“Until You Can Say…”

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It comes when I’m tired or when I’ve talked too much or too fast. It comes during competitions when I’m nervous and when I’m trying to make a point. Sometimes it comes while I’m with my friends and family and I’m just trying to have a good time. Most people don’t notice it, but it’s there waiting to come out. I try to control it, keep it caged, but it escapes. It is my tongue. It is my teeth. It is my lisp.

My first word was “shoo,” but now I wonder if baby me was trying to say “chew” instead because I couldn’t pronounce the ch sound as a child. Whenever I tried, it would come out sh. I couldn’t pronounce s’s properly, either. My tongue refused to stay behind my teeth and would snake out between them to create a th sound.

Thankfully, my Mom didn’t let me live with my lisp and took me to a speech therapist when I was five years old. Even though the therapist didn’t think it was serious enough to bother with, Mom decided that she’d be my therapist. I remember driving home with her in our van and asking for some gum, my favorite candy.

“You can’t have any gum until you can say ‘peach,’ ‘church,’ and ‘chewing gum,’” she told me.

“But I can say ‘peash,’ ‘shursh,’ and ‘shewing gum’!” I protested.

She looked at me and smiled knowingly. “Keep practicing.”

I sank down into the brown van seat and sulked. “Peash-ch,shursh-ch, ch-shewing gum.”

“Pea-ch, ch-ur-ch, ch-ewing gum.” Mom enunciated the ch pointedly.

“Peash-ch, ch-shursh-ch, ch-shewing gum,” I repeated.

It took a few months, but I eventually mastered the ch sound and got my gum. Unfortunately, my s’s continued to come out sounding like th. By concentrating really hard, I could force my tongue to stay behind my teeth, but then would end up hissing like a snake.
Still, I managed to subdue my lisp significantly so that I could pronounce s’s followed by hard consonants such as k’s and t’s and liquid consonants such as l’s and d’s. But when there was an s pressed against a vowel, I struggled.

I would have stopped bothering with my lisp if it hadn’t been for speech competitions with 4-H, a youth organization where I met kids my age and learned to do things like act, cook, sew, and make crafts. At first, I did my best to avoid s’s in my speeches, but after a while, I gave up. There were just too many s’s in the English language. To win any prizes, I had to work on my lisp and became a frequent champion on county and regional levels. The lisp was my downfall at the state levels, and I walked away with only a reserve champion. But I didn’t let losing bother me and I learned to enjoy performing in front of crowds. People only knew I had a lisp if I told them.

One day at band practice, while in the practice room putting my flute together, I told my friend Cadence about the 4-H speech competitions and my frustration at never making state champion.

“Why don’t you think you can get champion?” Cadence asked.

“Because of my lisp.”

“You have a lisp?” I frowned at her sudden interest and excitement. She had a look in her eyes that reminded me of the look my siblings got whenever they found something new to tease people about. I chose my next word carefully, avoiding all s’s. “Yeah.”

“Say something with an s!”

“No.”

“Come on, Debi! I want to hear your lisp! Say something with an s!”

“No!” I grabbed my flute and music stand and started to leave.

She followed me, grabbing my long, brown ponytail and tugging it. “Come on, Debi! Just one word!”

“No.”

She tugged my hair again. “Please? Please? Please? Please?” Each “please” was accompanied by another tug.

My head was starting to ache; I grabbed my pony tail and yanked it away. “Cut it out!”

“Please?” She grabbed my hair and pulled it again, hard.

“Cadenthe! Thtop it!”

She released my hair, laughed, and clapped her hands in delight. “Say another s-word!”

“No!” I dropped my stand and dashed into the bathroom, bolting the door behind me. I sat on the floor, holding my aching head, and waited for Cadence to stop pounding on the door. She stopped after a few minutes, but I waited a little longer just to make sure. I slipped out, retrieved my stand, and hurried down into the band room where I would be protected by the teacher. Cadence hadn’t hurt my feelings that day; she’d only annoyed me—and given me a headache. But I didn’t let the teasing bother me even when a fateful incident made my lisp the brunt of a family joke.

My grandfather had treated our family to dinner at Texas Roadhouse, shoving us six Overstreets into the raised wooden booth. I ordered my normal eight-ounce steak, medium rare with onions; a loaded baked potato; and my favorite side Caesar salad.  After the waiter left with our orders, my mother noticed my siblings, Beckie and Simeon, were snickering behind their menus.

“What are you two laughing about?” Mom asked suspiciously.

“Thide thaethar thalad!” Beckie said. Then she and Simeon burst out laughing like only an Overstreet could.

I frowned. “I said ‘thide thaethar thalad,’ not ‘thide thaethar thalad.’”

They laughed louder.

I realized what I had said and tried again. “Thide thaethar thalad!”

They were red in the face by now, and Beckie started to turn purple.

I huffed in exasperation and didn’t try again. “Thide thaethar thalad” was stuck in my mouth now, and I probably wouldn’t be able to say it correctly until we got home—and by then it would be pointless. Folding my arms across my chest, I glared at them.

Mom leaned over to me. “You can smack them if you want to.”

I won’t lie, it was a tempting proposition. But—mother’s permission or no—if you smack a sibling, be prepared to get smacked back and harder. Since I didn’t feel like adding a stinging arm to my stinging ego, I said very purposefully, “Thut up!”

