Many years ago, I got sick, and I stayed sick for a long time. Not long after I got married and we had our first baby. Little by little, the illness overcame me and I had to stop working. We hoped if I took a week off, I could get better. Then a month. Surely two months, right? Perhaps if I took the entire semester off...At the time we were living in family housing on campus, so I had to keep going to school or we would lose our housing, which was much, much less expensive than anywhere off-campus. I stayed registered but, given my health situation, could not do much. Every semester was cycle of slow failure. It was a grim time for me--and my wife, who in her twenties was suddenly a young mother and a caretaker of an invalid husband. Our two children were too young to know anything was wrong, but we worried enough for the two of them. I was sick and not getting better. There was no end in sight, and truly, no hope.
Doctors had not been able to help--including high-priced specialists in a different part of the country. With increasing desperation, we tried every form of well-intentioned healing we could lay our hands on: herbs, acupuncture, energy healing. Nothing helped. I got worse and worse. Finally, I could only leave the house in a wheelchair.
By Thanksgiving, the semester had progressed far enough that I was clearly and irretrievably behind in school. With perpetual optimism, I registered anew each semester, then, as the semester went on, got behind and had to take "Withdrawals" or "Incompletes," which can quickly become the academic equivalent of a payday loan--you can get hopelessly behind with those. But I had no choice, since our housing was tied to carrying a full-time academic load.
These were the bleakest of bleak days, everything covered with any ashy blanket of despair. All I touched seemed to crumble into dust.
I remember going to my parent's house for Thanksgiving. Most of the day is a blur. One symptom of the illness was cognitive problems--a very real "brain fog." They tried to teach us how to play a fun new game called Phase Ten. I couldn't play; the rules were simply too complex for me to understand. I remember the look on everyone's faces. They thought maybe I was joking when I said I couldn't understand, but I really couldn't. It was terrifying.
One bright spot was my mother's family delivering a large care package to us. We had always been a tight-knit extended family, and their kindness brightened things up. But they couldn't fix what was really wrong, nor could they stem the obvious disaster that was coming for my own little family.
I will tell the rest of the story another time perhaps. But the short version is that a miracle happened: an honest, to goodness, bona fide miracle.
Many years later, I sit here today overwhelmed with goodness of my life. It's quiet here today, just as I like it. Three more children eventually joined those first two. The oldest are all in college, studying and leading productive lives. They are good people who I admire and enjoy spending time with. They are celebrating Thanksgiving today with my parents and siblings in another part of the country. The two children who still live at home are healthy, largely obedient, and delightful. They show great promise of eventually maturing into functional human beings as well.
I finally made it through school and earned three degrees. I am blessed to be able to make a living directing plays and teaching music. I have also been able to write books, which fulfills a childhood dream.
We live in a modest, but very comfortable home. We don't have everything, but we have everything we really need, and then some. I peeled potatoes today while watching some of my beloved old movies. I have a job I love very much. I work long hours, and feel incredibly blessed to be able to do so. Next to my own children, my students are the light of my life. I have been receiving emails today from students and dear former students with whom I have kept in touch They are kind enough to express their love, and of course, the feeling is mutual.
My wife who heroically stuck with me, is my rock. That terrible experience pulled us closer. Today, we are able to enjoy each other, and she is able to volunteer in many different places, sharing her remarkable light and goodness and love with everyone she meets. I think those very taxing early years did something to her. I worried they would break her, but actually, they burnished more brightly her ability to see other people's difficulties and struggles, and her determination to do what she can to help people. Almost twenty-five years together have brought a comfort, warmth, and stability to our lives. However, all that time has not changed the fact that the sparkle in her eyes still makes my heart skip a few beats.
Today, I am deeply thankful for all these things, thankful at a visceral, elemental level. But besides being thankful, I am hopeful. I suppose that is why I am writing this, really. Perhaps someone out there is struggling, full of despair and uncertainty. Or, even worse, full of certainty that things will only get worse. That was certainly what my life looked like at times in the past.
I can't read the future, but I can learn from the past. And everything in the past has taught me is to hope, to look forward with optimism. So, if you are happy today, I rejoice with you. And if you're not, I am sending my best wishes. God isn't dead. Miracles happen. Beauty can come out of ashes. Life can be beautiful. Things can change.
It occurs to me that perhaps having hope is the future tense of being grateful. Rooted in gratitude for the good we enjoy, we look forward more easily with hope.
