Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Honest to Fiction

I started to do something a couple of days ago that I have never done before and then I started wondering why I had not done it before. By age 43, I have done a lot of things, been a lot of places, said a lot of things, and written an ocean of words, so why haven't I ever written to an author before? I think I haven't done this b/c I equate authors with fictitious spirit creatures who deposit their thoughts in the libraries and bookstores of cities and towns, and then depart into Museland to do it all over again. They are idea people who's presence appears through words which touch our hearts and souls, but are untouchable themselves. I believe that is why I had such a struggle writing Beth Berg b/c like Santa and the Easter Bunny, I don't believe she's really there. And, like my mother, I also believe she would know if I weren't "writing true."

My scribbled and discarded letters to Beth looked something like this:

Dear Beth,

I inadvertently bought your book three years ago, thinking you were someone else. No wait. That's not really true. I enthusiastically bought your book Escaping into the Open the Art of Writing True b/c the title was eye catching, but I had never heard of you before. That won't work either--too truthful.

Dear Ms. Berg,

I bought your book three years ago while I was vacationing in Destin and needed something to keep the sun out of my eyes while getting a tan on those pristine white sand beaches that you see advertised on all those vacation brochures in the Southeast. It turned out to be a very educational and inspiring book on writing, however, not what a normal person would read on vacation, and sadly, not big enough to shield me from a whopping sunburn. To tell you the truth, it was several weeks later after I got home (and finished peeling) that I decided to declutter my life when I came across your book again and decided to yank out the annoying fluorescent strip of paper that the book store stuck in there to-- what?-- make people NOT buy their books? So, I decided in midcrumble to read the junk mail that I held oh-so-momentarily in my hand.

I was totally shocked.

On the papaya colored swath of attention grabbing paper, the hand stamped words "Signed by the Author"took my breath away. Ok, it was really stamped and then copied a zillion times, but anyway, it did leave me breathless--and feeling lucky b/c I don't like to wait in line for anything, not even for those mythical creatures called authors who appear for any hour or two on earth to push their craft, make their fairy marks in our literature, and then disappear again to the quietude of a tiger stripe oak roll top desk to create beauty in a blissful Wonderwordland. (Think Lion Witch and Wardrobe with fountain pens and ink rivers instead of fauns and winter witches.)

I'm looking at the evidence right now on the desk beside me--"Elizabeth Berg" scrawled in a flourishing script right above her printed name on the title page. Does this mean authors live here among us? I'm talking about the real authors, not fingers-in-the-air-quotes "authors" who claim to be writing a novel to justify their full skeleton of lazy bones. These two handwritten words written in REAL black ink in MY book, changed everything. I mean everything. My relationship with these mass produced printed pages transformed from "a book for anyone" to "a book for ME."

So, now that Elizabeth Berg successfully captured my attention in those microscopic ten seconds that the experts say consumers allow for perusal of printed material, I had to know more. Not wanting to take a big chance on Ms. Berg at this point, but curious, nonetheless, I went to the library instead of the book store intending to "consume" for free. (Sorta like shopping at Sam's Club on a Saturday at lunch time instead of dropping $25 at O'Charlie's for the same size portions.) The library had bunches of Berg's titles, but unfortunately only three sat on the shelf. I chose Open House to be the first novel I read which was about a single lady who kept her house by taking in boarders. I started reading it and became so engrossed that I couldn't leave the library. When I did leave, I greedily went back to the shelf to grab two other titles Talk Before Sleep and Range of Motion but the first was already gone. Not good. Well, it's good for Berg's reputation and following, but bad for me who wanted to get a lot for a little.

After I finished Open House the next day, I found that it was good that I wasn't able to bring home the entire Elizabeth Berg collection in one day. Like eating all your Christmas stocking candy by the day after Christmas, there was just too much richness in her novel to speed ahead to the next one. I wanted to open each novel carefully, take a lick, think about what the flavor reminded me of, and then wrap it back up and store it away in the safety of my thoughts. That's what an Elizabeth Berg novel does--it stays with you--(not like Christmas candy stays with you,) but Berg's words and characters validate the truth inside the fiction that stays close to our Muse and deep in our hearts.

Maybe I should tell her after all.,,

Dear Beth,

You write good. Keep it up.

