Here comes the beginning of school with the eclipse shadowing the Dr’s appointments, the sports, the everything but me getting work done. But Mythical books, my supporter of old, has graciously hosted me on their blog today. Read about why my newest book Wild is not your usual story. Continue reading…
The last week of July, I attended the annual Realm Makers conference–a writers conference for Christian authors of speculative fiction (although all are welcome). As advertised, it isn’t your grandmother’s writers conference–meaning we aren’t afraid to walk into Zacchaeus’ house (despite the judgements of those standing outside) to bring him a meaningful story.
Ted Dekker gave the keynote speech, and the word he used that stood out to me was perception. Your perception determines your experience in this life.
My family picked me up afterwards, and we headed for Yellowstone. My son, who has struggled with health problems his whole life, charged along the trails like a monkey on speed. “Best vacation ever!” he kept saying. In the heat, the endless steps in Mammoth Hot Springs, with the odor of sulphur permeating the air. He only saw awesomeness. It’s amazing how a captivatingly beautiful land can reside within such stench.
To pick on Noah for practically dragging me along, I messed with his Batman hat until he told me, “Mommy. Don’t touch the darkness.” He illustrated this concept by hopping around the shadows, stepping only where the sun touched the ground. He’s had enough darkness, trust me, but he has this in-born joy that keeps him from falling into it. He’s my superhero.
My daughter, poor thing, is a worrier. She dreaded being separated from me for the few days I spent in Reno, and let that cloud any excitement over our trip…until she got there. When J handed her the camera, and gave her the job as family photographer, she saw the world through a whole new lens.
The light even gave her a kiss.
There’s a jagged edge between light and dark. The secret is not in the proximity, but where you direct your eyes.
Cats aren’t always jerks. Growing up in the Sticks taught me that. At around 10-years-old, our yard blossomed with the feline variety. We never sought cat adoption, and I always found it strange that stray cats found us in the middle of NoWhere, but nonetheless, they did, and their population exploded.
(If you love them, they will come. Remember that.)
Mischief was a calico mama with a patchwork of kittens. The orange ones were always my favorite. Not to tabby-profile or anything, but the orange ones are the smartest, and have a whole circus of personality.
I would spend hours playing with Mischief’s babies. She got so used to me being there, that when I arrived for my shift in the old shed, she went on the hunt.
She brought back baby snakes. Yes. She. Did. Alive. I watched with fascination as she regularly placed a snake in front of her babies, observing them as they toddler- stepped around it, then practiced going for the kill.
You don’t see that in dry-food-bowl civilization.
Not that we didn’t feed them—we did. But as any country cat knows, a night on the hunt might leave them stranded for a variety of reasons. The monsoons. Coyote entrapment on a telephone pole. They may have miles to go before they can return to their food supply back home. Outside cats are skilled workers.
I think pampered cats are too, but comfortable living dulls their brains, and comes with a price: humans are no longer friends, they’re servants. That’s what they think, I promise.
We’re trying to teach The Children to learn skills so that comfortable living doesn’t dull them. Get up and do it. Help your brother/sister. Help turn our groceries into meals. It’s not easy, but we’re making progress. The world doesn’t need our future leaders to be pampered.
By no means are we rich, but we don’t need to hunt for food, or survive on telephone poles for the night, and that’s what makes it hard for kids to understand the importance of going into the Wild for wisdom.
We just want them to bear fruit with the gifts their given.
One snake at a time.
As I write this, The Children are beating the fluff out of each other with their pillows. It’s a nice alternative to what transpired earlier. The shouting. The pointing of fingers.
Even The Canine found a dark corner in which to hide.
The three-year difference is rearing its hormonal head as The Daughter shifts into pre-teen WhaTeVer. Her language is changing, somewhat like the confusing of tongues at the tower of Babel. She speaks Unicorn-Angst, while The Son speaks Ninja-Play. I act as the interpreter, which is a lot like putting your head into a blender. Now press chop. Yeah, summer is awesome.
