Tuesday, July 24, 2007

August 26th Meeting Agenda

Open Sharing
Accountability check-in
Advent Devotional: 1) Review submissions, 2) Make adjustments to schedule, themes, etc.
Assignment: Write 2 devotionals for our Advent Devotional Booklet on any of the four topics. Submit to the group via email by August 19th. Should fill one 1/2 sheet (5.5" X 8.5") using 1" margins on all sides, in Arial, 12 point font, single spaced. Should begin with a key verse and end with a 1-2 line prayer.

Action: Please bring a copy of each person's devotions with you and your specific thoughts on them. We'll use our time for group editing in the next meeting.

Advent Devotional Information
Purpose: Help women to center themselves on Christ during the holiday season
Four themes for each week: Prepare, Rest, Hope, Enjoy
24 devotions, each person will do one devotional for each theme.
Will include an introduction, 24 devotions, a reflection/personal and family application for each week
Additional idea is to include extra pages throughout: recipes, reading recommendations, outreach ideas, history/Jewish roots, song lyrics...

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Good Enough

Julie threw her overstuffed duffel bag on the bed in her stateroom. So far this vacation was shaping up to be a crummy one. They’d waited in a line for over an hour to get onboard the ship. Halfway through the line, her flip flop fell apart, leaving her to hobble through the line, feeling the eyes of everyone watch her awkward procession, especially the cute guy in the cargo shorts a few spots back. Once on the boat she realized that she’d forgotten to put her motion sickness patch on in advance, and the imperceptible waves beneath her feet were doing a number on her stomach. At this point Julie was ready to write an angry letter to the family therapist that had recommended her newly-blended family take this cruise so they could bond as a family unit.

Some family. She still didn’t understand why her mother had felt the need to alter the family they already had. Julie and her mom had been on their own for ten years, and in Julie’s opinion, had done pretty well for themselves. But about a year ago everything had changed. Robert and his daughters had barged into their lives and nothing had been right since. Robert was fine. His two daughters, Naomi and Margaret, were weird, but nice enough. She just knew that everything would change. Although Julie knew her mother’s remarriage was inevitable, her heart still stung when her mother finally confirmed the news. And now, here they were, six months into their new family on this vacation trying to act as if they were one big happy family.

The stateroom door opened and Naomi and Margaret walked in. “Do you want to go swimming with us?” Margaret asked. Julie remained silent for a minute, deciding whether or not to acknowledge her step-sister’s question. “Sure.” Julie mumbled. As she changed into her swimsuit she peeked at her reflection. Julie found it terribly unfair that at thirteen years old she already had cottage cheese thighs. But there was no helping that now; maybe a little sun would improve the situation.

Up on the deck, Julie looked around at all of the people who had claimed the desirable real estate close to the pool. If she hadn’t changed her swimsuit three times, perhaps she could have beaten the crowd. She self-consciously adjusted her towel as she scanned the crowd for fellow teens, especially of the male variety. She noticed Cargo Short Boy casually tossing his little brother into the pool. Sigh. A real family. And not a bad looking one either.

Julie finally found a vacant chair about fifty yards from the pool. She tried to read, but the ship had finally set sail and the wind was blowing her hair into her face, not to mention causing hundreds of little goose bumps to pop up on her newly-shaven legs. Argghh. Fine, she’d give up on reading and just close her eyes in hopes that her stomach would forget she was on a moving vessel. As the ship and her stomach rocked and lurched, Julie’s mind began to wander. She knew that she should just be happy. Not every teenage girl gets to go on a cruise. But of course, not every teenage girl has to pretend that she loves her new family just to keep the peace, either. As was often the case when these moods struck, Julie tried to pray. God, why did you put me in this family? You must love me just a little bit less than all the other kids who get to live with their real parents. And they probably don’t have to buy cheapo flip flops that break the second time you wear them. They look cute in their expensive bathing suits and Gucci sunglasses. . .

