Saturday, August 5, 2017

Lost and Found in Midian, Montana

Please enjoy the first chapter of my work-in-progress, Lost and Found in Midian, Montana. This is the manuscript that I am actively pitching to agents and publishers. Tell me what you think in the comments, or on Facebook and be sure to subscribe to my newsletter for updates and giveaways!

The soundtrack to Shane Olson’s demise was fitting for the nation’s most promising up-and-coming pastor. Awkward greetings bounced unanswered off his enflamed face as he crossed the threshold of Crosspointe, the church he had shepherded for five years. At the Welcome booth, a coffee urn sputtered its last drops in the cup of the children’s director, who watched through fearful eyes as Shane demanded, “Where’s Jonah?” Just like the car radio during the frantic drive from his house, the soothing worship song from the foyer’s speaker system tried to reason with him. He raced past petrified church members with whom he had helped through various hardships. Prayers against infertility, addiction, bankruptcy and lust echoed in his memory with each bewildered face he passed.

Ignoring the screams of the Holy Spirit in his head, Shane burst through the doors of the sanctuary. Above the pews that he bathed in prayer prior to every church service, the air was thick with tension. His breath heaved, as Sunday afternoon gossip slithered between the congregants, forming a steady, serpentine hiss.

On the stage, a guitar, which had two hours earlier strummed about mercy and grace, protested with a clamor as an elder callously removed it from its rightful place. The motorized whirring of the descending white screen promised to educate those in the pews, although instead of offering scripture, the screens were expected to show all the reasons why Shane needed to be removed from his position. He was too rogue, too direct, too progressive and too transparent. His biggest flaw, though, was having everything his closest friend had always wanted.

Standing at the podium, Jonah Tanner, the best man at his wedding, cleared his throat and stretched his neck, ready to complete his betrayal.

“Jonah!” Shane yelled, surprised at the gruff sound of his own voice.

Jonah, sporting a smug grin, extended a Machiavellian handshake as Shane bounded up the church steps. Using his momentum, Shane swung his fist towards his friend’s face, cracking the cheekbone. Screaming pain entered his knuckles and traveled up to his shoulder. Jonah stumbled and fell on his side in front of the piano. Consumed by the rage that he had long buried under spiritual disciplines and prayer, Shane launched himself on top of Jonah. Shane no longer heard anything. The furious pounding of blood in his ears drowned the Holy Spirit’s voice as he ravaged the man who had stolen everything he loved in this life: his job, his church, his reputation, and his wife.  

God, why? Haven’t I been faithful? Haven’t I loved her unconditionally as you have loved the church? Tristan is the only girl I’ve ever loved.

The sight of her laying in their bed, twenty minutes earlier, wearing the satin slip he had given her for their seventh anniversary had seared into his mind. She had been startled to see her husband in the doorway, mere moments after her lover had left her side. Fire engulfed his insides, raging up his throat and out his eyes. When hands finally separated the two men, Shane saw his wife standing over her lover’s blood-soaked face. Her eyes shone curiously at Shane. Was it shame for her own actions?  Pity, perhaps, at her husband’s miserable state? No. It was disgust.
God, what have I done?

He had to turn away and found himself facing his church family, looking on in horror. It was then that he noticed the dozens of cellphones, recording his downfall—sheep, offering up their loving shepherd to the wolves.


In one moment, the world as you know it can end. It was a truth of which Ryann Ashcroft was reminded as she pressed her back against the icy stone, eighteen hundred miles away from the Crosspointe church stage.  

The newspaper had predicted the first snowfall of the season for that evening and the morose clouds hovering above the Gallatin mountains seemed keen to obey. A cold breeze glided over the hills, startling the fallen leaves into a scurry. Shivers pulsed through her, seizing her bad shoulder so that she didn’t know where the physical pain ended and the sorrow began. She swallowed down the sob threatening to choke her. She gasped, but the thin air didn’t satisfy her burning lungs and she collapsed onto the blanket of grass. One tear, then another. They felt hot upon release and quickly cooled as they rolled down her temple and into her hair. Foregoing her usual façade of confidence and gloss, she wept, just like the night she lost him. She imagined that the tears, which now salted the grass and dried leaves, instead soaked into his shirt as she lay with him on their bed. Her chest constricted. The memory of their final moments only caused her to ache more.

Lord, I still miss him every day.

