Guns in the House

In the last few years of his life, my dad believed that all of his junk mail needed to be read, and read with serious intent to make sure that important information was not overlooked. No amount of patient explanations that the assertions on the envelopes – always in bold type, always with exclamation points – were demonstrable lies and designed to frighten him ever dissuaded him from reading it as if it were worth his precious time. And his time was precious: he had Alzheimer’s, he was in bad health, and time was not our friend. In the last year or so of his life, he became distressed because the amount of alarmist junk mail had reached ridiculous proportions, due to his habit of writing small checks and sending them to whatever entities had included either the picture of a suffering child or – and it crushes my heart to admit this — a picture of a gun somewhere in their propagandist appeal.

While his innate concern for suffering children had always existed, it was late in his life that he became susceptible to the ugly side of conservative scare-mongers who threatened him with the loss of all our American freedoms if the evil liberals were allowed to run amuck. He was worried because he couldn’t keep up with all the important reading and he was sure he was missing vital content that would help him stem the tide of our country’s destruction. Hoping to stop the check-sending trend, I told him I would help him go through the mail and show him all of the important stuff, promise and cross my heart. And on my near-weekly visits, I did just that. I also stuffed multiple unopened envelopes covered in angry punctuation into my purse, and smuggled the hateful trash home to be torn up and put in the recycling (the least I could do to atone for the poor slaughtered trees used to manufacture this vile garbage). I couldn’t help but read some of it and of course I had heard my dad parrot chunks of it in his increasingly incoherent conversations with me. And one subject that came up frequently was the fear that our right as U.S. citizens to bear arms was going to be stripped from us and we would be forced to live under a tyrannous government who would then come after our religious beliefs, our material goods, and even our children. Good law-abiding, God-fearing people were under attack and we could only fight back if we supported guns. He was afraid, and he was angry that he was afraid, and the morally bankrupt persons behind these mailouts were aiming for just that poisoned mix of fear and rage.

Daddy had guns. He’d had the same guns my whole life: several old long guns (rifles? shotguns?) that he’d inherited from his dad and maybe his grandfather, I’m not sure. They were always on a rack, always in his and Mom’s bedroom. I don’t remember hearing him talk about them, I don’t remember seeing him use them, I know of no reason why he would have needed to use them. He wasn’t a hunter, even though he lived in rural areas for much of his life. And he never once sat down and told me, or my siblings for all I know, that we were not to touch his guns. Somehow, I knew. I was not to touch any of his stuff without permission and the idea of touching one of the guns – much less taking one down and playing with it – never crossed my mind. My dad was not physically abusive to me, but his anger was frightening and I didn’t have the guts to provoke it over these things that meant nothing to me.

They were never a real issue that I knew of, until his last year alive. At that time, one of my nieces, my older sister’s daughter, and her husband and their three young daughters were living with my parents to help them, as my parents’ serious health issues were complicating simple daily living. Dad was still driving (the legal process for taking away his license had not yet been completed), and one hot summer day, while doing his self-appointed errands at the grocery store and pharmacy, he was approached by two or three people – the story was never clear, due to the Alzheimer’s – who told him they were in need and asked him for money. Dad, being himself and always pulled in by a sad story, gave them the cash he had and told them that if they came to the house, he could give them some food and some more money. He then drove home and told my niece and my mom that these needy people he’d met would be coming to the house for help. My niece and nephew (a teacher, so he was home that day) were alarmed, unsure if these people had followed Dad home, concerned he’d given them his address or phone number or even his full name.

Even with Alzheimer’s, Dad realized how upset my niece was and then pieced together that he’d done a potentially dangerous thing. Unfortunately, in his distress, he also thought he knew best how to fix the problem, and so he went to his room and got down a couple of his guns. No amount of imploring or reasoning could get him to put them back up. He laid one on the dining room table, another one on the side table next to the front door, and he decided he was going to keep them out until he was able to shoot those people who had tried to steal from him. He was going to show the guns to any stranger who tried to drive up to the house, just maybe shoot a warning shot into the air to scare them and show them he meant business, and then shoot to kill if they came to the house. For days, he flatly refused to put the guns back in their rack.

