D is for Door

I believe the ugliest battle scars are from junior high. As my daughter quickly approaches the years of doom, I reflect more and more on what I can teach her from my time doing time.
I sat in the back of the class. The very far back, for the students who weren’t members of the honor roll (okay—once—accidentally), gifted (as a professional writer, I protest their definition of gifted), or any genre of student the teachers wrote down as shining star, but the last row of kids who identified with other things beside your general pile of academics. The artist, the athlete, the HSPs (which wasn’t a known thing at the time), or the rebel at heart.
How does a free spirit like myself (and my daughter) find her rhythm behind so many normals?
Thank the Maker of the Heavens for Mrs. T. She taught 7th grade, and music, and a particle of art. Her heart was undeniably in music class, and she taught us how to shake up our world with good things like jazz. I shined up my flute nice and pretty for 16 or so bars of music, to be refreshingly unique. She didn’t have the patience to teach us traditionally. In fact, I was poor at reading music because of it. But what a blessing, because I’m a hands-on learner, and I could memorize the soul out of a piece music, leaving my energy for the art of it, which was where I found myself–outside the lines of what you would normally find in a stack of homework (Parents: please think twice before complaining about a nontraditional teacher).


I knew I was different. I didn’t know the science of it, but something inside me said to not let myself be pulled into the rows of traditionalists, because that’s wasn’t the beat my heart was tuned for. I was also a Jesus follower—despite the protestations of the kids who thought that meant perfectionism or goody-two-shoes, what it meant for me was undeniably Wild. Messy, outside the lines, grab the world by the paintbrush, Wild ( If you’re raising your brows at this, remember, the Bible is not G rated, friends. Not even close. Nor is anyone’s life).
Honestly, it was a long season of feeling lost before I realized my life didn’t revolve around the worldview of the traditional educational system.
Throughout the years, a lot of my teachers tried to shake the different out of me. Many students tried to shake the Jesus out of me. A few of my friend’s parents even tried to shake the skinny out of me by attempting to feed me copious amounts of food—so I would look more normal, I guess—but God doesn’t allow us us stand out without a reason. And He doesn’t let you walk through life without purpose, even when you feel like a Jackson Pollack in a sea of Michelangelo’s. But the last thing I want my daughter to do is to follow the crowd. The crowd strives for normal out of fear of what each other think. But, truthfully, we’re ALL different….why on earth are we all so afraid?!
The Wild DNA runs deep. How many of you have wondered at your differences and looked to history’s legacy?
The ancient church of Philadelphia, surrounded by a sea of pagan temples, was out of place, too, but the members didn’t let the world shake the purpose out of them. Even with the widespread persecution. They even had a Teacher give them a special bit of encouragement:
“I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” Rev. 3:8
Alasehir (ancient Philadelphia) endured a devastating earthquake in A.D. 17…historians say the Philadelphians rebuilt their sanctuary (the church of St. John) several times due to tremors, unwilling to give up. And the open door? John wrote of “a great door for effective work, (1 Corinthians 16:9)” God opened for him. Scholars believe this was for mission work to the far eastern parts of Asia.

What do we see here? John didn’t let his opposition–whether man or earthquake–shake the art out of him. And his efforts survived the chaos of time…God rewarded the Phildelphian’s faith with a visual representation of their perseverance. Out of the few ruins of ancient Philadelphia, guess which one is the most prominent? You can view John’s church here.

Happy Tuesday, Friends. Don’t watch the crowd…look for the door.

For the Brave

For the first time in years, my family and I ventured outside the house for New Year’s Eve. All the way across the driveway to our neighbor’s house.
Several of us from the neighborhood, the neighbor’s plumber, and some who are in recovery, gathered around piles of food to bring in 2018 together. Or at least for the few hours that come before it whispered, “Welcome,” through the door frames.

It was a cautious bunch, keeping the most harmful vices out in respect for those who were beginning again, although new beginnings are anything but safe. They’re scary, and wild in the way a man or woman has to confront their monsters face to face. And the unwelcome vices, having been exposed for the roadblocks they were, were banned from now forward.

A few of us gathered around the fire-pit, its blue flame a perfect circle for us to warm our hands over and watch our kids play together. The best jokes are told in a circle of new friends. Admissions about our imperfections are safe with a little darkness to tuck them away in. Friends to be flawed with.

Throughout the night, we had to scoot closer and closer to the fire as the heat couldn’t keep up with the encroaching cold. I stared at that blue flame and remembered that all of us come to a time where we begin again at something. Maybe it’s a lifetime of starting over. A new attitude, a new faith. Maybe just a single step forward. And like that blue circle of flame, we have the choice to stay low and contained, or to move past the barriers and push back the darkness.

 

A prayer for all who read this–who desire to step forward into 2018 with braver feet. Blessing, my friends.

The Summer Files: Day 7. J-O-Y

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.

Deep.

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.

