Mary’s Memories

It’s Good Friday.  My sons, husband and I are watching The Passion of the Christ.  As I watch Mary follow her son on his way to Golgotha, I wonder what was in her mind.  Surely she knew that her son was The Son of God, that He was fulfilling the purpose for which He had been born.  (In the film, as Jesus is being beaten by Pilate’s men, Mary says, “My son, when, where, how will you deliver yourself from this?”  I may have the words slightly wrong, but that is close.)  Still, how horrible it must have been for her to watch that.  It had to have broken her heart to not only see each lash He was given but to hear the hatred and disgust those in the crowd–the same people who had welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem a few days before, were not hurling at Him.  Did she ever question her part in God’s plan? As her son was tortured and her heart was breaking, did Mary ever regret having agreed to become the mother of Jesus?

This is not the first time I’ve wondered about that.  A few years back, I wrote a little something from Mary’s perspective, examining just those questions.  I’d like to share that with you tonight.  Here is how I think Mary would have looked on her life after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

 

MARY’S MEMORIES

I didn’t know what I was agreeing to. That’s how it often works with God. He asks you to do something and you choose to say yes or no. He always gives you that option—that’s the wonderful part. He’s not going to force you to do something you are really not comfortable with. Of course, if you say no, there’s no guarantee He will ask you to do something else. The bad part is that He doesn’t always explain exactly what is going to happen.

That’s how it happened with me. I had a general idea of how this was going to work. Scripture told us what to expect.

But I didn’t have a clue just what would be involved. All I knew is that God was asking me to do something special. He could have chosen someone prettier or smarter or older. But He chose me. I didn’t understand why at the time and I can’t say I fully understand why now. But He asked.

All my life, I had wanted to do something for God. I hoped that He would find some way to use me. I just never dreamed it would be in such a big way.

I still remember that day so clearly. Or should I say that night. I had prayed before bed as usual. My friends thought I was too old to keep praying like that. They reminded me that my father had found a good husband for me. So what if we still needed to wait a while before the wedding? My friends said I should “stop bothering God and just be happy as Joseph’s wife.”

I wasn’t unhappy at the thought of being his wife. Joseph was a good man, a godly man. And he was always such a hard worker. He was a carpenter, which meant we would probably never be rich. I didn’t mind. He would be a good husband and I would work hard to be a good wife. Together, we would be good parents. Truly, I could be content with that. But if God wanted me for something more, I wanted Him to know that I was willing.

I can’t tell you how many times my friends said I was wasting my time. “God never uses women,” they said. I reminded them of Deborah, of Ruth, and of Queen Esther. Maybe there were more stories about the men, but God could use a woman, too. If she was willing to be used.

It was an ordinary night. I kissed my father, helped my mother put the younger children down, and then headed to bed.   But the light that woke me was anything but ordinary.

It was so bright. I had to shield my eyes. I was able to make out the outline of a tall man standing there. How had he gotten into my home? I was scared.

And then he spoke. “Greetings!” he said. “The Lord has blessed you and is with you.”

He said that I shouldn’t be scared, and for some reason I wasn’t anymore. Instead, I was excited. My prayers had been heard. God had a place for me in His plan.

And what a plan! For years we had looked forward to God’s promised Messiah. This man—this angel—was telling me that God wanted me to give birth to that Messiah.

For a moment, I did consider saying no. I wasn’t much more than a child myself. I wasn’t married and could only imagine what Joseph’s reaction to this would be.

Yet, I didn’t know how to say no. I’d prayed for years to be used by God. Now that He was showing me how He wanted to use me, it seemed unfair to tell Him no. If I did say no, would He ask me anything again? There was nothing more to say than, “May it be as you say.”

Joseph was very supportive—which in a lot of ways surprised me. He was so good about it. I wonder if he ever regretted it. Jesus was one of the best tempered children. Still, being his parent was not always easy. Joseph never complained but it must have been even harder on him than on me.

We did have to spend some time hiding while Jesus was very young. The only real trouble He gave us, though, was when He was 12. Though I can’t really fault Him for that. What kind of parents take a full day to notice their child is missing?

Missing isn’t exactly the right word for it. We didn’t know where Jesus was, but He was right where He needed to be. I remember Him telling me not to worry, that He was in His Father’s house. I didn’t know what He meant at the time. I only knew that I was relieved to see Him safe and sound.

Maybe it was foolish of me to be so concerned. I just had a small part to play in God’s plan. My son WAS the plan. He wasn’t going to be hurt, not until the time came for the Plan to fully go into action.

I was in Jerusalem the day he entered the city for the last time. I remember the crowds and oh how glad they were to see Him! For a moment, I thought the time for God’s plan was still years in the future. And to be honest, that is what I was hoping. I knew why my son was born—and to keep Him with me was selfish. But as His mother, I wanted to be selfish. I wanted my son to live—on Earth, where I could see Him and hug Him—for a few more years.

