Tuesday, February 17, 2015

No Child Left Behind

On a quiet snowy night, I sat on my lumpy couch, watching Netflix, not finding anything to watch beyond the first ten minutes, and so I turned off the television and decided to read the news.  Depressing headline after depressing headline--parents harming children, children murdering parents, shootings, and worse.  Politicians all jockeying for the spotlight in yet another presidential race that has begun far too soon--a bit like Christmas decorations appearing in stores even before Halloween.

Some headlines and statements caused me to consider one current issue in particular.

As most will agree, Jesus did not mention “gay” anything.  Sure, he did say that a husband would leave his parents and “cleave” to his wife, but that was about it.  We can find ambiguous talk regarding eunuchs and Centurions guards wanting their “servants/younger lovers/who knows” healed. 

I was raised Fundamental Baptist, but I’m not a translator of Hebrew/Greek/Roman.  But, even as a child and teenager, David and Jonathan in the Old Testament often gave me pause, and the Centurion made me think deeper, too.

Still, maybe Jesus didn’t mention “gay stuff” for a reason…

Why wouldn’t He?

He was God incarnate.  Certainly, He knew that 2000 years into the future people would obsess about it—particularly people who claimed to follow Him.

So, why not throw a bone to the faithful?

Is it a test?

What if Jesus didn’t say anything about homosexuality because He wanted to see if any of His teachings were actually learned and practiced?  

He taught that hypocrisy was wrong (“judge not, lest ye be judged likewise”); He condemned divorce and remarriage unequivocally; He preached forgiveness, love, acceptance, and that pesky thing about not throwing stones…

Perhaps He is testing our current generation? 

If so, the results are interesting.

I am a teacher for whom assessment is paramount. 

As a believer (judge or not judge), I think this is an interesting notion, and I sit back and wonder…

Which child will be left behind?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

How to Grieve A Pet In Five Steps

1. Denial and Isolation

“Thanks. Yeah, well, she was just a pet. Yeah, it was hard.” Such a grief suffocates you. What is the socially acceptable amount of grief for a pet? When does it veer into too much?  People offer well-wishes and sympathies. You try to breathe deeply and stay composed, but as soon as you can, you go and sob in the bathroom, at home, in your car.  She was your friend, one of your dearest companions who knew your heart for years. She would nestle into you, cuddle you in dark times, cheer you up when you felt sad—every morning, she slept against your neck to feel your warmth, to feel the beating of your heart.

2. Anger

I already took you to the emergency vet clinic last week. Why are we going again?  Why are we doing the same process of a week ago? 

I grit my teeth.  I slam my fist.  I cannot even cry because I am frustrated, powerless, a blood tempest swirling in a cage of skin and bone.

We already did this.  Why isn’t the problem fixed? 

I try to keep a level-head.  I know that decisions will need to be made, life-changing decisions. 
My friend knows, too.  She sulks, depressed in her crate with a catheter and e-collar again…again…again.

3. Bargaining

I prayed more than one night that my friend would improve, that the infection would heal, that an x-ray would reveal that she could come back home.  But, such prayers came with guilt, and I hear the words—she is only a cat—whose voice is it?   I wrestle with conflicted feelings. I stared hard at my ceiling, closed my eyes, gritted my teeth, and spoke a prayer out loud.  I didn’t care if my neighbors could hear me.  Such words were raw, authentic, honest. Those were the words of a friend desperate to save another friend.

4. Depression

I couldn’t eat, didn’t want to eat.  I drove the hour and a half south to West Lafayette, spent my time with her in that stuffy room designated for owners who need private, emotional good-byes. They were patient.  They did not push.  You have as much time as you need.  But, my friend was not interested in hugs and kisses.  She didn’t know this was the end of her life.  She just wanted outside.  Outside of crates.  Outside of e-collars.  Outside in that sunlight and fresh air.  She stared out the windows.  She wanted to jump and slink and go places her catheter didn’t allow. 

I wanted to hold her tightly, hug her close to me, and translate through my heart beat and pores the love I had for her. 

But, she was my animal friend who was more interested in opened windows she had not seen in days.
I broke down in bitter sobs as I paid the bill.  Everyone in the waiting room hushed.  All eyes were on me.  They knew my pain, hoped it wouldn’t be theirs.  Me, too.  I made that awful choice.  I had to decide the time of death.  No matter how right people tell you such a choice is there’s always the doubt.

