Deanaland

Friday, April 22, 2016

Some Prince-Related Memories

1982: I was still trying to come to terms with the wonder that was MTV (radio that you could watch!), and “1999” was getting a lot of airplay at the time. The year 1999 sounded so far away and futuristic. I also wondered if Wendy and Lisa were conjoined twins.

1982: Arguing with my brother about "Little Red Corvette." I said it was about a girl; he said it was about a car. Come on, am I right?

Summer 1984: I remember where I was the first time I heard “When Doves Cry.” I was in my bedroom and just tuned my stereo’s dial to my favorite radio station. The song was in the “yeah, yeah, yeah…” part at the beginning. I thought, “What IS that?” It sucked me in and I’ve loved that song and the entire Purple Rain album ever since.

Also 1984: Making up a twirling routine in my room to “Let’s Go Crazy” and whacking myself in the face with the end of my baton trying to execute a big finish.

Also 1984: “When Doves Cry” became my first break-up song. Although that song was about a complicated adult relationship and not a couple of 12-year-olds who held hands at Six Flags.

Also 1984: I bought Purple Rain on cassette at the mall with my mom. I couldn’t wait to listen to it, so I opened it and popped it in the tape deck on the way home. All was well until it hit the last song on side one, which was “Darling Nikki.” Never had I imagined the word “masturbating” would turn up in a pop song. Cuss words, sure. But the “m” word? My mom was mad and I was mortified. I actually felt betrayed by Prince in that moment.

1985: I got into an argument with a friend who thought the song said “Raspberry Parade.” How could anyone be so stupid? How do you wear a parade?

1988: I took it personally when Tom Jones covered Prince’s “Kiss.” My class voted Jones’ version as the worst song of the year for the yearbook, and I still don’t know that I have ever hated a song as much as that one.

Sometime in the late ’80s: Area church youth groups would meet at the local skating rink on the first Tuesday of every month. I looked forward to this all month and typically chose my outfit weeks in advance. One night, the DJ either didn’t get the memo that these were church groups, or just didn’t care, but he played “Erotic City” for us to skate to. One of the youth ministers was already anti-rock ‘n’ roll, and this did not help things. I still thought the incident was pretty funny, though.

1991: A college student by then, I remember falling in love with “Diamonds and Pearls.” It might still be my favorite Prince song.

2010ish: I was playing Barbies with Jenna in her room, and she wanted to have a Barbie wedding. She handed me a Barbie and asked me to play the role of preacher. So the bride came down the aisle, and the preacher began with, "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life." By the time I got to the part about the shrink in Beverly Hills, Julia had come in, and by the end, both girls were rolling. "Where did you get that?" they asked. I said, "I've had that memorized for 25 years."

2016: While having lunch with my youngest in her school cafeteria, I got an all-caps text from my oldest: “PRINCE DIED.” The 44-year-old me held it together while the part of me who is still 13 experienced yet another heartbreak. Adolescence is not easy for anyone, and we all chose different ways to survive it. My coping mechanism was to turn on the radio and turn on MTV. The things I heard and saw were not just entertainment; they were a means of escape and survival. Prince was a huge part of that. I am so grateful for the art he was gifted with and the fact that he chose to share it with my generation.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

That Time I Belonged to the City

It was August of 1986, which was the summer before 10th grade for me. My friend Mallory and I were walking down a street in New York City. This was the trip of a lifetime for me. The biggest city I had ever lived in was my hometown of Beaumont, Texas, a mid-sized town on the refinery-dotted Gulf Coast. I had been to Houston many times, but as far as cities go, New York City was in a league of its own. Mallory, her mom and I spent the week shopping at Bloomingdales and Tower Records and taking cabs through the streets of Manhattan. On this afternoon, we were headed down the sidewalk when I realized we were walking across large numbers that were inlaid in the sidewalk. I immediately recognized them. These were the same numbers Glenn Frey walks across at the end of his “You Belong to the City” video, which had come out the previous year. You can see that spot on the sidewalk at 5:15 here.

