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The Woodpecker by Dana K. Ray

For your reading enjoyment, may I present “The Woodpecker,” a short, inspirational story graciously provided by author Dana K. Ray from her book, A Word: Ordinary Days With an Extraordinary God. 

Enjoy…

The hardest lessons for me are the ones when I look back and see, what I like to call a duh moment. When the answer to my prayer is so simple that I miss it and when I finally see it, I just stop and say, “Duh.”

My most memorable duh moment was when I encountered a nasty little woodpecker. I hope, as you read this, you will see that our God is not complicated. In fact, He’s quite simple in how He works. Don’t get me wrong, I believe Him to be BIG but He doesn’t have to part the Red Sea or move a mountain to perform a miracle. I have no need for that kind of miracle, but I do have other needs. Needs that He loves to fulfill. Miracles that I eventually see, and say, “Duh.”

My children were now growing, eleven, eight, five and three. They were no longer the little ones who woke the second they heard my footsteps in the hallway. Since they had begun to sleep later, I began yearning for my morning quiet time.

beach-1868772_1920.jpgOh, to see the sunrise, sipping hot coffee with my Bible opened like I did before children. To hear the birds chirping and watch them eat from the feeders as I worshipped God on my deck. I wanted that back. There was only one problem. I was now, used to sleeping in.

I decided I’d hidden in my bathroom long enough. I wanted the deck, the outdoors, and hot coffee. I longed for it. I ached for it. So, I prayed for it. But I couldn’t seem to get myself up. The alarm would go off, I’d hit snooze over and over again. My husband hated it. Hearing that buzzer every nine minutes for an hour was aggravating, to say the least.

I began praying harder, changing my prayer from telling God how I wanted to get up, to asking Him to help me get up.

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Then he came. One morning at 5:45 am, outside my window, above my bed. Somehow, he hung from the metal guttering and pounded his hard, sharp, beak furiously. He pecked so loudly that the glass in the windows shook. I knew it would wake everyone.

I moaned, “Oh, Lord, make him go away.”

He continued to pound.

I got out of bed, walked to the window, opened it and quietly said, “Get.” Which shooed him away. I crawled back into bed, rolled over, snuggled the covers under my chin and dozed off.

The pecking started again. My teeth clench together. This time, I got up and walked to the den, out the French doors, and through the damp grass. My fists are clenched and I had one purpose, to kill me a woodpecker. I begin to wonder if it’s legal to kill a woodpecker in Missouri?

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Thankfully, my neighbors are still in bed, as I frantically wave my hands in the air, quietly yelling at this bird. After he flew away, I went back to bed and to sleep.

You see where this is going, but I didn’t, not at the time. I drank my coffee two hours later, watching this woodpecker sit on my patio bench, mocking me. He was so beautiful but I still wanted him dead for waking me up so early.

I prayed that evening, the same prayer. “Help me, Lord, to wake up in the morning so I can have a quiet time with You.”

5:30 am the pecking starts. I nudge my husband. “Get that bird. Shoot him with the BB Gun.”

He groans and rolls over.

My eyes narrow. It’s me again, me and the woodpecker.

I start the routine. Crack the window, shoo him away, go back to bed. He pecks again. I go outside, chase him away, go back to bed. I drag myself up at 6:45 am, the time I have to get up to get kids ready for school.

This goes on for at least three weeks. I visit my local nursery. God bless the man who always gets to deal with me. I was raised both in the city and on a farm, but you’d never know it.

John explains to me all about woodpeckers, more then I really cared to hear, but I nodded and smiled, acting interested, waiting for the only bit of information I wanted to know; how do I get rid of one?

He says, “It’s mating season. They’re not pecking they’re drumming. Yadda, yadda, yadda.”

“Okay, John, but how do I ditch the dodo?”

He shows me a metal streamer and some other things. I’m skeptical but my question about my neighbor is answered. I thought he had just forgot that red streamer from Christmas last year.

