To Jen

I have to tell you all about a friend of mine – her name is Jen Hudson. On Jen’s Facebook page she said it the way that only she could: “I live in Aylesbury, Bucks. I am married to Dave and we appear to have some small people that live with us too. Ella is nearly 9, Sidney is 7 and Jude is 3. Help!”

First – Maile and I lived in England from ’01 to ’05, and we made some amazing friends while we were there.  They were quite kind to us, considering most of England wasn’t too happy about the Americans leading them to war in Iraq.  Dave and Jen were just one family from Southcourt Baptist Church that took us in and befriended us.

The winter before we left England to move back to the States, Jen and her family received terrible news: Jen had breast cancer. Their family was immediately plunged into that life of treatments and tests and chemo and operations and radiation.  There were so many reasons that it was hard for us to leave England – but leaving then, knowing that their family was fighting so hard, made it particularly so.

Jen battled cancer in a way I have never experienced. It seemed that every other month we were receiving completely opposite reports – at one point the cancer seemed to have taken over her body and the doctors gave her a short life expectancy.  The next month we would hear that she was fighting hard, doing better. Through it all, she and I had some good battles playing Scrabulous on Facebook – she had been a librarian at one point in her life, and usually took me to task.  She liked talking trash, which made it even worse.

For those of you who know how much I love Scrabble, you’ll understand this was difficult for me to handle.

Then, just as she was receiving radiation treatment, miracle upon miracle: she found out she was pregnant. Impossible, the doctors said.  Insignificant, as the baby will probably not survive the radiation – so she put off her treatments until little Jude was born.  Then, immediately, she resumed her own personal war against cancer.

For the last year we never heard too much.  An email every once in a while.  The occasional Facebook update:

Jennifer Hudson has been looking for my mobile and it was there all the time!

Jennifer Hudson is enjoying more freedom of movement today, hooray!

Jennifer Hudson will not be on fb for a while

Status updates like that last one always worried us.

This week, on Tuesday, another dear friend Melody Walker IMed me on Facebook: “Jen needs your prayers.  She’s struggling.  It’s serious.”  That was a hard conversation to have, especially on the computer.  Maile and I prayed for Jen and Dave and their three adorable kids.  We both cried some.

Then Wednesday, Melody again, in a little box popping up on the side of my screen:

“Jen passed this morning.  Pray for the family.” She was 36 years old.

. . . . .

So many mixed feelings tonight as I sit here, a few thousand miles away from Aylesbury, England.  My throat aches as I mourn the loss of a friend.  My soul feels so heavy for Dave and Ella and Sidney (born a few weeks before Cade) and little Jude (just a bit older than Abra).  Yet I feel a sense of peace for Jen, that she isn’t suffering any more.

There is nothing like death to remind us of the most important things in life.  Hug the people you love today. This is the first I’ve written of Jen’s passing, and I feel a certain stillness, a peacefulness, a reluctant sighing that somehow, once again, God will redeem this situation.

So tonight (Thursday) I went to Jen’s Facebook page. I went there many times today, and soon friends began writing on her wall, talking to her as if she was right there, waiting to deliver one of her signature one-liners in response.  I’m finding it hard to compose myself as I write this.  Anyway, I wanted to write something to her, but nothing seemed fitting.  Nothing was good enough.  I just kept imagining Dave and the kids in their house in Aylesbury, England, no doubt surrounded by friends, but missing her terribly.

So, as usual, I turned to a book.  Which in Jen’s case, I hope was fitting, as she seemed to love books as much as I. It was the last page of CS Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles, in “The Last Battle”.  The children, having re-entered a newborn Narnia, turn questioningly to Aslan, as if to ask why they were there.

“There was a real railway accident,” said Aslan softly.  “Your father and mother and all of you are – as you used to call it in the Shadowlands – dead.  The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”

And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story.  All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

This gives me hope.  I don’t think I’ll go back to Jen’s Facebook page again.  I think I’ll just wait for the real deal.

6 Ways The World Cup is Like Parenthood

I can sense that World Cup fever is subsiding: once the US was eliminated, World Cup stories fell from prominance on ESPN’s website.  Goals no longer result in the disabling of Twitter. As the field dwindles, only the hard core fans remain.

