A Message to All Women

I just wanted to spread some encouragement to some amazing women I know and don’t know. You do not have to be they’ve said that you are.

“You are never too much,and you are always enough.” The sentence that still brings a tear to my eye when I hear it, over 5 years later.

Be blessed!

All credit to Carroll Gamboa, published on YouTube on 31 August 2017.

Sincerely
Lil

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Tell Them I’m Sorry

foot prints in snow

[ a   s h o r t   s t o r y ]

The snow crunched under my boots. It was two days after the accident. The tire tracks disappeared into the distance in front of me; the dirty, hard-packed snow forming two swaying lines. My shoulder brushed the lower branches of a tall fir tree and snow slipped to the ground as I thought of my little brother. All my thoughts were about him lately. An eagle roamed overhead, soaring on the wind currents, and I fought the urge to shoot it down. My finger itched for the trigger. The rifle lay against my side.

~  ~  ~

I remembered the night that my brother died. I knelt beside him and tried to scream, but the cold air took my breath away. There was no blood. Just a slightly still-warm body rapidly turning to stiff ice beneath my hands. I couldn’t bring the warmth back, and the snow had continued to fall on my face, my eyelashes, while the party continued inside.

They had probably all been drinking. You know how kids are. The car sped off and I wondered if I would ever see the driver again. Heaven knows how badly I wanted to.

~  ~  ~

My dad approached the house from the opposite direction. The pain was all over him like a heavy blanket resting on his shoulders. His face had aged ten years in a couple of days. My dad is a little man. I’m not sure he can stand up properly underneath the blanket. And I worry. Like I have many times since it happened. No matter what anybody says, my dad’s a good man. He’d never say he liked my brother better. That he’d prefer if it had been me in the accident.

“You’re my real son in all the ways that count,” he would always say to me. He always treated Hunter and I the same. Fair’s fair; that’s what I like about my dad. He’s a good man, my dad.

My dad looked up, and stared straight through me. “Boy,” he said. He usually called me son. He flipped the shovel off his shoulder and laid it against the house.

Once inside the house, my mom chided me. “Baby, get those things off. You’re putting snow all over my carpet.”

“Okay, Mama.” I hung up my coat and snow hat by the door, gently sliding my finger along the coat next to mine. In so many ways, practically speaking, it was like he had never left.

I leaned down and wrapped an arm around my mom’s thin shoulders, worn down to the bone, as she stirred the venison stew. “Hey, Mama. You like that deer I got you?” Mama smelled like a combination of all the foods she had cooked for a myriad of strangers in the last eighteen hours. She still had her frilly work apron on. I wondered if she had to go back to work tonight, or had just been too tired when she’d come home to take the apron off.

I sat on the couch, waiting for dinner to be ready, but then glanced over to see my mom yawn while she stood over the pot. I got up to set the table for her. It’s funny the things you try to remember, and the unimportant details that just stick in your brain like someone’s crazy glued them there. While I struggled to remember which order Mama liked the cutlery in, my mind jumped back to one day at school right before winter break when my brother and I were being hassled. Chase McKindreck, a guy who made my skin crawl with hatred every time I saw him, was off on one of his beat downs. He always picked on me—because of my size, because of my race, because he could. It’s not that I was a small kid—on the contrary—but with my height came a certain chubbiness that my mom liked to call . . . solidness. Chase liked to call it straight up fat. He liked to call me elephant man. He liked to call me black panther, like panther alone wasn’t explanation enough. He liked to call me bulldozer. He asked me if I could see all the way down to Texas from up there. Mama used to say that he was just jealous of me and my height. And being on the same football team didn’t change things one bit. In my mind, I liked to call him straight up racist. Somehow, even though I was about a good three inches taller than him, he still managed to always make me feel all tongue tied. My coach always said I was a heavy duty piece of machinery with not much of an engine. Whatever that meant.

This particular day, Chase stopped mid-rant for a second, then looked back at me and Hunter and said, as if seeing us for the first time, “Why’s he white and you’re black, anyway? I thought you were brothers.”

Little, blonde Hunter, who had known Chase for less than an hour, was still able to come up with a response before I could. “He is my brother, he is my brother,” Hunter repeated, in a sing-song voice. He paused for a moment, as if thinking of another argument. “He’s just my brother.” He tugged on my hand, telling me that he was anxious to get to class. To him there was no distinction between us—biological or adopted. “Lucas, let’s go.” He looked off in another direction, already bored. To him, the issue had been settled. “First graders go this way,” he informed me, ignoring Chase completely now. “I don’t wanna be late on my first day of school.” I let him drag me away, smug at the thought of Chase being shut down by a first grader.

At the dinner table, the three remaining members of our family sat side by side, but we were so emotionally distant from each other that we might as well have been on different continents. We were all thinking about the same thing—or the same person. I was thinking about the time when my dad had taken Hunter and me to the driving range at the golf course two towns away. Hunter had actually been better than I was and both of them had laughed at me as I missed ball after ball, swinging like a mad man. We’d had lunch at the club afterward and Hunter had spilled orange juice all over his new beige pants.

I was also thinking about the driver of that car, and imagining ways to kill him. I pulled myself up when the plans in my head started to become too detailed. I’d had my anger issues in the past, like everyone has, but I’d never really had to go after anyone before because, at five years old, my brother hadn’t really made many enemies. My father, on the other hand, well . . . he was a good man. He was looking away, staring at nothing, as my mom tried yet again to draw him into conversation. I attempted to concentrate for her sake, but my thoughts kept wandering down a track that I couldn’t see the end of. What I’ve noticed is that when women feel bad, they can’t eat. But my father and I were feeling just as bad, and we had three helpings of stew each.

The next two days passed slowly. Each day at school I kept my ears open and asked around for information. A name, an address, a licence plate—anything. The weird thing is that even though I go to a big school—huge because it’s first graders right through to seniors for all the surrounding towns—I still wasn’t finding anything. People were acting really nonchalant around me, and I got the feeling they were trying to hide something from me. Well, if they weren’t telling me, the cops certainly didn’t know yet. I was keeping an eye on the news too. But I felt pretty confident that I’d get wind of it before they did. When I came home from school both nights, I was raking through Facebook with a fine toothcomb, but everything was strangely quiet on the social media front. I didn’t have a Twitter. My mind was consumed by him.

