Today’s post comes from my I-love-her-too-much-for-words baby sister, Alexandra Ghoman. (Who is not a baby anymore, but still.) Alexandra blogs at A Loves J about life as a not-so-newlywed, touching on topics as varied as faith, fashion, family, an adorable dog named Huckleberry, and the occasional semi-sarcastic guide to cruises. When she was still just a teenager, wise-beyond-her-years Alexandra was a great comfort to me during the years when we couldn’t get pregnant. I’m sorry to say I am now returning the favor. If you, or friends you know, are experiencing infertility, know this: You are not alone. God hears; God sees; God cares.
The One She Needed to Write
by Alexandra Ghoman
she’s a woman caught between stages. she’s fixed somewhere between just married and happily ever after. she’s not sure who she is. she’s not sure who she’s becoming. she’s unrecognizable. she’s ever-changing. she’s ever the same. she’s defined by this. she’s undefined. she’s all the things. she’s none of them. there’s a chance she’s crazy.
she feels dramatic. she hates that. she wants to pray. she cries instead. when she cries, it’s not soft and sweet. it’s snotty, red-faced, and audible. she feels embarrassed. but she feels a little better when she stops.
she goes on living. breathing in, breathing out. she listens to friends. she congratulates good news. she smiles. she laughs. she aches and she aches. she answers “fine.” she means it sometimes. other times, fine is a fine line. but overall, she’s fine.
she doesn’t want the moon. she doesn’t crave the stars. she daydreams of normal. she dreams of no meds, no shots, no incessant blood tests. she dreams of pink lines and plus signs, nausea and swollen ankles, booties and sleep-deprivation. she vows to savor. she vows to never complain. she makes promises she knows she can’t keep. she does it anyway.
nothing is bad. it’s more the absence of good. she has seen what could be. she has felt what might be. she wishes it came easy. she wonders if it’s her fault. she wonders if God knows, if God cares. she wonders what he’s doing up there. she keeps going. she keeps praying. she keeps going.
she meditates on His promises. she wonders what it all means. she holds on for dear life. she rides the waves of uncertainty. she fixes her eyes on the Father. she paints his or her face in her mind. wondering what kind of special human is being prepared in the heavens. she thinks it must be someone special. someone she can’t wait to meet. someone she’s always known.
I was third in line at Sam’s Club behind two other women, and the line was taking even longer than the usual inch-forward-one-decade-at-a-time pace. At first I was preoccupied, trying to keep my two-year-old from wreaking havoc while we waited. (She likes to peakaboo dance on the boiled peanuts near the registers. Boiled peanuts, you ask? A glorious Southern food, though you should never buy it canned—only from roadside stands, or at football games.)
At last I realized the reason for the delay: the customer attempting to pay for her groceries was having trouble with her card. Trouble of the no-money-in-the-bank-account kind. She didn’t speak much English, so the embarrassed cashier was having difficulty explaining the problem.
And that’s when it happened.
The woman in front of me waved to the cashier and mouthed, “I got it. Take my card.” And just like that, she handed her card to the astonished cashier and paid for the other woman’s groceries.
At the end of it all, I couldn’t decide who was smiling bigger—the woman who received an unexpected gift from a stranger, the woman with the heart of gold, or the woman behind them, watching the scene unfold.
I know the world is full of heartache and darkness, but there’s light, too. Kindness. Generosity. Sacrifice. And it’s all around us, if only we take time to see.
In coffee shops.
In grocery store lines.
As Dostoyevsky wrote, “The darker the night, the brighter the stars. The deeper the grief, the closer is God.” I’m not blind to the evil in the world, but I choose to keep my eyes on the stars, the people bright shining . . . and the One who put them there. Won’t you join me?
In him was light, and that light was the life of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. –John 1:4
The first time I drove past him, it was 11:00 on a brutal August morning in Georgia. The heat and humidity had already exceeded the Dangerous for Old People and Sensitive Writers level—it felt like walking around the inside of a dragon’s mouth, being steam-boiled alive. This time of year, in deliberate over-compensation, I crank the AC in my minivan so high that it’s like the North Pole on wheels.
