Thursday, October 30, 2008

Friday Fiction: The Year of the Hoods

Here's my contribution to Friday Fiction this week. For more great fiction, go to Lynda Schab's On the Write Track .

The Year of the Hoods

Just the light from the bus driver’s radio lit the front door area as I climbed the steps of the school bus. Jerry kept CKLW cranked up loud as long the kids maintained a semblance of control. Jefferson Airplane wailed out the questions, “Don’t you want somebody to love? Don’t you need somebody to love…”

The only seat on the bus that was EVER available by the time it got to me was at the back. The good kids, the ace students, and the jocks never dared sit there. The back was Hood area. My face blushed crimson when the hooting and teasing started as I approached.

“C’mon and take your seat, Little Girl.”

I pulled my coat close and sat down next to Vincent. He grinned and proceeded to pass a joint to his friend in the seat ahead. I tried not to look, but Vincent saw my eyes widen and he chuckled.

“Little Miss, they’re gonna think you’re just like me if you keep on sittin’ here.” His smile was genuine and a little flirty, but I kept my head down and shrugged.

“Vince, throw me that straw on the floor there.” yelled Mike. Vincent threw it to him and watched as Mike pulled a pack of needles from his jacket pocket. He made spit wads and poked each one with a needle before placing it in the straw. Then the torment began. He hit a jock first, right in the back of his head.

“Ouch! Who did that?” The jock’s face grew red with anger, but he turned back around when he heard the jeers from the Hoods.

One after another, Mike picked out his targets and inflicted his own little sting of humility. I felt the sorriest for the computer geek who sat just a couple of seats in front of the Hoods. His ears burned bright red as he pulled his jacket over his neck to protect himself. The taunting increased and was aimed singularly at him.

I felt anger rise in me and I dared to flash a look of disgust at Vincent. He stared back calmly, but with a hint of surprise at my attitude. He leaned close and when he whispered, his breath blew a warm puff on my cheek.

“He’s a nerd. Nerds have to learn to take it, Girlie.”

“I don’t care. It’s mean.” I whispered back. “Why can’t you make Mike leave him alone?” It was the first and only real conversation I ever had with Vincent, and I could see he was shocked. I thought he might soften. I saw a little hesitation as he glanced at the poor kid being tortured by his buddies, but then he laughed.

“Hey, Nerdie! Little Girlie’s feelin’ sorry for ya!” he yelled. The Hoods increased their sarcasm and teasing until the noise level crowded out the music. Jerry immediately turned the radio down and met the eyes of the Hoods in his rearview mirror.

“Cut it out, Dudes, or the radio stays off! If I see anything else going on back there, I’m taking names. You got that, Vincent? Keep that pack of yours under control!”

“Yessir, Mr. Bus-Driver-Man,” Vincent stood up and saluted. The Hoods laughed, but the torture ceased, at least for that morning.

I rode the bus with the Hoods that school year. Vincent never tried talking to me again, but sometimes, he’d catch my eye, shake his head and give a little smile. I put Vincent down on my prayer list, his name written neatly on the front flap of my “The Way” Bible.

Summer came and I often saw Vincent walking the streets near my house. If he spied me, he’d call out with a huge wave of his arm, “How ya doin’, Girlie?” I heard rumors that he’d joined a gang. My prayers for Vincent increased.

One day, just before school started again, the newspaper told a horrible story. Vincent was gunned down as he walked the streets; a tragic case of mistaken identity. I felt sick. In my head was the image of Vincent, with his wide grin and exuberant wave.

The first day of school, I got on the bus and everything was the same, only it wasn’t. I made my way to the back and took my seat alone. The Hoods were gone. Only one remained, and he wasn’t inclined to torture. The computer geek, Roger, turned around and gave me a smile, but I felt incredibly sad.

Snow! (A Little)

The first snowfall of the year is always an exciting event, even though I often dread the coming of winter. In our town, flurries floated through the air yesterday, but it was not something that could be called an "official" snowfall. None-the-less, it made me feel a bit of the up-coming holiday excitement. I could easily imagine Thanksgiving day just around the corner, and the tiny flakes even prompted me to start thinking about preparing a menu.

Shopping for Christmas also came to mind, and the fun things my family and I get to do because we take some days off in December for Christmas break.

All in all, that first sighting of snow flurries is a welcome thing. Just don't ask about snow in March. By that time, the excitement of white is LONG over, and the itch to see green grass, colorful flowers, and sunshine is hard to ignore.

