Thursday, April 29, 2021

I'm Choosing Love

 Chapter 4 of the first epistle by the Apostle John, has long been one of my favorites.  Today I read it in the "The Message" for the first time.  Eugene Peterson, the pastor who wrote this paraphrase of the Bible, has a way of shedding new light on many old familiar verses.   So I feel the need to share it with you.

"God is love.  When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us.  This way love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we're free of worry...

"There is no room in love for fear.  Well-formed love banishes fear.  Since fear is crippling, a fearful life--fear of death, fear of judgment--is not yet fully formed in love.  We though, are going to love--love and be loved.

"First we were loved, now we love.  God loved us first.  If anyone boasts, 'I love God', and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar.  If he won't love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can't see?"

It makes me very sad that the world's view of Christians is based in our finger-pointing, our antagonism, and even hatred.  What ever happened to "They'll know we are Christians by our love..."?

I've been reminded recently of what happened in Germany in the 1930s.  The Fascists, who thought they were "right" and were on the Far Right, used fear of Socialism to lead that country far astray.  Our country needs to beware of that path.  Especially Christians.  For while we're looking so hard toward the Left for the appearance of the Antichrist, he may sneak up on us from the Far Right.

Remember, Satan can disguise himself as an Angel of Light.  He prowls about like a lion, who silently stalks its prey. 

Monday, April 12, 2021


 I'm doing an experiment in changing the point of view and the verb tenses of a book I'm working on.  My hope is the post a chapter here each week.  If anyone cares to follow along, I'd appreciate it.  If you came in the middle of the process, all you have to do is look at previous blogs to catch up.  

This story "Far from Magnolia Drive" is based in part on personal memories, though it has been fictionalized in order to give it more readability, I hope.

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1.   Walking in the Dark – 1994


The moon was barely peeping through the East Texas piney woods as Mary Anna Evans walked on her dark country road.  Stalking along the grassy shoulder, she rubbed at the tears streaming from her eyes.

My first big mistake was asking God for patience, she thought.  He sent

our son Jay fourteen years ago, and I’m still trying to learn to be patient. 

Today Jay stormed into the house after school screaming, “I hate the school bus!”

          “What happened?” she asked as calmly as she could.

          He replied, “They kicked me off the school bus for standing while it was moving.”

“But why?  Doesn’t your driver know where you get off?”

“She was a sub,” he moaned. “I was only trying to tell her where my stop  was, and she gave me a ticket.”

          “A ticket?”

          “Yeah, I can’t ride the bus for a week, and you have to talk to the school principal.”

          This wasn’t the first time Jay had trouble at school.  He had Tourette’s and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.  If things got out of his view of what the world should be, he exploded like this.

          She stared at him, lost for words.  What am I supposed to do, God? she thought.  When Jay gets like this, there’s no stopping the outburst.

          He didn’t wait for any reply, storming into his bedroom and slamming the door.  She had learned the hard way over the years not to open that door.  He always needed time to calm before he could focus on anything.  

God, why are you doing this to me? she cried to the empty night as she


No answer.

Can’t you ever give me a break?  And what about Jay?  Why does he

have so many difficulties in school?  Rick and I try so hard to help him, but nothing seems to work.

Again, the silence of the night replied.

As she dashed away more tears, she wondered if he inherited this from

her.  She, too, was overly emotional sometimes.  Her husband Rick often said, “You’re just as bad as he is, Mary Anna.”  He was probably right.

A cold wind rushed into her face as she turned the corner onto their

rural road.  She’d already walked a mile in this unseasonable chill for a Texas November.  Taking a walk was the only thing to do when tempers were boiling over in their house.  If only there was somewhere she could run.  She didn’t really want to go home right now.

She knew Rick tried, but sometimes he felt as caring as a porcupine.  Get

too close and the quills would get you.  They’d tried many times over the years to come to grips with how to raise Jay, but seldom agreed.  He wanted to use tough love, but she feared this would fuel their son’s frustrations and lack of self-confidence.

They’d tried counseling with their minister, but he was one of those

conservatives who equated self-confidence with pride.  In her mind they weren’t

the same at all.  Maybe he and Rick are right though.  Perhaps I am too

lenient with Jay.  I just don’t know she sighed into the chill dark sky.

          Life with Jay was like a constant walk on T-Rex eggs.  One wrong step, and a ferocious creature rose up and raged.  His jerking tics often caused painful muscle spasms, and his involuntary noises made people wonder if he was crazy. 

Who wouldn’t have a short temper, if they had to live with this all the time?  Jay tries to cope as best he can, and he wants so much to be ‘normal’ like his peers.  Again, her heart was asking, God why?