I work at home (at job # 1), which means in the summertime, I run nowhere fast. Imagine clocking out and driving home for things like, mediating between unicorns and ninjas, cleaning the unidentifiable mound in the fridge before it molds, sweeping piles of corn flakes from the floor, and all those fulfilling things moms do. The productivity as far as work goes, is as good as it sounds.
Job # 2 is at night, and not at home, but the hours drag into the wee morning, which combined with Job-Home and Job-Mom, keeps me from being Supermom. Yes, the house is messy. Yes, my kids get into stuff when I’m running on Unicorn fumes. Once, another almost-mom came to visit, looked around the house and asked if my kids made their beds. While looking at my kids’ unmade beds.
I wondered, briefly, how her head would fare in the blender.
(Btw, I work at a retirement home, going on seventeen years now. I’ve never once heard a retiree say they wished they had cleaned their house more often.)
The nice thing about being home for the Child-Babel years, is that I get to have really cool conversations with my kids (I’m grateful that I get to do this rather than leaving it to a day-care provider). Like how God made them unique, which means they aren’t supposed to strive to please their peers. Even if that means being less cool in order to find their destiny. And so they can learn God’s language.
Even if their friends’ paths are bedazzled in perfectly sculpted rainbows while theirs looks a little more Jackson Pollock. That’s okay, because God knows how to speak to each one of us.
I’m not sure how far talking goes. Words let loose in the air can fly away from their intended eardrums. But I’m here.
And God’s here with a plan.
Summertime is a challenge for this mom. Like many creatives, I’m one of those personalities that needs a good dose of silence and S-P-A-C-E to recharge. So do hermits, as I’ll explore below (But I’m not a hermit).
What keeps you going? Is it hope around the corner, or the work ethic you’ve come to rely on year after year? Or are you tired, and at the point where you want to throw up your hands and disappear from this world we live in? I just finished reading The Stranger in the Woods, a true story of a man who lived as a hermit for 27 years in the back woods Maine. Overwhelmed with life, he walked into the wilderness one day, and stayed there until society absorbed him again.
He was finally captured when technology had become more advanced than he knew how to manage. Devices from Homeland Security were installed in the camp kitchen from where he had stolen food for the last 2+ decades, finally ending his career in solitude.
Experts studied him. He was an anomaly; overwhelmed by the noise and “color” of civilization, his health started to decline. Usually, solitude will eventually drive a normal-functioning person to madness, but not Chris Knight. In fact, the lack of human contact along with his technology-free mind (as explained in greater detail in the book) seemed to have sharpened his senses.
He never became sick. His injuries were never serious enough to need medical attention. He ate the same processed food we eat, of course, considering he stole food to survive. So what was it that preserved him? Was it freedom from the criticism/judgment that erodes us day to day? The freedom that comes when you don’t have to do the job of three people to stay employed?
Dr.’s decided he had some form of Asperger’s Syndrome, depression, or Schizoid personality disorder—some kind of unusual brain chemistry that gave him a pass on the social interaction most of us need for healthy mental function.
Strangely, when Knight tried to describe his experience as a hermit, he said, “Solitude bestows an increase in something valuable. I can’t dismiss that idea. Solitude increased my perception. But here’s the tricky thing: when I applied my increased perception to myself, I lost my identity. There was no audience. No one to perform for. There was no need to define myself. I became irrelevant.”
Anxiety/stress/depression are overtaking our country (USA). Sometimes the pressure of our day to day lives becomes so overwhelming, we dump our stress onto each other in unkind comments/rumors/criticism/ manipulation, etc., without realizing what we’re doing to our culture. Although kind words, encouragement, patience and all things good are still part of our construct, and hopefully, these will become the colors that shine brighter than those in shades of misery.
Because we need each other. Even the hermits.
God sees our struggles. He knows our fatigue with trying to keep pace, as well as the fruitfulness that comes from goodness and the sometimes-agony of perseverance.
Galatians 6:9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
What keeps you trudging along with, you know, “people”? Leave your words in the comments below.
Creativity is found across the well of boredom where your hand and the hand of God meet for a shake. That’s why I didn’t sign my kids up for a single activity this summer (except for the summer movies–that’s how we Arizonans get out of the heat for a few hours). That, and to give them rest from their structured school year. Structure is good for a time, but there comes a point when a person has to leap into less-traveled places.