I remember my little sister calling me to tell me what was happening. I lived about two hours away and felt utterly helpless. She lived much closer but felt the same. What could we do? My niece and nephew were making plans to move out for the safety of their young daughters (whom my dad adored and thought he was protecting), my dad was endangering everyone in the house, especially my mom who had problems walking and often held onto those tables as she navigated their large front room, and he was becoming combative toward everyone who tried to talk to him about it. So my little sister and I made a plan, and she communicated it with our brother: we would go to the house together and take the guns by whatever means we could and give them to our brother, the only son, who had been promised the guns as an inheritance anyway. And that’s what we did. My sister and I went to Dad and pleaded with him, held his hands and begged him, and he finally agreed to let my brother have the guns. My brother took them, put them in his car, and drove away while my sister and I stayed and tried to make it all better. My dad was very emotional, hurt and angry, seeing our concern and love as a failure to trust in him, and it took a while before he calmed down enough for us to leave the house. But we were relieved. The family was safe.

The next week, my father asked an old family friend to get him a handgun, and my niece and her family moved out a few days later.

Dad died the following summer, July 2015, from an aggressive form of cancer. As his health declined and I visited him more regularly, he would sometimes talk to me about how upset he was that we’d taken his guns away and insist over and over that he would have never hurt anyone, especially not Mom. I quit attempting to explain and would instead tell him I was sorry he was still mad, that it was okay for him to blame me, and that I loved him very much. He would usually respond, sadly, “Well, I don’t want to be mad at you. I love you.” Those guns had given him a sense of security, and as false as that security was, his feelings of fear and anger and betrayal were all too real.

I want to believe that Dad’s thinking process about guns was twisted by his Alzheimer’s. In the three years since his death, I have come to understand that I cannot hope the same for my fellow U.S. citizens. The fear and anger expressed by those who think they are defending the 2nd Amendment of our Constitution are not the product of physical illness. More importantly, they are not the product of mental illness. They are, rather, the products of a virulent strain of narcissistic emotional delusion.

There is nothing new to be gained by digging through historical documents to prove why the framers of our Constitution included the 2nd Amendment. They could not have imagined the culture we live in, due in most part to the advancements in technology (this is not an insult to them — I couldn’t have imagined a smartphone when I was in high school, and look how that one invention has changed everything in just the last decade). So even if I knew all of their innermost thoughts from when they were discussing the “right to bear arms”, I do not think those thoughts and words would have significant relevance now. Like us, they were a product of their time and what was known and experienced in that time, and now all these years later, we do not exist in that world.

There is nothing new to be learned by discussing the significance of guns in the expansion of our national borders. We can wish (well, those of us who see other human beings as being as important as ourselves might can) that the expansion had happened in ways that were not so egregiously genocidal, we can wish we honored the treaties we made with the indigenous nations, we can wish our history was not so bloody. But we cannot fix that violent past and we are now in this geographical space, with more blood soaked into the soil than we are willing to accept or comprehend, propped up by the myth that we couldn’t have formed our country without the ability to use guns to get our land.

While knowing how we got here is important and sometimes helpful, if also damn depressing, the reality that we are here is what gnaws at me. So maybe I should explain where I think we are. Where is “here”?

“Here” is a society where death by gun violence is normalized. It is an every day occurrence in every state, in every large city and in a good many smaller cities. It inhabits our entertainments, our arts, our law enforcement, our national consciousness. “Here” is where school shootings – often in high schools, but the most gutting are the ones in elementary schools — happen multiple times per year and the primarily white, primarily male shooters are often students or former students, and almost always members of the surrounding geographical community. “Here” is a society where white conservatives answer back calls for sane gun laws with the worn-out, “What about black-on-black crime?” and yet stonewall all efforts by the citizens in the most death-by-gun-saturated communities to make guns less readily and widely available. “Here” is a society where even the most strident of gun reforms groups hasten to assure the public that they aren’t for banning guns, just for making laws to restrict easy access to ever more technologically advanced guns. This infatuation with guns and the violence they are designed to inflict is the “here” we live in.

Yet why we are everlastingly caught in this “here”? Why? As I saw with my dad in his dying days, we are here because of the two forces that suffused his entire existence: fear and anger. But he was an elderly man, weak and ill. What are we, younger and healthier, so afraid of? What are we so angry about? I see that we are scared and enraged because of one thing: we, all of us, are going to die, and we cannot change this truth.