The thought which haunted her was knowing it was her fault he was gone. She had made one mistake, but that mistake led to more consequences than anyone should have to endure. Six long years of consequences which fettered her soul and shackled her foreseeable future.

I’m so sorry. I’d give anything to take that night back. I’d give anything for a second chance.

The sorrow was heavy. She felt herself sinking into the ground, the grass reaching its blades around her. Rolling onto her back, she folded her hands across her chest, released her breath and watched it rise to join the grey clouds in the sky, content to allow the ground to swallow her whole. A peregrine soared overhead, seeking sustenance for its journey south. She pitied the mouse or songbird who would lose its life so that the falcon would live.  They had no choice in the matter. She still did.

Give me a chance for redemption. Give me a purpose, even if it requires sacrifice.  

She set her eyes on an aspen branch above her. One single golden-brown leaf stubbornly remained despite the wind that whipped it back and forth. Does it know that its fate is sealed? Does it care? Either way, she applauded its efforts. She admired that kind of resilience.

Lord, I’ll need your strength to endure.

The breeze weakened and a warmth overtook her. She sat up and brushed away the red wisps of hair, matted to her tear-soaked skin.  With a composed breath, she urged herself to face the marble stone. Her fingers traced the grooves, waltzing up and down in lines and curves: Beloved Husband.

“I love you, Matthew,” she whispered, before standing tall and brushing off her jeans. Ryann thought she heard footsteps, crushing the October leaves. She perused the field of headstones. The only other figure she could see was the concrete angel in the center, the peregrine falcon perched atop her head, watching Ryann. She felt uneasy and hurried towards the parking lot, careful not to step on the grass directly in front of each stone. The smallest one drew her attention every visit. Fresh flowers and a small, pink teddy bear leaned against it. Little Annie Lawrence. Ryann had gone to school with her parents. It was hard to believe that the same river that flowed peacefully past her cabin at her parents’ resort had taken the toddler’s life. She shuddered. They weren't like her. They did nothing to deserve their tragedy.

Out of sight, an engine roared to life. It stopped Ryann cold. Dread filled her stomach and spread through her body. She was a fool to think she was ever truly alone. Sullivan Ashcroft wouldn’t allow that, especially not today, October 22nd. She and Vann would be bound forever due to the events of this day six years ago-- her 21st birthday and the day Matthew died.

Ryann pulled open the door of her old Jeep. Before she could climb inside, the flapping of wings startled her. The falcon ascended towards the clouds with the pink teddy bear clutched in its talons. A knot formed in her stomach at his choice of prey, but the feeling soon gave way to a strange sympathy for the predator that she could not explain.

Lord, give me strength.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Dear Jesus, I failed: An honest prayer when trying isn't enough

Sometimes life doesn’t live up to our expectations. We believe what we hear in history class that we have the right to the American Dream. Our parents assured us that if we do everything right, we will be aptly rewarded. We sang Sunday school bible songs about good character and strong faith and knew that we would have God’s protection over our life and plans.

As we age, that façade starts to fall. It might start with our first broken heart or our first failed exam. Soon we find ourselves miles away from the rich, happy and successful stereotype of the American Christian, and no amount of positive thinking and Instagram inspiration can save us from the real struggles within.

Sometimes marriages end in divorce.
Sometimes pregnancies end too early
Sometimes the temptation is too great.
Sometimes the insecurity is too strong.
Sometimes the dream is out of reach.

Now, the point of this post is not to give in to hopelessness. Rather, there are three things I do intend for you to do with it that will help you see past current circumstances.

First, breathe. Breathe in the stifling air that tragic, life-upending circumstances bring. Allow the tears to soak into the carpet beneath your knees and know that the Lord loves you just as much in the valley as on the mountaintop. Be thankful that we have a God who doesn’t stand above the pit yelling “I told you so” but sits with us in the muck and mire. He is the “God Who Sees Me.” This is the name Hagar gives the Lord when he came to her in the desert as she sobbed helplessly, fearing for her and her child’s life. The Lord sought her out, not once, but twice when her world seemed to be ending. Sweetly, tenderly, he loved her and Ishmael, and that knowledge was enough for her to carry on (Genesis 16; Genesis 23).

