This Little Light

At the gym a few days ago, I took to the last available treadmill and started my usual run. For some reason, I’ve been dragging this month—the cloudy skies, maybe? The chronic lack of a full night’s sleep? More than likely, I’m just run down from a rough year but determined to stay in shape, I was going to do my full 3ish miles.
To my left, a man about a head shorter than I increased his running speed to keep up with me. A competitor, I see. I tried not to giggle as his short legs had to take twice the amount of steps than mine to run a moderate 5.8 METS.
But he worked hard. No matter his motivation, my humor quickly turned to admiration. How many of us feel like the best we can do is to take one step forward, three steps back to keep up with our goals—that we can’t run hard enough to catch them? Can all the strugglers raise their hand?
But this guy, he kept pumping those legs, working almost twice as hard as I did to meet the same stats.
It was the perfect picture of 2018, where almost every circle I belong to are in survival mode–battle-weary from an unusual amount of trials this past year, almost like a surge of darkness is engulfing our nation. I once read about a pastor writing about a season of higher suicide rates in his hometown directly related to the increase of occult influences. It makes me think of the happenings of this year: is there a fiercer battle going on that we can’t see?
Perhaps God is on the move for something big and the darkness is trying to keep us behind it.
Sometimes I think the trials of 2018 have kept me from running hard enough, although God is merciful, even when our best effort is minuscule. He sees us trying.
But that small man next to me, this giant of a competitor ran like there was an ember right in front of him that promised to light his world if he worked hard enough to reach it—even if his struggle was more difficult than it was for others.
So let’s keep going with all we’ve got, even if we have to drag ourselves along the path. Because my friends…..

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

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.

The Story Behind the Sweat

Scales can be jerks. You can work and work, burning off everything you ate and more, only to stand on the scale and look down, a drop of sweat sliding down your nose, plopping over a big, fat number.
What? Your face gets hot…your heart starts pumping fast again. You step back and look in the mirror. Eh? You go home, shower and pull on your favorite pair of jeans. Tight. Too tight. Okay, maybe that one area is better, but…what the heck? You go to the bathroom and stand on your scale because the one at the gym, and your pants must be taunting you, right?
But, no. To the mirror again, you notice the seams pulling, the stitches near to popping and realize you won’t be able to replace them for several more paychecks.
What’s to show for all that hard work? Slow and sure, your fist comes up and you shake it at God a little.
You work so hard. So. Hard. At the gym, at your office, in the classroom—whatever this is for you, but the results look nothing like you expected.
Does the effort mean nothing after all?
What’s the point?
You eye the couch, the TV, the Netflix remote, but something calls you. A whisper flutters from above. At the mirror again, something does look different. Your jeans are tight, yes, but you look better in them. Your short-sleeve shirt is digging into your arms, but look—what was too soft is now firm.
You bend down to pick up that darn box you don’t have room for, and move it out of the way to get a better look. Wow, that was easier.
So much easier. Maybe God draws your eyes to the mirror again and says, “Yes. There’s more of you.”
“What? There’s supposed to be less. I worked for it. Isn’t that what you led me to do?”
Maybe He answers, “But you’re not supposed to believe for less. Don’t aim for less. You were made for more.”
“But my pants. The scale. This isn’t at all what I expected. What’s going to happen?”
“Better things, as long as you keep your eyes on Me, and not your scale.”
So you take a breath, and keep going.
Happy perseverance day. Every day.

Reach

 

I went to elementary school in the 80’s when bullying was thought of as an elective. That meant if someone elected to pick on you and you complained to the teacher about it, you would be promptly reminded how close you were to the end of the day, and with that, the teacher turned away as if that small nugget of counseling was all they had to offer. I suppose it was.
Wuzzle was the nickname of the girl who tried to strong-arm me on the bus. She was stocky to my slight, bronzed to my pale, and thought I’d be an easy target on which to display her superiority.
But this was the country where cowboys could speak the language of artists, and ballerinas could be both feminine and beasts. There are fewer limits where there are fewer assumptions.


So as she tried to pin my arms down, I remembered how my ballet teacher told us that dancers were some of the strongest people in the world because we weren’t reliant on machines and steps to sculpt our muscles—we used what we had—our own bodies. Sometimes we forget the value of what we already have.
In ballet, you not only hold your arms up for the majority of the class, but you reach farther than you came in reaching, and use them to frame a story for the audience. What’s not obvious is the effort it takes just to hold your arms up for an hour, and the strength it takes to rise to your toes time and again.
With all the stretching, ballerinas’ muscles don’t bulk up as they would if built in the gym, so this way, they not only reach beyond their limits, but the work that goes into the dance doesn’t get lost to the story.
Wuzzle gave up after a good ten minutes. My arms couldn’t be pinned by an amateur elective-taker. Reality for those who judge without looking a little deeper. But our struggle wasn’t for nothing—we became friends after that, and chose to sit by each other on the bus from that day forward.
I try to remember that as I face struggles—what do I already have in me? Will I let myself reach a little farther…because with the spirit in me, I can. So can you.

Blessings for your Tuesday.

I’m offering a few of my books free for a few days–The first two in The City of Light series, YA dystopian fiction.