The tics and facial grimaces began when he was small.  They tried neurologists, counselors, and medications.  Moving around for Rick’s job hadn’t helped, either.  There hadn’t been enough consistency, for either Jay or her.

 Ever since they married, Rick had worked for an oil company, so they’d been following the oil fields of the Overthrust Belt.  Jay was born in Wyoming, a brown-eyed boy with her dark coloring.  Daughter Amy was born in Montana.  She was her blond, blue-eyed baby, taking after Rick.  Like him, though, her hair darkened to golden brown with the years.

Leaving Montana was hard for Rick.  He loved the mountains close-by and the wide-open spaces.  She’d grown up in East Texas, though, so was hoping they could get more settled there, especially now that the kids are getting into their turbulent teens.

The moon was now above the treetops.  Nearly full.  If only something or

someone would shed more light into my life.

For the past couple of years, they’d moved among many small

Texas towns like gypsies, following the oil explorers.  So often she wished they were closer to a city like San Antonio or Dallas, where there would be resources to help with Jay.  But driving two hours, plus traffic, was too great a cost to join a Tourette’s support group.  And the good counselors were just as far away.  There had been days when she thought about packing herself and Jay off to Dallas so she could take him to a good neurologist or counselor, maybe even trying to live there on their own.  But I’m too much of a coward to do something as bold as that, she thought.

Talking to Rick helped a little.  Like most men, he tried to fix everything.  But she didn’t need that as much as someone to listen.  Someone to share her burdens.

This past year, it was as though her life had drained into a hot desert. 

Where is the living water you promised, God?

Having a diagnosis for Jay’s problems was a relief at first, but Jay hated

going to the neurologist almost as much as he hated taking his medication.  Sometimes the meds seemed to help, but he still had a lot of tics and jerky movements.  His short-fused temper was the worst part.


          Soon she was approaching their driveway.  The wind was picking up and there was nowhere else to go, so she walked slowly toward the front door.  An owl hooted in the distance.  Off in the neighbor’s woods a couple of coyotes began howling and yipping.  Were they talking to the moon, too?

She glanced up at the silvery orb suspended above their front yard.  “If only you would answer me,” she said aloud.

          The only reply was the owl.

          Climbing the concrete steps to their little front porch, she took hold of the door handle.  The hinges creaked as she pushed it open.  Then she could hear the loud, throbbing music coming through Jay’s bedroom door.

          “So, you finally came back, Mary Anna,” said her husband’s voice from the family room.  He was watching TV as usual. Since he used her full name, she could tell he was mad.

          “Where else could I go?” she grumbled.

          “Any great new thoughts?” he asked.

          She made no reply to his sarcasm.  Instead, she walked down the

carpeted hallway to her daughter’s bedroom.

          As expected, eleven-year-old Amy was sprawled on her bed doing homework.  Every night was the same.  Three hours or more.  I know she’s trying her best, but she isn’t a fast reader, she sighed to herself.  This year, her teachers are really piling on the work.  Probably because she has a different one for each subject, instead of one general classroom teacher.  None of them seem to pay attention to how much homework the others are giving. 

But she didn’t tell Amy this, fearing it would only increase her frustration.

          She seated herself on a desk chair next to the bed.  “Anything I can help with?”

          Amy looked up and shrugged.  “No, Mom.  Thanks, but I’m almost finished.  Maybe tomorrow we can take turns reading my English assignment, though.”

          “Sure,” she smiled.  “I like reading with you.”

          “I’m glad, Mom.”

          Amy’s blue eyes shone into hers.  Some days she was so tired and drained from dealing with Jay that she had nothing left for Amy.  This bothered me, but she was trying to do her best. 





Later, lying sleepless in bed, she listened to Rick snoring softly.  The sound didn’t really bother her.  She was just envious that he was asleep.  Her mind was whirling around, trying to pray, but her thoughts kept wandering.

Turning onto her right side, produced an angry meow. 

“Sorry, Tiglet,” she whispered.  “Didn’t know you were there.”

The tiger-striped cat they’d been given last year curled up between her knees and arms, in the hollow made by lying on her side.  They had always been cat people, so after Rick’s first cat Tiger died, all of them longed to have another brown-striped cat.  Since this one was a kitten, the name Tiglet came naturally.  He felt warm and cuddly, and the sound of his purring began to relax her.  Still the thoughts kept flowing:

          She remembered when they first noticed Jay squinting his eyes and blinking a lot in kindergarten.  Sometimes his mouth twitched, too.  When they took him to the eye doctor, they learned he did need glasses, but glasses didn’t stop the blinking.  When they asked the pediatrician about it, she said he’d outgrow it.

          The next thing that came along was the constant throat clearing, with clicking sounds interrupting his speech.  About this time, she saw a feature on Tourette’s on one of those news shows, probably Sixty Minutes. That’s when she began to wonder, but no one else noticed.  Maybe I’m being paranoid, she told herself at the time.