I've been off social media more and more lately because of work obligations, but also because I'm just tired of the tone. Maybe I'm overly sensitive, but I am so discouraged to see people turn so angry with each other, assuming the worst about people they've never met. Or, worse, people they've known for years.
We seem to be losing our ability to be soft and gentle. Then we act as if this is good. I really don't think it is and it concerns me that we speak with pride about various manifestations of this trend.
Everything seems to be a cause for taking offense and proving how terrible our foes are; we seem to truly delight in assuming the worst about each other and then shouting it from the rooftops, often in a way that proves our own intelligence and superior virtue. We are destroying straw men and women with the vigor and alacrity our forbearers used to tame the wilderness and fight the Nazis.
I'm worried that we are quick to define enemies by the way they think, speak, and view the world as opposed to the fact that they do us actual harm. And I'm worried, terrified actually, that we don't care and maybe even think this is good. Because it's not. Not for our souls, not for our families, our friendships, or our country.
The milk of human kindness seems to have curdled lately, including in people I love and admire. I get swept up too. It's so easy. I found myself writing an angry post about an angry post last night. I deleted it when I realized it would add heat but not light, but it worries me how instinctive it was to raise my hackles.
I've blocked and unfollowed like crazy lately and while it's cleaned up negativity in my Facebook feed, it also feels like a loss, a surrender of sorts and makes me sad. I miss those friends, even if I don't miss the anger.
We seem to cherish the hardness of our hearts and souls. We celebrate it in many different ways each day. But I worry that we are not soft and don't even seem to want to be. I've been thinking and worrying about this a lot. I'm not terribly unique in being worried, nor am I particularly eloquent in my expression of that fear.
I don't know what to do about it. I don't know what any one of us can do about it except try harder not to get swept away. We must fight to hold on to what little bits of softness we have left in our hearts and, perhaps most of all, celebrate it when we see it in others.
Two unrelated items of internet flotsam came across my screen this week, and I have been reflecting on both of them since the debates last night.
The first item was this picture. It was all over the Internet and people of all ideological stripes were saying how wonderful it was, and yearning for us go back to some kind of personal civility in our politics. The fact that so many people latched onto this so quickly suggests a true, widespread desire for some kind of civility and decency in our discourse. (Yes, I am aware that some say this was a fake hug. Fine. But the fact that so many people want it to be real reinforces the point).
The second item was something I had seen before about marriages. Based on research by the Gottmans, this item suggests that a marriage can withstand fighting and arguing, but not contempt. It is not the disagreements but the contempt that kills marriages.
Then came the debate. I'm not going to talk about the debate itself much. My greater concern is what came after. As I watched social media, I saw the same people who had shared and liked the photo of President Bush and Mrs. Obama turn into snarky, sneering critics who were anxious to pass on the most caustic remarks about the candidates, but even worse, about the candidate's supporters. The criticism shifted from Mr. Trump and Secretary Clinton to their supporters--usually in the snarkiest possible terms. Sadly, these are rational, intelligent people who value kindness and respect, people who say civility is important to them.
If politics somehow absolves us of empathy for other people's views, if elections somehow neutralize the responsibility for what we say about others, if it removes our accountability for how we treat our fellow humans, then then it is no wonder we have two candidates who are immensely unlikable and unpopular. They reflect who we are, and I don't think that reflection is very appealing right now.
Living in a free country is sort of like living in an arranged marriage. We're thrown together without much choice, but now we have to either sink or swim together, making a difficult arrangement work. I think it can work, and I think our system is uniquely set up to allow this kind of thing to flourish. But like real marriages, I don't think we can withstand contempt, not individually and not collectively. I don't like what it does to people I respect. And I don't like what it does to me, frankly.
Leave the candidates aside. Let's talk about regular people. Reducing our opponents to idiots, villains, or cardboard caricatures, allows us to enjoy our own moral and intellectual superiority. Yes, it's a good feeling, the rush of righteous zeal as we realize we are not like them. But this masturbatory moralism does nothing in the long term but deepen the divides between us.
If those divides grow much deeper, I do not see how we can long survive with our current system. Frankly that terrifies me more than what any president can do. A healthy, collective culture in this country can withstand a bad president. On the other hand, the best president in the world would be hard pressed to lead a country with a broken culture.
At this point in humanity's history, we ought to know that pride and arrogance are fundamental, constant, elemental human failings. It is easy to see in others, but difficult to discern in ourselves. So, we all ought to consciously acknowledge that there is a far greater chance than not that a degree of arrogance skews our vision of reality. It ought to give us enough pause to simply be humble, to act with conviction but also with caution. I think we can advocate forcefully for our beliefs--that's the confidence, without assuming that those who oppose it are bad people--that's the caution.
