Of Repentance and Skinned Knees

There’s a story that goes around from time to time and grabs hold of human hearts. It’s a short story and goes like this. You are God’s child, but if you step out of line, you will have to repent, and make it a good heartfelt repentance, before God will forgive you. Your prayers will not be answered until you repent, because God doesn’t hear you, doesn’t hear those cries of pain or grief, until you say the words he wants you to say. Your relationship with him will be broken until you repent. And you better hope you don’t die before your repent, because, well, yeah, you know how THAT story ends.

But repentance, according to this story, means more than saying “I’m sorry.” First, you have to really mean it. You can’t be saying “I’m sorry” and still be thinking about the next time you take a bite of that forbidden apple. That doesn’t count. It means promising to be a good boy or girl. It means saying no to temptation. Not just saying you’ll say no, but actually saying no. It means strict obedience. It means sticking by the rules, because you know what those rules are. He has told you what the rules are.

Really?

I mean, really???

I’m here to tell you, child of God, that the story is a lie.

Stay with me here for a minute.

When my daughter was about seven, she was playing with some neighborhood kids. I told her it was time to come inside, and of course she balked. She always balked. She was strong-willed (still is), and I always knew I’d have an argument. This day wasn’t any different. I said time to come in, and she remained seated on the grass with her friends. They were under her bedroom window so I went to the window to tell her again.

I overheard her say, “My mom is such a bitch.”

In our house, that was a big transgression. Not only the curse word but against her mother. Plus she hadn’t come in when I told her sternly to come in. Two transgressions right there. That would take a lot of repenting, right?

Then she fell down. Scraped her knees pretty severely and came running inside. She was sobbing and bleeding. She needed some bandages, some comfort and a big hug.

What did I do? Did I shake my finger in her face and say, “Not until you say you’re sorry”? Did I not hear her cries because she had “sinned”? Did I not listen because she hadn’t said the right words?

Of course not. I washed, I bandaged, I kissed, I hugged. In short, I loved my child. Her anger at me didn’t change my love for her. I’m bigger than that. I can handle that. Yep, even when her anger at me means she does something I don’t like or something that I know isn’t good for her. I love her. I would never turn her away.

And she loves me. She may wander, she may stray, she may call me a bitch. But when she was hurt, love propelled her into my arms. Without any trepidation or fear. She knew without any doubt that I would not turn her away.

THAT is God. That is the all-encompassing, ever-seeking, open-armed God. He doesn’t wait for you to say you’re sorry. He doesn’t pull out the scale and weigh how sorry you really are. He doesn’t hold back his love for you.

You remain, and forever will remain, his child.

Intimacy and the Lies We Tell Ourselves

The loneliest person in the world is the person living a double life. You convince everyone that you are someone you are not. Life #1. Lie #1. You go to church. You do the right things, say the right things. You know all the motions, go through all the motions like a hot knife through cold butter. And they think they know you. Life #1. Lie #1.

Sometimes when they talk about being in a small church where everybody knows everybody and everybody is close and that intimacy is the desire to know and be known, you realize you are not known by anyone there. You feel a sadness that is crushing because your greatest desire is indeed to be known.

But there is no one to talk to about all of it, any of it. Because the loneliest person in the world is the one living a double life.

The sad truth is we all live a double life. Whether it is desiring a coworker or despising a neighbor. Whether it is stealing company funds or stealing years off your own life. We all live one life in front of people and another in front of ourselves. At least that’s what you tell yourself.

You seek congruency. Your mind, which likes order and agreement, wants to live one life and so seeks to merge the two into one. And so you lie to yourself to create congruence. You look in the mirror and tell yourself that one more won’t hurt. One more drink, one more pill, one more one night stand, one more rumor, one more cookie. You make excuses to find congruence, to dull the pain of not being known. “If only he … if only she … if only my parents …” Life #1 and Life #2 stretching straining two magnets repelling. Incongruency.

Yet at night, laying in the dark waiting for sleep that is long and slow in coming, you can’t ignore the double life you are living. You know the loneliness and the pain. You yearn to be known. You long to drop the beautiful lies that cover your tattered clothing, your bruised and bleeding body. But when morning comes, you pick up the bit of shimmer and don it once again.

The loneliest person in the world is the person living a double life.