I cried the entire drive back to Michigan City—the entire two hours.  I would not eat for two days.  But, who mourns with you when your friend is of another species?  There are no casseroles or meat trays.  Buck up, it’s just a cat. I told myself that and then felt guilty for it. I tried to quell the pain by thinking but remember she was an animal.  

But, no, this was my friend. I knew her eight years…just a cat…just a friend.

5. Acceptance

Pet.  Grandmother.  Grandfather.  Brother.  Friend.

If acceptance means wishing those lost were still here, then I can accept that.

Still, on a quiet night, I almost believe I see her moving along the wall, or sitting on her empty cat tower. 

Loving another for years is the hardest habit to break.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Come Forth: A Poem at 13-Years-Old

We went to Mary that day
we had heard about Lazarus.
I didn't know what to say
when a man came called Jesus.

Many people recognized his face.
We wondered why he had come the this place.
We thought maybe he knew Lazarus.
Who was this man called Jesus?

He asked to see where Lazarus had been laid;
Someone said, "Lord, come and see!"
I wondered why they called him Lord, why?
Then I saw this man Jesus cry.

People around began to talk
about this man who had made the lame walk.
They talked again about this power he possessed;
They said it was special, a certain kind.

They said this man called Jesus had healed the blind.
Some people asked, "Why then did Lazarus die?"
We all turned and watched Jesus cry.
He spoke, "Take ye away the stone."
What kind of power did he own?
I wondered what he planned to do.
Surely, he couldn't raise Lazarus from the dead.
Then the man called Jesus raised his head

It sounded like he started to pray.
I'll never forget what happened that day.
Suddenly, he brought his face back down.
Then he shouted, "Lazarus, come forth!"

I could see movement in the grave.
Then a bound man came out of the cave.
I couldn't believe what I just saw.
Then Jesus turned to me and said my name.

I stood in disbelief, how could this man know me?
Suddenly, it all became clear
I turned to him and said "Lord!"

And He said, "Come forth."

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Child in the Wardrobe

With the metal wardrobe doors closed, I sat in the darkness on the Paper Mill box where we kept the Lite Brite.  I smelled the mothballs hanging in nylons, aged woolen sweaters, and the leather of shoes outgrown and cluttering the wardrobe floor. 

I could not have been more than five years old.

Not every child’s bedroom has a wardrobe, but I needed one.  There were no closets in my room.  Our house was small.  Floorboards creaked and crackled with each step, no matter which room, and the whole house would waken from coughs or sneezes in the night. 

I had a vent that peered down into the living room in my bedroom floor.  I would hold my breath and peek down and listen to my parents speak in low tones about serious things after my brother and I had gone to bed.  I learned one Christmas Eve that Santa was just my father in tighty whiteys setting out presents.  I watched him in the soft, multi-colored glow of the lights strung around the tree.

My older brother Matt had been fanatical about three books in his life: Charlotte’s Web, Dune, and The Chronicles of Narnia.  He owned a set of the entire Narnia series, and he read them through until their covers faded.  When he was older—after he’d tried to end his life and spent some months in the mental hospital—he stuck stickers with a selected Bible verse onto the front pages of each of the seven books: II Corinthians 1:2-7.  He was 19-years-old at the time.  A few years before, at the age of twelve, he had written the date, the year, his name, phone number, hometown (B.G.O.), and the price of the collection into each book in the series.  I guess he didn’t want anyone to ever steal them.  

When I was 19-years-old, after he decided to exit this life, I inherited those books.  Each sticker and scribble suddenly transformed into the story of a boy who struggled with adulthood and chose to escape the day to day burden of existence.

Before all of that, I sat in the pitch black of that closed wardrobe with my chin in my hand.  I had not read the Narnia books myself.  But, after listening to my brother and watching the 1979 “special television presentation” cartoon, my childish imagination ached with a craving for the magic of Narnia. 

I fell in love with Aslan who I recognized as a Jesus-figure from my many hours spent in Sunday school and church.  I cried when Aslan allowed himself to be taken captive, his mane shaved and his majesty mocked. But, my heart swelled at his triumphant resurrection and the destruction of the Ice Queen (who I also secretly admired).

