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What’s Left.

July 26, 2014

If you are one of the, let’s say, four or five, people who spent years feeling entitled to criticize me, bully me, put me down, manipulate me, comment on my personal life, demand an accounting for how I spend my money or my time, screw with my kids to punish me, or send me negative messages through others, you already know the rules have changed.

You already know that the rules have changed, although you probably can’t explain it and don’t understand why.  You scour the feed on Facebook and call me if I reveal something that interests you, but you don’t know what my day looks like.  You don’t know how I feel (you never did) or what I think (you never cared).  You don’t have ammunition — even your negative comments to my kids are couched in the vaguest terms because you’ve got no material to work with.   I don’t answer to you.  I never should have answered to you, but I wanted you to love me and care about me, and Donald agreed that it was essential to try to please you (some of you, at least).

Sometimes I miss you, but I know it’s not safe to be anything but pleasant at social events.  My pain, my joy, my secrets, my details — I won’t trust you with them again. So you know what you know — where I live,  what the kids are up to, and that my life is joined with My Tom’s.  You may not understand that my life will always be joined with his, but telling you that wouldn’t change your understanding.  You think what you think; you always have.  And telling you that he is the love of my life . . . none of you want to hear that.

You are all trying your best to be polite to my face right now, feeling your way, looking for cracks big enough for your smallest barbs.   You get no access, but stay polite and you can stay this close.   I’ve lost what I had with you, and the hope I had for something better. Then there are those nearest, dearest friends who once knew everything about me but find my unfettered self unpalatable . . . I miss you.  I do.  At one time you knew my secrets, but as soon as I stopped keeping them and started living in my own skin, you left me.  You disdained me and left me.   I know I was very confused for a while, probably certifiable, but some friends hung in there and are seeing me now, stable and thriving.  I guess in order to love the sinner and hate the sin you have to unfriend the sinner.

And finally, the most painful one.  I would have done just about anything to keep our relationship.  We fought so hard once to get it back and make it work, in spite of our history and our deep differences.  I still can’t believe that the thing that broke us was politics.  Every time I said, “But what did I do to you?  I will fix it!” you reminded me of what I said in our disagreement about politics.  Politics!  I have the wrong views about marriage equality, gun control, and poverty.  To fix our relationship, I need to address what I did to you. . . .  by having those views.

Just for the record, I hate the way you see the world.  I hate the way you see black people, Muslims, gay people, poor people.  I hate the way you mocked me for saying that in a crisis (imminent, in your view), I would try to help people instead of barricading myself in with guns and supplies.  I hate it, but I love you, and I would do just about anything to have you back in my life. Except go back into my sweet-smelling prison of stoic, inspirational submission to things that I can actually change.

So I have my kids, who are okay — great, actually — and My Tom.  I have my little apartment which isn’t what I dreamed of, but will always be what I yearn for if I ever lose it.   I have one cat who is embarrassingly in love with me, and a mismatched group of friends who hung in there.  And I have time — no one knows how much — but I’m making it count.  I have writing (again, finally), music, flowers, green tomatoes, and peace.

We are Jerks in the Name of God

November 29, 2013

We are so, SO sweet.  We talk so sweet and use nice words and we put a little extra in the plate on Sunday after a hurricane or

Gay Marriage in San Francisco

Gay Marriage in San Francisco (Photo credit: Dave Schumaker)

earthquake damages lives in some part of the world.

Yet we draw such ire, just by being US.  People hate us!  That lesbian knew nothing about me except that I am a Christian, and she was instantly, viciously angry.   That athiest girl rolled her eyes before I even got a word out.  And, of course, there’s all those terrorists who are constantly trying and sometimes succeeding in killing us.

Have we done some good?  We have, indeed.

Have we done damage?  We have, indeed, and very possibly more than the good we’ve done, at least in recent years.

You really might not know.  If your real and virtual friends all think generally like you, and you watch and read only “appropriate” materials, you really might not realize that the liberals, wackos and “unchurched” out there actually do have good reason to be angry.