The next thing Julie knew, the sky had changed. How long had she been asleep? She looked around for her step-sisters, and caught sight of them playing shuffleboard. Man, those girls were weird. Shuffleboard? That game was reserved for retirees, wasn’t it? Then Julie sat up, alarmed, they were playing shuffleboard with Cargo Short Boy. This was the disaster to end all disasters! With no discernable social skills and hand-me-down bathing suits, Naomi and Margaret were probably completely humiliating themselves, and in the process, killing any chance Julie had of salvaging her pride after today’s flip flop debacle. As she lifted herself off her chair and rearranged her towel, she felt a faint stinging on her backside. Of course, in her haste to get to the pool, she’d neglected her sunscreen and now she imagined her back half was well cooked. Oh well, she had more pressing issues at hand. Julie casually sauntered up to the girls and tried to appear breezy. She quelled the rage that bubbled up inside her, imagining all of the dreadful things that had already transpired with Cargo Short Boy in her absence. Naomi, blissfully ignorant of the choppy water she was treading, made the introductions between Julie and Steve (so that was his name.) Julie immediately decided that she had been misinformed about the finer features of shuffleboard, and that it was a perfectly acceptable game for the under sixty set. It was a cruise ship after all.

The game was proceeding nicely, and Julie’s heart rate had almost come back down when out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Robert. Oh no. There was no mistaking her step-dad, as his inhumanly white chest reflected the suns rays and was thrown into deep contrast by the blackness of his socks, which were pulled all the way up to his knees. “How’re my girls?” he boomed as he grabbed all three of them and locked them in a bear hug. Julie endured the embrace as long as she could and then squirmed out. Robert looked at Steve and Julie half expected him to make some comment about the girls finding a handsome young man to play with, so she was relieved when all he said was “It’s almost time for dinner, so it’s time to go back and change clothes.”

Dinner was somewhat pleasant that evening. Julie’s mom seemed truly happy. Her sisters provided her with interesting information about the ports they would be visiting in the coming days. Her parents (that phrase sounded weird in her mind) had even uncharacteristically decided that she and her sisters (even weirder sounding) could attend the teen disco that night. As they hurried to leave, Robert must have noticed Julie’s apprehension about going because he pulled her aside and whispered, “Sweetie, just dance like no one’s watching. You’ll have a much better time, I promise.”

The teen disco was loud and dark. After sitting on a stool with the other wallflowers for about fifteen minutes, she was restless. Robert’s words replayed themselves in her head. Her sisters, neither of whom were gifted dancers were dancing their hearts out and by all accounts, having a good time. Julie summoned every ounce of her courage and joined her sisters on the dance floor. She wasn’t a very good dancer, but after this week she’d never see these people again, right?

After a rather rowdy rendition of YMCA, Julie knew her sweaty hair was not doing her any favors, and to her horror, Steve was coming her way. It was too late to salvage her look now. “You really know how to have fun on the dance floor, don’t you?” he teased. Julie smiled sheepishly. The DJ had decided to play the chicken dance, again, and Julie was not about to risk that level of humiliation in front of her newfound friend. They found a less obnoxious place and sat down. As they talked, Julie discovered that there was much more to Steve than his trendy cargo shorts. He’d recently lost his father to a heart attack; the cruise was his mother’s way of bringing a little cheer into a pretty rough season of their lives. They parted ways when the disco closed, Julie feeling oddly connected to him.

As Julie negotiated her sunburned posterior into her tiny bed that night, she reflected on the events of the day. She spent quite a while reconstructing her conversation with Steve, but after fifteen run-throughs her mind wandered to her family. She thought about her misperceptions regarding Steve’s perfect family and wondered how many of the other perfect families weren’t so perfect either. She wondered why she had been holding on so long to her resistance to form a new family. Yes, they were different. And yes, her mother was no longer hers to keep for herself. But hadn’t Robert referred to her as one of “his girls?” And hadn’t her sisters faithfully included her in all their activities, however strange they might have been? Dinner hadn’t been insufferable. As she drifted off to sleep, Julie felt her grip on a perfect family and a perfect life begin to loosen. Maybe this was good enough. . .
Sorry to preface...but this is written as a radio/journalism piece...fictional, of course.

“Hold on, Maria!” Around and around she swings gripping her mother’s hands as tightly as she can. Finally, her mother is as tired as her young daughter and they both fall to the forest floor in a heap looking up at the canopy of trees above them. Maria feels the corners of her mouth beginning to curl into a smile as she lies safely next to her mother. She is happy.

