Friday, January 29, 2016

A Writer's Gift

For me, an important part of being a writer is being a reader. Some authors have disturbed my emotions in a way that is painful. I envy them, and I pray that God has given me that gift.

I read, for the second time, GO SET A WATCHMAN by Harper Lee. I went in circles trying to fight the urge to say the phrase, “I felt her pain.” I stopped when it occurred to me that there were no better words.

My breath grew labored when Jean Louise feared the woman she loved almost like a mother might hate her. I was slammed with her shock as she believed she could no longer respect her father, the only man she’d ever really trusted. I hurt with her loss when she was sure she could never again look into the eyes of the man she thought she might marry. And I breathed easier, my shoulders eased with relief, as she began to slog her way out of the weight that pressed her; as she began to discover, and grow, and her world expanded.

In an as-yet unpublished Christmas romance by one of my critique friends, I want to cry for the heartbreak as the couple separates for what they think is the last time. It hurts, even though, I confess, I looked ahead and learned there will be a happy ending.

THE TWILIGHT OF COURAGE by Bodie and Brock Thoene. My stomach clenches during World War II in France. In an overwhelming tank battle, there is too much killing going on for me to allow myself to grieve. Grieve I do, however, as a strong American woman, who runs an orphanage in Paris, angrily drives off a group of watchers from a young mother who refuses to let go of her dead baby. The harsh American woman turns soft as she offers words of love to the mother, holds her in her strong arms, and accepts the baby as the mother finally lets him go.

As the remaining 14 children and three adults from the orphanage try to flea Paris, I believe their miracle as they rescue a ship which was stolen from two of the children. The same American lady, daughter of a California sailor, moves them safely away from the bombs.

I’m having a hard time breathing again as a ship rescuing soldiers before the Germans enter France weaves back and forth to try to miss falling bombs from aircraft. As they wait to be hit, sailors continue to rescue men from the sea, medics continue to attend wounded men on the deck, and a chaplain hugs a dying man and tells him the words of Jesus, “I am the resurrection and the life.”

Another not-yet published book by one of my critique partners talks about a fourteen-year-old girl and her new guardian. The child had been held captive and abused for years by a “trainer”. Her current guardian is forcing the girl to talk about her past. Though the writing is not graphic, and is handled delicately, it is so well done that I feel as if I want to throw up—I inwardly moan—as the young girl remembers.

In real life, I’m pretty crusty; it’s hard to bring me to tears. But these authors have made it happen. Do I want to hurt people who read my stories? In a way, yes. I want them to experience the world I create as close up and real.

I shamelessly ask God to give me this gift. I know that it takes hard work, and I believe I am willing to do that work. Yet I know it’s a gift.

Friday, January 22, 2016

A Super Friendly Haircut

My daughter Sarah and I went to get a haircut at our favorite salon the other day. Bonnie, the owner started the business when she was nineteen—we haven’t asked how long ago that was—and it’s grown and changed locations over the years.

We had a different operator this time than usual, Jenine instead of Rose. We had an appointment with Rose, but she couldn’t come in because of a migraine. Sarah will have to commiserate with her about that next time.

All of the operators are nice, and so are the people who sit around, having their hair done or waiting to. A lady who was waiting for her haircut the other day spoke to Sarah and me. She told me my hair had nice waves. She told Sarah that her hair was so fine, and she should never bleach or dye it. She said, “Girls are so quick to dye their hair, and it ruins it.”

The woman talked about her mother’s hair. “She had such pretty hair, down to her waist. We wanted to cut it but my Dad said no. He said he’d leave the house if we cut Mom’s hair. I said, ‘Oh, just a little,’ but he said no.” She said her Mom could work so well with her hair, putting it into a bun or braid, and then she had to find a hat that would go over it. “She always found one somehow. But I would see how the British Queen Mother had so many hats and I thought, ‘Could I just have one of them, for my mother?’”

My husband Murray sat in another room waiting for us, and he talked with a lady who is a special education teacher. She talked about her students and school, explaining how things have changed. Demands on her have increased, demands on the students have increased, opportunities for experiences have decreased,  and nobody is happy about it.  Murray is good at getting people to tell their stories.

There’s a young lady there, a kind of assistant. She comes by to offer coffee, tea, and snacks. Sometimes she’ll offer to squeeze a little hand cream on for you. “It smells really nice.”

Every time we come, the ladies who work there ask about Rebecca, my older daughter. She used to go there with us. Rebecca came with me right before she moved to Iowa and said, “This may be the last time you get to pay for a haircut for me.”

Rose, who cuts our hair most of the time, has a little girl, maybe in kindergarten or first grade. We’ve been going there long enough that the girls remember when she was pregnant. I remember when her daughter was a tiny baby, and she had her there one day. Murray asked if I wanted to see the baby, and when I got close to her, she screamed. Earlier this fall, Rose’s daughter was there one day after school, hanging out while her mom was working. I remember while I sat and waited for Sarah to get her hair cut, the little girl sat right beside me, and she fell asleep and leaned her head against my shoulder.

The staff and customers are friends, discussing their plans and families. “Is your husband feeling better?” “How has work been?”

One of the operators, a graduate of Lakewood High School, has mentioned Murray more than once when he wasn’t with us, remembering when he came by when he was growing his hair long for a wig. She laughed and said, “He says, ‘I’m like Jesus. He had long hair.’”.

During the summer Bonnie always has Indians’ baseball games playing on the radio. Murray said she told him five or six years ago when the economy was so bad that there would be no lay-offs at the salon. “We’ll all just sink or swim together.”

Thursday, January 7, 2016

It's A New Day!

My son Caleb has a golden retriever dog guide, Esther. She’s ten years old, and I say that she is semi-retired, but Esther knows she is still a puppy.

Every morning she jumps down the stairs, spins around the living room, and says, “It’s a new day! Let’s have fun.”

I love her. She makes me smile. And she is a reminder to me from God of new hope. Esther is well into middle age, for a dog, just like I am. But her days are full of energy and love and new chances for happiness.

For Esther, every meal is a fresh delight, even though it is the same old dog food. She finds a toy she hasn’t seen for months, and it’s exciting. She comes to us snuffing and licking and wagging her joy with us like new friends.

Every meal, even after eight and a half years, she still waits with hope under the table, just in case we change our minds and feed her. She meets visitors at the door with gifts of a toy or a shoe. One of our favorite games as a family is looking all over the house for where Esther hid one out of a pair of shoes. Okay, maybe that is only a favorite game for Esther.

When Esther is not working, she is a family dog, and she loves us all. Mmm, let me just say—she knows who in the house is not a dog lover, and she leaves them alone. Caleb is still her favorite, and she is especially excited when he gets home and meets him at the door with much moaning of happiness.

The other morning when Esther jumped down the stairs, God reminded me that just because I’m almost fifty-five and a stay-at-home lady, life can still be new and full of hope and possibility. For years, Caleb and Esther have worked as a team, and Caleb travels throughout the city and the country. She is a gift from God for him. But at ten and a half, she’s a new gift from God for me.