One night, after hours of staring at the only computer screen in the house, clicking away and stalking my hardest, I pushed back in the old, three-legged office chair and bumped into my bed. I let out a big, frustrated sigh. According to the crappy computer’s tool bar it was already 2:36 A.M. Still nothing. I cracked my knuckles, agitated, and pounded my pillow with my fist. Wandering out to the kitchen in my socks, I got a glass and filled it slowly, trying not to wake the house. I stood there sipping the water and looking out the window above the sink at the snow falling. Did it ever stop in Montana? The fire was dying. One day I would go somewhere warm, out of this Godforsaken, podunk little town. Unexpectedly, I heard noises coming from my parents’ bedroom. I hadn’t intended to eavesdrop, exactly, but our walls were thin and I didn’t exactly move away as I heard their voices rise.

“Alex, talk to your son. You can’t avoid him forever. I think you both need this.”

“I ain’t got nothing to say to him,” I heard my dad’s deeper voice reply. “He should’ve been watching the house. He should’ve been watching my son.”

My son. Like he’d only ever had one son. What was I—just a glorified babysitter? Come to think of it, I wasn’t even supposed to be babysitting that night. It was a big party. How was I to know? We heard the scream before anyone had even realised he was gone.

The next night, Mama asked us if we could go hunting again. “Baby, I’m clear out,” she said to me with a straight face. “The stuff you bring home tastes so good, and you know how hard up we are right now. It’s just a rough patch. Won’t be long ‘til we can buy all our meat again.”

On the way out of the house, I checked our industrial freezer that sat against the back wall of our double garage. To my surprise, it was almost full. Okay, so Mama was trying to get us to bond again, to ‘reconnect emotionally.’ Father-son quality time together. You know, all that stuff that moms like to talk about. We’ll see how that goes seeing as apparently the only son he had already got hit by a drunk driver. Was all that stuff he said to me growing up really just a big bunch of lies? I couldn’t believe it yet.

We drove to our favourite spot and headed out into the trees. We usually laughed and joked while we were hunting, but tonight I couldn’t think of a thing to say. He only said things like, “To your left there, a little deeper in the woods,” or “Good shot.” Never once did he call me son. Before the accident, I couldn’t remember the last time he’d called me Lucas.

After about an hour and a half, when we would usually only be half way through, he turned to me and looked past my shoulder, saying, “I’m about done for the night. You wanna call it quits or keeping on lookin’?”

“I don’t care, Alex,” I said.

“Now wait just a minute,” my dad began in a disgruntled voice, coming around to stand in front of me. I glanced up to see his knees as I knelt tying the feet of a young deer carcass together. “No matter how bad things might be right now, I’m still your father.” So he was trying to pull rank. Playing the dad card.

Well, hell. Two could play at that game.

“Still my father?” I snarled. “Is that why you haven’t looked at me all week? Ever since—” I swallowed hard, biting back a mix of vomit and saliva. “Ever since then, you’ve totally ignored me. It’s like I’m dead to you or something!”

“Lucas, it’s not like that.” My dad’s voice rose. “This is a hard time for everyone . . .”

“I heard you. I heard you last night,” I spat. “I should’ve been taking care of your son.”

“Lucas.”

“Don’t even call me that.” I cut him off. “I know what that really means. It’s code for substitute.”

“No, son,” he pushed the words out like there was a pocket knife lodged in his throat. “I don’t know what I’m saying right now. I can barely even function. I wish I hadn’t said that.”

“You mean you wish I hadn’t heard it. Just say it now. I know you’re thinking it. You wish it had been me.”

I know I was pushing him right now, hard. I was feeling kind of crazy myself, and I knew what it felt like to live without Hunter, but something in me just wanted to make my dad crack.

“No, no . . .” he mumbled, looking at the ground, his face bereft. It was like his mind was already somewhere else. He looked . . . vulnerable.

I hefted the baby deer up and over my shoulder with a grunt. He was still mumbling “No, no” when I started trekking back to the truck. Sitting in the cab, I imagined myself driving off and leaving him to walk home. But I waited in the driver’s seat for him to get his seatbelt on, like a good son. The drive back home was quiet.

The next night after dinner I was sitting at my computer again, Facebook open on three tabs. The door opened without warning and my mom strode in wearing her frilly apron.

“Lucas, I’ve got to go back to work, so the left overs are in the fridge if you or your dad get hungry again,” she said, and came to kiss the top of my head. She barely even had to lean down an inch or two, but as she did, her eyes lit on the computer screen before I could minimise it. “Honey,” she warned in her usually high-pitched voice, “think about what you’re doing. That’s a bad cycle you’ll get yourself into. It’ll ruin you more than anyone else. Leave it to the Lord, baby. He knows best. Maybe that boy’s feeling just as guilty as you are angry.” Whatever, Mom. But what else was she supposed to say?

I didn’t say anything, but clicked the red cross at the corner of the screen, trying to make her believe that I was taking her words to heart. “I love you, Mama,” I said, trying to avoid making any promise in regards to getting even. I probably wasn’t going to do it, but if I did, I didn’t want a broken promise also on my list. “Now you better get along now.” I repeated her own words to me on many occasions in a joking tone. “You don’t wanna be late.”

The next day I was walking to my biology lab after lunch when I saw a group of people talking quietly, their heads bent toward each other. Something about it sent off an alarm bell. A few of them glanced over their shoulders as one of the guys pointed at me. I realised the guy pointing was Angelo, and he was frowning. I changed course and walked over to them, trying not to make it look like I was marching. Despite my best efforts to not look aggressive, most of the group scattered as soon as they saw me approaching. Angelo was left talking to one guy, whose eyes widened as he stole another glance at me. Oops. I guess I forgot to my make my face non-aggressive. He scampered away before I got within fifteen feet of him.

“Hey, Lucas.” Angelo put on a small smile, polite enough to stay and talk to me even though I could tell he wanted to run away too.

