The Photo Album

Photo Album“Mom, look what I found—pictures. Can I have a look?” Aisha’s voice interrupts my afternoon nap; a square photo album lands with a thud on the kitchen table.

“Sure, honey.” With a sigh, I hoist myself out of the recliner and sit down next to my teenage daughter. She lifts the heavy cover to reveal the first page, which displays the photo of a woman in her late twenties. Her complexion is perfect, her body athletic.

A stab of envy pierces my heart. I don’t need a mirror to remind me of my crow’s feet and the worry lines on my forehead. Without thinking, I reach up to touch the loose skin of my throat.

Aisha turns the page, careful not to tear the glassine interleave; the same woman smiles at us from a rowboat. She is a sportswoman and I know how she enjoys the rhythm of her strokes as the skiff glides through the water. On the opposite page, she is wearing a runner’s outfit; I recognize how she’s counting her steps, breathing deep, and reveling in the endorphin surge.

I look down at my fifty-plus body. It’s starting to sag. Arthritis is destroying my spine’s cartilage, sending painful messages to my right leg through compressed nerves. Walking is all I can do.

It is as if she’s mocking me, that woman in the pictures. She is in the prime of life, taking beauty and health for granted. In the arrogance of youth, she is confident that she will find the perfect love and lead a purposeful life, satisfying her innate need for happiness. A few bad experiences—and a couple of poor choices—have shaken but not shattered her conviction. She is in control.

Aisha studies the pictures, then looks up. “Is that you, Mom?”

“Yes, that’s me—about twenty-five years ago.”

“Wow. You’ve grown old.”

My mouth puckers. “Well, that’s what happens as time goes by.”

“What is it like to grow old, Mom? Do you feel worse now than when you were young?”

“Uh—” Suddenly, I remember the void. Because the woman I used to be searched for happiness in all the wrong places. The longing for love led her to make hasty decisions and choose harmful relationships. She hadn’t yet figured out that the career path she had taken wouldn’t lead to self-fulfillment. The pride elicited by a compliment of a manager and a significant raise—these things did nothing to fill the emptiness of her soul. And the runner’s high never lasted.

“I definitely feel better now.” As I talk, the truth of my words makes me smile. “Certainly, I’ve lost a bit of beauty and my body is wearing out, but I wouldn’t want to go back in time.”

“But why not? Didn’t you like being young?”

“Maybe I looked better, but I wasn’t happy.”

“Because you didn’t know Jesus?”

“Exactly.”

“Are you happy now?” Her gaze scrutinizes me.

I wrap an arm around her shoulder and plant a kiss on her cheek. “Definitely. And life is getting better every day.”

She leans against me as we quietly leaf through the rest of the album.

My outer self may be wasting away, but my inner self is being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16—ESV).


 

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A Prayer about Worn Socks

Worn Socks

Dear Jesus,

This morning, I dropped a pair of worn socks in the trashcan and suddenly felt a twinge of guilt. My Mama went to be with You three years ago, yet I could almost hear her sneering, “Your Aunt Terry is a lazy bum. She doesn’t mend holes in socks; she just throws them away.”

Am I lazy, Jesus? I know I’m not the diligent housewife my Mama modeled. To her, housekeeping was a way of life that began at fifteen, when her father sent her away to be a round-the-clock maid. A relentless sense of duty made her toil every day, all day long.

Her countertop was always cleared. She prepared breakfast and invariably had lunch ready in time for us to get back to school for the afternoon. She didn’t vacuum the house by pushing the handle of the vacuum cleaner; she removed the handle, put the smallest nozzle to the tube, and went down on all fours to make sure it swallowed every crumb and dog hair from the carpet. The day she dropped a frying pan, and boiling oil splattered against her legs, the first thing she did was mopping up the mess. By the time she got to the doctor’s, her legs were two big blisters. The house was always spotless, from fridge to bathroom, from cellar to attic. Every cupboard, drawer, and wardrobe was neatly organized. When my father lost his job, she got a job as a janitress at a local school, doing what she did best.

And at the end of each working day, she put up her crooked feet—the painful result of a lifetime spent standing—and took out her mending basket. She never idled.

Ever since I was twelve, Mama urged me to tidy up my own bedroom, “Because you’re a girl and you must learn housekeeping.” I hated it. Dirty, she wrote in the dust on my bookshelves.

I’m in my fifties now and have my own family. But I still detest cleaning. Please don’t misunderstand me, Jesus—I love a tidy house. I just don’t like the process of achieving it. Somehow, it always ends up last on my list of priorities. I prefer talking with my husband over a cappuccino or worshiping You. Visiting friends, sharing Your love, and praying with them. Hiking in the woods, working on my book, or studying my Bible. Chatting with my daughter, helping her doing homework, or reading a good book.