I knew the prophecies. Isaiah wrote that the Messiah would be wounded and bruised. Knowing that would happen to some random person and seeing it happen to my son were two completely different things. I wanted to protect Him. Each time they hit Him, I felt it. Every drop of blood He lost felt like it came from my own heart. I wanted to turn away, to run off and hide. And yet I couldn’t. He was the Messiah, the King of Kings. But He was still my son, my little baby boy.

When they led Him to that cross, I could see the little boy who used to follow Joseph around while he worked. As He hung on that cross, I saw Him as the sweet little baby I had rocked to sleep. I cried as He suffered. I wanted to stop His pain. Even though I couldn’t do that, I couldn’t turn away. I couldn’t miss a moment of His life.

At the same time, I couldn’t help feeling so proud. He was so strong. He cried out in pain, but he didn’t resist, didn’t fight back. And at the end, He had the strength to ask for forgiveness, not for himself but for those hurting Him. I’ll never forget the sound of His voice—the pain and anguish in it—as he gasped, “Father God, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

One of His last thoughts before He died was of me. He saw me there, weeping, and told His good friend John to look after me. As my son hung there, in pain and utterly humiliated, He was concerned about me being alone.

When He breathed His last breath, my heart stopped. There was an earthquake and the sky turned black. I’m told that there was no light at all. But all I remember was seeing His head drop to His chest and I knew my first born son was gone.

I was able to smile then, even through my tears. I know it sounds strange to some. Most mothers aren’t going to smile after watching her child die. Then again, most mothers didn’t raise the Son of God. At the moment He died, His pain was over. In that same moment, He was with the Father. With my eyes closed and face turned toward Heaven I could almost hear the angels welcoming Him back. There was no reason for me to be sad. His death was not the end. His death meant life for so many others. It meant that I would be able to spend eternity with Him.

No, I did not know what I was getting into. I did not know how much joy His life would bring and I did not know how much the end of His earthly life would hurt me. If I had known, if I had understood just what He would go through, would I have still said yes? Would I do it all over again? Knowing what I know now, if God were to send an angel to me in the night, would my answer still be the same?

Absolutely.

“May it be as you say, Lord.”

Book Review–HOUSE OF SECRETS by Tracie Peterson

I’ve read Tracie Peterson’s work before, but until I came across this book at my local bookstore, I had no idea that she wrote anything other than historical fiction! Not only does she occasionally write contemporary fiction, Peterson writes it VERY well.

FiftHouseOfSecretseen years ago, Bailee, Geena, and Piper Cooper witnessed their father drugging their mother. They kept the secret, thinking that was the only way to reserve any sort of “normalcy” within their family. When their father invites them back to the same summer home where the incident happened, the girls decide it’s time to share what they know. Only the more the talk about that night–with each other and then with their father–the more they realize that really don’t know anything at all.

HOUSE OF SECRETS is a beautifully written book that about the bonds of sisters, and the power secrets can hold over a person. The story also deals with mental illness, and the far-reaching effects an illness can have–even years after the ill person has passed away. The characters are real and relatable. I found myself in or near tears at numerous places throughout the book. This one has definitely earned its place on my bookshelf.

Worth A Read

Visit the author online at http://www.phildavidsonbooks.com/.

Visit the author online at http://www.phildavidsonbooks.com/.

Dreamer, a suspenseful novel by author Phillip L. Davidson, is not your typical Christian fiction book.  There are some moments of rough language and some situations that can be viewed as paranormal.  This is not the type of “easy-going” Christian romance that I normally read and review.  However, I am open to trying new things.  And the fact that main character David Elliot is motivated, at least in part, by his intense love for his wife made this book worth reading.

This book is action-packed.  If you like something fast-paced, this one will be well worth your time.  My only issue with it is the language.  I realize that in wartime, the language used is much different than what I am used to using and hearing on a daily basis.  However, if a book is being marketed to a Christian audience, I do feel the author should take that into account and tone down some of the language used.  Though I enjoyed the story line, the language alone will keep likely keep this book from making it my “read again” shelf.

Lynn

 

 

About The Book:

Is the Dreamer good or evil? As war looms between Britain and Argentina over the barren Falkland Islands, Major David Elliott is having nightmares. Long ago, in a dark jungle near Cambodia, he failed to do his duty. That duty was to execute a member of his team. David’s weakness eventually led to his team’s capture. Tortured by the Viet Cong, they revealed the dark secrets of the CIA’s Phoenix program. Forced to leave the service in disgrace, his men now live in the ‘darkness’. What do the dreams mean for them? David’s wife, Sonia, sees them as harbingers of evil things to come. A revolutionary in Argentina before the war, she escaped to America and became a citizen.

Now, Captain Alvarez, head of the Argentine Secret Police, wants her back. He devises a plan that lures her into returning to Argentina where she is imprisoned on Los Estados Island. Meanwhile, a mystical creature has summoned David and his former team to gather once more to honor the ‘covenant,’ a pact they made with each other when they believed their lives were coming to an end. Together, with an errant priest, Father Perez, they reluctantly agree to assault Los Estados and free Sonia. As they travel across Mexico, Central and South America, they encounter the CIA, Contras in Nicaragua, the M-19 narco-terrorist group and the United States Navy; while all along being shadowed by the mystical entity. Is the entity God or Satan? Will submitting to the will of the entity allow David and his men to stand in the light of men once again? Is the Dreamer good or evil? You decide.

