Emma’s Dancing Socks (Faith in Flash Fiction)

MEME - Psalm 30 v 11 - Photo by Karen B. for Emma's Dancing Socks - April 22, 2017My jaw clenched as I smoothed Emma’s yellow satin dress. “Hold still.”

Fighting a frown, I ignored her giggles and tied the orange sash into a bow. Precisely aligned front and center. At least I could still control some things. My fingertips lingered at the hem of her dress.

“Isn’t it perfect, Mama?”

“Of course. It’s the perfect length for showing off long multicolored, mismatched socks. The perfect style for twirling.”

The perfect reminder of my helplessness after my only child begged me to sew the orange sash under the empire waist. Orange was the new black in my world.

Emma’s arms quivered like sprigs in a cool spring breeze as she adjusted her yellow knitted cap until its orange bow rested over her right ear. “How do I look?”

I prayed the sting in my eyes wouldn’t trickle into reality. “Peautiful!”

Her naked brows lifted over wide maple-syrup eyes. “You mean beautiful?”

“Nope. Peautiful! Perfect and beautiful.”

“You’re so silly, Mama.”

“Let me get a better look at you, Emma Bear.”

“I’m too old for nicknames.” She pinched each side of her skirt between her thumbs and pointing fingers, spreading the material into a fan. She swished her arms right to left, gazing into the full-length mirror. “I’m almost thirteen, you know.”

Almost. Not thirteen, yet. I bit my lip. “Does that mean I can’t call you Princess, either?”

Emma placed one palm flat on her chest. “Only a princess can dance with the King! That’s not a nickname. It’s my life.”

I turned toward her canopy bed and preoccupied myself with a wicker basket full of colorful patterned socks.

Emma hugged the white bedpost. “So, when are you going back to the studio?”

“Leave it alone, Sweetheart.”

“Miss Sarah’s a great dancer, but you’re the best teacher.”

I held up a matching pair of blue socks with pink polka dots and purple triangles. “For the umpteenth time, I’ll go back when I’m ready. We can’t rush God’s timing.” We couldn’t slow down His timing, either.

Emma plunged her hand into the basket and pulled out a purple sock decorated with neon green-and-black zebra stripes. She snatched one of my polka-dot socks and held her creation at arm’s length. “Now these make me feel like dancing.”

“The clashing patterns?”

“The color of joy.” Emma closed her eyes and tilted her head toward the ceiling. “The kind of joy we can’t lose, even when we’re sad.”

Forgive me, Lord. Please, help me with my unbelief. I coupled a rainbow-striped prize with the abandoned polka-dot sock. “How about this mismatched sensation?”

“I could twirl across the clouds in these.” Emma grabbed the socks and scooted to the middle of the bed. She stretched the cotton to her knees before blessing me with jazz hands and a tired laugh, complete with a soft snort.

I placed the laundry basket onto the floor and eased onto the bed. Leaning into the oversized pillows nestled against the headboard, I invited her into a side hug.

Emma settled next to me, smoothed her dress and adjusted her sash. She wiggled her toes and crossed her hands over her chest like Sleeping Beauty. “I’m ready now.”

I wasn’t ready. I would never be ready. I pulled away from my daughter, slid off the bed, and stumbled across the hardwood floor until the garage door closed behind me. Crumpled on the cement floor, I inhaled the fading scent of my father. The sunset pouring through the windows painted his tool wall with a soft peach glow.

Emma entered the garage. She clutched a mismatched pair of neon socks in her small fist. “Do you remember what you told me when Poppa Joe went to Heaven?” Her voice flowed like a hymn, soft and sure.

I pressed my cheek into the cold cement when I felt her frail body against my back.

“You said perfect healing comes when we get to Heaven with Jesus.” Her fingers combed through my hair. “You said Poppa Joe wasn’t hurting anymore.”

I pushed myself into a sitting position, slid my hands down my face, and turned toward my daughter. Emma’s smooth bare brows and relaxed grin kissed my heart.

“Don’t you believe what you told me, Mama?”

“Of course I believe.” I pulled her close to my chest. “It’s just hard.”

“God’s with us, Mama. I feel Him.” She handed me the pair of socks she’d been holding. “May I have this dance?”