When the first official snowfall comes to town, I'll be excited and happy that it brings good times, happy memories, and blessed moments with least until December 26th.

Friday, October 24, 2008


Here's some questions for you: should an under-aged teen have the right to leave home? How about if there is abuse in the home, but it's not substantiated? What if the teen is living in an Old Order Amish home, and is running away because the rules are too strict? But what if the teen is running because he/she has become a born-again Christian, and now the church and family are not happy with the teen and wants the new faith squelched?

These are some questions that have been in my mind lately as I study and prepare to write my NaNo project. My novel will be about a teen who wants to leave the Amish because she becomes a Christian and her family wants her to renounce this kind of faith. It's easy to decide what kinds of circumstances in a book to put your main character into. But when it comes to real life, the circumstances, and the realities of those circumstances, are often colored in gray, and there are rarely sharp coloring book lines to delineate the clear picture.

I've been made aware of some of these exact circumstances in the last few weeks, and it often has the effect of a conundrum--it's puzzling! I find myself going back and forth between what I used to think, what I think in regards to certain circumstances, and what I think others will think.

As a parent, I can fully understand the motivation of Amish parents who, uncharacteristically, bring the full weight of the law down on the heads of their wandering teen. But I can also see the pain in that teen's eyes as she recounts the oppression and the frustration of not being able to live under Grace. On the other hand, if my son ran away, it would break my heart, and cause me to worry endlessly--enough to guarantee that I'd call the sheriff to have him returned home to me. But then again, I hear stories about strict punishments, shunning, and kids being sent to mental institutions as a means to control them, and my heart recognizes how unbearable that would be for anyone. I just can't seem to stay on one side of the fence!

These questions have been making my head hurt and my heart cry out to the Lord: "Why does it have to be this way?" And it all comes down to SIN; the same reason all of us do things to cause hurt and pain to each other and to God. Pride. Rebellion. Fear. Lust. Retribution. Foolishness. Bitterness. Lying. Self-Righteousness. Disobedience.

These sins, that are so prevalent within our fallen human souls, lead the Amish to the same destructive behaviors as the rest of us. Just because they are quaint does not make them immune...just because they live a simple life does not make them immune...and just because they profess a Christian faith does not make them immune to the effects of the sinful nature of man.

Paul said:

"We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate, I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.

For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law;but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?"
Romans 7:14-24

Paul very vividly describes the conundrums of life in those verses. So what can we do with this sin and our bodies of death? Paul answers his own question:

"Thanks be to God–-through Jesus Christ our Lord!" Romans 7:25

The good news is that no matter how many times we fail because our sinful natures just can't seem to get it right, there is a loving Savior who welcomes us, sin and all, and by accepting His grace, and His sacrifice to cover our dreadful sins, we can be rescued from our bodies of death!

This doesn't mean that the conundrums of life will be put straight. We're not capable of always doing what is good and right by each other, but when we do fail, we can go to the throne and ask forgiveness, pray for wisdom, and trust the Lord that He'll give us direction to figure things out.

In the meantime, I suspect that I'll keep struggling with these puzzling scenarios and asking God to help me understand. But first and foremost, I need to remember to be praying for these dear people: Amish parents and their wandering teens.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Mission To Amish People

To help my friend, Patty Wysong, celebrate her forthcoming 40th birthday, I'm writing my blog about missions. Missions has been an important factor in Patty's life and she wants to honor that by having her friends blog about either mission stories they've read, or about missionaries they've met. I have met two wonderful missionaries recently and I'd like to tell their story.

Mission to Amish People (MAP) was started by Joe and Esther Keim. Both of them were born into the Old-Order Amish religion in Northern Ohio. Through the mercy and grace of the Lord, they each received the gift of life given to them by the death and resurrection of Christ. Once they became alive in the spirit and mercy of the Lord, they found that their strict Amish family and church were no longer accepting of them or their new-found faith. After much praying, and back and forth pondering about how to proceed, they decided to leave their families and their Amish faith to pursue the liberty and freedom of knowing Jesus...following His plan...learning of Him anew, and finding joy in living without the stricture of the Ordnung.

This decision cost them their relationships with their families and with all they knew before. They entered the world of the English and, through the help of people who had been called by the Lord to be there for them, they got on their feet, established a loving home, and proceeded to move forward in their new faith. But as Joe shared today in his sermon, the pull of those he left behind...the knowledge that his family and Esther's did not know the same grace they did...and the call of the Lord to be a mission to the Amish, kept creeping into Joe and Esther's hearts. Finally, with counsel from their pastor, they decided to enter the mission field.