I walk away with nothing. I pray that night for the woodpecker to leave and for me to get up and have a quiet time.

After another two weeks go by, my sanity is about lost. My husband, like me, is teetering on a mental breakdown over a bird. We’ve even discussed putting up the tent and sleeping outside with the BB Gun to get rid of him.

Isn’t it strange that I pray for the blasted thing to leave then and in the same breath, pray for God to wake me up?

God had to be shaking his head, thinking, “When will she get it?”

Finally, it happened. It hit me like a brick. I stood outside one early morning, staring into the eyes of this Red-bellied Woodpecker. I smiled and said, “Duh.”

I laughed at my stupidity and wondered how God ever puts up with me. I sit outside and stare. He begins to peck, excuse me, drum. I shoo him away so my husband can sleep. I go inside, numb.

book-2572101_1920.jpgIt took almost a month for me to understand. The next morning I automatically woke at 5:30 am. I listen for the woodpecker, but nothing. I got up and got ready for my quiet time. I make coffee, got my Bible, go outside on my deck and begin praising God for getting me up without the banging of the woodpecker.

He had answered my prayer immediately but I was oblivious to the simple way He did. I mean, really, what had I expected when I prayed for God to get me up? Did I think He would levitate me to the deck for my quiet time?

We often look for these gigantic works that we think God must perform but He is present with us daily, performing many miracles. We just need to realize it, or like me, we’ll miss it.

Every time I see a woodpecker, I smile. We haven’t had one drum on our house since, but He has sent him back. I am reminded of God’s answer to my prayer every time I see him eating seed out of one of our feeders.

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”John 11:40 (NIV)

Yea God for the gift of the beautifully, annoying woodpecker!

Believing Him for many more miracles.

(copyright © 2018 Dana K. Ray, all rights reserved)

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Dana K. Ray
Dana K. Ray

Old Memories

Happy Valentines Day!

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My good friend, author Linda Robinson, has been married for over 60 years.  I love her fictional characters, Nellie and Herman, who so apty paint laugh-out-loud pictures that illustrate what it’s like to be in a long-term marital relationships. Here’s one of Linda’s tales…

Enjoy!

Old Memories

A satire on aging by Linda Robinson

“Here it is.” Herman flipped his turn signal and steered the car left onto a washboard dirt road.

Nellie gasped and white-knuckled the armrest. “Geez, slow down to turn next time!”

“Who’s driving? You or me?”

“Well, with you almost deaf and won’t wear your hearing aids, plus your bad eyesight, it takes two of us.”

“Pfft.”

“Uh…I don’t think this is the right road, Herm. Don’t remember that old run-down shanty swallowed in kudzu,” Nellie leaned forward and rotated her snow-capped head ninety degrees, “or that stagnant old fish pond covered in lily pads.”

“That, dear Nellie, is not a pond. It’s Lake Jessup.”

“Pond, lake, lagoon or mud hole…what’s the difference? I don’t remember it.”

“Well, I may be nearly deaf and half blind, but at least I’ve still got a good sense of direction and some memory left. Yours went south!”

“What a crappy thing to say, Herm!”

“Speaking of crappy, I sure hope we catch a mess of ’em.”

“Quit changing the subject. Apologize.”

“Do you think making fun of my hearing and eyesight was a compliment?”

“I was just stating facts.”

“Pfft! So was I.” He slapped the steering wheel with his palm. “Remind me what it is I’m s’posed to be sorry for.”

“Herm, this was a terrible idea you had for us to celebrate our seventieth anniversary by going fishing.”

“Anniversary? When…I didn’t…who suggested…?”

“Oh Lord, Herman! Turn around right now. You talk about my memory going south, but at least I do remember…eventually. We live in Alabama now. Lake Jessup is way out in the sticks in Florida, where we went fishing over fifty years ago. Remember the baby gators we saw in the deep ditch?”

“Yeah, how could I forget you freakin’ out on me?”

