Sunday, May 26, 2013

Of Colors (and clothes and people and funerals and...)

I attended the funeral this past week of a lovely woman in our church who had lost the battle with cancer. It was a beautiful memorial service, lots of pictures of the woman with her family, and a poignant sermon on the Throne of Grace that was a central part of this woman's life.

As important as that is, I'm not going to get into that. One thing I noticed at this funeral (and at many other funerals I've attended) was the amount of black clothing worn by the family and friends who were left behind. I admit, when I was getting dressed to go to this funeral, I looked in my closet and started flipping through my darker stuff.

But as I pulled out my black dress, I thought about how thoroughly happy this woman is now, how pain-free, how unburdened from life's cares, how joyous, how radiant, how any-other-adjective-that-describes-perfect-bliss she is, and I thought, this should be a celebration!

I didn't go in a Mardi Gras costume. 

But I did choose spring colors - a robin's-egg-blue skirt and a white top, because spring (in my mind, anyway) is a symbol of new life, starting over, entering the pearly gates for the beginning of an eternity with Jesus. It symbolizes hope, freshness, life after a winter of deadness.

I doubt very much that when I walked in to the funeral and sat down on the bench, anyone in that service looked at my outfit and thought, oh, she's dressed herself in a manner symbolizing life. But the meaning was important to me.

So if you ever see me at a funeral, and I'm not wearing the classic blacks or grays, you'll know why. I'm in no way condemning those who choose to do so - it is, after all, a way of showing respect and support for the family of the deceased person - but in my own small way, I suppose I'm celebrating with the person who's finally gone home.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Perspective Shift

I admit, I doubt myself a lot. I feel inadequate the majority of the time. I compare myself to others way too often. 

I watch other stay-at-home moms who somehow manage to keep clean houses, raise well-adjusted children, sign those same children up for extra-curricular activities like dance, soccer, gymnastics, t-ball, etc, and even take on leadership roles in church and in community organizations. I admit to a tinge of jealousy now and then.

The dust-bunnies that line the walls of my house rarely get swept up. Cracker crumbs, Cheerios, toys and puzzle pieces continually jab me in the rear when I sit on our couch cushions. My kids are hardly ever without a ring of peanut butter or jelly around their mouths or crusted on their cheeks. None of our kids are signed up for the local community soccer league (though that's on our to-do list for the Fall).


I gain a sense of accomplishment every time I get a sticky-sweet kiss smeared across my cheek as my son pulls himself onto my lap. "I love you, Mommy, I love you," he lisps. When my daughter brings home artwork from school that says, "Jordyn lovs Mommy yur the best," and I insist on hanging it on the fridge front and center, I feel like I've done something right. When my toddler buries her head on my shoulder, just mine, no one else will do, and nuzzles my neck in sleepy contentment, I'm pretty sure there's still a few things I'm doing well.

I may not be the Martha Stewart of the stay-at-home-mom world, but my kids are well-loved. My home, while not the cleanest specimen of domestic art, is at least livable. I don't run from one organization to another, but I have a job I love using my imagination to spin a tale or two and God has blessed me with a wonderful publisher. I have a church I believe in and a husband who supports me and loves me for who I am, despite my many quirks.

I feel like George Bailey, who's just had a run-in with Clarence, the Angel Second Class. I do have a wonderful life.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones...

I was a senior in high school, nearing graduation, the day I went to take my Advanced Placement English exam. It was a bit like taking the SAT's in that the exam was held at a larger school in the center of town and you had to pre-register to take it. Good scores meant college credit.

The exam was unlike the SAT's in that it was composed mostly of essays instead of fill-in-the-bubbles-completely-with-a-number-2-lead-pencil sections.

I loved English. I loved fine writing and classic literature, specifically British literature. Jane Eyre was my favorite. I'd already read the book through four times by that point (in the fifteen years since graduation, I've multiplied that number by at least three), and had written essay after essay after essay on the underlying themes, the Byronic hero (Mr. Rochester), the Rochester/St. John/Jane love triangle, etc. 

I knew, or at least, I hoped that some of the essays in the AP exam would include a question or two about Jane Eyre. All in all, I felt fairly confident, not just about Jane Eyre, but also about most of the rest of the literature we'd studied that year.

The day of the exam, I was in my homeroom getting my stuff ready to go and discussing the exam with my English teacher. I slung my backpack over my shoulder and smiled at her. "Wish me luck," I said.

That dear lady swiveled in her chair to face me, hesitated, then said, "Tama, you're not a very good writer, you know." 

Before continuing on, let me say that I held my English teacher in the highest respect, that I'm sure she had reason to say what she did (because some of my earlier high school papers were pretty atrocious), and that I think she only said what she said so I wouldn't fly too high and crash too hard.

After the words were out of her mouth, though, at that moment, I was stunned. And hurt. I cried the whole way over to the exam. And what a distracted beginning. Instead of focusing on the questions listed on my sheet, I kept hearing the echo of her words in my head... "Tama, you're not a very good writer..." over and over and over again.

I tried to shake it off, to write like I knew I could write, and I did. I wrote some really good answers to some really difficult questions. And then for the final long essay, lo and behold, there was the question for which I had been hoping. Describe how Mr. Rochester is a Byronic hero. Oh boy. I wrote until my hand cramped and then I wrote some more. I finished the last sentence as the timer rang. I handed in my paper with a triumphant smile on my face.

Incidentally, when my results came back some weeks later, I had earned high enough scores to exempt me from at least one semester of English in college. No, I didn't win a four-year exemption. I don't even know if that was an option. But I was pretty pumped.

This story still has a bittersweet ring in my memory. On the bitter side, I still remember the crushing feeling I felt when my teacher said those words. I still remember the intonation and inflection of every syllable. I remember the anger that came after the hurt subsided. Why would she choose to tell me something that was only subjectively true (based on personal opinion) just before a writing exam? Talking about choosing your moments...

On the sweet side, that one little comment has perhaps inspired me more than many other comments I've received on my writing over the years. Perhaps it lit a fire under me, put fuel into my head when writer's block stared me in the face. Perhaps I wanted to prove her wrong because I had such a high opinion of her.

Fifteen years later, I've had multiple articles published in various magazines and newsletters. I have one book on the market, actually pulling in an income (a small one, but it is a first book), and another book set to release this summer. A third book sits on my laptop, gradually growing longer as I add to it day by day.

Those words from my teacher so long ago hover over me as I finish every paragraph and proofread it, urging me to be the best that I can be, to do the best work that I can do, to amuse, to entertain, to encourage, perhaps even to inspire some reader out there who stumbles across my work.

The one thing I learned from this whole situation: toss the bad, take the good. Sure, the timing of that comment wasn't the best, the wording perhaps not the choicest, but the flame it kindled in my writing career has been unequaled. 

Everybody needs a push now and then. So to my English teacher, if you're reading this, thanks. I owe you one. :)