Archive for September, 2012

One of my friends emailed me about this asking my opinion. I know I’ve discussed here before and opined elsewhere. But I figure it’s not a bad idea to have a reference sheet handy. So I’m repeating what I told her. Keep in mind, of course, that I’ve only been a Christian Wife for 21 years. There were a few months there where I didn’t do the best job at it, too. So take that for what it’s worth.

My basic opinion is that the marital relationship requires women to submit to men. But it requires those men to love their wives as Christ loves the church. (those exhortations are found in the same passage.) The vows we say attempt to cover this. Better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness or health. Worse, poorer and sickness all happen to all of us.

If men are Biblically exhorted to love their wives unconditionally, wives do _the husbands a grave disservice_ when they assume that the love is only owed to them if they are thin, pretty, impeccably groomed. No man is worthy of your submission if he is not able to love you in that unconditional manner.

For you to submit is for you to bring to a man your greatest gift. Not your sexuality, but the whole of you. Your mind, your heart, your ideas. Just as you would not pray to idols (“Oh, here’s a god. I better get to worshipping!”) you do not submit to every man or just any man. Submission is an intimacy reserved for marriage.

Out of respect for yourself and consideration for your partner you always do the best you can with your actions and your appearance. But there will be days in this humanity when “best you can” looks remarkably like “what the cat drug in”. That is OK. You’re allowed to be sick on occasion, tired on occasion. Besides, marriage isn’t about “aren’t I lucky to have caught a man?! How can I keep him?”. It’s about binding in partnership with another Christian so that you are iron sharpening iron, lifting one another up. Starting a Christian marriage should be treated the same way as starting a church plant or a missionary service. The benefits are necessary to allow you both to accomplish the hard works.

I’m endlessly angry when women talk about how bad it is for them to put on weight/go without makeup. That’s like sitting around fretting over what colour the mints should be at the visitor welcome table on Sunday. It’s not the major detail you should be concerned about.

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Yesterday, as you may have heard, The Casual Vacancy was released. It’s the new book by J.K. Rowling aka “The Harry Potter Lady”. I wrote about my own experiences with it both here and at GoodReads.

The reviews for the book–mostly negative, but a few positive–were uniform in one aspect. Each and every review I’ve seen mentions the graphic nature of the book. (Tangent Alert: They all say this is an “Adult” book. Can we agree right now that we should stop using “Adult” and start using “explicit”? Because “Adult” should not mean “comfortable with abusive sex including pedophila, drug abuse, lying and cruelty.” Those things are not “Adult”. If anything they are a malignant immaturity.) Several reviews printed lines outright, including long, graphic depictions of pornography as seen through the eyes of teenage boys. Apparently they’re teenage boys with a medical degree because Rowling uses the word Vulva. Now we all know I’m a fan of the word vulva but if you’re writing about the world seen through the eyes of teenage boys they aren’t going to be all Medline Diagram about the thing. File this under “complaints about the writing”.

Those select parents with whom I’m angry–aren’t I supposed to be talking about The Parents? And why I hate them? Okay, here we go. If you typed Casual Vacancy into Google yesterday–Two Words–in thirty seconds or less you would have seen at least ten reviews all of which talk about the “Adult” nature of the book. When I went to GoodReads late last night to weigh the opinions of non-pro reviewers I was hit in the face with LiveJournal-style fandom juvenalia. This is the world of children hyperstimulated by visuals, who can’t express themselves in words and must use a surfeit of obnoxiously annoying moving GIFs to display their feelings. I saw thousands–literally thousands–of uses of the word “SQUEEE!” and pictures of people, cats and Disney Characters emoting wildly.

There are a lot of children excited about this book. A lot of children who still think it’s a cozy mystery a la Miss Marple. There were also a lot of children who openly admitted that their parents bought them the book without vetting it.

I will be open here. My parents let me read anything I wanted. Anything. There was not a single thing that was forbidden to read in my house, although my mother was not happy with Helter Skelter or The Shining. I read Hitler: A Study In Tyranny when I was eight years old. (It was the only book on our camping trip I hadn’t read three times.) I’m in favour of kids reading anything they want.