Search me, O God. But tenderly. Know my heart, O God. But gently. Love me, O God.

For I am lonely.

Mental Health Awareness – A Beating Heart

mental-health

A couple of thoughts on this. I realize that those who struggle with alcohol and drug addiction are truly struggling with mental health. This isn’t meant to belittle them or their experiences. In the same way, I realize that if someone who struggles with mental health harms themselves (such as committing suicide), the medical practitioners will also rush to help save them.

This post is to raise awareness of mental health issues. Of mental illness. Even more, to help remove the stigma of such issues.

To that end, stop saying right now, “It’s ‘just’ depression.” No such thing as “just.” Yep, everyone has down days. Some people have a number of them. Some people have chemical imbalances. Some people have worse depression than others. However, once again, there is no such thing as “just.” There is nothing to “just” get over. Don’t minimize yours or anyone else’s depression. Life is hard enough without having to deal with other people’s (and sometimes our own) judgment.

Stop saying right now, “Everyone is a little bipolar.” Nope. And again, that minimizes the experiences of those (like me) who have a medical diagnosis and take medication to level out the huge and at times crippling mood swings.

Also stop saying, “You can’t be bipolar, because I know so-and-so, and they were REALLY crazy.” Again, that minimizes the person. Everyone is different. And I can tell you from my own experience that you may not know everything about me. There have been things I’ve kept hidden for many years, including manic episodes — and sometimes that fear of judgment keeps me from talking about it still.

As noted in the poem above, sometimes it’s easy to believe there is no help out there, that no one cares. When I first wrote this, I had written the last line as “and no one gives a shit.” As a friend reminded me, that’s not true. I have plenty of people who care. Chances are, most people who struggle with mental health issues have plenty of people who care. But sometimes it’s hard to remember that, to feel that. Especially when we have great ways to project okay-ness.

Check in. Ask those people how they are. And don’t always accept the standard, “I’m fine.” Be there. Find out what their diagnosis means for them, what it looks like. Ask them if it’s okay to talk about it with them. Ask them to educate you.

Be their beating heart.

The Significance of the Last Decade

18921682_10154974216741773_4362084453022332902_nI received a post on my FB timeline from a former professor asking, “What have you done for the last decade?” We had had previous discussions about how I wasn’t using FB for theological or political discussions. He had said that it was a platform I should use to further the cause of educating people about Christ and the church. So when he posted that, I could hear the disappointment in his question, the accusation that I wasn’t doing enough. And for a couple of days, I admit I felt discouraged, depressed, meaningless, insignificant. Like life has passed me by and I’ll go to my grave unremembered and of no great consequence.

Then I got angry.

What have I done for the last decade? I lost myself for a while and then I found myself. I re-discovered God’s love when I walked away from evangelicalism. I made friends who are the most important people in my life. I’ve lost a few friends because of drifting apart and I’ve lost a few to death. I realized only after she died how much I love and need my mother.

I fought a crumbling marriage and had the reward of renewed love and commitment. It reminds me that relationships have ups and downs and ins and outs and all arounds, and if you stick around until the end of the ride, it’ll be worth it.

I watched my much loved daughter find love and get married. I grieved when she lost her first baby and found one of my greatest loves when she had another. I’ve watched my son grow and become more independent. I was there when he began having “episodes,” and spent a week in the hospital to determine if he had epilepsy.

I discovered a love of bike riding, which opened my eyes to a world of natural beauty. The beauty combined with working muscles has invigorated more than my physical body. It has been my mental health, my freedom, my joy.

I’ve written some books and some pieces that people have found meaningful and maybe even helped them, too, re-discover God’s love. I started my own publishing company (Dead Key Publishing) and am helping people launch their dreams.

I have played music loud and have sung even louder. I have learned to play the bongos and I play best when I let my body move with the music. I have experienced concerts I will remember for the rest of my days.

I have struggled with depression and diabetes. I had some scary moments after my cat passed away where I didn’t care if I lived or died. I came out the other side. I care now.

What have I done for the last decade? Loved, lost, struggled, achieved, laughed, prayed, cried, walked, danced, screamed, rode. Most of all loved. With all I have. Nothing earthshaking possibly. Nothing of great consequence maybe. But the ripples of what I have done — what any of us do — will continue even after I’m gone.

