Broken to blooming

A couple posts back I wrote of a humorous way to veil the story of an uncle who met with death via the electric chair. I suggested making a puzzle of that skeleton in your closet. I admit, that was a dodge. My skeleton was rattling its cage, but I ignored it for the moment and told it to be still and hide. Behind my smile. What is hiding behind your smile? To remedy the joking attitude I offer an essay I wrote about the more serious topic of a sad occasion. I am vague, I do not tell all, I respect the privacy of all involved. It’s more about a transformation. From bitter heart to joyful. If there’s a story you need to tell, for your own healing, for venting, for sharing a burden, you don’t need to tell all.  I wrote this years ago about a Christmas gift. Worry not, my smile today is pretty real.

dirt-3-bulbsI was promised paper whites; tall, thin, elegant, spring green stems and flowers in the dead of winter. The picture showed a spray of delicate white petals, narcissus. I got the bulbs for Christmas so I can have a prelude to spring in the wintertime. Dead, flaky, brown lumps with pointy ends waiting to sprout; what kind of magic is this? Not dead, just dormant. Want magic? Add water! I opened a bag of fragrant peat and soil and was transported months ahead to springtime. I planted the bulbs with tender white tips poking through the peat and put them in the cold garage for a couple weeks.

canstockphoto2335461With upheaval, disruption; ripped from a comfortable bed, those bulbs came to me. My upheaval in life was similar, once complacent in my comfortable life. Sure there were undercurrents, perhaps like the squirrels digging nearby, vibrating the soil, threatening to eat the bulbs. The shovel dug those bulbs; exposure, roots cut off.

The bulbs were packaged and dormant until I planted them in soil, added water and stored them in the cold garage. As long as I harbored anger, resentment, my heart too stayed in cold storage. Darkness reigned, pain, rage, unforgiving spirit.

I finally went out to the garage and brought the bulbs into the warmth of a pseudo spring. I watered them and waited and watched. With God’s patient watering of my blighted spirit, I humbly hoped for change. I imagined the water coursing up the new root system, a life force surging to the tips of the bulbs which were reaching toward the sun streaming in our kitchen window. They grew and turned green, up and up they grew; new life in the dead of winter. God gives water to the soul, the battered heart. It was a battle, the ugliness of resentment, my pride, my pain. What was real, what was true?

If a plant can have a false start too early in the spring, the promise of sunshine turning harsh with a frost nipping tentative new growth, so too did my heart balk with false starts. My mind was tormented by negativity, ice on the tendrils of new hope, a false start stymied by unbidden thoughts. But as the sunshine and warmth of spring becomes constant, so too did healing come. Warm tears healed and purged, my heart thawed to behold new trust.

My potted bulbs graced my kitchen windowsill. The tender shoots of green developed sheer little packets with blossoms tightly folded within. I knew in just days those green buds would split open, powered by a mysterious life force, an inevitable, transformation, amazing to witness. Soon the petals would unfurl, bask in the light, the ugliness of the bulb forgotten, the tender newness of a flower would behold the sun.

window-bloom-21Those bulbs took weeks to transform, given good soil, water and sunshine as I witnessed a great awakening, drab bulbs to fragrant flowers. Alas, it took long months for my heart to shed the bitterness that threatened to condemn me to a life blighted by resentment. Forgiveness was the life force, powered by prayer. Sunshine always? Of course not, but the ebb and flow of life is again mostly positive, a bit more tentative to be sure, a bit more suspect at times… but I once again can see sunshine and rejoice!


Fragile Thread to my Past

How many of you have boxes of old letters, papers, or diaries in your attic, garage or basement? My grandmother Marguerite died back in 1980 and awhile ago my dad’s brother, Uncle Tom was going through some of her things that had been boxed up and ignored for years. He found some papers that chronicled the story of my great great great great grandmother, yes that is 4 greats!  Her name was Elizabeth Bussard. She was a German who worshiped in the Church of the Brethren. Persecution drove Elizabeth and her husband from place to place until they finally turned their faces to the peaceful shores of America, the home of religious freedom.

grappling hook
A grappling hook fished Elizabeth out of the Atlantic.