In a city like New York, you constantly come to face-to-face with things and places you have seen in movies and on TV. I’m sure the people who live there are used to that, but for this Beaumont girl, I could not believe it. I was so overcome that Glenn Frey’s name flew out of my head and all I could tell my friend was, “This is that place! In that video! With that guy!” I don’t think she ever figured out what I was talking about, plus the whole thing was a little embarrassing. Before the trip, we had vowed to each other that we would fit in and not look like tourists from southeast Texas. We would not look up in awe at the buildings. We would say “Houston” and not “Beaumont” when asked where we were from. And now I had melted down in an unintelligible fit on the sidewalk and totally blown our cover. Oh, well. We went on our way. But I kept thinking about it. For years, MTV had been stepping into my living room, providing a connection between me and a much more interesting world than the one I thought I lived in. That day on the sidewalk in New York, at least for a second, the opposite had happened: I had stepped into MTV. My mundane, teenage life and the endlessly fascinating realm of entertainment had briefly come together.

When news of Glenn Frey’s death hit the news yesterday, I remembered that he was part of this moment. Of course I knew who he was before his mid-’80s solo career. I had been an Eagles fan for years before that, and I would go on to see the band in concert in 2015, just six months before Frey’s death. But musicians like Frey give us more than their music. They provide a much-needed escape for 15-year-olds like the one I was in 1986. That day on a New York sidewalk, fantasy and reality came together in a way I have not forgotten.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

A Refuge for the Forgotten

In June 2012, a bisexual teen girl committed suicide not far from where I live. She had apparently been the target of bullying at her small, rural Arkansas high school.

Two months later, on Aug. 1, people of faith turned out in droves at our own Chick-Fil-A location as well as across the nation to take a stand for traditional marriage. At our own Chick-Fil-A, lines were out the door all day and the drive-through line wrapped around the store several times.

But no one had lined up for the girl from Bauxite. She died alone.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people ages 10-24. For gay people in this age range, their chances of suicide are quadrupled. Gay young people from families who strongly reject homosexuality have the worst numbers: They are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide as their LGB* peers with little or no rejection from their families.**

When stories such as the June 26 SCOTUS ruling on same-sex marriage and Caitlyn/Bruce Jenner hit the news, outrage and disgust are natural reactions for a lot of people. This bothers me for several reasons, but here’s the main one:

Our children are watching. Our children who might be struggling with feelings they don’t understand. Feelings they’ve been taught are horrible and disgusting. And they see members of their own families/churches reacting with statements like these:

“Dear God, I'm so sorry that humanity is using your beautiful rainbow of promise in such a horrible way.”

“How disgusting.”

“Makes me sick.”

“Very disgusting. Sickening. My goodness what a world we live in.”

“Gross.”

“Disgrace!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Notice a theme here? And our LGBT young people, who already have a suicide risk that is much higher than that of their straight peers, are watching this. And they know this outrage and disgust is coming from people who represent what should be their refuge: the church.

It’s easy for some people to forget that LGBT people are not a faceless mob with an agenda. In reality, they are our family and friends. And some of them are young people who think they have nowhere to turn. The outpouring of disgust they have been witnessing will only convince them to keep their secret buried, which will keep them on the road to becoming a statistic. There is a lot of debate about things Christians should tolerate. This is not one of them.

What I pray for is for more followers of Christ to be proactive when it comes to our LGBT youth. If you would like to become more proactive, here are some ideas:

- Spend some time over at The Trevor Project. The Trevor Project “…is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people ages 13-24 (www.thetrevorproject.org)." The website has a “Get Involved” link that gives several ways you can help bring an end to this national epidemic.

- Think you don’t know any LGBT young people? You probably do and you just don’t realize it. We know several who are friends with our oldest daughter. They are always welcome in our home. For one thing, we like them and enjoy hanging out with them. But we also want them to feel that if they ever find themselves unwelcome in their own homes, they can come here. Be that person and have that home these young people can come to when they have nowhere else to turn.

- Find out about initiatives within churches to create safe places for LGBT people. Sally Gary is doing just that with Centerpeace, an organization devoted to providing those safe places, and helping churches, schools, and families have healthy conversations about homosexuality. (Sally has written in her own story in a book called “Loves God, Likes Girls.” I can’t recommend it highly enough. Please watch this short, powerful video of Sally describing her experience growing up in church and desperately needing a safe place and safe people to talk to.)

