Tuesday, May 22, 2012

One Red Thread and Several Red Seas

Last week I spoke to a group of young women about our wilderness experience with our oldest son. The theme was “Hard Things.”  As I prayed about the content of my presentation, I was directed to the 2009 archives of my blog. I was amazed that I’d been inspired to start writing here almost exactly a year before we hit the moment of crisis. I was instantly grateful for the record I’d kept. Through my posts I was able to take myself back to that place, relive some of the “hard things,” as well as the attendant blessings. And I felt reconnected to you—my friends who are anything but “virtual.” I was very moved as I reread your comments and offers of prayers. 

Our daughter was in the audience as I spoke that night, and while she listened to me retell our family’s saga tears flowed down her cheeks. I recalled with poignancy that this was a “Hard Thing” for the whole family—not just for our oldest, or for us as parents—this was a crucible for the younger children as well. She was so worried about her big brother and his choices, often caught between feeling loyal to him and knowing she needed to involve us. There were times, early on, when she felt judged, tarnished and even ostracized by friends at school. She felt as broken and wounded as we did the day we finally sent him off to the wilderness. She suffered, she wept, she grew...and she was galvanized. All because of that invisible red thread that connects us as family.

Later in the week, as I sat in the audience listening to her sing with her high school choir, I realized that this girl has been magnificently rewarded for her choices, her growth, her persistence, her loyalty and her love. 

When she declared her intention to run for Senior VP, the (very popular) girl who was supposedly running against her suddenly dropped out of the race. And our daughter ran unopposed. A red sea, parted.

When she auditioned for Madrigals, she sang the hymn “Be Still My Soul.” The words are sublime: 
  Be still, my soul: The Lord is on thy side;
With patience bear thy cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In ev’ry change he faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: Thy best, thy heav’nly Friend
Thru thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
Our daughter at age seven.
I was there, accompanying her on the piano. She was singing with a friend so she wouldn’t be as nervous. They started out just fine. Then suddenly my little girl began to cry. It was an unprecedented opening of emotional floodgates. She was suddenly so moved by the words of the hymn, she could barely get any notes out at all, and was wiping huge crocodile tears from her face. I asked if she wanted to start over. Her teacher suggested she go out in the hall and get a drink and pull herself together. Meanwhile her adorable audition partner was just standing there waiting with a big grin on his face. Bless his heart. She came back and was able to get through the song, but it was not her best performance. I didn’t think there was any way she’d make the choir after that audition. When she called me the following Monday to tell me she was on the list, suddenly it was my turn to cry. Another red sea, parted.

Our daughter has also had to part ways with a few friends over the past couple of years...one to an out-of-state move, one who was making bad choices, another who “wasn’t a good influence,” and one to a baffling misunderstanding. In their wake, however, she now finds herself surrounded by the brightest and best kids imaginable. I couldn’t have hand-picked a better crop of teenagers if I went over to the high school myself. I adore these kids who invade my kitchen at lunchtime, who all went to the prom in a big group , and who regularly surround our dining room table to quiz each other on flashcards for the AP test. What was once a painful parting has been replaced with a sea of good friends. Another red sea. This time surrounding her in warmth, sweeping her up in its current and delivering her to a better place. 

Within the past couple of weeks our daughter has received a sea of accolades: she made the journalism staff, the madrigal choir, the H.O.S.A. president, the seminary council, and Senior Class Vice-President. Her plate will be very, very full next year...but her cup is overflowing. 

As I thought about the red sea that parted, opening a way for us to help our oldest son, circling me with a current of support, and then the red seas that have recently opened up for our daughter, over and over again, the red thread is stronger than ever, the miracles are evident, and the waters serene.