What stuck with me most, though, was how that wardrobe, filled with oppressive fur coats, suddenly opened into another world, a world full of crisp snow, talking animals, and kings and queens.  

I climbed into my own version, that familiar darkened place, closed the doors, closed my eyes, opened my imagination, opened my mind to the boundless possibilities, stretched out my fingertips to push through to the other side of the world, but I never felt the cooling chill, never felt more than the metal back of the wardrobe, the suffocation of my own dresses and shirts and skirts. 

My disappointment felt all too real.  And, there I sat, on the Lite Brite box, never less afraid of the dark.

I had reached the limits of my own imagination; it was a stirring that propelled me towards an understanding of time and space and reality that I did not yet know how to fully accept.

On that afternoon, so many years ago, I became aware of the full force of Narrative and storytelling. 

That wardrobe, that mystical magical wardrobe in C.S. Lewis’ books, that portal back into a childish belief in limitlessness was like the book itself, to step into, climb into, and escape into. 

I had only to open the cover like a door and enter and escape the burden of day to day existence.

And, yet, there are times that this 40-year-old woman looks at closet doors and pines, closes her eyes and craves the taste of snow on her tongue, listens for the babble of talking animals, and loses herself in a world where a boy she once knew disappeared... 

She hopes that on the other side of that door and darkness he finally found himself a home.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Summer of 1984

A few years ago I had the privilege of participating in a podcast and blog called Not Your Mama's Gamer. You can still find several of my blog posts on the site.

One that still means a lot to me is called "The Summer of 1984."

You can find that post here.

This day with its blue sky, green grass, and slightly humid air reminds me of that summer 30 years ago almost to the day--one that contains many of my favorite childhood memories.

The blog post pays tribute to my cousin Becky White-Schooner and my mother Marsha White.

I hope all who read it enjoy the memories I share, and, hopefully, it will rouse a few of your own.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What It Feels Like For A Girl

He started stalking me after my twelfth birthday.  Just after my body developed curves and cars started honking at me when I walked down the street.  He lurked in every shadow, hid around every corner, crouched poised to strike behind every shower curtain. 

He follows me.  I can hear the scuff of his shoes on sidewalks.  He waits until my bedroom light goes out.  Is he outside my window?  In my closet?  Behind those bushes?

He holds his breath, listens for me to fall asleep, so that he can pounce on me at my most vulnerable. 

I close my eyes but surrendering to sleep is slow. I've heard the stories.  A friend woke up in the middle of the night and found a man on top of her, intent to rape and murder her.  Another woman, the wife of a friend, was raped and strangled by a maintenance man. He had the keys.  He let himself in.  He stole her last gasp of life.

The movies air 24/7 on cable, in theaters, in the imaginations of middle class women awake after midnight.  Psycho, Silence of the Lambs, Kiss the Girls, The Last House on the Left, Halloween, Captivity--Hollywood loves a good mix of sex and murder.  In fact, there's even a genre called torture porn.  

Society celebrates the notoriety of grisly serial killers--Jack the Ripper, the Black Dahlia murderer, The Boston Strangler, Ted Bundy, The Green River Killer, and the list goes on.  The headlines romanticize these deeds with sexy names.  Who were the victims?  That's incidental to the fascinating story of a psychopath--a man who stops living by the confines of society's mores, a man who takes what he wants when he wants. 

He is glorified, my stalker.

When I step onto an elevator, I wonder if that's him in the business suit, or hoodie, or polo.  He's white, black, brown, yellow, orange, purple, pink--it does not matter.  His violence can be found in the shadows, a leer.  When I go out after dark, I know that he is somewhere in the rustle of the trees, in the face of a stranger who might soon make me famous.  Victim #4.  There's more than one way to get your fifteen minutes of fame in America. 

That's what I've been taught and shown since I was a little girl too frightened to sleep.  The darkness makes you prey.  And pray.  The weaker sex, the one too innocent, too naive, too ditzy to understand how dangerous the bumps in the night can be. 

This why we all sleep with ball bats, mace, weapons even more potent.  We learn self-defense and kick boxing.  We prepare ourselves.

It's time our screams stop being entertainment.

It's time that girls stop having to fear the faceless threat.

When can we stop being afraid of the dark?