In our fear of and anger about our own deaths, we become deliberately, calculatedly self-centered and selfish. I understand this mindset. In this headspace, all of life is a zero sum game. All of it, all material goods, all social goods, all emotional goods, all are desirable but finite resources. And so it must be all about me and what I want. Not only does everything that happens need to revolve around me, also everything that revolves around me should be under my control. Next step in this thinking is, for everything to be under my control, I must also have power over you and everything you think you have. You can’t take anything from me because it’s mine and I’m who’s important, and I must take what it rightfully mine from you. I must control you and your things and your emotions, it is vital that I can make you do what I want. For me to get what I want, I must triumph over you. The better I am at conquering others – and I get to determine what “conquering” looks like, so no one can ever say that I failed — and getting what’s rightfully mine, the better I am as a strong and independent human being, and we in the USA are all about being strong and independent. And nothing will give me more power over you than the power of potentially ending your life with my gun. With a gun, I am God.

Even with the most powerful gun imaginable, I am not God. Obviously. None of us are, and in truth, we have so little control over our lives and ourselves that we cannot accept how frightened we are by the fact that death will come for us all. We all know, in theory, that we are mortal. We see our grandparents, our parents, friends, family, age and die. Our mirrors show us that we are aging, every minute of every day. No matter what we do to avoid the truth, we all see ourselves weaken and diminish as time marches us toward death, losing pieces of ourselves, our memories and abilities, along the way.

We know that we can’t avoid this reality, but here in the United States, we seem to believe that we must try anyway. Must. It is a civic imperative and we are weaklings of low character with dubious motives and no self-discipline if we don’t assert our will to surmount all obstacles. And if others are harmed while we’re working to secure our forever future, that’s just the price others pay for our freedom from being told what to do by anyone and anything. And price is relative if I’m not the one paying it, right? Cost changes depending on circumstance. If the price of my having a gun to threaten Others into doing what I want is acknowledging that Others aren’t as important as I am, so be it. Because they aren’t as important as I am, or as my family is, or even my friends. If they are different, if I can deem them as The Other, then I can justify all sorts of harm. These dangerous Others are threatening me and my chosen way of living. They are taking from me and I can’t let that happen. I must be the one doing the threatening and taking.

Killing or even threatening someone else doesn’t add time to my life. Even if using a gun against another human being gains me a temporary reprieve or illusive power, it doesn’t allay ill health and the effects of time. It can’t change bad traffic, bad weather, or even a bad cough. The threat of guns does nothing to stop the growth of a mutated cell.

Loud proclamations of power, hubris, rage about The Other, all this does is lead us down the twisted paths of hatred and evil. It is the root of our hideous racist slave-owning past, it is the determination to eradicate the First Nations by violence with our more advanced guns, it is our determination to keep all of The Other out of our country and away from our supposedly finite resources. It is our determination to grab the most we can to keep others from gaining what we want. It is the denial of death for ourselves and so a denial of life to others. It is the very essence of despair. It is Hell and we don’t even have to die to find it.

I could not fix my dad’s fear and I could not save his mind or keep him from dying. My siblings and I, we could only make sure he didn’t kill anyone else, especially my mom, with the symbols of his fear and anger. I could only love him and accept the blame for his feelings of hurt and helplessness. I could only love him and try to make my own peace with him before he died. I could only love him, no matter what he thought of me while doing what I could to protect him and my mom for at least a little while. I could only love him and yet could not defend myself without hurting him, I could not by force and violence take anyone else’s joy or love or goods or money to give him more life. I could only love him, and watch the sun go down on us all.

— fin —  

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So many words, so many words, so many words…

Years ago, I was working with a student who was on homebound due to a serious health issue. She was angry at this health issue, and she had every right to be, and snarky and funny and I loved her and loved working with her. One evening, I pulled out the book we were reading together (which we never finished, due to her parents moving to another school district) and she looked at the page, threw her head back, and sighed, “So many words, so many words, so many words!” and I answered back, “I know! Isn’t that awesome?!” because one of our running jokes was how much I loved reading and math and learning new things and how much she hated all of that. [NB: I don’t think she truly hated all of that as much as she hated how hard it was for her to learn these new things. It was the effort, the ridiculous amount of unrelenting work, it took for her to understand even the smallest concept. She did not see the point of all that work. She was going to die at a relatively young age, so why waste precious time on stupid school work? Which is why I was reading a gloriously wonderful book, along with the pretty decent assigned book, with her, because reading a truly good book is never a waste. Never.]