Wink

While in college, I learned that my hair was really red, no—dark blonde, but mostly brown. My face is long too, or slightly oval by some angles; with most plays of shadow and light my lips are thin, but to those who stand where they can see smiles at the corners, they’re cupid-bow pink. All this I learned while posing for a painting class for extra cash.

glass-ball-1992028_1920

The popular Dove commercials reminded me about this experience and the whole beauty phenomenon; if I go sans makeup and let my hair fall in all its natural wildness it’s cool, because people will catch the angle of God’s love on my face if they take a minute to see from His light.

Because that’s what God’s artistry is–His wink reflecting in our gazes the moment they collide with imperfection. 

What Matters

Once upon a time, I journeyed east where I met up with Christian writers from various patches of this earth who liked to write extraordinary fiction—fiction containing more than ladies in floral sleeves gathered around Amish quilts. Fiction that emulates realms as colorful as the one God made for us.

Some of us think the world has forgotten how extraordinary God is.

In the cafeteria, between classes, I met a man wearing a sign on his back that said, “Ask me about short stories.”

Initially, I thought I didn’t have time for that—I was mid-novel, juggling minions and two jobs on my kids’ summer vacation.

But my friend, Louise, beckoned him over and we talked.

Back home, I decided to scratch out a new story anyway—but would it matter?

I work part time at a retirement resort—despite the reactions I get from people when I tell them what I do, a retirement place can be a fascinating place to work, especially at night when things quiet down. Residents have shared their stories with me, their advice, regrets. It’s also the point where many pass from this life to the next; a portal to the Great Beyond, if you will. I’ve seen stuff…so I threw bits of this “stuff” into a short story and it’s mythic-orbits-covernow published in an anthology released today.

How thrilled was I when I found out I’d be in a book with such a great group of talents, and that New York Times Bestselling Author Tosca Lee read an advanced copy and gave us the words, “A truly enjoyable and impressive anthology.”

Sometimes, everyone needs encouragement like this to know that their efforts matter. That our time is not wasted when we veer away from our normal course to grab hold of something new. Maybe the opportunities God puts in our paths can look like time-suckers, or inconveniences, but are really the very thing we’ve been asking for. What if, before we did/said anything–or didn’t, we tell ourselves, “maybe this will matter.”

The Summer Files: Day 19

 

I woke up to my daily devotional telling me to expect trouble.
The Canine made a run for it a few hours later. I was vacuuming the twenty pounds of cracker crumbs and playground sand from the SUV when The Daughter appeared at my side, princess skirt ripped straight down the center, feet bare and face streaked with dirt.

The Canine had escaped on her watch. Devastation poured down her cheeks as the story rushed out about running through neighbors’ yards, calling and calling The Canine to no avail while I vacuumed, oblivious to my daughter’s voice.
Guilt plunged into me like a steak knife.
“I prayed so hard, Mommy, but she wouldn’t come.”
The Son and I jumped in the car while The Daughter stayed in case a neighbor brought The Canine home.

20160130_095122
We sent up a chorus of silent prayers–each Child expressing to me how hard they prayed–and called The Canine’s name through the windows. No one had seen her, not the neighbor handyman, nor the neighbor girls who doled sympathy like hot fudge on a Sundae.
When we swung home for an update, there was The Daughter, all smiles and peace in the driveway. “She just came home.”
And then I remembered a request I had recently sent upstairs.
Please remind The Children of your existence.
Boom.

Upstairs sends a note: The Creator knows how to speak Kid.
Happy Monday.

A Single Beautiful Thing

There was a man in my college photography class who taught us how to capture a beautiful shot from anywhere. “Zoom in,” he said, “It’s about focus.” When he propped his photo up on our critique board, I saw a shadowed arch, eye-catching in its imperfection flowing through a gray sea. I didn’t think crack in a sidewalk until he told us that’s what it was.

I’m not sure what got me thinking about this seventeen-year-old memory; maybe some of you can relate, but when you become a parent, focusing on any single20160516_091434 thing becomes folklore. A crack in the sidewalk becomes a collection point for Cheerios overflowing beyond the crevice— milk and all— onto my freshly mopped floor.

Maybe it’s my son with the indeterminate illness, and my friend with the cancer diagnosis. The hard things like to come at once, so how do we manage to focus on a single beautiful thing amidst cold, hard reality?

If Peter had kept his eyes on Jesus, his feet would not have slipped through the water. He saw the storm, the waves–he even suspected Jesus was a ghost. But the few moments he focused on the Lord, he got his miracle—one that’s been documented to help us through every one of our hard seasons. An old reminder of what could be.

Jesus traveled with a team—I’m thinking of all of you right now. Let’s climb inside this boat together and fix our eyes on our King.

A Bird Song

Grandma Bird was never without a pocket full of Kleenex. Often when I sneeze, or feel full to the brim with allergens, I pull my own Kleenex from my pocket and think of her. Glasses hanging around her neck like a fine piece of jewelry, fingers and ears bare of adornment, Grandma knew that life wasn’t about impressing others.