There’s a cultural norm that says the whine that follows, “I’m bored,” is a sickness we must remedy. But it’s not. When I let them cross this ravine on their own, the Children find the fountain of creativity (warning–this may take some time and some whine). This is where they learn to be self-starters instead of waiting for the Grown-Up Servant to bring entertainment to them. On a diamond bedazzled platter.
New and innovative vehicles get designed.
Monkeys are finally given birthday parties.
Canvases are currently being adorned.
I care nothing for continuously leading my kids in the worn paths of bedazzled leaders.
But a Supernatural Handshake–that’s where I’m pointing this summer.
Happy Wednesday, friends.
Wow. Is the sun shining? I’ve been formatting books for the past few weeks…I might have come up for a few gulps of air.
Anyway, at long last, Wild, the second in the City of Light series is out today! Instead of just telling you about it, I’ll do better.
Our new life begins in a mass grave—one in which our parents’ bodies lie. Bones dried from the sun, voices silenced by the mud Luke smears over my skin. I catch his hand in mine, wishing the night wouldn’t hide his blue eyes. “Is this necessary?”
“Yes, quiet.” He points above us to where the sound of horse hooves approach. I escaped Titus to gain freedom, but suddenly I don’t feel free. Luke pours water from his flask to make more mud, then smears it over his face and hands, where his deer skin doesn’t cover him.
A heavy footstep above us splatters dirt clods into The Chasm, and we cover our heads and hug the wall. Mountain Men in hand-me-down boots line the cliff, casting a wicked glow from their torches.
When the light falls on the edge of a rib cage jutting from the earth between me and Luke I press my fist over my mouth.
It could have held the heart of someone I loved.
I squeeze my eyes shut, keeping still until I hear them leave. One by one, the Mountain Men grunt, spit or curse, then mount their horses and trot away. I raise my eyelids again and whisper, “How do we climb out of here?”
“You can’t be serious.”
“They roam the hills all night. It’ll be safer at dawn.” He unfolds himself from our hiding place and stretches—I hear the familiar pop in his back. “There’s a place farther down, without all the company.”
I try to step where he steps, but the moonlight shies away from the depths of The Chasm. My boot crunches down on something. I bite my lip and wipe my tread on the ground and shuffle behind Luke until we come to a hollow dug for two. “You’ve hidden here before?”
After we curl up on the damp ground, he pulls the deer skin over me. I try not to imagine the deer it might have belonged to and push it far enough away to where I smell more of Luke than the hide. I lie with my back to him, feeling awkward now that the lines between friendship and something more have gone unresolved. His voice comes to me, low and tired. “I’ve been here a week, trying to figure out how to get you out of The Seed. Mountain Men have been surrounding The City a few weeks now.”
The night has cooled the summer day into blanket weather. I scoot closer to Luke and let my own troubled week spill from my lips into his ears: imprisonment in my own home; surviving The Seed, where Preston and his father tormented me; fearing for Luke’s life. I suppose our parents and grandparents that were dumped here had lived similar stories. We rebelled against the laws and searched for God, discovering He existed after all. The artists, like Luke, tried communicating Him to the people of Titus, through various forms of art. Many who didn’t manage to escape into the Wild ended up in this pile of bones the city calls rehabilitation.
“Preston hunted me because I betrayed him to the Mountain Men—chased me through the orchards like it was a game. He’s just like his dad, and would have killed me if I hadn’t gone through the glass.”
“Don’t worry—I have plans for him.” There’s an edge to Luke’s voice—like a scar in the tone. He folds his arm around my waist. “I made contact with Galeo after Orca took you to The Seed. He told me how Preston treated you.” I jump when a few sets of hooves snap and crunch their way along The Chasm’s rim. Luke squeezes my arm. “Javelina. Can’t you smell them?”
“No. How can you possibly smell them from here?”
“It’s astonishing how living in the Wild sharpens the senses. We become like the animals.”
“Can you smell the jackfruit tree I hid in?”
“Sour onions…where you hid from Preston?”
“Then I smell the man I’m going to kill.”