I have that feeling myself these days, though. So many words, hard work, pointlessness. But these are words inside me, not on a page, and there are definitely too many and nowhere for them to go. I’m not a good enough writer to figure them all out, and this isn’t really writing. This is emoting on a computer screen, and I am not a writer, I am a too-much-of-a-talker who bores people with things they never cared about. I tell myself every time I go to a meeting, “Shut up, Grace, no one cares, no one wants to hear what you are thinking, shut up shut up shut up,” and then blammo, before I realize it, I’m just chatting away like the oversharer I am and the people around me have the look of a trapped animal. Oh my God, make her stop. And I want to stop but I don’t. Why? Maddening.

This is a bad time to want to talk, at least for me. Because I don’t have anything good or kind or positive to say. Work has been difficult. Kids being moved from foster placement to foster placement, laws in effect that pit the school district against the department of children’s services, without real guidance from the state on who is right and who should pay for the transportation of these too-often-moved kids and what is in the child’s best interest and what does that even mean when a child has been moved from their home and their family? Talk about a refugee crisis. We have one right in our midst and we don’t even see it. Kids need to be rescued from their homes and they need a safe place to live. Or maybe families need to be rescued from themselves and we don’t know how. There is so much poverty, of material possessions and of emotional health and the ability to parent, there are so many drugs wrecking adults and kids, so much violence which seems to the perpetrator to be satisfying initially but then only leads to more heartbreak and damage for the abused and more spiritual darkness and death for the abuser.

So what IS in the best interests of the child? I fight for what I think that is, for what my checklists and my training and experience and my colleagues agree it is, but in reality, there often isn’t a true ‘best interest.’ That possibility died the minute the abuse and neglect and drugs and bad parenting craziness began. Long before that child even saw a school, the damage has been done. And my amazing fellow teachers, God knows they are trying so hard and working out behavior plans and academic plans for catching these kids up to grade level, plans for recovering credits and hoping for graduation, and they know and I know that what they are really doing is wading through the worst mudslide and rock avalanche ever, trying to pull that kid toward a safe place that may never be found. Yes, I do believe that education for these wounded kids is the best thing we can give them and that education can give them a better adulthood. But I know, I know beyond any doubt, that no matter how good an education we give them, they will be fighting off the pain of their childhood for the rest of their adult lives, no matter how successful they may be by theirs or anyone’s standards. Children are resilient, that maybe be true, but when they become adults, they are still hurt and they are hurt forever. Scars are healed wounds, but the wounds still happened and the damage is still done.

See? Lots of words, but no good ones. Not yet. But then, it’s January, and January is always a tough month, or maybe that’s just me. It will get better. Spring will eventually come. Things always get better once March is in the rearview mirror. And maybe I will figure out a way to get the words out in a better way, a way that actually helps someone and doesn’t make them wish to run away. Or maybe not. Maybe I will finally, finally learn to talk less (much less!), to listen more carefully, and to parse my own sentences down to what is necessary. Maybe I will instead emote here and be quieter in my non-screen life. Maybe. It is January, the time for resolutions to old problems. A girl can dream… in pretty pictures at least, if not in good words.


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How I am bad at love…

I wrote the following a few years ago, and today, it’s a stronger truth about me and how I am bad at love than it was when I originally wrote it. Because I am bad at love and I’m running out of time to get better.