I believe people who follow Christ should be at the forefront of initiatives to end suicide among LGBT young people. There’s a reason Jesus preached love above all else, and it’s because the alternative is something none of us can live with.



*Transgender young people are not included in these statistics because that category has its own numbers (and they’re not good, either).

**These statistics are from www.thetrevorproject.org.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Truth and Light

“He only fondled the girls. It’s not like he raped them.”

“He was too young to know what he was doing. In his mind, it probably wasn’t much worse than stealing a cookie.”

“He only touched their breasts. It could have been worse.”

“He repented and was forgiven, so his slate has been wiped clean. I would have no problem asking him to babysit my own children.”

“They were just ‘playing doctor.’ A lot of kids do that.”

“Those girls aren’t really victims if they were asleep when it happened.”

These represent just a few of the more shocking comments I’ve seen in the wake of last week’s news about the Duggar family. The comments are bad enough by themselves, but what makes them worse is that they all came from Christians. And not just the ones who are members of those weird little sects. A couple of those comments came from a preacher in a mainstream denomination.

I have a couple of theories about why so many people of faith have been quick to defend the way the Duggar situation has been handled. First, Christians tend to be very supportive and defensive of their own people. Every time a movie like Fireproof or God’s Not Dead comes out, Christians flock to see it because we need to support Christians in the film industry, right? Christians tune into shows like Duck Dynasty (and buy up all that ridiculous merchandise) because they are Christians and we need to support them, right?

So when something pretty horrible comes to light about a Christian in the national spotlight—someone who has been held up as part of an example of how Christian families should be—some Christians will rush to his defense. “Judge not lest ye be judged” and “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” and “we all sin/make mistakes” will get thrown around as though one Bible verse or not-completely-thought-out sentence will provide a quick resolution to an extremely complex situation.

I definitely think this unhealthy, unwavering loyalty is at play here. But my fear is that something much worse is going on. From many of the responses/reactions I’ve seen to the Duggar reports over the past few days, I think many people in religious communities are horribly ignorant and naïve about sexual abuse.

Students at Bob Jones University were told not to report rape/sexual abuse because it might “damage the body of Christ.” Sovereign Grace Ministries, a denomination with churches on five continents, allegedly failed to report sexual abuse allegations from decades ago. A pastor of a Maryland church knew the youth leader had molested three young boys, but never reported it. These are just a few examples of many, many horrific incidents of abuse that happened in religious settings. Google “sexual abuse in churches.” The stories are never-ending.

The Catholic church has been making headlines about sexual abuse cover-ups for years, but it’s everywhere. And it’s clear that many church leaders either don’t know how to handle these situations, or choose not to handle them correctly. It’s also clear that when it comes to sexual abuse, many people of faith just don’t get it. They don’t get that while “forgiveness” sounds nice, telling a victim they have to forgive can only worsen the damage. They don’t get the depth of the trauma. They don’t get that repentance will not guarantee the perpetrator will never do it again. They don’t get that the verses about judging and casting stones come across as thinly veiled attempts to guilt someone into silence. And that silence is exactly what an abuser needs to keep abusing and keep getting away with it.

Organizations such as GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) are already working to turn this tide of ignorance and irreversible harm, but more needs to be done:

- I believe all clergy members should be mandatory reporters. This would mean that if any clergy member knows or suspects any kind of abuse (not just sexual) is going on, they would be required by law to report it to authorities.

- I believe people who work with minors in all churches, temples, mosques and other religious entities should undergo abuse awareness training on a regular basis. My husband is a youth and family minister, so yes, this would mean both of us, as well as all of our Bible class teachers and parent volunteers.

- On a more personal level, we have got to stop passionately defending abusers and badly-handled situations whether the people involved share our own faith systems or not.

One comment I have read on the Duggar situation is that we should not speak out on these kinds of situations because “we should not enter a battle that is not ours.” But when 93 percent of sex offenders describe themselves as religious* (meaning they are likely involved in a faith community somewhere), and when studies have found that sexual abusers within faith communities have more victims and younger victims**, this is a battle that belongs to all of us. Sexual abuse is the kind of criminal activity that thrives in silence and darkness, and faith communities should be repositories of truth and light.