This is the recurring dream of Maria Anna Zapata Cortes. It is a memory of long ago and now it only seems to haunt her. She would almost rather not have these dreams. Being so real and so full of emotion, Maria sees them as a form of trickery. She knows full well that today will be like all the others and the rooftop she calls home will be here to welcome her upon her return.

The rooftop is actually a good choice for her, she says. From here, Maria can see for miles. She can see the entire village of Justo and every one of its eight hundred twenty-one inhabitants. She says she would rather sleep alone on the rooftop where she can feel the morning on her face. Her only complaint is battling the mice for space, but she says life is less complicated up here. The rooftop is her home on most nights except when it rains she climbs downstairs to a small apartment with her aunts, Esmeralda and Elvira, where she sleeps on a soiled mattress with at least three other people. Her aunts are her caretakers not necessarily because they love her and want her, but because they receive money from Maria’s mother in America. They manage to pillage most of the money for themselves buying beer and fancy clothes for the men they entertain. Maria says they only see her as a resource and for now, she is stuck with them.

Maria’s mother left when Maria was only eight years old for America. Times were very hard and her mother couldn’t provide enough for the both of them. Maria’s mother met a man and he convinced her to go to America with him. She promised Maria they would have a better life and that she would be back within the year. Four years later, however, all Maria has is a handful of phone calls and dresses she has already outgrown. Her mother’s departure, although many years ago, has left Maria visibly alone. Her hair is matted and her clothes are worn, and while she has a natural beauty about her, her eyes seem to have a glossy stare. But Maria is clearly not void of emotion. It is clear she feels all that is around her. And unfortunately, her story is all too common here. It is a new generation of orphans , abandoned for a better life and left with empty promises too hard to keep.

On this typical day for Maria, the sun greets her halfway through her journey lighting her path to the crowded port of Miguel. Here, Maria’s booth is one among many lined up along the pier to catch tourists as they depart and reboard their lavish cruise ships. It is a gauntlet of sorts for buyers to find the best deals among similar things.

Maria loves to observe all the different types of people that walk up and down the pier. White ones and brown ones, tall and short, young and old – they all amaze her. Some are European, a few Asian, but most often they are from America. The America that stole her mother from her, the America that lured her father away before he even had a chance to see her.

She studies these people. Some nights she hides in an alley way outside a local bar and watches as they chase tequila shots. She knows there are others, of course. She had once met the “missionaries” in the mountains who provided medical services and once pulled the tooth of a cousin when she was young. To Maria, it seems everyone blames their problems on this place called America, but yet they all want to be there. How can one place be so cruel and so lovely? And why do they come here if everything is so good there? Someday, she says, she will visit this place to find her mother and taste this freedom everyone is talking about.

On this day, the port is bustling with activity. At the end of the pier, a family starts making their way toward Maria’s booth. By now she can decipher someone’s nationality in a glance. This family is clearly American. The forty-something mother wears pearls, a straw hat and a fanny pack. As she bargains with Maria, she makes no eye contact. The father figure appears to be detached from the toddler around his leg and always has a hands length distance from his cell phone sitting snugly on his belt. And finally, a young girl quite possibly the same age as Maria. Her braids are perfect and their bows match the hot pink windbreaker that swallows her. As the family walks away with their trinkets in hand, the young girl slowly makes her way back to the booth not to look at merchandise, but to look at Maria. Maria looks at the girl strangely and is surprised since no one ever seems to take notice of her. “Que?” Maria asks after a long while. The girl looks into Maria’s eyes and all the way down finally to her tattered shoes that are two sizes too large. Maria is used to the barrier that language creates, but this look speaks volumes. The expression in the girl’s eyes is curiosity blended with compassion. It is a look that says, “Why are you this way?” And Maria does not have an answer. All the years of neglect from those that are supposed to love her and the torment from her aunts have given her calluses to the outside world. But somehow looks like this can penetrate past that. She can’t move. She just wants to disappear.