As my children and I shivered in our van at a busy intersection, waiting for the light to change, I spotted him holding court on the sidewalk in front of a decaying strip mall. I don’t know his name, but I’ll always think of him as the We Buy Gold Guy. He was a stocky white kid, maybe in his early twenties; his baseball cap was cocked at a jaunty sideways tilt, and he held a gaudy gold sign in the shape of an arrow. Large black letters screamed, “We Buy Gold!”
Sign-holders like this guy have been, for me, one of the most memorable—well, signs—of the recent recession. I’ve seen dozens of people holding signs like this one during the past few years: Close-Out Sale! Debt Solutions! $5 Pizza! I always feel a jolt of sympathy for the poor sign-holders. How miserable they look, standing on the side of the road for hours, braving the heat, the cold, the rain—surely these people have fantastic talents, big dreams for their futures—and yet a miserable job market has forced them to spend hours of life waving signs at passing drivers, who are too busy yakking on cell phones to bother sparing them a glance. Some of the sign-holders stand there, enthusiastic as dead-eyed zombies; a few give their signs a weary wiggle every so often; all are clearly counting the minutes until their sentence is complete.
But the We Buy Gold Guy was different. The dude was dancing—not just pumping the sign up and down halfheartedly, like, “Hey, they’re paying me minimum wage to shake this sign and grow skin cancer out here”—but seriously jamming, like he was out to win “Dancing with the Stars.” We’re talking Michael Jackson smoothness, and awesome behind-the-back tricks, spinning and tossing his sign like a baton-twirler in a parade, all to the beat of the old-school boom box sitting at his feet. My jaw dropped open in awe, not just in envy of his rhythmic prowess, but in amazement at his pure enthusiasm, his unbridled joie de vivre. I couldn’t help but grin. (For more on my minivan socializing habits, see The Biker Wave.)
I smiled and chuckled the rest of the way home.
I drove by him again a few days later—the heat was even worse, and yet the We Buy Gold Guy was still out there, break dancing to his own music as the world drove past. Nobody clapped, nobody honked, nobody tossed coins in a hat at his feet. He danced for the sheer joy of it, because hey—if you have to hold a stupid sign on the side of the road, you might as well do it right.
I want to be like that guy. Really, I do. I don’t care what the world throws at me—minimum wage job, spine-melting heat, stinky exhaust fumes—I only get one life, only so many summers, falls, winters, springs, and I don’t want to waste a single minute. I want to live with abandon, dance my rhythm-less heart out no matter who’s watching, make my own party wherever I go. We only get one shot—we might as well dance.
(If you like subtitles, this one actually has one: Christmas in July. In case anyone’s wondering. Which you probably aren’t.)
I still get a thrill every time I check the mail, just like I did when I was a little girl. I walk down my long driveway to our black mailbox, standing guard over the cul-de-sac; I force open the rusty black hinges (they stick just a bit, we never remember to oil them); and in that moment, my breath catches, just for a heartbeat; my imagination swirls.
What might rest inside, waiting for me? I can hear the cynics scoffing, “Bills. It’s all bills!”—and usually it is—but every so often, there’s that “just-because” letter from Karen, scribbled in the careless scrawl that I know as well as my own; or a card from Gam, who never forgets a birthday; or free books for my kids from Dolly Parton’s generous literacy program; or that $8 rebate check I forgot I’d sent off for three months ago (Score! Now I get two free trips to Starbucks this week!); or the bowtie my son will wear as a ring-bearer in Miss Mickey’s wedding; or even a rejection letter . . . disappointing as it is to get one, it means I’m still writing, still chasing the dream, still sending my work out into the world.
In this impersonal era of digital everything—you send an email, it zings into cyberspace, crosses the country, the ocean, or even the planet, never touching ground before reaching its destination almost instantaneously (and there is a mind-boggling magic in that, too)—mail is still intensely personal, physical, grounded in tangible reality. My friend touches something . . . puts it in an envelope or box, entrusts it to her mailman, and a few days and many miles later, I open that same envelope . . . hold what she held; touch paper she touched; read her own handwriting—those marks of the pen that, if you know how to analyze them, are said to reveal insights into our subconscious psyche. When I was a kid, I used to literally kiss the envelope, then draw a pair of lips and write, “S.W.A.K.—Sealed With a Kiss,” then mail my kisses to my friend Gayle, all the way from Miami to Boston. Oh, how jealous I felt of that envelope, which would soon be sitting inside my best friend’s house, where I wanted to be. All that way—1,253 miles—for the cost of a single stamp!