I helped her to her feet, kicked off my blue ballet flats, and pulled on one rainbow striped sock and one yellow sock with hot pink hexagons outlined in neon green. I stood and extended my hand.

Emma’s laughter bounced off the walls when I twirled her in two complete circles. Her skirt rose and fell like gentle waves lapping onto a sandy beach.

After our dance, I tucked her into bed and knelt beside her. “Would you like me to pick out a pair of fresh socks?”

“I want to wear these tonight.” She placed her hand in mine. “Will you wear your dancing socks, too?”

I tapped the tip of her nose with my pointing finger. “I just might have to start my own collection.”

“I would like that very much, Mama.” She huffed a chuckle. “Will you sleep with me tonight?”

“Anything for you.”

“You promise?”

“Of course.” I lifted her pink Bible off the nightstand.

“Go back to the studio. Teach them to feel the music, just like you taught me.” She closed her eyes. “Imagine Poppa Joe and me dancing with you.” Opening one eye, she grinned. “Freestyle!”

My laughter was like an abandoned gold mine. “It’s getting late. What do you want me to read today?”

Emma clasped her hands together. “Psalm thirty. Verses ten to twelve.”

I flipped through the crinkling pages. As the words blurred, I prayed for the strength to read without wavering voice or faith.

“Hear, O LORD, and be merciful to me; O LORD, be my help. You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever.”

I set the Bible on the nightstand and said a short prayer before curling up next to my daughter and wrapping her in a hug.

“You’re holding on too tight, Mama.”

I forced myself to loosen my embrace and kissed the top of her head. “I’m sorry, Baby Girl.”

“It’s okay.” She leaned into me. “I love you, too.”

***

Emma took her last breath less than three months later, a week after we rang in the New Year.

The yellow tulips in our backyard didn’t bloom as bright when they popped out of the ground the following spring. The warmth of the sun pricked my cheeks like pine needles. Still, I kept my promise after the summer haze surrendered to the nip of autumn.

When I lugged a cardboard box into the dance studio, Miss Sarah had the girls lined up at the bar in front of the mirrors.

“You’re back! You’re back!” A gaggle of prima ballerinas, ages ten to thirteen, bombarded me with hugs as soon as I dropped my cargo in the corner. Every one of these girls had attended the funeral. Everyone was grieving the loss of their friend.

“I have a surprise for you, Ladies.”

My hands trembled as I opened the box of brand-new socks.

Please, help me feel Your constant presence, Lord. I can’t do this without You.

I passed out the colorful mismatched creations. My breath quickened as the girls stretched socks over their ballet shoes.

Giggles erupted when I tossed my assistant a turquoise sock with lime green swirls and a black sock with red hearts, purple squares, and yellow triangles.

I half-skipped to the stereo and plugged in my iPod. “Drumroll, please.”

The dancers obliged.

“Let’s begin with a classic.” I selected Emma’s favorite song. “Freestyle!”

Miss Sarah dabbed the corner of her eye with her finger and slipped her feet into the unconventional dance attire.

I miss my baby girl, Lord.

I swallowed hard before starting the music. We danced, arms flowing and hips shaking to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”

A belly laugh followed by a loud snort bubbled up out of my heart as I slid across the floor in my own pair of Emma’s Dancing Socks. This time, the sound didn’t squeeze my chest.

I twirled across the floor, ending in a graceful curtsey before my King.

The young ballerinas followed my lead.

Surrendering to peace, I whispered, “Hallelujah.” Deep in my soul I knew that my sweet angel was doing the same in the presence of our Heavenly Father.

***

 

MEME - John 3 v 16 - Photo by Karen B - for Emma's Dancing Socks - April 22, 2017

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“Emma’s Dancing Socks” was written after my mom received her diagnosis, Leukemia, in January 2014. After a bone marrow transplant, my sweet mom was welcomed into the arms of her Savior, Jesus Christ, on October 22, 2014. This story was previously published in Inspire Promise in November 2014.

I process my emotions through prayerfully reading the Bible and writing. I never shared this story with my mom, but I wish I would have.

“When Yes Means No,” a snippet of my mom’s story, was published as my first devotion in Our Daily Bread on April 1, 2017. As I read these two stories again and share them with you, I’m grieving the loss of my friend, Suzanne Nixon Thompson.