*The Abel and Harlow Child Molestation Prevention Study
** “Startling Statistics: Child sexual abuse and what the church can begin doing about it

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

My Old Friend Dave

My first memory of Dave Letterman is from the summer before 6th grade. Instead of going to bed right after Johnny Carson, I kept watching. This goofy-looking guy was telling jokes and just being silly. He was funny. Johnny Carson was funny, too, but this new guy was funny in a different way. He was funny in a way that I had not seen funny before. I kept watching.

At least in the summer and during holidays. Back when Dave’s show was Late Night on NBC, he didn’t come on until 11:30 p.m. And for a long time, his show aired only on Monday-Thursday. So I didn’t get to watch him on school nights. But when summer came, I tuned in almost every night.

The ’80s were Dave’s glory days. Not that he hasn’t been funny since then, but back then, his humor was wackier and edgier. Those were the days of the Velcro wall, guacamole-filled balloons being dropped off ten-story buildings, and Thursday night Viewer Mail. There were Stupid Pet Tricks, Stupid Human Tricks, Larry “Bud” Melman, prank calls to the Russian Embassy (smack in the middle of the Cold War, for heaven’s sake) and the squeaky Sky-Cam. During his 5th anniversary special in 1987, Dave unveiled a dog farm during a “new products” segment. It was built like a giant ant farm and real, live dogs sat in it, panting and staring out at the audience. For his Tri-State Special, a quirky tribute to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, Dave borrowed a hydraulic press and took requests of what he should crush in it. My favorite was the hot dog wieners and a huge can of Pork ‘n’ Beans. I taped that show and I still have it on a deteriorating VHS.

Much of my time as an adolescent was not fun. Nothing spectacularly tragic happened; my parents didn’t get divorced, and I was never a child abuse victim. But there were some dark, dark days that never seemed to end. If I could get to a TV at 11:30, though, Dave always, always made me laugh. Many of those nights, Dave’s antics weren’t just entertainment for me. They were a means of survival.

Although I did get to go to New York City in 9th grade, I didn’t get to go to Dave’s show. Late Night tickets were very hard to come by during Dave’s heyday, so my friends and I settled for Phil Donahue instead. But Dave taped in the same building, and I did pick up a “Late Night with David Letterman” sweatshirt in the gift shop. I still have it.

I was in college when Dave moved to the Late Show on CBS (which moved him up an hour to 10:30 p.m.), and I kept watching as he sent 15 people dressed as Superman into a small, Manhattan Starbucks, and a guy in a bear suit into the Russian Tea Room. When I was turning 30 and Chad asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I asked for a TV for our bedroom “…so I could go to bed with David Letterman.” I got my TV, and Chad and I spent several more years ending many of our days laughing at Dave.

There’s always something disconcerting about the funny famous people we have grown up with leaving the public eye. We come to rely on these people to keep us grounded so we don’t get so lost and overwhelmed by everything that is not funny about this world.

In recent years, I have prioritized sleep over late-night laughs. If I watch Dave now, it’s usually the next day online while I get ready for work. But I’ll stay up and watch his last show tonight. I’ve been a David Letterman fan most of my life, and I’ve learned a lot from him. I’ve learned that it’s OK to be weird, and that it’s OK to find something hysterical that no one else gets. Most importantly, I’ve learned that sometimes the best—and most genuine—way to minister to someone is to crack a joke and make them smile. So I’ll stay up tonight and say goodbye. I at least owe him that.

Here's the hydraulic press clip. Also, enjoy John Mellencamp's performance after that.

And one last time, the Late Night Anthem.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

MTV and Me

Author's note: This piece was originally published in the 2014 edition of Quills and Pixels, a peer-reviewed, student publication of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Writers' Network.

I burst through the front door, threw my books into the doorway of my bedroom, grabbed a snack in the kitchen, and ran down the hall to the den. Settling cross-legged on the blue-shag carpet in front of the television, I grabbed the silver knob and pulled. First a click, then a hum, then static electricity crackled across the screen. I had arrived at my house a few minutes earlier after an emotionally-grueling day of sixth grade. But now that the faint image on the screen was growing vibrant, I was truly home.