The second thing to do is pray. Whisper a pray of failure. Or scream it aloud. Cry, scream, plead, or blame. It is all allowed at the throne of God. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” Mary admitted her disappointment in the Lord when Lazarus succumbed to death. Jesus did not reproach her. He did not throw his hands in the air and leave. He did not call her weak or tell her that many other people have lost loved ones, too. Instead, he wept with her (John 11:35). The Holy Spirit still weeps with us, groaning in tragedy and emitting furious, hot tears in injustice, when the sin of others causes our pain.

The third thing to do is to acknowledge that your story is not over. As Christians, victory over the darkness is inevitable. One day, we will overcome every obstacle, every insecurity, every fear, because we trust the Lord who has overcome the world. In my experience, most of these victories occur as our feet still grace the earth. Still, some victory won’t be felt fully until we are inside Heaven’s gate. On that sweet day, all striving will be over. I will just be me, restored and whole, just as God intended in the beginning.

Beyond those three things, I can’t advise whether you should keep pushing to save the marriage, battle the enemy, or pursue the dream. There is no single answer that will suffice except to seek the Lord, like Jehoshaphat, when he was surrounded by three armies fueled with bloodlust for he and the Israelites (2 Chronicles 20:1-30). On what he saw as the veritable eve of his death, he chose to worship the Lord, saying “Lord we don’t know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.” While they worshipped, the Lord turned the armies against each other and Jehoshaphat and his people had peace on all sides.

While the Bible doesn’t promise that the Lord will heal, save, and restore in our time on Earth, it does promise that the Lord will never leave us or forsake us in our times of trial.

In that promise, peace may be found.

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28: 20b

Friday, July 14, 2017

My Very Dear Wife: The love letter that has transfixed the nation's romantics for more than 150 years

On July 14, 1861, just one week before he was killed at the First Battle of Bull Run, Sullivan Ballou of the 2nd Rhode Island Infantry penned his final letter to his beloved wife, Sarah. The eloquent words of the former lawyer display not only the courage of the soldiers at war, but also the deep, unending love for which romantics still yearn today.

**Headquarters, Camp Clark
Washington, D.C., July 14, 1861

My Very Dear Wife:

Indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days, perhaps to-morrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write a few lines, that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.

Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine, O God be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battle-field for any country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American civilization now leans upon the triumph of government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution, and I am willing, perfectly willing to lay down all my joys in this life to help maintain this government, and to pay that debt.

But, my dear wife, when I know, that with my own joys, I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with care and sorrows, when, after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it, as their only sustenance, to my dear little children, is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country.

I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying the last, perhaps, before that of death, and I, suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart, am communing with God, my country and thee.

I have sought most closely and diligently, and often in my breast, for a wrong motive in this hazarding the happiness of those I loved, and I could not find one. A pure love of my country, and of the principles I have often advocated before the people, and "the name of honor, that I love more than I fear death," have called upon me, and I have obeyed.
Sarah, my love for you is deathless. It seems to bind me with mighty cables, that nothing but Omnipotence can break; and yet, my love of country comes over me like a strong wind, and bears me irresistibly on with all those chains, to the battlefield. The memories of all the blissful moments I have spent with you come crowding over me, and I feel most deeply grateful to God and you, that I have enjoyed them so long. And how hard it is for me to give them up, and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when, God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our boys grow up to honorable manhood around us.

I know I have but few claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me, perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar, that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, nor that, when my last breath escapes me on the battle-field, it will whisper your name.

Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless, how foolish I have oftentimes been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears, every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot, I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.

But, O Sarah, if the dead can come back to this earth, and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you in the garish day, and the darkest night amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours always, always, and, if the soft breeze fans your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air cools your throbbing temples, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah, do not mourn me dear; think I am gone, and wait for me, for we shall meet again.

As for my little boys, they will grow as I have done, and never know a father's love and care. Little Willie is too young to remember me long, and my blue-eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the dimmest memories of his childhood. Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care, and your development of their characters. Tell my two mothers, I call God's blessing upon them. O Sarah, I wait for you there! Come to me, and lead thither my children.

- Sullivan
**Courtesy of the National Park Service

This is a clip from Ken Burns' Civil War documentary, with an abridged reading of Sullivan's letter.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Walk, A Short Story

This is a short story that I have written for the second anniversary of my father's death. It has been two long years and the ache remains. My parents had a great love story. I hope this does it justice.
 (This is my first attempt at creating a story video. The full, unabridged text is below)

She left the velveteen rabbit and patchwork quilt in her home and placed the soles of her Mary Janes on the California dirt and headed east. The day’s first spray of sunlight kissed her skin. As she stepped, calico flowers flitted around her ankles in a dance of sorts, celebrating the morning.