If they had died then, they would have deserved it. Now it doesn’t matter if I say “side Caesar salad” or “thide thaethar thalad,” they laugh just as hard either way. I just tell them to “thut up” and move on with whatever I’m doing.

Sometimes people refer to my lisp as a speech impediment to keep from hurting my feelings. My lisp doesn’t impede me; it just gives me one more mountain to conquer. I realized this one Friday dinner during my senior year at college.

Sitting at a table to my left, another student I had never met caught my attention and pointed to his friend. “This guy can’t pronounce his r’s. They come out like w’s, like ‘sowwy.’ Do you feel sorry for him?”

I wondered if this was a joke, but instead of lying and saying “yes” to spare his feelings, I told them the truth. “No.”

He was taken back. “Why not?”

I knew I’d sounded like a jerk and my reasons probably wouldn’t help, but I explained anyway. “I have a lisp, and I’ve never wanted to be pitied. I’ve never pitied anyone with any kind of handicap. I admire them. They have to work to get past their handicap, and by doing so, become better than those without a handicap.”

“Oh. I’m sorry about your lisp.”

It was then that I realized I actually feel sorry for those without one. I admire those with severe handicaps who, in trying to keep up with the normal world, surpass “normal” people. In trying to be Clark Kent, they become Superman. The difference for some people is how they react to the handicap. People need to wait until they can say “chewing gum” before they can have their chewing gum.

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By Any Other Name

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I have had a social profile on Facebook for eight years, listing myself under my self-given pen name of Dragonness Wyverna. It was harmless fun. My friends and family knew who I was, and those that didn’t had no idea who to look for. My intent was to avoid people I knew but didn’t want snooping around in my personal life. It worked well, keeping those who were put off by my ecccentricity away while still welcoming those who weren’t afraid of my oddities. Then, last week, Facebook let me know that they had been alerted that my name was unsuitable and insisted I either prove it was actually my legal name or change it. When I wasn’t able to provide proper validation, they locked me out of my account until I submitted a more acceptable name. I did try to just re-enter “Dragonness Wyverna,” but they threatened to lock me out of my account permanently if I continued to insist upon my false name. I was forced to bite the bullet and submit my birth name.

It’s a bit ridiculous on both sides when you step back from the situation. I wasn’t causing any emotional, physical, or monetary harm by operating under the name “Dragonness Wyverna,” so there was no need for Facebook to insist on my changing it. If I was a terrorist, pedophile, hacker, or some other felon with a grand plan, eight years would have been more than enough time for me to cause whatever trouble I had planned. On the flip side, it was just a screen name, a pseudonym, so there was no reason for me not to change it. There are plenty of dumb technical reasons for Facebook to insist I use my real name, and it would make me easier to found by lost childhood friends. The problem only comes when you take into account how attached I am to “Dragonness Wyverna.”

When it comes to names, “Dragonness Wyverna” is about as dumb as they come. I created it when I was thirteen as my screenname for the dragon oriented art website dragnix.net by feminizing “dragon” and  the dragon-cousin “wyvern.” I made “dragoness” more of a name by adding an extra “n,” and “Dragonness Wyverna” was born! Naturally, I had a dragon avatar to go with the name, and I spent several years on dragnix befriending several other dragon-loving teen artists. I grew attached to the name because of the friends I had made with it, and I decided that I was going to publish my future books under the name “Dragonness Wyverna.” When I joined Facebook, I went ahead and made it my official name, then carried it over to my Instagram and Twitter profiles. As the years went on, it became my name more than my actual name. It better represented my eccentric personality and passions. When I went through college, I earned the name thrice over, being called “Dragonness,” “Dragon Lady,” and “Dragon Girl” by random students who noticed my extreme personality. I loved it! I loved being Dragonness. It was a badge of weirdness I was so proud to bear, aand my friends shook their heads and laughed fondly at my peculiarity. 

I’ll admit, filling out the neccessary paperwork to legally change my name to “Dragonness Wyverna” crossed my mind more than once. Unfortunately, I’m not so far removed from reality to think that it is an appropriate name in the normal world; Princess Consuela Bananahamock would be more appropriate. Any profession outside of entertainment would not hire a “Dragonness Wyverna.” I could see how such a name would effect my current position as a K3 teaching aide. If I were a parent, I would admittedly think twice before entrusting my child to any weirdo calling herself “Miss Wyverna” or “Miss Dragonness.” Professions aside, I think my parents would be hurt if I discarded the name they gave me. It might sound strange for a twenty-six-year-old to care what her parents think about her name, but I respect them. They’ve done an excellent job raising me, though I make no claims of being perfect. And while I don’t care for my first name, I appreciate where it came from. I’m also quite proud of my family name; we have a strong reputation for hard work, which has earned me more than one job. I also don’t actually see anyone other than my best friend calling me “Dragonness Wyverna” in real life.

When Facebook made me change my name, I was lost in a depressed funk for two days. It felt as though I had been stripped of my identity, as if who I was wasn’t good enough. However, after dwelling on the problem, looking at it from all angles, and seeing how my friends loved me no matter what name I was forced to bear, I came to accept the truth. Who I am is more than a name. I could be named Regina Filange, and it wouldn’t change my dreams, my passions, or my beliefs. It’s just a name, and there are people with worse names out there. When I am finally published, and my books are being as well read as Harry Potter, I can have whatever name I want, no matter how ridiculous. 

Dragonness Wyverna is me.

