You Can Be a Jerk Tomorrow: Today is National Love Your Spouse Day!

This last week, most of us took time to be intentionally thankful.  In my typical fashion, I both love and hate this – which is easier than it sounds.

I love being thankful.

I hate relegating thankfulness to one special day – a sort of “free pass” for ingratitude the rest of the year.  It’s like my kids deciding to celebrate National “Obey Your Parents” Day: I would have to rebel.

Regardless, this year, I have much to be thankful for.

  • Healthy kids. I have friends whose son suffered a life-altering brain injury skateboarding a few years ago – just in time for his senior year of high school.  I have another friend whose ten-year-old has brain cancer, and another whose daughter died of cancer – after an amputation.  I am intensely grateful for my kids’ scrapes, knocks, and colds.
  • Money to pay our bills. Another friend of mine does not have a phone.  Or heat.  Or income of any kind.  Or, sometimes, food.  At our house, we’re not going to Disneyland, or even out to dinner most months, but my family never has to be cold, hungry, or worried about making a house payment.
  • A Western standard of living. Here, I don’t mean Western culture – I mean, gas or electric stoves.  Running water.  Indoor toilets.  In the Kibera slum of Nairobi – just one of many slums in that city, just one of many such cities in Kenya, just one of many such countries in the world – there is approximately one hole in the ground per 400 people.  My family of four shares one bathroom – and we are so, so lucky.
  • Modern medicine. Yes, I know, I have heard it all and I agree: we overmedicate.  We over vaccinate.  We use medicine as a way to enable ourselves to make poor lifestyle choices.  And yet…globally, diarrhea remains the number one killer of kids under age 5.  Not here, though.  And that’s just one example.  We are incredibly blessed.
  • Freedom. Fine, fine – liberals slander Christians, Christians hate Planned Parenthood, right wing radicals verbally attack Muslims, police target black men, straight teens bully gay and lesbian teens…this is all painfully true and unjust.  And yet, when my students move here from Iraq, or El Salvador, or Nepal, they all say: I can be who I want, here.  I can say and think what I want.  There are only a handful of places like this in the world, and I happen to live in one.

And, of course:

  • Family.
  • Friends.
  • The beauty of a world that continues to defy our attempts to control it.
  • Free time, to read, to write, to paint, to stare at the sunrise at some ungodly hour of the morning – the very poor do not have the luxury to sit around: they are too busy working.
  • My God and king.

So, I will continue to be glad there is no National “Love Your Spouse” Day (please, if there is – don’t tell me).  And, even though I have approximately 360 days until the next Thanksgiving, I will continue to count my blessings: both the very small and the impossibly big.

It turns out, closing my eyes tightly does not ACTUALLY make it go away

When I was a kid, my night-time terror was that Satan would come and give me a shot.

Yes, that’s what kept me up at night.

In my defense, Satan is pretty bad, and the needle in my mind was really big and long, like the kind they must use to inoculate elephants.

However, I knew that, if I covered my whole body up with my blanket, shut my eyes, and lay on my back, I would be safe – since the giant-needle-of-the-devil was only for butt shots.  In retrospect, I am not sure what was so magical about my mattress.

It must have had some demon repellant on it.

I feel like we, as a culture, are doing something similar in response to our current refugee crisis.  We wrap ourselves up tightly, clench our eyes shut, and pray that when we wake up, it will have blown over.

It feels so ridiculous to talk about how my writing is going when there are millions of Syrians living in parking lots all over the Middle East and Europe.

“Hey, did you know this is the worst crisis since The Holocaust?”

“Yeah, but check out my new nail polish!”

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t believe for one second that the suffering of others is lessened if I make myself depressed enough on their behalf.  I try that with my husband all the time; he’s in a bad mood, so I try being in a bad mood, hoping this will, by some strange pretend math, make him feel better.

It never, ever does.

Even so, I can’t just act like life is normal.  Right now, it’s not.  Have you ever wondered what you would have done if you’d watched the Native Americans as they marched down the Trail of Tears?  Helped them carry their loads.  Or lived during the time of slavery?  Been a station on the Underground Railroad, of course.  Or been in Germany during WWII?  Hidden Jews in my attic, no question.