“I’m pretty sure he’s dead. Didn’t you see us fall from The Seed?”
I turn my face to the stars above. “This doesn’t sound like you.”
“The City will fall soon. Unless The Triad—and Preston—is replaced, it won’t survive. The people won’t survive.”
The euphoria that filled me when I survived the fall from The Seed is steadily leaving me. We’re finally together. Despite the dangerous path we’re on, I think I can finally rest for the night. I turn over and bury my face in Luke’s shirt, both familiar and foreign. My eyes lose their focus as The Chasm swallows me into the deep of night.
It seems like all I did was blink and exhale, but the next time I open my eyes, our hollow is swallowing a spoonful of morning light. Luke sits across from me, stretched out in full sun, his face still dirtied by his mud disguise. He smiles.
I sit up to take it all in. His hair still lifts away from his face, although it looks lighter than its darker city shades. Only a month separates us, but his eyes look five years removed from me. Wild. Wise and Wild. I touch my own face, wondering if trauma has done the same to me.
“You’ve never looked better. Here, put these on.”
He tosses a pair of boots at my feet. They’re soft and pliable, surely too delicate for living outdoors. Laces crisscross all the way up the sides. Caressing the smooth material, I pull it to my cheek until I catch the scent and throw them back down. “Skin?”
“From the same skin you slept under last night.” He scoots close to me. “It doesn’t take long to get used to wearing it. It’s like air—we need it.”
“They don’t look like they could handle a hike.”
“Their durability won’t be your first surprise, and the Watchdogs won’t find your tracks as easily. Put them on; it’s time to go.”
“And these?” I pull off my old boots, staring at the sturdy rubber tread, dropping them when I see shards of bone pressed into the tread.
I do so without arguing, quickly lacing my new boots when Luke grips his shoulder and groans.
“Let me see it.” I step behind him, pushing his vest aside. A deep red scar runs from mid-back to his right shoulder blade: Preston’s parting gift. “How deep does it run?”
“Down to misery some days.”
I look at him leaning over, catching his breath against the pain. Luke rarely complains of pain—the only time I’ve seen him like this was when he burned his arms trying to pull his mother from the museum fire. I stare in the direction of Titus. “Surely he’s dead.”
Luke says nothing more until we’ve left The Chasm three miles behind. Collapsing in the shade of several oak trees, we drink from his flask. My hip aches from the explosion in The Seed, but walking is more bearable than it was yesterday. Still, I lay on my stronger side, wipe my forehead with my tattered sleeve and stare at Luke, trying to become familiar with him again. His eyes roam our surroundings as we rest, eventually falling on me. His mouth curves into a slight smile, then falls again. “How bad did he hurt you?”
“He tried to break my foot to keep me from escaping.”
“That’s not what I mean.”
A wave of heat surges across my face and neck. I look down, remembering how Preston stared at me with a brazen appetite. “Surprisingly, no.”
Tension melts from his face as he leans against a mound of leaves and other forest debris. “We get a new life, Monet.” His face is set in bold lines; no smile lifts his mouth, but his eyes gleam when I meet them. “You and I.”
“Tell me. How do families fare in the Wild?” I swallow and lean hard against the ground. He moves so close to me I feel his warmth, then lowers his eyes to mine, capturing me in a decision. “They live on courage, not fear.”
“I can do that.”
He smiles and curls his hands around my arms. “The weeks have changed you.”
“And you.” I touch his jaw, so tight. He looks away.
We jerks our heads toward a sharp snap in the woods west of us. Before any words register in my mind, Luke pulls me from daylight toward the mound he leaned against moments ago. He grabs a branch at the base of the heap, and lifts it up with the entire blanket of forest debris attached and pushes me inside the manmade nook.
“Don’t make a sound.” He pulls the lid of leaves over us and we wait. Inside our hideaway, the darkness assaults me; I’m not claustrophobic, but the thought of living like prey, dressed in the skin of prey, wraps around my chest like a vice. I take a deep breath to calm myself and wonder if the Wild Ones are civilized at all.