No Good Deed

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I was waiting patiently behind a sedan to get gas, listening to my tunes as the driver got out of her car and hooked the nozzle back in its holster before getting back into her car. I noticed that her gas cap was still dangling down and the glap was open, so I honked at her to get her attention, pointing to the problem. The man at the next station came over when he saw the problem and quickly fixed her gas cap for her, accepting her embarressed thanks. When I pulled up to the nozzle, that man leaned over and said with a friendly grin, “You can go home now. You’ve done your good deed for the day!” I chuckled with him, but his words, though kind, bothered me.

What good deed had I done? I had merely pointed out a mistake. The man was the one who had hurried over to fix it. If honking at a woman to point out she had messed up was a deed deamed good enough to “go home,” then what did that say about our society? I don’t know how many people would consider what I did a “good deed.” To me, it was simply instinctual courtesy. To think that such courtesy, which is supposed to be common, would be considered something special is a tad ludicrous. However, after sharing my experience with a few people, I heard another side of the story.

One of my friends confessed that he wouldn’t have honked at the woman or otherwise alerted her to her mistake. Apparently, the times he’s been courteous he’s been flipped off. He didn’t see the point in being kind when his kindness would be returned with crude ingratitude. I could understand his point of view, especially knowing that he’s an introverted and speaking to strangers at all is difficult. If people are going to be jerks to those just trying to help, we, as a society, are going to drive courtesy to extinction.

Personally, I don’t like the idea of “good deed.” I like the idea of being kind and helping those less fortunate–or even those more fortunate who still need help. I just don’t like this concept of doing something good for someone else with a mindset that it makes you a better human being. Charity and kindness doesn’t make anyone better than anyone else, it just makes you decent. I don’t believe in helping others for your own benefit, whether its making donations to get tax breaks or giving food to the homeless to boost your own reputation. Why can’t we just help people to help them?

On the flip side, is it too much to ask to return courtesy with courtesy? Why do we automatically assume people are on the attack or are judging us? I am more than guilty of this. I have a tendency not to trust anyone, and I do jump when a stranger speaks to me. I guess, I too, assume the worst of the people around me. It’s something I need to work on. If we all work on treating people better (because, let’s face it, no matter how well we treat people we can always do better), someday we won’t expect the worst. 

That would be a day to look forward to.

I Know My Purpose

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When I was eight years old, I showed my mother the “book” I had written and illustrated with the enthusiasm of your standard child. At the time, my dream was to become a veterinarian and save the lives of all the puppies, but my mother knew I wouldn’t be able to emotionally handle that job. So, she pointed out how much I loved creating stories and told me I was really good at writing. I realized then that writing was my real dream, and since then I’ve been honing those skills and working to become a Tolkien-level writer.

I wrote several stories as I was growing, all fantasy based with characters based on my friends. The older I got, the more I understood the amount of work that was needed to reach the level of my hero, J.R.R. Tolkien. I read his works (The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit) many times before graduating high school, studying the characters he’d developed and the world he’d created. I read essays from other fantasy writers, Madeleine L’Engle, Lloyd Alexander, and Jane Yolen, and I wrote to Bruce Coville (Into the Land of the Unicorns, Goblins in the Castle) and Brian Jacques (Redwall, Lord Brocktree). Bruce Coville wrote back, even handwriting his third letter and including the prologue to his not-yet-published Dark Whispers, encouraging me in my developing craft.

When J.K. Rowling published Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, reading became cool again, and, despite my father’s disapproval of the story, I began to read the Harry Potter series with the same fervor as I read The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien and Legolas would always hold my heart, but Harry, Hermione, and Ron had taken the world by storm, and I needed to know how to create a storm of my own. The same happened with Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians and Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga (though I couldn’t stomach more than the first book). I knew I needed to study what the populace wanted to read, even if I had no interest in writing about sparkling vampires.

I graduated high school a year early and took a correspondence writing course while working to pay for college. I also worked through college, stacking boxes of pamphlets and test booklets for the Abeka Printshop. I studied at Pensacola Christian College for four ears, earning my B.A. in commercial writing with a minor in general history. I wrote two short stories (“OPERATION: CINDERELLA,” “Quest for the Moat Monster”) based on college experiences and published them on Amazon.com for the kindle, though they have not sold well. I was paid to write twenty-seven literary pieces for Learning Through Sports (LTS) to help start their summer learning program, and one of my pieces was featured as an example text when they sought final approval from their board.

Since then, I’ve focused on perfecting the first book in a trilogy I’ve been working on since I was sixteen. Currently titled Forged, it’s the story of two sisters who fall into a fantastical world ruled by a murderous tyrant. They meet a princess and a pair of princes, survivors of the tyrant’s coup, and they push the royals into starting a war aimed at putting the true heir, the eldest prince, on the throne. They must unite with elves, faeries, and dwarves to fight the tyrant’s army of werewolves, vampires, and half-cat creatures called Zív. I had sent this story out to six different literary agents two years ago, but all six replied with almost the exact same response: “The beginning is too slow.” Of course, rewriting the beginning became rewriting the entire book, but now I think it’s just about ready to be sent out again.

