before my brother dodged one direction and then quickly reversed, causing me to turn in a panic and run right into the corner of the concrete sill of a beautiful stained glass window. I fell down. Suddenly my brother wasn’t attacking me but he was trying to be really nice to me. I put my hand up to my head and stuck my finger into a mushy hole. Then I started to cry. I was sure I touched my brain! My brother guided me across a playground, which seemed inordinately huge, and down Berkeley St toward home. I thought that I was plugging the hole in my head with my finger, but blood was still pouring down over my face. When my mom saw me, I don’t remember her saying anything, but she shoved my head under the faucet in the kitchen sink and went at it like she was trying to cleanse my soul with a scrub brush. Later we took a trip to the emergency room for stitches. 

I’m sure my brother still feels remorse for what he did to me. The scar is only visible if I shave my head.

Scott, Minneapolis, Minnesota

*****

Because of the scar on my chin, I would never name a son Douglas!

My favorite winter activity was ice skating, and I lived only a few blocks from the Riverside Park skating rink. Though my skating skills were not advanced in any way, I loved being on ice, no matter where I found it.

An ice-covered sidewalk outside Monroe Elementary School in south Minneapolis provided the setting for a fun recess-time activity. We fourth graders treasured those minutes outside the classroom. For some reason, my friends and I decided to slide on an icy sidewalk near the school. In our rubber boots, we could make a running slide great fun. However, in the midst of our simple entertainment came some older boys, determined to show us how to do it the right way. In the process, a boy named Douglas slid into me and knocked me down. My chin and the icy sidewalk had an encounter.

The school nurse called my mother who called my dad, and I was soon sitting in an exam room in the Bloomington-Lake Clinic. To close the gaping, bloody cut on my chin, the doctor used several tiny metal clamps and quickly bandaged my chin. Unfortunately, that bandaging made me think I looked like a goat!

In time, my chin healed, the clamps were removed, but the scar remained. It became a good source of entertainment as I retold the story to my children and grandchildren, but there was really no lesson to be learned, just an aversion to the name Douglas!

Avis, Newfolden, Minnesota

*****

My most memorable scar, and the one I have told my kids about most, came when our dog Tina bit my cheek when I was around eight. Tina was in the midst of having her first and only batch of puppies when I decided to crawl into her doghouse to count how many puppies she had delivered. Apparently, mama dogs in labour do not like to share that experience with anyone else. She growled and then promptly snapped at my cheek. 

I did not go in right away for stitches since Mom was in Grand Forks that week for grad school (Mom, please feel no guilt!) and the older sisters were in charge. Once Mom was home, she had a friend come over who was an RN to see if the cut could still be pulled together. It could not. If felt like years that I regularly rubbed vitamin E on the scar to diminish its appearance, but maybe it was months. The scar has certainly faded now, and I rarely think about it. 

It has made for a good story over the years, especially for children who like to pester animals.

Ingrid, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

*****

I have a centimeter-long, barely-there scar on my left palm. I got it thirteen years ago when I thought I could cut an apple by myself while Mom was napping. The accident happened when I tried to pull a knife out of its sharpening case, and I slit my hand in the process. It was pretty deep, but surprisingly didn’t hurt that much. I tried to get a Band-Aid for it, but Dad wrapped it in gauze instead.

Inga, Minneapolis, Minnesota

*****

In September of 1995 I entered Army basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri. During one portion of our bayonet training, we had to run up to the top of a rocky hill, stab some targets, and the run down the other side of the hill and through the rest of the course, stabbing targets as we went. As I crested the hill, I tripped and cut my knee open on some rocks. There was a significant amount of damage and blood, so a drill sergeant, appropriately named Sergeant Battle, took me back to the barracks to clean up the wound. He handed me a scrub brush and some rubbing alcohol and told me I could clean the gravel out of the gash, put a bandage on it, and get back out there, or I could go to the doctor, get stitches, and start basic training over.

Rubbing alcohol and a scrub brush really hurts.

Scott, Minneapolis, Minnesota

*****

When I was younger, my older brother and I were messing around in the garage with all the power tools. My brother accidentally bumped me while the table saw was on, and I lost my pinky down to the second knuckle. There’s definitely a scar there.

Jimothy, Aberdeen, South Dakota

*****

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*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

 

Scars

Today, I want to hear from you.

“To be alive at all is to have scars.” John Steinbeck

“Scars are tattoos with better stories.” Fear Like Us

Send me your scar story here (or if you’re a subscriber, simply hit reply to this email.) Photos are welcome too (if they're not too gross.) I will publish your writing, along with your name and location, in next week’s blog installment.

