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Flash Fiction: The Hard Way

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It is summer. Eastern Carolina is a sight to behold in the summer, even more so on the coast where the air is like a sultry, sexy Flamenco. It just seeps way down deep into your bones. The light in the early evening is like this living thing. It almost breathes. Deep. It wraps me up – safe and content.

He, the beautiful man of the hard way, is a challenge I am sometimes convinced I can’t meet. Even after all these years. Today, in a quiet moment in the midst of a busy day, I thought about the way his eyes hold mine. There has been fire and light for me in his eyes – for me, for as long as I can remember. Me. His fierceness lights me from the inside out with just one look. In the middle of an everyday moment, I look up to see his eyes on me. And there in that moment when I’m nothing special on my own and living in the mundane, I am all there is in his eyes. I am the only one in a room filled with people.

And then as quickly as he is fierce and passion, strength and fire, he is vulnerable. His tenderness for me still churns my insides like it did from the beginning. In those moments, I think I love him more than I knew was possible. On nights like these when the lightening bugs pop and flash in the approaching night, as we sit quietly on the porch, I’m overwhelmed by the beauty of it all. There is stillness and quiet between us just like it used to be in the beginning, when he said all he needed to without a word spoken. The heat surrounds us in spite of the encroaching darkness. The rising moon isn’t bringing relief from the swelter.

But somehow, in spite of the sweat that trickles, and the air thick, all I can think about is the way fire and heat burn off the dross. We have been tried and tested in the fire. In the quiet, he reaches over and takes my hand in his. Ten years and a handful of days after the first time he did that very thing, it lights me up inside. Still. I close my eyes, lay my head back, and breathe deeply of the contentment that comes from loving him above myself – even when we do it the hard way. Even when we are tested in the fire.

– Flash fiction by Elaina M. Avalos

Inspiration & Imagination: Kudzu, Lightening Bugs, and Farm Stands

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It’s summer in the south. I know. Not news, right? Growing up in Southern California, you’d think a hot, humid, and rainy summer would not be one of my favorite things. But it so is.

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The summers of my childhood were filled with beach trips, camping along the 5 freeway at San Onofre or with my grandparents in San Clemente. Summers in SoCal are beach days on the right side (extremely important) of the Huntington Beach pier, professional surfers & volleyball players, surfers changing into or out of their wet suits on the side of the road. SoCal summers are KROQ and the Santa Ana winds, wildfires, and the cool marine layer that rolls in off the ocean that makes you pull out a sweatshirt, as the temperature dips.

Summer in Southern California is exactly what it should be and precisely what you’d expect.

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And yet, I didn’t know what I was missing until I moved to the coast of North Carolina. The humidity may be soul-sucking gross at times, but there’s something very . . . healing in the scorch of the sun and the wet air.

A few years ago, I house sat for a couple I’ve known since 2001. This is the second time I’ve made their home, my home, for a few months. After a year lease ended – they were getting ready to take a long trip. The timing was perfect. They live on my favorite river.

Abby the Wonder Dog & I would sit for hours on the back deck – even on the hottest, most humid evenings, watching the river. When I really needed to soak in sun and heat, we’d sit on the stairway at the top of their berm.

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My trusty buddy right beside me – soaking it all in, too.

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There’s something so cleansing about the humidity as it seeps in. Don’t believe me? Try it some evening. Sit quietly, as it settles in around you. Somehow, I feel the day drain off and clarity seep in.

As the summer wears on, the green grows even deeper than it was in spring – as if this was even possible. Nature somehow defies what is already the glorious beauty of green to be even better – deeper – as the kudzu spreads through the jungle of trees.

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The spanish moss, set against the green is breathtaking. The tobacco, corn, and soy bean fields are constant reminders – as I drive between home and the store, or home and work – of how different life is now – from the concrete jungle of my youth.

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Growing up, I dreamed of seeing lightening bugs (aka fireflies for the rest of the country) but didn’t see a single one until I was an adult. How is that possible? How is it possible for you to live a full life without the pop of white light, that brightens the humid evenings? You can’t, I tell you.

Farmer’s markets are more popular today than ever. And though new farmer’s markets have popped up here in recent years, the farm stand is tried & true. They’re a joy and a favorite weekend stop. I have my favorites. I’d go every day if I could.

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My favorite purchase every year – for the brief time I can get them – is green tomatoes. I learned to make fried green tomatoes about four years ago – in a kitchen overlooking the Neuse. It’s probably one of my all time favorite dishes (just behind homemade enchiladas and tamales).

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The truth is, June and July are the best kind of summer. The days are long and there is so much to soak in. By August, I’m ready for the routine of autumn to settle in. The beauty of the long days wears at you a little.

You begin to long for open windows and cool days. If you’re anything like me, you start wishing it was football season before July has fully let go of you. Growing up with a perpetual summer, I don’t know if you fully appreciate the true beauty of the seasons as they change.

Though August erodes my patience as it grows hotter, I’m convinced I’d never appreciate fall in the way I do, without the scorcher of August. Isn’t that just like life, though? As I think about the beauty of summer as it barrels toward fall, I am certain that each season has a beauty of its own.