My plan is to send it out to more agents and hopefully score a traditional publishing house such as Scholastic or Disney Hyperion. I know that traditional publishing houses don’t pay well and that they keep the majority of the copyrights, but I’m okay with that. The relative failure of my two short stories shows that I am not very good at marketing; I need help to sell my work. I know Forged will be excellent, and that people will want to read it, but I need help getting it into my reader’s hands. A traditional publishing house has the power and reach to cover global marketing. Once the readers know who to look for, marketing will be easy for all the other books I plan to write. This trilogy (The Oathbreaker Trilogy) is just the beginning. I have plans for a ten-book series about a dragon girl, a series about an academy with access to multiple worlds, a five-book series about a world that hinges on the number five, and a single book about a world overrun with werewolves and vampires. The Oathbreaker Trilogy is just my way of breaking the ice with my readers.

My purpose is to write. If I have to sacrifice the rights to a single trilogy to fulfill that purpose, I will. I know what I have to offer is good; I just need the rest of the world to know it, too.

The Abyss

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While I was in college, I struggled a lot with self-worth. All of my close friends were dating and/or engaged, and I hadn’t been so much as asked out. I had been rejected several times, and most of my crushes actively avoided me after I made my feelings known. Meanwhile, my friends were wrapped up in their own romances, busy ditching me to gaze lovingly in each other’s eyes. Our college stresses dating and marriage as much as good grades, and my home church compounded the issue by all the elder women asking me “Do you have a boyfriend yet?” In hindsight, it’s actually amusing how they never asked me about my grades. It was a lot of stress to deal with.

I have since come to terms with my perpetual singleness, but during those dark days in college, I tried to cope with this depression the only way I knew how: putting it in a story. I tried to show what I was dealing with mentally by telling the story with a lot of symbolism, which probably makes it hard to understand. I also wanted to warn readers that the following story cites scripture from the King James translation of the Bible. If that offends you, feel free to go to another blog site. Otherwise, enjoy the story!

“The Abyss”

Where am I? Everything is so dark. Is this a forest? Only a bitter blue light glows through the trees, barely making it across the empty branches of dying trees. It is so sad! The sadness rolls on me with a cold fog. The chill and damp seeps through my thin clothes, and I rub my scrawny arms with tiny hands, trying to gain some semblance of warmth. I’m so cold! Am I all alone here in this awful place? No—no, I’m not alone. There are voices.

You’re like one of those crazy old ladies with a thousand cats!

The voice is derisive, and familiar. A friend? I stumble back and trip over a protruding root. Something slimy is on the ground, and it quickly oozes around my fingers, burying itself under my fingernails.

One of my friends came up to me yesterday and asked if I knew you. When I said ‘Yeah, I know her,’ she said, ‘She’s really creepy.’

Laughter was heavy in my other “friend’s” voice. I put my hand back, and wince as my hand lands in a pile of dead holly leaves. The filthy ooze coats them, though they are dried and brown, and their leaves still bite into my flesh. I pick up my hand and look at it. The spiny leaves are imbedded in my palm. It hurts.

It takes courage to be friends with her. She’s so weird!

An angry hornet flies out of the leaf pile and sees me. It flies right to my arm and plunges its stinger not once, but three times into my skin. I cry out and squish the vengeful bug, feeling the crunch of its body and the congealed mass of bug guts on my hand and arm. The hornet’s body pricks at my skin, taking its revenge after death. The stings are burning. I climb to my feet and pull the prickly leaves from my palm.

I’ll sit anywhere you want, except with her. The only reason her “friends” sit with her is because they feel sorry for her.

I stub my toe hard on the rough bark of a hickory root. I fall back down and look at my throbbing appendage. My toe starts bleeding, and the nail falls off. I grab a piece of my sleeve and tear it from my shirt. I wrap the dirty cloth around my toe. It’s tender to the touch, and I groan at the pain.

Do you think you’re a cow?

That’s my sister’s voice. It’s filled with the kind of scorn that only she can throw at me. I close my eyes, shutting out what little light there is. I can’t help thinking, Does no one like me? An ant crawls out of a nearby tree and bites at me experimentally. I barely notice the many insignificant stings. Then it starts to rain.

Someone would have to love you because of your personality. You’re really not pretty enough for someone to love you otherwise.

Now my brother’s voice; it’s compassionate and apologetic, which almost makes it worse than my sister’s. The ground beneath me sags, becoming a pit of quicksand in the pouring rain.

Look, uh, I don’t feel the same way about you as you do for me.

I have sunk into the ground up to my calf.

Why don’t you go sit over there with them?

I feel the mud crawl up my thighs. The cold seeps into the marrow of my bones, and I know that I will never be warm again.

You stupid pig!

I grab onto the roots of the tree, feeling its sharp bark biting into my flesh. The mud is quickly rising up past my stomach. The rain is coming down harder and faster now. My hair is plastered to my face, the water pulls the dirt from my hair into my eyes and mouth. The mud is past my chest now.

Why am I talking about something intelligent with you?

I close my eyes and let go of the root. The mud crawls up my neck and across my cheeks. My last thought before the mud completely envelopes me is: Whatever is down there will be better than what’s up here. I’m wrong.

I am falling, falling free of the slime and mud and filth. I am falling into a void. There is no light. There is no warmth. There are no voices. There is nothing but nothingness itself. I land, but the landing is painless. Everything is painless. I’m not cold, and I’m not warm. I just am. No feeling can live in the abyss that I have fallen into, and no one cares enough to pull me out. I curl into a tight ball, trying to take some comfort in my own life. There is no comfort to be had. I am alone with the sinking stomach that comes with dejection, and I can’t even cry. I am tired, oh so tired! I close my eyes again, but the world is so dark that I can’t tell that I have.

Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.[1]

Another voice? I don’t recognize this one. It’s kind and genuinely concerned. I open my eyes, but the world is still dark.

The troubles of my heart are enlarged: O bring thou me out of my distresses.[2]

I sit up and look around. “Who’s there?”

A light flashes in the darkness, and a small, glowing ball flies in front of me. I think I can feel warmth emanating from it, and I hear the echoes of laughter, of love. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.[3] Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.[4] The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: he will love thee, and bless thee, and multiply thee.[5]

I press myself into the corner. I know this voice now, and I feel ashamed. “Why should you care about me? It’s been so long since I’ve cared about you.”

The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.[6]

I bury my face in my hands. “I’m not worth it. I’m ugly, and creepy, and nobody likes me.”

Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?  Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? [7]

“But I don’t deserve it. I don’t do anything for you like I should.”

Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us.[8]

I pull my head out of my hands and look at the light. It is beautiful and peaceful. There is happiness inside it, waiting for me, just for me. I want to be happy again. I want to feel and be loved. I barely dare to hope that He will take me back. “Can I come back? Can I be happy again?”

The LORD redeemeth the soul of his servants: and none of them that trust in him shall be desolate.[9]

I reach out and touch the light. Its warmth envelopes me and chases the cold from my bones. I blink and look around. I’m not in the abyss anymore! I’m standing in a green field, filled with wildflowers of all colors. The sunlight kisses my forehead, and the warm breeze caresses my cheeks. My clothes are clean, white, thick and warm. I feel strength in my arms again. There are voices here, too, but they’re full of friendship and love.

You look awesome today!

It is a friend’s voice, serious and cheerful. A flower grows at my feet, opening to release the fresh scent of spring.

You probably get this a lot, but you have beautiful eyes.

That is the forgotten words of a stranger. A pair of bluebirds fly toward me, circling me, all the time singing a happy tune.

How could anyone hate you?

Another friend, his voice filled with disbelief. A beautiful luna moth flutters over to me and lands on my nose. It tickles, and I have to laugh. The moth floats off my nose and flits away.

You’re the best friend I’ve ever had!

Her voice is a contented sigh, without any hidden motives or pity. A rainbow arcs through the sky, without the aid of any rain. The colors fairly sparkle.

I told her that you’re the sweetest person she’d ever meet!

My friend is laughing at another’s misconception as she relates how she defended me. I laugh and dance among the flowers. I like it here. Here there is happiness and warmth and light. Here there is love. This place is good.

“Thank you!” I call to the skies, as I twirl in the warm sunlight. “You are a great and mighty God! I will never leave you again!”

 

Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. Psalm 16:11

[1] Psalm 42:11

[2] Psalm 25:17

[3] Revelation 1:8

[4] John 14:1

[5] Deuteronomy 7:7, 13

[6] Psalm 34:18

[7] Romans 9:20, 21

[8] Ephesians 2:2,4

[9] Psalm 34:22

The End

Thoughts on a Graveyard

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Belmont Manor recently had an open house that my family took advantage of, my brother and I accompanying our parents to see the gardens our father designed and landscaped. After walking around the extensive gardens, my father took me to the old family cemetary tucked in the back of the property. My father intended to show off the giant tulip tree just outside the cemetary fence, but I was more interested in the tomb stones.

There were many things I found fascinating about this particular graveyard, and the first thing I noticed was the was it was arranged. There were three perfectly aligned rows at the very front of the fenced off area, but then there were several tombstones just behind that were set in rows that would intersect with the front rows. Then at the very back of the graveyard were three more tombstones, spaced as if “pariah” that was contagious even after death. Two of those tombstones were short, coming only to mid-shin and jagged as if they had been broken decades before. The third tombstone stood tall, coming to my elbow. I found this headstone to be the most intriguing, because while I could tell that the traditional inscriptions had been inscribed, it had faded to obscurity.

Belmont Gardens (118)Belmont Gardens (115)I stared at this tombstone for several minutes, letting my mind wander to the life of the man or  woman who lay beneath my feet. This headstone was just a marker, but it also symbolized the person’s life. Its isolation within the graveyard, its unwritten obituary whispered of a possibly tragic life. What kind of life could this person have led to both warrant a tall tombstone set alone and let to lose its marking? Of course, its position and tragic loss  of markings could have nothing to do with the life the deceased had lived; s/he could have been cherished by all s/he knew, and had been set apart as a mark of honor. Or, perhaps, it wasn’t alone at all, and was just a lone survivor of many unmarked graves I may have been tramping over.

No matter the reason, I found the tombstone to be quite tragic. It was alone, and no one would know who was buried beneath. They may have been once-loved, but now there was no one to maintain its identity, no one who remembered him/her. The only thing left of a life once-lived was a worn down stone.

Girl Power

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With the theatrical release of DC’s Wonder Woman, I’ve heard a lot of renewed talk about strong female role models. I see posts about them all the time on Facebook and Instagram, and even Twitter, but when I look at the characters featured in the accompanying photos, I tend to sneer. They consider THAT character to be a strong female role model? It’s made me stop to think, “What makes a female character strong?”

When I think of a strong female role model, my mind tends to turn to Joss Whedon characters such as Buffy Summers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Zoe from Firefly. I also tend to think of Eowyn from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and Luna Lovegood from JK Rowling’s Harry Potter. On the flip side, when I think of weak or pathetic female characters, I think of Bella Swan from Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series and Tauriel from Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy. What’s the difference between them? Why is Eowyn strong and Tauriel weak?