A dark figure, dwarfed by the mighty sequoias, stepped out of their shade and into the clearing. Awash in sunlight, he was dashing and when he noticed her, the breath caught in her chest. He crossed the grassland confidently, persuaded by the cawing blackbirds above. His greeting was smooth. His voice was laced with the intonation of another world. He was a stranger to these parts and he asked if he might join her on her stroll. Yes, she replied.

He brushed a lock of soft brown hair off her forehead, tenderly, and as they ambled across the field, her skirt swayed to the rhythm of his stories of back home.  He was wise and worldly. His sly smile made her blush and her blush made him smile. He slipped his hand in hers. He asked about her journey. East, she replied.

After a while, he carried her over the short stone wall, marking the threshold of the road ahead. The pavement was smooth, but winding—a great adventure that she hadn’t imagined from the clapboard house of her youth. A happy child sat alongside the road. The man lifted him onto his strong shoulders and the boy giggled as the breeze teased his wisps of hair. When the boy begged to run, the man set him down and put his arm around the woman, who kissed the infant with the sky-blue eyes in her arms. He asked if she was content. Not quite, she replied.

Soon, girls and boys frolicked and jostled around them. The road ducked under trees, up and down the foothills. Childhood chatter turned to boisterous laughter. It was a good journey, the woman thought. He asked if she was happy. Undoubtedly, she replied.

Just when the sun had chased away the long shadows of morning, dark clouds stole his light. Thunder bellowed and animals scampered for home. When the stabbing rain fell, the group sought shelter in a cave. As the woman breathed words of comfort to those beneath her arms, she peered up at the man, standing above her. On his shoulders, the roof of the cave rested, crumbling under the weight of the storm. His sly smile was gone, replaced by cool, hard stone. His eyes were dark with worry. He asked if she was afraid. Not with you, she replied.

The cave held and the sun triumphed over the clouds, burning away the cold rain. To a symphony of chittering birds and insects, they continued their journey. They paused a moment to cherish their world. He asked if there was anything else she needed. Nothing at all, she replied.

As they descended the peak, the boys and girls—now young men and women—began to veer off onto their own roads, with a wave and a smile. They passed deserts of sand and fields of corn. The woman, finding herself alone with the man once again, slipped her hand back in his. Bridges traversed waterways, glittered with the orange light of sunset. He brushed a lock of grey hair off her forehead, tenderly. He asked if she was tired. No, she replied.

Sun seared against the ocean. If the salt water sizzled, she didn’t hear it. The man’s coughing filled her ears. He rubbed his pained chest and tried to reassure her with that same sly smile. He asked if they could slow down a bit. Of course, she replied.

She helped him walk along the coast under the moonlight. He was slow and his breathing was labored. He asked if she was afraid. Yes, she replied.

He needed to rest a moment. She closed her eyes a moment, pulling strength from her depths to continue the journey. His hand slipped from hers without warning. When she opened her eyes to the moonlight, she could no longer see the man. He was gone and she was alone, cold and frightened. Not yet, she begged.

Her legs were heavy. All her strength battled the sobs which compressed her lungs and burned her throat. The darkness of the night blinded her. No more, she pleaded.

A small pinpoint of light pierced the black. Then another and another. A child’s giggle tickled the dead air. By the fireflies’ glow, she saw the familiar faces of her children and their children around her. The small frail hand of a girl of five clasped the woman’s palm tight. A boisterous laugh of a young boy broke the sorrow into shards. Though it remained, the sadness lacked its full power. No regrets, she replied.

The children retired to bed and she stood alone once more as the blue of a new morning flooded the sky. The moon and stars bed adieu as the sun stretched its first tendrils of light above the ocean, pulling itself onto the horizon. A dark figure appeared down the beach.  Awash in new sunlight, he was dashing and when he approached her, the breath caught in her chest. He brushed a lock of soft brown hair off her forehead, tenderly. He asked if she had a good day. A very good day, she replied.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

All the Past We Leave Behind: Prologue

*The following is the prologue to my novel formerly titled The Long Way Off

“Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. So they began to celebrate.” Luke 15:23-24

On the day when the last iris petal kissed the grass, the slaughtering of Elizabeth Matthews’ fattened calf occurred at an old stone church across the world from where her wayward journey began. Devoid of biblical fanfare, there were no party guests to share in the feast. In fact, the only witnesses were the petrified wooden pews with their everlasting crevasses trapping the whispered prayers of both the faithful and unfaithful for centuries. Beneath her face-cradling hands, tiny starbursts darkened the dusty stones as each salty tear carried away the grief and shame that prodigal living cruelly imbues until the time of redemption.