How could she? She survived the Great Depression and never forgot it. Not that she was all business either—in eighth grade, when I had FINALLY achieved honor roll status, the certificate of my feat floated around our kitchen for a few weeks. My parents were proud, I was shocked, but my Grandma? Nope. She picked up my honor roll certificate without a glance and moved it out of the way of one of my drawings underneath. That was where my heart was and Grandma knew it.

20150526_112129

Just be you.

I didn’t need to impress her by struggling through classes, which, to tell you the truth, I mostly hated (Except English—how I love you, English). I worked harder that year so I could stay in music class, not to achieve honor roll. I just needed to reach the arts that most schools make so hard to find. Even if artists starve and get called all sorts of names like moody, poor, dreamers, without sensible ambition—those are stereotypes invented by people who worshiped scholastic hierarchy. Nothing but the stuff on paper or Kleenex you wad up a throw away.
But my heart on the right kind of paper? That’s me.

I’m eternally grateful that my kids attend a fine/performing arts school. It’s not an uppity right-side-of-the-tracks school by any means. It’s not a private school. It’s a school owned by a couple who knows that artistic kids need to be nourished just as much as the scholarly types.

Where is your heart? I hope you have a Grandma Bird to appreciate the real you.

Story Ghosts

I discovered a piece of my Dad’s unspoken story through a man who never knew him. The man, quarantined to his wheelchair, sat next to my desk at work and told me what Vietnam did to a man. I sat rapt, at he told me how, like many soldiers, he had to learn how to talk about it.

The stories coated in blood don’t come easily; they come in nightmares. They come in a sound or random gesture that morphs the mind’s eye into a battlefield all over again. This can produce all kinds of reactions which no one really understands unless they’ve walked the same dark mine fields.

With his yellow lab curled at his feet, he told me how someone taught him to expel some of the darkness through telling his story.

The three step snake. I literally pulled around my desk and sat forward. The three step snake was maybe the only thing I remember my Dad mentioning about Vietnam. “By the time you took the third step, you were dead,” said the man in the wheelchair and the memory of my Dad.

But nestled within horror, there was the honor. The lifted shoulders, the dignity, knowing that despite what others thought of that war, or whether or not a soldier volunteered or was drafted, the man and my dad both knew they could go in and lay down their lives for something bigger than themselves. They didn’t run—they stepped forward into the unknown.

I have a Russian sage in my front yard. It grows wildly huge, and the first season 20160404_090547we lived in the house new sprouts of sage poked through the ground all over the front portion of the yard. Not wanting more bushes to take over the yard, I pulled, I hacked and cursed until I realized they were all connected to the same plant. I couldn’t see it at first because the branches were buried so deeply in the ground. This was the man in front of me. This was my Dad.

Although they were separated from each other through the dimension of heaven and earth, their stories live on just like their flesh and blood children. Part of my Dad’s story came to me despite his silence.

There’s something vitally important with our stories—something we can’t see in the physical realm, but something eternal. When people say to spill your heart out for your loved ones before you lose them, we all nod and agree, but if some things don’t get said, it’s okay. If there’s a story that needs to live on, God can extend it to you in His own boundless way.

Talent is for Showing

My faith in our future generation raised quite a few notches after watching the talent show at my daughter’s school. Not that my former estimation was really low, but maybe too low. It wasn’t the level of talent either—some were good, some needed a little more polishing, or a lot, but that wasn’t it.

For two hours, child after child conquered the stage. Lots of braced teeth, nerves either lifting or lowering eyebrows, and many girls on the balance between girly-girl and sporty-girl strode across the stage. When I was in elementary school, there were nowhere near that many kids willing to show their skills—maybe it’s because Chloe’s school emphasizes the arts—maybe the current culture values entertainment more than it used too.

But what impressed me the most? They got up there. They danced or sang or did a

Be Bold

Be Bold

few tricks and showed their willingness to be bold. That’s it—they were bold. Some of them sang with shaky hands clutching the microphone, but they gave us their voices anyway. Some forgot their dance steps, but they caught up and plowed ahead.

These kids all have something to say, and expressed that to us the best they could—they just don’t know yet they’re future leaders, teachers or artists.

Sometimes people try their “thing” once or twice, but a little adversity presses them down like a concrete sidewalk on a blade of grass.

It’s easy to feel beyond repair–but God specializes in rebuilding.

I hope Chloe and all those kids remember this talent show, and remember how to be brave. One big step can teach them how to fight their way through the cracks, showing the world how lovely and exquisite determination is.

Want to show us your (family friendly) skills? Feel free to post your links in the comments.

P.S. I want to give a big thanks for all of you who helped put Faith Seekers on Amazon’s bestseller’s list. Mostly, I hope you enjoy the story. Don’t have a copy yet? The ebook is on sale for a few more days…get it here.