Snarks and sharks

I am a self-confessed control freak.

I don’t want to take charge of other people. I just want to take of situations. I am such a people pleaser that I worry, worry, worry if I hurt anyone’s feelings.

That doesn’t sound like such a bad flaw, but really it is, especially for a writer. There is simply no way to please everyone. And everyone is a critic, both in a literary and a literal sense.

The experience of teaching has been a great teacher for me. I’ve never had any type of real discipline problem in my classroom. I have a quiet voice. I stand five feet tall, yet when I was younger, older adults who had never stepped into my classroom used to say, “Oh, I bet you have trouble keeping the kids in line.”

Their words fired me up. How dare they judge me without knowing me!

The first year I taught one of my students nominated me as “My Favorite Teacher.” A Channel 4 newsman surprised me with his camera crew, visited my classroom, and presented me with my award. I was on TV. Ms. Supa-stah Teachah.

Not.

I had to go through a season of my life when I learned I was not a superstar. Everyone didn’t love me.

There’s a quote by Natsuki Takaya that says, “Even the smallest of words can be the words to hurt you, or save you.” I learned the hard way that telling a teenager “no” can be dangerous to one’s self esteem.

The last year has been a struggle. I’ll never forget the week my mother was dying. I had two separate altercations with students, both simply because I told them “no”—not out of meanness but because I was doing what had to be done.

One might think my foes would have had more compassion, but they didn’t. I had to face a firing squad. Even when I tried to tell them I still cared about them, they responded with hatred.

It’s not like it was the first time I’ve had to deal with mean people.

Snarks and sharks. That’s what I call them.

Snarks are those people who serve up backhanded compliments and snide remarks. Sharks are those people who attack when their prey is weak.

I used to do a lot of ministry work, but I’ve learned snarks and sharks are everywhere, even churches. Once I took a group of junior high girls to Nashville for an overnight Bible study. A relative loaned us his old limousine—emphasis on OLD as in ratty and falling apart, and off we went.

The girls felt as though they were princesses on their way to a ball. (I didn’t tell them about the rat we found later in the trunk.) We stayed downtown in a hotel with inside doors, a first for most of them.

When we returned, a lady from our church compared us to “the streetwalkers on Second Avenue.” And all we did was eat in a restaurant, play a game of laser tag, and have a Bible study. (I will admit one of the girls entertained the crowd at the Melting Pot restaurant by doing a monkey walk in front of the restaurant window, but she wasn’t imitating a streetwalker. She was imitating a monkey. There is a difference.)

Why would someone say something so mean?

When my oldest son was born, he almost died from a prolapsed umbilical cord. I had to have emergency surgery, and he was completely blue at birth. The doctor told us to keep him at home for a month with limited visitors. Yet, the pastor of my church chastised me for missing. “God gave you that baby,” he said. “And he can take him away.”

How could someone be so callous?

I’ve often asked God, “Why do some people hurt us at our weakest moments? Why do some people kick us when all we want to do is be kind?”

The answer He gave me is really very easy. We can’t force another person to love us, and we can’t be forced to love anyone else. That’s why God gave us free will. Even though God loves us, He won’t force us to love Him.

Love isn’t love when it’s forced.

Love has to be given and accepted unconditionally. I know that if there is anything good in my life, anything that speaks of love, it is from God. God is love.

I’ve had limited success as a writer, mostly as a freelance journalist. If I had to give any advice to a beginner, I would say, “Toughen up. Not everyone is going to love what you write. You’ve got to learn your craft. Take the advice your mentors give to you in love, and shake off the criticism from the snarks and sharks.”

To be honest, if I do get published as a novelist, I will be overjoyed, but I won’t be overly surprised. You see, everything that I’ve ever prayed about and dedicated my heart to, God has given me. He gives us the desires of our heart because He puts them there.

I may not be writing for BMI, Rolling Stone, or any of the major music publications, but I get to write. I get to interview some of the most interesting people in the world. I couldn’t ask for anything more. A bigger paycheck couldn’t buy me any more happiness.

My goal as a writer for young adults is simple. I want my readers to believe that this author loves them and understands them, unconditionally, just as they are.

Maybe they’ll find a way to reciprocate that love and pay it forward, maybe even to a snark or a shark.

I was thinking Bob Marley

Okay, so it’s 2 a.m., and I’m still awake. Not tomorrow but the next day, I am expected to show up at my job at a “respectable” hour and resume my “normal” activities, and I suppose the powers that be will expect me to wear clothes. Not that I’m not wearing clothes right now. I do make a habit of wearing clothes. However, I suppose I will have to wear something somewhat professional. I’m not sure wearing shorts, flip flops and a Memphis tee is considered acceptable.