But I’m also very much in favour of knowing what they want. If I had asked for this book my mother would have asked me what it was about, but she would have also asked other adults. She wouldn’t ask to forbid me, but to know what I was reading. But apparently many of the parents that are raising our next generation are so disengaged from their children that they have no idea they’re handing over a five-hundred page political satire full of pedophilia, drug addiction and adulterous sex.

Every one of the problems Rowling addresses are real things that we all need to be aware of. As a Christ follower I firmly believe we need to have awareness of the enemy’s world so that we know exactly how to fight. But I don’t think the twelve-year-olds who are obviously subliterate to begin with, so unable to handle words that they use pictographs to express themselves, are in the place where this book will do anything but leave them with darkness in their mind and a true disappointment with reading altogether.

Parents, stop checking out of your kids’ lives. Quit trying to buy them off with gadgets and amusements. Talk to them. Teach them the value of words, the value of listening. Last night I saw a bunch of kids who seemed to have been raised in a world where they are never listened to fully and must express themselves in a stream of inane babble and moving pictures.

You have wasted your precious gifts, and I can’t pretend I’m not angry about it.

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Those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it, and while it may not be the Battle Of Hastings I do remember Howard The Duck. From 1980 to 1983 I worshipped George Lucas as a sort of combination of Sage and Mage. He was all wonderment and infallible prophet of mythopoetry. Many an allowance of my ten-to-thirteen year old self was spent on magazines and photocopies of articles at the Library. I read The Making Of Raiders cover to cover at least five dozen times and actually had the library police come to our house to demand the return of the long loooong overdue copy of Skywalking: The Life And Films Of George Lucas. So when he came out with a movie after Star Wars [temporarily] done it was like being told that St. Paul had written another epistle.

That movie was Howard The Duck. A few other false starts later, Lucas retreated into the world of Star Wars, which he now pimps out the way any old dirty man lives off the whoring of the stale beauty of his badly-aging, overly-made-up daughter. (My opinions are not being softened by the recent arrival of a Star Wars Pumpkin Carving Set.)

Today my pre-ordered copy of Howard The Duck The Casual Vacancy showed up in my Kindle and I set to reading it, as any true fan of JK Rowling would. Well, any true fan who didn’t have a job to go to or kids to feed or that sort of adult obligation. I made it through the first “day”, which is actually the book’s prologue, until the tiny print and overall frustration led me to return the book. I may get it from the library some day, but I seriously doubt it.

The Epilogue of Harry Potter is “Nineteen Years Later”, and the Casual Vacancy opens with the death of a man on his nineteenth anniversary. I don’t think this is coincidence. I think Rowling is telling us that this death ballad–and Harry Potter is among the greatest of death ballads–was going to be different. It’s going to be adult in the grimmer way. Barry–the dead fellow (“Barry=Big Harry?”) lies dead in a pool of his own vomit. Mary, his widow, crouches disheveled and weeping over the corpse. I’m given to understand that a story ensues. I don’t know. The print of the book on my kindle was so tiny that even at the largest setting I felt that sooner or later it would tell me why this LivingSocial offer was not valid for the time I chose to show up at the restaurant.

If I have one “talent”–and yes, I’ve been reading too much Fantasy–it’s that I can tell an author’s mindframe from reading her work. This book, the little I read of it, felt like the Dementors that blossomed out of Harry’s end were gnawing on Rowling’s soul. I love her work and I love what she brought to the world. But I can’t go down the cobwebbed corridors of her depression without the chocolate she enrobed Potter with.

I hope Rowling doesn’t go the way of Lucas, selling bits of Harry. But I also hope she realises that Harry is better than Star Wars and not a bad legacy to curate. Of course she is welcome to write anything she wants. I just can’t drink the bitter dregs out of some loyalty to her, and I truly am sorry. I feel like I owe her a tremendous debt, because as I’ve grown up I’ve realised that the wonderfulness of Star Wars was owing to a lot of people. But Harry….Harry is all her. I feel bad that her life will be chasing that ghost of her past and that her subsequent work will struggle against it. She’s already written ten wonderful books. I’m going to have to let the eleventh slide.

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I’ve been trying to post a comment on Diane Graham’s blog, and it isn’t going so well. So I’m posting it here as well. The issue in question was the fact that several cosplayers attired in genre-appropriate wear were denied admittance to the formal banquet event that concludes the ACFW (Association of Christian Fiction Writers) Conference. This issue was especially glaring because the only cosplayers turned away were speculative fiction writers in spec fic costumes. Romance and Historical novelists were allowed to wear their bonnets and petticoats without incident.