I believe that we, Christian Americans, do not have some God-given right to dictate how everyone else lives.  I believe that gay couples should have the same legal rights and protections as other couples, and that children in public schools shouldn’t be forced to pray to a God their family doesn’t claim.  I believe that teenagers and recipients of foreign aid are entitled to the honest facts and availability of contraception, and that lying in the name of abstinence is not justified.

If you are reading this, you may have already concluded that I am not a Christian.  You’ve probably already snapped closed this page in order to avoid being corrupted by my dark distortions of God’s word, but in case you haven’t, let me just say this to you:

Get over yourself.   Jesus died for you, sure, but he died for me, too.  He died for the emaciated, hollow-eyed gay Ugandan dying of AIDS,  the heroin-addicted prostitute trading favors for hits, and the incredibly passive-aggressive relative that made you want to stab yourself in the chest with the carving knife yesterday.  He died for the soccer coach that won’t put your kid in unless they have a ten point lead and the doctor with the terrible bedside manner.  He died for the smokers, the jokers and the midnight tokers, the haves and have nots.  He died for Jon Stewart and Glenn Beck.

So you’re in good company, pal.  More than one person in forums (I know better but I do sometimes engage) has told me that I’m not a Christian because of my beliefs.  They say, “We know the mind of God on this.”

You know the mind of God on this!?   You — likely less than 100 years old, unable to get a clear picture of anything because you can never shake free of the filters and perceptions of your culture, your upbringing and your limited life experiences –  YOU claim to know the mind of God?

Because you’ve read the Bible, I suppose?  Because the Bible, as we all know, has never given rise to controversy?  All people, or at least all Bible scholars, are in agreement on at least the basic precepts contained there?  You’re that serenely confident that you and the very few who believe exactly as you do have tapped into the Absolute Truth that has eluded human beings for thousands of years?

So (drawing deep breath), consider getting over yourself.

And as for the rest of you, who are tossing around the idea that I might be saved in spite of my corruption of The Truth . . . stop offering to pray for me.  Actually, let’s just take a look at a few things we can do to stop being jerks in the name of God:

  1. STOP saying “I’m praying for you.”  Should you pray for people?  Yep.  Should you tell them you’re praying for them?  Sometimes.  But if you are embroiled in a conflict with another human, whether it’s interpersonal or a doctrinal debate or whatever, don’t end it with the sanctimonious, God-is-totally-on-my-side-you-poor-thing “I’ll pray for you.”  Have you ever been wrong?  Yes?  Then you might later discover that you’re wrong this time too, so why don’t you acknowledge that possibility or even just honestly work toward an authentic resolution?  Also, this way you may avoid receiving the inevitable bitch-slap that you totally deserve.
  2. STOP seeing yourself as the Savior.  You know how you like to say you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?  Okay, well I know this might feel like He’s cheating on you, but He actually has a personal relationship with lots of other people too.  Including your gay neighbor, the skeptical agnostic in your psych class, or your uncle who is (gulp) a liberal Democrat.  Point being, if you are the only Christian in a room full of athiests or Muslims or whatever, you aren’t single-handedly responsible for making sure they know and accept the truth.  Jesus already has a plan for every single person you know, and you may or may not be apart of it.  Even if you are a part of it, you aren’t necessary.  It’s very nice if you want to help God, but it’s also very nice if you get that He’s actually been doing this for a while now, and He’ll probably be able to continue even after the eye-blink of your lifetime.
  3. STOP buying into the image of Christianity.  We aren’t all required to look well-groomed, spout the Republican party line, speak in that light, pleasant tone or chant “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”  Remember John the Baptist?  His look wasn’t exactly Sunday School material.  Would you escort him out of your sanctuary?  Don’t hurry to say no, because it’s happening all over the place — churches are intentionally discouraging nearby homeless or impoverished people from populating their polished pews.  We will send you money but Stay.  Over.  There.
  4. STOP blaming victims for being victims.  Poor people don’t work hard enough.  Gay people brought AIDS on themselves.  Hurricane victims weren’t Christian, so God swept away their children before they reached an age of accountability.  Haitians were devastated because they participated in dark arts.  I challenge you to find one example in the Bible of Jesus showing that kind of hateful satisfaction.  He showed compassion and love, and we have no right to do otherwise in His name.
  5. LEARN the meaning of the word “Peace.”  If you did actually read the Bible, you may recall that Jesus was actually a pretty peaceful guy.  Very few fistfights.  Hardly ever slapped sense into the Philistines.  Healed the ear of the soldier who came to haul Him away.  So why are so many Christians dug-in, gun-slinging, I’ll-make-a-man-out-of-you-yet-son war mongerers?  That’s not a rhetorical question — I seriously want to know.  Even if it was true that the only way to be safe in this country was to have a gun stashed in every bedside table drawer (and it isn’t — do some research), does that mean that as Christians we should be armed?  That we should be outraged (as so many of us were) by finding at least a temporary peaceful resolution with Syria?  Are we Peacemakers or not?
  6. DON’T be a misogynist.  Just . . . this would be another blog.  A really long one.  But it seems pretty clear in the Bible that Jesus liked women, that he saw them as equal to the men in His flock.  So if you want to follow Him, maybe set down your penile insecurities or mommy issues or whatever and respect women?
  7. LOVE, you idiot.  Love doesn’t look like placards and screamed threats of hell.  Love doesn’t look like big contributions to political parties or small contributions to needy strangers.  It pretty much doesn’t look like sweeping statements of any kind.  Care less about whether those people are raising your taxes by depending on food stamps and care more about whether your elderly neighbor who talks too much and smells like soiled diapers has a way to get to the store in the bad weather.  Care less about whether that politician supports gay marriage and care more about whether your sick neighbor with the flu has hot chicken noodle soup while his husband is traveling out of town.  Care less about your simplistic explanation of why Rome fell (which is wrong, so at least look it up, will you?) and care more about whether you are kind to the people you meet, even when on the surface they don’t seem to deserve it.  Show them grace.  They don’t deserve it.  Neither do I, but friend, neither do you.  That’s what Grace is.