It may not be roasted peanuts from a farm stand in Cedar Point, beauty – but it’s beauty just the same. I’m grateful for both seasons of my life – SoCal’s palm tree, surfer, Huntington Beach beauty – and the perfect beauty of a tobacco field against the deep blue Carolina sky.

 

When Do You Stop Chasing Dreams?

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When do you stop chasing dreams? That is the question for me right now.

This blog – like many decisions I’ve made in the past two years, is about chasing dreams down. It’s about all of those things that make up my greatest life’s dreams – that I’m still in pursuit of. Like this. Or this. Or this.

After hitting the big 4-0 and realizing how much time I’d wasted, I knew it was time to stop wasting time.

Some might say that the long trail to get where you want to be is all part of the journey. That may be the case for some people. Sometimes, we just make really dumb decisions and that’s how we end up so far from the life we imagined.

Everything happens for a reason. But sometimes the reason is that you’re stupid and you make bad decisions.

That’s me. About 15 years after a derailed life, I finally figured out what I needed to figure out. However, the dreams I hold most dear, that require more than just my own determination and pluck, look so very far from possible.

Each time someone I know announces she is pregnant, or my friends experience new milestones with their families, or I hear about how easy it is for some people to meet new dudes & date – it looks more and more impossible.

With each passing day, my age is making very clear that my chances for my greatest dream, are probably in my rear view mirror {giving birth to the baby I’ve prayed and longed for, for so long}. With each passing day, this truth settles in a little deeper.

The dream – the greatest dream is a house full of kids and a marriage to my best friend and truest companion. I’ve prayed for him more years than I can even count – before I was even a teen, really.

Lots of kids – some entering our home through foster care and adoption – a husband who seeks God and leads our home and wants God’s will in his and our lives more than his own – that is the dream.

The dream is our kids bringing home their friends, especially those friends who need it most, our door always open. The dream is adult kids who love to be around their family – us as parents, their siblings, and their kids.

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Have you ever watched the show Parenthood? I know, I know. Not real life. But my favorite things about that show are the chaotic moments when everyone is talking at once and they’re sharing a meal – parents, adult kids, and the grandchildren – all gathered around one table.

The dream is a long legacy of loving the people who come through our door. Maybe they step across our threshold for a meal or a soft place to land when they have nowhere to go. The dream is that my family is part of showing a hurting world around us the love of Jesus that has been so lavished on us.

That’s the dream.

That’s the dream. But it is so far from my reality right now it’s not even funny.

But that’s the dream. That’s the one. It’s also a dream that I don’t think can happen by my own sheer determination. Otherwise, it would have happened by now.

Instead, this is the kind of dream you pray for.

The question is, when is it time to let go? When is it time to believe He has answered that prayer and the answer is no? When is it time to stop chasing dreams?

Friends I come to you today with a heart that is tender and sore in this area. I wonder every day if it’s time to give up on this dream. Especially as the calendar tells me another day has passed by me.

I am not sure there’s an easy answer.

You pay God a compliment by asking great things of Him. – St. Teresa of Avila

Wait. There is an easy answer. Pray without ceasing. That is the answer. I know how it looks. It doesn’t look good. If you saw the messages I got on match.com {insert eye roll here} you would know just how impossible this vision and dream, appears.

For reals. It looks impossible. It looks improbable.

That’s probably a good place to be as much as my humanness fights it {about 90% of the time}.

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There is simply no way for me to make this happen. I can pray. I can live my life in pursuit of His will and plan. I can trust Him. And I can chase this dream by chasing Him. Otherwise, it’s about as impossible as it could get.

So . . . my friends . . . the answer? The answer is to keep chasing. The answer is to keep praying. The answer is to trust Him to place and remove the dreams and hopes that are on your heart.

The answer is to trust your greatest longing, your deepest hurt, and your wildest dreams to the One who gave them to you in the first place.

Keep dreaming, friend. Keep chasing.

As I pray for my own dreams, what can I pray for, for you?

 

Rejecting Pinterest Perfect

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My son’s 7th birthday was last weekend. I am a first time mom at 42. My life is filled with firsts these days. He has been with me for a handful of months. He may be with me forever.

I don’t know what his life held before he entered mine – except in small bits & pieces. I don’t know what birthdays and holidays were like. I don’t know if they were a big deal or barely a mention. I don’t know if he had birthdays filled with family & friends.

In March, I started thinking about his birthday. What else would a Pinterest fanatic do? My Pinterest account isn’t quite as busy as it once was (see first time mom thing) but I still love it and it’s often the first thing I scroll, scroll, scroll through when I’m bored, have extra moments, or am dreaming of something I hope is ahead.

With his birthday, I guess I figured I should make it a big to do. Didn’t he deserve that after all? Either way – if his birthdays passed with hardly a mention or they were a big deal – shouldn’t I give him a special day? I somehow equated a special day with a perfect day. These are not the same things.