Dreamer is a tale of redemption, honor, courage, belief in God and betrayal! If you enjoy military fiction, this book is for you.

The Monster

The Monster

                I felt the monster the moment the car turned onto my old street.  I could not actually see the house, but I knew the monster was there.  My heart beat faster, my palms began to sweat, my breath came out in rapid gasps.  I shifted in my seat, craning my neck to look in the backseat, nearly convinced that my monster would be physically there, behind me, chasing me.  It was enough to make me want to vomit.

“We don’t have to do this.”  My babysitter and chauffer, my mother had been against this little trip from the moment I suggested it.  She’d been against a lot of decisions in my life, yet that had never stopped me.  Of course, if I had listened, the monster would not be there, following me, taunting me, keeping me from leading a healthy, normal, productive life.

But this time, ignoring her misgivings was the right thing to do.  It was the only way to ever get the monster off my back and out of my life.  It was the only way to get my life back, to be free.

And I needed freedom.  Needed it more than my lungs needed the air they were desperately grasping for.

“Keep driving,” I told Mom, forcing myself to face forward.  I closed my eyes, counted to ten, breathed in as deeply as I could, imagined being in my happy place—used every calming technique I’d learned in years of therapy to chase away the monster and every panicked feeling his presence evoked.  Nothing worked.  I could run—again.  But I was tired of running.  “I have to face this,” I said, as much to assure Mom as to reassure myself.

She still wasn’t sure, but she drove.  The car inched closer to the house; soon I could see the rooftop, then the upstairs windows, the porch, and finally the front door.  It stood there, innocently, as if the pain and anguish that had occurred in its walls had meant nothing.

DSCF5249The closer we came to the house, the less innocence I saw.  Sadness.  The years, I noticed with a small sense of glee, had not been kind to the building.  The siding was cracked and pulling away in places.  Paint had chipped off the wooden support beams of the front porch, some of which were cracked, broken, barely able to stand up to the weight of that porch roof, which itself was falling down.  If the house could feel, I think it would be feeling sadness.  Because it knew the end was coming?  Or because of the horrors that had occurred inside, horrors the building had been unable to stop?

Mom pulled the car to a stop across the street.  A workman wearing a yellow hardhat and orange safety vest approached us.  “Sorry, Ma’am,” he said gruffly.  “You can’t park here.  Demolition will start soon.”

“How soon?” I asked.

“Soon,” he repeated.  “The car is not safe here.”

I opened the door and got out, ignoring the look of frustration on his face.  The monster followed me out of the car, once again breathing down my neck.  The door closed behind me and Mom drove away, to a spot we had agreed on before making the trip.  She’d walk the two blocks back, to stand with me and watch the destruction of the first house I’d ever purchased, the building that should have been a happy home for me, my husband, and our children.  She wouldn’t be gone for long.  I turned to the worker, whose face still carried a great deal of irritation.  “May I go inside?” I asked him.

“Inside?”  The sound of his voice conveyed his true feelings; he wanted to ask if I was insane.  The answer, quite possibly, was yes.  Perhaps I was insane.  This house, that monster at my back, both had led to my questionable state of mind.

“It’s my house,” I said.  “Or it was until I sold it to the city.  All I want is one last chance to walk inside.  Is that possible?”

I didn’t wait for an answer, just walked across the street, marched up the three steps, and pushed open the front door.  It didn’t take long for someone to follow me, shouting at me that I needed to stop, needed to walk back outside.  I ignored the voice.  The monster was still behind me, but I knew I could leave him behind in this building.  All I had to do was see it, I had to see that room.  His life had ended here.  If I was going to finally put the monster to rest, I needed to see the place where he had died.  I just needed my eyes to rest on it one last time.

It was old, falling down from years of neglect.  Just like my heart.  The house had to be torn down.  And with it, his recliner, the chair that he had seen as his throne, the chair he’d not been able to tear himself out of to get help in the last moments of his sad, pathetic little life.  I needed to see it, and I wasn’t disappointed.  It was still there, in its place of honor in what had been the living room, positioned so that the view of the television, had it been there, would have been perfect.

As I looked at it, I began to breathe harder again, could feel my heart beat faster, could feel the monster closing in on me.  DSCF5248Hadn’t felt that level of hatred and anger in years, not since I’d escaped the house, escaped his rule.  But the fear, the fear I had always associated with this chair, with the man that lived and died in it was gone.  I was no longer scared of him.  But I was angry.

I hated him.  He was dead, and yet I hated him.  With every fiber of my being, I hated him.

I allowed myself to be escorted out of the house, back across the street to where my mother was standing.  I was admonished to stay put.