Later when asked about the girl, Maria looks down solemnly and begins to speak. Her maturity is apparent. She speaks of a rage that she has felt since she first realized her mother was not coming back for her. A rage that traces back to her birth. Why is she Maria Anna Zapata Cortes? Why was she born in the small village of Justo? Why was this girl born in America?

When Maria feels like this, she goes to the only place she feels safe. It is a clearing in the woods where she and her mother once had their bamboo shack. All that remains now is a rusted sink and memories of Maria’s life when she wasn’t so alone. She feels at home here. It is a place where she can talk and be heard, rest and not be bothered, imagine and not be shaken by reality. Here in the quietness, Maria is resolved to her life and her situation. If their freedom is a cruise ship and souvenir trinkets, then this is hers. It is a place of peace in the center of creation to enjoy all of its splendor. And so contently Maria rises to her feet feeling the earth beneath her and listening to the sounds of nature, she begins to dance beautifully, like no one is watching…and no one is.

Walking in Freedom

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1-2

The captain eased the bow into the harbor and finally brought the ship to a rest. A feeling of excitement and restlessness crept into the air as passengers readied themselves to disembark.

In Cabin 404A, a young mom, who was away from her eight month old daughter for the first time, sat on her bed, indecisive. Her best friend had convinced her they needed to come on this cruise for some mandatory rest and relaxation, but so far she had spent the entire time worrying about her family and feeling guilty for being so selfish to come. While she was excited about the idea of exploring this new port, the burden of guilt weighed on her too heavily to go out. She decided to stay on the ship this time, and maybe get off at the next port if she was able to connect with her husband to see how things were going...

In the main dining room, an older gentleman dressed in khakis and a neatly pressed pale blue button down shirt, sat reading the morning paper, unaffected by the bustle all around him. He enjoyed traveling around the world, but he felt more comfortable on the ship. He liked the routine and the comfort of knowing what to expect. Sure, he was curious about the places they stopped, but not enough to make him venture out into the unknown...

Down in the gym, a middle-aged woman checked her pulse, having just completed three miles on the treadmill. She considered taking a quick shower and venturing off the ship to explore the latest port city, but dismissed the idea when she thought of her messy cabin upstairs. She couldn’t possibly go out frolicking, leaving her mess for someone else to pick up. Besides, she hadn’t read anything in the travel guide about the city, so she wouldn’t even know where to begin or how to properly appreciate what was there. Next time she’d be sure to take care of those things in advance so she would really be ready to go out. She picked up the pace on the treadmill to run the last two miles to burn off that extra dessert she’d eaten at dinner...

It seems ridiculous to travel the whole world, and not really see any of it. Would you be content to arrive at a totally new and fascinating place, but never set foot on it, merely observing from a distance? And yet, when it comes to our freedom in Christ, we are often like these passengers. We have the opportunity to explore so much more than the inside of the ship, but we never venture out.

Perhaps we don’t believe we deserve that much freedom. Often we feel defeated and figure we can never really overcome our past history or our propensity toward specific sins. Despite our best intentions to accept God’s truth, deep down, the guilt and shame persist, and we begin to question whether that freedom is really meant for us, or just those who are less messed up. We wonder if God really could love people like us. And the prison door slams shut and the click of the lock echoes in our hearts.

Or maybe we’re too comfortable with our rules and regulations, and a little bit afraid of this unknown experience of liberation. We don’t know what “freedom in Christ” is suppose to look like, and we don’t quite trust ourselves to stay on the straight and narrow without the Law. We prefer to just be told what to do, and we’ll follow that, rather than simply following Christ. That just seems too esoteric, and a little bit scary.

Many times we’re still trying to earn our salvation. We think we need to get our acts together before we allow ourselves to encounter freedom. We slowly begin adding words to the Gospel message. The simple truth that should guide and permeate our lives becomes a complex set of rules. With good intentions, we implement an additional rule or requirement here and there to help us be “better Christians,” without realizing we are reverting to the Law to save us. Ever so slowly we erect bars around us, until one day we look up and realize that we are imprisoned again.