The feast’s celebratory music had been replaced by the call of a petite yellow-breasted bird in the rafters, a rising ra-ta-tat-tat like she used to hear a mile outside the stadium on Autumn Saturdays. She pondered the meaning of the blue tit’s song. Was it a prayer of humble repentance mimicking those who, once suffused in the beauty of Monet’s gardens, found their souls frightfully revolting?  Was it a hymn absorbed after a lifetime living above the worshipful voices of the Église Sainte-Radegonde de Giverny? Was it the bird’s call to her long-lost love who still haunted the hollow of her bones without invitation? Or was it a jester’s taunt, unimpressed by a common American girl traveling across land and sea to forget whom she left behind?

The celebration’s only dancing was the waltz between the Father and his beloved daughter, not unlike the one she had futilely imagined at her wedding. Each graceful step was a benediction of the gospel displayed in her life. Beneath his shoulders, encircled by his loving arms, she now saw through the myth that a prodigal child is ever able to escape the love and mercy of the Father. The Lord had always been there, watching her in her foolish stubbornness protecting her when she didn’t care enough to protect herself, loving her unconditionally as she desperately tested just how wide and far and deep his love is.

Light illuminated the stained glass to her right. She imagined her own life depicted in the careful coordination of colored glass. All the tragedy, betrayal, temptation and fear that had ruled her began to quake. One by one, fragmented shards of crimson, emerald, and cobalt fell to the ground. The old has gone, the new has come.

Elizabeth, with only tears of joy remaining on her lightly freckled skin, arose taller than she had stood upon entering the church. The blue tit held its call as it listened to the creaking pew and the soft pats of Elizabeth’s feet against the limestone like a patient counselor allowing words to slowly drip from the client’s tongue. When the girl with a Midwestern accent and the loose curls dislodged the thick wooden door, a fresh breeze replaced the dank, musty air and her lungs rejoiced along with her soul.

On the threshold, she pulled out the ring Brian had given her almost four years ago. She turned the ring between her fingers slightly, allowing the sun’s rays to frolic across the precious stone. It was an artifact. Like those in a museum, it told a story. Her story.

An older woman hobbled up the crooked steps. In her eight months working at the Old Hotel Baudy, Elizabeth had come to know her as Henriette. Widowed thirty-two years, she prayed at the church every day at noon. Elizabeth grasped her small hand and uncurled her spindly fingers in a gentle manner consistent with her every encounter. In Henriette’s palm, she placed the ring, knowing it could feed her for a full year. She descended the steps before Henriette had finished thanking her. The ring wasn’t meant for her. If she was honest with herself, she knew it wasn’t the day she had accepted it from Brian, even before she first saw the green eyes that were so instrumental in piercing holes in her painstakingly preserved mirage of a joyful life.

Daniel. She felt an all too familiar pang of longing pierce beneath her sternum. Time and redemption could not quell his lingering presence.  

Isn’t it exhilarating and perhaps even a little frightening how our whole world can change with just one choice? To fight or to surrender. To love or to discard. To stay or to return.

Daniel had spoken like the true prodigal that he was. Even now, years later, Elizabeth was still mesmerized by those words and the courage that birthed them. She could still see his eyes dancing to the impassioned rhythm of his voice. Maybe she and Daniel weren’t so different after all.

Ra-ta-tat-tat. Elizabeth turned her eyes back to the steeple, shielding her eyes. The blue tit appeared from under the eave. She paused a moment, cocked her head in Elizabeth’s direction and repeated her call before soaring away from the Church of Giverny, disappearing into the brilliance of the noonday sun.

The Holy Spirit whispered into Elizabeth’s soul and her chin gave a slight, worshipful nod. She twisted a curl around her finger and pulled it taut. When it sprung back into place in front of her ear, her lips curved in an incredulous smirk, as she prepared to return to the town she had once so desperately fled. In that moment, she debated whether she should hope for life in Neverell, Ohio and its inhabitants to be different or completely the same. Regardless, she knew she could rely on the unconditional companionship of her Savior and it was all the assurance she needed to face her past.