So if you want to “save souls” (you can’t), connect with the “unchurched” (although you may not

really want to),  or even, say, WWJD, I suggest you start with not being a jerk.

WIN . . . Day and Night. :-)

December 29, 2012

As a promotion for my books, I’ve decided to give away one of my most popular pieces — the Day and Night planter bowl. On my (*shudder*) 47th birthday, 4/15, I’ll draw names for the winner.

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To get your name into the drawing, all you have to do is mention my books on Facebook (make sure I see it) or write a review for Amazon or Goodreads. Every time you quote one of the stories, discuss a character or plot point, make a review comment or post a link to a purchase point, I’ll enter your name. No limit on entries. Also, if you already wrote a review on Amazon, remind me, because I’m totally going to retroactively enter your name.

Seriously, I’m not expecting a big response to this, so if you do participate, you have a pretty good shot of winning.

This bowl is about 6 1/2″ tall and 9″ in diameter. Solid black inside with a drain hole in the bottom.

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Building a Bridge in 5 Easy Steps — How to Plot your Book

November 13, 2012
Notes from Second Tuesday — 11/13/12 

English: Story Bridge, Brisbane, 1940.

English: Story Bridge, Brisbane, 1940. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1.  So you want to build a bridge . . .

You start with a largely undeveloped vision of what your bridge might look like — a concept, a character, a world, a theme, a voice.  What have you got?

 

2.  Arch, suspension, truss, cable-stayed, beam . . .   

Before you can engineer your bridge, you need to decide how you’ll use it.  Constructing a wooden bridge over a creek is much different from engineering a span over an ocean bay.  What is your ultimate hope for your book?  For your satisfaction only, a family legacy, a marketable work.  If marketable, what is the intended market, and what are the publishing guidelines for that market (word count, style, parameters)?

Your bridge will start in one place and end up in another, right?  This is your story arc – something changes as a result of your story.  Maybe lots of thing change, but one main thing changes – the child is rescued, the man realizes that life is precious, the bad guy is defeated, the woman quits her job and joins a jazz band, the world is saved . . .