We were once enslaved to the Law, bound to fulfill every word or suffer the consequence of death. The purpose of Christ’s death on the cross was to purchase our freedom. We are now free to live a life that was once impossible; we are free to live a life of righteousness. We are free to follow our Savior, rather than being confined to the demands of our society or even of our “religion.” But when we ignore or refuse to accept that freedom, and continue to live under the yoke of the Law (or even sin!), then His death was in vain (Gal 2:21). He wants so much more for us than to just travel around on a ship; He wants us to get off and experience the freedom he purchased.

We must embrace our freedom, not to ignore the Law and live however we desire, but to pursue Christ and live in his abundance. This requires us to delight in Him and ask Him to give us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4). We accept that He has already given us everything pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), and we unload the burden of the past. We replace the shame and guilt with grace, extending to ourselves the grace that He has already freely given. When we fix our gaze upon Him, we can venture out of the boat without fear. For although we are in unknown territory and feel overwhelmed - or may even falter - we know that He is right there with us, granting wisdom to all who ask (James 1:5). If we abide in Him, then we will bear much fruit (John 15:5). We don’t need more rules and regulations because obedience comes naturally, out of our overwhelming love for who He is and our desire to please Him.

On deck, a young woman nervously smoothed her sun dress while waiting to disembark. It was the first time she ever left her hometown, much less the country. She had known there was so much more outside of the city limits, and she longed to see and experience other places. And she finally summoned up the courage to purchase the cruise ticket. So far, it had been an exciting, albeit sometimes nerve-wracking, adventure for her. She ate amazing dishes she had never even heard of before. She had danced like no one was watching to music she didn’t recognize. Now she was going to venture off the boat and explore a new place and culture she’d only read about in books. Adrenaline coursed through her body, and she didn’t know whether she wanted to run off the boat or back into her room. The crowd began to move forward. She took a deep breath, and stepped off the ship.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Chasing Freedom

As she relaxed in the swing on her back porch, listening to the sounds of the Texas summer night, Hannah didn’t seem to notice the humidity or the numerous mosquitoes swarming around her exposed skin. Any other night, they would have forced her back inside the house. But tonight, her mind was in a faraway place, re-living each moment that she’d been through during the prior months.

She could hardly believe that almost three months had already passed. It didn’t seem possible. Time prior to that seemed to crawl by, and she hated every minute.

She had found herself in a place she never thought she’d be. A seven-year marriage in which each anniversary seemed to mark off another year of confinement and move her one day closer to her release date. Or so she thought.

Her best friend Colleen knew all about Hannah’s marital strife. Her own marriage wasn’t perfect, but it was a cakewalk compared to Hannah’s. She’d wanted to counsel Hannah but could never find the right words. She knew that Hannah needed some time away to relax, so she did what every good girlfriend does--she planned a trip.

“Did the word ‘cruise’ just come out of your mouth?” Hannah looked at Colleen with astonishment; Hannah had wanted to go on a cruise ever since she had watched episodes of The Love Boat during her childhood, but she knew there was no way she’d ever get her motion-sick husband on one. So she had long since given up the idea of ever getting to fulfill her dream.

“Yes, I’ve talked to Greg, and he said that he’ll be away on business the first week of June anyway, so we might as well take a girls’ trip and enjoy ourselves. How does a five-day cruise to the Cayman Islands sound?”

“Perfect!! I can’t wait. I need this more than you can imagine, Colleen.”

With that, Hannah headed home, her mind racing with plans for the trip. She knew that she needed to talk to Andrew, but she wasn’t sure when would be the best time. No time ever seemed to be a good time to talk to him. He was always busy, or so he made it seem. When he wasn’t working, he was running. Not just physically, but emotionally. Running from his childhood, swearing not to duplicate the unspoken mistakes that his father had made. Trying to break free from some sort of invisible barriers that Hannah couldn’t see or understand.

All of Andrew’s working and running left Hannah alone and feeling the burden of loneliness. She felt completely detached from the man whom she had fallen in love with ten years ago. She didn’t know how to get through to him; she didn’t know how to make him happy. And so for many years now, they had been living in the same house, their parallel lives never intersecting.