Suzanne battled Leukemia and had a bone marrow transplant earlier this year. She joined my mom in the loving arms of Jesus on April 6, 2017. I didn’t find out until April 22nd.

As I remember these two mighty women of faith, my heart aches but beats with peace because we shared an unshakable hope in Christ.

These fierce women of faith have changed me and inspired me. Both will be missed, their lives celebrated, and their impact for Christ will never be forgotten.

Please join me in praying for those brave warriors and their courageous families who are battling cancer, those who have survived cancer, and those whose ultimate healing came when they danced into the arms of Jesus.

As my mom said, “God is good and that’s all there is to it.” Oh, how I miss her!

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Special thanks to K.B. and B.B. for providing the photos for these memes.

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A Beautiful Mess (Teen Fiction – Melissa’s Story)

Beautiful Flower by Lindsie Nicole West (2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Six months into my pregnancy, Mom decided we needed counseling from Pastor Herbert C. Wilkens.

I was so not feeling it. I hadn’t been to church since the beginning of what Mom called my downward spiral. There was no way a complete stranger could understand what I was going through.

Besides, the last time we asked for a pastor’s help ended up being a complete fail.

Mom had dragged me into Pastor Jim Rosenthal’s office for prayer and guidance, post baby-surprise.

His eyes bore into my belly, forehead creased deep as the tread on brand-new tires. He encouraged me to avoid youth events until after I had the baby, so I wouldn’t feel embarrassed or awkward.

I told Mom he probably thought I was contagious. She laughed, but the vein on her temple throbbed.

The new guy, Pastor Wilkens, welcomed us with a grin splashed ear to ear. He reeked Jesus Freak from his pores.

“It’s nice to meet you,” he said, looking me straight in the eyes. He clapped his massive hands. “Change of plans. I was hoping Melissa could help a friend of mine with a big job.”

“Sure,” I said. Anything was better than being lectured, or even worse, suckered to buy into this pastor, whose eyes still hadn’t dropped to catch a glimpse of my bulging stomach.

He led us into a classroom with yellow walls and introduced us to his friend in need.

I bit my lip. No way!

Shawnee Pearson squatted on the floor arranging piles of paper hearts. Decked in black, including her chipped nail polish, she sported piercings and purple hair.

After Pastor Wilkens and my mom ditched us, I braced myself for the inevitable belly stare.

Shawnee hopped up and worked a staple out of the bulletin board with her fingernails. “Are you going to help me, or what?”

I lifted my chin and huffed. “I never figured you for an undercover Christian.”

“You would’ve known I was a Christian if you ever bothered to talk to me at school.”

Ouch! “Whatever.” I helped her cover the bulletin board with white paper. “White’s kind of boring, isn’t it?”

Shawnee’s laugh flitted like hummingbird wings. “It’s better to start with a clean slate.”

She handed me a poster board with Romans 5:8 written across the top. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

I pressed my lips together, tight. Why now?

I didn’t cry when the pink plus sign filled the second window on the pregnancy test. I didn’t cry when Jacob blamed me for getting pregnant and ruining his life.

I didn’t cry when my friends suddenly got too busy to hang out with me.

I didn’t even cry when Mom broke down after I aired my dirty little secret.

Or when Dad left the room, without a word, and transformed into The Master of Avoidance.

“It’s not the end of the world, you know,” said Shawnee.

She handed me a red strip of border decorated with white hearts. “There’s always adoption. And if you keep it . . . well, the kid will be in pre-school when you go to college.”

“College? Are you kidding me?” I held the border in place while Shawnee stapled. “My life is over.”

She showed me a sheet of paper blanketed with multi-colored crayon scribbles. “What do you think?”

I sniffed, wiping under my eyes, hoping my mascara wasn’t running. Brown streaked fingertips guaranteed that, once again, hoping wasn’t going to be good enough. “It’s a big mess.”

Shawnee matted the picture onto a piece of red construction paper and stapled it to the bulletin board. She stepped back, tilted her head and plopped her palms on her hips. “Look at the whole picture.”

