When Maile Told Me Something I Didn’t Want to Hear


When I first got married, it was mostly because I thought Maile was smart and gorgeous and she loved to read as much as I did. And also for the sex. Seeing as how I was brought up in the Puritan ideals of abstention, the sex was a major consideration.

But now that we’ve been married for nearly fifteen years, there’s something else I love about her: her honesty. She is my most loyal critic, as well as my greatest supporter, and in a world that will all too quickly inflate you with meaningless praise, an honest, loving critic is worth more than I ever could have dreamed.

* * * * *

I spent two solid months this summer writing a novel for my children, a book about the things that concerned me when I was a kid, a book about friendship and adventure and dying (I was a melancholy child). I poured myself into that book, to the point that I was emotionally exhausted when I finished. Mentally worn out. And slightly depressed that it was over. Someday, I hope you will read this book.

But I have a fatal flaw for a fiction writer – more than one actually. In real life I avoid conflict, and that carries over into my writing. I protect my characters. No matter how hard I try, they get along too well with one another. They make responsible choices. They lay low.
This is not a good recipe for creating engaging fiction.

* * * * *

When I returned to blogging about a month ago, you all welcomed me back with open arms. I was away for nearly a year, yet you came back, too. More importantly, I’m enjoying myself again because at some point during my break I got over my obsession with numbers. I no longer get panic attacks if I don’t have a post lined up for the next day. I no longer feel the heart-rending disappointment when a post flops.

Still, I felt a sense of unease. This isn’t really what I want to write, not forever, I told myself at night, staring at the ceiling high above. I want to write fiction. I want to be a novelist.

But a sneaking suspicion had begun to grow in my mind, one that I pondered ever since finishing the book for my kids. And when I didn’t have the strength to say the words out loud, Maile said them for me.

They came after I expressed my novelist frustrations to her one morning. We were making the bed. I went on and on, complaining about my weaknesses as a fiction writer, my unhappiness with the plot of the children’s book I had written. Then she said something, something that I had been thinking but did not have the strength to admit out loud. Something that, if I had let it, could have hurt me deeply.

“You might not want to hear what I have to say,” she said in a kind voice.

“No, go ahead.”

“Maybe,” she said, “just maybe, you’re not a novelist. Maybe you’re a nonfiction writer. That’s your best writing. That’s what people respond to.”

I took a deep breath. Sometimes the truth about ourselves hurts. Sometimes it isn’t exactly what we want to hear.

“I’ve been wondering the same thing,” I admitted.

* * * * *

I wonder how many of us spend our lives trying to be what we want to be instead of embracing who we are? I wonder if this contributes to the truth behind Thoreau’s famous quote that “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Maybe we’re desperate because we’re dishonest with ourselves and with each other about who we are.

What would happen if we were honest with ourselves? What would happen if we listened to the loving voices that speak into our lives, the voices of those who love us, those who can sometimes see what we cannot, or will not, see?

Of course there’s a flip side to this coin, the truth that life is a struggle, a journey, and that anything worth having takes some work, some perseverance. Don’t give up on your dreams. Etcetera, etcetera. But maybe the one thing standing between you and the life you were meant to live is a dash of humility, a small measure of honesty, and a mustard seed of hope.

The hope that who you are, who you were created to be, is enough.

Miscarriages, Waiting, and “Do Not Be Afraid” (or, An Announcement)

During a recent trip to God’s Whisper Farm, I woke up in the morning to discover that our four kids had invaded the bed.


After a few hours of waiting, I sent my wife a text message.


The phone rang moments later. I picked it up. I felt like I was in a movie because suddenly, surprisingly, the words wouldn’t come out of my mouth. Eventually, I asked, “So what happened?” But even before she said a word I knew what the results had been.

“They couldn’t find a heartbeat,” she said through quiet sobs.

“What about a scan?” I asked. “Could they get you in for a scan?”

“Not until Tuesday! I can’t wait until Tuesday,” she cried to me through the telephone. “If I have to wait until then, I think I’ll lose my mind.”

I thought about the previous fall, when Maile had miscarried her last pregnancy. I thought about the tiny mound of rocks and the barely-held-together cross we had made out of branches. I thought about the tiny box now buried in the cold ground under the snow, the box that had “HOPE” inscribed on the top.