Your biggest fan,


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Thank you, Elvis

At precisely 2:26 this afternoon on 2 June, I will celebrate an especially memorable occasion—the middle of a 24 hour Elvis movie marathon that aired in Lawrenceville, GA. I know that you can’t remember what you ate for lunch yesterday, much less what movie was playing on television nineteen years ago unless you, too, are a mother and happened to be giving birth in the midst of Blue Hawaii.

But, you weren’t in Gwinnett Medical Center that day because I was the only one on the labor floor on Saturday, June 2nd, 1990. Well, I wasn’t alone, of course. Tim was cruising the corridors somewhere after he’d been banished by the anesthetist for nearly fainting at the sight of the arm-length epidural needle. And, then, there was the sweet little L&D nurse who loved Elvis almost as much as she loved her vowels. As she fed me ice chips and narrated each painful scene of Elvis’s silver screen escapades, she was happy to articulate why “mama-nem didn’t thank thar wuz ever a more talented man in tha whole wide world.” I waited in a narcotic haze as she alternately monitored the King and the fetal monitor. “Hay—jew feel that one? You just had a big contraction—look at the print out tape.” And sure enough, the high peaks on the “receipt” which issued forth from the labor monitoring machine told me that something was happening. I only wished that my nurse would pay as much attention to my pelvis as she did to Elvis’s.

After twelve hours of active labor, fifty-two commercials, and twenty-nine rocking odes to love, shoes and other pop-culture minutia, my eight pound one ounce sedated and jaundiced bundle of boy considerately appeared in time for the obstetrical resident to miss rush hour traffic. My proud-new-mom delivery room pictures look more like I was a roady for the Grateful Dead than a happy mother of a healthy baby, but I was still considerably numb from the waist down, so putting together a coherent thought and a coordinated smile were hours away from happening.

An old aviation adage says, “any landing the pilot walks away from is a good landing.” Obviously, a cracked up plane is secondary to a human life. And, likewise, lest I seem ungrateful for an untraumatic birth, Nathan’s heavily medicalized arrival certainly could have produced far more severe complications, but it didn’t. I thank God for this. However, the interventions that were administered during labor produced an event that seemed to happen to us rather than were focused on us. Birth seemed to occur outside my body somewhere within the delivery room technology. My body didn’t experience the powerful ebb and flow of labor, the fetal monitor did. There was no perineal ring-of-fire to signal the climax of baby Nathan's long journey, nor irresistible urge to push, nor hoarse but trimphant bellow as my uterine muscles worked in a three-way effort to squeeze out my forty-two week miracle. Instead, I felt more like a passive, sweatless, and mute fetal host to a listless, gray product of conception than a mother of a “wonderously made” infant.

But something else was birthed on that momentous June afternoon so many years ago. It wasn't wrinkled, gray, or limp like my baby boy, but it was a living and vibrant intuitive "knowing" that birth could and should be different from what I had experienced thus far. It was the tapping on the shoulder of the centuries-old creative and God-rendered yearning to understand and embrace His pre-ordained reproductive plan. The plan that encompasses the intertwined dance of pain and pleasure, of work and reward, of physiology and spirituality all married together in a process called natural childbirth.

I owe my gratitude to epidurals, fetal monitors, labor narcotics, and Elvis for illuminating the truth of what a good birth is and what it is not--and to Nathan who survived the worst so that his siblings could enjoy the best. Happy birthday, Nathan!

Sunday, May 10, 2009


Thursday we set our GPS for Clarkesville, GA, home of North Georgia Technical College and Rooster’s Motorcycle Repair Shop. When we stopped for directions to the college, we learned of Rooster's through a local shop keeper who mentioned it as a landmark and possibility for part-time employment.

"Oh, you won't miss it. It's down in the bottoms--past Trinity Baptist on the rite-- you'll probly see Rooster out thar, he's an older fella with a long ole beard. If you stop by, tell'em Jeremy's mom sent ya."

Unfortunately, we never recognized the "bottoms" or Rooster, but I did get an unexpected taste of the mountain community flavor, and it was sweet.

I knew Nathan was anxious about his college entrance exam which commenced at precisely 11:00 a.m. on the NGTC campus. The unfamiliar geography seemed to increase our collective stress at the same rate as the minute hands speedily made their laps. The 2 1/2 hour trip north from Newnan seemed endless. Every north-bound mile brought new and unfamiliar names and scenery. We began to lose trust in our man-made tracker and wondered if we should call the school with an apology and try to reschedule the test. It was apparent that we were off the beaten path--that is, until the "sign" appeared.