“No, I freaked out a week later when I read a long article in the Orlando Sentinel about Lake Jessup. Locals nicknamed it Alligator Lake, and that’s why nobody was fishing there except us. Only people to ever go there were gator poachers who went at night.”

Whatever. Now, Nellie, don’t you go telling our young’uns ’bout this. They’ll have another pow-wow and try to take my car again.”

“Tell them about what, Herman? I declare. Sometimes your crazy notions flabbergast me. Watch out for that pothole! How much longer before we get to Lake Jessup?”

The End!

Copyright © 2016 Linda Robinson, all rights reserved.

Reprinted by permission from Truth & Southern-Fried Fiction

Click on the images below to learn more about each of Linda’s fantastic books.

 

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The Keys of Kindness

For your enjoyment, here’s a short story I’d written a couple of years ago that was printed in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Random Acts of Kindness ™ .

Deeds of kindness are equal in weight to all the commandments.

~The Talmud

 It was already hot and humid when my husband left for work at six on that July morning. I waved as he pulled out of the driveway and went back inside to enjoy a couple of hours of peace and quiet before my teenagers awoke.

With a second cup of coffee swirling curlicues of steam in front of me, I sat at the kitchen table and planned my day: deposit a couple of checks at the bank, take out some cash, and maybe go to the mall to shop for a new pair of sneakers.

Sometime around noon I grabbed my purse, said goodbye to the kids, who were now in the living room watching TV, and headed for the car. In the carport next door, our neighbor Eddie was tinkering under the hood of his pickup truck. We traded hellos and a few moments of chitchat before I left in my Honda Civic.

The bank was two miles from the house. I pulled into a space in front of the glass- enclosed ATM machine and reached to turn off the ignition, but decided against it.

Instead, I hopped out of the car with the engine running and the air conditioner on.

atm-2820328_960_720.pngThe ATM machine sucked in my card and asked for my PIN number. I typed it in and then threw an over-the-shoulder glance at the car where a multi-colored ribbon tassel hanging from the rearview mirror danced above the dashboard in the cool air. I couldn’t wait to get back inside to enjoy it.

Transaction complete, I went to the car and tugged on the door handle. If ever I had an uh-oh moment, it was then. The door was locked.

The Louisiana sun was beating down on me while I stood deflated, wondering what to do. I didn’t relish the thought of a two-mile hike back to the house to get the spare set of keys.

I entered the bank and took a deep breath of cool air before approaching a teller window. The young woman who greeted me listened sympathetically as I told her my problem. When I asked if I could make a call, she cheerfully obliged by showing me to the end of the counter and pushing a telephone across the polished surface.

“Hello, Fawn,” I said when my daughter answered. “I locked my keys in the car at the bank, and the engine is running. Can you go next door and ask Eddie if he would bring me the spare set, please?”

Fawn came back on the line a few minutes later. The news wasn’t good. Eddie was in the middle of an oil change and wouldn’t be able to help for a while. I hung up and relayed my dilemma to the teller.

“You’re Fawn’s mother?” she asked, sounding a bit apologetic for listening in on my conversation.

“Yes, I am.”

Her face lit up. “I’m Carmen. Fawn and I often work together in the church nursery. She’s a wonderful person. I just love her to pieces. You must be an awesome mom.”

keys-473461_960_720Carmen dug through her purse, pulled out a set of keys, and held them toward me. “Here, take my car. It’s the brand-new Corolla parked outside facing the street. I just got it yesterday.”

I was stunned. “Are you sure about lending me your new car?”

“Yes. Please, take it.”

As my fingers wrapped around the keys, a hint of worry shadowed her pretty face.

Clearly, letting go was a sacrifice. I was a stranger, and her car was new. She’d worked hard for it. But because of the connection we shared through my daughter, she was willing to take a chance.

“You’ll drive carefully, won’t you?” she asked as I stepped away from the counter.