* * *     * * *     * * *

It is entirely possible that this is only an epiphany to me. Y’all have perhaps known this all along and I’m the old slow one. If so, it’s okay for you to point this out with much laughter. Anyway, here goes…

If indeed we are, after death, all in the presence of God and it is our love or hate for God’s love for us that makes this afterlife heaven or hell [see “River of Fire” by Alexander Kalomiors], then there is a step I hadn’t considered until now. Think with me here: the hug of a loved one – a child (this is the one I most feel connected to), a parent or sibling or friend or spouse or lover – at that moment is sheer, complete, total love and contentment. Because we as earthly creatures are bound by time, we cannot stay in that perfect moment of love. We move on, we get bored or restless or tired or any thousand thousand things that take us away from that embrace. But what if we could only ever be in the moment, if we didn’t get tired or bored or hungry or whatever? What if we stay inside the sweetness of that love? Conversely, the hug of someone we do not love is truly awful. The body and soul, even if they endure the embrace, recoil and wish for escape. But what if there is only moment of being embraced and no escape? Here is my unconsidered step. It is easy for me to say to myself, “Oh yes, of course, I love God and want the eternal embrace that is contented, happy love.” But maybe I must also be willing to accept God’s mutual love, His “hug”, with people I really, really don’t like. With people I despise and hold in contempt and am angry with and hurt by and who have injured me and whom I have wished and do even now wish to injure. With those who just bug me and irritate me and nag the living crap out of me all the damn time. And if I intend to love God and stay in that love forever, I must find a way to forever love these awful people too. I think it is in James that there is something to the effect that I cannot say I love God whom I have not seen and yet hate my brother whom I have seen. That sounds temporal to me and so I constantly try to find ways to slide around such a basic statement of fact. But what if it isn’t temporal? What if it’s eternal, and I cannot say that I love God, I cannot in fact love God and be loved in that eternal happy moment if I am not willing to hug the others I can’t stand and never want to see again who also love God and are loved by God? I must reassess how I view other people, how I respond to them, if I do in fact love God and if I am willing to see these people as the image of Christ Himself and if I am willing to love them forever. This will be and is right now SO HARD for me…


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Want of Confidence…

Last month, I had training hosted at our downtown public library. As I sat outside with others in our group waiting for the doors to open, a man who looked a bit down on his luck said hello to me. I looked up and smiled and said hello back. [Note: the man pauses for several seconds after every sentence he says.]

Man: How are you?

Me: Doing well. How are you?

Man: I’m hungry. I haven’t eaten all day.

Me: Well, it’s only 8.43 a.m. There’s still time to get breakfast.

Man: Yeah. [long pause]

Man: Are you a Christian?

Me: Yes, yes, I try to be one.

Man: No one who says they’re a Christian lives like one.

Me: Yes, well, that is true of most of them, but not true of all. A few people who say they are Christians do live like they are. Not many, but a few. So while I agree with you that most don’t, I believe a few do.

Man: Why do you want to be a Christian?

Me: Because I believe that it’s the best way of explaining how God has revealed Himself to us.

Man: Oh. [long pause]

Man: Do you believe that God created white people and that the devil created black people? [the man talking to me is black] An old white lady told me that once. She thought I stole her computer.

Me: No, I absolutely do not believe that. That is a bunch of crap and that old white lady was completely wrong.

Man: How do you know for certain so you would say ‘no’ that quick? I mean, how do you know that?

Me: Because I’m smart and because I know that evil can’t create anything and I know that isn’t what real Christians believe. Evil can twist things and hurt you and destroy things, but it can’t ever create anything.

Man: Well that old lady said that to me. And she put me in jail for six months for stealing that computer over at Patten [Patten Towers, where I have a weekly reading group, is across the block from the library] but I didn’t steal it and then she said black people were created by the devil.

Me: Uhm, I’m not sure she could put you in jail by herself, but she was totally and completely wrong and I’m sorry you’ve had a hard time.

Man: Yeah. [long long pause.]

Man: Well, I don’t know what I’m going to do today. I’m hungry.

Me: Do you need something to help you get some breakfast?

Man: You don’t have to give me anything. I don’t want to take your money.

Me: It’s okay, I have a couple of bucks.

Man: Why are you being so nice to me?

Me: I’m not being nice. I’m not nice, it’s okay. Take care of yourself, be safe today, get something to eat, okay?

Man: Okay. [turns and leaves]

I see others from the training looking at me quizzically.

Me: I’m an easy mark.


And I am. To quote from Howard’s End: ‘ “It’s better to be fooled than to be suspicious” — that the confidence trick is a work of man, but the want-of-confidence-trick is the work of the devil.’


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Why I failed at grad school.