Maybe you’ll see your bridge in 3 main parts, three acts.  It might look like this:

 

Beginning Middle End
q  Character in Daily life

q  Introduce Conflict

q  Introduce Sexual Tension (if romance)

q  Establish Key conflict

q  Build Sexual Tension (if romance)

q  Develop Intimacy

q  Develop Conflict

q  Secondary conflicts

q  Realize in love (if romance)

q  Love Scene (if romance)

q  False happy ending, just before . . .

q  Dark Moment.  All appears to be lost.

q  Sacrifice

q  Resolve secondary conflict

q  Key conflict reappears

q  Grief

q  Revelation

q  Reunion with time element if possible.  Keep intensity high!

q  Make him or her earn the ending

q  Happily ever after

 

 

4.  Draw up your plan.

You’ll be making lots of decisions as you write (or, if things are going well, the story will seem to decide for itself), but you need a basic blueprint before you set saw to wood or hammer to nail.  Once you start writing, plan on staying fluid.  Some of these ideas may change, and others may appear and need to be drawn into your original plan.

Character:  Who is your main character?  What drives him?  What does he want?  What is he afraid of?  What is his fatal flaw or limitation? How does he present himself to the world, and how is that different from his secret self?  How will he be changed by the story’s end?

Story Goal:  Your character, as a developed human, will have a goal.  Initially this goal may be very different from the story goal.  For example, your character might be fixed on winning a political campaign, but the story goal might be for the character to confront old pain about her father’s abandonment and move past it into a new, loving relationship with him before his Alzheimer’s makes it impossible.  These goals create a push and pull effect in your story, as your character may resist the story goal and try to focus on her own agenda.

Secondary Characters:  Keep this fluid in your mind, but consider what characters  you’ll need to move the plot forward and keep your reader engaged:  the antagonist, the best friend/sidekick (allows your character to talk out loud instead of thinking, and sometimes makes things worse in attempts to help), the romantic interest, the competition, the red-herring (to draw attention away from the real bad guy). . .

Setting:  If your story is sent in North America in contemporary times, this might not require much thought.  But often the setting is critical to the plot.  In one of my books, set in Nebraska in 1888, the weather was critical to the plot.  It was basically the antagonist in the story.  You need to have a sense of the time and place, whether it’s France in 1628, an oval-shaped planet from two solar systems away, or Wyoming, fifty years after the Zombie apocalypse came to a disappointingly undramatic end.  And you need to anticipate how that setting may play into your plot.

Conflict/Obstacle:  This is the force that stands in the way of the story goal.  It might be a blizzard, a sinister socialite, loving but deluded relatives, a possessed toy or the character’s own past.  This is the element that transforms a simple account of events into a story, as your reader keeps turning pages to see whether the protagonist will attain his goal.

 

5.  Assemble the steel, stone, bricks, wire and wood.

It’s time to gather your building supplies.  Once you start writing, you may have to run to the hardware store a few times to grab what you missed, and when you’re done there may be a few items strewn around that you ended up not using.  But this step will help you to have most of the materials you need on hand before you begin.

*IMPORTANT NOTE:  Sometime after the first third of your book, maybe around 12,000 words, you’re probably going to hate it.  It’s stupid, your characters are flat, your plot is pointless, and you’ve got way too many threads to ever resolve.  This is when we run into that “sagging plot” that editors complain about.  Your book starts to lag as you keep plugging along toward the final climax and the end.

You’ve selected basic concepts for your story, but of course you’re not going to explain them to your reader.  You’re not going to say, “Kate’s worst fear is that she’ll wake up and discover snakes in her bed, as a result of a prank her brother played on her when she was three.”  That would be telling, which is bad.  You’re going to show your reader, with action, dialogue, and internal dialogue.  For example, you’ll show Kate shoving blankets under the edge of the door before she sleeps, and later you’ll see her brother laugh when she flinches at a nature show.

Following is a list of story elements — building materials that frequently make up part of an interesting, effective, suspenseful story.  For each of these, brainstorm 1-10 scenes or moments that illustrate how element might be used in your story.