This mission field has familiar American attributes to it: rolling farms and traditional family structures; wholesome and healthy foods nurturing hard-working and peace-loving men, women, and children; and quaint old-fashioned communities working together to get through life. But the strict religious adherence to the Ordnung also makes this mission field as foreign to most Americans as any hinterland found on exotic continents far from U.S. shores.

Entering the mission field to the Amish is at once difficult and easy. There's a facade of friendly and cheerful naivete that sharply juxtapositions with a shadowy, distrustful distance of things and people of the English world. Who better to bring the gospel to this self-imposed exiled community than those who have once been so much a part of this religion? Seems God knew what He was doing when he placed this calling on Joe and Esther's hearts many years ago.

They have been a refuge for others who have made the same difficult decision to leave their homes and families. Joe and Esther have been instrumental in setting in motion ways to mentor, aid, and spiritually guide these ex-Amish into the modern and often confusing world of the English. But that is not what burdens their hearts the most. No. In everything they do, and in everything they say, there is a never-ending desire to bring their people to the same altar of grace and love that they found so many years ago at the the feet of their Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.

They are infected with the virus of their mission from which they seek no cure, and the power of their calling causes them to be poured out, like their brother Paul, as a drink offering to the Amish who so desperately need the light and grace of the Lord.

Each moment I spend with them, I realize more and more that their calling to the Amish mission field is a life-long and hope-filled service. They have been instrumental in showing the love and grace of Christ to many. Their ministry gives God's life-saving Word to countless Amish, and their dedication and heart cries keep them going before the Throne...holding up their Amish neighbors to the Mercy seat...bringing light and salt to an often dark and rule-bound community.

When the Lord placed His call of mission to the Amish people in Joe and Esther Keim's hearts, He surely knew that He had chosen servants with unending zeal and love. Their dedication and perseverance are inspirational to many. If you'd like to learn more about their ministry, please go to Mission to Amish People. Their website is packed with information about the Amish as well as ministry opportunities, testimonies of ex-Amish, and ways to help them continue their God-called mission to the Amish.

May God continue to bless Esther and Joe Keim's efforts to further His kingdom among the Amish.

2 Timothy 4:1-7:
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge:Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day–and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Friday Fiction Host

Today is Friday Fiction! Join us by adding your name to Mr. Linky at the end of this post. Be sure to read and comment on the other great stories.

I posted my story especially for this election season. No matter who our next president is, it's good to be reminded that they have a family, and sometimes, their family pays a price. Let's remember to keep our next president, and his family, in our prayers.

National Daddy

“You little stinker…come out from behind that bookcase!”

“Gotta catch me, Daddy! Gotta catch me first!”

I grin and drop the envelope I’m attempting to open onto the cluttered desktop. My daughter’s hair flies into her eyes as she peeks back and forth at me. When I stand up, she shrieks and makes a dash for the door to the bathroom just off the office.

I run to catch her up in my arms, and her laughter and giggles send my heart soaring like nothing else ever has. Her blond hair is soft and wispy about her face, and the freckles on her cheeks make me ache with wonder.

“Daddy, I want to eat lunch with you today. Please? Please?”

She folds her hands into begging bundles, the knuckles blanching white with her pleading. Her tone and strident voice tell me she already knows what my answer will be. My heart sinks and my throat closes around the knot forming there. I pull her delicate face to my whiskery one and tickle her cheek softly. She giggles again and the scent of her innocent childhood fills my senses.

She leans back in my arms, her trust in my strength to hold her tightly evident in how far she leans out over air. She locks my eyes with her own. The pleading softens into a tender longing as I return her gaze.

“Daddy? When can we go on vacation? Can we go tomorrow? Tomorrow or the next day?”

“Well, I’d love to go tomorrow…I’d love to go the next day…but-” I shrug.

“You can’t. Right?” she pouts.

She folds her arms into a defiant pose and shuns my effort to kiss her cheek by turning her head back and forth against my lips. I change her disappointment in me into a game as she starts to giggle against my scratchy chin. Finally, she stops and holds my face between her small hands, her frail fingers mastering my strength.

“OK, Daddy,” and the defeat in her eyes brings me to the point of calling the whole trip off. I set her gently on the rug at my feet and turn to pick up the phone on my desk. My resolve falters as I think of how many people have worked so hard to plan this thing…how many I would disappoint if I decided not to go at the last minute.