Sunday, April 27, 2014

A Midwestern Myth

Niche Literary Magazine recently published my short story "A Midwestern Myth" as their featured fiction piece online.  This is a story about hesitation, connection, the things that keep us from saying what we feel.  It is large, operatic, and interweaves metaphors from a variety of cultures--Icelandic, Norse, Greek and the simple (and deceptively "generic") American Midwest. These symbols and cultures merge and interconnect in a small town, in the quiet relationship between a father and his daughter, a woman and a small boy, a virginal young woman and a more worldly man. Growing up in a college town, I was used to the swirl of cultures and ideas and thoughts and experiences.  This story attempts to capture how that can feel to all involved.  The rural meets the urban meets the international meets the ethereal.  I am so very honored to have this story recognized for its merits and showcased with such an artistically-minded literary magazine.

You can read "A Midwestern Myth" here.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Blood Love

Recently, I had the honor of having my short story "Blood Love" published with Prick of the Spindle. The story came to me when I worked as an office girl at one of the automotive parts stores in my hometown.  One of the guys was talking about a car accident.  Many of the other guys knew the family, and so, they spent a good part of the day discussing it and trying to discover details.

Apparently, a brother and sister were driving down the road when a semi-truck suddenly came out of nowhere and threatened a head-on collision.  The brother was driving.  He made a split second decision.  He spared his sister's life by turning the wheel and taking the brunt of the impact.  Sadly, he perished.  But, the story of that brother and sister stuck with me.

How quickly that young man made a choice.  He must have loved his sister a great deal.

What would have happened if he had turned the wheel the other way?

That's when I began thinking about a mother and her child.  What would happen if a mother was in that situation and made the "wrong choice"?  Mothers are supposed to be self-sacrificing, always putting their children first...but, what if self-preservation was the stronger instinct?

What would a split second decision reveal about any of us?  Would it reveal anything at all?

I wrote this story trying to arrive at some kind of answer.

Here is a link to "Blood Love":


Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Things We Don't Say

The rest of the country believes Midwesterners are secret-keepers, passive-aggressives who shy from confrontation.  I learned this in graduate school.  I had never thought of my bland birthplace as being so distinctive.  The more I thought about these traits, though, the more I saw them in friends, family, neighbors, and even myself.

My elderly neighbor's husband died in early January of this year.  He drifted off to the dreams only the dying know.  His decline had been steady over several months--a stroke, the nursing home, slumbering himself into Heaven.  He was 90-years-old, a lifetime of service: veteran, Mason, devout church-goer, the first person after a snowstorm to clean off his neighbors' cars. 

While it was true that I did not know the man as well as some, I liked him immediately.  He had been one of the first people to welcome me to the building and learn my name. 

Last week, his frail widow stood inside the door to our apartment. I had just learned that morning that Bob had passed away the night before.

A bunch of us were in the parking lot moving cars for the snowplows.  A heavy blizzard had dumped a foot snow on us, and we were trying to help keep our lot clear. It was exactly the type of event where my dear neighbor Bob would've been involved, laughing and joking and talking with everyone.

I felt tight in my chest.  I needed to say something.  I needed to acknowledge this loss.  I needed to not cry when I looked her in the eyes. 

His wife pretended to hold the door tight so that I couldn't enter.  I smiled.   What would I say to her?  More than that, what should I say to her?  There is an etiquette and convention to these moments, especially to those who are older, belonging to a different time and place than me.  Her husband made a person's heart happy, just the sight of him outside tinkering with one of their cars would be cause for a smile. 

He loved my little dog, spoke of how his mother used to own a little Chihuahua.  He would laugh and clap and tease my dog like he was a boy again.  It was such a delight to see that sparkle in that older man's eye.  If only for a minute or two, he was a boy again, reveling in the joy of romping with a pup, not caring who saw or what anybody thought. 

For his sake alone, I needed to find the words.

"It's cold out there," she said.

I chuckled a little, nervous. "Yeah." My nose stung from the emotions starting to stir.

We shuffled out of the foyer together into the hall of our building.  

Say something.  Now is the chance.

"I tell you," she said. "I almost slipped on these stairs earlier."

"Yeah, you got to be careful," I replied. 

Our emphatic discussion about cold and snow spoke of our emotions.  She knew that I knew and that I wanted to say something, but she took control of the conversation. 