“Hey, what were you guys talking about?” When Angelo hesitated, I said, “Because I got the feeling it was about me.” Non-aggressive. Non-aggressive. I tried to smile but had a feeling it came out wrong. Angelo cringed at how obvious he had been with the pointing.

“I’m sorry, man.” His black eyebrows drew together. “About your brother.” I remembered with regret how close we used to be. “It was a terrible accident.”

“Accident? You know something?” He stayed quiet. “Angelo, I know you do. Everybody knows. I can feel how they’ve been trying to keep it from me. I ain’t stupid, you know.”

“I know,” he rushed to say in a sincere voice. I tried hard to remember why we weren’t still good friends.

“Then give it up. Don’t I deserve to know my own business?”

“Fine.” He sighed. “They told me not to tell you but man, I’m with you—I get it. This whole thing’s pretty rough. And I agree you have a right to know, especially seeing as everybody else does.” He exhaled slowly, at the same time I did, and then spit it out. “His name’s Tyler Elliot.”

“Junior?” I interjected.

“Yeah, a junior.” The name sounded familiar. “He was out drinking.”

“With Chase and those guys?”

“Yeah.” A face was starting to form in my head. Tyler Elliot. I’d seen him around a few times. He was a little guy, I think. With a mop of brown hair. Or was it dark blonde? Angelo continued. “It wasn’t s’posed to happen. He panicked and then took off. They’re telling the cops tomorrow.”

“Where’s he live?” I asked, and tried to make my face less intense than I knew it was right now.

“Lucas . . .” Angelo said in a worried tone, and I remembered my mom.

“It’s not like that,” I said in a defensive voice, even though it was. “I just wanna talk to him.” Angelo looked doubtful. “No, really,” I said in a serious tone. “I just need some closure, you know. I can’t stop thinking about Hunter . . .” I trailed off, knowing this would crack him.

Angelo leaned in with a reluctant, pained face and spoke his address quietly to my shoulder. Returning to his normal volume, he said in explanation. “He lives over in my town. I’ve seen him get off the bus before. He’s not in the main house though. He lives in a bungalow in the backyard.” He studied me. “But maybe on second thoughts you should wait to go see him until they take him into custody. To be honest, you look a little . . . crazy.”

I didn’t feel offended. Partly because I knew Angelo had no bad intentions and partly because I knew it was true. “Nah, man. I’m fine. I promise. I ain’t gonna hurt him.”

“Okay . . .” Angelo said doubtfully, giving my shoulder a kind squeeze. “Stay safe, man. Make good choices.” I’d heard him say that before, but this time I knew he wasn’t just saying it for the sake of it.

I felt bad manipulating—and lying to—Angelo, because he really was a good guy, but I just couldn’t satisfy that beast inside of me, and no matter how much anyone, including a part of myself, warned me against it, this was what I had to do. And tonight. After all, they were going to the cops tomorrow. Did Angelo mean that Tyler was going himself? Or that other people were? Oh, well. That part at least wasn’t my concern.

After school, I sat in my truck until the parking lot emptied, wrestling with myself. The days are short in winter, and I watched the cold air drain the light out of the sky. When almost all of it had disappeared, I turned my key in the ignition. I had made my decision.

The air felt lighter and heavier at the same time. Tyler Elliot, hold on a bit longer. I’m coming for you. After making a quick stop in my garage, I was back in the truck. It was strange how now that I’d found out, the ache had been replaced with a numbness. I flexed my cold fingers at the wheel and closed the truck door, ready to leave my house again. I flicked on my headlights. My stomach felt like it had a little motor in it, whirring away, stirring up the butterflies, but leaving my emotions intact. It was like my brain and my body were disconnected. I forced myself to barely consider what I was doing as I took a turn out of my driveway onto the long road that led to Tyler Elliot’s house. The gun sat across my lap.

After driving through his neighbourhood for a few minutes, I pulled up a couple of houses away from number nine, on the other side of the Canter Road, and decided just to wait. Whether it was doubt or smarts, I couldn’t tell you. Just that rushing on in didn’t seem like a really bright idea. After cutting the engine, I turned the interior lights off too. I shuffled down in my seat and squinted at the street lamps, wishing that the windows of my old truck were more heavily tinted. I considered going back home.

The most important thing here was discretion. To get in and out without anyone seeing me. I frowned, thinking how hard it would be to look nonchalant with a rifle by my side. Then again, there was no one on the street. Once the gunshot sounded, I would have to book it out of there and drive as far as I could. Maybe I’d go south. Somewhere down to the likes of Arizona. Maybe Pheonix. A big city where it was easy to hide. Some warmer weather sure wouldn’t do me any harm. The houses around here were pretty small and rundown. I guess this was a poor area. Did Tyler’s mom have to work double shifts as a waitress too? They couldn’t be all that poor though, if Tyler got to live in a bungalow out back. At least he didn’t have to share a four room cabin. At least he could get a bit of space. This certainly suited my purposes.

The anger that flooded me every time I thought of Hunter—blonde, blue-eyed, smiling, cold, stiff, unmoving—grew as I sat there in the car and let it fester.

Thou shalt not kill. I’d heard it before many times. But he did, so I would. Mama didn’t understand. It was a man’s job to protect the house. It was my job to protect my little brother. Even if that meant avenging him. I know how dramatic that sounds. And I could hear all the voices of disapproval in my head, but I pushed them aside and let my emotions consume me.

The rage tore at my heart and I imagined myself doing all kinds of terrible things. Still balancing the gun carefully across my knees, I slowly cracked my knuckles one by one. It was now or never.

I stepped out of the cab and into a small drift of snow at the edge of the sidewalk. Shaking my boots, I hoped that Mama had put on a warm jacket as she was leaving for work tonight. Hunter hadn’t that night when he ran out of the house. I don’t even know what he was planning on doing. What had made him run across the road so suddenly? I only remember hearing the scream. Was Mama wondering where I was right now? I immediately felt guilty for making her anxious. Was my dad wondering?

Shaking these thoughts, I crossed the road. I slinked along the fence line toward number nine, holding the gun tight to my body. This was what I had been waiting for. The moment that all this anger and searching and festering had been leading up to. The chance to prove myself. The chance to make things right.