A man climbed up into a large crane, started the engine.  As the crane’s claw reached toward the roof of the house, I imagined I was in control.  It was my hand tearing through the roof, pulling apart boards and insulation, reducing the dwelling to broken bits of debris.  As the engine roared, I roared as well.  I yelled, I screamed.  I allowed another piece of my anger, of the monster that had followed me from this house to escape my body.  The claw tore through the upper floor, and I saw myself tearing him apart, piece by piece.  The way had done to me.  I watched the lower floor come apart, could see his precious recliner pulverized.

When it was over, when the roar of the engine died, I could only stare at the empty lot.  Other equipment was moved in to clear out the remains of the house, and yet I stared.  It was gone.  The house was gone.  The monster was gone.  I was alone.  I was free.

“Are you alright?” my mother asked.

I turned to her.  Smiled.  “I am,” I said.  “It’s over. I am free.”

Lessons From Genny

I originally wrote this short story about 7 years ago.  It’s based on a real moment and real conversation that I overheard at church one Sunday morning.  A few weeks ago, I pulled it out to use in the beginning fiction workshop course that was part of my creative writing program at SNHU.  I went into it thinking that there are always areas of my writing that can use improvement.  However, I am not convinced the changes my instructor suggested (changes that I made in order to make the grade) are really an improvement.  But….

Here is the final draft of the story.  Hope you enjoy it.

Lynn

Lessons From Genny

“I so appreciate you and Toby helping out this week, Connie,” Rebekah said, handing me a small stack of church bulletins.  “You can stand right here and just hand one to everyone who comes by.”

I followed to the place she indicated, about halfway between the front doors and the sanctuary.  My husband Toby was near the front doors, laughing with a couple of other men.  He didn’t notice my glare, not that he would have acknowledged it if he had.  He had addressed my less than cheerful attitude in the car, and I knew him well enough to know there would be no more mention of it that day.

“It’s been nearly six months,” he’d told me when I balked at his suggestion to “put on a happy face” for the day, no matter how I felt.  I just was not ready to do that, to stand in front of our church friends and pretend all was right with the world, not after what had happened.  “It is time to move past it and get on with your life.”

Five months, three days, 4 hours, and—I glanced at my watch—29 minutes.  But who was counting?

Me, that’s who.  I’d been counting ever since that day.  My life was clearly divided into before and after.  The before ended that day, and felt like a far off dream to me.  The after was a dark, lonely place; a place I wasn’t entirely sure that I wanted to be in but one that I didn’t know how to get out of.  It was a place that I was annoyed to be in alone.  Why wasn’t my husband in the same dark place I was?  Did he really not care?  The way he dismissed my continued feelings of emptiness sure made it seem as if he didn’t care about me or my pain.

“You OK?” Rebekah asked me, her hand resting on my arm.  “You just don’t seem yourself.”

“No, I am not OK!” I wanted to scream.  “I haven’t been OK in months.”  But I remembered my husband’s attitude that morning.  If he didn’t want to acknowledge what the day was, it was doubtful someone not emotionally invested in my child would be.  So I put on my best smile, hoping it did not look nearly as forced as it felt.  “I’m fine.  Just didn’t sleep well last night.”

She opened her mouth to say something, but was called away by an emergency in one of the Sunday school classrooms.  I watched as she walked away, grateful for the chance to be alone.  Rebekah was nice and all.  She was our pastor’s wife.  Talking to her had helped me more than even she knew.  Still, she tended to be overly optimistic about everything.  And this was one morning when I didn’t see much to be optimistic about.  I just wasn’t sure if I had the energy to keep up a conversation with her.

Obediently, I smiled as I greeted the worshipers that entered the church that morning.  I avoided asking, “How are you?” as I knew that would lead to my having to answer that same question.  The smile felt like enough of a lie.  Something about lying in church just didn’t sit right with me.  I didn’t want to tell anyone I felt fine when I felt anything but, and I had a feeling no one wanted to hear what I was really feeling.

I thought I was doing a good job of being pleasant and ignoring the pain eating away at my gut.  A good enough job, anyway.  And then I saw her.  Erin Andrews had walked into the building, rubbing her bulging belly.  My smile faded.  Anger and jealousy bubbled up inside me.  I thought of the tenth commandment, “Thou shalt not covet.”  Great, that just added guilt to the ugly feelings swirling around in me.

That commandment didn’t apply to a woman grieving the loss of her child, did it?

Erin and I had been friends for years.  When I married Toby, her older brother, we were excited to now be sisters.  Learning that we were expecting babies—the first for each of us—at the same time was almost too much.  We had plans of how we would raise our girls together.  They wouldn’t be just cousins, but the closest sisters ever.

And then disaster struck.  In the back of my mind, I knew when the cramping and spotting began what the inevitable end would be, but I denied it for as long as I could. The doctor confirmed the miscarriage but offered me little explanation. I sat in the hospital bed, staring at the stark, white sheets, devastated and bewildered, unable to understand how that tiny heart could be so strong one day and gone the next.  My baby, my dreams, and in a lot of ways, my friendship with Erin. They were all gone. Life went on around me.  Erin’s belly grew bigger every day, it seemed, a brutal reminder to me of her successful, thriving pregnancy and my utter failure as a mother.  Every time I saw my friend, I felt daggers in my heart.  Because she was family, I really couldn’t avoid her.  Hate was not something I was accustomed to feeling, but it was the closest word I could use to describe my new feelings building up inside, feelings that grew more painful, more intense each time I saw her.