Buffy was blessed with exceptional instincts and strength; she uses those abilities to slay the hellbeasts of Sunnydale, California, protecting its oblivious citizens. She has friends, she has several boyfriends throughout the series, but she frequently puts aside her frivolous desires for the better of others, even for those she doesn’t like. She’s respectful of her mother, she’s respectful of her watcher, Giles. She knows when to obey, and when to disobey. Zoe is a war veteran turned mercenary on the ship Firefly, and she is married to its pilot, Wash. Despite being a better fighter than her husband, she still loves and respects him, even putting him above her captain, a fellow veteran and long-time friend. She helps care for and protect the mentally unstable River, and she’s a calm and steady anchor amidst the crew. Eowyn was trained to fight alongside her brother, Eomer, but stayed to defend Edoras while her family went to fight Saruman’s orcs at Helm’s Deep. She later disguised herself as a man to follow the Rohirrim to the Pelennor Fields, bringing with her the hobbit, Merry, who had been told he would be a burden by the other soldiers. On the battlefield, Eowyn stayed beside her uncle, King Theoden, and fought the unkillable Witch King of Angmar to protect his broken body, killing both winged beast and Nazgul at the cost of her own life. Luna was picked on because of her oddities, earning the nickname “Looney Lovegood” from the other students, yet she never treated any of them with any malice or resentment. Instead, she firmly believed what she believed, supporting and encouraging her father, as well as Harry Potter. She was sweet and kind to everyone despite the fact that they didn’t understand her, and she didn’t hesitate to come when she was called upon to help fight for their world.

Bella barely did anything but put herself in situations where she’d need to be saved. She manipulated Jacob Black’s feelings for her own purposes, selfishly holding onto him while she threw herself at Edward Cullen. She was selfish and did what she wanted, putting herself and others in danger. Tauriel, while a fearsome warrior, was also driven by “love.” When told she couldn’t have Legolas, the elf immediately went down to flirt with the one dwarf who’d made an innuendo, deciding, quite suddenly, that she now loved him. She didn’t move to help the dwarf’s quest until after she’d learned that Kili had been poisoned and was slowly dying, and then used Legolas’s feelings for her to convince him to follow along. Then she let Legolas chase the orcs she’d convinced him to hunt, leaving the elf prince alone against multiple enemies, to heal a dwarf she barely knew that was destined to die anyway. Tauriel was constantly ditching the cause she “believed in” for the sake of “love,” only following through with her claimed motives when pressed by others.

It’s more than the ability to fight. A woman who possesses fighting prowess in a story is just an easy way for a writer to say, “We have a strong female character, look at how she fights in the battlefield!” That kind of writing is a cheap shortcut. Show me how that strong female character behaves OFF the battlefield. Is she kind? Does she lift up those who others put down? Does she treat others with respect? Does she stand up for what’s right? But most the most important question for me is: does she have an identity outside of romance and battle? 

The modern girl will not experience a battle of epic proportions between the forces of good and evil. If she decides to join the army and fight for her nation, the battlefield won’t look like the Pelennor Fields. Encouraging a girl to learn how to fight and protect herself is good, but she needs to be more. She needs to know how to treat others respectfully, how to not beat down someone just because she disagrees with them. She needs to stand up for what she believes is right, even if everyone around her is telling her she’s wrong. A strong woman doesn’t break under peer pressure. A strong woman has an identity of her own, outside of her circle of friends and loved ones. A strong woman can still be sensitive and loving, she can still obey the leading of others when it is right. A strong woman can be more than a warrior on the battlefield.

A strong woman can be a business woman.

A strong woman can be an artist.

A strong woman can be a doctor.

A strong woman can be a boxer.

A strong woman can be a stay at home mom.

A strong woman can be a pastor’s wife.

A strong woman can be anything she wants to be. Her job or role in life isn’t what makes her strong. A woman is strong when she can stand for herself. A woman is strong when she can protect and help those in need. A woman is strong when she knows what she wants and goes after it with a passion. A woman is strong when she does every task she sets her hand to, no matter how menial or demeaning, to the best of her ability. A woman is strong when she knows who she is.

And any woman can be strong.

Only Human

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I had a terrible nightmare the other night. I dreamed that a group of people didn’t agree with the racial equality subtext in the books I published and surrounded my house. They jumped over my fence, broke my windows, and threw torches into my house, setting it on fire. When I escaped the blaze with my dog, they surrounded us and began throwing rocks, shouting so I couldn’t understand individual words. When I took them to court, seeking justice for the destruction of my home, the judge and jury took the side of my attackers, calling me a racist and a bigot and telling me that I deserved the horror I suffered. Then, my previous attackers dragged my dog into the courtroom, hacked off his head, and threw it at me. They surrounded me as I cradled my dead dog’s head in my arms, screaming at me for being a terrible person while I cried.

I woke to the sound of my dog crying from a nightmare he was having, and I didn’t sleep the rest of that night.

I am not a racist. I think the concept of racism is stupid because we’re all apart of the human race, and it shouldn’t matter what color anyone’s skin is. Unfortunately, I know that not all people believe that. I know that there are people out there who judge people by their color; white people condemn black people for being black, and black people condemn white people for being white. It’s ridiculous to blame others for something they can’t control. I would much rather blame them for something they can control: how they treat others.