Thanks to trusting, too-kind Angelo, Tyler was finally getting what he deserved. What kind of sick person does a hit and run on a kid? Accident or no, how in the hell can you not feel guilty about something like that? Straight up murder, that’s what it was.

Number nine had no fence, so I stole around the side of the house and immediately spotted the bungalow.

Crap!

A sensor light came on above my head. I froze, trying to make myself melt into the fence.

No reaction.

I waited twenty more seconds and the light flicked off. I still couldn’t hear any sounds from the rest of the family, so I starting walking louder. Let him hear that I was coming. Let him have time to get scared. Let him imagine how I was going to do it. Let him walk out the door to meet me.

I saw the lights on in the bungalow, even though the drapes were closed. I marched right up to the door and for some reason I knocked. I don’t know why, but my polite upbringing still somehow stopped me from just walking straight in—at first. He didn’t come to the door but I knew he was inside because I could hear muffled movement. I stood still and listened, and for a minute everything was silent. I don’t know what I was waiting for. Was he deaf, or what? I knocked again and still no answer. I could smell smoke from a wood fire and a pine scent from the trees behind the bungalow. I stood there shaking and then I heard a noise. It was the scraping of a chair or a stool across a wooden floor. I waited for a little longer, my chest in serious pain by now, and heard a grunt and a gurgle.

I pushed open the door and stepped inside all in one large movement, bringing the rifle to my shoulder. Before my eyes even registered what was happening, I was face to face with Tyler Elliot. Through the crosshairs of the gun I saw him, the rope around his neck. His body still swinging slightly.

My throat released a guttural sound like some kind of animal and the gun clattered to the floor. My ears were pulsing with blood. I imagined I could already smell him. A piece of paper lay on the bed next to a photo.

Tell them I’m sorry.

I stared at a picture of my family that I’d posted on my Facebook page a year ago.

A car pulled up in front of the house, its headlights racing down the side fence line, sweeping one corner of the backyard as it turned to park. One door opened and then closed with considerable force. Boots slapped the concrete driveway then crunched on the gravel leading to the back of the house. A sensor light turned on, illuminating the shadow of a very big man approaching, his shape moving along the fence.

My stomach felt like all those butterflies had turned into giant moths, and were throwing themselves up against the walls. I stood illuminated in the doorway of the bungalow. The light was on. The door was open. He would know. He would know what I came to do. What was I thinking? Killing someone because I hated them for killing my brother? How was that logical? How was it justice? I felt just as guilty as if I had done it. I wondered if he knew that his son was the one to kill my brother. Were they close? Maybe his dad took him out hunting too, while his mom was working double shifts. Maybe we weren’t that different. The footsteps got closer. Maybe I was worse. The idea of my own cold-bloodedness sent a chill through me, each footstep feeling like a blow to the temple. I thought I’d come here to finish this, but I would never leave here. I would carry Tyler Elliot around with me forever. His dad was seconds away.

        I still had the photo in my hand. I couldn’t move. Where would I go anyway? He was too close now.

I’m screwed.

The big man stepped around the corner, the light from two directions still only showing part of his face. “Son?”

Sincerely
Lil
____________________________________________________________________________________________

Image: https://www.123rf.com/photo_7109508_ski-and-foot-prints-trought-the-snowy-forest-in-vail-colorado.html, sourced 5 November 2017.

Free to Be Me

happy socsk

Does there always have to be a really good and logical reason for doing things? I mean, sure, buying a house or changing jobs, yes. But how about wearing socks with bananas on them, or putting chopsticks in your hair (although they could come in handy around dinner time)?

I hear a lot of criticism of girls who wear ‘too much’ makeup, particularly from guys. They look so fake. What are they trying to hide? I could write my name in their foundation. I just really like the natural look . . . like Jennifer Hawkins.

The other day my boyfriend asked me why I wear makeup even though I don’t need to. I replied with, “Well, why do you wear Happy Socks? You don’t need to wear them. Socks without bananas on them will keep your feet just as warm. Happy Socks aren’t more comfortable.”

But he uses Happy Socks as a way to express who he is.

I am a girly girl and will go for a ruffle or lace or sparkle any chance I get, even if it means only hand washable. I sometimes wear high heels and sequins that itch and a coat with shoulders tight enough to make it difficult to drive. I wear makeup not primarily to conceal or alter, but to express. The room for creativity in cosmetics is endless—it’s no wonder they call it makeup artistry.

inspire others

Sometimes people say, “Gee, you get excited about little things, don’t you. How is a rainbow or a Kit Kat going to impact your life?” But I say why not get excited, if that’s what you like to do? It’s not hurting anyone; quite the opposite.

Do you know why expressing our individuality makes our souls come alive—why it feels so good to just be who we are? Because we were created in God’s image and our individuality celebrates and showcases his creativity.

Imagine for a moment that in the seven days of creating heaven and earth, God spoke into being only what was practical, only what was functional. No colours, no curves, no smell, no sound. Because what is the point of all these things really? A silent, grey world of straight lines and the inability to ever smell grass after the rain, or even hear rain. Sounds pretty soul crushing to me.

But no.

Thank the Lord—he spoke and galaxies rushed forth from his mouth. All kinds of trees were planted with all kinds of fruit. Birds chirped and rivers gurgled and the sun shone so Adam and Eve could actually see all of this. Animals of different size, pattern and colour were breathed into life, all of them making different sounds. Flowers that ate insects and fish with crazy teeth and headlamps haunting the deep ocean floor.

All of it a form of expression. Creation is made to reflect God and we know that a reflection in a mirror is just a shadow of the real thing. Take one look at creation and say WOW. How good must this God be! How beautiful, how creative, how infinite.

Dr Seuss

So celebrate the diversity that you see in the world, all the eye colours and hair textures and skin tones and fashion choices. We are like a big wooden chest and our individuality like a hoard of treasures that God gives us at the moment of conception that can be pulled out one by one to delight and amaze. Ourselves, people around us, even God.