“I will. I promise.” And, I kept my promise. Fifteen minutes later I returned with Carmen’s car, my spare keys, and my daughter.

“Thank you for helping my mom,” Fawn said, standing before Carmen, her eyes brimming with tears.

“Oh, it was nothing.”

Warmth flooded my heart as I watched the girls share a hug.

To me, the gesture wasn’t “nothing.” It was a huge “something.” I had merited a favor based on my daughter’s reputation, and I was grateful to Carmen for lending me her car. But more than that, Carmen probably didn’t realize that she’d given me a gift—the most precious words a mother could ever hear: “You must be an awesome mom.”

For those kind words, I will forever be grateful.

~Irene Onorato~

God’s Gift at the End of the Storm

Screen Shot 2018-11-18 at 11.42.02 AM.pngMy husband, Jim, and I wept bitter tears when cancer took Brinkley, our fourteen-year-old lab/German shepherd mix on October 29, 2015. We agreed that we would live the rest of our retirement years without getting another dog. But as the months went by, Jim’s resolve began to waver. His desire for a dog became a point of contention between us.

By the time summer rolled around, Jim was circling ads in the pet section of the local newspaper. I wanted no part of it and hoped he’d find something else to divert his attention—another hobby, or maybe a part-time job. But I never wished for the diversion to come in the form of a catastrophic event.

August 11, 2016. Jim and I stood at our living room window in Baton Rouge watching as lightening struck and thunder boomed with the ferocity of unrelenting incoming artillery. Rain fell in sheets, cloaking our neighbors’ houses behind a veil of gray. The storm drain on the street in front of our home quickly backed up and began belching and bubbling as if choking to swallow the deluge that poured down its throat. Instead of passing within hours, the weather system hovered over us for several days.

On August 12, flooding became a reality many people were forced to face. The next day, a flash-flood emergency was issued for areas along the Amite and Comite Rivers, several miles from our house. Newscasters pleaded for people to evacuate.

We were riveted to the local news on TV and watched with saddened hearts as backwaters filled neighborhoods, inundating large swaths of homes up to the rafters. For some, the water rose so swiftly, they barely had time to escape with their lives. Those who lived beyond the borders of designated flood plains were taken by surprise when their houses flooded.

Even before the National Guard could scramble into action, the Cajun Navy—a flotilla of motorboats owned by caring individuals—put to sea, so to speak, and set to the task of rescuing those in distress. Man or beast, it didn’t matter. If it lived and breathed, these brave men and women did their utmost to save them.

People who were trapped in attics or on rooftops took to social media to cry for help. The Cajun Navy was quick to respond.

We survived the storm unscathed, our home unaffected by the flood. In the days that followed, we went on a quest to find where and how we could help those who had suffered the devastating loss of their homes. The local news put out a plea for donations of various kinds to be brought to Celtic Studios, a movie production facility here in Baton Rouge that had opened its doors to those in need.

Armed with boxes of diapers, wipes, and bags of dog and cat food, we joined the droves of citizens who answered the call. One building at the facility housed not only people, but their pets as well. By the time we’d delivered our bags of kibble, they’d already had a veritable mountain of donated dog and cat chow stacked against the wall.

We responded to a call for help at another facility in Gonzales where hundreds of rescued animals were sheltered. Spending the day there, we walked dogs, cleaned their pens, fed and watered them.

In the end, we decided to pick one family and concentrate our efforts on helping them. Our youngest son’s friend had been flooded with several feet of water. Jim helped gut their house while I washed, dried, and folded at least twenty loads of clothes that reeked of river silt. I sent a few lunches with Jim to feed the homeowner and his buddy, and made a big pan of lasagna to send to the family.

My contribution to the recovery effort was miniscule and felt insignificant when compared to the depth of suffering going on around me. My heart hurt for the family we were helping as well as for all those who had lost so much. I wept every day for weeks.

When a semblance of normality returned to our lives, Jim once again broached the subject of getting another dog. Once again, I balked at the idea.