As soon as Andrew came home from work, Hannah blurted out the news about the trip. As she had predicted, he gave her the go-ahead without showing much emotion, other than a brief look of what appeared to be relief because he knew that she would no longer badger him to go on a cruise. With that task out of the way, Hannah felt ready to start the real planning.

In the weeks prior to setting sail, Hannah daydreamed about the cruise and the escape that it would provide. She began to think about how she longed to be free from the isolation and monotonous routine of her married, yet separate, life. She didn’t have an exit strategy devised, but she thought that the time on the cruise might provide an opportunity to get her thoughts straight and allow her to plan her future.

From the moment she stepped on the pier, she knew that this cruise was going to be everything that she had dreamed of since she was a little girl. She spotted the name of the ship, Liberty, and had to laugh. She was excited about the journey that she was about to take.

As the ship pushed back from the only thing connecting it to solid ground, Hannah began to relax, enjoying the view now that they were free from being landlocked. Colleen, meanwhile, began to peruse the activities offered on board the ship. Her eye caught the title “Disco Night,” and she knew what they’d be doing that evening.

After a dinner fit for a queen and thirty minutes of persuasion, Colleen managed to coax Hannah to the disco. Many of the passengers had brought 80s attire specifically for this event, and Colleen and Hannah marveled at the outlandish outfits that had been thrown together. Colleen loved dancing and quickly merged onto the dance floor to do her best impersonations of a disco diva. Every so often, she’d dance over to where Hannah was sitting and urge her to join her.

“I don’t know how you do that Colleen,” Hannah screamed over the blaring music.

“It’s nothing. You just dance like no one is watching. Come on; just give it a try!”

But Hannah didn’t budge. She enjoyed people-watching and was content to vicariously enjoy the fun from her seated vantage point. It was during this time that she spotted an older, tender-looking gentleman. He looked as if he wanted to join the action but had resigned himself to watching the action on the dance floor because there was no one his age around to dance with. Hannah had almost convinced herself to go chat with him, but he got up and left for the evening.

The following night, the dining steward seated her next to the gentleman whom she’d watched the night before. She immediately began to strike up a conversation with him. She learned that he had recently lost his wife of forty years to cancer and that they had booked this trip prior to her death. He had chosen to come alone, rather than bring one of his children, because he wanted to have some time alone with his memories of their years together.

Hannah quickly lost herself in Mr. Allen’s stories. He painted beautiful pictures as he told of courting and marrying his wife, raising their three children, losing their youngest son to a rare disease, and just doing life together with his beloved. Before she knew it, she found herself asking him personal questions about how he and his wife had managed to survive forty years of marriage.

“Hannah, I’m glad you asked. I saw your wedding ring but haven’t seen any signs of your husband, so I’m guessing from that and your question that you are on this cruise to sort things out, kinda like me. I readily admit that I don’t have all the answers. I think some of the things that helped my wife and I were our faith in God and admitting to each other and to God that we didn’t know how to do marriage, or at least not all the time. I hope Alice felt that I loved her well. She sure made me feel special; she accepted me for who I was and gave me all the respect a man could ever dream of having. She never said an unkind word about me in front of anyone. Because of that, I think we were able to keep the lines of communication open, even when I didn’t really want to talk.

“Many people these days think that marriage is a little too confining. But there can be so much freedom in marriage; sometimes it just looks a little different than one might expect. I’d encourage you to ask other couples how they make their marriage work because everyone’s story is a little different.

“I need to be on my way. It‘s been nice talking to you. I appreciate your letting an old man tell his stories.”

Hannah did not see Mr. Allen for the remainder of the trip, but what he said never left her thoughts. His words were as fresh that late August evening on the porch as they were when he first spoke them on the cruise in early June. She had taken them to heart and done her best to put them into action. And good things had come from it.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the screen door opening, and she smiled as she saw Andrew. He sat down beside her on the swing and gently slid his arm around her. Hannah enjoyed the moment, thankful that her marriage was headed back to solid ground.


