How to Peace

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My dog’s no hater. But she sounds like it when a rush of don’t-mess-with-my-person erupts from her throat in a storm of barks and growls. At the dog three houses down, at the bear-sounding creature firmly hemmed in by a wall of brick one block over. But it’s not hate—it’s purpose.

At the pound, her floppy lips and happy, bouncy spirit won us over. She’s ours. Where can we sign? We brought her home and had one, small pocket of time with dog-licking peace and then…three days later, she put herself between Chloe and an aggressive dog, forever branding herself as The Shield.

That dog looked at my girl funny. Grrrrr….
That UPS truck doesn’t smell right. Grrrrr…RoWr!
Prime rib on four feet, coming my way. Kill!
Forest fire at night? Earthquake only she can smell? She’s got us covered.

But taking her outside the boundaries of our home where she threatens every furball on legs (or with wings. Or wheels) is difficult. Some days, miserable.

Do I throw away the harness to make my life easier? Never! Walks are like Navy Seal fitness sessions. My triceps thank me; my pants barely fit over my strengthened calves. The challenge of exercising a dog-with-a-purpose has reminded me that resilience is an acquired habit. One must face the challenge.

Of course, some walkers give us “the look” when we come bounding down the street. They might turn and go the other way (it’s okay…I understand), or give us the invisible finger, nose in the air, and stop from rounding the corner as they planned, knowing I’ll have a struggle on my hands (I suspect they’re the HOA types who decide we need permission to PAINT OUR OWN HOUSES). Oh, dog-walking elite, you know nothing of my determination.

The Shield reacts to this behavior with a smiting of fury, no doubt, but the only thing that changes her attitude are the people and dogs who insist on peace.

The man with giant headphones, I don’t know his name, but he looks like a Fred—Bella has lunged at him, and given him the warning bark, but he just walks like Jesus if you know what I mean. For miles, he has graced our sidewalks with forgiveness. No avoidance, no dirty looks, just a polite wave, and on he goes. He even recognizes us in the car now, and will wave like we’re friends. Fred is awesome.

Bella has ceased barking/growling/lunging at him.

And the beagle, I don’t know his name either, but he also looks like a Fred. I’m pretty sure he’s deaf and old, because when confronted by Bella once, he ignored her. He didn’t run, return barks or threaten her in any way. He just sniffed his way down the street knowing something the rest of us didn’t.

Bella ran out of steam and decided he wasn’t a steak after all.

You’d think more of us humans would learn from the Freds. Do you have a Fred in your life? Give that friend a hug!

Thank you to all peace-loving folks, and have a happy Tuesday.

The Line on the Wild Side

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For some reason, I thought I would have much more time to write once my kids attended full-time school. They won’t have that many activities, I thought.
Whatever.
I guess shaving a month from summer vacation gave them room for all the half-days.
And being a charter school, there is no bus. I bet if I added up the hours I spent in my car the last year or two I could have driven to Disneyland at least twice. But I don’t need to go that distance for a ride, I mean, my life is one giant spinning tea cup as it is.
I do love my kids’ school though—fine art, drama, music, and at least one opera…
…concerts during the day, concerts at night…are the tires smoking?
What day job?


Does anyone else get stuck behind the retiree driving 5-10 miles under the speed limit when they’re running late (Do they need to go shopping this early?)? On those days, I get to the school so late it takes 20-30 minutes of line-waiting to reach my kids.
But hey! We can read books in line, right? I read an entire anthology this school year while waiting in line.
At the end of the day, it’s worth the wait. The education C and N gets is invaluable, whether it’s in class, on stage or on the playground.
Speaking of waiting, people have been asking me about the progress of my book, the second in the City of Light Series. It’s coming, I promise. After a few final tweaks, it should be ready to go (Should anyone be interested in receiving an ARC, shoot me an email at srossbooks@gmail.com). The name, you say?

Wild

(that’s the opposite of waiting in line).

Happy Tuesday friends.

The Map

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Sometimes, God makes no sound. Is He dead, or has He turned His face from us? Sometimes, when faith gets wrung from me, I sit outside and watch for Him in the sky, and in the trees that stand guard over our backyard.