If you enjoyed this, the full manuscript is available for you to read as long as you don't mind that it is a work in progress! Follow me on facebook to find out more!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Painfully Honest Figurine Collection Every Mother Needs

As I have been unpacking boxes after our cross-country move, I have been staring about my collection of Motherhood inspired figurines. If you became a parent in the last fifteen years, you will know what I'm talking about. Those statues of moments in life that makes your heart beat a little faster at the memory? As I contemplated where to put them on display in our new house, I thought about how wonderful it was to receive each one, marking a new phase in life for which to be thankful. There was a time when I got a new one for every birthday, mother's day or Christmas. The last one I received was about eight years ago--the same time I realized that honest motherhood rarely looks like those idealized moments.

For that reason, I decided to offer a few suggestions for some more realistic figurines about parenting.

"Bundle of Joy and other stuff"

Once upon a time, blow-outs were something you looked forward to at the salon. In motherhood, it has an entirely different meaning and can make any event more interesting. Perhaps this woman is in a doctor's waiting room, or at the grocery store with a cartfull of food on the conveyor belt. Maybe she is standing in the aisle of an airplane waiting to deplane behind the same passengers who complained about sitting near a baby, yet won't allow the mother and child to go first. The child was fussing noisily right before the blowout, probably because of a tummy ache, which also made her spit up down her dress and into a puddle on the floor. The crying made her milk let down and now the baby is blocking the embarrassing leakage she now shows.

"Dream a Little Dream"

This mother and her husband found a new babysitter, but she is still mourning their former sitter who had to go and either get a part time job, a boyfriend, or become popular so that she was no longer available when a date night opportunity arrives. She decides to make it easier on the new sitter and go out for the late showing (and by late I mean the 9:00 movie). But before the opening credits begin, she has already fallen asleep because the only time she is up past 9:30 anymore is to nurse a baby, calm a nightmare or clean up vomit. The husband doesn't mind, though, because he still gets to imagine himself as Jason Bourne, living an adventurous life that doesn't just include taking the kids to any sit-down restaurant that doesn't start with Red and end with Robin.

"Game of Porcelain Thrones"

This statue commemorates the stage of life that mothers of all girls will sadly miss out on. This sixteen year phase gives us daily reminders of that prayer, "For this child I have prayed and the Lord has granted me what I've asked of him." Here, this mother is cleaning up her little miracle's urine from every surface of the bathroom with one hand while imagining herself remodeling a quaint fixer upper in Waco with Chip and Joanna. "This bathroom has character," she tells herself and hopes Magnolia will come out with a line of vintage urinals.

"A Beautiful Mess"

Here, our momma is cleaning up after her little ones, swearing she just cleaned up this room five minutes ago and wondering what that new smell is. Among her findings are:
  • a Gogurt wrapper that is dripping spoiled dairy deep into the carpet fibers
  • A sucker that has grabbed hold of the rug, refusing to budge, with the intensity of a toddler in the Target toy aisle
  • A marker that has dried out but not before bleeding out into a puddle and you curse Crayola for even selling non-washable markers anymore
  • A dirty sock that may or not belong to your child and you wonder when your child even wears socks
  • a $20 fidget spinner that your kid just HAD TO HAVE that now lays in puddle of puppy saliva
  • a used bandaid, leading the mother to turn away to stifle a gag. Seriously, I pick up at least one nasty, dirty bandaid off the floor or the ledge of the bathtub every single day. Bandaid should pay for our next family vacation based on how much money we have spent on their products and how much disgust they have caused me through the years.
Note the craftsmanship of this one and how it includes great detail work, like a rug chosen specifically because of the dirt it can hide, and a houseplant that has been dead for more than a year--a martyr to the cause of parenthood, knowing that we can't all survive.

Bonus: Can you spot the balled up dirty underwear in this picture? Because why must a child learn to properly wipe themselves if they can just hide the evidence? (Don't worry, if you can't--the puppy will find it, or one of the houseguests).