I vacuum quickly, never on all fours. I never iron. Our wardrobes are a random pile of loosely folded clothes. I wash the dishes once a day. Never in my life have I done a spring cleaning. And I don’t mend holes in socks.

The other day, my daughter asked, “Who’s coming for dinner tonight?”

“Why, honey?” I stopped scrubbing the washstand.

“Because you’re cleaning the house.”

Jesus, it’s true that some days, I loath the idea of unexpected visitors, with dirty dishes piled up, a smudged floor, three dogs in the hallway, and schoolbooks plus half the contents of my daughter’s dressing table scattered in the dusty living room. But then You encourage me with the words that You spoke in Martha and Mary’s house, and I decide I’d rather be found amidst the clutter, radiant at Your feet, than grumpy in a spick-and-span house.

I can’t imagine dust or dirt in heaven. Mama must be having a good time.

By the way, can you please tell her that I love her—and assure her that I’m not a lazy bum?

Thank You, Jesus.

Amen.


You can find the story of Jesus in Martha and Mary’s house in the Gospel of Luke 10:38-42.

I submitted this article first to the FaithWriters Weekly Writing Challenge.

photo credit: New socks required ! via photopin (license)

GraceTruth-Featured

Greedy for Mushrooms

Truffle HuntingWhat’s that car doing down there, at the entrance of our pasture?

I descend the steep dirt road and notice a man approaching. “Buongiorno.”

Signora.” The man avoids looking at me.

“Excuse me, but what were you doing?”

“Searching… tartufi.”

Truffles? Our grounds contain truffles?

“Uh—black truffles?” I try to sound casual.

He shuffles his feet and thrusts one hand into his jeans pocket. “Well…no, white ones.”

The white gold of Umbria—worth up to €3000 per kilo.

A nervous excitement seizes me. “Did you find any?”

Beh, not really. It hasn’t been raining enough.”

In an instant, I’m transported back twelve years…in France…

***

The scent of resin enveloped me as I left the path and ducked under low branches into the pine forest. By the light of dawn, I scanned the soil for porcini mushrooms. Nothing. Had someone gotten here before me? Although I hadn’t detected any signs yet—mushroom stems, cut at ground level—the mere idea of an intruder was enough to infuriate me. Never mind that it was a public forest; I discovered this porcini-rich area. It was mine.

My gaze fastened on a bulge in the earth. I brushed aside needles to reveal the light brown cap of a mushroom. After removing the soil around the fungus, I cut its stem and inhaled the creamy, nutty fragrance. My spotless treasure, weighing at least a pound, filled me with exhilaration.

Just as I closed the lid of my basket, a rustle called my attention. I froze. I caught a glimpse of a rival’s boots as he wandered past, his stick lifting the underbrush along the path. Needles pricked my face; my back ached. But I refused to budge.

While waiting for the threat to recede—my eyes ever roving—I spotted a mushroom above ground, about ten feet away. As soon as all was clear, I crawled to it and found it wasn’t alone. This wasn’t hunting; this was mining! I worked feverishly. My knife hovered over some small ones; if I left them, tomorrow they’d be much bigger—but no, I couldn’t risk anyone else discovering them. The entire porcini family disappeared into my basket. They were mine.

On my way back home, I overtook my foe.

“Porcini hunting?” He asked with more than normal interest.

“Yes, but it’s a bad year.” I twirled my basket as if it didn’t weigh five kilo.

“You’re right—I didn’t find anything either.” His plastic collecting bag fluttered in the breeze.

***

The man’s whistle calls me back to the present. A beagle comes running and sits down at the feet of his owner.

“Does the dog help you to find truffles?”

Si, signora. When he sniffs them out, he starts scratching the ground, and I dig them up with a scoop.”

He takes his hand out of his pocket and shows five marble-sized truffles. “Do you want them? They are yours after all.”

They’re mine…

I ignore the whisper in my head. Thanks to Jesus, I’m not the person I was twelve years ago.

“No, please keep them. I only asked because yesterday, I found a dead badger with snare wounds around its snout. I just wanted to make sure you hadn’t put any traps out here; they would hurt our dogs.”

“Thank you.” He puts the truffles back in his pocket.

“Will you sell them or eat them?”

“Definitely sell them, signora. I recently lost my job. Since my wife works only part-time, and we have two small children, I am looking for ways to make some money.”

Before he closes the door of his old Fiat Panda, he lifts his hand in greeting. “Grazie, signora. Arrivederla.

A trail of grey smoke marks his path as he drives up the road.

I set out for my walk back home. Despite the steep climb, I manage a spring in my step.


I published this article first on FaithWriters.

Photo credit: Stefano Cellai/age fotostock