In his prayers a month ago, Noah thanked God for healing all who we had asked of him…
“…except me,” his voice squeaked out. That’s the only time I’ve heard Noah complain—or notice—miracles in so many lives except his own. He did have one miracle, just not the big one we hope for, and in the enduring it’s easy to forget that silence doesn’t mean nonexistent.
Will this—however long this will be—keep my boy wondering if God hears him?

I pick up a book that’s been patiently waiting its turn on my growing pile: Falling into Place by Hattie Kauffman, news correspondent.

While on a drive, waiting for her soon-to-be ex-husband to leave the house, Hattie came upon a sixteen foot statue of Jesus overlooking a set of dumpsters on a college campus. After growing up hungry and neglected, she had to face cancer and alcoholism as an adult, and carried burdens she didn’t know how to handle. One night, she came upon this statue, wondering why it had been placed by the garbage heap. Shouldn’t it be in the center of campus?

Memories of her childhood are scattered throughout the book, like the day she was so hungry, and she found a peach to eat in a dead tree that stood in her yard. That moment, high in the tree’s branches, she felt a tangible presence wrap around her, and knew it was God. But hungry days and neglectful parents darkened her perspective. Anger draped its ugly wings over her eyes and ears. At age fifteen, while on the phone to her Aunt Teddy (a missionary), the one stable presence in her life, the bitterness of a hard life rushed out in her audible rejection of God.

But He pursued her. In a promise from a woman she interviewed for TV, through her Aunt Teddy, and in many things most of us would brush off as coincidence.

In her book, Hattie’s childhood memories are woven within her experience of going through divorce, and what we’re given is a map to God, one whisper at a time.

She learned to surrender, and to pray. Again, she gets in her car and drives to the trash heap to find the statue of Jesus.

“It suddenly seemed fitting that Jesus watched over the garbage dump—the junk of humanity.”

Is it You, God? A good question to consider when you suspect his whisper in unexpected places.

Pause

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My daughter was recently diagnosed with a recipe for anything: a possible concussion, a strange virus, or dehydration. She had hit her head twice the day I picked her up from a slumber party—the week I had finished my latest batch of edits. Fun, and many frenzied weeks of school had exhausted her; work had exhausted me. Doctor’s orders were to rest. Chloe slept late for three days, lingering in a haze for the remainder of her awake time, and napping like she had run laps for a half century.
Rest: what we don’t do enough of, which is why I skipped my blog last week.

You’re disturbing my rest

Experts say to stay on top of things you must be in constant motion; that if you don’t make yourself stand above the fray you won’t make a difference in this world. That no one will hear you.
But rest softened Choe’s edge, and she and Noah enjoyed their playtime together again. To make her feel better, Noah shaved off several locks of his hair, and slathered on his Daddy’s deodorant to make her laugh. Laughter all the way to school—the product of rest.
We miss God’s touch when we fix our eyes to the front of the crowd. For your Tuesday, Here are a few beautiful pauses within the thick of motion.

Rise

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My son is convinced that one, just one, of his nightmares was real. When the night spills over the blue sky, and the house creeks to the tune of the witching hour, he remembers it. “Do demons look like aliens?”

The same question, always. “They can, but Jesus will make them go away.”

“I know, but He took a long time to make them go away.”

We discuss the settling of houses, and how they have to get comfortable at night just like we do. I remind him that shadows often look like scary things just like clouds can resemble bunnies. These conversations almost convince him it was just a dream. Was it?

But, the dark haunts all of us, morphing worries into nightmares. Failures are monsters. Most people in my line of work experience so many failures, they often lose sight of their purpose underneath all the wounds. Success is intangible; a ghost, and sometimes is takes a very long time to get a clear look at it.

I worry about my little guy and the scars he’s developing at such a young age. But as we talk about shadows and monsters, holy week creeps by us and taps me on the shoulder, “Remember the curtain torn in two, the earthquake, rocks splitting open…the bodies of holy people rising from their tombs and appearing to many people? (Matthew 27).”