"Sideline Disappointment"

This figure depicts the moment that a proud mother and father realize that their beloved child is actually pretty terrible at sports. In this moment of mourning, the two parents come together to discuss the possibility of an academic scholarship for their child instead. As he hops like a bunny rabbit and growls at his teammates for a reason that no one understands, you just hope he makes it to graduation. This comes with several detailed props inside a Thirty-One large tote with "Game Day" embroidered on it. The props include:
  • a bag of fried shame (fast food)
  • a still unused Megaphone in the team colors, in case your kid ever actually touches the ball
  • a Christian sports parent's guide to not drive people away from Jesus with your temper
  • masking tape to cover the name of your church emblazoned on your shirt or car if you do lose your temper
  • warm capri suns and a pack of off-brand nutrigrain bars that you picked up last minute at the convenience store because you forgot it was your turn for snacks
  • an essential oil kit to ward off bugs, seasonal allergies, disappointment, and that one other parent who drives you crazy
Extra figures may be added to create a Ball Park scene including gawking onlookers and the parent's preschoolers who are bathing in a mud puddle too far away to hear any instructions but not far enough to not beg for money for the ice cream truck that has maliciously approached the field. A limited amount of the little sister figurine is available. This little cutie sits in her sun faded stroller covered by a crust because as the fourth kid, she has never eaten dinner anywhere other than her stroller. In her dirty fists are ketchup suckers (French fries) and a Go-Go- Squeeze that the mother is pretty sure hasn't already been opened before.

"Go Mommy, Go!"

After many years of constant self-sacrifice, this statue depicts the Mother achieving a goal for herself as her family cheers her on. This scene is customizable as the mother could be wearing a graduation gown, leaving her house to reenter the workforce after ten years at home, or accepting an award for her hard work at her job. The father could also be replaced by a grandmother, sister or friend who have been there to cheer her on in her endeavors.

"Driving Away with my Heart"

I once heard that choosing to parent is like choosing to have your heart walking around outside your body. I imagine that the moment your child begins to drive it feels like your heart is now speeding at 80 mph on a dark, curvy road with no headlights. As much as they drive us crazy, the thought of losing our precious ones is too much to bear. The father comforts his wife as he hands the keys over to his son, while the mother pictures a four year old excitedly showing her that he wrote his name for the first time.

Bonus for those who collect Precious Moments:

This last one is called "Long Awkward Pauses." This scene portrayed the mutual discomfort of a mother-son sex talk. The beauty of this one is in the details. The tween has disproportionately long legs, a terrible haircut, and the first signs of acne. He wears an oversized sweatshirt, cargo shorts even in the middle of winter, and an exorbitant amount of Axe body spray. He has placed his fidget spinner back in his pocket after realizing that even that couldn't distract him enough to make this tolerable.

The mother sits opposite the homemade farmhouse style bench with antique white paint of which Joanna Gaines would approve. Fresh beads of sweat are evident on the mother's face. Her eyes exhibit a mixture of sadness (#timepleaseslowdown), humiliation, and resentment because this-is-what-fathers-are-supposed-to-do-and-yet-I--still-had-to-make-the-decision-on-circumscision,-handle-all-the-potty-training,-give-the-sex-talk,-and-define-words-like-masturbation-and-clitoris. As her son reads a book explaining some of the details she couldn't bring herself to share, she wonders if there is a Pandora bracelet charm for this moment because surviving this moment has become her biggest accomplishment to date.

Happy Mother's Day!

Disclaimer #1: I love Willow Tree figurines! They are beautiful and timeless! Go to their website and find a perfect one for you or a loved one when you are done reading!

Disclaimer #2:  I have never claimed to be an artist. I apologize for the assault on your eyes. It just shows how talented Willow Tree craftspeople really are

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Missing Character on 13 Reasons Why

Like many, I was horrified and heartbroken watching the new Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why, which painstakingly describes the reasons why a teenage girl commits suicide. There are numerous things I could discuss here like whether Christians should watch or promote a show that has lewd language, sexual content and graphic violence including rape and suicide. I could have discussed whether it is developmentally appropriate for teenagers to watch due to its nature. I could have spoken on the potential of copycat suicides and the justification of suicide that some believe it promotes.

I could have contemplated the accusation of a deepening depravity of the teenage soul by picking apart the actions of the thirteen people that lead good, kind and typical Hannah Baker to kill herself. Rather, let’s discuss the missing character: The Good Christian Kid. The show fails to include any notion of religion or God and it is unclear what any of the characters believe, including Hannah. Thankfully, Christianity was spared the poison-tipped arrow of Hollywood when the creators of this show forewent the low-hanging fruit. What is that, you ask?

