“I Wake Up, Only to Remember She is Gone”

Recently a friend of mine, Andi, lost her mom to cancer. Recently she posted on her blog:

She is wearing a white baseball cap, a green shirt, and that denim skirt she wore a lot when I was in high school. In her right hand is a tub of vanilla yogurt; in her left, a bowl, blue I think. She is smiling as she walks toward me. I smile back.

Then, I wake up to remember my mom will never walk toward me again. I am already crying.

I turn on my phone to get the time and a text from Hannah comes in. She says, “Going to the Relay for Life luminera ceremony to honor your mom. We’re thinking about you.”

I hear Mom’s cat crying in the hallway. Dad says, “She’s looking for Ruth.”

Maybe she was really here.

* * * * *

It is difficult these days to find a family who has not been affected by cancer. Andi and a team of friends are contributing to the American Cancer Society in the hope that someday that will not be the case.

Check out Andi’s blog HERE

To find out more about Andi’s goal to raise $3000 for the American Cancer Society, go HERE

Five Writing Secrets I Learned From “The NeverEnding Story”

Picture a boy sneaking under his bed so that he can read late at night without his parents knowing. He holds a flashlight close to the page, and his lips move as he reads the words not quite silently. Suddenly the boy is not under the bed – he is in Narnia or Sugar Creek or Bayport.

That boy was me. So when I realized “The NeverEnding Story” was about a boy who actually is part of the book he is reading, I was hooked instantly.

Here are five writing secrets from one of my favorite childhood movies:

1 – A writer can never lose their hopes or dreams. You may get rejection after rejection from agents, publishers and even friends who don’t understand your work.

G’mork: Foolish boy. Don’t you know anything about Fantasia? It’s the world of human fantasy. Every part, every creature of it, is a piece of the dreams and hopes of mankind. Therefore, it has no boundaries.
Atreyu: But why is Fantasia dying, then?
G’mork: Because people have begun to lose their hopes and forget their dreams. So the Nothing grows stronger.

So long as you don’t lose your hope or give up on your dreams, the Nothing is held at bay.

2 – Luck is real:

Falcor: Never give up and good luck will find you.

The thing about good luck, though, is that it tends to happen to people who keep trying. It’s impossible to get lucky if you quit.

3 – In the next quote, Bastian says something that reflects the way most of us feel:

The Childlike Empress: Bastian. Why don’t you do what you dream, Bastian?
Bastian: But I can’t, I have to keep my feet on the ground!

I can’t try something new, I have responsibilities! I can’t take a risk, I might fail! I can’t try something big – other people will think I’m crazy!

Why don’t you do what you dream?

4) Once you decide to dream, don’t be discouraged by the darkness that occasionally comes:

Bastian: Why is it so dark?
The Childlike Empress: In the beginning, it is always dark.

When you first start out, there’s a lot of uncertainty, a lot of doubt, a lot of darkness. The good thing about that is, your pole star will be easier to spot.

5 – Don’t wither in the face of your doubts. Punch them in the nose:

Mr. Koreander: Whoa whoa whoa, who were you running from?
Bastian: Just some kids from school.
Mr. Koreander: Why?
Bastian: They wanted to throw me in the garbage.
Mr. Koreander: Why don’t you give them a good punch in the nose, hm?

Any writing secrets you learned from “The NeverEnding Story”? Do you believe in luck? What do you do with self-doubt?

* * * * *

Similar posts include:

Five Writing Secrets I Learned From “The Princess Bride”

Five Writing Secrets I Learned From “Dumb and Dumber”

Five Writing Secrets I Learned From “Airplane”

Finding a Note to Myself From a Year Ago

Whenever I find old notebooks, I cringe: at best they are filled with snippets of projects I never completed; at worst they provide me with examples of my own horribly mediocre writing, best forgotten.

So when I discovered an old, brown, 7.5″ by 9.75″ notebook, I opened it with trepidation. But when I read the first page, I had to smile.

Remember how my family of six moved up from Virginia and into my parent’s basement (because we were broke)? My wife made me promise that I would commit to writing for three months before looking for a “real” job. Well, this notebook was from one of the early days, when I didn’t know what was going to happen, where I would find work, or what the plan was for my life.

The first page inside this brown notebook was a small piece I wrote from the perspective of my (at the time) 6-year-old son:

My dad sat at the computer all day today. I knew something was wrong because he just stayed there and tapped his foot like a jack-hammer all morning: tap tap tap tap tap.

He told me he was going to teach a class on writing.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I like to write,” he said.

I watched him for a little while.

“You’re a great writer,” I said when I noticed how fast his fingers moved over the keys.

He smiled.

“That’s typing,” he said. “But thanks.”

I remember that day, and I have to smile at how much he wanted me to be happy.

I love reminders from the past, triggers that put me back in a time that was both difficult and necessary. If you’re in the middle of a tough time, write yourself a note – some day you’ll appreciate the reminder of how far you’ve come.

Sprinting Over a Sea of Crap

“Okay, I made it,” the boy yelled. “Your turn.”