I thought about how we had just about finished paying for that last miscarriage. The last monthly bill had arrived from the hospital, and the balance would be gone after one more payment. Not that this had anything to do with money, but the irony was sharp, that in the same month we finished paying the bills associated with one miscarriage, we could very well begin paying for the next one.

“Just come home,” I said. “We’ll figure something out.”

* * * * *

Do not be afraid.

How many times do those words appear in the Bible? God says that phrase to Abraham multiple times, reassuring him of the promise. Joseph says it to his brothers when they discover his identity. Moses said it to the people. God said it those same people. Nearly forty times that phrase appears in the Old Testament.

Do not be afraid.

Do not be afraid.

Do not be afraid.

* * * * *

I told the kids while making their macaroni and cheese.

“They couldn’t find the baby’s heartbeat,” I said. Their eyes opened wide. “But that doesn’t mean anything, not yet. Sometimes it’s hard for doctors to find the baby’s heartbeat when it’s this small.”

“I don’t want the baby to be dead,” Sam said, now on the verge of tears.

“It’s going to be okay, Sam,” I said quietly, delivering the four bowls of mac-n-cheese. “But Mama is kind of sad, so she’ll need some hugs when she gets back.”

A few minutes later, I heard the car pull down the lane, tires crunching over cold stones.

“C’mon,” Lucy said to the others. “Mom’s home.”

They ran to the door and when she opened it they engulfed her. The cold air blew in around us.

“It’s okay,” she said, holding them close, forming a huddle. “It’s going to be okay.”

* * * * *

The last instance of Do not be afraid appears in Revelation, as John falls prostrate after seeing the source of the voice speaking to him. The Bible says he fell as if dead.

But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me,“Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.

Do not be afraid. I am the beginning and the end. I hold the keys to death.

* * * * *

After a few calls, we found a medical center that could do a scan for us that evening. We drove straight there, passing houses at that particular time of night when Christmas lights are coming on. I dropped Maile off and took the kids for dinner. The sun set over white, snowy fields. Cars crept into town, towards the malls and the shops.

We sat in the sandwich place and the kids chattered and ate and laughed. Then, out of no where, Sam looked at me with sad eyes.

“I don’t want anything to die,” he said.

“I know, Sam. I know. It’s going to be okay.”

Then, much quicker than I expected, a text came through from Maile. I didn’t want to look at it, but I had to.

* * * * *

We’ve mourned a lot in the last year, lost friends (too young) and a grandmother and seen things I hoped I’d never see with my own eyes, seen things I’d hoped I’d never be this close to. Only a year ago I wasn’t sure if I could keep writing for a living.

But there have been moments of peace, too, peace that cannot always be explained. There have been small patches of joy that, when stretched, surprised us and became more than adequate to fill the gap in the cloth.

This is life, isn’t it? The goods and the bads. Ground gained and lost, and, sometimes even worse, the battles that stretch on for months and years without any sign of a clear winner. But this is life.

Celebrate with us today, will you? And, when we need it, as I’m sure we will again, come alongside and hold us up.

* * * * *

“We have a baby!!!!!” the text message said.

The kids and I pulled to a stop outside the medical center. It was nearly vacant, and a lone individual stood along the curb, smoking a cigarette. The van smelled of sandwiches and a cold winter’s night.

“I know!” Lucy said. “When Mom gets into the car we should all scream for joy.”

We watched through the glass. They practiced their scream. Then we saw her. She came through the dark night, opened the door, and held up the ultrasound photos, smiling like I hadn’t seen her smile for many years.

The sound of those kids’ joyous rapture was quite a sound to behold. It probably scared that lone smoker nearly to death. To me the sound was as good as a host of angels, and words came to my mind, through the cacophony.

“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

“So there’s going to be a number five,” I said, grinning. But my voice was drowned out by another round of cheers from the back.

* * * * *

I’m currently running a Christmas giveaway (ending Wednesday at midnight) where you can win an advanced copy of my upcoming book with Tim Kreider, Refuse to Drown, as well as copies of five other books I’ve written or co-written. You can enter the drawing HERE.

What I Heard When I Stopped and Listened

snowThrough the thin, winter trees glazed over, I could see splotches of color toiling up the hill behind our house. I watched through the window. It was warm, there where I stood. Then the colors, so out of place on that white winter day, slid down the hill. I could hear the screams and laughter through the glass. I smiled when they lurched and rolled to a stop.

There’s something beautiful about watching your children enjoy the snow, about life in the cold.