I knew what she was telling me:

 I know you know and know that it's okay to not say anything right now.  It's too raw.  There will be plenty of time for tears.  I know you miss him.

I watched her climb the stairs.

"I'm sure ready for warm weather," I said.

"Me, too," she answered, already out of sight.

And, we'd said it.  Everything we needed to at that moment.  At first, I thought I should feel disappointed in myself that I hadn't had the courage to say something, but soon I realized that we had communicated everything to each other perfectly.

Midwesterners may be non-confrontational, a little passive-aggressive, secret-keepers, but we also understand, perhaps better than some, that sometimes what we don't say is the most important thing to say at a given moment.

Rest in peace, Bob.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Jesus Loves Me, This I Know

Jesus Loves Me, This I Know
I am the woman at the well.  The prostitute flung into the dust awaiting the thunk of stones to her head, her legs, her chest.  I am the Centurion pleading for the life of my servant.  I am the eunuch from my mother's womb.  I am the prodigal returned home, feasting on a fatted calf, still received with a kiss...

I Come to the Garden Alone
I closed my eyes and knelt beside my childhood bed, the same one I had for years.  I was 28 years-old, living back home, teaching at a private university--to save money, to save time, it was a one-year position. Each night, I would shout silently at my ceiling, grit my teeth and spill my heart and blood and tears all over the pages of my worn Bible.  Pages wrinkled.  Gilding tarnished.  My only answer, the wrong answer, and, yet, he tells me that "I am His own."

Often, this was the first hymn we sang in church on Sunday morning. We rose from our pews.  We sang in unison.  We "praised God from Whom all blessings flowed."  I evened my voice and joined the monotone chorus.  We "creatures here below."  Amen.

Nearer My God to Thee
On the Titanic, the orchestra played this hymn as the ship slipped beneath the icy waters.  Here is a story of a soul breaking free of its body: "On joyful wing cleaving the sky/sun, moon, and stars forgot, upward I fly." The body, the betrayal of physical sensations, the temptations, the lusting after the wrong flesh...Yet, my spirit cleaves the sky.  I am two in one.  Is the warring necessary?  Is one dragging me into sin and hellfire and eternal burning; the other bursting upwards like an ember, like a spark?  Yet man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upwards, or so Job tells us...

I Surrender All
"All to Jesus I surrender" night after night. In the darkness.  Warm tears burning down my cheek.  "Lord, I give myself to thee;/fill me with thy love and power;" and I surrendered all over and over and over.  Jesus is the cure-all, be-all; once you have Jesus, the world is rainbows and butterflies and you never have to hurt or doubt or wander again. So, I sang. So, I believed.  So, I learned was not that easy...

I'll Fly Away
If skin melted like wax and these bones could step from the hot puddle like a flame alive, I would quiver and flicker and desire the moth.  Words whispered in fervent prayer smoke in a black plume. Flit closer. Fan me with your singed wings. Oh, Glory!

All Things Bright and Beautiful
But, still, I sang the hymns, treasured them as preciously as verses from God's Word. I held the shaky hymnal, cleared my throat, and proclaimed: "All things bright and beautiful,/All creatures great and small,/All things wise and wonderful:/The Lord God made them all."  And, he made me.  Aren't I bright and beautiful, wise and wonderful?  I'm here.  Didn't he make me, too?  Like the sparrows, the wild flowers, the creepy crawly critters of night?  I am "fearfully and wonderfully made" like a Psalm?  I sing a solo too often.

Softly and Tenderly
At the end of the service, we sang this hymn, beckoning "sinners" to "come home," and listen to Jesus' calling.  I raised my voice and sang: "Oh, for the wonderful love He has promised,/Promised for you and for me!/Though we have sinned, He has mercy and pardon,/Pardon for you and for me." But, I don't have a pardon.  Not for my sin.  That's what other people believe.  Gluttony, greed, inhospitality for the sick and dying...there is pardon.  I believed the hymn.  But, softly and tenderly, the hymn lied to me.  Or, was it the choir who sang it who lied? 

It Is Well With My Soul
In the quiet, in the peace, when I close my eyes and feel the touch of the Master's hand, it is well with my soul.  He spoke; I listened.  I try to follow those footprints in the sand.  Because I may not be perfect and I may be flawed, but this know and always will, Jesus loves me for the Bible tells me so.