Stay mindful of the “rule of three.”  For a few important elements, create two different scenes showing the element, and then a third scene that shows it with a twist.

I’m giving you a pretty exhaustive example of how to do this step, because it’s important.  Take the time to build this list and keep adding to it as more ideas occur to you, and you’ll avoid some (not all) of the dreaded mid-book angst.

Story Elements

Character faces fear

Character flaw

Character flaw makes bad situation worse

Character’s daily life (at onset)

Character’s goal

Character’s public face

Character’s Secret Desire

Character’s secret fear

Character’s true personality

Conflict

Dark Moment (all appears to be lost)

Emotional Intimacy

Grief

Happy moment before everything crashes

Pass the point of no return – bridges burnt

Personal risk to character

Revelation

Reversal scene – some character or fact you though you knew reverses

Rule of Three

Sacrifice

Secret Desire

Sexual Tension

Stakes grow higher

Story Goal

Time element (for suspense) as you near climax

Example

 

Element Scene
Sexual Tension Josie sees Cade after the car accident, and is momentarily jarred by his hotness.

Cade clamps his hand over Josie’s mouth so she won’t scream as the Storm Troopers go by, and she’s uncomfortably aware of his body.

Cold, exhausted and hungry from running for days, they are forced to spend the night pressed together in the tight space under the cabin porch.  Their wet clothes mean they are practically skin-to-skin.

Sacrifice Josie is initially totally focused on getting away from Cade, but after the Storm Troopers invade the hospital and try to snatch Johnny from the hospital, she abandons her safety for the benefit of the baby and agrees to work with Cade.

Cade throws himself in front of the government agents to protect Josie and Johnny

Revelation Josie considered herself a normal woman, a mid-level accountant with a wacky father, but starts having nightmares about her childhood, when her father was involved with the AM.  Show this by having her shake her head at some of her dad’s wacky rantings, pushing away the feeling of recognition at something he said.

Cade paces the dark of the of the cabin, the fussing baby slung over one arm, and tries to force himself to think of Josie as collateral damage instead of the woman he’s falling in love with.

While the bad guys shoot at them and try to drive them off the road, Josie suddenly realizes how Johnny tracks their movements.  Without explaining to Cade (no time!) she starts issuing directions, using the baby’s reactions as a guide.

Conflict Cade appears, looking for the baby, but before he can explain anything (which he might not have done anyway), the bad guys come around the corner.  He grabs Josie and the baby, shoves them into the truck and goes.  As far as she’s concerned, he’s her kidnapper.

Cade tries to see Josie as collateral damage, so when she cries from exhaustion and pain, he’s hard and unsympathetic.

Josie is relegated to caring for the baby, so she develops maternal feelings toward him.  Even though she’s agreed to unite with Cade in trying to get Johnny home, she reminds herself that, for Johnny’s sake, she can never let her guard down and trust Cade.   She doesn’t tell him a piece of key information that would prevent the bad guys from anticipating their next move.

Secret Desire Cade’s secret desire, to fight for something worthwhile instead of just fighting to survive, comes out in his nightmares.  He dreams that he’s on a farm, with a family and a peaceful way of life, he digs in the garden, but then his shadow family is mowed down in gunfire.  He jolts awake and the dream dissolves into the reality that he’s being hunted.
Dark Moment Josie can’t figure out where the AM headquarters is and Cade is nearly dead from gunshot.  The Johnny, who has been slowly sickening without the Javeran, collapses.  He is rushed to the hospital, but is clearly dying, and Josie is at a loss.
Rule of Three Cade grapples with the bad guys.  Josie tries to help, so she puts Johnny in his seat and tries to hit the bad guy with her purse.  She hits Cade in the face instead, which allows bad guy to get a good hit in.

2.  Next time:  Josie, remembering the purse, tries to hit a bad guy with the skillet from the stove.  She hits Cade instead, and the bad guy nearly gets them all before he recovers.

3.  Next time:  Cade looks up in time to see Josie, intent on helping, closing in on them with the tire iron he’d just used when they got a flat.  He screams in real terror, and she hesitates, but then swings and hits a bad guy, knocking him out.  She’s so dazzled by the accomplishment that she nearly delays them long enough to get caught anyway.