* * * * *

I walked down the lane, staring at my feet, choosing the places where the stones came up through the ice. Maile had driven away with the girls and I traveled slowly back towards the house, where Sam was napping in all of that natural light and Cade was reading Lloyd Alexander.

Then a voice whispered,  Stop. So I did.

And I stood there and I looked around and I listened. I pulled up my hood because of the dry cold and I stood there without moving and suddenly the day I thought was so silent and barren came alive. I heard ice falling like glass from the frozen trees, sent plummeting by the wind or squirrels or time. Dry, dead, autumn leaves scratched their way along the brittle snow. A far-off wood-pecker thudded hesitantly, curiously, at some solid tree.

There’s so much to be heard, if we’ll stop. If we’ll listen.

* * * * *

I wonder if there was a young man my age out walking on that night a few thousand years ago. Maybe he had some white beginning to show in his beard, and a few children sleeping, their mouths hanging open (because I’m sure children slept that way, even a few thousand years ago). Maybe a voice whispered, Stop, so he did. And maybe, in the silence of a dark night, he heard the first screaming of a newborn baby, shrill and fresh, emanating from the edge of the village.

What would I have done, if that would have been me? How long would I have stood in the darkness, in the silence, and listened?

There’s so much to be heard, if we’ll stop. If we’ll listen.

Seven Things This Protestant Likes About the Pope

6020860169As a Protestant, I don’t normally pay too much attention to what the Pope is up to. If I see a news story about him, I might click over and see what’s going on, but for the most part we travel in different circles. You know.

But I have to confess, Pope Francis is one guy who has my attention. Here are seven things I like about him:

1) He has decided not to move into the papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace, but to live in a suite in the Vatican guesthouse.

How refreshing to see a Christian leader who doesn’t use his position to build a personal empire of wealth (or a $1.7 million mansion). A leader who doesn’t have a designated parking space outside the church. How often do Christian leaders more closely resemble Charlie Brown’s little sister? You know, the one who says, “All I want is what I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share.”

Instead of taking all that he has coming to him, he lives in simpler quarters (I’m sure they’re still beautiful) among the people he works with. That’s refreshing. I like it.

2) Did you see the photo of the pope kissing the head of the disfigured man? What a powerful image, a challenging reminder that Christians are called to serve the weak and the poor, the broken and the neglected.

3) He seems very relaxed about his own importance.

When a little boy joined the Pope on stage while he was addressing thousands and thousands of people, and the Pope simply smiled, and patted the boy on the head, and let him sit in his big white chair while he continued speaking, well, it made me smile.

4) Simplicity.

What does the pope carry on to the plane with him when he travels? A razor, a prayer book, a diary and a book about St. Theresa. He carries his own bags because, “It’s normal, we have to be normal. We have to be accustomed to being normal.”

5) Sarah Palin is worried about him. Even those of you who aren’t fans of the Pope must admit that this means he must not be all bad.

6) He wants “pastoral” bishops, not ones motivated by ideology. I like the idea of encouraging leaders to become more in tune with the problems and tensions faced by their congregants. Too many pastors have become preachers, standing up once a week and delivering a message, yet having no real feel for what is going on in their church or in the lives of those they have been called to serve.

7) Finally, I find the general sense of humility that surrounds this new Pope endearing. In the words of Neal Wooten,

I think it is that character trait that endears me to Pope Francis the most: humility. That’s why we never see him in the million-dollar pope-mobile, but his car of choice is a donated 1984 Renault with 190,000 miles on it, or at times a Ford Focus, and at least once a little Fiat. He’s even expressed his concerns with priests owning new cars.

“It hurts me when I see a priest or a nun with the latest model car, you can’t do this. A car is necessary to do a lot of work, but please, choose a more humble one. If you like the fancy one, just think about how many children are dying of hunger in the world.” – Pope Francis

Do you have any thoughts about Pope Francis?

What I Learned About Waiting, Searching, and Finding Hope in the Wreckage

2182787850There’s a sense of longing in all of us, isn’t there? This undeniable yearning for something to be completed, something to be brought to fruition. We want to see the incomplete brought to a right finish, we want to see the hole filled in, the tragedy redeemed.

We want the story to end well, not just happy-go-lucky, but well. We want Julian of Norwich’s saying to become a reality in our lives:

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

But things happen in life. Small things that chip away at our foundation. Huge things that leave all of our structures flattened.