While having a lively discourse, we ought to be open to the fact that people can disagree with us without being bad or stupid. That seems a very modest act of intellectual modesty. But that has to include conversations about those with whom we disagree. Including on social media.
Last night Secretary Clinton said she didn't think it worked very well to have things trickle down from the top. I don't want to get int an economic debate here. But that is a true principle when we think about culture and the way we treat each other. Contempt is bad. It destroys important bonds. Constant division is dangerous for us. Really, truly dangerous. We want civility. So that needs to start with each one of us. We cannot wait for people at the top to model this. They won't. They will always reflect us and what we really want. We have to be the change and hope it will trickle up.
The good news is that we don't need a law or a politician to change this. The good news is that it is completely in our power, each of us, to do this. The bad news is that I'm not sure we really want to. I think we want other people to be civil. But if it means forgoing that snarky comment or the tweet that just skewers those idiots/bigots/lying thieves on the other side? Well, that is a different story.
I got the back liner copy for The Soulstealer's Child today, and I'm really excited about it! Watch for a release day announcement soon. If you want to be notified when it's ready to be ordered, use this link here.
Can a human heart overcome a demon soul?
When soul-eating demons overrun their world, Kaelis, a young seraph warrior, uses the Queen’s ring to open a portal in space and flees with the infant heir to the throne, eventually landing on earth. Unbeknownst to him, Nsark, the demon leader follows, determined to devour the soul of every last seraph, especially the Queen’s heir. When Kaelis hides the baby, Nsark creates the ultimate weapon by fathering his own child, half-human and half-demon: a soul-stealer’s child.
Sixteen years later James Cordova is trying to figure out where he fits in. In a last-ditch effort, he joins the school play, where he meets Lucy Carlton. Something deep draws them together and their friendship reveals their hidden pasts: one is an angel, one is half-demon. Aware of their true identities, Lucy and James find themselves pulled into the age-old war between their peoples. Hunted by relentless enemies, and grappling with deep-seated instincts and strange new powers, the they must fight for their lives, their souls, and each other. Can they overcome what they were born to be or will one of them have to make the ultimate sacrifice in order for the other to survive?
Dear New, Overwhelmed, Slightly Worried Middle School Parent,
When I spoke to you today, I saw the familiar signs in your face and heard them in your voice. Around your friends you are putting on a good front. It's not all an act; you are excited, and you trust your child. If you are fortunate, you feel good about the school and all of that. But you're still worried. Even if you've had an older child, you realize that every child is a whole new experience. Maybe this is your first middle schooler and you hear the jokes and murmurs of other parents. "Good luck surviving middle school...." that sort of thing.
I want to tell you something: It's going to be okay. It really is. I say that as a teacher with many years under my belt, and as the parent of one current adolescent and three recovering adolescents who show every sign of productive, happy adulthood.
Your child is going to grow this year. If you can accept growth rather than ease and comfort, you are all set.
Your child will have some wonderful triumphs; your child will also mess up royally. That's okay because, if you let it, this experience will teach her something. That really demanding teacher will take points off the project, but your child will learn! It might take a few times, but having learned it in middle school, she'll not need to learn it when it's a project for her college professors or boss.
Your child will likely connect to a teacher on a meaningful, life-changing level; chances are, there will be at least one teacher who your child will not like. This teacher will seem arbitrary and unfair and unreasonable and...the reality is that this teacher will probably end up blessing your child's life as much as the more likable one. Truly. I'm not saying it's fun or joyful, but learning to deal with someone who is difficult now will be immensely valuable to your child as he goes out into the world.*
I can almost guarantee you that your child will have some social issues this year. Friends will inexplicably change and do unpredictable things that will baffle and hurt your child. This brings us to one of the most challenging aspects of middle school: it's filled with middle school students, and these children are going to be every bit as insecure and unstable as your child will be at times, and will thus act, not like mature, kind adults, but like immature adolescents. Sadly, Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Malala, and Abraham Lincoln are not on the friend menu. Your child, I fear, is stuck with other children, each of whom brings their own doubts and insecurities, not to mention an evolving mind, body, and set of social skills to the equation. But it will pass. The inevitable plate tectonics of social relationships will end up helping your child develop stronger, better, deeper friendships. It will help her develop herself as a person.