 

 

Whack that Mole. Just Keep Whacking, Honey.

October 14, 2012

Whac-A-Mole arcade redemption game with dogs

My Libby is eleven.  She’s still a baby – wrapped up in her dad’s quilted flannel shirt, clutching her teddy bear and watching cartoons.  She’s a teenager, confident at the karaoke microphone singing songs about love and parties and moving her head sideways in that defiant, ghetto gesture that is alien to my generation.

And she’s a new adult, her tender skin burnt by her growing awareness of responsibility and pressure.  Grades matter.  She will be responsible for her future.  Only she will decide what kind of woman she will become.  And – the lesson she knows well – parents are vulnerable to mistakes, grief and death.

“You don’t have to handle all this grown up stuff now,” I told her.

“But I don’t know how to do it.”

“Right, but it doesn’t hit you all at once.  It’s not like one day you wake up and you’re expected to know how to pay a gas bill, drive stick, negotiate a home loan, and survive office politics.  Right now, you just have to deal with being a middle school kid.  Homework, put your clothes away, feed the pets . . . ”

“I can’t even do all of that!”

I know how she feels.  We all know how she feels.  No matter how diligently we work, something always gets missed.  This morning at church, my dear friend – let’s call her Carol – apologized because she’d meant to bring me a dinner last week.

“Are you kidding me?  You’re overwhelmed with your new job, managing all of your daughter’s activities, and you had to add another thing to freak out about.”

Of course, I immediately felt anxious then.  Because she really does have her hands full.  I should totally have thought to bring her a dinner.  But then I remembered what I told Libby.

“Life is a game of Whac-a-Mole,” I told Carol.

I’m sure you’re assuming that Carol was puzzled, but she’s known me a long time.

“You’re never going to hit all the moles, Libby.  Just accept it now.  They just keep popping up.    And no matter how fast you swing that mallet, someone’s always going to be looking over your shoulder pointing out the ones you missed.”

Before you’re too impressed, that was probably the fourth metaphor I’d used in that conversation, but it was the first good one, and I was really happy with it.  I grabbed my other kid and the three of us went out to breakfast, armed with pens and paper.

“Since you’re never going to hit all the moles, you’ve got to pick which ones are important to you.  My important ones are spending time with you guys, building my relationship with God, getting in a stronger financial position, having our house look pretty.  And writing, painting and singing.”

The girls listed their moles.  Surprisingly, having the house look pretty wasn’t a mole for either one of them, but I wondered out loud whether keeping mom off their backs was a mole.  They thought it probably was.

By the time the check came,  we each had a list of moles.  “Now you can focus on hitting those ones as often as possible.  You still won’t hit them all the time, but you’ll hit them often enough that you’ll be on target.”

So now if someone says to them, “Hey, how come you haven’t taken the time to needlepoint pillows for your bedroom, handmake gifts for Christmas and write notes of sympathy to bereaved strangers in the news?” they can say, “that’s not really a mole for me.”

He Was a Good Man.

September 25, 2012

 

Sun Pillar

Sun Pillar (Photo credit: tomhe)

 

I’ve always been a little whacked, but I’m going to say that this past year has been the closest I’ve ever come to being completely, certifiably, non-functionally nuts.  October 4 will be the one year anniversary of my husband’s death, and I can’t believe how much crazy I’ve packed into twelve short months.

 

“Grief,” everyone says sympathetically.  “Of course you feel a little crazy.”

 

Grief.

 

My kids are definitely grieving – there are days when they wear a cloak of pain that is almost tangible.  All of the family is grieving . . . broken, undone, wounded.  I don’t know what to do for them to comfort them.  If I did know what to do, I don’t know if I could do it.

 

There’s so little care-giving left in me.

 

I tend to put some raw honesty in this blog, with the hope that no one will read it.  Last time I did that, but then forgot to turn off the notification to Facebook.  I’ll be more careful this time, but I’m working through this and want to write about it.