Aside from the basic Othering (shaming or ridiculing a person for belonging to a perceived outgroup), I’m mega-annoyed by the given excuse. The “official story” was that one of the three people turned away was wearing camo pants and a face mask and was therefore maybe a terrorist about to gun down a roomful of pudgy ladies with perms and glasses. It’s America 2012 in microcosm–make it okay to discriminate against people by using Fear. “We can totally turn you away from this $85 banquet / keep you in jail forever without a warrant because…terrorism.”

So here’s what I have been trying to say at Diane’s:

I’m late to this party, and I’m wearing pajamas. I also don’t write Christian fiction, so this is a peanut gallery opinion.

It’s time, maybe, for Spec Fic authors to form their own sub guild within ACFW or their own stand apart guild. Because what you have here is a culture clash. Fear and security are the excuse, but what is really happening IS exactly what Diane is calling out. This is an Othering, plain and simple. ACFW has long catered to a narrow publishing field, expanding only reluctantly when the publishers broadened their frontlists. Spec Fic writers, whether they’re stepchildren, bastards out of Carolina, or cool cousins with the new iPhone are NOT part of ACFW in the way that chubby housewives (*I am a chubby housewife…) who want to be Catherine Jannette Marshall Oke are. They just aren’t.

That’s why they need an OFFICIAL subgroup with a rep sitting on the ACFW governing board. This event is just an example. A Spec Fic rep would be able to point out that cosplay _is_ a sort of formal attire for some people and that in many cases Cosplay uniforms, gowns and accessories cost a great deal more than current culture clothing. In fact, I was just going to lurk until I saw the response from the ACFW official (I believe it was hers) going on and on about how the dress code exists to flatter honorees in the various categories. “Put on a nice dress for Beverly Lewis, gang!” That response was so tone deaf. Spec Fic writers would feel quite honoured and welcomed by seeing Cosplay attire. If there were a Spec Fic rep, the ACFW would know that.

I am not sure why I care so much…other than the fact that I don’t like seeing anyone othered, especially by a group they PAY to belong to.

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Many of the Christian Novelists I’ve met over the years self-identify as politically conservative or libertarian.* From their alignment with the Republican party (those who are not libertarian) , approval of its candidates, comments on blogs and Facebook I know that these people do not like the idea of a welfare state. They believe in some measure along with the conservative ideals that money is exchanged for work and that handouts are bad for personal growth.

I’ll step away from the political framework for a moment while I explain the Christian Booksellers’ Association to those who may not be familiar with the marketplace. In the past 35-40 years a publishing industry has grown up around the demand for books that are–for lack of a better word–Rated G or soft PG at the most. Stories where the characters pray and go to church and fall in love without drinking or smoking or using ‘rough’ language. As limited as the offerings are, this segment of the publishing industry has been comparatively successful, growing or maintaining market share even when the rest of the publishing industry has had significant downturns. With the success of the CBA marketplace, many writers have been drawn to it like moths to flame.

Unfortunately, a lot of writers who are Christians are writing novels with Christian themes that don’t fit the narrow CBA market profile. Instead of stories about Amish girls who find love with nice Mennonite farmers next door, these writers are writing about haunted pastors, Christian Vampires and magic in fantastic worlds from a Christ-centered perspective. A few people want to read these books, but the stories are undeniably niche tales with even niche-ier appeal.

The CBA publishers generally won’t publish these stories because the few times they’ve tried, the sales numbers–while strong in many cases–aren’t strong enough to justify print and marketing runs for traditional publishing houses. The break-even line for a big publisher like Thomas Nelson demands a broader audience. In addition there’s also the fact that many of the traditional customers for this product find the concepts underpinning these non-traditionl stories to be offensive. There has not been one time that I’ve told a Christian reader about the “Christian Vampire” stories of Eric Wilson and had them react with anything other than an appalled and affronted shock. Author Mike Duran’s Christian publisher requested that he include an Afterword in his story explaining the theological soundness of the ghosts in his novel, The Resurrection.

Clearly this is an awkward fit.