On a sunny afternoon that October, we went out to lunch at Jason’s Deli, one of our favorite places to have a nice meal, sit, and talk. As I sat across the table from this incredible man whom I’d adored for over forty years, it suddenly occurred to me how selfish I’d been to deny him the simple pleasure in life of having a dog. I surprised him, and myself, by suggesting we go to PetSmart to see if any of the pet adoption agencies had any puppies he’d be interested in.

I meandered the aisles of PetSmart, not really wanting to peruse the perimeter of the store where pets were displayed. As I turned the corner, I saw Jim walking a black puppy on a leash. For several minutes, I followed them. Finally, I approached, squatted, and petted the pup. Admittedly, he was adorable and rather cuddly.

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Deacon in October, 2016

“He’s about eleven weeks old, and his name is Deacon,” my husband said. “Best they can tell, he’s a lab/border collie mix.”

Looking up, I could see in Jim’s eyes that he’d already formed a bond with the little guy. We agreed to adopt Deacon.

As I sat filling out the adoption papers with the pup on my lap, the APAWS volunteer told us that the Cajun Navy had rescued Deacon and three littermates from the August floodwaters.

I resisted the urge to weep as God touched my heart with the sudden realization that Deacon was a gift to me—a token of love, and a living reminder, that even through the storms of life, kindness prevails.

Here’s what Deacon looks like today:IMG_3691.jpg

~****~

Note: The experience of helping out at the animal shelter after the 2016 flood was the inspiration for my latest novella,

Thanksgiving at Canine Corral

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Writer’s Block and the Unfaithful Muse

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Muse: a person or personified force who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist.

My thoughts are stagnant. My imagination, stilted. And, I’m quickly falling into the dreaded state of literary malaise. I wonder if I was ever good at the craft of writing, and I’m starting to lose hope that I’ll once again be inspired enough to pick up my quill and write again.

What’s causing the awful state I find myself in, you ask?

I blame that darn muse of mine. I’m pretty sure she ditched me and is now sitting beside some other writer, tickling his or her ear with stellar prose and intricate plot lines. I strongly suspect that, like a wayward, no-good, cheating spouse, she divides her loyalties and affections on a whim.

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Of course, it could be that I’ve simply worn  my poor muse to a frazzle. Squeezed her too hard for ideas. Asked too much of her. Maybe she needed a sabbatical to refresh herself. 

Could be that she’s vacationing on some remote island paradise, sipping margaritas on the sand. Or snorkeling in azure water, enjoying a little time off.underwater-2347255_1920

But I’m in too much of a snit to be forgiving, and either way, I’m not sure I want her back.

I know what I’ll do. I’ll just get another one. From Amazon. They sell muses, don’t they? On Prime? If I have to pay for shipping, I’ll have to choose an extremely lean model. Naked, too, to save even further on shipping costs. I’ll feed and clothe her upon delivery. And then…

No!

I must stop this awful behavior!

This silly rant. 

What I really want.

What I really, really, really want, is for my muse to come home. We have a  cavernous vault of happy memories and an untapped sea of ideas we’ve yet to dive into. Together.

Dear Muse,

I miss you. Please come home and play with me again.

Your faithful friend,

Irene

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Flowers and Heroines

 

gardening-1117865_960_720Many years ago, when I was in grammar school, fund raisers consisted of sending kids home with order forms for different kinds of flower seeds. My dutiful mother always bought a few packs to save me the embarrassment of turning in blank forms with zero sales. When orders arrived, Mom and I covered the kitchen table with newspapers and jumped into the task of planting seeds. Problem was, city slickers like us—both being born and bred in the Bronx—knew nothing about the proper way to plant anything.

the-motif-2341061_960_720We brought in the flower pots that had sat on the fire escape of our top-floor apartment through the winter, broke up the ball of last-year’s roots, shook off the dirt, and planted our seeds. Spindly shoots fought a good fight, grew a few inches, and died a hard, neglected death.

flowers-1203699_960_720My uncle owned a florist in Staten Island, New York. Though we didn’t see him often, I thoroughly enjoyed traipsing through his shop, smelling the fresh scent, and seeing the wonderful array of colors. Even though he didn’t grow the flowers himself, he’d evidently been born with a gene my mother and I seemed to be missing.