 

I was married to Donald for eighteen years and two days.  We lived together first, so we were together for around twenty years.  We spent a lot of that time laughing our butts off.  I mean, he was blind and diabetic.  He was on dialysis when we got married and got a kidney-pancreas transplant six months later.  He was never well; the best he had was not feeling too sick for a short time.  We were always poor; the best we had was not-in-crisis-at-this-moment.  But we laughed and laughed and laughed.

 

He wrote goofy poetry on his computer and printed it for me.  He made up silly lyrics to songs.  He teased me about my writing.  Once I was developing a romance story idea and needed a cover profession for a spy who was under-cover.  The spy was the hot guy in the story – the darkly clever bad-ass.  Donald suggested making him a clown who makes balloon animals.  There’s no way to tell you how funny that was in context, and I can’t remember all the outrageous ways he developed that idea for the story, so sorry that it’s not funny here.  But at the time, I was driving on the expressway, and he had me laughing so hard that I was making a horrible hiccouphing sound and literally drove off the road.

 

He was a good man who wanted to do right by his family.  He was a believer in God who came through his doubts with stronger faith and who left this world with his face firmly turned toward the warmth of heaven.  He was a strong man who endured more than most of us would be willing to.  I just can’t even describe everything he went through, but he went through it because he wanted to be here for his girls more than he wanted the relief of sleep and heaven.  He was a courageous man who got up, day after day for ten years, used his cane to feel his way to a cab where he rode with a stranger to a stressful job where he could never perform automatically as we all do so often, because he had to on, focused, concentrating every minute in order to do his work while relying on hearing and touch.  Then he came home, staggered to bed and collapsed in exhaustion.

 

He deserves to have people grieve for him, and I promise you, I did.

 

I grieved as I left him in a hospital bed in Columbus so I could tend to my seven month old baby, my little Anna (now aged 16), who was also sick.  I grieved on 9/11, ten full years before his death, because I figured his death would be on the heels of that tragedy.  I grieved as I watched my baby Libby crawl-scramble up to him as fast as she could, because I figured she’d be too little to remember him, or how much she adored him.  I grieved in the dark, staring at the mound of him, sleeping under the blankets, wondering if this would be the night when he would leave me, and I would awaken in a new kind of hell (guess why I find it almost impossible to fall asleep every night).

 

People say, “I’m so sorry.  How long was he sick?”

 

I never know what to say.  I don’t know when the countdown started.  Before we were married?  When his kidneys failed? When he was still going to work every day but came home a hollow shell?  When he had to quit working?  After the accident in Washington DC, when we all agonized through ten days of waiting to see whether he would live or die?  When he went into facilities, those last six months, or when he went into palliative care those last weeks?

 

I can’t remember a time in our twenty years when my life wasn’t defined by caring for him, worrying about him.  But I can remember a time when he was my partner in that and everything.  He was my husband, my lover, my best friend, my kids’ dad.  I can remember that time, but I’m not sure when that time ended.

 

Gradually, our partnership was replaced by hours and hours of me alone, trying to occupy myself as he lay upstairs or in a hospital bed next to me, fighting hand-to-hand combat with death.

 

My children were somewhere else, making memories that will not include me.  New Year’s Eve, summer vacations, boat rides, fireworks, family reunions, family funerals, seeing Wicked in Cleveland, Thanksgiving . . .   I wasn’t there.  And he was barely with me . . . or not at all.

 

I guess all this to say, I grieved.  But my grief this year has been of a different nature.

 

I’ve never wished Donald back.  Not once.  Why would I call him back to that endless hell of infections, dialysis, blindness and pain?  Why would I put my kids and me back into that razor’s edge gloom of blind expectation?

 

I’m not freshly bereaved.  I am a prisoner-of-war, freshly expelled into light and freedom.  I’m raw to the point of bleeding, still trembling from shock and pain-echoes.  The world changed while I was gone; my children grew up; friends drew new connections over the ones I had allowed to fade and smudge.  I’ve lost my ability to function properly in society, and to manage the most rudimentary life-tasks.

 

My freedom has nearly been my undoing this year.  Too many choices, too little perspective.  I am free to go anywhere I want, and I’ve been drawn to edges.  My poor kids . . .  they didn’t need my mental chaos on top of everything else.