What have I done for the last decade? I’ve learned not to let myself be defined by someone else’s expectations. And I’ve learned that no one, absolutely no one, is insignificant.

So … what have you done for the last decade?

Moving Forward, 50 Years On

Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, TN. Think about that. Fifty years. Five decades. His was a powerful message of unity, of ending racial strife.

Fifty years. But race relations don’t seem to be any further along now than they were when Dr. King’s life was taken. Where is unity?

On Palm Sunday, I had the opportunity to attend a performance of the play BLACK at Colorado Community Church in Aurora, CO. The play, written by Lamaria Aminah and directed by donnie l. betts, is intended to spark conversation among the audience members. Aminah, who was involved in Black Lives Matter 5280, wanted to articulate what she saw as a common and on-going problem in our country, that we don’t know how to talk about race.

Fifty years. And we STILL don’t know how to talk about race. Where is unity? Where is the end of racial strife?

BLACK is the conversation between two women—one black and one white—after a young black man is murdered by the police. The black woman (Ilasiea Gray) is the mother of the young man. The white woman (Anastasia Davidson) is the wife of the police officer. It is a situation rife with tension.

BLACK had many interesting moments, and a number of controversial ones as well. One of my favorite moments was a tense, emotional moment when the character Black recites—and the audience repeats them after her—the names of black men who have lost their lives due to police violence.

And sure, we can use this space, this time, now to say that not all cops are bad cops. Sure. But saying that misses the exact point of BLACK. In fact, it underscores the problem. A moving part at the beginning of the play is when White enters the stage, grief-stricken, in tears, barely able to speak. She doesn’t understand why Black isn’t in tears. Black agrees to tell White her story on the condition that White doesn’t interrupt, doesn’t try to argue, doesn’t contradict. In other words, listen.

This is the message of BLACK, and perhaps if we listen closely enough, the message of Dr. King. Listen.

Is racial reconciliation possible? Yes. But only if we are willing to put aside our own assumptions and predispositions. If we are willing perhaps to admit to the possibility of white privilege rather than immediately jumping to the defensive or offering weak justifications. If we are willing to listen.

many hands joined together with title True Oneness It's Easier Than You ThinkI am pleased to announce that Dead Key Publishing is working with author, ordained minister and licensed mental health professional Michael Dawson to publish True Oneness: It’s Easier Than You Think. This manual and included discussion guide challenge us to “build bridges of compassion that will bring us closer together in trying times instead of pulling us apart.”

Dawson’s book echoes Aminah’s BLACK. Racial reconciliation will happen when those who have been marginalized have a voice and when those who haven’t listened begin. This was apparent during the Q&A after the play. Many people did not have questions but instead wanted to tell a part of their own story. Reconciliation begins when we listen to each other’s stories, when we intentionally begin to see through someone else’s eyes.

Keep watch for more information on Dawson’s book as we move toward distribution. Follow this blog, like Dead Key on Facebook, visit www.deadkeypublishing.com.

TJ’s Ride by J.R. Hamilton (Book Review #280)

I am proud to be the publisher of TJ’s Ride by J.R. Hamilton, reviewed here by Jeyran Main. Read the review, buy the book, support indie publishing.
ebook: http://www.amazon.com/TJs-Ride-TJ-Book-1-ebook/dp/B00IHG09V4
Paperback: http://www.amazon.com/TJs-Ride-TJ-1-Hamilton/dp/0692678514

Review Tales

TJ’s Ride is book one of ‘The TJ Series.’ This action adventure novel is about Petty Officer Thomas Hamlin (TJ). He works for the Navy and is brought back to Corpus Christi after being away for almost two years, in Vietnam. TJ is then blackmailed by Captain Joseph. He sends TJ to fight against some drug traffickers forcing TJ to go undercover as a bouncer, just to get down with the drug rings and to expose them.

I found the story to be full of action and to possess an intense amount of substance. The most enjoyable part of the work was the main character and how humanized he has been described. The story resembled strong and smart Hollywood movie characters such as James Bourne or James Bond. However, he had a realistic form to it, and that is what made this book special.

The literature was superbly blended with…

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Dance!