Music Television had debuted the summer before my fifth-grade year, but I hadn’t become aware of it until later. Living in tiny Lovington, New Mexico, limited—or at least, delayed—my knowledge of pop culture. Our little one-screen theater showed movies months after they were released. While the kids in Lubbock, a two-hour drive away, were getting tired of E.T. and moving on, we Lovington kids were just seeing it for the first time.

So I didn’t find out about MTV because kids were talking about it at school. They weren’t. I just stumbled across it one day. It took me a while to piece together what this thing was. All day and all night, MTV showed mini-movies set to popular music. One day, I made this life-altering observation: “Oh! It’s like radio, but you can see it!”

From then on, I was hooked. I filled my afternoons with INXS, Joan Jett, The Human League, The Cars, David Bowie, A Flock of Seagulls, Talking Heads, The Psychedelic Furs, The Pretenders, Pat Benatar, and the Go-Go’s. I watched Michael Jackson invent pop music. Then I watched Madonna redefine it on her own terms. I watched The Police reinvent themselves with “Every Breath You Take” from their ground-breaking “Synchronicity” album. I watched for hours every day and never got enough.

I came to realize that not everyone shared my joy at this discovery. I had a friend over one day, and I turned on MTV to show her this daring new frontier. Def Leppard was crunching through “Rock of Ages,” and the lead guitarist, wearing tight white pants, was swaying his backside in front of the camera. My friend stared at it for a minute. Then she said, “My mom says rock music is from the devil,” and left the room. I kept watching as lead singer Joe Elliott swung a large, glowing Excalibur-like sword over his head as he launched into the second verse.

“If this is from the devil,” I thought, “he has pretty good taste.”

My friend’s mother wasn’t alone. As MTV’s popularity grew, so did conservative disapproval.

“MTV is destroying the very souls of our children!” I heard one pulpit-pounding preacher exclaim.

But MTV did not make me feel as though my soul were being destroyed. It actually put my soul back together. While my peers seemed to be sailing through puberty effortlessly, I remained physically and socially awkward. I was either picked on or ignored at school. I couldn’t decide which was worse. Sixth grade had not been kind to me so far.

But at home, I found solace in the flickering light that illuminated the den. Those music videos told stories that I understood. I knew the band members would never know who I was, but I knew them. Sting wasn’t just gazing into the camera in “Every Breath You Take;” he was staring straight into my soul. I might have felt powerless at school, but women like Madonna and Chrissie Hynde and Annie Lennox and all five of the Go-Go’s—an all-female band, for heaven’s sake—oozed empowerment and influence. When Martha Davis of The Motels sauntered through a nightclub and purred the lyrics to “Only the Lonely,” I knew she understood the isolation I walked around in every day. In this refuge glowing out of my TV, these people became my friends. School was destroying my soul. But MTV, this gateway to a new world, was where I was accepted and understood. If MTV wanted my soul, MTV could have it.

I was intrigued by Boy George’s shocking androgyny. I was mesmerized by Talking Heads’ quirky profundity. I admired Pat Benatar’s tough femininity, and I loved the way each of Duran Duran’s videos seemed to have been designed to send adolescent female hormones into a frenzy. And I could not get enough. If I uttered “Just one more video” enough times, my MTV-watching sessions could go for hours.

My parents realized how much MTV I was watching and pulled the plug by cancelling our cable subscription. I tried to land sleepovers at the houses of friends who had cable, but I missed having MTV around all the time. After my parents bought our first VCR, I discovered VHS tapes of music videos at the video store. I gleefully checked out Duran Duran’s “Girls on Film” and took it home and, in an attempt to demonstrate what this medium meant to me, watched it with my dad. I didn’t realize the video shown on MTV was the “clean” version, and the one I brought home was not. This did not help my case.

But then a miracle happened. My brother was playing with the buttons on the VCR one day, and MTV suddenly illuminated the screen. We didn’t know how he had done it, but we were pretty sure we were getting MTV illegally. I didn’t care. MTV was back! And now I could fill VHS tapes with it!