They weren’t the monsters—they weren’t aliens, or zombies, or anything that dwells in the dark splatter of night. They were spirits of victory. It took a lot of pain and blood for them to rise…it took a moment at 3 o’clock in the afternoon when God stepped away…and oh, did it seem like he was gone too long; utter forsaken agony, when all seemed lost…

…for Jesus to slay the nightmares. We must remember the nightmares have already been defeated.

As we carry our own crosses with monsters dumping humiliation after fear after pain upon us, and God seems so far away—we can take faith steps. We can breathe in faith and blow away the impossibilities, nodding our heads at the scary things rising, that are, in fact, signposts to victory.

Oxford Commas and the Rest of Us

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Two editors tame my books because a grammar revolution resounds in my head. Really. I take my commas and my semi-colons to town, aim them at each other, pauses blazing, and let them battle for the ink that fixes them to the page. Do we have a long pause, or a short one? If I paused here; would you pause here, too?

What’s wrong with making a new sound, anyway? Writers are artists which make readers aficionados of art; it’s subjective–you’re rock, I’m jazz–that kind of ditty.
Commas waltz, but semi-colons? They scat.

Fact.

Would civilization implode if I lay spaces here, but not between IHateOxfordCommas? That’s how I say it, after all–with plenty of Grrrrrrrr.

Will we start a literary Lord of the Flies if we abandon civilized grammar and write with the flow of our unique internal rhythms? That’s how we ditched thee and thou, btw, by going a little wild.

somehow its ok to text in an improper fashion but if i choose to write a book in text its assumed i need schooling. but you still understand me right?

Of course, some might argue that a double-dash or a capital letter are tools that perfect the art of language like a hammer to a nail. What if that nail didn’t belong within the bones of a house, but as the arms of a dreamer?

Not everyone loves scat.
She says dooby dooby no no. No.
Not everyone loves art.
wh@tEver.

BUT—,,,;;;—some are looking for a single comma misplacement to win a lawsuit; Some (yeah, I see you people) can’t read a story with a single imperfection. I would say something about color-coding socks here, but God made us all different, right?

So we must comma-speak.

Here’s a grammarian song to start your Monday (language warning).

I H0pe 1t’s @ G0od 1.

Hulk Smash

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I saw an anaconda on Saturday. Even coiled behind glass, it looked fresh from a nightmare. As we took the kids along the many sights at the Game and Fish expo, I couldn’t help but wonder why God made the anaconda. Surely this thing didn’t exist in the Garden of Eden. Maybe it was some evil mutation that came from the curse.

The archery experience made me feel better. Like the target was a giant snake.

After grocery shopping the next day, I thought about all the exhibits we saw…the snakes, the animal skins (I’m not happy with whoever shot the raccoons), the hunters mingling with the conservationists. There was even a booth for those who wish to live in a self-sustaining community. All this swirled around my mind while I was leaving Fry’s, a few cars behind a guy who was dropping his girlfriend off for work. He took about five minutes to dig her purse from the back of his truck. His black truck with purple skulls on the tailgate. The car in front of me got tired of waiting and drove around the truck, much to the consternation of the skull-guy, who raised his arms at the car as if to say, “How dare you get impatient with me.” He took a few steps after the car and mouthed a few unsavories. Thoroughly entertained, I waited while the skull-guy handed the girl her purse and kissed her goodbye. Before he climbed inside his truck, he shot me a dirty look, threw up his arms—I think he even said, “Sssssssssssss”—at my, ummm…patience? The he drove off while flipping me off.

Mutation?

Is it the curse festering inside the man? I’m not sure life outside the Garden is always diagnosable. How was your weekend?

Naming your future

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My parents named me Sherry because they liked that name. I looked it up a few days ago in my Character Naming Sourcebook. It means from the white meadow. Very funny. I suppose God had a good chuckle when another Darwin was branded with a name that matched the ghostliness of their skin, from a long line of ghost-skinned Darwins. Our meadow lacks melanin. The branch of us that now live in sunny Arizona battle sun damage and skin cancer and the meadow is more red and scarred than white now, and despite the Native American bough that joined our family, most of us still resemble the white meadow from which we came. Is a golden tan too much to ask for? Could it be the name?