And so this is where I find myself saying that I believe it’s time for Christian writers to put into practice some conservative philosophies. At this point asking a traditional CBA publisher to print and market many of these speculative fiction tales is nothing short of applying for welfare. We KNOW these books don’t sell in the numbers the businesses need to stay open. The only reason a traditional house would be taking any sort of chance on this type of book at all is to test the waters in an attempt to broaden their market share. I don’t see how asking a publisher like Thomas Nelson to take a chance on a Space Aliens From Eden novel is that much different from applying for food stamps.

One of the tried-and-true beliefs in Conservatism is the faith in the virtue of small business. With the rise of e-books and Print On Demand it could hardly be any easier than it is now to start a small publishing imprint.

It’s time to put principles to the test, my friends. Amazon has handed you some very strappy boots; now is the time to put them on and pull yourselves up.

*If you’re new here, I self-identify as a Christian Mennonite libertarian who writes novels for the broad market.

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Back Into Autumn

All of the official business of seeing to death is now complete. The funeral has been arranged and performed, as has the burial. Our weekend is perhaps analagous of life in general; it was a brutal drive punctuated by great joy, sorrow, togetherness and pain.

Of the last 72 hours, 20 were spent in cars. We went up to Fort Wayne, Indiana, across to Kewanna, back to Fort Wayne and back down again home. I told my husband I realised on this trip that I have four “hometowns” (small h) that are formative, important places in my life. There’s the Capital H Hometown–Fort Wayne–where I was born, where I was educated. Then there’s Kewanna, with my grandparents’ farm and the small town a mile up the road. Now there’s also Nashville. I’ve officially lived here the longest of any place, but I came to it after adulthood. The other small h hometown I have is Orlando. And I know it’s goofy I say that, but I honestly think any place that is your Happy Place can be a small h hometown.

It was an odd realisation I had last night when we finally stumbled into the house and put all of our bags down as close to the door as possible. My grandmother died in the last days of summer, and the seasons switched while I wasn’t looking. Now fall is here with all the crisp air and cooler sunshine that seems somehow less intense and more restful.

I feel like things are winding down. Quinn is in the winter of his life, and I’m making my peace with the possibility of him going to Graduate School before Christmas. My Morning Glories are wilting in the cold, shriveling into dead things while they leave behind the seeds for next years’ batch in the ground. The Osage Oranges are falling from the trees in the occassional thunk that is a harbinger of the end of the year and collecting in haphazard discard along the fencerow at the bottom of the yard. They look like the forgotten brains of the summer faerie folk, left behind when they evaporated into the equinox. It’s said that an Osage Orange under your bed keeps away spiders, ticks, mosquitos, roaches and crickets. When you cut the fruit open it bleeds a milky acid. That’s fae blood, I know, and the Folk leave it behind so that the bugs will be driven off and not compete with them for nectar, flowershade and bits of leavings from the big house.

My grandmother’s middle name was Fay, but she changed the spelling to Pha–a forerunner to all of the Ashleighs and Gwynniphers of our time. I just realised that now…that she was part fae herself.

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Back when “the Internet” was Usenet and FTP sites, back when I was a newlywed holed up in an 800 sq. foot apartment off Briley Parkway, I spent my time downloading LOTR illustrations (one favourite took 10 minutes via Fetch) and bantering on alt.folklore.urban. That’s how I encountered the people who would become “Snopes”. We were all just nerds arguing about glass flow and $250 cookie recipes. It was like that for years, until HTML came along and The Internet as we know it began to happen in earnest.

The Snopes folks took what the alt.folklore.urban newsgroup did (debunking rumours) and put it on one o’ them fancy yooarells. All of us now had a way to prove wrong all those annoying chain emails our crazy Aunt Phyllis sent out.

–No, nobody had spiders hatch in their stomach after swallowing Bubble Yum.
–Yes, that is a Penis on the Little Mermaid VHS box.

And of course we used the “citations, please” method to debunk political emails. Back in 2000 I used Snopes’ research to counter several anti-Bush memes. Like the one where people were saying he refused to sell his home to black people.

Then came 2008 and Obama looked like a threat to the current structure. All of a sudden all the same rumour mills that had churned against Bush began to churn against Obama. I know you’ve gotten the emails. The ones that document the 50 lies told by Obama. That sort of thing.