I’ll get us started…

Like a carnival for us kids in the 1970s, Market Fair, a grocery store on Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis, was a place of wonders: the cash registers’ coin returns—at precisely my eye level—spewed change for no apparent reason, we scored packages of Chiclets when we played the shopping game right, and the promise of amusement (a.k.a. grocery cart) rides dazzled us.

One day in 1974, we kids clambered to board a ride. Mom plugged my two-year-old brother into the baby seat in the front, and four-year-old me crouched in the back with the macaroni and tuna. When Mom’s list pulled her away from us and into the canned soup aisle for “just a second,” my eight-year-old sister entertained us. She was now the operator of the ride, and the cart was a roller coaster, bumping along its course. She spun us in circles. We clapped. She whipped us in dizzying figure eights. We squealed for joy.

But back near the meat department, a steel pipe poised along the floor like a dormant serpent, and that’s where the ride pitched me out.

Soon, I was on my back on a table in Deaconess Hospital’s emergency room, bright lights glaring down at me. A feathery tickle teased a spot on my head near the hairline, but I couldn’t scratch it; my arms were strapped to my sides.

“It itches,” I howled to a nurse. “It itches!”

I won five stitches that day and a scar big enough for show and tell.

Now what about you?

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*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Business review: the nail salons

“Let’s get pedicures,” Dicka said one day, her eyes bright. “It can be our thing.”

I thought of how little I cared about my toenails. Clean and trimmed was the goal—nothing showier usually entered my mind—but to have my girl request a thing with me? How could I resist?

I didn’t tell Dicka I had ticklish feet or an irrational fear of contracting an infection at a nail salon. I had read horror stories of places where the tools floated, minus cleaning, between clients. I gazed at my exuberant twelve year old’s face, but Rahm Emanuel’s eclipsed hers. As a teenager, the mayor of Chicago worked at an Arby’s where he slashed his finger on a meat slicer. Neglect and a swim in Lake Michigan spurred on an infection and emergency amputation down to the second knuckle of the middle finger on his right hand. (Note to self: If cut at a nail salon, avoid a dip in the lake.)

“Absolutely,” I said to my eager girl. “Let’s do it.”

Our first adventure in pedicures occurred in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, at CQ Nails. The place was expansive, the massage chairs and foot soakers so fancy.

“I’ll take the blue polish,” Dicka said, pointing at a bottle, “with a flower sticker. No sparkles, please.”

I kept it natural, opting for the French pedicure for an extra five dollars.

The leg scrub was divine, although I strained to understand the pedicurist’s English. I kept nodding, which might have led to an extra service, but it was hard telling.

At the end, Dicka wrinkled her nose. “I got sparkles.”

Tickle factor: Unmemorable.

Quality of service/product: The polish lasted about six weeks, which is a long time to be stuck with sparkles if you’re not a fan.

Overall good time: Delightful! I got to hang out with Dicka.

On our second excursion, Dicka and I met up with friends, another mom/daughter pair, at Calhoun Nail Spa in Minneapolis’ Uptown. A Groupon had selected the place for us, and it had similar chairs and foot baths to the first place, telling me the salon in Oconomowoc was more standard than special.

Dicka chose a pink polish, and I went out on a limb with coral. Having gone haywire, Dicka’s massage chair convulsed during the appointment. It thrashed her through the sugar scrub and jarred her during the cuticle trim.

“Ouch,” my girl whispered. “Sharp tools.”

At the end, I strode over to the desk to pay.

“Use coupon next time,” the woman said. “We give you same deal today.”

With another customer hovering nearby, I struggled to engage my math brain. “Uh. Okay, sure.”

Later, I compared notes with the mom friend who had joined us that day and checked out after we left.

“I didn’t appreciate how they pushed me to save the Groupon for the next visit,” she said. “I just said no.”

Tickle factor: In the medium-high range, Dicka and I agreed.

Quality of service/product: Not as long-lasting as our first pedicure, but still good. We returned, but might not have, if not for our unused Groupon.

Overall good time: Fantastic! I got to hang out with Dicka.

On a recommendation from my friend Murphy, Dicka and I next visited LA Nails in Vadnais Heights. The nail ladies were fashionable darlings, clicking around the place in heels so high, I almost twisted my ankle watching them.

This time Dicka selected a light blue polish; I ventured into noticeable territory with a deep rust color.

“You cut your nail too short,” Dicka’s pedicurist said to her with a light laugh. And then she cut them shorter.

I got a nick during the cuticle trim, but the leg massage distracted me. And when I thought the bliss of the foot rub was over, out came the hot stones for an extended massage time.

“Are they using vegetable oil?” Dicka whispered.

I reached down to my shin, faked an itch to swipe up some oil, and sniffed my hand. “Maybe?”