Even when we order something online, some worker, an actual person named Maria—or maybe John, whose newborn son kept him up all last night; or Wilhelmina, who would rather be called Sarah; or Steve, who is drumming up the courage to talk to that red-head on his lunch break—packs the box, fills it with bubble wrap, seals it shut . . . and when I open it a few days later, undoing their handiwork, my children squeal with delight as they take turns popping the bubble wrap. Thirty minutes of free entertainment and childcare, courtesy of the Amazon people.
Ah, that glorious sound, the bizarre, inexpressible joy of squishing those tiny air pockets, feeling the air bulge between your fingertips just before the seal bursts, and hearing the crackly little pip . . . pip-pop . . . pop-pop-puhpuh-pop-crrrack. That sound—it never gets old. The day I stop enjoying bubble-wrap popping is the day my soul has died and life is no longer worth living.
Today I mailed a copy of The Thirteenth Summer to someone whose stamp of approval could make a significant difference in my writing career. I folded up my handwritten note, tucked my business card and press release inside the book—arranged them just so—and sealed it all inside a padded envelope, my heart thumping just a little faster.
Handle with care.
As I handed the package to the friendly FedEx lady behind the counter, I almost grabbed her by the shoulders and said, “You’re holding my future in your hands. DON’T LOSE IT!” But, not wanting to freak her out, or get arrested for assault, I just smiled. What power this woman—whose name I may never know—holds! As I walked out of the chilly air-conditioned office, feeling my skin recoil for a moment in the shock of the sweltering Georgia humidity, I thought, “I’m not the only one.” Everyone who comes in here entrusts this woman with part of their family, their work, their life. She is helping to deliver our ambitions, our hopes—our bubble-wrapped dreams—to other people who could change our lives. I wonder if she is philosophical enough to appreciate what her job really means.
It’s July, but in the spirit of Christmas in July, my three-year-old son has already made me write a letter to Santa: “Dear Santa, Please bring me a light-up Buzz Lightyear for Christmas. Love, Blake.”
Blake calls the letter his “ticket”—and that’s pretty much how he thinks it works. You write your letter to Santa, and it’s like a claim ticket, because of course Santa will bring you whatever you ask for. I keep imagining the postal workers’ amused expressions, their surprised chuckles, when they find a letter to Santa in July. What will they do with it? Will somebody bother to write him back?
And while Blake will be miserable, waiting six months for Christmas—an incomprehensible eternity in the life of a three-year-old, one-sixth of his life span thus far!—I somehow find joy in the waiting period that “snail mail” entails. Mailing something off, the agony of awaiting a reply, or a delivery . . . it’s an exquisite torture, an experience that our instant-gratification, overnight-delivery lifestyle is robbing from our children. Remember Ralphie in “A Christmas Story,” racing to the mailbox every day for weeks, wondering if his Little Orphan Annie decoder had arrived? I know exactly how he felt. I still love that feeling: The joy of anticipation. Something to wake up for every morning. Hope.
Mail . . . call me sentimental, but it feels like modern magic to me. And that makes the mailman—or mailwoman, in our case (mail lady? mail mistress? woman who delivers stuff to people?)—a wizard of sorts. Or maybe a fairy godmother or an elf.
Whatever her actual title, I have to remember to give our non-male mail person a good tip this Christmas. After all, she holds my future—and Blake’s Buzz Lightyear—in her hands.
Hi! I'm Elizabeth, and Lizzy Life is all about clinging to Christ in the chaos of daily life. As a minister, speaker, and novelist (The Thirteenth Summer), I love finding humor in holiness, and hope in heartache. I live in North Carolina with my preacher husband and four loud children. I believe the recipe for a happy life is simple: laugh-cry daily, pray continually, caffeinate constantly. My new book, When God Says "Wait," is now available from Barbour Publishing. READ MORE.
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