Husbands

This is another story inspired by the Jesus bracelet. See this earlier post for the picture and explanation.

        I slid my plane ticket onto the attendant’s desk, not bothering to look up from the email I was skimming on my phone.  I’d hoped to have at least one night to recoup after this trip.  Maybe I’d have even spent it at home with my wife.  I couldn’t remember the last home cooked meal I’d eaten.  Then again, home wasn’t as relaxing as it used to be.
        It didn’t really matter anymore, though, since I wouldn’t be getting that night anyway.  A good reporter followed the news.  And according to the email, the news was halfway across the country.
       I spared the attendant a glance to retrieve my ticket and shuffled my way onto the plane.  My small suitcase slid easily into the overhead compartment and I slumped into my window seat.  I considered pulling out my laptop to confirm the details of this additional, last minute trip and the breaking news I’d be covering.  Then I saw the first batch of travelers I’d be stuck with for the next two hours and tucked my briefcase under the seat in front of me instead.  Working on my phone would generate enough sour looks from this bunch without needing to add more technology.
        As more and more of them piled onto the plane, I noticed a lot of them carrying on large, group conversations.  And those groups merged and split like cells as they all found their seats. I rolled my eyes and groaned.  It was going to be a long two hours.
        I pulled my ear buds from a pocket and thumbed through various jazz albums on my phone.  If I had those ear buds in and kept my eyes on the screen, whoever ended up next to me would hopefully be less likely to start chatting.  It had worked on previous business trips. Then a metallic clatter brought my eyes to the aisle floor.
        A set of keys, or rather, a collection of key chains with a few keys on it, sat there in a jumbled clump.  My gaze traveled slowly up and I was not surprised by what I saw of the owner.
       Flowers.  A lot of flowers.  And who wore a hat on an airplane?  I mean, a ball cap I could understand, but that monstrosity?  Was she really going to wear it the whole time?
        Then I came back to her face and instantly felt somewhat shamed by the cynical thoughts.  She had a charming smile.  To make up for the disrespectful attitude, I gave her a small smile in return.  Her eyes lit up.
        For a moment I was transported back to the first time I had seen my wife.  Her eyes had lit up the same way.  And it dawned on me that she didn’t smile like that anymore.  Or perhaps she did and I was simply too busy to notice.
        “Hi there!”
        I came back to the present and suppressed a groan.  I hadn’t gotten the ear buds in soon enough.
        “Uh, hi.”
        “I’m Sally.”
        She was a talker.  Of course she was a talker.
        “Frank.”
        The flowery Sally gave me another charming smile.  Then she pushed her carry-on the rest of the way into the overhead compartment and bent to pick up her key chains.  She sat in the aisle seat next to me and the jangle they made grated against my already frayed nerves.  Like she was sawing my brain with them instead of flipping through them like they were a stress reliever.  And naturally she was jabbering away the entire time.
        I tried to focus on the emails I’d opened on my phone while the plane taxied out to the runway, but for some reason my eyes kept being drawn back to those ridiculous key chains.  There was Micky Mouse.  I could only imagine from Disneyland.  The Eiffel tower.  Either Paris or LA.  I couldn’t see her type enjoying LA, but I also had a hard time seeing her affording a trip to Paris.  A glittery one in all colors of the rainbow must have meant she had grandchildren.
        Then my eyes landed on one that seemed somehow different from the others.  In what way, I couldn’t figure out.  I almost dismissed it as another crafty thing her grandchildren had made her.  But something about it made me look again.  Perhaps it was the strange order in which the beads were arranged; or maybe it was the gleaming spots on some of them revealing how often she held this particular chain.  Whatever it was, I couldn’t stop glancing at it.
        Then, as the plane reached altitude, I became aware of a stark lack of chatter.  I glanced at the woman.  What was her name again?  Sally.
        She was staring at me with an unnerving look in her eyes.  Like all my sly peeking hadn’t fooled her for a second.  Like she knew every thought that had gone through my head and knew exactly what sort of man I was.  A shiver ran down my spine.
        Then she looked back down at the chain, releasing me from her piercing gaze.  I dragged in a deep breath as quietly as I could.  What was with this woman?  I started tapping out a reply to my boss’s email.
        “You know, I’ve had this particular key chain for a long time,” she said.  “I made it myself, actually.”
        I glanced sideways at her.
        “Really?  I never would have guessed.”  My dripping sarcasm didn’t phase her.
        “Yup.  It actually tells a whole story, too.”
        Oh no.  I was in …
        “Would you like to hear it?”
trouble.  Crap.  If I said yes, I would be stuck listening to old lady stories for the entire trip.  But if I said no, I’d come off as a heartless jerk.  Which normally wouldn’t bother me, except we were both stuck on this plane.  Being rude to embezzling CEOs, criminal masterminds, and multimillionaires was one thing.  Being rude to harmless, kindly old ladies – especially kindly old ladies I would be sitting next to for two hours straight – was just … Well, let’s just say I was even less eager to endure her glares for the entire trip.
        I glanced back at Sally and nearly groaned at the hopeful look in her eyes.  What was I getting myself into?
        “Why not?  Tell me the story.”
        Then, the strangest thing happened.  She started telling me all about Jesus, the same Jesus I’d learned about in Sunday School as a kid.  Only she began explaining things I’d never thought about, showing me new perspectives I’d never considered.  Without even realizing it, I had tucked my phone away and was soon not simply listening, but asking all kinds of questions.  Questions about Jesus, about faith, about life.  Where only moments before I had thought I had everything I could possibly want, I now felt empty.  Moments ago I had contemplated spending a night with my wife like she was a risky asset, and now being two hours away from her felt like an eternity.
        My boss had told me the breaking news was halfway across the country.  But he was wrong.  The breaking news was 30,000 feet in the air, tucked inside the heart of a sweet and caring grandmother.