I have a master’s in secondary education with a specialty in special education. And I thought I was done with school forever because if there was one thing I had learned my first go round, it was that going to grad school and teaching special ed and working extra homebound and evening school and being sad about the state of my existence was really hard. Lop of that last one and it was still hard. Happiness didn’t make homework get done any sooner.

And then something weird happened, and the man related to me by marriage [hello, TKLittles] indicated that he liked it when I was ambitious and involved in my own life and doing my own work — which seemed nice in one way and totally odd in another because why didn’t he want us more intertwined and spending time together or maybe he didn’t mean that and he only meant he liked my work ethic and he doesn’t even remember now what he said, much less what he meant. Regardless, because, as if by magic, soon after he said that somewhat enigmatic statement, I received an email at work about a new grad program that would allow me to work toward my administrator’s licensure and also allow me to work toward an Ed. S. in School Leadership. Woot! All I had to do was apply, take out yet another school loan, and do lots and lots of homework designed for someone who works in one school. Awesomesauce!

But then, less than a month before classes started, my dad died. And two weeks later, my oldest son and his wife and my daughter moved from being a couple of miles away to over a thousand miles away. But I’m strong and super sassy, right? I can do this! I can start classes anyway. But the first day, when I sat through eight as in 8 hours of classes in  a really uncomfortable chair, I started having a really bad feeling about all this. All these projects were designed for me to observe, be working in, doing leadership-focused assignments and projects all involving my actions in my school. EXCEPT I DON’T WORK IN ONE SCHOOL. I meet at every and any school in our district that has a student in state custody who is eligible for spec ed services. I do not interact with the same staff on a regular basis. I am a loner, working on cases that are important to the kids and teachers but only matter to my bosses when a mistake is made, keeping my own calendar, and seeing none of my lead staff colleagues for days at a time. I am a tiny ice-rock satellite on the furthest orbit possible from the central office sun. So although my work allows me to see all the different schools in our district and observe the differing administrations, it was not allowing me to interact in ways required by my homework. And even though the professors were trying to be flexible and give me ideas of alternative work-arounds for the assignments, it was becoming ridiculously complicated trying to get my homework completed. My brain was starting to freak out a little bit. Or maybe a lot.

Plus, I was feeling terrible, but thought it was just the stress of trying to settle Dad’s really messy affairs and missing my kids and starting a new school year. But no, it turned out that I was sick. Really sick. As in having emergency surgery and staying in the hospital for a week sick. Seriously — a week in this hospital, in this day and age where they kick you out the same day you have surgery. But the infection from the ruptured appendix and perforated lower intestine was a stubborn one: abscess, drain insertion issues, problems with the IV necessitating that it be moved to a new section of my arms and boy did that get old, and being almost totally alone all day every day because of my husband’s horrible manager… Whew, did it suck? Why, yes. Yes it did.

I bombed out. I hadn’t finished enough homework in one class to get an official incomplete but they did allow me to officially withdraw, and they also allowed me to apply for the winter semester. Because I’m better and I can do this! I can figure out all the weird work-arounds required, I can finish the assignment from the first semester and salvage one of my two classes, I can take courses in the summer and get this this done and be proud of myself and be yet another super well-educated female known for being smart and dedicated to kids and helpful to her colleagues and involved in the community and all those good things.

Instead, I failed. I tried hard, but I failed. My life is NOT harder than anyone else’s, I am not worse off than anyone else, I am grateful for the good things and people in my life and I know I am oh so lucky in so many true and important ways. But I needed more than I could give. And all the kind help being offered was not enough to get me to a place where I could complete the projects and assignments and do all the other things, like be a new grandmother (I am called Gangey, just like on Arrested Development) and work with two homeound students and deal with the fallout from Dad dying and me still not being quite healed up right and the teenager we have guardianship deciding to do something really horrible that ruined some deeply important relationships. I just flat out failed.

I failed. I wasted time and money and resources. I. Failed.

And now I’m trying to come to terms with how disappointed I am in myself and still find some meaning in my work and in my life and realize that failing is part of my existence and yes, others are better and stronger and smarter than I am and God bless them for being so. I am not special, I am instead someone who fails. But I am also someone who keeps going, trying to take care of the small things within my grasp, and encouraging and loving those who can do more.