On their long and perilous voyage of months’ duration her husband and their only child became ill, died and were buried at sea. I can’t imagine how traumatized she must have been to lose her family at sea while journeying to a strange land. Adding to all the sorrows and bereavements of the voyage she met with a serious accident. She had lowered a kettle into the sea to fill it with water and fell overboard. She was rescued with grappling hooks and managed to hang onto her kettle as she was raised up back onto the ship’s deck.

That grappling hook is a fragile thread connecting me to my past. If a sharp-eyed sailor had not seen Elizabeth fall overboard and thrown her that hook, I would not be here. Some folks would say that fact was a coincidence that eventually led to my birth on down the family line, but I would like to believe it was the hand of God in my life and the life of my ancestor Elizabeth Bussard.

But that was not the end of her hardship. Upon arrival of the ship in America, the young widow was sold as a bond-woman for 3 years to pay for her passage across the Atlantic. She was sold to Colonel George Welton of Virginia and then sent into the fields to cultivate corn and tobacco. But because she was a hard worker her Master set her free after just one year and as a free woman she married John Stingley which is the maiden name of my father’s mother. This all happened in the 1740s through 1750s.

Marguerite Stingley, my father’s mother. Her great great grandmother was Elizabeth Bussard.

I love this story and am in awe of Elizabeth Bussard and her tenacious spirit. I feel honored knowing that she is my ancestor.  I am a Christian and her story is part of my spiritual legacy.  Knowing that her faith was strong enough for her to risk a journey to America to escape religious persecution is so meaningful. But I only know this because my uncle took the time to sift through old papers; papers that had been moldering in his attic for over 3 decades! That is my challenge to you today. If you have papers from the estates of your loved ones, take the time to see what treasures they reveal. It’s your family history, your legacy! Preserve it while you can.

Skeletons in your closet

There are so many reasons folks give for not wanting to start writing a memoir. Hopefully I’ve helped lay to rest the idea that your life is too mundane or you’re not significant! Your story is a good one. Another very valid reason is that you may have something in your past that if revealed would either hurt or anger family members. That is a real concern as you want to be sensitive to secrets or betrayals, and of course don’t want to libel or slander anyone. Write down what you need to get out and you can always choose to remove paragraphs that you don’t want anyone to see. Or you can share something in a creative way that would be recognized by those who know the situation and just be a puzzle to others. This example uses humor to acknowledge Great Uncle George, the black sheep of the family.

“The Smiths were proud of their family tradition. Their ancestors had come to America on the Mayflower. They had included Senators and Wall Street wizards.

They decided to compile a family history, a legacy for their children and
grandchildren. They hired a fine author. Only one problem arose – how to
handle that great-uncle George, who was executed in the electric chair.

Rattle the skeleton of Great Uncle George!

The author said he could handle the story tactfully. The book appeared. It said, “Great-uncle George occupied a chair of applied electronics at an important government institution, was attached to his position by the strongest of ties, and his death came as a great shock.”

Hopefully you don’t have any skeletons in your closet who died in an electric chair, but you get the picture!

Maybe you are hesitant to share your inner world with other people. Writing often brings out details and insights that would be news to your family. Talk to family members who might be impacted, get their permission, or reassure them that your thoughts won’t go beyond your private pages. Most people write a family history book that is only read by family members. If stories don’t go public that is often enough to assuage the concerns of breach of privacy.

You may feel like you can’t write a memoir until key characters die first. Write it anyway, just don’t share it! Yet. Even later after they’re gone, be sensitive to how their children or grandchildren may feel about any revelations. Or go ahead and share your truth and brace yourself for the outcry! You have every right to share your story and can also choose to conceal details that are most inflammatory. Balance your desire to write your life stories with their need for privacy. What are your thoughts on writing and sharing sensitive personal stories?