For a lot of people, MTV provided entertainment. But it gave me a connection and a sense of significance. Popular music had become visual, and I felt I was more than a witness to this monumental transition in pop culture. I was a part of it. Eventually, I would go on to find meaning in things other than a music video network, and MTV would replace its 24-hour video programming with a parade of increasingly meaningless reality shows. But for 14-year-old me, curled up in front of the flickering TV set late into the night, MTV welcomed me into its world with unwavering acceptance—until I would finally turn it off and go to bed. But first, just one more video.

Left Behind

Author's note: This is an excerpt from my master's thesis, Honest to God: Confessions of a Pastor's Wife. It has also been published in the 2014 edition of Quills & Pixels, a peer-reviewed, student publication of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Writers' Network.

I started losing my dad in September 2011. One Friday morning that month, my parents, my two girls, and I set out for Huntsville, Alabama, for my cousin’s wedding. We stopped for lunch in Memphis. Mom and Dad had never been there. We walked up Beale Street, where the bars were already livening up for that night. Music poured out of open doors. Beer trucks lined the street, and men pushed dollies loaded with cases of beer around us as we walked at a slower pace. Dad took Mom’s hand as we made our way up the street. He loved music. It spoke to his soul in a deep and profound way.

“We’ll come back here and spend a weekend—just the two of us,” he told Mom.

We ended up at Hard Rock Café, where Dad and I posed for pictures on the stage. In one shot, he’s kneeling on the floor and holding a guitar by the neck with both hands high over his head like he’s channeling Jimi Hendrix. It’s a great picture.

That night, we rolled into Huntsville for a weekend of sweet celebration with Dad’s sister and her children. Her son Sid was getting married to a wonderful woman named Evelyn. They are both professional musicians, and they had gathered an ensemble of bass violins and flutes—their respective instruments—to perform at the ceremony. Sid had asked Dad, who had been forced to abandon a much-desired music career decades earlier, to conduct the ensemble. Dad did his job proudly.

After the wedding, we talked and ate and laughed and drank with the family and friends who were gathered there. Ann, my dad’s sister, was in the process of moving far from us to Sid and Evelyn’s home in Indiana. Dad and Ann knew this could be one of their last times together. They sat and laughed and clung to each other. The Alabama humidity settled on the festivities, and by the end of the evening, our faces shone and our hair drooped with the heavy moisture in the air. Someone looked at a clock, and we were all surprised that it was 1:30 a.m. It had been a beautiful night.

Less than a week later, Dad was in the hospital with double pneumonia. This diagnosis led to the discovery of interstitial pulmonary fibrosis, an inflammatory lung disorder in which fibrous tissue forms between the alveoli in the lungs. This condition is irreversible. Dad never smoked, but he did grow up on the Texas Gulf Coast, where huge refineries belch filth into the atmosphere in the name of profit. We’ll never know exactly what caused Dad’s illness. And more bad news was to come.

Dad was also diagnosed with Parkinson’s, which had been brewing under the surface until the pneumonia seemed to throw it into full force. Worst of all, accompanying the Parkinson’s was dementia with Lewy bodies. This type of dementia, caused by abnormal protein deposits that form inside the brain’s nerve cells, is characterized by confusion, hallucinations, lack of facial expression—things that had become obvious in Dad’s behavior. When he was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia in early 2012, there were no medications approved by the FDA to treat it.
I never accepted that Dad’s changing personality was permanent. I thought it would somehow go away or he would learn to manage it, and then my old Dad would be back.

On Feb. 25, my seven-year-old daughter Jenna and I were gradually getting ready to go to my parents’ house. It was a Saturday morning, and we were planning to spend the day with Dad while Mom ran some errands. I had been on the phone with Mom, who said Dad had slept uncharacteristically late, and she was going to wake him up to give him his meds. Jenna and I were in no rush. I hung up the phone and plopped down on the couch for a few games of Words With Friends on my Kindle. Ten minutes later, the phone rang, and it was Mom again. Maybe she was calling to tell me to come later since he had slept so late. But I had a faint suspicion that something was wrong.
I picked up the phone, and she was sobbing. She couldn’t talk. I yelled into the phone above her sobs, “Mom! What is it?”
I could make out something about 911.