Failure can be endured and learned from, failure can be a blip on the screen, seen by only a few, forgotten by everyone except yourself. So, the lesson is to keep trying and don’t worry so much about failing because probably it’s going to happen somewhere sometime. And, I still love you anyway.




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And then…

My husband’s best friend and one of my favorite people ever died. I was all set to do better, to do good, to become a kinder, smarter, more loving person (like that’s ever been a sustained success for me). And then Jim died and all I was and still am is angry and sad. I’m crying just writing those words: “And then Jim died….” Why now? Why so soon? I don’t know. My still-firm Orthodox faith does not have an answer for me (and hasn’t at any of the other sadnesses I’ve experienced — this isn’t my first go-round the grief block). But he left us, collapsed from cardiac arrest and never woke up again, and it flattened my pathetic self, right down to the ground.

And then Prince died and I am sadder than makes any sense. As much as I love him and his music, I was not friends with him, he wasn’t embedded in my life and I wasn’t embedded in him like I was with Jim. So I think I’m having a bleed-over reaction, where I am truly sad about Prince and I’m utterly forlorn about Jim and I cannot keep the lid on the sad or my eyes from constantly leaking tears.

And it may not get better. I am not being cynical or mean or depressed, but, rather, realistic. Things can always get worse. They can get better, but often they don’t. So, what now?

Thinking hard about that answer…

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What a screw-up am I…

So, when the choice to love someone who is intensely unlovable but needs love presented itself in real life, I failed just as badly, as hideously, as anyone I’ve ever looked down on or criticized or judged as being lesser than. We still have a young teenage boy living with us, he continues to do some seriously ugly things to other people that hurt himself and damage others, and I am completely failing to love him in any real or honest way. Instead, I fantasize about inflicting pain, paying him back for hurting good, kind people who loved him and tried to help him. But really, what pain can I inflict that he hasn’t already experienced? When I am contemplating such actions, I am a monster and indulging that monsterish side of myself is a sin, plain and simple. I want to be loving and decent. And I occasionally make some tentative motion toward being so and he, for reasons I can only imagine are designed to hurt others as much as he is hurt or perhaps to destroy himself as his self-preservation instincts are the worst I’ve ever seen, returns that effort with meanness, not usually toward me directly (I am a scary battle axe of a middle-aged woman, and he is somewhat cowed by my dead-level stare, but he knows I am susceptible to his actions harming others.) Sadly for this child, I am still his only legal guardian, but there is a small chance that he will return to his home state to live with a member of his biological family sometime in the next 6 to 12 months. (One of the great sorrows of his life is that almost no one in his family wanted him to live with them when he was a little kid, and that as he gets older, he becomes less attractive as a person and so these family members really REALLY don’t want him around now. Except maybe one does, or says she/he/it does.) We’ll see what happens with that. I’m holding no breath, indulging in no hopes. Rather, I am believing that life will suck in this area until this child turns eighteen. Jesus, have mercy.

My life took a tumble these last seven months or so. Actually, the last year became a gauntlet of sadness and pain. My dad, who had had Alzheimer’s for the last 8-10 years or so, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer last February (2015). I can’t write about all those details yet (yet — I’ll try sometime, but not now), suffice to say that he died in late July. Then in August, my oldest son and his wife and my daughter moved over 1,000 miles away and I miss them in ways that make breathing difficult sometimes. Then I started a new graduate program, an Ed. S. in school leadership, what am I thinking. Then in October, my appendix burst and my lower intestine decided to play along with some sort of perforation, and I ended up in the ER having surgery at 10:30 p.m. at night and then in the hospital for a week (!!), and my life is still very effed up because of  that experience. Lord God, have mercy.

Okay, don’t let me get too dramatic here. It has been hard, I am in pain in many ways physically and emotionally and even spiritually, yes. But I’m still alive, I still have a semi-functional brain, I still have wonderful children and a kind husband.

And I am still, maybe even increasingly, wanting to talk about education. Because things are crazy in education, as many other much smarter and better writers are discussing. So I will get back to writing about education soon. Soon. Promise…



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Doing What We’re Supposed To Do…


Not that others can’t read it, but it really is for those who hold my spiritual values.