A few of my Bird relations have been accused of looking a little beaky. My Bird Grandparents sang a lot of gospel; their timbre was sweet and they perched on their front porch to enjoy many evenings. My Grandma tweeted at me once.
William Wallace lived up to his name which means Protector. Did his parents have a premonition, or did he become his name?
What about you? Did you become that which defines your name? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.

Caged Birds

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An old memory surfaced the other day as I walked the halls of the retirement home, my day job that’s actually a night job. The old ghost goes like this: I was eight, maybe ten years old, and walking through a drug store in Cottonwood with my mom. An elderly man shuffled along the pain-killer row, his head and neck bent down, his feet unsteady in his orthopedic shoes. From some mysterious place, a surge of compassion washed over me and I begged God to let me help old people one day. I’m not sure where that came from, but a little over a decade after finding I didn’t want to go where my Design degree tried to lead me (and after forgetting my strange plea in the drug store), I found myself working in a Retirement Resort to pay the bills until I figured out where to go next.

Late into the night when my duties slow, I pen novels at that desk now–someday I may write about the retirement place. Here are a few of the greatest hits from the grandparent generation.

A few weeks ago, a resident called me, concerned about an alarm in his Apt. I checked my pager and Teltron panel—my link to resident emergencies, medical and smoke—silence on my end. I’ve been working there 17 years—“alarms” can mean anything.

The first thing I noticed when I entered his Apt. was his fabulous collection of art supplies—there’s something about seeing a living room stuffed with easels and canvases—you know a working artist still has things to say about life. The second thing I noticed was that all familiar beep you don’t fully appreciate until you become a parent—I smiled, weighing my words. “It’s your TV,” I told him. “The beeps are to censor swear words.” He thought that was strange—probably because he’s an artist who thinks the world needs to hear a little more of life, but I was just thankful for the good laugh we had before I left.

Hattie (*code name*) was one of my favorites. She owned a bird named Sweetie. To be perfectly honest, I’m not a fan of caged birds; they have wings—they should fly. But my job is to take care of the residents and I grew to love Sweetie. One late night while immersed in a book—before I decided to put them down and write my own—Hattie called in a panic. Sweetie had escaped her cage and was flying around her Apt. in a fury. She had damaged her wing. I hurried down the hall and called my husband because unlike me, he’s a fan of caged birds and talked me through the process of doctoring Sweetie’s wing—once I caught her. Instead of chasing her down, I just waited until she landed on her own, then Hattie helped hold her still while I slathered her wing in something goopy (I don’t remember what). Hattie’s last few years were difficult ones for her; she was locked in her own cage of illness, but Sweetie was her faithful companion. If Hattie needed to leave for the day, she clutched Sweetie’s cage to her side like a purse full of treasure. Sweetie sang to Hattie, bringing her comfort through many anxiety-ridden days.

Like I said, I could complete a book with my experiences with retirees, but the catalyst for my writing career began with Bessie (*code name*). Bessie had developed Alzheimer’s disease, going from clarity one day to mental nightmare the next, rapidly declining from what has to be one of the worst diseases to haunt mankind.
She got to where she couldn’t dress herself or ask for a glass of water, but that same mysterious force that prompted my childhood prayer simmered inside Bessie as one last gift. She couldn’t form a complete sentence, or remember the right words for anything except one—a bible verse. Many if I remember correctly, but the one she gave me in her sweet chirping voice came the very night an idea for my first book nestled inside me:

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11.

This THE DAY my artistic fingers starting itching like crazy for an outlet.

Ten years later, the experiences with Bessie and my Grandpa (Dementia) inspired a short story now published in an anthology praised by a few of the most respected Authors of faith. The interesting thing about that is it’s a novel categorized as speculative fiction—the genre described by our traditional friends as the most “out there” and “unbelievable” of all genres. It is “out there”, but when you put all the pieces together—a retirement home, two people who have lost their minds, a caged bird who sang to her lady, the spontaneous prayer of a child and a genre thought to be for only those “weird” people—God can work with anything and anyone, and seems to have a preference for telling His most powerful stories from the least expected places. Maybe because the logical part of the world has forgotten that truths, no matter the magic that touches it, can’t be caged.