 

But the year is over.  It’s almost over.  My eyes are adjusting to the light.  I’m regaining the ability to plan, to count on tomorrow, to rest in a moment.  I’ve started writing, cooking, making rational decisions and plans.  Sometimes I even fall asleep at night.

 

I’m still pretty crazy, but I think I’m working my way back to charmingly crazy and fairly non-toxic.  Maybe one day, as I settle into age, I’ll even tone the crazy down to eccentric.

 

But then again, my goal has never been to be completely sane.

 

Naomi is Guilty of WrongThink

September 13, 2012

As a writer, the thing I crave most is to have readers.  I mean, sure . . .  the fantasy of having a bestseller, selling movie rights, being able to add luxuries like string cheese and brand-name cereal to my grocery list –those are swell motivators.

But here’s the test of a true passion:  Would you do it for free?  Or, even better, would you pay to do it?

Would I pay to write?  Yeah.  I’d probably resent it.  So would my kids, as it would reduce the likelihood of me buying string cheese even more, but I wouldn’t be able to resist.

I need to write, and, for me, the completion of the writing act occurs when you read what I wrote.

So, if you follow me on Facebook at all, you already know that lately I’ve been sabotaging my own effort to have readers.

Whither Thou Goest, I Will Go is a Christian historical novel, and The Temptation of Mrs. Emily Templeton, while far from meeting the Christian Booksellers Association guidelines, is directed toward a Christian audience as Emily grapples with her fundamentalist upbringing and her perception of God.  

And everyone knows what Christians stand for.  Christians stand for abstinence programs, helping the poor, the American flag, and keeping “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.  They stand against gay marriage, abortion, the validity of global warming, and universal health care.

A few years ago, I was actually completely on-board with that platform.  I became a Christian kind of late in the game, in my mid-twenties.   It took me a while to figure out exactly what that meant, so I took to listening to Moody radio and internalizing everything I heard.

That was my mistake.

I’m not saying Moody radio is a bad thing — truly, I’m not.  It gave me many hours of inspirational music, moving sermons and exposure to God’s Word that I’d never had before.

My mistake was turning to any human source for an understanding of God.  The Bible was right there.  I should have read it, instead of letting a bunch of patriarchs run it through the sieve of their own perceptions, filters and limitations and then hand me the easy-to-digest results.

It took me a long time to distinguish between “official Christian beliefs” and God’s Word.  They aren’t mutually exclusive, of course, but neither are they necessarily in harmony.  It took me a long time to understand that I, a believing Christian, am not required to agree with the Christian Platform.

  • I can be a Christian and support keeping abortion as an option for women.  (I hate abortion, but think the best way to combat it is make contraception, pre-natal care and adequate economic post-natal support available to women).
  • I can be a Christian and disagree with the concept of “American Exceptionalism.”  As a nation, we’ve made some great choices and some really awful ones.  We need lose the fantasy that we are more special than any other humans on the planet, and that we are more entitled to its resources.
  • I can be a Christian and think that living a “green” life is part of being a good steward.  In fact, I can be mostly vegetarian and believe that eating the amount of meat that Americans eat is actually immoral.
  • I can be a Christian and support the separation of church and state.
  • I can be a Christian and support the legalization of gay marriage.  Which I do — adamantly.  I don’t feel entitled to legally require everyone else in our shared homeland to live by my beliefs.

I know some of you who disagree with me, and that’s cool.  Maybe some of you will, as others have, demand to know how someone who “claims to be” a Christian could “go against the Bible” this way.  Maybe you, my potential readers, will conclude that any value or truth you once found in my stories was a lie, and no one who “claims to be” a Christian would continue to read my work.

I don’t enjoy having Christians rail against me for not agreeing with some humans over human matters.  I don’t enjoy having my very salvation called into question.  I don’t enjoy knowing that my opinions alienate some of my audience, friends and even people I love.

But I have no choice but to search God’s Word, determine my position on issues and speak for my beliefs.

And if that costs me readers, so be it.

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