Snopes did what Snopes does best. They researched the rumours, looking at original sources and documenting their findings. All of a sudden those get-your-blood-boiling tales that were making the rounds met the worst opposition a rumour has…the truth. But here’s the tricky part:

The rumour mill started saying that Snopes was funded by George Soros, working undercover for Obama. (Note the complete absence of “Snopes Is Funded by The Right, Working for Bush” in 2000-2007, even though they were oftentimes the best Internet friend George Bush ever had.)

I didn’t know about this lie until yesterday. I’ve often used Snopes to back me up, because I can point to their research when I get sappy stories about dead soldiers’ dogs that I know in my gut are fictional. People can’t trust my gut, but they can trust honest research. But then I got a bunch of flak and one person said she would trust me, but not trust Snopes. I honestly wondered WHY. Then I looked it up and found all this mess.

Here’s the thing. The only people I’ve heard saying that Snopes is founded by Soros are Christians. That’s purely because the only conservatives I know are also Christians; it’s correlation, not causation. But even the woman who told me that she “heard a rumour but I trust the source of the rumour” admitted she had no facts and hadn’t researched it. She just was happy as a clam to believe something negative about someobody else because they told the truth about a political adversary.

People, this is why I hate the Culture War. Because you have Christians who are happy to believe others who bear false witness. I do credit the woman who clued me in to the story for not spreading the rumour herself. I give her that. But even being willing to believe the worst about someone–when the answers are so readily obtainable is contrary to the principles of Grace.

This is what the low form of politics we call the “Culture War” has done. It shovels manure. It bears false witness. It puts another god before God. It corrupts the Sabbath day with vile talk about political enemies in the hallways of church. It teaches us to covet power.

I’m just way too disgusted to come up with a sound conclusion to this.

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Too Many Notes

This is a cheat. I’m writing what should really be a Fridays With Magpies post…on a Wednesday. Cats and dogs living together!

It’s too sunny to be too morose and I don’t know that there needs to be any other thing said about the sadness of loss. Only this: when I’m tempted to ask if there is life after death we have a sunny day all gorgeous and shining just a few hours after dismal rain. I take that as a sign of sorts.

NM commented last week that I enjoy the Epic Fantasy more than she does. That is probably true. However, after slogging through the first 92 pages of The Dragonbone Chair I think it’s safe to say that I don’t like all epic fantasy. I really wanted to like the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series, of which Dragonbone Chair is the first volume. But it feels dated and bogged down by dull details. I like details in my fantasy, but I prefer they be put together in a way that pulls me into the story, not in a way that sounds like a list of Begats.

I started reading it because Patrick Rothfuss was raving about how much he loves Tad Williams’ writing and how much he enjoyed Williams’ latest book. That book, however, is Urban Fantasy–a subgenre I generally kind of hate. Especially this new trend revolving around angels. The only story I like with angels coming to earth is Dogma. The rest of it is so tedious. Maybe I should have been Roman Catholic. I have this theory that the Catholics understand angels better than we Anabaptists. That’s the one thing I envy about Roman Catholicism. They have their Cast of Thousands with artful details about the lives of the saints and the creatures of heaven. We anabaptists have Jesus and–on a good day–the apostles. We tend to be more focused on the straightforward aspects of the faith. Which is really okay but sometimes I miss that sort of Heavenlore that the Roman Catholic church is steeped in.

Since I’m not reading Williams’ Urban angel book (I bet you thought I forgot what I was talking about!) I pulled Dragonbone Chair off the library servers. Several people on the Westeros forum said that the series is a must-read because “that’s where George RR Martin got the idea to write A Song Of Ice And Fire [The Game Of Thrones series of books].” I think they’re right. Because I think what Martin did was read these and say “that’s an intriguing way to tell an Epic Fantasy tale. But I can do soooooo much better.” That’s what the first 92 pages of DC feel like–Like Game of Thrones with all the artful nuance sucked out.

Now I’ll probably go back and finish the book and change my mind. But right now I’m frustrated by it and I feel like a philistine. I feel like the Emperor of Austria telling Mozart his music has too many notes.

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The little grains have a sweet smell to them. As soon as you tear open the foil and paper envelope the soft pungency breathes out to you, smelling of breads and beers and baking days.