I hesitated, holding on to the cold iron gate with both hands, my feet propped on the third rail.

“C’mon! Just run as fast as you can!” I was eight years old, good at running as fast as I could.

I took a deep breath, eased down to the lowest rail, pointed a tentative toe out on to the ground. It felt firm. I got ready, then I pushed off and ran. The ground was dusty under my feet – it cracked and moved, like a live organism. Except it wasn’t ground – it was cow crap, about two feet deep with a hard crust and a not-so-hard inside.

* * * * *

Sometimes I think we take unnecessary risks. I’m not talking about the risks with upside, the risks that require more of us than we thought existed. At some point in life those leaps of faith aren’t even risks anymore – they are almost necessities: getting out of the job you hate to do what you love; committing to a relationship that doesn’t always make sense; moving somewhere new, starting fresh. Sure, these are risks, but the potential upside is immeasurably high.

The unnecessary risks aren’t anything like that at all – the upside to those is minimal, the downside monumental. That late night email chat with a friend you haven’t told your spouse about. Skimming a little money off the top, for yourself. Letting your  mind go to places that only lead to self-destruction.

These risks are not worth taking.

* * * * *

About half way across the expanse of crap, my foot broke through. My leg plunged down to the knee. My sneakers, my jeans, the sock on my one foot: all ruined. Plus I probably smelled like shit for a week.

If you’re going to take a risk, take one with upside. Don’t sprint over a sea of crap.

True wisdom and real power belong to God; from him we learn how to live, and also what to live for. Job 12:13

Writing the Dark Chapters (How Being a Funeral Director is Like Writing)

I met Caleb Wilde for the first time at a Starbucks a few weeks ago, where I inadvertently motioned for him to pay the bill for both of us (beware any who would take me to coffee or lunch – this is a recurring theme in my life). He’s a fascinating guy with a job that many people wouldn’t care to have, but, as you’ll see in this post, he carries himself with grace and humility.

I walk into a room at 6 a.m. and all eyes fix on me and my next move.  I am, after all, the odd one out in the room, the one whose face isn’t stained with tears; the one wearing dress clothes, who’s there in body, but whose soul isn’t in the depths.

I’m the colonialist, walking into another culture, ready to impose society’s desire for a clean picture of death.

Those who are sitting around the bed of the deceased aren’t thinking about what you and I are thinking about at 6 in the morning.  They aren’t wondering how they will get their kids dressed in time for school; or how they’re going to pitch their project to coworkers at work.

Everything is on hold.

Time has slowed at a pedestrian pace and they sit in grief … resisting the reality that what was their husband, their wife, their son, daughter, grandfather, friend is no longer present to hug, laugh and live with.

Death creates its own culture … its own world.

A world where time seems to altogether stop, where language is often spoken with less words and more tears, hugs and contemplation, where the regular dress code doesn’t exist and where the norms and mores of society are put on hold.  Here, in this sacred space at 6 a.m. in the morning, God seems nearer; family and friends surround you; you can let your emotional inhibitions go.  This is the world that was never meant to be and yet is everything you wish it could be.  It seems we have to go back through death to get to Eden.

With tie draped down my dress shirt, if I can’t imagine a world unlike mine … if I can’t picture a context outside of me … if I can’t remove myself from the all too obvious facts that it’s 6 a.m., I’m tired, didn’t get my Dunkin Donuts medium coffee with cream and sugar, and that I’ll be even more tired tonight when I’m supposed to go to Chili’s with my wife; if I can’t imagine the family’s story; the story of the deceased and his life and the loss this represents, I can’t be a good funeral director.

Funeral directing is a lot like writing.  It involves alterity, imagination and the ability to make a lot of the detail and little of the obvious.  I write the story as I walk into the sacred space of grief.

I notice the one closest to the decease’s body.  “That’s probably the NOK”, I think to myself.  Granted, the story is easier to imagine if I already know the family, but this morning I don’t.  The closest one to the bed is oft the main character in this play; and I can write a story of comfort, by entering the narrative with a warm hug, maybe even a kiss, a kind smile and eyes that speak of the compassion my heart is feeling; or, I could write a story as a narrator, standing back, observing and not entering.  What does this specific family need?

I wait as the drama unfolds, as my very presence evokes the supporting characters who will inevitably point me to the protagonist.

Asking questions; feeling out the room.  I enter in and I – at this very moment – have the privilege and responsibility of helping to write this chapter.

Now head on over to Caleb’s blog and check out his most-read post of all time, “Why 99.9% of Pastors Agree With Rob Bell.”

Rob Bell, Walmart, and Loving My Neighbor

Last week I found myself in my third least favorite place in the world: Walmart. Maile and I had some time to kill, and we still had a few last minute Easter things to pick up for the kids, so we entered.

I should have known better.

When it was time to check out, I took the five or six items in my cart and made my way to the express check out lane (20 items or less). By that point we were running short on time. Wouldn’t you know it? I found myself behind three people, each with carts full to the brim.

Definitely not 20 items or less.

Continue reading “Rob Bell, Walmart, and Loving My Neighbor”