Yet as the games continue, I had this realization – the things that go on in the World Cup are eerily similar to the things that go on in my house on a daily basis:

1) Mom pours glasses of chocolate milk for everyone and announces they are ready. Kids are coming at the kitchen from every angle (corner kick).  Cade reaches out and impedes the progress of his sister (she exaggerates the contact and lies on the ground, her face a silent scream, as if her wind pipe has been ripped from her neck). Obstruction!  Yellow Card!

2) Abra, two years old and still in diapers, says she has to go potty! She leaps over her brother, dashes back and forth to avoid toys, slips sideways into the bathroom, sits on the potty, and (kerplunk) . . . GOALLLLLLLLL!

3) Sam, age 1, sneaks into the bathroom and is about to grab the toilet brush. Mom (line judge) raises her hand (flag), shouts and stops everything.  Offside!  The opposition breathes a sigh of relief.  Calamity was averted.

4) Lucy trips Cade. He collapses to the ground in anguish, rolling around and clutching his surely shattered ankle.  Mom raises her finger and sends Lucy to her room (red card).  Cade impishly grins and, after shaking his head as if to regain his senses, walks away while limping on the wrong foot, obviously unscathed.  Cries of injustice reverberate around the world.

5) Dad arrives home in the 90th minute. Mom gestures toward the sideline with her hand, her head bent down in exhaustion.  Dad runs back and forth a few times, gets rid of the crick in his neck, stretches his quads, and jogs in to the living room as an extra-time substitution.  Mom retreats to the bedroom (bench) for a 20 minute nap.

6) The kids know they are winning so they waste time. But I’m still hungry!  But we didn’t read a story tonight!  But I’m thirsty!  Dad (the opposition) runs around the field, chasing the game, as the kids one-touch pass around him.  Then mom (referee) emerges from the bedroom and says firmly, “Go to bed.”  The game is over.  Everyone shakes hands.  The kids laugh and go to bed.  Dad (the losing team) sits on the sofa and hangs his head.  “You’ll do better tomorrow night,” the official (mom) assures him.

Ira Wagler

There’s this intriguing writer in Lancaster County, and his name is Ira Wagler. Most of you folks who have lived in Lancaster for a while probably heard of him before I did.  I met him for the first time last week.

A self-proclaimed literary redneck, his blog posts first caught the attention of a huge online audience, then a literary agent, and he now has a book deal with Tyndale.  In person Ira is as kind as they come – personable and humble and generous.  As a writer he is refreshing, probing and at times disarming in his willingness to tell it as he sees it.  I am proud to have a writer like him in our area.

I am especially excited because he has accepted my invitation to join us at the Fireside Writer’s Conference where he’ll speak for a few minutes, and then I’ll engage him in a time of q & a.  Ira’s attendance is worth the price of admission in and of itself – then take into consideration each of the other speakers who have already committed to be there (Bryan Allain, Andi Cumbo and Ken Mueller) along with their areas of expertise, and you’ll understand why I’m looking forward to October.

I still have three to four more guests to announce in the coming weeks, including the poet who will be doing the reading on Friday night, so stay tuned.  In the mean time, click on the names above to check out some of their blogs/websites.  Soon you’ll be as excited as I am for October.

Tuesday’s Top 10: Favorite Characters

I can’t believe I haven’t hit this one yet – today’s top 10 is a list of my favorite characters from novels, in no particular order:

1) Owen Meany from Irving’s A Prayer For Owen Meany: “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice. Not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God. I am a Christian because of Owen Meany. ”

2) Samuel Hamilton from Steinbeck’s East of Eden: “I guess if a man had to shuck off everything he had, inside and out, he’d manage to hide a few little sins somewhere for his discomfort.  They’re the last things we’ll give up.”

3) Lucy Pevensie from Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

4) David Copperfield from Dickens’s David Copperfield: “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”

5) Kincade from Duncan’s The Brother’s K: “Anyone too undisciplined, too self-righteous or too self-centered to live in the world as it is has a tendency to idealize a world which ought to be. But no matter what political or religious direction such idealists choose, their visions always share one telling characteristic: in their utopias, heavens or brave new worlds, their greatest personal weakness suddenly appears to be a strength.”