One of the reasons why I have been unable to sleep is because I HAD to finish the book The Heart’s Journey Home by Jen Stephens. If you’re looking for a great read with characters that you will welcome into your heart, then this is the book for you. The plot is well crafted with twists and turns that made me feel both angsty and satisfied.  I won’t give away too many details because I don’t want to spoil it for you, but let me whet your appetite.

Have you ever felt as though your faith has dwindled to almost nothing? Have you ever felt as though you are ABSOLUTELY SURE what God’s plan is for your life, only to discover that the plan you’ve been banking on isn’t God’s plan at all? Jen’s characters suffer these moments of doubt—and trust me, the book is built on a foundation of reality. If you aren’t already going through exactly what these characters are going through, you can probably relate to similar circumstances. What I really like about this book is the way the author gently weaves in Truth that speaks directly to the reader’s spirit. This book spoke to my spirit!

Being a rogue English teacher, I adore playing with words and literary elements. I like themes. I like quotes, and I like Biblical allusions. I have found that certain periods of my life rest on particular themes. The past few weeks I’ve been dealing with courage and stepping out in faith. Someone told me that if you don’t like your life, change it. So that’s what I’ve been doing, trying to overcome some fears and to improve my quality of living. In fact, I have done some pretty bold things in the past three weeks, things I would have never done during any other period of my life. (Trust me, all of these activities have a G rating. G as in God approved.) However, this week I have felt as though the plug has been pulled on all my enthusiasm. I’m not sure why.

I used to be a major American Idol fan. One of my all-time favorite “Idols” is Jason Castro. What can I say? His spirit and personality are so adorable. His dreadlocks are so adorable. And I personally really, really like his singing. During one performance, Jason apparently felt a surge of boldness and chose to sing an unconventional song, “I Shot the Sheriff” by Bob Marley. An indignant Simon Cowell blasted Jason on his choice of song. Speaking in his most pretentious voice, Simon asked Jason, “What were you thinking?”  Jason replied with his signature smile, “I was thinking Bob Marley.”

Good answer. Jason exercised his freedom to sing what he felt moved to sing. That’s how I’ve felt during the past few weeks. I’ve experienced the freedom to be myself. But looking back now at all the so-out-of character G-approved things I’ve done, I can only ask myself, “What were YOU thinking?” Honestly, I really was thinking Bob Marley.  The funny thing is I even have the tee shirt to prove it. On Saturday one of my newspaper students gave me a tie-dyed tee with the words “One Love” on the back.

One of the crazy, out of character things I’ve done recently is to write a book and start a blog and write about the book in the blog, not knowing what—if anything—will ever come about as the result of my efforts. I feel like Peter, who tried walking on the water. We know what happened to him. I can relate. Here’s the conversation I had with myself: “Dude, I think I want to write a book. I can write a book. I have faith. I’m just going to walk right on out there and write that book.” And I did! I went to Starbucks with my trusty laptop and settled into a corner, and with Bob Marley serenading me in the background, I wrote a book. Then I finished a book. And then I realized, “What am I going to do with this book?” I have no publishing house, no editor, no agent. And then, like Peter, I found myself standing out there on the water with no life jacket. Here’s a revelation. I can’t swim!

So I asked myself, “What were you thinking?”  I feel pretty sure that’s what Peter asked himself, but I don’t think his answer was “I was thinking Bob Marley.” But Pete and I share a similar problem in that both of us took our eyes off the source of our faith and ability—Jesus. There was NOTHING Peter could do to make himself stay upright. There’s nothing I can do to make this publishing dream float. This is a God thing. So there.

Have you taken a step of faith lately and are now asking yourself, “What were you thinking?”

I have a couple of suggestions that might help. One, find a copy of The Heart’s Journey Home. Read it. You may find answers woven within the pages. I did. Two, share your thoughts here. You may help others who are going through similar situations and you might reap some much needed prayer.

Passion with a side of guinea pig

Tomorrow marks the launch of the 2010-2011 Edge newspaper staff. We hold our first meeting. Whatever happens in that room tomorrow has the potential to set the tone for the rest of the year. I hope that the staff members who are able to make it to our first meeting will walk through the door with a passion, a drive, a fire to make this year the BEST, most adventurous year yet. Maybe you, whoever you are in this great big world, are just about to set out on your own personal journey. Your first step has the potential to set the tone for your entire journey and your destination. How will you begin?