“But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” (Gal. 5:13)

playa de libertad

At home she played her part well, but this cruise threw her for a loop. She wasn’t quite sure of her role here. She didn’t have to worry if dinner would please him or if the towels were hung just so, but there were a whole new set of traps. She spent most of her days looking down, so she couldn’t be accused of looking at anther man – even on accident. She wasn’t sure how to dress. Too modest and he would complain and be embarrassed of her, too revealing and he would call her a slut or worse. That is easy enough at home, but on a cruise everyone wears tank tops and bikinis. Most of her wardrobe consisted of things to hide bruises, but there would be no hiding here.
She read a lot. Just books from the boat’s library and really she wasn’t reading. She was hiding. Books make you look occupied, they don’t invite conversation. She felt safely invisible behind them. He spent most of his time in the casino. Dwindling what little savings they had away. At night of course he would want her. She knew this role and it made acid come up into her throat. She swallowed it down and waited for it to be over. Sometimes she wasn’t sure what was worse, this or the beatings. She was thankful for the thin walls. Surely she would be safe here, at least as safe as she could be.
So far so good. The trip had been uneventful. She wasn’t quite enjoying herself like most of her fellow travelers but sometimes behind her book she caught herself breathing. Really breathing. Deeply and fully taking in the salty air. She didn’t know it yet, but each breathe was making her grow stronger. The days were ticking away and in 2 more days they would go home. Their home with a perfectly manicured lawn and very thick walls.
She liked the quietness of her cabin during the day when most people were on the pool deck and her husband was in the casino she just laid on the cool sheets and pretended to read and kept breathing. At least once a day she would wonder through the gift shop. It felt safe and there was something comforting about all the travel sized toiletries and overpriced t-shirts. She liked to read the postcards and wished she still had friends to send them to. She couldn’t imagine what she would write on them. “Wish you were here” didn’t seem fitting. On the third day she saw the clerk eyeing her closely and it occurred to her that her frequent visits were looking suspicious. She quickly grabbed a plastic magnet and hurriedly paid for it at the counter. It wasn’t until the clerk put it in the bag that she realized what it said. A silly ballerina and cursive writing “dance like no one is looking” in pink and silver script. Complete junk. Someone was always looking.
It was their last port and he wanted to venture out. She was expected to come of course not for the company but because waiting at tables at the Playa de Maya for the last 4 years had taught her enough Spanish to get by. She got them a cab and told the driver to take them to the closest beach. It was nice. The sun was shining on the white sand. The water was almost clear, not like the Gulf of Mexico that she was used to. If she remembered how she could probably have a good time. She hadn’t relaxed in the last 4 years and little white sand wasn’t going to do the trick. He put the little Spanish he knew to good use ordering one Cerveza after another. She brought a book and remembered to turn the pages at the right times. Occasionally she would rub sunscreen on the both of them or wade into the water all while he kept drinking. At home, watching him drink more than two beers was enough to make her tremble inside. The beach and sun seemed to have a calming effect though. He still wasn’t pleasant, pointing out each girl who was skinnier than her or had bigger breasts. She tried to laugh it off and promised to go on a diet. Secretly she wished he would take a liking to one of them instead. On second thought, she wouldn’t wish him on anyone.