I felt a tear sting my eye as I stared at her.  She turned in my direction and I quickly turned away.  Her due date was two weeks away.  I knew because hers was exactly 14 days after mine.  And today was my due date.  Today was the day my life should have been so very different.

I should have been at the hospital, in labor, waiting to become a mother.

The physical pain would have been a welcome relief, especially if it would replace this horrible, hollow emotional pain I’d been riding on since my baby’s heart had stopped beating.

“God, I don’t understand,” I whispered frantically.  “Where are You?  Why did You let this happen to me?”

I didn’t expect an answer.  For nearly six months, I’d been asking the same questions.  God had remained silent on the issue.  For whatever reason, He’d chosen to abandon me.  He was not just carrying me, like in that poem.  This was the darkest moment of my life, and God was just nowhere to be found, no matter how many times I cried out to Him.  I wanted to continue to love Him and to trust Him, but His silence made it so hard.  Maybe this was one of those things my grandmother had always warned me about, one of the many things that about God’s plans that I’d not be able to understand this side of Heaven.

The only thing worse than the tears was having to explain them to someone else.  When my own husband thought it was time to get on with my life, I couldn’t really expect anyone else to have even a small amount of sympathy for my sadness.  I reached for a tissue to dry my eyes.  As I did, my hand brushed against Rebekah’s.  I looked up, half expecting to find she was taking a tissue for me.  She didn’t even look at me, though.  My eyes followed her gaze and landed on Genny Fairbanks, one of the older members of the congregation.

Genny’s church attendance had been sporadic for the past few months.  Ernie, her husband of more than 50 years, had Alzheimer’s disease.  He had his good days and bad.  On the good days, she said she felt like they were teenagers, falling in love all over again.  On the bad ones, which came more and more often these days, he was too much for Genny to handle alone away from home.  Still, she resisted all attempts to put Ernie into a nursing home.  She’d promised to love and care for him in sickness and health.  So long as she was healthy enough to care for him at home, that is what she was going to do.

Ernie’s health had taken a turn for the worse recently.  It wasn’t just his memory that was a problem, though I could tell from the way she spoke of him that it broke Genny’s heart that Ernie didn’t recognize her most days.  His body had grown weak, to the point where he couldn’t handle daily tasks like bathing and dressing and even feeding himself.  It was just too much for Genny to handle alone, and she had reluctantly agreed with her children that it was time to place him in a home for the round-the-clock care he needed.  I could see in her eyes that morning the toll that decision was taking on her.  The depth of my own sadness was forgotten and I had this almost overwhelming desire to hug the older woman.  I watched as Rebekah handed Genny the tissue, then gently took her hand.   I stepped closer to hear what was being said.

“He’s not eating,” Genny said.  “Ernie doesn’t like being in a new place—he never did like change much—and he can’t do anything about it except refuse to do what he is asked.  He’s been refusing food and fighting his medications.”  She stopped and took a deep breath to steady herself.  Through everything, she had always been so strong.  She looked like she wanted to cry, yet seemed determined not to do it in front of anyone.  Finally, Genny said, “The doctors want to put him on a feeding tube.  I don’t know what to do.”

“Is that something Ernie would want?” Rebekah asked softly.

Genny shook her head.  “No.  We talked about it before, when his mind wasn’t so hazy.  Ernie didn’t want anything special done to keep him alive.  He said if a machine was doing everything for him, then he wasn’t living anyway.  He wanted to just go to Heaven with some dignity.”  She dabbed at her eyes with the tissue.  “I know I should honor his wishes.  I guess I am selfish.  I don’t want to let him go.”

Rebekah was quiet for a moment, giving Genny some time to compose herself.  And then she asked so very gently, “Genny, how would you like us to pray?”

Had I heard that right?  Had Rebekah really just asked how to pray?  It seemed to me that, as the wife or our pastor, prayer was something she know how to do.  If she was asking what Genny wanted her to pray for….  Well, that made no sense to me and, frankly, it sounded like a rather dumb question.  Really, how many was could a situation like this be prayed over?  I wanted to pull Rebekah away and let her know how insensitive that sounded.  “Her husband is sick,” I wanted to say.  “Of course she wants prayers for healing.”  Honestly, what other kind of prayer would she want?  What she wanted, I was sure in my heart, was her husband back.  What she needed was a miracle.

I didn’t know much about Alzheimer’s, other than it always got worse and not better.  But I knew God, too.  I knew that He could give Genny a miracle if He wanted.  Just because He had not given me the one I wanted for my child didn’t mean I stopped believing He could do it.  I wanted to tell Genny that I would pray for a healing miracle for her husband.  I took a step closer, intending to tell her just that.  But she started to speak, and her words caused me to freeze on the spot.