My little girl’s attention has been caught by a ray of sun, which is filtering through the blinds at the window. I watch her chase dust motes in the light, and her sweet little body feels like it is turning about in the glittering dust by inches. I can see each and every tiny movement as though I’m watching her on a slow motion film. I smile as I remember the day she was born, and I marvel at how much she’s grown in six short years. The memories of her many kisses, her silly jokes, the hugs she’s bestowed on me at random moments play through my mind.

I smile as I bless her presence in my life.

A knock at the door interrupts my sentimental thoughts.

“Come in,” I call distractedly. My daughter glides on in her pool of light, oblivious to the world’s annoying intrusion.

“The helicopter is ready, Mr. President. Mrs. Kennedy is on her way down.”

“Thank you. I’ll be right there.”

I turn to my daughter, and she catches my gaze as she spins one last time.

“Come give me a hug, Caroline. It’s time for Daddy to go.”

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Beautiful Day!

Here in Ohio, the fall days are usually gray-ish and cold. The wind blows and more leaves scatter, and we know without a shadow of a doubt that winter is on its way. But today, the sun is shining, it's 78 degrees, and we feel like we're getting a reprieve from fall and winter.

We grilled out, lazed around on the porch swing, and generally had a lovely summer day. These kinds of blessings are the ones we often overlook when we think of how our Heavenly Father shows us His love. So today, I just want to recognize His blessings, and say thanks, Father, for a beautiful summer day in October!

Deuteronomy 28:3-8:

If you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God:

*You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country.
*The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.
*Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed.
*You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.

The LORD will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven.

The LORD will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to. The LORD your God will bless you in the land he is giving you.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Writing Meme

Here’s something I found on Dara's Blog and she found it on Pterodaustro Dreams' blog! As she wrote in her introduction, feel free to copy and use this on your own blog.

Do you write fiction or non-fiction? Or both?

I have written non-fiction, but I prefer to write fiction. Much more compatible with my weird imagination.

Do you keep a journal or a writing notebook?

Nah. I've started a few, but I usually end up losing them or not being interested in my original idea after all.

If you write fiction, do you know your characters’ goals, motivations, and conflicts before you start writing or is that something else you discover only after you start writing?

Until this attempt at NaNoWriMo, I only had a vague idea of where I was going with a story. This time around in NaNo, I have a full outline and it's exciting for me to contemplate the writing process in November. I like knowing where my story is going to end up this time.

Are you a procrastinator or does the itch to write keep at you until you sit down and work?

I have to write when the mood strikes and sometimes, that isn't until my mind is clear at the end of the day...the house is quiet and I can delve into my imaginary world.

Do you write in short bursts of creative energy, or can you sit down and write for hours at a time?

Depends. Many times I can write straight through the night until I'm finished, if it's a short project. Longer projects I can write until I hit a wall of exhaustion or am just plain stumped at where the story should go next.

Are you a morning or afternoon writer?

Late night! Late, late, late. Hmmm...way into the wee hours of the morning, so I guess I AM a morning writer.

Do you write with music/the noise of children/in a cafe or other public setting, or do you need complete silence to concentrate?

I can write with noise, but prefer not to. I absolutely can't write with any music going on because I can't ignore music. It is NEVER background noise to me. Music makes me listen to it, no matter what I'm doing. I love it that much.

Computer or longhand? (or typewriter?)

Oh, if I lost my laptop, I'd shrivel up and die. Does that answer the question?

Do you know the ending before you type Chapter One? Or do you let the story evolve as you write?

As I said before, I'm enjoying having an outline to fully guide where I'm headed with my latest book project, The Miting.

Does what’s selling in the market influence how and what you write?

No...I tried writing happy Amish stories because they're popular. I can write them, but I like telling the truth about any subject, and since I write from emotion, if a story is happy all the way through, it doesn't seem authentic to me.

Editing/Revision - love it or hate it?

I love having my stuff edited! It feels new and clean and crisp when it gets edited, and I don't mind having to do the revisions because the end result is so worth it to me. I'm an editor's best friend. Bring on the red pen!

Thanks again to Pterodaustro Dreams for posting this!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Friday Fiction: Neon Pink-Tipped Toes

Today's Friday Fiction is being hosted by
Betsy at Just Another Clay Pot. Here's my fluffy contribution; a reminder of those hot summer days just passed.

Neon Pink-Tipped Toes

“Say bye-bye to Mommy,” my husband prompts Baby Lisa.

“Bye-bye, Baby-doll,” I grab my toddler’s chubby fist and leave a loud kiss, one that tickles her, and she giggles. She waves her little hand happily in my face and I laugh.