When I went to pay, the woman gave me a discount for Dicka.  

Tickle factor: Higher, but through no fault of theirs; it’s a personal issue.

Quality of service/product: The nick was minor (no antibiotics or amputation required), the lengthy massage ramped up the experience from nice to wonderful, and the kid discount was a sweet surprise.

Overall good time: Excellent! I got to hang out with Dicka.

My friend Murphy recommended another place too: Lexi Spa Nails (not to be confused with Lexi Nails) in New Brighton. The owner’s mother was a chef at Chino Latino, and she shares her culinary talents with the salon clientele.

Dicka and I haven’t gotten pedicures there yet, but I hear the egg rolls are amazing.

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*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Why me?

Denise’s life was a beautiful tapestry. But she lived on the other side of the work of art in the tangled mess of threads, and that’s the side of her life we saw too: the one with the senseless knots. When she couldn’t stomach couch-hopping anymore, she made a change. But now homeless, with four kids by as many men, her chance of buying groceries was almost as distant as her hope for an education.

“If my circumstances had been the same as hers, I could be in her spot,” I told my girls while they played with Denise’s babies. “And so could you.”

But when our family was between places, we had my parents’ home for refuge, and through no merit of our own, we slept in safety, our stomachs full.

Why? Why me?

A few nights ago, I stumbled onto an online quiz. Its title, “How privileged are you?” (or something similar), coaxed me to play. I clicked through the wide array of questions and scored a 43 out of 100. No, I hadn’t been handed everything in life, and yes, I had weathered some adversity. But 43 was something—a bigger number than for some. I frowned. I didn’t need a test to point out the obvious: My life was sheathed in goodness—and it always had been. I hadn’t somehow attracted the nice life through positive actions, though, because I hadn’t always made the right choices.

So, why me?

The internet buzzed with personal pronouncements of private pain in the #MeToo movement. As I scrolled through social media forums, victims of sexual harassment and assault—my friends—stated their realities in those two simple words. No details needed. And some kept silent, even though I knew their stories of pain. The masses of the walking wounded stunned me, and even more so, because I couldn’t claim a place in their circle.

Why me?

The question grew louder, strangling my thoughts. Nothing was fair about the protection and provision I enjoyed while others struggled. So, in the quiet hours of the early morning, I took my wrestling match to the living room rug and again asked the question: Why me?

Words cut through the silence, both comforting and jolting me:

From everyone who has been given much, much will be required.

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*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Larry Campbell (revisited)

Two nights ago at 2:29 a.m., six gunshots shattered the air. They sounded as close as our yard. I jumped out of bed and called 911 to report them.

Before I fell asleep again, I thought back to our earlier days in the neighborhood. Here's a blog installment I first posted on January 8, 2015. Years have passed, but the message remains.

***

When we entered through the back door that day in May 2008, I felt it before I saw it. I crossed through the kitchen and dining room, and when I got to the living room, my stomach flipped. The front door stood wide open, sunshine streaming in from the porch. The door’s lock mechanism was on the floor across the room.

“Something’s wrong,” I said to the girls, ages four, six, and eight. “Go back outside.”

I phoned the police from the back yard. Two officers arrived in minutes, and I assured them we hadn’t been inside the house long—just long enough to see the open front door and missing lock.

“We’ll have a look around,” the first one said. “Stay out here.”

The officers disappeared inside our house.

“We’ll go back in soon,” I said to the girls. “First, let’s see who can run fastest across the yard.”

Minutes later, one of the officers called to us from the back door.

“You can come in now. It’s all clear,” he said, pulling out his notepad. “Take a look, and let us know if anything’s gone.”

I passed from room to room, checking the house. Nothing. Not even a mess—other than our own—was left behind.

“It looks okay,” I said.

“Dexter was hiding under your bed, Mama,” Ricka said, holding the trembling dog in her arms.

One of the officers jotted some notes on his pad and gave me his card. Then I watched our sense of security walk down our front steps and drive off in a police car.

I called Husband who was at the airport ready to board a flight for a three-day trip to Amsterdam. I told him about our afternoon surprise.

“Can you come home?” I said.

“I can’t get out of the trip at this point.”

“Not even if you tell them someone kicked in your front door today?”

“No.”

I sighed. “Okay.”

“You’ll be all right.”

I paced while I talked with him, and then I noticed something. “I can’t believe it.”

“What?”

“I guess I only locked the lock on the door knob when we left earlier—not the deadbolt. I usually lock both.”

“Good. Then you can deadbolt the door tonight. I’ll replace the lock when I get home.”

I scrutinized the door. “And another thing. The glass is covered with fingerprints.”

“Well, we have kids.”

“But the prints are shaped like parentheses. Like someone cupped his eyes to see in.”