“Just pray that God’s will be done,” Genny said, her voice shaking with emotion.  “I don’t like what is happening.  I don’t understand it, but I know He is in control.  He will get me through this.”  I heard her say that she was angry, sad, and scared about what was going on, but she knew that her life—and Ernie’s life—belonged to God.  “We’ve had 50 good years here,” she told Rebekah.  “But I am not going to let my sadness over the end of that keep me from spending eternity worshiping God with Ernie.”

Her words hit me like a slap across the face.  I suddenly felt like the most selfish woman on Earth.  Six months after losing a baby that I never saw, that had only been a part of my life for a few brief weeks, I was holding tight to my anger and sadness.  After 50 years of marriage, Genny was holding tight to God as she watched the love of her life slip away. Which one of us had the best chance of enjoying life once the season of sadness had passed?

But maybe I didn’t deserve the chance to enjoy life and be happy.  God must have felt that I didn’t.  Otherwise, He wouldn’t have created such a big hole in my heart.

But was the hole in my heart any bigger than the one in Genny’s?  Why did she have such a peace about her, how could she be so accepting?

Probably because all of the sadness and despair were flooding my body.  There just wasn’t enough left for her.

I stumbled backward, expecting to bump into the wall.  Instead, I felt a pair of arms slide around my waist to steady me.  “You OK, Connie?” Toby asked me.

I smiled at my husband, an unsteady, unsure kind of a smile.  The concern in his eyes touched me in a way I hadn’t allowed anything to touch me in half a year.  Suddenly I felt sorry for the negative things I’d thought about him just that morning, and an unbelievable relief that I’d not let any of those thoughts come out of my mouth.  His comment about moving on was not intended to hurt me.  It was Toby’s way of telling me that I needed to give the pain and anger to God.  I squeezed his hand.  “I feel…”  I stumbled to find the right words and finally settled on, “I feel OK.”

“You feel OK?” Toby asked, sliding an arm around my waist and guiding me toward the sanctuary doors.

I nodded.  “Yeah, I think I am.”

He led me toward the row of seats in the back of the room, the seats I had picked to hide out in after the miscarriage.  The seat kept me in the room and allowed me to be technically a part of the service.  But it was far enough away from everything so that I could hide.  As we were about to sit, I saw Erin and her husband slide into a seat two rows in front of us.  I turned my eyes away, not liking the idea of spending the next two hours looking at the woman who had the life I so desperately wanted.

My eyes landed on Genny, sitting on the other side of the room.  It didn’t take long to notice there were two empty seats beside her.  “Why don’t we sit over there?” I suggested, motioning toward the older.

“With Genny?” Toby asked.  My husband was shocked.  Not that I could blame him.  I’d spent the last six months hiding, and now I was suggesting that we move to the front of the church.  It surprised me, too.

But I felt drawn to her.  There was something about the peace she had that I wanted to be near.

A piano began to play and the congregation stood for the first song of the morning.  I sang along, or at least tried to.  Genny’s words played over and over in my mind, making it hard to concentrate on anything.  “We had 50 good years here….”  Was the difference between the two of us?  Was that what made it easy—and if not exactly easy, at least possible—for Genny to let go?  The fact that she and Ernie had spent a lifetime together?

They’d made memories together, memories that would sustain Genny through the rest of her life.  They’d raised children.  They’d enjoyed grandchildren.  They had shared more together than I could even imagine.  Perhaps it was the ability to relive those memories at will that made this transition less difficult for Genny.

Only, I didn’t have any of the memories.  I’d not had any time with my child.  I’d never felt the baby kick.  I’d only once heard the heartbeat.  I’d never been able to count ten tiny fingers and ten tiny toes, kiss pinch chubby cheeks, or blow raspberries on a freshly bathed belly.  In the game of life, Genny had hit a jackpot, while I’d been cheated out of anything.

And yet, I had this nagging feeling that I was cheating myself.  Memories or no, Genny could have wallowed in her own sadness and no one would have blamed her.  A six month—or even longer—pity-party would have been understandable for her.  No one understood my sadness, my continued pity-party.  As I watched Genny sway to the music as she softly sang to the Lord, I realized that I didn’t fully understand why I continued with the pity-party either.  Really, what was it accomplishing?

The bigger question, though, was how to put an end to it.  How could I find the understanding, the acceptance that Genny was living with?

When the singing ended, the pastor shared a few brief announcements.  One was about the need to volunteers in the nursery.  “Could you spend just one Sunday a month,” he asked, “cuddling the babies and playing with the toddlers?  If so, please see my wife Rebekah after the service.”

See Rebekah….  Now that thought wouldn’t leave my mind.  Was God telling me something?  Not that I really wanted to listen.  After all, I’d been asking for answer for half a year and He’d remained silent.  And yet the nagging feeling that I needed to talk to Rebekah would not go away.  Volunteer in the church nursery?  Could I really do that?  Could I handle holding someone else’s baby, loving on another child for just a few hours?

I wasn’t sure.  Still, at the end of service, I found myself standing in front of Rebekah, volunteering to do just that.