I found a really cool quote, which is attributed to Howard Thurman. It goes like this:  “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive.  And then go and do that.  Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” 

What I’m saying is, it’s time we come ALIVE no matter what we’re doing. God wants our best, so let’s rev up and do it! I believe to become alive, you must be willing to stand as though on a mountaintop with the wind hitting you full force in the face, absorbing the splendor of God’s abounding blessings all around. Too often we would rather stay down in the valley rather than put forth the effort and take the risk to make it to the top. Without the push, the drive, the desire, we miss out on what’s waiting for us at the top. Of course, we have to remember, too, the joy is in the journey, not just the destination.

I want to start out our newspaper journey with a fun first day, so I’ve asked the Edgers to indulge me in a bit of “show and tell.” So far my students have told me they’ve considered bringing a rather odd assortment of items to show where they’ve been all summer: lava rocks from Hawaii, a roast pig, refrigerator boxes, Bob Marley, the vuvuzela and a guinea pig, to name a few.

Let me just say this. I can handle just about any of those items except for the vuvuzela. In case you don’t know, the vuvuzela is a stadium horn, the same horn that makes that horrendous sound at soccer matches, such as what sounded nonstop during the World Cup. Heaven help us all. I am so glad Gabriel will sound his trumpet and not his vuvezela. Otherwise, I may be too fearful to respond. Yes, the vuvuzela terrifies me. Oh, I think I know who invented the vuvuzela. Oh, who could it be? Could it be…?  (Young people will have no idea what I am referencing here. It is just as well.)

The oddest item suggested was the guinea pig. I have one major fear, that my staff will confuse the guinea pig with the roast pig. I must remember not to bring any skewers or apples. If someone happens to bring the vuvuzela, I’d say the chances are pretty good we will have a potentially fatal rodent incident in the classroom. Hopefully, PETA will intervene.

Tomorrow is a new day, a new journey. Whatever it takes to make you COME ALIVE, bring it. For me, it’s music. When I wrote The Edge, I listened to quite a bit of music I considered theme music for the characters—so that I could feel what they were feeling.  When I wanted to see what they saw, I visited haunted grounds and Beale Street to make the book’s settings come alive. I drank lots of peppermint mochas because one of the main characters really digs peppermint mochas (as do I). I didn’t want to settle for mediocre. I wanted to climb to the top and experience every last detail. I wanted to feel alive.

Tomorrow you journey forth on a new adventure.  COME ALIVE!

Let’s roll with it!

Having just finished my first YA novel, I’m chomping at the bit, ready to roll. I know I have to wait on God’s timing, but I have to admit I’m a little bit antsy. I have a hard time being still. (Yes, I can see a God message in this.) But what do you do when you’ve spent a year living with these characters, taking them everywhere you go and going to many of the places they visit in their own adventures?  I’m lonely. I’m ready to go on another adventure.

As I was doing preparation work for my novel, I found a great book by Sebastien Foucan, titled Free Running: The Urban Landscape Is Your Playground. The main character in my book is a free runner, or more accurately, a traceur, which, technically is not the same as free running but is close. Mr. Foucan taught me a great deal about TJ’s life and his attitude toward life.  I also learned serendipitiously a great deal about the Christian life–although this book by no means deals with Christianity or any other religion. It is a book about parkour, the art of moving through one’s environment as smoothly as possibily and overcoming whatever obstacles show up in one’s path–physical or mental.

I recommend this book if you’re needing encouragement even if parkour and free running are not for you. Here are a few tips that have inspired me.

1.  Don’t compete.  Do what we’re supposed to do without comparing ourselves to others.

2. Possession is illusion. The writer points out nothing on this planet is permanent. He says “don’t attach your happiness and success to a specific person or place.”  We have to continue on when these are gone. Wow. Christians, did you hear that? God is the true source of our joy–nothing else.

3. Be a participant, not a spectator.

4. Enjoy the journey.

5. There are risks everywhere.

TJ’s obsession with parkour has influenced my entire family. My younger son wants to do back flips off walls and to jump over everything. My older son says he would like to be a traceur. My husband recorded the MTV Ultimate Parkour. And what about me? I wanted to keep up with TJ, so I decided to try my own version of free running. I made it around the block and to the mailbox. Okay, maybe I’m not there yet, but I’m pushing toward a postitive attitude toward every mental obstacle I encounter. That counts for something, right?

 “Être fort pour être utile.”  That’s the traceur’s motto. You’ve got to be strong to be useful, especially to others.

Be strong everybody! ~ Ephesians 6:10