IMG_8325I went to a local fair in Loveland on Saturday. It featured local brews, live music and food. My daughter was dancing as part of the SlapStep Studios group, so my husband, son, and I went to watch her. Becky’s husband, Justin, and their daughter, my oh-so-wonderful granddaughter Maddy, were there also.

After Becky’s dance part was over, we hung around, trying to decide what to do, where to go. I took Maddy out of her stroller and in an instant she was running toward the front of the fair where the stage was. Live music was going on, and she needed to be a part of it.

I followed, not just to keep her safe but because there’s nowhere else I’d rather be than trailing after this little girl who doesn’t know the meaning of the phrase “slow down.” Or maybe she knows, but she certainly never heeds it.

As soon as she got up front, she began dancing and clapping. Her “dancing” is kind of a mix of galloping and skipping, and she uses every bit of space she is given. Every now and then, she’d grab my hand and the two of us would gallop and skip to the live covers of Luke Bryant, Elvis Presley and Merle Haggard.

At one point, she walked over to a woman sitting in the front row. She held out her hand. She pointed to the “dance floor.” She held out her hand again. The woman took her hand and the two of them danced.

What a wonderful thing it is to dance with such abandon. Maddy didn’t care that she wasn’t dancing in a way that traditionalists would call dancing. No one else cared either. She didn’t care who was watching, although everyone was. For Maddy, there was nothing more than the music and the movement, and the huge, overwhelming desire to have people share in her joy.

I want to live with that kind of abandon. I want you to live with that kind of abandon.

There will be times when you fall. Don’t let it stop you. Get back up, wipe the tears away, maybe even get annoyed when your daddy tries to clean your scraped up knee because he’s slowing you down when all you want to do is DANCE.

Live with abandon. Drink fully. Laugh often. Dance. Invite others to share in your joy. Fall down. Get back up. And keep dancing.

Lessons Learned From the Bike: Time, Practice and Potholes

I was finishing a ride on the Highline Canal Trail. I was riding on the sidewalk on the highway overpass, because there is no room to ride safely in the street. I saw a pedestrian coming toward me, and, rather than stopping, I hugged the right side of the sidewalk, allowing the pedestrian to keep to her right.

What I didn’t see was the manhole cover with a huge pothole. I hit it going full speed (granted, my full speed is only about 13 mph). It jolted every bolt and joint on both my body and my bike. It unseated me and my feet flew off the pedals (I don’t clip in). Within seconds, my feet found their placing, I regained my seat, and Blue2 and I rode merrily on.

I haven’t been riding long, but I realized that a couple of years ago, this would have been a very painful accident. I would not just have been unseated, I would have crashed miserably, either going over the handlebars or not being able to regain balance.

Life is like that. I have learned that sometimes you can’t assume that what looks like a leaf is actually a leaf. Sometimes it’s a rock. Sometimes the puddle is deeper than you think. And you never see beforehand the nail that lodges in your tire.

But with enough time, with enough practice, huge potholes don’t have to end in a crash. Nothing but time and practice will give you the skill and balance you need to keep seated and keep moving on.

Put in the time. Don’t let the potholes make you crash. No matter what it is in your life. Writing. Music. Family. Friends. God. Put in the time. Keep moving on.

Makin’ It Strong: He Said/She Said

Makin’ It Strong: He Said/She Said

As an editor, I’ve seen some bad writing, some good writing, some great writing. I’ve seen a few grammar mistakes that mar otherwise good manuscripts, and I’ve seen writing made weaker by taking the easy way out. I will be addressing some of these “easy” writing tricks that sap the strength out of your writing.


original-758275-1We’ve all been there. You’re engrossed in a book, come across a passage with a great deal of dialogue and suddenly you can’t figure out who’s talking. You maybe go up to the last time you saw, “he said,” and then work your way back down. Nothing takes you out of the story faster.

As writers, we want our readers to lose themselves in the story, not the dialogue.

Some writers avoid this trap by using the he said/she said attribution, known as a dialogue tag, every single time. That gets tiresome for the reader as well as the writer. So some writers fall into the seductive trap of either adding adverbs (he said warily, she said sarcastically) or using a substitute word called a “said-bookism.” These can be subtle (he explained, she replied) or a glaring distraction (he chuckled, she peeped). Why is it a distraction? Try it right now. Say something while chuckling or peeping at the same time. It’s not natural. It’s not how real people talk. And if you try that in real life, people will start avoiding you.