The '80's model Ford truck slipped in front of us too slowly and closely for me to avoid seeing the "message" on its very faded bumper sticker. Like Mary's annunciation, this message was unmistakably clear and concise, but, unlike Gabriel's announcement, I doubt that it was directly from God-- but it may have been--He has always been “politically incorrect."

"Got Guns?" I read aloud, as I craned my neck toward the windshield.

I laughed wondering if anyone considered it funny. Apparently, I was the only one in the car who found humor in the parody, but we all agreed that we had to be near the campus. The "Got Guns" sticker was like a blinking neon light. By now, our GPS indicated that we had entered the North Georgia mountains, and this was proof positive that we had, almost quite literally, intersected with its culture. Second amendment fans, plus, a church on every corner, divided by acres of tilled soil, AND, a bearded-Rooster-in-the-bottoms equals?...anyone?... anyone?... Well, that day it equaled a four mile jaunt to our destination. We made it to campus by 10:58 a.m., quite relieved to be on time, possessing a renewed trust in handheld technology, guns, and religion.

"Hello, I'm Wendy, I'm sorry that..." I began my apology to the graying lady at the front desk, who reminded me of a 1950's typing teacher. Her face held laugh-lines that insinuated a permanent smile.

"You must be Nathan's mom. I talked to you on the phone. Well, come right on in, I'll call Daniel who will be administering the test." The campus receptionist engaged us like we were her invited dinner guests and we had arrived just in time for the main course. "He'll be here in just a moment. Can I get you anything?"

I must have answered in the negative because she resumed her desk work with a cheery smile, and for the first time I noticed that my expression exuded the friendliness of a cactus. I made a mental note to relax, and took a seat.

"Daniel's on his way."

"Yes, thank you," I answered mechanically as I opened my manila folder to retrieve the pink slip that included Nathan's full name and test appointment time above the bold italics that read," Student will not be admitted to testing site without picture ID and this admittance slip." Daniel arrived quickly and introduced himself to us. I gripped the required documents ready to thrust them at the kind man who so graciously welcomed us to the school. "So, you're Nathan and you're interested in our motorcycle program?" he asked with interest, as he held out his hand. While he and Nathan exchanged pleasantries, I only half listened as Daniel explained the itinerary for the day, mentioning that testing came first, then a campus tour would follow and conclude in the motorcycle shop.

"I guess you’d like to have these?" I enquired eagerly as I held out the pink admission slip in my hands, wanting to be useful, and yet feeling somehow superfluous.

As soon as Daniel saw the familiar colored page, he waved it off like a pesky housefly. "Hey, I'm head of the program; I already know who Nathan is. You can keep the paperwork." He winked at Nathan embracing him with his confident banter. Nathan exhaled and fell in step with Daniel. A quick and imperceptible link had forged between the student and the administrator. This was Nathan's own college adventure now.

They disappeared through the heavy institutional doors into the glaring afternoon sunlight, and I wondered if Nathan recognized his entry into this new phase of life, or perceived, in any way, his nudge from the nest.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

I Used to be Funny...

One day I will write a book entitled,I Used to be Funny. I was, ya know. At least I thought I was and my friends thought I was and even my parents thought I was. So it must have been true...OK...wait, I guess I should change that title to I Thought I Was Funny...or I Was Funny, Wasn't I?

I don't feel funny now. Everyone thinks my brother is hilarious. He is sometimes. But, occasionally, as he is stealthily roping in his unwitting audience to "set'em up and knock'em down," I notice him slide his eyes toward me as he silently documents his source. He's using my stuff. That's OK. I'm not using it.

But to be honest, people tell me that I actually AM funny now. Well, not ME, but the family dynamic of 9 people under one roof just lends itself to humour sometimes. What's not to laugh about? Large families aren't really like the ones we see in the movies. There are no whistle calls like the Von Trapps had (although I love that idea), or impromptu let's-order-9,000 pizzas-because-our-parents-aren't-here parties like in the modern version of His, Hers and Ours, but you'll find our address in that valley between organization and chaos, turning left at "Holy Cow, I Can't Believe You Said That!"