I'm linking up with my friend Heather's JUST WRITE series, here.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


I’ve been feeling more than a little bit dispirited lately. And most of it boils down to a yearning for words. I’m lacking words with sufficient power and strength to combat inane corporate decisions that cause my husband sleepless nights. And how do I find the words to console my friend whose daughter just delivered a stillborn baby? What words express the feelings of isolation, disregard, and invisibility that creep up in new situations...or worse, familiar ones? And, on a happier note, where are the words to describe the radiance and purity of our teenage daughter, dressed in layers of silky cream for her Junior Prom? This applies to my fiction as well as my life. When it comes down to the crucial moments, what I most often lack is the essential words
I have a very close friend who has a rare gift for words, wields their power with both discretion and ferocity, and is pitch-perfect in her ability to select just the right descriptors, evoking stunning imagery. Her name is Luisa Perkins.
A few years ago I received her cookbook, Comfortably Yum, as a thank-you prize for coming up with the winning title. When the book arrived (as I described in this post, and again in this post) I sat down and read it from cover to cover. This was a cookbook, mind you. Not fiction. Yet I could. not. put. it. down. I devoured it. And that was before I’d even tried a single recipe. :) Now it's so well-loved and food-worn I'll soon have to replace it.
Not long afterward—almost exactly two years ago—Luisa sent me the first three chapters of a manuscript she was working on. I gobbled her words down insatiably, then printed them out and carried them around for weeks, hoping my hardcopy would spontaneously generate the rest of the story. (It didn’t.) 
This book has perhaps the most unique and original premise I have ever encountered. Here is the breathtaking idea which first captured my interest: 
A young boy figures out how to take “out-of-body experience” to a whole new level, and drifts away from his home and his body to go in search of his departed mother. 
Once I finally got my hands on a copy of the entire novel, I was completely blown away. It was so riveting, I couldn’t inhale it fast enough. And yet there are so many rich layers, I wanted to savor it s l o w l y, pondering the mysteries of the universe as they unfolded before my eyes.
The book asks a universal, yet never-addressed-like-this question: What could happen if I chose to leave my body unattended? Even for a brief moment? And it offers in exchange for your time the most harrowing of answers...and a spellbinding journey of thought-provoking insights and first-rate entertainment.
It’s all at once a cautionary tale, a mysterious romp through time and place, a ghost story, a romance, a spiritual thriller, a paean to family history, a dark look into the way evil operates, and bar none the most terrifying book I have ever read. I didn’t think I was a fan of the horror genre, but this is mind-bending, electrifying, and life-altering. Dare I say uplifting? Definitely a must-read.

I've since heard her read the first chapter aloud, and the effect was spellbinding. She literally left the audience craving more. (Just like I imagine the effects of her cooking!)
Luisa writes “dark, speculative fiction,” (which is Luisaspeak for scary, mind-bending and life-changing otherworldly novels). This book is technically slated as a YA novel. But it’s every bit as much for grown-ups as teens.
On my Goodreads review I urged young children and the "faint of heart" to proceed with caution. Here’s why: One chapter takes you inside the mind of a truly evil character. This is, to say the least, disturbing. But Luisa’s words take you there with great restraint. She spares you what could be gory, graphic, or sensationalized, but shows you the intent. The result is creepy with a capital C. But it doesn’t leave you feeling like you need to take a shower. 

Oh, and the title? Dispirited. I’m very proud of that word. It’s one of many title ideas I gave her. One of my attempts to capture the essence of her 88,000 words. In a single word. Dispirited.

Now, I have great news! News that is already lifting my spirits. Although Luisa resides in New York, she will be in Utah the first week of May and will be signing copies of Dispirited at The King’s English bookstore at 7pm on May 4. I will be there. I will be purchasing her book and begging her to autograph it for me. I’ll also be buying some as gifts and asking her to sign those as well. And I’ll be looking for YOU! I hope to see you there. If you leave me a comment here saying you’ll be at the booksigning, I’ll personally purchase a copy of Dispirited there for one lucky reader. Just leave me your name to be entered in the drawing. Must be present to win.

And now, the results of our last drawing: 

Pretty Darn Funny pins go to Becca, Dedee and Luisa

And the winner of the original painting from Tell Me Who I Am is...a brand-new reader, Donna! I'll be sending you a signed original watercolor, Painting #3, as soon as you claim your prize and send me your mailing address. Congratulations! (And thank you, everyone, for you kind raves about the artwork! I assure you the words are just as good! DeNae has an unbeatable Mother's Day promotion package going on right now for Tell Me Who I Am. She's another friend with an inimitable way with words...witty and hilarious. Do stop by!)