“I’ll deal with it when I get home. Don’t wipe them off.”

 

“Let’s all sleep together in my bed,” I said to the girls that night, switching on a smile. “It’ll be fun.”

The four of us slid under the covers. I turned off the bedside lamps, and my little ones snuggled inside my arms. When the excitement of the “sleepover” melted away, they drifted off to sleep. I steadied my breathing. In spite of the company, I felt alone in the dark.

In the shadow of His wings.

My ears perked up at the sound of each passing car, each horn in the distance. I stared at the ceiling.

I will lie down and sleep in peace for You alone make me dwell in safety. Safety.

 

The next day, the girls and I talked about the intruder.

“Maybe Dexter was barking so loud it scared him away,” Dicka said.

“Maybe so,” I said.

“I bet he saw an angel in our living room, got scared, and ran off,” Ricka said.

I nodded. “It’s very possible.”

 

When Husband returned from his work trip, he inspected the front door. He picked up the phone and dialed.

“We need someone to come over and dust for prints,” he said. “How soon could that happen?”

The cast of “CSI: Minneapolis” was at our front door within the hour. Exhaling male bravado, the men muscled their suitcases inside the porch and snapped them open. They swirled their brushes around on the glass of our front door—inside and out—and examined the doorknob with a magnifying glass.

Husband got a phone call from the police a few days later.

“Do you know a Larry Campbell?” an officer asked him.

“No,” Husband said.

“That’s the name of the guy from the prints on your door. Sixteen years old. Doesn’t live in your neighborhood.”

The girls prayed for Larry Campbell that night. And every night after that.

 

Two months after the break-in, a salesman came to our door peddling security systems. Husband and I listened to his pitch. We liked what we heard and agreed to the protection plan.

“Do you get tips from the police and then market these systems to people who’ve had recent break-ins?” I said.

“No,” the man said with a chuckle, “but that’s a good idea.”

We ate our dinner at the dining room table while the man installed a keypad on the wall a few feet from us. Would it make any difference? Brian, the previous homeowner, had staked a sign for a security company into the soil of the front garden when his family lived in our house. We hadn’t activated the system—just left the sign there as a scarecrow. But it was a tin lie, backed by nothing. And Larry Campbell probably hadn’t noticed—or cared.

The idea of paying for safety now felt ludicrous. As if we could hold our lives in our own hands and trust a system—managed by humans—to bring us security. Although we agreed to the protection, I knew I couldn’t rely on it—or even on Husband, away so often for work—to protect us. I could only trust the One.

And in the shadow of His wings was the only place I’d ever find safety.

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*Note to new subscribers: For previous installments of this continuing story, visit www.tamarajorell.com/blog and scroll back to the beginning.

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

 

The Rock

Unless she’s turned on a faucet, a homeowner doesn’t want water coming into her house. During a recent torrential rain, however, the dreaded event happened: I heard the sound of unrestrained nature in the basement when I hadn’t done a thing.

Husband and I investigated. Like a garden hose gone rogue, water gushed from a small hole—the size of a quarter—in the foundation behind the washing machine. We were quickly losing a battle that five minutes earlier we hadn’t even known we were fighting. We stood motionless; no fast moves could fix the nightmare that was pooling on the cement floor.

“Wow,” Husband said.

“Unbelievable,” I said.

The rains stopped, and we mopped up the mess. We spied a patch of black mold some shelving had hidden. Bleach and a brush became our friends, and Uncle Jim who was visiting helped us fill the hole with concrete. The dehumidifier put in some long hours, and our fans worked a few overtime shifts. Soon the floor was dry, but during the sunnier days that followed, I forgot about the hole. Then an old Sunday School song rushed into my thoughts.

“The foolish man built his house upon the sand, and the rains came tumbling down. The rains came down, and the floods came up, and the house on the sand went ‘splat!’”

Thankfully, the cautionary tale, set to music, had a hopeful ending. “The wise man built his house upon the rock, and the rains came tumbling down. The rains came down, and the floods came up, and the house on the rock stood firm.”

We examined our house. It wouldn’t go ‘splat!’ any time soon, but in what shape was our foundation? When the sun shone, we didn’t think about the condition of our dwelling. Only in bad weather did we question our footing.

The rains came again, showing us other weak points in our cinder block basement wall. And outside our home, the news revealed damaged underpinnings elsewhere too. Bullets rained down in a concert crowd in Las Vegas, arguments raged about hurricane relief efforts, and political dissension about anything grew a vicious mold on the country.

So, which are we? Builders on rock, or builders on sand? Wise—or foolish?

Maybe it’s time for the Rock.

The patching of the wall.

The patching of the wall.

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

© 2014 Tamara Jorell. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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