As we lie within the droppings of trees and animals, I realize I’m letting absolute logic take hold again, as if the smell of Titus still clings to me. I know better. I breathe in and out, slowing my lungs and let myself enjoy being stuffed next to Luke. His shoulder firm against mine, his fearless nature strength for my fearful one. I am free. I am free.
Luke lifts a corner of our roof, edging his face near the opening.
That’s when I smell it. A Mountain man. I scoot close to warn Luke, but again, he reacts faster. Whipping his legs in front of him, he catches a pair of battered boots and sweeps the intruder to his back.
Our cover flies back and Luke bolts outside and grabs the man by the shirt, pulling him close enough to see every granule of filth on his face. “What do you want?”
“What we all want.” The man coughs and turns his head toward me, grinning. “Her.”
Luke spares a second to glance at me, eyebrows lifted—just long enough for the man to break from Luke’s hold and sidestep far enough to pull a long knife from the sheath strapped to his leg.
“Preston said he killed you. Kid’s a liar just like his Dad was.”
“Was?” I stand near Luke, pluck a branch from the ground. I grip it with both hands, trying to look like I know what to do with it.
The man grins, wide and yellow. “We disposed of’m. Threw him in the Chasm ‘bout an hour ago. Right about where you two cuddled up last night.”
His eyes cling to me, bees to honey. I wave the branch across my body as if to disengage his train of thought, but they adhere to me, sliding down my neck, my waist. Luke seizes the man’s wrist and slams it against the tree until he drops his knife. Like an angry sting, the man brings his opposite arm down on Luke’s, breaking free. Backing away, they circle each other. Luke’s shoulder stiffens ever so slightly, and I see his left hand flex to cradle the pain, but he keeps it down—I see it because I know Luke so well, but the Mountain Man’s eyes have been trained for survival because as soon as he reads Luke’s body language, he pounces.
The branch is heavy in my struggle to swing it high, but I do it anyway, thrashing it against a leg, an arm. But my clumsy attempts don’t help Luke. Finally, they separate enough for me to attempt a blow to the man’s chest. I lift the branch to gain momentum, but it catches on the tree behind me. I lose my balance and fall between them.
The Mountain Man grabs me by the hair, pulling me to my feet. The shock of it makes me gasp, and I fling my hands to his to pry them from my hair. I accidentally poke his eye and then do it again after I hear him cry out. My hair goes slack.
Luke brushes me aside and grips the man by the back of his neck and arm, shoving him headfirst into the tree. The man doesn’t even grunt when he falls. His mouth hangs open, catching the last red stream of life trickling from his forehead.
“You killed him.” I gape at Luke, only three weeks in the Wild like he breathed it in to his very cells.
He gives his deed no mind, but asks, “What did he mean?”
I stare at the man, dead on the ground, wondering why it bothers me after spending the night in The Chasm. Perhaps a life in the process of leaving is less definite than a pile of broken bones.
“Tell me,” Luke says.
I find Luke’s face, hard again. “Didn’t you hear Hep when you came through the quad to get me?”
He shakes his head.
“He leads the Mountain Men. They took over The Seed right before I escaped. He…” I feel my face flush and look away. “He wants me. He offered the city a reward for bringing me to him.”
“We need to get home.”
“What about him?” I tilt my head toward the Mountain Man.
“The cats will take care of it.”
He stops underneath an oak and looks at me. The words catch in my throat when I see the hard set of his jaw relax. He puts his hands on my shoulders, pulling me into his embrace. We take a minute to stay there, locked in the bond we used to keep the fear away when we were citizens of Titus. It is then, in the worn folds of his cotton shirt peeking from his vest, that I catch his old familiar scent. Metal. “You’re sculpting out here?”
He pulls away, grins and starts walking. “Peter found my welder when he was watching for you at the old house. Not much metal out here, but a few scavenged scraps keep me busy.”
“What will you make now that you’re free?”
He runs a hand over my hair and I fall in step beside him. “Maybe a door handle for a new home?”
“There are houses?”
“No. No houses. Just home.”
Home. Is it more than shelter then?
The sun is aimed deadly high when we get there, and if it wasn’t for a merciful breeze it would have baked us long before we reached our haven. When Luke stops and raises his arm in front of us, all I see is a cliff at our feet and a creek beyond. But just beyond the tip of Luke’s fingers, right where he points at the canopy of trees inside the walls of the cliff below us, something’s not quite right.