6) Holden Caulfield from Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye: “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”

7) Gandalf from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: “End? No, the journey doesn’t end here.  Death is just another path, one that we all must take.  The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it…white shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

8) Albus Dumbledore from Rowling’s Harry Potter Series: “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

9) Cathy Trask from Steinbeck’s East of Eden (incredibly, mind-numbingly evil but so well written) She is introduced by Steinbeck this way: “I believe there are monsters born in the world to human parents. . . . They are accidents and no one’s fault, as used to be thought. Once they were considered the visible punishments for concealed sins.”

10) Lord Peter Wimsey from Sayers’s The Nine Tailors: “A facility for quotation covers the absence of original thought.”  Oops.

So who are your favorite characters ever (no quotations required)?

Mind Control

What types of thoughts are controlling your mind?

Do you spend most of a day’s quiet time arguing  in your head?  Do you talk to yourself with the same or greater kindness than you afford others, or do you belittle and demean yourself with your thoughts?

My uncle Mike and I recently posted something on meditation on his blog: basically, everyone meditates. So what do you meditate on?  What’s controlling your mind?

If your mind is being controlled by the parts of your life that you feel are destroying you, those things will win out. Addictions that are causing you pain; behaviors that leave damaged people in your wake; choices that send you reeling, hurt, confused: if these parts of your life control your mind, then an emotional or physical death is not far off.

Another one of my uncles, Jonas Beiler, told me of how his childhood taught him to embrace one idea of himself: stupid Amish man.  You see, he was dyslexic before learning disabilities were diagnosed, and since he attended a school with non-Amish classmates he often heard teachers or fellow students refer to him as the “stupid Amish man.”

As he grew older, he started referring to himself that way, partly in jest.  Then someone helped him to understand that a person often becomes what they tell themselves they already are.

There are other forces that can control our minds, forces that won’t lead to death: love is one. Joy, peace, and  patience are others.  Being kind, good and faithful are options. How about gentleness or self-control?  It takes discipline.  Often times it takes a good counselor (or psychologist, or psychoanalyst), but if you can allow these forces to control your mind, they will lead you to life and peace.

What’s controlling your mind?  Have you discovered practices that allow forces like love, joy and patience to take over your mind?

Rom 8:6; Gal 5:17-26

Snow Drifts Melting Around A GMC Safari

Adam Tucker has been kind enough to include me in his Friday Author Question and Answer post.  You can check it out HERE. Now for the continuing story of our search for a house, back in March of this year.

It was freezing cold and rainy the day we found out we were chosen to rent the house. When I told Maile we were moving I think she cried, at least a little.  But then again, she cries over most things.  Still, it was exciting.

We moved into the house, stepping over patches of old snow drifts that remained from the blizzard we’d had a few weeks before.  But as the snow melted we found more things to be excited about – a patio with a fire pit; all kinds of rose bushes and early flowers pushing their way up through the cold dirt; paths through the woods.  This was our new start.  We were officially on our own again.

I remember the first day I walked up the stone drive to the large, three-bay garage. The wooden steps creaked as I walked up to the workshop.  I put together my table, the same one I had worked from while we lived in England, and in Virginia.  I looked out the window, stared into the woods.

I felt very much like I was about to do something very special, create something amazing, begin a life I would never want to end.

But after about thirty minutes the cold rendered my fingers numb and I could barely type, so I had to take a rain check on writing in my workshop.  I headed for Angela’s Cafe and a nice cup of hot chocolate.

This is what happens when you gain the courage to leave your basement. Leave that semi-comfortable place and take a risk.  Of course, you might have to face failure – there’s a very good chance we will run out of money; I might have to get a part-time job to pay the bills.  When my kids get a little older they might not like the fact that we live in such a small place or can’t buy all the nice things they want.

They might not like that they get dropped off at their friends’ houses in a 1990 GMC Safari.

That’s okay, though.  This is the journey we’ve chosen.  And I’m hoping that they’ll appreciate the heritage I leave with them, even if it’s not accompanied by a huge inheritance.

To read the very first segment of this story, which tells about how Maile and I made the decision to move from Virginia to Pennsylvania (and into my parent’s basement) click HERE.