Well, here’s our chance.

Please, don’t let history say that we stood by and pretended we didn’t know, or didn’t care.  Please don’t let our children grow up to feel shame on our behalf.  Please don’t shut your eyes and harden your hearts – one of two possible responses to suffering.

The other is to add action to your prayers: Pick up your pen.  Google “how to help Syrian refugees”.  Or follow a few of the links below.

If you are a Christian, like me, please start with World Vision.  You can send an email to state lawmakers, and learn about donating, praying, and ongoing facts about how the crisis affects children and families.

Sign and email a Resettlement Support Petition to your state lawmakers.

Check out different organizations you can donate to at Public Radio International – including a downloadable app that links you directly to the charities mentioned.

Today lists more places you can donate, specifically if you are interested in families and children.

Join places like the UN’s Refugee Agency‘s digital dialogue, and get the message out that the world cares about what’s happening and wants to help.

Post these things on your social media accounts to get the word out.  Please.

 

The Only Way to Fight

It will be weeks until we stop thinking about the recent devastation in Paris.

I find myself compelled to write about it, even though this is a huge departure from what I normally post on this website.

Here is the deal: in our response to evil, we can never, ever allow ourselves to give way to hate.  Jesus tells us to “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you”.  The magic is that, when we pray for people, they cease to be enemies.  If you are not a follower of Jesus, I know of no call on you, but for those of us who love him, this is central to our lives.

The danger is that, if I start thinking of ISIS as my enemy, then it is only a few steps until I start thinking of Muslims, or people from the Middle East, as enemies.  Who is next?  Syrian refugee families?  The people who worship at the mosque down the street?  My friends Masab and Waleed?  Any woman wears a veil?  Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor?  People with German last names during WWI?

You will tell me that I have it easy, because here I sit, secure in the knowledge that my loved ones are safe at work and school.  Yes, I will say, but so do you.

I understand that it is the job of governments to think about the world in this way, and it is the necessary labor of families of victims to work through and live with the stages of grief – including anger and blame.  But the rest of us?  We are without excuse.

So, that quote you were about to share on Facebook?  That email you were about to send?  That Twitter comment you were going to post?  Please don’t.  Instead, stand with our brothers and sisters of France.  All of them – not just the ones who fit a certain profile.  And please, continue to fight evil and hatred with its only antidote: love.

The Ghost Reveals Itself

I’m just going to say it:

I was the ghostwriter for a friend’s book.

This was a super interesting and complex process — I had to set my ego (and my opinion) completely aside.  At times, it felt more like being a reporter than a writer.  We would meet, and I would listen, and then ask question after question, trying to get a full picture of the mind of the author.

Then, I would take it all home, do some research to fill in the gaps, and extend and refine statements into what I thought my friend was trying to say.

Surprisingly, it was fun!  That was something I didn’t expect.

This friend of mine offered me a byline, but I turned him down — his book has controversy written all over it, and I didn’t want us to get bogged down in arguments.  However, and I know this is highly unusual, he did say I could post a link to it here on this site.

So, if you’re curious to see another aspect of how writers cobble together our days, please check out Christianity and Corporate America by J.M. Wadhwani.  It’s a thought-provoking read.  I’m proud of my friend for working to cross something off of his bucket list!  And I am grateful that he took a chance on a new writer like myself.

I will remember this experience for a long time.

Top Secret Good News

The good news is…another one of my pieces got picked up today!  It’s called “Top Secret Diets”, and you can find it here, at The Higgs Weldon, which is a comedy website.

One weird realization, as a writer: this piece used to be a list of 10 things, and now it is a list of 5!  That is what happens when you send your work out into the world.  I continue to want to be a writer that is easy to work with, and so that means letting editors call the shots with a piece once it’s in their hands.  This was such a dramatic change; it was a good chance for me to see if I was really serious!

Hairless Barbies and Other Mistakes

Sometimes, when I get excited, I am a bit like the bull in the china shop.  Or like a Labrador puppy in basically any environment where it’s not sleeping.  I definitely have a leap first, look second thing going.