Use your unique personality, strengths, way of viewing the world . . . to the glory of God. How to make the world a better place 101.

“Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” – Oscar Wilde

Sincerely
Lil

 

Images (all sourced 7 August 2017)

http://www.tfcoconut.com/2017/01/11/brand-know-happy-socks/

https:///11-dr-seuss-quotes-you-really-understand

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/what-embracing-individuality-really-means-a-m-morgan

 

Why we avoid the things we love the most

Do you remember that strange thing at school athletics day as a kid when you’d be about to line up for the sprint race and suddenly need to pee? Never mind the fact you’d already been to the bathroom twice in the last half hour. No, just me?

I remember being so nervous about the running races in Year 9 that I was genuinely hoping I would somehow break both legs before athletics day. There was a girl who had been bullying me a bit for the last few months and we were pretty much neck and neck in terms of fitness (9 periods of sport a week together left little ambiguity). I was pretty sure I had the edge on her but I knew that it would push me to my limit physically.

But the horror of coming second, or ‘first loser’, as some competitive people like to say, drove me on and I won every single running race in that athletics competition. The most memorable was the 400 metres, my least favourite event. Middle distance is horrible, in my opinion, because it pushes you to your limit for the longest period of time. There’s no slow and steady, and you can’t give it all in the first ten seconds. Shortly after the race my legs cramped up so badly that I was lying on the grass crying while my mother stretched out my hamstrings.

I often used to look forward to long distance more than sprinting, even though I found it less enjoyable, just because I found it less stressful. And last time I was with my boyfriend Jacques the last thing I wanted to do was sprint. Because I love it so much.

I am currently working on a novel. Writing stories makes me crazy happy and I love every amazing, difficult second of it, but I have to get my cousin to give me deadlines because otherwise I will ditch writing to do the washing, or clean the house, or reorganise my pantry. Why do I avoid the thing I know will make me come alive the most? The other things are mundane tasks, yes, but it is a lot harder to fail at them. And if I did, what’s the big deal? So, I’m not a domestic goddess after all (or am I really?).

But somehow if I fail at writing, or view myself as having failed, I feel that I have failed as a person. Every writer (who actually shows their work to others) knows that you have to develop a pretty thick skin, and I have gotten better at handling rejection over the years. However if someone were to give ‘destructive criticism’ (as opposed to the more commonly used constructive criticism) I would find it hard not to perceive it as a criticism of me as a person.

In some ways it’s easier to never try your hardest, because then your all, your absolute best, can never be rejected, or deemed ‘not good enough’.

We need to decide whether the risk is worth it. Would you rather succeed at rearranging your pantry or winning an Olympic gold medal for the 100 metre sprint? Fill in the blank with your passion, but don’t avoid using the gifts that God’s placed in you because, in some ways, it’s a slap in the face.

As a side note, of course Satan would want us to become distracted and do everything but the thing that is going to have the most impact. The thing that would make us really come alive.

Look into your own heart. What desires are in there so deep that you feel like to cut them out would to become someone else entirely? Maybe you already know.

Now ask God to help you pursue that, to his glory.

 

Sincerely
Lil

 

Image: https://en.fotolia.com/tag/%22sports%20race%22, sourced 21 June 2017

Is the Apex gang taking over our streets?

I took this photograph on my run this morning after seeing my third or fourth one, sadly right near a children’s playground. This ‘South Sudanese’ gang seems to be everywhere. In the parks, lighting up our news headlines, holding up our cars, breaking into and entering our homes. Most Sudanese people probably have associations with them. Right?

Without researching, would you say that the Apex gang are pretty big? Earlier today I would have answered huge, but after doing some research I found that most of my assumptions were wrong. Big shocker there.

Most news sources manage to agree that at its peak the Apex gang contained around 130 members. Melbourne is currently home to 6007 Sudanese people. Which means that the Apex gang make up just 1.85% of the total Sudanese population. With statistics that low, it is ignorant to assume that ‘any African out there’ could be a member of Apex. You also might be interested to know that of the 2000 teenagers committing crimes in Victoria between October 2015 to September 2016, 1700 of them were born in Australia. So why aren’t we running scared from them?

One of the worst parts for me is that if I’m walking on a street at night and I see a group of young men walking towards me, sometimes I feel a twinge of fear if they are African looking. Because the thought that goes through my mind is, “Well, what if they are part of that violent minority?” Just my luck.

It is assumptions like these that can lead us to discriminate against perfectly innocent Sudanese people in the community, particularly young males. Where do we get our facts from? Do we even have any actual statistics? I know that before this week I haven’t even read one single article about the Apex gang and the way they’re ‘terrorising Melbourne’. All of my information was word of mouth, probably by people who themselves have already felt the cold fingers of anxiety creep over their shoulders and shiver down their back.

I’ve always known that the minority ruin it for the majority, but what I didn’t know until I actually read some articles is that the Apex gang contains several nationalities, including Australian, which the media largely ignores.

Other information that has reached me by word of mouth is the tough situations that Sudanese friends of mine have encountered just because of their ethnicity. If you think basic racial slurs in the schoolyard are all they’ve got to worry about, you’d be wrong. From being told to ‘get out of here’ while attempting to enter a workplace to start a shift, to being run away from when you needed help after locking your keys in your car, to assault in broad daylight on the way out of the school gates.

Several schools across the western suburbs of Melbourne have banned any ‘African looking’ people from gathering in groups of more than three because it ‘intimidates’ the other students. This is the kind of racial profiling that leads people to become even more prejudiced, and African young people to feel increasingly ostracised.

The Sunday Morning Herald referred to the Apex gang as a ‘lightning rod’ for racial violence (Michael Koziol) and The Saturday Paper claim that, “When not covered responsibly, hot topics such as race and immigration encourage discrimination against groups of people that are already marginalised” (Santilla Chingaipe).

Can you imagine what it’s like living in Melbourne as a South Sudanese young person with the shadow of the Apex gang looming over your shoulder? Sudanese all across our city are experiencing fear, suspicion and sometimes even outright rejection or hatred because of their ethnicity or fears that they may be violent, based on the actions of strangers, not their own. That shouldn’t sit alright with us.