When you drop them into a bowl of warm water, the beigey grains float in a skim on top, refusing to sink but not quite able to swim. Next thing you do is drop in a teaspoon of white sugar and watch as the fellows all swim toward it, drawn by the damp sweetness. Walk away for awhile. When you come back the three separate clans of Water, Sugar and Yeast will have become one family of sweet, wet, dun-coloured foam.

From here you can take any road you choose; a twist here, a stir there, a pinch of salt and a purposeful spill of bright oil like sunshine and you have rolls or loaves or flats of bread. The foaming yeast pulls soft puffs of air into the dough, expanding it outward and upward and creating little caverns for butter and jam.

I learned to bake from my mother and grandmother, both of whom were extraordinarily patient with the messes a little girl leavens in a kitchen. I learned the secrets of yeast and time and how a good dough takes at least one of those.

So last night when I was hit particularly hard with the sense of loss that has been following me for two decades I decided I wouldn’t cry but would instead make a dough. I watched with the same curious joy I always feel for the miracle of yeast and my arthritic hands were soothed by the kneading. The soft ball of raw bread swallowed the little hillocks of flour the way I’ve swallowed the small sadnesses. Here was the auction where the tractors were sold, with me walking along the tables rowed in the sunshine that had all the other small things upon which strangers would place paltry value. Give me three dollars and fifty-nine cents for that dish because I cannot attach coin to the memories of all the breakfasts served from it. There was the day walking through the empty farmhouse after what furniture was left moved into town. Here again is waking up in the small brick house in the small brick town next to my sister. That was the day we ate toast in the sunshine with my grandma and watched her get ready to bury her husband. Then was the move to the nursing home. The dawning realisation that she cannot make it from her wheelchair to a seat at the table.

Twenty-two years of dry tears got swallowed by the dough I made last night and in the warm moist dark the yeast took them all and they rose into something that was delicious and tasted like the happiness of hope.

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I was up at 2:00am and started writing a post. That one is a “saved draft” so you are spared from reading my musings about life after death. Today is just too rainy for that sort of conversation.

My grandmother passed away yesterday morning. She’d had a stroke a week ago last Friday and instructed no intervention in her living will, so she was ushered out of life. I’m intrigued by the correllary between birth and death, by how much the process of her slow dying was very like a protracted labour and delivery.

I’m sorry that I don’t have more of a eulogy in me right now. If you want to read the piece my mother brother will be reading at the funeral, you can see that here. And no, I don’t believe he will read the italicized part, so there is no fear of anyone saying “suckful” at my grandmother’s funeral.

My parents had four children, and as I explained to my sister last night, they got the latter two by having the first two of us stay with my grandparents. We stayed at my grandparents at lot.

So much of my life was lived under my grandmother’s wing–especially the early parts, before my grandfather’s stroke. It’s hard to lose her, even though she was 96 and we’ve actually been losing her to failing health for awhile.

My sister was telling me about mom’s ideas for the funeral and I realised that mom didn’t know (or had forgotten) that grandma wanted “How Great Thou Art” sung. She had a plaque shaped like a hymnal, open to that hymn, that sat on top of their tv. I told her it was a pretty song and I liked the words. She told me she wanted it sung at her funeral. So I guess that’ll happen, probably.

When I was eight we went to Madison, Wisconsin. My dad had a Continuing Legal Education type of thing to go to and my mom had to spend a week living in a camper and amusing four children in a strange city. We went to the zoo, I remember, and stopped on the way back from the zoo at a Big Boy restaurant. I had gotten a piece of popcorn stuck in my throat at the zoo and remember whining about my jello. I couldn’t swallow the jello that was my “dessert”. (Jello is not a dessert, people.) The popcorn was the first of my chicken pox, and by midnight I was as sick as a person can be and still not be in the hospital. Fortunately that was our last day in Madison (at least I had okay timing) and so we drove home. I suppose. I don’t remember. What I do remember is stopping at my grandparents’ farm and being bundled onto the couch by the TV. When you are very very sick there is no thing in the world like having a mom AND a grandma take care of you…even if it is only for a few hours. I remember lying there and feeling like everything would always be okay.

And of course, it wasn’t. It never is. But in a larger sense the fact that there was a time or two that I could have that very restful feeling is something that fuels my faith and my living. I think it’s a reason I believe in God. And it’s the reason I believe that there is life after death and that everything is always okay where my grandmother is now.

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