Evergreen State College recently made news because Professor Brett Weinstein suggested that new hires shouldn’t be determined by diversity but by qualifications, and his stance on the change to their Day of Absence, and the students did not like that. They cornered him, surrounded him, the president, and other teachers, and began yelling at them and refusing to let them respond. Honestly, the videos I’ve seen of their “interaction” terrified me, and showed me a glimpse of a future of America without the freedom of speech.

What scares me more is I don’t think Professor Weinstein was wrong. I don’t think color should be a deciding factor when it comes to hiring for any job, because how does the color of anyone’s skin help them perform their duties? How does being black make someone a better teacher? How does being white make someone a better farmer? How does being hispanic make someone a better baseball coach? How does being asain make someone a better cop? How does ethnicity factor into those jobs? I could see how ethnicity could play a vital role for negotiators or ambassadors to foreign countries, but I don’t see how it’s important to have a certain color skin to operate a cash register or bag groceries. When I go to the Geek Squad for help, I don’t care what they look like. I only that they’re polite and know how to fix my stupid broken computer.

I know why diversity is important in the workplace; I do. It’s because there are jerks out there who think skin tone matters, and they will discriminate against all the colors they don’t like. They will decide not to hire someone just because they’re black or just because they’re arab. Those are horrible people, and people need to be protected from their hate. I guess that I just really hate that it matters to some people.

And I hate that it matters to the point where “tolerant”people will terrorize those they feel are being intolerant. I hate that people become so blind to the fact that we’re all human that they will attack each other at the slightest hint of discrimination. They won’t even stop to listen to the other side’s reasoning. Yes, they may be wrong, but they still have a right to be heard. The moment you start taking away people’s freedom is the moment you become the oppressor, and that is not right. Equality is not about the oppressor becoming the oppressed, but about no one being oppressed. It’s “treat others as you would want to be treated,” not “treat others as they treat you.” All that philosophy does is create a civilization where everyone stabs each other in the back.

It’s so strange to see a world screaming for tolerance while beating down anyone who disagrees with them. Strange and terrifying, because no one will ever agree with anyone else. You may agree on many important positions, but you’ll disagree somewhere else. You may agree that the LGBTQ community should be allowed to marry, but you might disagree on the quality of Justin Beiber’s music. Every human is different; we will have different beliefs, different tastes in food, different prefences for music and movie genres. Humans will never agree 100% on everything. I really enjoy listening to certain My Little Pony songs, but my best friend thinks I’m a little crazy. 

A person’s worth shouldn’t be decided on what color they are; a person’s worth is decided by the fact that we are all human and worth exactly the same. Donald Trump is worth the same as Barak Obama is worth the same as Ronald Reagan is worth the same as Abraham Lincoln, and the only president in that list I liked was Reagan. We’re all human, and because we’re all human, we’ve all made a crap ton of mistakes. We might think that some mistakes are bigger and worse than others, but they were all mistakes! We’re all messed up in some way, and I’m sure that we’ve all messed somebody else up. We’re all equal, even if we don’t treat each other like it.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe world peace is possible. The human race is trash and we’re going to keep treating each other like trash, because no matter what anyone says, it is next to impossible to change someone’s mind once it’s set. I just wish the stupid “color” thing wasn’t an issue, because it’s not something we can help. If personality was the issue, however, I think world peace would stand more of a chance.

Summer Goals

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I had worked the same summer job since I was sixteen years old. It was an okay job, and it took me from high school to college to career life, though it was not my career. Seven weeks of the summer (not counting the many training dates before hand) I worked with elementary age children, originally as junior counselor but eventually working up to assistant director. I planned crafts, drew pictures for them to color, played gym games with them, drew the summer calendar, and so much more for nine years and got paid enough to just barely scrape by the summer. It wasn’t worth it, so this year I decided that I wasn’t going to be returning. I was going to stay home and finish writing my book.

Ironically, I had started the book the same year I started working that summer job. Two years ago, I submitted it to six agents knowing that it’d would probably take more than six attempts to get a bite. When all six agents sent back the exact same response, “The beginning is too slow,” I realized the book wasn’t ready to be published yet. I printed out the four hundred page manuscript, opened my purple pen, and began working through the story line by line. I decided to scrap the first chapter, a chapter that had survived seven previous drafts, condense its information to a single page at the beginning of the second (now first) chapter, and the rest of the book was essentially rewritten. All that I have left to do is go back, correct any grammatical errors or minor plot holes, and it will be ready to be sent out again.

It doesn’t sound like much work, until I break it down like this: sixty-three chapters, three hundred twenty seven pages, two hundred thirty two thousand nine hundred eighty four words. As if that isn’t overwhelming enough, this is only book one. I have two more books that are still in the rough draft of the writing phase. I will be busy.

To help myself get in the groove and accomplish my goals, I created a writing challenge for June. Since I have several writing friends and am part of a writing group, I decided to share this challenge with the hashtag #WriteAwayJune and I invite all writers, aspiring and published, to join me.

WriteAwayJune Challenge

 

I am going to be following the challenge on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, and I am going to do my best to follow the hashtag as it is used. I’m hoping that this challenge will encourage writers, possibly help break a writing block or two, and help build positive writing goals. I also hope that this challenge will create some sense of community and unity amongst the writers of social media. It might a grand, impossible hope, but I think it’s worth sharing.

If you are a writer, no matter what stage of the writing game you’re on, please feel free to join this challenge. Save the provided image, share it on whatever media you would like, and join the challenge!