Go here for Wake

Go here for Wild

A Christmas Carol

I saw Jesus in the gym the other day. An old man—somewhere around 90—walked in with his cane, laid it on a treadmill and walked a good ten minutes before sitting down to rest. He braced himself, hands on knees and pulled in several minutes of oxygen. Then, one by one, he challenged most of the weight machines, setting them to 70 pounds. Biceps, lats, etc., sitting down to catch his breath after each set. Lastly, he cradled a free weight and did sit-ups, then grabbed his cane and left. I believe my jaw was resting on the top of my treadmill by this time. This was two days before Christmas.
A man with Down syndrome pedaled away on one of the exercise bikes while watching a repetitive news station left on from a previous gym-attendee. He said not a word, but just slowly spun his feet around and around. While leaving, he glanced over at me on the noisy treadmill, grabbed his medical helmet and left.
The entire 45 minutes I was there, a man laid on the floor, yoga mat under back, and feet up on an exercise ball. “My back hurts”, he said—”one of those tough days,” while doing random sit-ups and stretches. Sometimes, he stayed still for several minutes at a time, then started again.
I was just trying to get in one more good workout before winter break kept me hair-pulling busy. It’s been a year. Good stuff, busy stuff, stressful stuff. It’s been a long time since I’ve gotten so little done with my creative projects. Sometimes I daydream about finishing my book, or dipping my brushes into a tub of paint. I’m not all the way me without it. But my kids needed me more this year, and it’s been a good thing. Family comes before the art, Always, and raising kids is a full time ministry. I saw the fruit of my efforts, however small. But when you’re called to more than one ministry, the activities get a little muddy and as many of you know–exhausting. By the time holiday season rolls around old man fatigue knocks on the door.
But as I observed those champions in the gym that day, I could almost hear Jesus saying, “The amount of reps don’t matter, and the way people see you doesn’t matter, but the perseverance does. Faith does. Success is in the not giving up.”
Were those men my three Christmas ghosts? I don’t know. But I heard the message, and I’m pretty sure Jesus said the message wasn’t just for me.
Maybe this one’s for you today.
Blessings and strength for 2018.

A Small Reflection of a Grown-Up Battle

A few nights ago, as my 10-yr-old daughter and I were discussing the ways of the world, she said she’d be okay if the Second Coming happened right now as long as she could finish her last cross country meet.

I will admit, I felt proud at her dedication to the sport considering the rough season she’s had. During try-outs, C sprained her ankle. The Dr. gave her the okay to finish the season, but warned her that if she kept running, her ankle could take the whole season to heal. She’s recovered greatly, but after about one mile, she starts to feel pain. It slows her down, but she perseveres.

She’s had sweltering hot practices where she’s forgotten her water bottle, insect bites rubbing against her ankle brace into red, seemingly mountainous mounds.

At her last meet, she tripped over some loose countryside and got trampled. By THREE other runners. The first one had a momentum issue and apologized, but the second two just wanted to get ahead. One of them even turned to her and said, “Get out of my way.” After she had stepped on C’s back to get past her.

But she looks forward to the next meet, a hunger for the run in her eyes and legs.

It’s focus, really. She’s focused on her passion instead of the hardships, and despite a lower placement than she would prefer. The experience has been a good taste of the real world where character gets formed into either beauty, or an ugly mass of ambition.

Perseverance is not a race many conquer with integrity. So far so good.

The Summer Files: Day 62

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.

How to Peace

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.

To all Davids

My daughter recently reminded me of something about the heart muscle. A few months ago, she started band, equipped with the flute my dad bought me in High School–solid silver second-hand beauty with as many problems as a third-hand car. While a very nice instrument, it needs some very expensive repairs. Sometimes it won’t grab a note, and because all the pads need replaced, the tone is airy.

Practice only discouraged Chloe because her efforts were thwarted by the $350 worth of hiccups in the keys, so she often put it away after five minutes of frustration. (Did I mention we were anticipating our insurance deductible roll over where one of our son’s three medications cost $1,000 a bottle?)push-ups-888024_1280 But she wanted to perform a duet at her years-end concert, in which she had to audition with a handicapped flute, so she called her partner, and together they practiced over speaker phone with a few asthmatic notes. Chloe just decided she would make it–and she did.

So I’m thinking about this as John and I watch the trillionth season of Survivor, and there’s this really skinny guy, David, who looks like he lifts no more than a pencil each day, and is an anxious sort, kind of like our Chloe. He was afraid of bugs and loud noises. The first time I saw him attempt a challenge among several muscled men and women, I thought something jerkified like, “pffft.” But this guy, he started to make friends and somewhere along the way he finds confidence. Then he decides he’s going to succeed.

He doesn’t win, but he comes very close, and even wins a few challenges–yes, even those that require strength, endurance, and, well–I think it boils down to sheer will power. He started to outlast the walking muscles and the born-to-live-outdoors types.

The reason he didn’t win (although I would call his evolution a success)? The other players voted him off because he was the biggest threat out there. The guy who once trembled at the sight of a bird.

What is your Goliath? Exercise that heart muscle.

Up

Sometimes when the sky fills with a gray storm flurry
pelting me with hail and fail and impossibilities,
I slide from behind my laptop,
stiff from laboring in my seat,

storm
My body chilled, but hands hot from pounding out words that find no purchase,
and throw on some spandex.
Then I face the floor and push it away,
arms burning,two, six, ten
begin again.
The floor appears to be a wall that won’t move
but I keep pushing it away
soon, my arms have developed enough strength to lift
me
Up.
Back straight, eyes ahead
looking beyond that storm which is not
strong enough to hold me down.