Perhaps I had been cheated out of making memories with my own child.  But there was nothing stopping me from making memories with the other children of the church.

 

The Rules of Writing Christian Fiction

I have had a lot of ideas for novels, and I’ve looked at the guidelines set forth by a lot of Christian publishers to see where some of my ideas fit in.  It has amazed me to see that stories I would consider “Christian fiction” would not be acceptable by some publishing houses.  Why?  Because the characters I have in mind are too real.

One of the “rules” I’ve seen over and over again is that main characters should not be divorced.  That is sad to me.  The whole idea of divorce is sad.  I do believe that marriage is meant to be between one man, one woman, and is to last “until death do us part.”  No couple, especially not a Christian couple, should go into a marriage thinking, “I love this person today, but if in ten or fifteen years this isn’t working out, I can leave and start over.  No big deal.”  It IS a big deal.  Marriage is a big deal.  It is something that is meant for life, and should not be entered into lightly. 

Sadly, things happen.  Life happens.  And there are Biblical reasons for divorce.  Adultery is one.  If you think adultery does not happen in Christian marriages, think again.  Remember Jim Baker and Jimmy Swaggert?  OK, so those two men are from the 80’s and maybe you don’t remember them.  But what about Amy Grant and Vince Gill?  Both were married to others when they began their relationship, and both are Christians.  It happens.  It shouldn’t.  There is no excuse for it.  But it does happen.  And though I don’t believe it is named in the Bible as a reason for divorce, I can’t imagine God is against a woman leaving her husband, even if he is a “good Christian man,” who is physically abusing her or her children.  While I do believe God meant for marriage to be a “one and done” sort of thing (you know—a once-in-a-lifetime, this-is-forever arrangement,) I think He understands that humans are, well, human.  We are flawed.  It grieves Him deeply when He sees two of His children give up on the marriage He brought together.  I don’t think He is in anyway pleased when a marriage ends, no matter the reasons for it, but I don’t think that He stays angry forever about it, either.

Which is why I don’t understand why divorce should be a taboo subject for a novel.  More accurately, why should I be afraid to write about a character who has survived a divorce? 

Maybe it’s a man whose wife was having an affair.  Maybe he was determined to save the marriage, but she walked out, she served him with divorce papers.  And maybe he has taken the time to learn from the experience, to look at the marriage and see not only what she did wrong but what he might have done that led to the choices she made.  Maybe he has grown closer to God because of that divorce and now is ready for a real relationship, one where he is sure to put God at the center.

Or maybe it’s a woman who left her husband to save her life.  Maybe she was beaten daily by this man who claimed to love her.  Maybe the only way to stay alive was to get away from him, to physically leave him and to end the marriage.  And maybe she, too, has had a lot to learn through the experience.  But maybe her heart was hurt so badly by him that she is afraid.  Afraid to love, afraid to trust, afraid of her own choices.  Maybe her ex-husband was the one who introduced her to God in the first place, so she isn’t even sure if she can believe in Him anymore.

Either of those characters could have an amazing story to tell.  A full novel worth of story?  Who knows?  But if I am writing for a traditional publisher, I wouldn’t be able to really find out.  Because this man and this woman were divorced, they would not be viewed as acceptable main characters for a traditionally published Christian novel, at least not through many of the publishing houses I have looked into.

That makes me wonder—would we, as Christians, view these characters as less than acceptable members of our church just because they were divorced?

It kind of reminds me of the old saying “love the sinner, hate the sinner.”  We don’t have to agree with what others have done to love them.  In many cases, we don’t even have to know what others have done in order to love them.  Jesus only asks that we love them.

And if He asks me to write a novel about a divorced man or a divorced woman, I plan to do it.  No matter what the traditional publishing houses say about it.

You May Have Already Won

Life takes some funny twists and turns. At least mine did. In high school, I was completely focused on my future. I’d earn a track scholarship to the University of Michigan. While, there I planned to study hard. There were so many things I wanted to do- teach, be a judge, write bestselling novels. I didn’t know which one would be my career, but I knew I could do any of the three. My plan was to put off marriage, and I’d never had children, so I could focus on my career. At least I wasn’t being like some high school athletes, majoring in underwater basketball weaving while counting on my athletic ability to get me through the rest of my life.

Though I graduated with a liberal Arts degree, ten years after college I wasn’t really in any of those fields. No, instead I had done what I never thought I would. I got married and had three children. As if that wasn’t enough, my husband and I had adopted two others.

Oh, I love my husband and kids. I can’t imagine what my life would be like without any of them. Still, I wonder how different things would be if I had followed my high school dreams.

In the mail today was a letter, addressed to me. It didn’t say “Mommy.” It didn’t say “Mrs. Reed.” It had my name Elizabeth Anna Reed, printed in neat black letters. Typed on the envelope, in bright red letters, were the words, “You May Have Already Won.”

My heart skipped a beat. Really? I could have won? Could have won what? The possibilities were endless.