“Did you call 911, or are you telling me to call 911?” I asked her.

She had already called 911. So maybe he had fallen. Maybe his oxygen level was dangerously low.

Maybe he didn’t wake up.

I tried not to act too alarmed as I rushed Jenna into her clothes and to a neighbor’s house. The neighbor offered to go with me, but I wanted to go alone. Once I was back in the car, I realized I should have had him drive me. The people of Saline County, Arkansas, were out for their morning drives, creeping down the roads in their pickup trucks at maddeningly slow speeds. Or maybe it was just my panicked state that made everyone else seem to slow down. Tailgating them didn’t work. Neither did yelling obscenities and banging on the steering wheel. Where were the hazard lights on this car? I had never had to use them before.

I finally got to my parents’ street and saw an ambulance in front. A couple of EMTs were milling around the vehicle. They were in no hurry. I parked half a block away and ran the rest of the way. The front door was open, and there was Mom. Weeping, she reached for me.
After running down the hall to Dad’s room, I was confused to find his bed empty. Then I nearly tripped over the bulging sheet on the floor. The EMTs had moved him there to try to revive him. I collapsed on the floor next to him.

When I was four years old, my family was getting ready to leave for our summer vacation. Summer vacation consisted of driving 14 hours from southeast New Mexico to Houston and Beaumont, Texas. We would spend one week with each set of grandparents. The week in Houston meant driving the sprawling freeways, shopping at gargantuan malls, and going to the beach. In Beaumont, I would play in my grandmother’s garden and swim in the neighborhood pool. The car was loaded, and I had run back in for one more bathroom trip before we left. As I came out of the bathroom, I fell in behind Dad, who had made one last walk through the house to check everything. I followed him to the front door and he opened it, pushed the button on the doorknob to lock it, walked outside and shut the door firmly behind him.

As the sound of the closing door shuddered through the house, I realized he had not known I was behind him. He thought I was in the car. They were going to leave me. I was going to be in this house alone for two whole weeks. I slumped against the wall, absorbing this reality and giving in to the convulsing sobs that seemed to explode out of my little body.
Suddenly, Dad burst back through the door and scooped me into his arms.
“I would never leave you,” he said. “I would never leave you.”


I heard a sobbing voice saying, “Dad… Dad…” and realized it was mine. I reached a shaking hand to the part of the sheet covering his head and started to pull it back. I saw his ear and his hairline, but I did not want to see his face. I dropped the corner of the sheet and just sat there. He really was not breathing. The oxygen machine, which had filled the house with its humming for the past five months, sat eerily silent. The only sounds were EMTs talking in hushed voices and neighbors consoling my still-sobbing mother. No one was in a hurry.
In a few minutes, I would call my husband and tell him what happened. In a few hours, I would tell my children their beloved PaPa was gone. In a few days, I would slip a plastic razor cover into his casket. But for a little longer, and for the last time, I sat with my dad.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Why I Write

I’ve been asked to be part of a blog tour. I’m not actually going anywhere; instead, I’m just blogging about a certain topic and featuring other bloggers who will write about the same topic next week. After traveling most of the summer, this is the kind of touring I like. Many thanks to my friend and editor Erin Casey for inviting me to be part of this blog tour. Please check out her blog at My Writers' Connection, and also check out Get Personal: The Importance of Sharing Your Faith Story, which is a book she just published. You will be blessed by both.

I’ve been writing since first grade, when I first tried my hand at creative writing. My teacher must have been impressed, because she told my parents I was going to grow up to be a writer. At the time, I was planning on becoming either an astronaut or a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. (My dad was really hoping that of the two, the astronaut thing would work out.)

Since first grade, I’ve written for yearbooks, newspapers, magazines, blogs, journals, radio, and other media. I even teach college students how to write. But why do I do this? Why do I write?