The frame embraced the twirling, swirling colors, highlighting speckles of orange and yellow. “It’s still a mess.” I shrugged. “But, now, it’s kind of pretty.”

Shawnee grinned. “That red frame is like the blood of Christ. God’s love surrounds us, transforms us, and makes our mess beautiful.”

“My mess is so not beautiful.” I tried to stretch my jacket over my bulge. Fat chance! “You don’t understand.”

“Jesus understands. He knows what it feels like to be rejected, abandoned, and alone.” Shawnee brushed her fingers over the crayon scribbles. “He understands hard times and temptation.”

“You believe that?”

“Uh, Yeah. God wipes our sin away because He loves us, Melissa. And the Holy Spirit helps us not to repeat our mistakes.”

“I’m stuck with my mistake forever,” I said, cheeks flaming. “What do you know, anyway?”

She raked a hand through her purple locks. “I was in rehab before we moved here.” Her eyes welled. “I tried to overdose after I had an abortion.”

Whoever said silence was golden must have never been right smack in the middle of an awkward moment.

I wanted to race out of the room. But, I felt a strange urge to hug the girl. Pregnancy hormones would be the death of me, moods switching quick as twists on a rollercoaster.

I picked up an oversized heart and the stapler. “You could use my help when you change these theme boards,” I said.

Shawnee’s eyes narrowed. “You’re not scared that hanging out with a drugged up Goth will ruin your reputation?”

“It’s a little too late to be worried about my reputation.” I pointed to my belly. “Besides, you said God gives us a clean slate, remember?”

Glancing at my swollen stomach, she shook her head and stapled another scribbled masterpiece onto the board. “The baby’s not the mistake, you know. The sin was stepping out of God’s will and having sex before marriage.”

She touched her flat abs. “Your life’s not over. But you can have a new life, a better one, with God’s help.”

“How?”

“Read His instruction manual, for starters. You know, the Bible. And talk to Him like you would talk to your best friend.”

“I don’t have a best friend.” The words were sour milk in my mouth. “I don’t have any friends, anymore.”

“You’ve got me.” Shawnee nudged me with her elbow. “More importantly, you’ve got Jesus.” Her laugh tugged my smile out of hiding.

As I tossed useless scraps into the trashcan, I prayed for the first time in forever.

Lord, thanks for giving me a new friend. Please help me know You better so I can live like I believe what You say about me. Help me trust that because You love and understand me completely, even when I make mistakes, I’m a beautiful mess.

 

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Have you ever thought your sin was too big to be covered by God’s grace and forgiveness?

 

How does knowing God loves us so much that He’s willing forgive and redeem the biggest sins change the way you think about confessing sins and believing in the hope of forgiveness?

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“A Beautiful Mess” by X. E. Dixon was previously published in ENCOUNTER−The Magazine on January 30, 2012 and reprinted in the Inspire Christian Writers November 2014 anthology Promise, which is available for purchase from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Photo taken and used with permission by Lindsie West

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The Apology (Short Story – Fiction)

 

Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (1 Cor 13-13) - Blog - The Apology

I adjusted my duffle bag over my shoulder and held the letter at arm’s length, not impressed by the gray-speckled business stationary. My father’s name overpowered the custom logo: Elias Whitaker.

Each word jabbed me straight in the gut. “I love you. I miss you. Please forgive me.” Wadding up the paper, envelope and all, I tossed it into my wastebasket just as Mom passed my room.

“Brandon.” She slipped through the doorway, dropped to her knees, and sifted through the trash. “Trust the Lord to work things out, Son.”

How could I tell her I was on the outs with God, too? “Elias is dead to me.”

“He’s still your father.” She stood, wiped her cheek, and unfolded the wrinkled wad of worthless excuses.

I scowled, torn between comforting my mother and wanting to bash a lineman into some turf. “Game’s at seven. Gotta go.”

My father had let me down again and again. My heavenly Father’s record wasn’t much better.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.

“Yeah, right!” I threw my gear into the passenger seat, swept a half-empty bag of barbeque chips onto the floor, and slid behind the steering wheel.

Elias traded us in for a new wife and their baby, born a month after the courts made the divorce official. Even without Honor’s classes, I could do the math.

I downed an energy drink as I sped to the stadium. What if I never made it to the game?