Just to be clear, I am in no way downplaying the pain that victims of the Apex gang have suffered, merely trying to shed some light on the pain of another group of innocent victims.

Probably most of us when asked if we harbour racial prejudice would say no, but what does fearing a whole people group just because of a 1.8% gang say about us?

So when you come across people from any kind of ethnicity different to you, if their behaviour is normal and peaceful, give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they’re just a great person like you, trying to navigate life’s struggles and hoping that the world can see them for who they really are, not just the colour of their skin.

Sincerely
Lil

 

 

Sources (all found 15 June 2017):
http://profile.id.com.au/s_greater-melbourne/sudanese-population

https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/news/media/2017/02/25/race-stereotyping-and-melbournes-apex-gang/14879412004275

http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/south-sudanese-students-banned-from-congregating-in-groups-at-several-melbourne-schools/news-story/88e7d820d1714beb59cb6bdb7722fd1f

http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/apex-gang-most-youth-crimes-committed-by-australianborn-police-say-20170412-gvj964.html

What is success?

 

Do you consider yourself successful?

The question is asked and you start to squirm in your seat. Do you? You glance round at the others, to see if they are as unsure as you. The question goes round the circle, making its way toward you, and you go back and forth between yes and no about six times each. I mean, you’re not a total loser, but then again, you have that university degree that you’re not even using yet. You don’t own a house. Your car is worth half of what the mechanic says it will cost to fix it. And to top it all off, you’re single.

Better go with no. It seems safer. Plus, you have the added bonus of not looking arrogant to the group. Decision made.

You’re actually one of the first ones to give your answer (a lot of mind changing can happen in a few short minutes).

You say no. When asked what would you have to do or achieve to consider yourself a success, you say, “Become a professional writer.”

Not until this moment have you realised that maybe one of the reasons you want a job in this field so badly is so that you can stop feeling like a failure. Maybe even the main reason. That every time someone says, “What do you do?” it translates to you as, “How much are you worth?” and the answer you keep coming up with is, “Not much.” What I do is not impressive. I sell clothes. No one dies if I don’t get up and go to work. They just buy at Target.

Somehow your successes in the field of retail never mean quite enough to you because you don’t need a degree to do it, and so many people refer to it as their job before they get a “real” job.

This particular Tuesday night last year as I sat on the bean bag I felt tears build slowly in my eyes. Listening to the answers of the rest of the group I suddenly broke in. “Can I change my answer?” in a tone that barely concealed the panic I was feeling.

“No.” Why did that word make the tears spill over?

The other people in the group all said yes. When asked why, the most memorable answer was one of the women saying, “I would consider yourself a success if people actually like you, and want to be around you. Do you have any good, solid friendships? You’ve certainly succeeded in something!”

The way my answer contrasted with the rest of them made me feel ten times the failure I had felt before and I was suddenly undone and exposed.

What had happened in my heart that I constantly held myself to this high standard of perfection? That I had set an arbitrary bar for success and anything that was below or in another area was all stamped with the words “try harder”. Why was my standard for myself so much higher than anyone else’s for me, and so different to what my creator had in mind? Just a hint, Lil. God wasn’t looking at Adam and Eve’s careers when he said, “It is very good.”

They were good because God made them, and they belonged to Him.

Now how many people would be successful in the world’s eyes just because they were created in the image of God? No career, no great wondrous achievements. Nothing to do with what they had done and everything to do with who they belonged to.

When God says in his word not to be conformed to the pattern of this world (Romans 12:2), we can often view it as him telling us off, but what if (crazy thought, I know) he put that in the bible for our freedom? Think like me, because I actually see clearly, he says. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so far are my ways above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts (Isaiah 55:9).

 

What does God view as success?

Faith: without it it’s impossible to please him (Hebrews 11:6).

Love: He wants us to love him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, as well as loving our neighbour as ourselves, according to Matthew 22:37-40. In fact, the whole Hebrew law is summed up in that one sentence.

How do we show our love, according to John 14:15? Obedience.

Do you have these three things? If you do, then you’re already a raging success in His eyes.

It’s not always the most seen and heard, the rich and famous, the bosses, the stage performers, the TV stars and the hit singers who God considers close friends.

Who was Mary, when Gabriel met her where she was at in order to have a talk with her about the saviour of all mankind?

Who was Abraham? Who was this young guy Jacob, fighting with his brother, when God called him?

Jesus was born in a stable for a reason, and it wasn’t the celebrities of the day that the angels first appeared to.

 

What a relief then, to realise that just because we haven’t followed the world’s trail of stepping stones for us, that all is not lost. Actually, nothing is.

Just keep saying ‘yes’ to Jesus, and the day he takes you home to heaven you can hear those wonderful words.

“Well done, good and faithful servant. Come and enter my rest.”

 

 

Sincerely,
Lil

 

Image 1: http://www.openlettersmonthly.com/novelreadings/fear-of-failing/
Image 2: http://www.capital-moments.com/the-blueprint-of-success/

Our Beauty Legacy

 

What’s more powerful for your daughter’s self-esteem than telling her she’s beautiful? Not telling yourself you’re ugly in front of her. As the video in this blog post shows, if you ask many young girls and their mothers what they either don’t like about themselves or would change, the answers are incredibly similar.

Growing up my mother never told me I looked bad. Not once. But I would sometimes watch her criticising herself in the mirror and think, if what she’s got is bad, then is what I’ve got bad too? I am a mini version of her, after all.

It didn’t affect my sisters much at all to my knowledge and I’m happy to say that they have not struggled with low self-esteem. It’s also important to say that there are many factors when it comes to low self-esteem, and this wasn’t even the most significant one to affect me, but it did impact me to some degree and I’m committed to looking at all angles of self-esteem. I am not sharing this to make my mother or any mother feel bad. My mum is one of the many wonderful, strong, beautiful women that make this world a better place just by bringing their heart to it.

But I refuse to let this continue one generation further. This stops with me. Because the way we view ourselves affects our daughters, and our relationships, and the challenges we take on in life.