“Be good for Daddy,” I call as they drive away. The house feels quiet and empty, but I’m so excited to be alone for the first time in days, I hardly notice. I run down the hallway, doing a Tom Cruise slide as I enter the bathroom. I can’t wait to get into my new swimsuit and climb into the pool. Alone!

What a nice word…a lovely word… I coo to myself as I pull the new suit out of my drawer. I give it a shake and smile at the flounced skirt that covers the bottom. The catalog called it “sexy,” but I call it “camouflage”.

I throw off my jammies and begin pulling the suit over my body. The suit smashes my tummy flat in my final tug, and I instantly feel more glamorous and slim. I face the mirror, and the wind swooshes out of my sails. Ugh.

My body looks svelte and trim where the suit is covering it, but my legs, hips, and thighs look like they belong to my grandmother! Varicose veins are peeking through the pasty white skin on my legs, and there’s definitely a cottage-cheese factory working under the skin of my thighs. Then my eyes travel up to my arms, and I gasp at the extra flesh being pushed out of the straps and around the suit under my arms. I look like that marshmallowy thing that sells tires, rolls of flesh poufing out from under the suit in every direction. Oh, bad!

I lean forward over my tummy and look down at my cheerful neon pink-tipped toes. I painted those toes, painstakingly, last night in anticipation of this moment, and nothing is going to stop me from enjoying my two hours alone in the pool.

I trot to the kitchen and pick up the basket I had packed earlier. Inside are tucked girlie necessities: chocolate and a phone. One last thing to check and I’ll be on my way to mommy nirvana.

I carefully move the kitchen curtains aside and scan the backyards of both neighbors.

Good, good, good…no one’s out this early…Yay!

I do a wiggle dance on the slippery floor and laugh out loud that my day is working just as I planned…well, except for the swimsuit…but…shake it off, Lady, and get out there!

“You go, Girl…you go, Girl” I chant as I cha-cha out the door to my backyard.

I arrange my basket close to the pool’s side and glance one more time at the adjacent yards before I begin the climb up the pool ladder.

The only thing I hate about our above-ground pool is this climb. It exposes my backside to anyone who is watching, so I try to slip hurriedly into the water before anyone catches a glimpse.

Ahhh…the water is nice and warm…the sun is sparkling on the surface, and my body melts into the vinyl, floating chair like I’m made of butter. I smile as I pick up the phone.

While I enjoy my long, uninterrupted chat, the neighbor’s yard begins to fill with people. The family on the left is having a huge barbecue, but I float on in oblivion.

Suddenly, a splat shakes the water, and laughing teens, trying to reach their volleyball, surround the pool. Crowds of adults in my neighbor’s yard are watching, and my neighbor raises his glass of lemonade to me in greeting. Oh no! I smile and wave.

“Having a nice float?” he calls.

“Uh…yeah…” I stammer. The kids get the ball and head back to their game.

My day is ruined. Now I’ll have to clamber out of this thing in full view of the neighbors and their guests, and I forgot my robe. Rats! Instead, I decide to stay in and keep low. Maybe the party will end soon.

My husband finds me in the pool, wrinkled as a raisin, and waterlogged, when they return two hours later. I tersely instruct him to get my robe, and he watches, amused, as I slog my way to the house, my pink toes mocking me brightly with each step.

My neighbor calls out, “Have a nice day, Liz!”

“You, too,” I mumble, red-faced and grouchy. Next time, I’m going to a spa.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A Soft Spot for God

I read a discussion recently in which Christians were describing how the kind of parents they had as children influenced their view of God. In all honesty, I can't remember a day when I didn't have a soft spot for God; and moreover, I don't remember not knowing that He had a soft spot for me. My view of the Lord has always been one of love. But, the funny thing is, I don't think I've ever felt it was the kind of love that I've known from my fellow humans. Even as a youngster, I knew His love was special in His acknowledgment and care for me.

I used to be afraid of the dark. One of the ways I could get myself to relax and rest was to pretend I was lying back into the strong arms of God. I would fluff up my pillow as high as it would go, start talking to God, and let myself fall back into the softness of the pillow, all the while imagining that He was catching me and holding me close.

When I read this...

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
where does my help come from?

My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;

indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD watches over you—
the LORD is your shade at your right hand;

the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The LORD will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;

the LORD will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore. (Psalms 121) heart is at rest.

"Thank you, Lord, for keeping me close to You. Thank you for always letting me feel Your love. Thank You for giving me peace and rest and hope in You. Thank you for giving me a soft spot in my heart for You ...and You a soft spot in Your heart for me."