The day crept by and at 4:00 she carefully started to pack their bag. The ship had been pretty adamant about their 5:00 boarding curfew. She heard it bellowing over the loudspeaker over and over when they deported. His wallet, sunscreen, camera……when she got to her towel she was extra careful. Slowly and carefully she pulled the corners up and carried it almost 100 yards away before shaking. She folded it perfectly 4 times, just the way he liked. As she added it to the bag, he turned to her. She was expecting a reproach, that she had folded wrong or something, but instead he said, “what’s the rush, aren’t you having a good time babe.”
“Yes of course honey, but we don’t want to miss the boat. They said to board by 5 and that they would be leaving port at 6.”
“six o’clock, we have two more hours then”
He ordered another beer and slowly sipped it. He noticed her looking at her watch
“Trust me babe, they won’t leave us, just go have another dip in the water. We can go after I finish this last beer.”
She resisted every temptation she had to try and convince him otherwise. She would just be wasting her breathe. She obeyed and walked to the water’s edge. She kept looking at her watch, 4:20, 4:37, 4:52, 5:07. She was getting nervous. It was a 15 minute cab ride and she didn’t like being late. This was a quality he had beaten in to her. She had to try to get him to leave even if it meant a fight. She turned back to their chairs and he was passed out.
She tapped him lightly, then harder and he only grumbled. She couldn’t carry him and she started to panic. They were going to miss the boat and somehow he would make it her fault. And then she did something unexpected. She didn’t think about it, because if she had she never would have done it. She grabbed the bag, walked to the bar and paid the tab. She left him there sleeping, sandy, drunk and slightly sunburned. She didn’t look back just quickly got into a cab.
For the first 1o minutes she was calm. In shock. She almost thought it was funny. She had his wallet, credit cards, driver’s lisence and passport. She would really be punished when he got back. But it would take him a while to get back without cash or an id. She was counting on it. And then it sunk in. She got the driver to pull over and threw up twice on the side of the road.
She got back to the port and got in line to board. She was late, but so were a handful of other travelers. She showed her id, walked through the metal detectors. She was shaking and barely made it back to her room before she threw up again. She half expected him to be waiting for her when she came out of the bathroom, but he was hopefully still passed out on the beach somewhere. She tried to remember how to breathe and finally began to at 6:44 when she heard the engines start up. She stood on the deck and watched the land disappear.
She didn’t sleep. Every footstep made her jump. When housekeeping knocked on her door she began to hyperventilate. They were just reminding her that they were expected to dock that afternoon in Galveston, to make sure she was packed and go over de-boarding procedure. Most of the cruisers seemed to be spending their last few tropical hours packing or on the pool deck. She was unpacking. She unloaded all of his clothes and things into the drawers. She tucked his suitcase into the closet and put her things into the smaller bag. The dress he bought for her remained on the hanger. She wanted to take as little of him as possible with her. The last few hours seemed to drag by. The unloading process was laborious and long, she followed directions and left when it was her turn. She kept watching for him around every corner. The sight of police made her jump as well. She half expected them to arrest her or question her even though she had committed no crimes.
Her car was exactly where they had parked it and she thought maybe she could breathe once she was inside and on the interstate. It was only an hour and a half drive to their Houston apartment, but she wouldn’t be going there. She paid the garage attendant and got off the island as fast as possible. She didn’t even turn on the radio until Leauge City. She plugged her cell phone into the car charger and pulled off I-45 for gas. While the gas pumped she opened up her purse. She looked into the small side pocket where she kept two important possessions hidden. One she used daily, and the other she thought she would never use. They were both wrapped discretely in a maxipad wrapper. She was pretty sure he wouldn’t look too closely there. The first item was where she hid her birth control pills and the second was a little card with a phone number they gave her at her last emergency room visit. She said she slipped on some bath water and hit her head on the counter, but they handed her this card anyways.
She threw the pills away and picked up the phone.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Avenues for information

Mary DeMuth recently posted the following helpful information on The Writer's View 2. If you want more information on how to subscribe to that list, let me know.

1. Subscribe to the WIN Informer. It's a great, great place to really know the insider scoop on things. http://www.christianwritersinfo.net/WinGuide.htm

2. Subscribe to Publishers Weekly daily (PW Daily). You'll learn so much. Be sure also to subscribe to Religion Bookline when you sign up. It's free. https://www.publishersweekly.com/subscribe.asp?

3. Subscribe to CBA's Aspiring Retail online (free version). You can do that here: http://www.cbaonline.org/nm/ARDigital.htm

4. Subscribe to the daily Publisher's Lunch. You can do that here: http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/lunch/free/

5. If you choose to attend ICRS, beware of your feet. BRING COMFY SHOES or suffer dire consequences. And go in, eyes wide open, ready to absorb. You'll learn a whole lot, I promise. Here's more information about this year's show. http://www.christianretailshow.com/

6. Attend a conference. Here's a listing: http://www.christianwritersinfo.net/conferences.htm

7. Go to Book Expo. This year's was in NYC. Wow! I learned so much by going. Next year it will be in LA. http://www.bookexpoamerica.com/App/homepage.cfm?moduleid=42&appname=288

I hope that helps! There's really no reason you can't be informed about the industry. And most of these avenues are free. Of course, being a part of TWV 2 will help tremendously.

Mary E. DeMuth
fiction panelist