Summer is the threshold to the Realm of Childhood. I’ve stepped both feet inside—they dance a little in this place, and run a little faster than normal. At nighttime, when the crickets sing the Children to sleep, you can hear the neighborhood Canines speak of their young charges through the fence grating. Some yip excitedly. Some howl.
The clock tick-tocks to lively lunches in the Outside, where creatures of the Realm join us. The raccoons will steal bites of your salmon delicacies if you’re not watching closely. Yum-Yums taste magical in the Realm of Childhood, especially when created by little hands.
Before you know it, it’s time for the Children to play in the Forest of Cacti while I sit at my keyboard and weave my hands over the letters. Stories unfold into the arid air, but quickly fall into crumbles as the Noise Monster erupts. He like to stir up tempers, arguments and other devilish entertainment. He has kept me from finishing a very important project. I will put my foot down in exactly one hour, on threat of confiscating every one of his sugar-fueled temptations.
I must go now, as I hear his footsteps draw near. Happy Tuesday, friends.
The valley days roll along as tumbleweeds and Arizona is working up to full summer boil as it does every year, but One thing has awakened us to the brilliance of seasons: Miracles haven’t stopped coming. They’re coming, friends.
During our third trip to the Healing Room, remembering God is the same God who healed all those people a few thousand years ago, Our Son kept tugging at me, trying to get my attention. After shushing him so as not to interrupt the prayer volunteers, he finally stood forward and announced that he felt this “hand” on the back of his neck. At first, he thought it was the Guy leading the prayer, but the Guy, standing a few feet in front of him thought it might have been a more celestial hand.
“I feel good, Mommy.”
I won’t go into detail on how no one would be feeling good after what he just experienced, but the joy kept rolling in like a protective halo.
Shortly after coming home, we found out his bowel disease is gone.
It was a twisty road, friends. We prayed, we doubted, and prayed again. Many people prayed for us. Thank you, to all who did. Somewhere in there, we believed. I often wonder why miracles don’t happen more often…maybe we’re too distracted by, “but will He?” thoughts. Maybe we put more faith in modern medicine than in God. He does say, “…because of your faith, you are healed.”
We are also a culture of intellectual pride. How can an educated, modern society believe in miracles? If we can’t see them, touch them, prove them, do they exist?
Modern medicine is a blessing. Thank the Lord for our Doctors and Nurses. I believe God uses them in many beautiful ways.
But that wind. It pushes in tumbleweeds with its invisible hands. It cools our sweat with its merciful breeze. We can’t see it, but we know it’s there. Why is it so much easier to count on the arrival of ugly, poky sticker bushes, than the breath of Heaven? Even fellow believers tried explaining the healing through logic and spiritual doubt (What kind of solutions come from spiritual doubt?).
But our Son just experienced an invisible hand, illogical joy and healing. Those weren’t tumbleweeds that blew our way.
The Summer has stumbled into our valley with a surge of wind and scowls. With my delayed book release and The Son’s medical tests at the Children’s Hospital, a sweet summer seemed to have gotten knocked into the abyss like a dirt clod.
But The Son, even in the midst of his medical prep, had this song for us. Down in the valley, there is J-O-Y. Yes, he sang this during his colonoscopy prep (test one of two).
You hear about kids with health problems that are supernaturally happy and think it’s just a creation of Hallmark films, but it’s no cliché. The Son has been gifted with joy, and indeed was the comfort for his family through his whole ordeal, even when they put the mask on his face and his day faded to black.
When he woke, he smiled and sheepishly asked where his pants were.
I was reminded this morning of our uniqueness, our gifts that God has given each one of us. Sometimes, we hear such reminders so often they lose their power until we walk into those low valleys and find there’s always someone there to offer a song and a chair in which to listen, or an instrument to play your own music.
I suppose we switch from one to the other in various walks of our lives, but isn’t it nice that God has made us so different, yet with the capability of becoming a master orchestra? We are vital to each other.
Now off to work, friends.