And finally, many thanks to Heather of the EO for hosting another Just Write and for the writing prompt: Words. Love!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Nostalgia on Auto Pilot

Yesterday I passed my old car on the freeway. It wasn’t my EXACT old car. But it looked just like it -- same body style and color as well as make and model. And I felt this inexplicable fondness as I followed it up the highway. It even made me a little wistful, but not sad. It’s just that every time I see another bluish-greenish-grey Honda Pilot on the road, or even in a parking lot somewhere, I still see us. I see our family. Our life, changing lanes right there in front of me.

Taken on my birthday weekend, an impromptu trip to the Grand Canyon, circa 2005.

I see our trip to Newport for Thanksgiving, our trip to Los Angeles to see Earth, Wind and Fire at the Hollywood Bowl, a trip to Colorado to explore the Garden of the Gods, and a handful of trips to Sun Valley, Idaho for family reunions. I see us house-hunting and making a big, interstate move. But not just the big stuff. I also see a hundred trips to grandparents’ homes to rough-house with cousins. I see us piling all Josh’s belongings in--literally filling every inch of space from the floor to the roof--to move him home for the summer. I see the back crammed with art supplies, ready to take me off on a painting adventure...to Wyoming, California, Cayucos, Kayenta....wherever the muse awaits. I’m amazed that there can be so much nostalgia attached to one car.
But then I remember my very first car: a spanking-new Toyota Celica, gunmetal gray and shaped like a bullet. It symbolized freedom, independence, success. I bought it right after I got my first real job as a designer. Jeff and I did most of our dating in that car, and we drove it back and forth from Salt Lake to Los Angeles so many times we had every stretch of I-15 completely memorized. The Celica was also our honeymoon getaway car (after we washed off the shaving cream and streamers and oreos). 
And once, I spilled a quart of homemade ice cream in the trunk. I promptly cleaned it up, not realizing some had seeped under the mat and into the wheel well. In the full swelter of summer, it quickly created the foulest stench imaginable; like vomit on steroids. Yet I couldn’t find the source to save my life. Or my gag reflex. Once we discovered the epicenter of the stink and vacuumed it up, we tried to disguise the remaining odor with one of those cardboard tree-thingies from the car wash. The scent was called “Spring Magic,” which we quickly learned was a euphemism for “retch-triggering old-lady perfume gone viral”. It smelled even worse than the original odor it was supposed to mask. We still remember, because it made us so nauseated we finally had to pull off the freeway and throw it out. 
And then I remember how quickly the Celica disappeared. Early one morning we were on our way to choir practice. Francis Dauzat came out of nowhere, still on his pain medication from last week’s surgery, with a patch over one eye, and turned right in front of us, allowing no time to stop. There we were, a mass of mangled steel and broken glass, but no one was hurt -- not even the baby our friend Karen was carrying inside her. I remember calling the insurance company and the agent responding, “Frank again?” That’s not a good thing when you’re on a first-name basis with the folks who process insurance claims. And just like that I lost some of that freedom and independence, replacing it instead with a 4-door Mazda, and motherhood.
But I don’t miss that sporty little Celica quite as much as the white Subaru Wagon with the red and blue stripes on the sides. My heart still skips a beat if I see one of those babies on the road. Because that was the white stallion my prince rode in on when he came and swept me off my feet. That car meant, “Jeff is here.” That was the car I saw parked in front of our house when I was came home from a date with a different guy. (Total Ginger Grant/Eva Grubb moment.) As soon as my date dropped me off I ran searching for Jeff. And fortunately found him. That was also the car that met up with my Celica at the exact time at the exact same intersection. We both instinctively stopped right then and there and jumped out of our cars, and met in the middle of the intersection, falling into an embrace, followed by The Kiss That Could Stop Traffic. Little did I know, that same car, just seven months later, would be our wedding present from Jeff’s parents. Years later, long after we were married, my heart would still skip a beat whenever I saw the Subaru pull up, because it meant Daddy was home from work. It meant “Jeff is here.”
And now? I love our new car. Love it. (Except for the neck-contorting “head rest,” which is actually tricky sales copy for “torture device.”) I love the way it handles, and the clean interior, and the fancy backing-up camera. But I’m not nostalgic when I see it pull up. It’s a little too new for that. So far, I just love that the way we acquired it felt like a total miracle! And although that’s a terrific start, I know we haven’t made nearly enough memories in it yet. But we will. 

What memories are attached to your cars?

Linking up to Just Write with my friend Heather of the EO.