As my practically perfect oldest son Samuel can attest, I truly believe that we Orthodox Christians will be judged for not helping our neighbors (Jesus’s definition, btw, not ours) enough, and specifically the orphans — those in foster care and waiting for adoption. Our modern-day record of sharing our resources is abysmal and we should be ashamed. We deny the faith of the martyrs and saints, we deny the faith given to us by our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. (My sister Melissa is the only person getting a pass on this rant, btw, as she has fostered AND adopted.)

Matthew 25:45 doesn’t leave us any wiggle room, y’all. We Orthodox, WE, should be leading the charge to help these children. And we don’t. We are failing and we will be held accountable. And anytime we complain about the state of society or lawlessness or whatever stupid ass complaint about how tough out lives are — we lie and the truth is not in us. WE are why things aren’t better. Nobody else is at fault.


You should. You can. You must. We can only call ourselves Christians if we are obeying His Word!! No dodging the truth, people. We cannot claim we don’t know what we’re supposed to do. We know. So, DO IT.

Posted in Family, Orthodox Christianity, Trying too hard? | Tagged , | Leave a comment

What to do with the ruins…

Women and girls: Do not give up, even when you fail. Failure happens. If it doesn’t, that means NOTHING of worth was happening. Failure is our natural state of being, or at least a part of it. If we aren’t failing at some point, were we really even trying?

Because failure is a way to build and learn and reach higher. We can all learn something from our screw ups, even if it’s merely what not to do next time. Learning new things is a skill, which means we can practice it and hone it and use it again and again and again. Our intelligence, our growth is not a zero sum game! It’s not a case of either you have it or you don’t. You, and I, can learn, experience, grow, get smarter, get wiser, get stronger. I do. And Jesus knows that if I can do something, anyone can. For reals, y’all.

We fail, and then we take the ruins and stack them neatly and use them as a platform, as an elevation, as a method of reaching upward. Build on the ruins. If what you were trying to do was worthwhile, the ruins will be strong and make a great foundation. And if what you were trying to do wasn’t worth your time, well, then now you have a good clean space to work with, right? Time to build again.

Failure does not define us. We define ourselves by our actions and by our choices. How hard we try again and again is what defines us. So, don’t give up trying. It’s our only real option.

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Doing what I love, and feeling guilty about it…

After 5.5 years in the classroom, I applied for a job within the school system that focuses on students in state custody who are also eligible for ex ed services. The plight of students in state custody, in the foster care system, is huge and depressing. They need and deserve smart, trained advocates and workers with time and resources, but our current political system doesn’t often allow for that. When I lived near Nashville, for seven years, I was a Court Appointed Special Advocate in juvenile court with children in the foster system, and the knowledge that too many children are lost in shuffle of a system that must exist regardless of its terrible flaws and failings has never left me. Here was the chance to work for a better life for some of these students. It was (and is) everything I could ever want to do as a teacher, and I had to apply.

I honestly didn’t believe I would get the job. I had the basic required licensures, experience, and recommendations, but just that: the basics. And I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the first choice. But then, five days before Christmas and after the students had already started Winter Break, I was offered the job and, in a heady daze of thrilled shock, I accepted. (And I can truly say that I love my job and feel beyond blessed and lucky to be working a worthwhile job that I love and enjoy, that stretches me and gives me the opportunity to learn new things every day, if not every hour.)

And then the guilt came crashing down. Hard. I was leaving my school. I was leaving my beloved students in my math class and in my advisory and in my inclusion classes. I was leaving the Beta Club. Evening school. I was leaving that the seniors trying so hard to graduate, the students with autism and learning disabilities and behavior plans and traumatic brain injury and absent parents and broken families and gang-slaughtered relatives and friends and everything else you would never wish on anyone and never want to experience yourself. All of these students who I promised to love and care for and teach… I only had the first week of the second semester to tell them I was going away. Most of them were kind and wished me well. They told me they would miss me and then they went on with their school day because hey, it’s just another teacher and there’s plenty of those. But one of them looked at me, a little bit exasperated and sad, and said what my heart was saying: “You’re leaving us.” I was. I did. I may never forgive myself…

Posted in Education and all that, Is that love? | Tagged , , | 1 Comment