What do we do then, when the completion that we long for seems further away than ever? What do we do when hope feels like a tiny keepsake lost in the ruined expanse of a tornado-wrecked town?

Where do we begin searching among so much rubble? How can this thing called hope ever be found?

I’ve learned things throughout the years, after businesses that left me feeling like a failure, after miscarriages that spilled the life out of Maile and I. After hurts and betrayals and disappointments that still evade words.

One of the things I learned was that I have this instinct, when these painful things happen, to curl up inside of myself. And this is good, for a time. This is safe and quiet and healing. But there is also a time to let people back in. This weekend, at church, after everything that had happened, I was reminded how helpful it is to cry together, or to hug someone and let them cry on your shoulder. How healing it can be to listen and to simply say, “I’m so sorry.”

The other thing I’ve learned about this quest for hope is that we can rejoice in the waiting and the searching. Yes, we want to see the completion of all things, we want to see the resurrection and the redemption, and we will (please, God, we will), but there is space for joy in the in-between.

Advent teaches us this, that there is a kind of waiting that will bring fulfillment.

* * * * *

This is what I love about U2’s song, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” The lyrics speak of a longing, a pursuing, but there is also a sense of rejoicing in that not-yet.

Peace. Healing. Joy. Love. Forgiveness. We have yet to attain these things in perfection, but I hope that during this Advent season, we can all somehow rejoice in the things yet to be found.

Five Things You Shouldn’t Say After a Report of Sexual Abuse

176382627Ever since this thing happened in our community earlier this week, I’ve heard all kinds of comments. Well-meaning people end up saying really hurtful, harmful things. Things they would never say in the presence of someone who has experienced abuse or to the parent of the victim.

But abuse victims, and those directly affected by it, are everywhere. Since posting my last blog post, I’ve received numerous messages and emails from friends who experienced abuse as children. I had no idea.

I’m so sorry.

Here are five things we need to stop saying when it comes to sexual abuse:

1) “I always had a bad feeling about the abuser.” Yet armed with this amazing insight and miraculous prescience you did what? Oh. That’s right. NOTHING. Hindsight is 20/20 folks, and if you had a feeling the perpetrator was the kind of person who could abuse a child, and you said nothing, that’s not a mark of your discernment. That’s a lack of judgment.

(Disclaimer: you may say “I always had a bad feeling about that guy” if you are weeping because you didn’t express your concerns earlier. You may also say this if you actually reported your feelings to the appropriate authorities.)

2) “This is just a reminder to parents that we have to be constantly vigilant.” Say this to your spouse, if you want. Or to yourself in the mirror. But for the love of God, don’t say this publicly or post it on your Facebook page because THE CHILDREN OF COMPLETELY VIGILANT PARENTS CAN STILL BE ABUSED, and when you say things like this you make the parents of abused children feel even worse than they already do.

3) “I’m so glad that I did (such and such) in this particular case because it probably saved my children from being abused.” Same reply as number one. What you’re really doing here is patting yourself on the back for…saving yourself.

4) Another life destroyed. Not true. Yes, the effects of abuse are terrible. Yes, there are consequences all around. But to say that their life is destroyed? To say (as I’ve heard some say) that this is, “in some ways more difficult than death”? Get good counseling, not just for the individual but for the family. Talk about what happened. Come together as a community. But please don’t write this life off as destroyed.

5) I would kill someone if I found out they were abusing my child. This is such a common sentiment, and it’s one that I understand. I’m not arguing with your right to vigilante justice, but I will say this: be careful about who hears you making such rash vows. There was a case in Florida where a little boy kept an abusive relationship secret because his father often said “If anyone ever abuses you, I’ll kill them.” The little boy believed his father, didn’t want his father to go to jail, so he didn’t speak up. Think about the consequences of what you’re saying.

I understand why we say these things. I’ve said a number of them in the past…because I was trying to rationalize why this wasn’t going to happen to my family. I had a certain number of rules in place, and if I followed those rules then I could keep my children out of harm’s way.

Abusers don’t follow the rules. Sometimes children from really great families, with completely vigilant parents, end up in abusive situations.

If you truly want to help, if you want to do more harm than good, then there’s one rule in situations like these that, if you follow, you’ll never go wrong.

That rule?

Think before you speak. Would you say what you’re about to say to the agonized face of a parent who just found out their child had been abused? If the answer is no, the way forward is simple.

Stop talking.