The thought of my mom alone in the bleachers slammed me back into reality. That wouldn’t make things better, for me or her. I crushed the empty aluminum can and hurled it at the dashboard.

***

A month later, Elias moved to the East Coast with his new family. He called less, making it easier for me to stay mad.

When my anger erupted into punching walls, Mom shipped me off to a boot camp, for my own good. At the Mount Calvary Youth Retreat, under a sky splattered with stars I never bothered to notice before, I asked God to help me believe Him again.

Mom accepted my apology without a hitch when she picked me up from the church a week later.

I grabbed my dusty Bible from my closet as soon as I got home. She’d stashed the crinkled, gray-speckled envelope between the crisp pages. Good try, Mom.

Shoving the letter in my sock drawer, I set the black leather book on my nightstand.

I read Scripture daily, went to youth group weekly, and served in the sound booth once a month.

As a master at tuning out sermons and skipping over verses that taught forgiveness, I clung to bitterness like a fourth quarter lead on the scoreboard.

***

A few months before graduation, Mom got a call from Elias’ cell phone. After two full weeks of praying, I hopped onto an eastbound plane. I unpacked my carry-on in my aunt’s guest room and thanked her for letting me borrow her Cadillac.

I inhaled the scents of new leather, coffee, and my aunt’s fruity hugs, as I obeyed the GPS lady. Pulling into the parking lot, I glanced into my rearview mirror. “Too late to turn back now.”

Scattered oak trees, their gnarled branches hardened and scarred, stood firm against the bullying wind. Glaring at the manicured lawn, I hunched out of the car, staggered by a slap of cold air.

I zipped up my letterman’s jacket until the collar choked me, followed the directions I’d been given, and mumbled under my breath. “What am I doing here?”

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

Slumping onto the designated concrete bench, I blew into my palms and rubbed them together. “Lord, help me.”

Nothing.

Billowing clouds darkened the horizon. Why would God answer me? All this time, I gripped hate like a game winning catch. I shut my father out. Always disappointed, defiant, demanding.

But today? Defeated.

Boots clump-clumped on the cobblestone walkway.

My grace is sufficient for my power is made perfect in weakness.

I prayed for the courage to let go, as the steps stopped behind me.

How could I be forgiven for all the times I’d spoken without considering the serrated edges of my insults?

Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.

Shifting winds hacked away the last of my resistance. I stood, head lowered. Turning toward the stranger, I whispered, “I’m sorry, too.”

He stooped just long enough to place flowers on a neighboring, weathered headstone.

Facing the pale marble in front of me, I read the words carved across its polished surface: Elias Whitaker, Beloved Husband and Father.

My slow obedience always had me lagging three steps behind and, this time, two weeks too late.

Jaw clenched, I plodded past the stranger. I bet he didn’t miss out on the years replaced with a dash on his loved one’s grave marker.

Crackling leaves whipped around me, scraping across the cobblestones as I trudged toward the lonely parking lot. I squinted as the sun pierced through the gray clouds, rays of light cutting across the dark canvas.

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Sliding into the driver’s seat, I placed my hands at ten and two. “I really do forgive you, Dad.” A breathed prayer slipped over my lips. “Help me forgive myself, too, Lord.”

The stuffed yellow bunny I’d picked up at the airport smiled at me from the passenger seat. I adjusted the floppy ears and lopsided pink bow. Not perfect, by a long shot. But, it was a start.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

“All right.” I turned the key in the ignition. “It’s about time I meet my little sister.”

 

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The original version of “The Apology” by Xochi E. Dixon, First Rights only, previously published by ENCOUNTER – The Magazine, Sept 16, 2012

An edited version of “The Apology” by Xochi E. Dixon, published in Inspire Victory, 2014.

This version of “The Apology” by Xochi E. Dixon, edited to under 1000 words, as is customary of Flash Fiction, January 2016.

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Scripture Used (In order of appearance):

 

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted. (Psalm 34:18; 2 NIV)

 

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. (Corinthians 12:9a NIV)

 

My grace is sufficient for my power is made perfect in weakness. (Colossians 3:13, NIV)

 

Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him. (Luke 6:37)

 

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV)

 

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (Romans 4:8 NIV)

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