This would be okay, except: I get excited a lot.

A Partial List of Examples: coating my entire naked body with mud so I could pretend I was in an ad for a beauty salon (childhood); playing with my sister’s Barbies by chopping off their hair (childhood); cutting my own hair to match (high school); inviting someone I had only just met to be a bridesmaid in my actual wedding (college); deciding to repaint the entire living room at 7:00 at night (recently).

I am learning a similar lesson now, in the context of being a writer.  It’s because I am really excited, see?  And so I can’t control myself!  I just have to add exclamation points at the end of every sentence and thought and action!  Or maybe even three!!!

Last week, in my thoughtless euphoria, I managed to hurt three people in one short essay – all inadvertently.

In “Plus It’s a Lie”, I refer to the fact that my husband played tennis to make his dad happy.  Once it went online last week, I excitedly emailed my mother-in-law, knowing that she would be happy with me.  A few hours later, I got a sick feeling in my gut, and raced downstairs, to where my husband was putting away laundry.  I hated to interrupt him, because it seemed a shame to spoil the moment, but I had to know:

“You’ve talked with your parents about playing tennis in high school, right?  About how you didn’t actually like it?”

“No,” he said.

“Shit,” I didn’t say, because I don’t swear (except sometimes when it makes my writing sound better).  “Cuz they are about to find out.  Online.”

Online is no place to learn this kind of information.

I know that, with Facebook and its offspring, people are growing more and more comfortable airing, not their own dirty laundry, but others’.  I know of a woman who had to unfriend her own daughter because they got into a mean, cat-fighting, political debate on Facebook.

So, I called my mother-in-law right away.  And she unfriended me on Facebook!

Just kidding!  She forgave me, of course, but this was an awkward, contrite conversation that I would rather not repeat.

So, of course I repeated it again a few days later.

Because, in the same dumb essay, I also quoted a friend saying something I didn’t like, and she (and you will ask yourself: how did you not see this coming? to which I reply: Who asked you?) recognized herself.

Of course she was gracious.  But I was exhausted.  I was 0:2.  Two awkward, contrite apologies in two days.  Blech.

I am really sorry that I had to learn this at the expense of other people, but am thankful for the lesson itself.  It’s new to think of myself as a writer, and to view the world that way; I used to always wonder, How can I use this in the classroom?  Now I think, That would be great in an essay!

Though I will continue to mine the world around me for things that I can write about, I believe that relationships always, always come first.  Always.  And this means that, when I write about people, I need to get their blessing first.  That means, I emailed my mother-in-law and friend about this post before I published it.

That will require a sort of careful editing, a more transparent living, than I am used to.  I think that, rather than weakening my writing, it will make it more subtle.  That’s good.

Even better will be not having to pick up the pieces afterward, because I won’t have broken anything.

And Now, The Moment You’ve All Been Waiting For…

Ok, it’s real, folks!

My first published work, “Plus It’s a Lie”, just went live at Mothers Always Write — and you can read it here!  It’s an essay about parents, soccer, and the temptation to live vicariously through our kids.

I am so pleased to be working with MAW because their editors are so encouraging — especially to a new writer like myself.  When they accepted the piece, they gave thoughtful feedback about what they appreciated about the piece, and helpful directions on how I could strengthen it for their publication.  This was my first time working with an editor, and I loved it.  Honestly, I want to be famous among editors as an easy-to-work-with writer — someone who recognizes that editors are very, very, good at their jobs, that they have developed a keen ear for language, and (most importantly) that they know the needs of their publication better than I do.

So, thank you Julianne Palumbo and Michelle Riddell, editors at Mothers Always Write!

Also, in case there is anyone reading this that is even newer to writing than I am, I would like to thank Kelly James-Enger, whose book on freelance writing included advice to follow-up every acceptance with another submission or query.  Because of this great recommendation, another of my pieces has been accepted at Mothers Always Write.  There is nothing more fun for a writer!

Today, I am feeling positive and thankful and excited to write more.  Today is the day He has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it!