Here are a few of my “whys”:

I write because I don’t like not writing. When I became a stay-at-home mom in 2000, I thought I was “just” going to be a stay-at-home mom. (I put “just” in quotes because I know there is nothing “just” about being a stay-at-home mom.) I thought I would take care of my daughter, take her to the library and the park, and maybe join a moms’ group in my community. And I did all of those things. But I missed writing. I missed it so much that it surprised me. One night, I could not sleep. My 30th birthday was coming up, and thoughts were racing through my head about reaching that milestone. I finally got up and, in just a few minutes, wrote a piece reflecting on coming of age in my hometown. I sent it to my hometown newspaper, where it was printed as a guest column. That experience told me that while being a stay-at-home mom was great, I also needed to keep writing. I contacted my local newspaper and began writing features and a weekly column. I ended up writing throughout my stay-at-home-mom years. It was nice to have a little extra money, but much more importantly, it kept that part of my brain working while the rest of my brain was absorbed with play dates, Caillou and Goldfish crackers.

I write because we live in a time in which writers can be more independent than ever.
Gone are the days of having to convince a publisher or editor to publish our work to get it out to the masses. We can write, publish and promote our work with just a few clicks of a button.

I write because I am a believer in the power of the written word. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a pastor in my town decided to take Texas barbecue up to the Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island, where workers were going through the unimaginable task of sorting rubble from the Twin Towers. I wrote an article for the newspaper about what the pastor wanted to do, and the morning the article was printed, he was still several thousand dollars short. By noon that day, he had more than enough money to make the trip because people had read my article and flooded the pastor’s church with donations. My writing had moved people to action. This happens all the time. People read something and act, and the world can become a better place as a result. Words have power. Knowing this, how can we not write?

I write because it’s what people do. Think about it. People have been writing things down since the beginning of time. We have the Bible and other ancient texts because people have always been writers. When one of my students says, “I’m just not a writer,” I say, “Yes, you are. Because you are a person.” Writing is a central part of the human experience, and it’s something in which we ALL participate—whether we realize it or not.

I write because people have always encouraged me to. By college, my dreams of being an astronaut or Dallas Cowboys cheerleader had given way to something else (thankfully). I began writing for the campus newspaper, and it wasn’t long before I became a journalism major. One week, I had a few days off from class and drove to the town where I had gone to elementary school. My first-grade teacher—the one who predicted I would be a writer—was still teaching there. I walked into the school, showed her some of my newspaper articles and said, “You were right.” She was one of many along the way who have been supportive of my writing. If people in your life are telling you to write, listen to them.

Next week, watch for my friends Meagan McGovern and Mary Beth Picker to publish why they write. Here is a little about each of them:

Meagan McGovern is a writer, homeschooler, gluten-free chef and cat-herder extraordinaire.
She has lived all over the country but has finally found home, in a 1950s farmhouse in an idyllic town called Ferndale, Washington, complete with a barn, a silo, cows and a slew of barn cats.

She had a hideous childhood as the oldest of four girls and had a wild ride of it, marked by insane parents, horrible events, lots and lots of moving about the country, and long stretches where they all had a lot of fun. She writes a little about that, too.

Meagan used to be a writer for newspapers, and a copy editor, and she loved every minute of it. Now she blogs about farm life, having a happy childhood in your 40s, homeschooling and her son's recovery from autism.

She still loves every minute of it.

Well, OK. There are few moments involving chickens that aren't so hot. But most of it is wonderful.

She is passionate about clean food, dirty politics, thoughtful, kind parenting, growing and cooking the food you eat, homeschooling and travel.

She is not easy. She is not always on time. She channels Mrs. Weasley, Gloria Steinem and a dash of Scarlett O'Hara. She has red hair and an Irish temper and she is the messiest person you will ever meet.

She and her husband Mark have three children, a couple of cows, and goats and sheep and chickens and dogs and cats. None of them listen. Her family calls her husband "Saint Mark," and they're not far off.

She blogs about life on Stone Soup Farm at meagan-mcgovern.squarespace.com.

Mary Beth Picker graduated with a BA in English from Harding University in 2003 and then returned a year later for graduate school, completing her MSE in English in 2005. She's been a life-long scribbler of words, from notebook ramblings to blog posts, though these days her scribblings are most often in the form of grocery lists. When she finds a quiet moment, she loves to blog about the things God is teaching her, but she still hasn't given up her dream of someday being a "real" writer.

She and her husband, Casey, have three young kids and are about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime.

Follow her blog at www.scribblingbarefoot.com.