A million dollars would be nice. I could pay off my student loans (still paying for a degree I didn’t use annoyed both me and my husband). We could finally make updates to the house we had been dreaming about. Each of the kids could have a room alone, eliminating a lot of the daily fighting. My husband could have that brand new car he had always wanted. Oh, I could spend a relaxing day at the spa.

Maybe I had won a vacation. A week spent in Cancun or cruising the French Riviera. All that sun and the quiet. We could pack up the kids, send them to my parents of in-laws. Or we could divide them among our friends, if no one wanted to take all five at once. I’d come home with a tan and a smile. Best of all, my husband would stop nagging me about the amount of sex he was getting. Without fear of the kids interrupting a passionate moment, I’m sure we would be able to enjoy each other.

Of course, I would have won something much smaller. A new computer, perhaps, or a big screen TV. Maybe it would be new windows for the house of new carpeting.

A scream rang out; at the same time a foam dart sailed through the air and lodged in my hair. I looked around. The living room floor was littered with toys-building blocks, cars, Barbie’s. The dining room table was covered in crayons and papers, with left over Spaghetti-Os and spilled Kool-Aid mixed in. the kids themselves had tomato sauce in their hair and dirt smudged across their faces. It was a normal daily scene, something I’d like to call “summertime chaos”.

Glancing at the red lettered envelope, I sighed. No point in opening it. I hadn’t entered any contest, so the prize would be no good. With my luck, I’d won another child.

No, I’d be better off just leaving the envelope in the trash can.

Ship Shape

The ship’s sail looked dingy and tattered. It, and the ship itself, had seen much better days. Yet it stood almost proudly in the marina, like a symbol to the other boats in the arena.

My sons were always more interested in the newer, shiner crafts when we visited. But me, I was drawn to the old ship. No matter how many times I’d seen it, it captivated me. The boys would probably say that was because the ship was one of the few things in our home town that was actually older than their father. I think my wife is the one that put that idea into their heads.

The ship was a piece of history. It had seen more than I ever would. Each hole on the sail said so much. Yet it had survived. It still lived.

Again, that was more than I could say for myself at times.

The plaques in front of the ship told a little of its story. It had been battle scared as it defended our country. On her last voyage, only three crew members had survived and brought her home. Each scratch on the hull, each tear in the sail was displayed as badges of honor. It had to be a lonely life, being the only one left.

It was a lonely life.

I had to tear my eyes away from the old ship and her torn sail. My boys needed my attention. If something happened to them….

They were laughing over the antics of the ducks playing among the boats. The oldest, my nine year old, had his mother’s laugh. My seven year old had her smile. And the baby, my four year old, had her red hair and blue eyes. For a moment, it was like she was still there. Smaller versions of her, a more boyish version, perhaps, but  still her. Spending time with them was the best was way I could have her alive.

It was not the way I wanted her, but it was the best I could have.

Review of THE HALF-STITCHED AMISH QUILTING CLUB

When Amish widow Emma Yoder decides to support herself by teaching a quilting class, she doesn’t expect the eclectic group that’s shows up on her doorstep. Her six students- pastors wife Ruby Lee, single father Paul, biker on probation Jan, aspiring song- writer star, and bickering married couple Pam and Stuart- have little in common with one another and even less in common with Emma. Almost from the beginning Emma feels that she might be in over her head. She prays that God will use her to not only teach her craft to her students but to also make a difference in their lives.

There are two things that attracted me to this book. First off was the name “The Half – Stitched Amish Quilting Club” sounded like it might be humorous or light- hearted and fun. The second thing was the author’s name. Though I don’t read a lot of Amish fiction, I know that Wanda E. Brunstetter is one of the more successful authors in the genre. I thought it would be worth a read and was happy to bring it home from the local Library.

Unfortunately, the book was a bit of a disappointment to me. It reads more like a series of loosely related short stories rather than a cohesive novel. Most of the characters never developed to a point where I had much interest in them. One of the characters’s almost felt like he was forgotten and used more as background filler than anything else. A connection between two of the character’s comes so far out of left field that it didn’t seem at all possible of believable.

This is not a book I would want to have on my bookcase to read again. I am looking forward to returning it to the Library to get something I might enjoy a bit more.

MIRACLE PLAY Coming Soon!

It’s been a while since I have updated this blog.  If you are a regular reader, you already know that!  At least, I hope you have noticed that I’ve been gone for a while….

Anyway, there are a lot of reasons that I haven’t been here in a while.  One of those reasons is because I have been busy writing a couple of novels.  The first one, MIRACLE PLAY, has been sent off to the publisher!  It will be available for sale on April 5, 2012.  I am real excited about this book.   I recently told a friend that the fifth novel is just as exciting as the first.  “It’s kind of like the feeling of having a new baby, only without the morning sickness, swelling, and pain.”

This time around, I’ve done something that I never have before–I made a trailer for the book.  I’ve thought about doing it before, just have not actually taken the time to do it.  My trailer is available on YouTube.  I’ve added it here so you can find it easily.  Please let me know what you think of it.  You can can share your feelings on the trailer and book here or right on YouTube.  Either way, I am eager to hear what you have to say.