I’ve decided long ago that I won’t belittle myself in front of young girls, but then I caught myself some time back criticising my drawing as I was helping my 6 year old friend with some art. She immediately started to criticise hers too and I had to pull myself up and point out all the good things in my drawing, as well as hers.

The point is that even though I was aware of how quickly younger girls can see themselves in us, I still spoke negatively about myself. If we’re going to get this right for the sake of the generations to come, we need to be very intentional.

The first time I watched this video I bawled my eyes out because it resonated deeply with me. Mothers, I know all of you want to have the most positive impact on your daughter as humanly possible. And even if you don’t feel comfortable speaking well of your appearance, just try avoiding talking about all the features you dislike, because chances are your daughter has inherited at least some of them.

We were created by God, fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps 139:14), and he didn’t make a mistake with our nose, our legs, our hair colour, our freckles. He saw fit to infuse it into our DNA so that it would be replicated in the next generation in a new and beautiful way, mixed with our husband’s features.

And He looked.

And He said, “IT IS VERY GOOD.”

 

Sincerely,
Lil

The double standard most people ignore

 

Who is your worst critic? Maybe it’s your mother, or an older sibling, but most likely it’s the person staring you in the mirror. Why are we so much harsher with ourselves, particularly in the areas of looks and achievements, than we are with other people?

I had a customer at work this week who tried on a fitted black dress because her friend’s daughter had invited her to be a guest at her Debutante ball. She was probably in her late 40’s and as we assessed the suitability of the dress for the event she started to point out all the tiny details of what was “wrong” with her. The greys in her hairline, the size of her bottom, the curve of her stomach, the crow’s feet around her eyes. It was all news to me because even though I was staring hard into the same mirror I literally hadn’t seen those things until she pointed them out. All I saw was a lovely, beautiful woman who had that special, comforting mum-vibe that only comes with years of experience and triumphing in hard times (people think that their gentleness of spirit cannot be seen by those who don’t know them, but it’s not true). And I realised that’s how the rest of the world probably sees her too. But she is walking around thinking people are thinking things that they aren’t, assuming they are zeroing in on her minute faults, and judging her for them. And it is damaging her self-esteem. Her own thoughts are hurting her.

Image result for beautiful women low self-esteem

I’ve realised a long time ago that working in women’s fashion, it’s not how the garment actually looks, it’s how a woman feels about herself in it. Because, as I explained to a new team member the other day, if she doesn’t feel good about herself in it, even if she buys it she will barely ever wear it because she feels her flaws are exposed in it.

We spend so much time trying to cover our true selves, with concealer, spanks and baggy clothes (usually black, because it’s slimming, right?) because we’re afraid the world will not accept us as we are. This is a fair assumption, considering the advertising industry spends most of its money and energy telling us that we’re not good enough.

I’m reminded of another encounter as a shopper this time. I was with my friend in the U.S. about four years ago and she came out of the change rooms and asked me what I thought of the outfit she was wearing. I said, “I think it looks like you’re trying to hide the fact that you’re a woman.” Yay for honesty. She actually got quite emotional and began to open up about some deep insecurities she has about the way she looks, and how she doesn’t feel she can wear fitted clothes. That New Year’s Eve she sent me a proud photo, wearing a dress that showed her lovely feminine figure in a completely classy way. Another victory.

She was liberated to be who she was as a woman. That would be my prayer for every woman. Stop judging yourself so harshly, ladies! You are beautiful, and wonderful, and knowing that is powerful.

Trust me, most men don’t see all the little flaws either. One of my friends said her husband has asked her to stop pointing out all her miniscule imperfections because he hadn’t even noticed them.

Here’s an idea: start viewing yourself the way you view other women – as strong and beautiful and worth envying.

Dove tends to agree with me that women are more beautiful than they think…

Sincerely,
Lil (a beautiful daughter of the King)

 

Images sourced 4 May 2017
http://www.express.co.uk/life-style/health/631289/revealed-womens-shocking-top-daily-self-criticisms

What’s in a Name?

Sometimes the name “God” can lose its power to us because of the many false gods around the world, or we have a watered down view of God because of people who worship “a god of their imagination” that the Bible refers to.

But God is not whatever we want him to be. He has a personality and actual qualities; things he likes and dislikes. Things that make Him happy and angry. You can know about God as a theory, but it takes knowing him personally to discover these things.

And although he is one God, he has many names. Here are some of them that reference different aspects of God’s personality and show us who he is. And once we remember who he is, we can never make the mistake of thinking that he is bland or boring.

So who then is this God we serve?

El Shaddai (Lord God Almighty)
Never forget the unlimited power that God has. In case you need reminding…

Who else has held the oceans in his hand? Who has measured off the heavens with his fingers? Who else knows the weight of the earth or has weighed the mountains and hills on a scale? … Has the Lord ever needed anyone’s advice? … No, for all the nations of the world are but a drop in the bucket. They are nothing more than dust on the scales. He picks up the whole earth as though it were a grain of sand.
– Isaiah 40:12-15 (NLT)

How big do your problems seem now?


El Elyon (The Most High God)

For the LORD Most High is to be feared, A great King over all the earth.
Psalm 47:2

Although we don’t admit it, we often have hierarchical thinking. Who would you consider most high in your acquaintance? In the world? Is it a celebrity, the prime minister, the queen? God is so much higher than all these people, and no one is next to God in importance, there is no list or ladder. There is God, and there is people saved by the grace of his Son. Jesus is the highest name in the whole world and one day every knee will bow before him and every tongue will confess that he is Lord. There is no unbelieving person who won’t be absolutely devastated on that day. And while there is a season of grace that we’re in now, there won’t be any second chances after the second coming of Jesus.

Adonai (Lord, Master)
People have told me before that they don’t really believe that Jesus is in control of our life once we get saved. Then why is it called giving our life to him?

Sin is no longer your master … don’t you realise that you become a slave of whatever you choose to obey? … Now you are free from slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteousness.
– Romans 6: 14-18 (NLT)

Everyone is happy for Jesus to become our saviour and give us a ticket into heaven, but the Lord part doesn’t sit quite so well with as many. If he is Lord and master, we are about what he is about, interested in the things that he is interested in. Once we invited Jesus into our hearts, he’s not just part of our lives, he is our life.