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I searched countless pins – dreaming of the perfect party. I wondered who we would invite. And I envisioned how perfect it would be. The thing is – I know life isn’t perfect. I’ve encountered enough of real life to know that. But it sure is easy to lose sight of that sometimes.

It’s not the thing itself. It’s the power any form of social media has to distract you from what is in front of you. If I tried to keep up with a Pinterest perfect life, I would never find the joy in the every day normal – in life as it is – without perfect images and perfectly planned parties. It’s time to reject Pinterest perfect.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a social media person. I love me some Instagram. And clearly, I have a Pinterest addiction. If you look at the number of pins, boards (that doesn’t count my private boards), and Pinterest views I have each month & you’ll know that’s clear (haha).

But recently, I’ve become very aware of how significantly the perfectly curated images impact me. We spend an inordinate amount of time snapping photos, editing them with filters, and then uploading them to our various social media profiles often leaving out the real life moments. We search for the perfect something. But it’s just an image.

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Okay, so maybe some of those moments are real life. But how many other moments passed by while we were snapping more photos to keep up that image of the life we say we’re living? I want my kitchen to look perfect when I snap a photo of that cocktail I made (which by the way, I saw the recipe on Pinterest). But ya’ll, sometimes my kitchen is a mess behind me. Hashtag true story.

When I scroll through Pinterest, I am looking for the perfect thing. I’m looking for the perfect decor, the perfect quotes with pretty photos or backgrounds, the perfect outfit, or dreaming of the perfectly dressed baby or kiddo (along with their perfectly decorated room).

I followed a mom on Pinterest and Instagram for a while. At first, I was inspired by her images and pins. I thought . . . what a fun mom! But the longer I followed her the more . . . blah my life seemed to be. She was so colorful. Her kids always looked so adorable. And her photos and videos were always perfectly styled.

I felt like a slob. Can I get a witness? At that point, as there is now, I had clean laundry in piles in my living room and bedroom. I have a dishwasher full of clean dishes and a sink full of dirty dishes. My ceiling fans need cleaning. And so do our blinds. My bathroom isn’t clean and I’m pretty sure my downstairs bathroom isn’t either (see 7-year old son), even though I just cleaned it yesterday.

Her life may be perfect. They may be as supremely happy as they appear to be. Her husband is lovely. She is lovely. Her kids are adorbs. Their home is a dream. But the truth is, you never saw anything but that. Not the moments when the kids were a mess or something crazy happened in their day or she shared a funny story about the kids arguing or the time she left the kids at her mom’s house longer than planned, so she could stroll through Target in peace and quiet FOR ONCE IN HER LIFE.

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I know, I know. That’s not what she’s trying to sell. Her social media accounts are a business. And while I much prefer to buy from or take recommendations from a person that is real – flaws and silly stories and all – I get it. She’s got dollars to earn. I can respect that.

What I can’t do is base my life on the image of someone selling an image. I must choose to be content with the life I have. Can I find & make beauty in my life? Yes. Can I make my surroundings prettier? YES! Can I find ideas for events, activities, books, and ideas about raising boys, on Pinterest, that are helpful? Of course!

What we can’t or shouldn’t do, is assume that businesses that are designed to sell ads, generate revenue through web traffic, affiliate links, etc., etc., are living their best life. And we certainly should not let a business leave us feeling like our lives aren’t enough. No one is the perfect wife, mom, decorator, fashion-guru, or amazing chef – or all of those combined. No one.

I wanted my son’s birthday to be perfect. I decided on something quiet. And while the day was his – he made the choices for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (and of course his birthday cake & ice cream), we didn’t have a fancy party. He had balloons in his room when he woke up and our kitchen table was decorated when he came downstairs.

Before he’d even opened his first present he told me it was his best birthday ever. I had more hugs that day than I think I’d gotten from him on any day prior. He didn’t need a fancy party and perfect food and bounce houses, and a house full of people.

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I’m not condemning that if that’s what you do. Who I am hoping to appeal to is those moms like me – those women like me – that know we can’t attain that image. Maybe it’s because our bank account won’t let us. Or maybe it’s because it’s just not who we are but feel somehow it’s who we are supposed to be.

Regardless of the reason, let’s all promise each other we won’t let social media trick us into believing that other people’s lives are perfect? My kid had an amazing birthday and our decorations came from Dollar Tree & Wal Mart and he certainly didn’t get everything he asked for. But he sure did have a great day.

Let’s reject Pinterest perfect. Let’s reject believing a lie that someone selling us something on social media has it all together. They don’t. They’re just like us. Their kid pees on the toilet seat, leaves dirty smudges on the refrigerator handles, and back talks just like your kid does. They fight with their husbands, feel bloated sometimes, think their hair is ugly, and wonder if they’re a good mom to their kids.

There is no perfect life. And perfect images on Pinterest – or any other social media platform are just that – images.

If you’ve found a good balance in our social media driven world, how have you done that? Do you take social media fasts? Or have you found other helpful ways to separate out what’s real from what’s an ad? I’d like to hear your tips & tricks!

*Photos by Ylanite Koppens