I'm not saying that everything about this year will be rainbows and unicorns. What I am saying is that it will be okay in the long run. Your sweet caterpillar has just spun a chrysalis. Your embryonic adult is inside an egg getting ready to hatch. In both of these examples, it is the struggle to emerge that gives the young creature the requisite strength to flourish. A butterfly flies because emerging is difficult. A chick thrives because breaking out of that shell is hard. I can't tell you there won't be tears. There will. But tears are to maturity like sweat is to hard work (I realized I'm using a lot of images and metaphors. Humor me. You think first days of school are hard on students and parents?)
Don't get me wrong. It's not going to be all struggle and difficulty. There are going to be exhilarating moments of new freedom and new friendships and new opportunities. There will be a lot of stuff that is just plain fun. You are going to get your share of eye rolls, head tosses, shoulder shrugs, and teenage tantrums. You are also going to have new chances to connect to your child in really cool ways. There will be other people watching out for your child, perhaps unexpected mentors and guides.
But what I want you to understand is that even when things seem not to be going well, when there seem to be problems, everything will be okay. Challenges are a feature, not a bug, of adolescence and they will help shape your wonderful child into the masterpiece that she or he is ready to become.
You will feel unequal to the task at times, but I'm telling you that you are absolutely equal to it. The secret is not overreacting. Truly, you don't have to do as much as you think you do. Love your child, but allow them to struggle. Give them empathy and ideas, but don't be the rescue crew, a helicopter or a snowplow.
Please realize that every adolescent is immature. And not just a little bit. I mean, 180-proof, weapons-grade, industrial strength, jaw-dropping, heart-pounding immaturity. That's normal. It's not you. And it's not them. Not really. It's a lack of a pre-fontal cortex and key chemicals in the brain. These will all come back eventually. You need to know that. Be as calm as you can and don't panic. The irresponsibility, forgetfulness, attitude, the overwrought emotions--all of that is normal. If you can mentally put a sign on your child's mind that says, "Pardon our mess while we renovate," you'll be in the right place.
It really is a wonderful time. You have a fantastic adventure ahead of you. It's like a hike--there will be ups and downs, peaks and valleys. And then, you'll get to the summit and you'll have this wonderful young man or woman. Maturity will kick in and you'll be amazed at this human masterpiece.
Then she'll head to college. But that's another post.
For now, it's going to be okay.
Note: I know it's not really Monday. Middle School Mondays is a series of blog posts I do dealing with raising and teaching adolescents. It used to happen on Monday, but now, every day is Middle School Monday if the inspiration strikes. You can read past posts here
The books in the Middle School Magic trilogy are currently all available for free through KindleUnlimited. I'm not sure how long the publisher will keep them there, so snag your copies now.
I am so excited to share this cover! I've been working on this book intermittently for years now. This summer, I got serious about it and worked on intensely. My experience with Orison has intrigued me about the world of independent publishing. So, I hired a wonderful editor and cover designer (Steven Novak). Currently, I"m hoping to have the book ready in print and ebook by early September. If you want to get an email when it's ready to order, click here.
Here's a little about the story:
"When soul-eating demons overrun the home world of the seraphim, Kaelis is charged to escape with the seraph queen's heir. Unaware, they are being followed by two demons, Kaelis flees with the infant to Earth. Accustomed to a world of fiery beauty, Kaelis and the baby struggle to survive. When the demons partner with a local human gang to chase Kaelis down, he is forced to use the last of his strength to fight them. He leaves the baby with a human family and then disappears.
Determined to find the hidden seraph heir, one of the demons tricks a human woman, and fathers a child. Half-human, half-demon, the Soul Stealer's child will grow into a living weapon, a predator who will hunt the hidden seraph, driven by demon instinct and guided by human cunning.
As the two children grow into teenagers, they are drawn to each other by forces neither understands. The queen's heir will have to find the strength to love unselfishly, and the Soul Stealer's child will have to find out if a human heart can overpower a demon's soul.
Good morning! I've been on vacation and traveling. And, it always takes a few weeks for me to recharge after school gets out. So, posting has been light and, admittedly, somewhat lame. However, I do have some fun news coming up soon. For now, though, I'm having a $20 gift card drawing for subscribers to my newsletter. The catch is that you have to be subscribed to my newsletter. So...what are you waiting for? Sign up here.
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Thoughts about raising and teaching adolescents. You can read the complete series here. (What in the world are Middle School Mondays?) Click here.
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