Mothers

This is another story inspired by the Jesus bracelet. See this earlier post for the picture and explanation.

     I surged to my feet as the ball hit the bat with a crack and went soaring over the players heads.  My son chucked the bat behind him and took off around the bases while I shouted and urged him on.  It wasn’t a home run, but he could make it to third if he pushed himself.  My face scrunched in a grimace when he stopped at second.
     It was the third inning and he’d been holding back the whole time.  If he didn’t win this game he was going to have some serious explaining to do on the way home.  This kind of slacking was simply unacceptable.  He was better than this and he knew it.
     I bent to take my seat again and nearly toppled over when someone bumped me from behind.  I spun around, ready to lay into whoever it was, but rolled my eyes instead.
     It was her.
     Even the worst tongue lashing wouldn’t make a difference with her.  She’d just smile through the whole thing.  Heck, she’d probably pray for me at the end of it for good measure.
     She was late, as usual.  Who knows why?  I had yet to see her witness the first inning of any of our sons’ games.  How did she expect her son to take the game seriously if she didn’t set the example?
     I grumbled to myself as she plopped down next to me.
     “Sorry I’m late. What did I miss?”
     I declined to answer as my son’s teammate sent the ball into right field, a sacrifice play allowing my son to make it to third.  I ground my teeth.  If he’d pushed himself on his last at bat, that would have been a run for home.
     “Oh, well done!” cheered the mom next to me.
     I glanced sideways at her.  Her son wasn’t even at bat yet.  Then again, all the other moms were cheering him, too.  Whatever.
     Late mom next to me turned to the mom behind her to ask how we were doing.  I massaged my temple at the reminder that no one had scored yet.  We usually had at least one run by now.  Everyone moaned as the current batter struck out.  That ended the third inning.
     I sighed as I watched the opposing players hustle off the field, replaced by our fielders.  Late mom bumped me again when she flung her arm around, waving to her son as he took the field.  How embarrassing.  How old did she think her son was?  Four?
     Then I rolled my eyes as her bracelet got caught on her sleeve.  She gave me a sheepish grin.
     “Rats.  This thing is always getting caught on stuff.  Isn’t that just the way of it?”
     If she didn’t stop nudging me, I was going to explode.
     “If it keeps getting caught, then why do you wear it?”
     She practically beamed at me and I instantly regretted the question.
     “Because it’s not just a bracelet.  It tells the story of Jesus.”
     “Oh, please.  I don’t need any of that religion crap, so don’t start.”
     Her smile turned pitying.  Oh, I wanted to smack her.
     “We all need Jesus.  Even your son understands that.”
     I groaned.  Trust her to bring up the biggest bone of contention between me and my son.  She must be one of the leaders at that ridiculous youth group he insisted on going to every week.  I’d only allowed it because most of his teammates went, so I figured it was another opportunity to strengthen their bond as a team.
     “Listen, I don’t know what sort of mumbo jumbo you feed him at that absurd group of yours, but we don’t put up with any of it in our house.”
     She just kept smiling.
     “But wouldn’t you like to know?  I mean, how can you combat it if you don’t know what it is?”
     I opened my mouth to refuse, but closed it again as I processed her words.  She had a point.  Then the first opposing batter stepped up to the plate.
     “Listen, why don’t we trade numbers and we can get together over coffee to discuss it?”
     Intrigued, but distracted, I rattled off my cell number.  A minute later she’d pressed a slip of paper in my hand, no doubt with her number on it.  I started to panic.
     “Hold on, don’t get it into your head that you’re going to convert me or anything.  I just want to know what my son is being exposed to so I can keep him from getting distracted from what’s important.”
     “Oh, of course.  After all, the best defense is a good offense.”
     I narrowed my eyes at her.  She just smiled at me again and I got the unnerving feeling that I was getting more than I’d just bargained for.
     Then I shrugged and turned back to the game.  I was strong.  I had too much backbone to give in to someone like her.  Besides, what did she have that I could ever possibly want?