 

Yahweh (Lord, Jehovah)


Jehovah Nissi (The Lord My Banner)
This is one of my favourites. This speaks of identity, but to me this also says that Jesus ties our identity with us and announces us as we march out to battle. It says that he covers us, watches over us and is proud to be seen with us. Has anyone ever seen a subtle banner?

He has brought me to his banquet hall, and his banner over me is love.
– Song of Solomon 2:4 (NASB)

Jehovah-Raah (The Lord My Shepherd)

Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, In His arm He will gather the lambs And carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes.
– Isaiah 40:11 (NIV)

What a gentle God he is, with that parent heart that leaves the 99 to go after the one.

Jehovah Rapha (The Lord That Heals)
His kids don’t go unnoticed by him. He has the ability and the desire to heal. One of my favourite parts about God is that he loves to restore. There is fullness and wholeness to be found in him.

I have heard your prayer and seen your tears, and I will heal you.
– 2 Kings 20:4 (NIV)

Jehovah Shammah (The Lord Is There)

She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us’.
– Matthew 1:23 (NLT)

In Isaiah (41:9) God also says that he has chosen us and will not abandon us. Have you ever feared being abandoned? Good news. It’s not in his nature.

Jehovah Tsidkenu (The Lord Our Righteousness)

In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’
-Jeremiah 23:6 (ESV)

Everything you’ve ever done wrong: forgiven. Those deeds that earned death: paid for. We exchange our dirty rags for robes of righteousness and are made right with God because of Jesus paying it all for us.

Jehovah Mekoddishkem (The Lord Who Sanctifies You)

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.
– 1 Thessalonians 5:23 (NIV)

El Olam (The Everlasting God)

But the lovingkindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children.
– Psalm 103:17 (NASB)

Elohim (God)

Qanna (Jealous)
I used to feel ashamed of having some jealous tendencies, but I see in the bible that God is a jealous God. It’s cool when you grow and realise more and more ways that we reflect God’s heart, and that the world around us reflects his principles and glory.

For you shall not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.
– Exodus 34:14

Jehovah Jireh (The Lord Will Provide)
Not only does he provide for our salvation but has limitless resources and can provide for every kind of need we have for the rest of our lives.

And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.
– Philippians 4:19 (NLT)

Jehovah Shalom (The Lord Is Peace)
Last year I asked one of our elders whether he thought a certain decision was right in my life at the time. He said, “Jesus is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) so if you don’t have peace it can’t be from him.” With our God we can have peace in the midst of any storm.

Jehovah Sabaoth (The Lord of Hosts)
This name speaks of his authority and refers to him as the commander of Heaven’s armies.

Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress. On his robe at his thigh was written this title: King of all kings and Lord of all lords.
– Revelation 19: (NLT)

 

Sincerely,
Lil

___________________________________________________________________________________________

Credit for original list of names of God goes to:
https://www.blueletterbible.org/study/misc/name_god.cfm, sourced 17 April 2017.

Book recommendation: Captivating

Do you ever feel that you are “too much” and “not what you should be”?

The non-fiction book that has probably impacted me the most is this book Captivating, written by a Christian married couple, John and Stasi Eldredge. The introduction alone had me in tears.

It began to answer the question: “What does it mean to be a woman?” As someone with identity issues, this text spoke to me in a way that I had never experienced before.

This book, written from the perspective of both husband and wife, is not mainly a book about marriage. It is a book about being a woman – and for me has been anointed. The best way to describe it is that it tore me down and then built me back up, from the very foundations.

Captivating has brought me to tears (eye-swelling, gut-wrenching, soul tears) where wounds so deep—some I didn’t even know existed—got brought into the spotlight. Reading it was very painful at times but I finished the last page a different woman because God used these words to minister to my soul.

I don’t like sounding so dramatic, because people often say about books and movies, “This will change your life!” And I promise I am receiving no money to promote this book. But the fact that I have bought or recommended it for close to 10 people already shows how relevant I find it. If you’ve talked to me about self-esteem or identity issues you’ve probably already heard me mention it.

I know I am not alone in this nagging sense of failing to measure up, a feeling of not being good enough as a woman. Every woman I’ve ever met feels it—something deeper than just the sense of failing at what she does. An underlying, gut feeling of failing at who she is.  I am not enough, and I am too much at the same time. Not pretty enough, not thin enough, not kind enough … But too emotional, too needy, too sensitive, too strong … The result is Shame, the universal companion of women. It haunts us, nipping at our heels, feeding on our deepest fear that we will end up abandoned and alone.
– Stasi Eldredge, pp. 230-131 (Wild at Heart and Captivating, 2005)

Why does this get to us? Because we have believed some lies in our lives, some at a very young age. And they have poisoned our hearts. Jesus wants to draw the poison out of us, the things that paralyse us, and bring us out into his glorious freedom. Because we were created for wide open spaces, for beauty and intimacy, not for shame, and self-loathing and fear.

Trust me I have lived on the one side, and am learning to live on the other. And I am so thankful to a couple who were obedient to God when he surely said, “I want to bring some freedom to some of my precious daughters through you.”

What is at the core of a woman’s heart? What are her desires? What did we long for as little girls? What do we still long for as women? And, how does a woman begin to be healed from the wounds and tragedies of her life?
– Stasi Eldredge, p. 224 (Wild at Heart and Captivating, 2005)

John and Stasi don’t claim to answer every question, but they have grasped something true and powerful in the heart of a woman that has often been lost, hidden or crushed. And it is something that the world desperately needs.

~~~

From a man’s perspective:
Q: Would you say it’s beneficial at all to read Captivating as a man? If yes, how so?
A: I’d say yes. Captivating reassured me of a lot of things I had been told about women – growing up with two women in the house, I had never fully noticed things that Captivating spoke about. I think it’s beneficial because it helps you understand just how important a man’s role is, and how it is in a woman’s core to be loved and desired.
– Jacques

Where to buy . . .

Sincerely,
Lil and Jacques

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Image: http://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1442893930i/11413._UY500_SS500_.jpg