I’ve always loved flowers. When it came time to pick an occupation for the heroine in my book, Christmas at Dumpster Corral, I chose her to be a florist.

ookiewookie__christmas_kindleHere’s where I get to sneak in a little plug for my book. Tee-hee. The kindle version is on sale for 99¢ through July. You can buy it HERE.

 

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Oh, by the way. My favorite flower is the stargazer lily. What’s yours?

 

 

 

 

Be Careful, Little Ears…


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Be careful, little ears, what you hear, eyes what you see, and tongue, what you say. Our brains are like sponges, taking it all in. It’s easy to be disheartened by the hate and discontentment all around us.

Bad news sells. Or so I’ve always heard. Seems the stories of stellar behavior, excellent character, and goodwill toward men are always tucked away in an obscure corner of the newspaper or given twenty-seconds’ air time on the evening broadcasts.

And so, precious readers, I propose to reminisce for you a few random acts I’ve witnessed over the years that have restored my faith in mankind. These memories are like refreshing wells that bring me joy.

The Woman in the Wheelchair

wheel-3025969_1920The customer in line in front of me at Walmart was confined to a motorized wheelchair. Apparently, whatever injury or illness had taken away her ability to walk had also limited the usage of her arms. The cashier rang up her purchase and leaned way over the counter to accept the payment. Seeing the woman’s difficulties, she came around the counter and asked if she should stow the bag in a cargo pouch attached to the chair. The lady said, “Yes, please.” After that, the cashier took an extra minute to adjust a blanket that had partially slid off the woman’s lap, then tucked it around her so that it wouldn’t easily fall off again. It was a small thing yet done with a heart of compassion and the utmost respect. It touched my heart in a huge way.

Breakdown in the Rain

dinosaur-1564323_1920Everything seemed to be going wrong that day. My Honda Civic sputtered and died on the hill of an overpass. I had my three kids with me –one just a few months old—and a hatch full of groceries. All I could do was put it in neutral and steer onto the shoulder as the car went backwards. In those pre-cellphone days, I was stuck with no choice but to walk to the nearest pay phone in the drizzling rain with my kids in tow. I already knew my husband, Jim, who worked nights and was sleeping in the basement bedroom, would never hear the phone ringing upstairs. After calling multiple times, we all trudged back to the car.

A motorist stopped and asked if we were all right. Normally, I wouldn’t dream of getting in a car with a stranger, but I felt an overwhelming sense of peace when the man offered to drive me and the kids home. His kindness didn’t stop at safely delivering us (and the groceries) to the house. No, he then drove Jim to the car, then to the parts’ store for a fuel pump, and waited until the car started before leaving. This nice fellow wouldn’t accept any payment but a handshake of thanks. I will never forget his generous heart.

Benefit of the Doubt

purse-34371_1280While sitting in church listening to the sermon, my mouth dry as a bone, I decided a stick of gum would give some relief. I turned slightly and started digging through my purse like a squirrel looking for a nut. The woman sitting on the other side of the purse smiled sweetly at me. It was then I realized this wasn’t my purse, but hers. I apologized profusely and even showed her the similarities between our bags. She leaned and told me not to worry, and that she knew I’d made an honest mistake. She’d chosen to give me the benefit of the doubt regardless of the fact that she’d caught me red-handed.

 

I’m sure you have similar experiences, memories small and large that water the seeds of joy, peace, and hope in your heart. Leave a comment if you’d like and share a short story that made a difference in your life. I’d love to hear from you.

~***~

…Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there beany praise, think on these things. Phil 4:8