 

Sisters

This is the first story inspired by the Jesus bracelet. See this earlier post for the picture and explanation.

I twisted the key in the ignition, killing the hatchback’s engine, and took a deep breath.  It was just a grocery store. I could do this.
I yanked on the door handle and levered myself out of the car.  My eyes stayed glued to the pavement all the way to the automatic doors.  If I kept my head down, maybe I’d get through this unnoticed.
It was the middle of the day, so chances were slim that anyone here would recognize me.  Still, I wasn’t ready to talk to anyone, so I erred on the side of paranoid and made a beeline for the TV dinners.  No one ever stuck around in that aisle.
I sighed in relief when I got there without making eye contact with anyone.  Safe from pitying smiles and painful condolences, I stared at the colorful array of single serving boxes.  She’d always teased me about eating so many of these things, claiming I’d wake up one day made of cardboard.  My eyelids fell shut and I dragged a calloused hand down my face.  My sister would be handling this so much better.
Yeah, I probably would be, and you know why.
I whipped around so fast my foot slipped.  Elbows went flying, along with half the chip bags on the snack shelf behind me.  I leaned back against the chilly, glass doors of the refrigerator.  A groan slipped out of my mouth while a tear dripped down my cheek.  Of course it wasn’t her.  She was gone.
She was … d-
Well, she wasn’t ever coming back.
“I can’t do church, sis,” I whispered.  “That was always your thing.”  I pulled in a deep breath and started picking up bags.
“Oh, let me help.”
I spun toward the unfamiliar voice, latching onto the distraction.  She was pretty, in a nondescript way.  Not exactly worth a double take, but something in her smile made my gaze linger anyway.  Somehow it reminded me of my sister, though they shared none of the same features.  Then she began grabbing bags and I blinked myself back into the moment.
“Thanks,” I said.
We replaced bags in silence while I tried to get my head back on straight.  Our hands bumped when we both reached for the last bag at the same time.
“Oh, sorry.”  We spoke over each other.  There was that smile again.
I watched as she lifted the bag to the shelf.  A colorful bracelet made of an eclectic assortment of beads dangled from her wrist.  The crafty looking jewelry brought back long buried memories, and for the first time in several weeks, a smile crept onto my face.
“I like your bracelet.”  Wait, did I say that out loud?
She turned back toward me.  What was it about that smile?
“Thanks. I made it.”
“I wondered.”  I bit my lip.  Oh, what the heck.  “I used to make things like that a lot.”
“Really?  That’s awesome.  But you know, this isn’t just a pretty piece of jewelry.  It tells the life story of Jesus.”
My chest tightened and I began to get a hint of why her smile seemed so familiar.
“Would you like to hear the story?”
I barely held back a cringe.  How many times had my sister tried to tell me about her faith?  I could feel the automatic refusal click into place.  The same words I’d repeated to her over and over.
Then her face drifted up in my memory.  The way her brows wrinkled with hurt every time I’d declined to hear her.  The way her shoulders slumped, as if I wasn’t just rejecting her words, but rejecting her.  The refusal lodged in my throat before it could leave my mouth.
If I’d only known how little time I would have with her.  If I could just go back and listen for once.
My surroundings snapped back into place and I was again staring at the woman in the store.  She was still waiting for my answer, that smile brushing her lips again.  I took a deep breath.
“Yeah. Yeah, I’d like to hear the story.”

Jesus Bracelet

I recently attended a Christian Women’s Retreat where we made bracelets and key chains that represent the life story of Jesus. A picture and explanation are below. The next three posts are short stories I wrote that were inspired by these bracelets and key chains.

 
The shepherds (3 brown flowers) left their flocks, and a star (star charm) led the three wise men (3 green beads) to witness the birth of Jesus (clear bead). Jesus grew up to become a carpenter (wooden bead), but left the profession to become a fisher of men (fish bead). He then traveled the land to share the gospel (blue bead) with the help of His twelve disciples (12 rings). Then he was crucified, spilling His blood (red bead) to purify us (open diamond) and after three dark days (3 black beads) He rose from the grave (open circle). He then ascended into heaven (blue/white bead), leaving behind the Holy Spirit (dove) because of His great love for us (red/white heart). So now if we accept His gift of salvation (clear diamond) we can be born again (butterfly).