The beauty of the word “said” is that it provides a signpost so people don’t get lost, but it blends seamlessly into the background of the story. It’s a word we don’t pay attention to; our eyes skim over it, subconsciously noting the signpost but staying within the world of the story. Isn’t that what we as writers want for our readers?

That doesn’t mean the writer should never use an adverb tag. A well-placed adverb is like a pinch of salt. Too much ruins the dish. But the right amount adds flavor and makes the dish memorable. At times, a subtle said-bookism may be a better choice than an adverb, e.g., she whispered vs. she said softly. Remember, as a writer, you want your readers to come away remembering your story, your characters, your dialogue—in other words, the heart of your book—rather than someone chuckling, peeping, exclaiming, shrieking, growling, hissing and chortling.

Said-bookisms and adverb tags are unnecessary to strong writing. A reader should not have to be told that a biting remark is sarcastic. And in fact, why are we “telling” at all? Show don’t tell. If the reader can’t tell from the situation, then you haven’t done your job as a writer. As Rob Hart with LitReactor wrote, “Dialogue tags are a crutch. They’re a distraction from what you should really be doing: Conveying things through actions, word choice and mannerisms” (https://litreactor.com/columns/on-dialogue-tags-why-anything-besides-said-and-asked-is-lazy-writing — read the article; you’ll enjoy it).

By the way, not everyone agrees with this. There is an entire movement called “Said Is Dead,” which offers scores of words to use instead of the dreaded said. We’ve all done it at times. It seems more literary. But to paraphrase William Strunk, Jr., and E.B. White, keep it simple, stupid.

So what do you need to do? Read over your current piece of writing. Read it out loud. Read it the way you wrote it, with every bellow, chuckle, and growl added in. Does it sound like dialogue sounds in real life? Probably not. Take out the adverbs and said-bookisms. Use he said/she said as signposts in longer pieces of dialogue. How does it read now? Does it sound more natural? If you find places where you feel you have to have an adverb, consider rewriting the dialogue or the narrative beats surrounding the dialogue to show rather than tell.

Revise your writing. Make it strong.

Ashes in a Baggie

mom

Death is a strange thing. Today would have been my mother’s 89th birthday. Instead, it’s her first birthday since her death last August. Almost a year ago. In about five weeks, I will have experienced all the “firsts” — the first holidays, the first Mother’s Day, the first birthday.

My sister, two brothers and I took some of her ashes to the gravesite tonight. It’s the first time I’ve been there. And that’s when I realized how strange death is.

This woman lived 88 years. She had four children, numerous grandchildren and even more great grandchildren. She lived through the death of both parents and two husbands. She married, divorced, gave birth, attended school plays, had sex, danced, drank more than she should have, said that giving up smoking was the hardest thing she had ever done, rode a motorcycle with a lover. Her favorite picture of her mother was at her and my father’s wedding and her favorite memory of her was in a smart red suit.

She told me, on the last night of her life, some of her feelings about her life. A lot of them had to do with her mother. Maybe we are defined by our mothers in ways we can’t explain, ways we sometimes hate. But it’s who we are, and who they are.

And tonight I held the container that held her ashes. All of her 88 years, all of her memories, all of her life, loves, hates, fears, joys, laughter and tears contained in a baggie surrounded by a nice leather container.

Yes, really. That’s all that life boils down to. Ashes in a baggie.

Please tell me, I want to cry out, that there is something beyond. Lord, I believe, help me in my unbelief.

At the grave, my brother dug a small hole (yes, illegal). Each of us there — my brothers, my sister, my sister-in-law, my brother-in-law, my husband, my son and me — took turns putting a handful of ashes into the ground. As I left, I felt the residue of ash on my hands, making my skin strangely soft.

I haven’t washed my hands, haven’t brushed them off. Like a teenage girl who won’t wash her cheek after a kiss from a celebrity, I want to keep my mom close. Don’t leave! I feel the ashes coating my palms, feel them sinking into my creases, perhaps becoming a part of me.

And even as the evening goes on, as I type these words, longing to memorialize her in some way that I can’t hope to accomplish, the ashes fade. And life goes on.