We follow the rule of two for the most part in our family. We take two cars most places, allow two items from the dollar menu, two cookies in your lunch and we bought two washing machines to help keep pace with the dirty clothes pile. We dine together at two tables and a team of two unloads and loads the dish washer.

If you go anywhere, especially in an airport, you take a buddy along with a radio--not so much for safety, but for those who are directionally challenged. I'm sure you can identify with the feeling of your international flight boarding and suddenly realizing that you've only counted five of seven children. You know that mango-sized ball of fear in the pit of your stomach when you don't know if your sons are on the up-escalator to the $7 airport hot dogs or still in the Hong Kong terminal? I (being the over-protective, ridiculously doting mother) take comfort in the deedle-dee Motorola beeping of the radio signaling that my child (using his best drive-through voice)is on the other end, ""


My husband would prefer the uncertainty of swirling radio static.

"Maybe the kids are in Singapore. We'll meet up at baggage claim."

Admit it; that's funny.

I think humour is a commodity more valuable than gold. I'm not kidding.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Plan B

I knew that keeping up with a blog in addition to everything else that life brings would be a little challenging, so instead of updating it weekly as I had originally planned, it's more like a monthly thing. Oh well! My ten year old son asked his five year old brother this morning, "Oh? You don't have a plan B?" No, Ben didn't have a "plan B" but he can write a "B" and recognize one. That's about where I am---right there with the kindergarteners. Who has time to write a Plan B when Plan A is so full?

Last night my newspaper reporter friend, Susan, called for an interview. She found me on facebook several weeks ago and decided that our family story was interesting enough to grace the "Faith" section of the Salisbury Post. Susan and I had worked together as camp counselors during our college summers back-in-the-day when neon sweatshirts and legwarmers were the quickest way to proclaim our originality and independence (as long as everyone else wore them, too!) Don't try to deny that you had a headband collection and purple reflective lens sunglasses b/c I probably have pictures of you. Ok, well, that was probably me standing beside you, but you have to admit that Duran Duran and Yes were awesome even after you gave your flourescent sweatshirt to Goodwill. (If you need to pause for a cup of coffee here or put the cat out this is good place...)

Are you there? Stay with me's going to get better. Anyway, after the interview concluded, Susan asked, "Wendy, do you realize that you have SEVEN children...SEVEN?" I chuckle to myself b/c questions like that along with "do you know what causes that?" come with the territory. I used to get really irked when people I didn't even know would inquire about my personal life choices, but that was back when I had a romantic notion about childrearing and a blood-pact with perfect parenting doctrines--whole foods, home birth, breast feeding, fresh air. I had a "right" to be offended, didn't I? I mean, these are all really great things.

Well, "that was then, this is now" is a phrase that comes to mind.

I'm not saying that I don't believe in a good routine and conservative discipline principles, but now I am more discerning about what really matters. I mean, what REALLY matter. What? Does it matter that Ben (5) goes to school wearing the socks and pants he wore yesterday or is it more important that he dressed himself? Or, does it matter that our kids have never been on a sports team b/c everyday life for them is a team effort? or should we busy ourselves keeping them busier? These things keep me up at night...

But, as our pastor likes to say, "after all the water has boiled out of the pot" what is left? Only the essentials. The essential thing, the anchor, the tether, the lifeline becomes only one question---Do our children know Jesus? Everything else is fluff. Ball teams, clean clothes, nutritious food, happy days---great stuff---but being a good parent is not the same as being a Godly parent. Am I being a Godly parent? Whew! That's much harder than keeping the kids' physical and social needs met. Now, you're really getting personal. I'm a little bit irked now.

So, I'm back to spiritual kindergarten rereading Galatians 5:22-23, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law." I'll have to write that in my to-do notebook..."1) become a better parent 2)start with self"

Monday, April 13, 2009

Midwifery Links

Just in case you're wondering about the midwifery links on this blog...No, I'm not a midwife, but I have taught childbirth education on the mission field for many years. I've also attended 20+ homebirths (not including my own) as a student midwife. I love and support the whole idea of birth being family-centered and blessed by God, our ultimate Midwife! As I grow older and (hopefully) more discerning, I see many correlations between the process of birth and our spiritual growth. One day, when the time is right, I will become a qualified midwife, but until then, I will support "good birth" through teaching and writing.