That is, the church attending, youth group aficionado who enters the stereotypical, televised world of the adolescent, befriends the good-hearted, but wayward main characters only to heap hypocritical judgement, guilt and shame on them and the viewers to whom they relate (I’m looking at you, Dawson’s Creek). It would have been easy to insert a self-righteous love interest, friend or sibling who rips one more seam holding Hannah’s fragile patchwork heart together by condemning her mistakes or her reputation or turning their back on her when her life got too messy or sinful. We can do without another pop culture visual of the White-Washed Evangelical Teen, if you will.

Rather, the character it was missing was the one who would softly, but powerfully whisper life into those around them when all the other voices shriek envy, cruelty, and death.

The Christian who sits in the cafeteria, more concerned with who might be hurting behind a braces-laced smile than their own popularity.

The teenager who recognizes the loneliness of others and reaches out to them with a hello, a high five or an invitation to hang out.

The student who stands up for the beaten-down kid, whether their wounds are physical or emotional.

The girl who refuses to gossip because of the knowledge that unkind words and expository retellings, whether true or not, can destroy lives.

The boy who chooses to befriend the vulnerable, rather than exploit them.

The kid who still pursues friendship with someone who thinks, lives, believes or acts differently than them.

The adolescent who is near enough to help when the friend has too much to drink, gets kicked off the team, runs away from home, or carves their skin to release the pain that overwhelms them.

The friend who reminds them that they are valuable, loved, and worth more than the price others have cruelly scribbled on them.

The disciple who tells the Hannah Bakers of the world that there is a God who loves them enough to send his son to die on the cross, offering freedom from the shame and guilt that threatens to spill out of them in the form of apologies, tears, and even blood at the touch of a razor blade.

Sadly, not every Hannah Baker will care to hear that truth or accept that kind of friendship. However, for the one that does, it may save their life. I know because I had a girl offer this kind of friendship to me in my time of need.

New to my school in 8th grade, Bethany befriended me when few others did. She cheered me on in my successes despite the fact that I wasn’t always appreciative or kind. Then my junior year, when my attempts to be perfect failed and a callous boy mishandled my heart, introducing new, overwhelming insecurities and pain I had never known, I sought to deaden the pain. Yet Bethany stayed by my side, in my sin, in my sadness, when there were more fun places to be and happier friends to enjoy.
Bethany (far left) and I with friends

One particularly painful night, I confided in her my plans. Outside her house I sat behind the wheel of my car and begged her, even pushed her to get out of the passenger seat so I could get on with my plan. However, Bethany did this miraculous thing: she would not get out of the car. She stayed with me and she listened to me.

If I was the prodigal son, strewn in mud and desperately longing to fill my belly with the pig slop at my feet, she would have come and stood with me, not caring that she was muddying her boots in the process. In high school, in college, and in adulthood, we need more Christians who are more willing to do the same.

My wedding, March 2002
Fortunately, my high school story ended differently than Hannah Baker’s. Eventually, I accepted Bethany’s longstanding offer to surrender my life, not to death, but to Jesus Christ. With faith and a relationship with God, I was able to survive the turbulence of adolescence and even managed to help some others see the face of their savior in the midst of their pain along the way. Years later, Bethany stood at my side in my wedding and now she is the godmother to my four children.

Note to parents:

I’m forever grateful that Bethany’s parents allowed and even encouraged their tender-hearted, church going daughter to spend time with a joy-sapping, sinful, self-centered mean girl. As parents, we want to shield our children from painful, exhausting friendships and other dangers of adolescence. Though it frightens us, these children who have been memorizing bible verses and singing about
the grace and love of Jesus for their entire childhood may have a calling beyond the refuge of our protective wings. We must let them go. Imagine if Jonah’s parents had chartered the boat that took him far from Nineveh, the place God told him to minister. Imagine if Timothy’s mother and grandmother, in addition to passing on their faith, also told him to fearfully avoid those who act, think, and believe differently than him (2 Timothy 1:5). Not everyone will agree with me on this point, but I urge parents to wisely and prayerfully consider extending the boundaries of their child’s activities and friendships for the sake of the gospel and those who may be in need.

While I do think extreme caution should be used in allowing young teens and tweens to watch this show, the book is middle school appropriate and could be a great platform to discuss these difficult topics with your child.