The Grandfather I Never Knew

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I didn’t know my grandfather. My family would go over his house every Sunday afternoon for lunch, and he came to live with us for ten years after my grandmother died. He died in our house, but I didn’t know him.

My grandfather had alzheimer’s. My grandmother died when I was eight years old, and she had already begun to see signs of his deteroiation. Before she died, I was terrified of my grandfather and always avoided him. His wrinkled face was always set in a deep, disapproving frown, and he never showed any interest in me or my siblings. He moved in with my family seven years later, paying for an addition to our house to accomodate his assisted living condition. His frown only deepened, and he was more interested in his newspaper and food than in his growing grandchildren. His alzheimer’s kept getting worse, too. It wasn’t too long before he forgot our names. His frown was replaced with a clueless, gaping expression, his eyes blankly watching us as we moved about the house, doing our chores or goofing off as kids and teenagers do. The last name he remembered was my mother’s name, and then he died.

My grandfather wasn’t a total stranger to me. I knew his name. I knew his interests. I knew his birthday. I knew the standard social media facts, but I didn’t know him.

Then I was sitting at his funeral, listening to my father and my uncle talk about my grandfather, and that was the first time I understood how little I knew him. He had joined the Navy when he was seventeen and fought in War World II, serving in the Pacific Theater, though he never saw any action. After six years in the Navy, he transfered to the Coast Guard and served there for fifteen more years. He retired from the Coast Guard and started working with the Post Office, and there he stayed before retiring after sixteen more years of service. Even in retirement, he didn’t stop working. He began working with the State Highway Authority, focusing on the bicycle traffic. He kept record of bicycle accidents, worked with the B&A trail, and went to different schools throughout the county teaching children about bicycle safety. He was a judge for the state 4-H bicycle competition, and he always had a ready supply of helmets to pass out to children.

Since the funeral, it seems as though whenever my father gets together with his brothers, they only ever talk about my grandfather’s acheivements. They talk about his time in the military, they talk about his time in the government. They talk about his life with their mother, and how he raised his second grandson as his own son. They talk and they talk, but I still get the impression that they didn’t know him either.

Modern Pharisees

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I don’t know why you’re reading this. I don’t know what caught your interest or what retained it. I don’t know what you hope to gain. Wisdom? Laughter? Entertainment? I won’t garuntee you will find any of that here. I didn’t start this blog for readers or attention. This was just a place for me to let my mind wander. So if you’re looking for Confucius or Rachel Ray, you might want to try looking somewhere else.

Today I read an article called “Pregnant at 18. Hailed by Abortion Foes. Punished by Christian School.” It’s content struck a nerve in me that’s been reverberating all day, even prompting me to post a status on Facebook about it:

I think many Christians like to forget that they’re human and susceptible to the same sins that everyone else is. Yes, you’ve been forgiven by Christ, but you’re still sinning. None of us can stop. Christ has to keep forgiving us (and will keep forgiving us), so to be Christ-like, we need to keep forgiving others.
Not holding grudges.
Not so we can hold it over them.
Not so we can feel self-righteous and give ourselves pats on the back.
We’re all human. None of us are perfect. Christians aren’t perfect. Christians are human.
Keep forgiving.

I work at a private Christian school that boasts grade K3-12th. I’m a K3 teaching aide, and I work with the school’s extended care program on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Those days I work with several high school girls, and I consider them all to be wonderful girls, but they’re still teenagers. They’re teenagers trying to grow in a changing world, and they’re just as human as adults. They’re going to break rules, whether it’s chewing gum in class, playing hooky, or sleeping with their classmates–or someone else. No matter how many rules we try to chain them down with, they’re going to make mistakes. Everyone does; three-year-olds, teenagers, even adults. Unfortunately, not everyone accepts the consequences of their mistakes. Maddi Runkles did. I found that to be quite admirable.

Something I’ve noticed in the Christian community is that we tend to “rank” sins. Some sins, such as homosexuality and pre-marital sex, are considered worse that others, such as lying and gluttony. Ironically, that’s not something I’ve noticed Christ doing in the New Testament. Christ told the adulterous woman to “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11), yet constantly berated the Pharisees, those who thought they were as perfect and blameless as possible, and called them “whitewashed tombs” (Matthew 23:27). The woman had been caught sleeping with another man, one to whom she was not married, and she was forgiven with no punishment given. The Pharisees were “righteous,” but they were rejected by Christ because they were so focused on the rules that they didn’t see the love behind those rules.

I fear that the Christian community has become like the Pharisees of old. The Bible provides only a checklist, and as long as you check off everything on that list (read your Bible, pray before every meal, no pre-marital sex, etc.), you’re a “good Christian.” Also like the Pharisees, you avoided anyone who wasn’t a “good Christian” for fear of contamination. IF you were friends with a sinner, that sinner was garunteed to drag you down into the pits of Hell. Your job was to preach at those sinners from a safe distance, tell them everything they were doing wrong, and condemn them until they saw the error of their ways. If they refused to repent, oh well! You did your best, guess they’re going to Hell. Meanwhile, you keep checking off the items on your checklist and pretend that your life is sinless even when you know it’s not.

“Christians” can be the most hate-filled, judgmental, mean people out there, and I’m ashamed to be associated with them.

Look, I’m not a Bible student. I have no theological degrees. The most I can boast is having attended a Bible college and have spending a life in a Pharisetical church that is just now starting to change. This post is just a Christian girl ranting against the behavior of other Christians.