          Next they took Jay to an Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor, who said his noises weren’t caused by allergies, and maybe he was becoming a stutterer.  This turned out to be another dead end.  She decided God was making her work too hard at learning patience.


How she wished she could go to sleep, to keep these thoughts from carrying her away.  They just wouldn’t stop tonight--like a dam had burst in her mind, with all kinds of old suppressed feelings flooding out.  She kept petting the cat, and he purred.  But her mind reeled on:

          By second grade, Jay’s vocal noises were a disruption in class.  The teacher sent him to the school counselor, who suggested getting a full psychological evaluation.  The nearest child psychologist was over sixty miles away.  Though their health insurance didn’t pay for any of this, they went through with it, wanting to help Jay as much as they could.

          After the psychologist’s long session with Jay, he sent them to a neurologist.  When were they going to get any answers?  The neurologist did a battery of tests, too, including an EEG.  They had to drive over an hour to the doctor’s office for each test.  Jay was deathly afraid of needles, and by the end, he didn’t like doctors either.  After all that, the neurologist said Jay probably had Tourette’s Syndrome. 

If only they’d explained beforehand that there’s no definitive test for Tourette’s, but all they can do is rule out every other possibility.  What an ordeal! she sighed. I’m not sure who it was harder on, Jay, or Rick and me.  I still hadn’t learned enough patience apparently, for this was only the beginning.  The neurologist said we had to wait a year before trying any medication.  I guess they were waiting to see if anything else showed up.  

She knew she’d been hoping for some miracle drug that would make things all better.  But there never was one for Jay.

          Denial set in, especially on Jay’s part.  He wouldn’t even let them use the word Tourette’s around him. She and Rick had to meet with his teachers every year to explain Jay’s condition, to let them know that Jay wasn’t being intentionally bad. 

There are so many misconceptions about Tourette’s.  It was barely even mentioned in the psychology courses I took for my teaching certificate.  She mouthed these words to the cat.


Still stroking Tiglet’s head behind the ears, where he liked it best, she mumbled aloud, “I wish I was a cat.  My life would be so much simpler—just eat and sleep.” 

Almost as though he heard her, Tiglet put a paw on her hand.

At this point in her life, she felt a desperate need to get all these scattered memories collected into some kind of order.  Maybe it was a symptom of aging, this need to look back, to try to convince herself that life had been worthwhile.

Right now, the memories bounced around in her mind like popcorn flying out of a pan with the lid off.  Somehow, she must corral them, maybe try to put them on a string, like the popcorn garlands they used to make for the Christmas tree, when Amy and Jay were young.


Friday, April 9, 2021


 When I first started teaching outdoor education, I ran across a concept called "The Process Approach to Problem Solving."  It was part of an environmental education program begun by the U.S. Forest Service, who I worked for at the time.  Now that I'm a published author, I find myself reawakening to this idea.

The next place I encountered it was with another outdoor education program called Project Learning Tree.  Their watchwords were: "Teaching people how to think, not what to think."

Later, when I morphed into a music teacher, I found this same concept of "Process over Product" in teaching, too.  Some of the outstanding examples in this field were the Karl Orff Method, the Kodaly Method, Kindermusik, Musikgarten, and others.

As the years have gone by, I've seen how product-oriented our world is.  The perfect performance, the winning team, the income from sales (books or other items), even reaching a certain number of "Followers" on  the Internet are the things that drive our measures of success.

But I think we've missed the boat.  Life is not all a mountaintop experience.  It's a learning process.  As a writer, I most appreciate when someone helps me work on the process.  Because none of us is perfect, and no performance, work of art, book, or symphony is ever perfect.  We're all in process.

Friday, April 2, 2021

That Elusive Thing Called Hope

 Now that I'm approaching my 69th birthday, I find many clothes too tight, and some of my favorites worn so thin that they're almost see-through.  Life is wearing thin, too.  Especially hope.

When I was young, "Faith, hope, and love" were my mantras, in a sense.  Love still hangs on sometimes, but the other two seem to be disappearing like an early morning fog over a lake.  I can remember in my twenties when my hopes seemed to fly above the fog, as if on wings of a swan.  Those days are only memories now.

The "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" (to borrow from Shakespeare) have taken their toll.  Now whenever a light of hope appears on the horizon, it fades away as soon as I approach it--a mirage.  Well-meaning friends sometimes remind me, "Life isn't fair."  I already know that.  Life is just pain.  To borrow another phrase from The Bard, "Life is a player who struts upon the stage, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Maybe the Christians are right, and our hope is beyond this world, way up in the sky, in that "beautiful somewhere".  But in the meantime, all I can do here is keep muddling along.