Where Angels Fear to Tread

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When people ask me what my husband does, I hesitate. Non-military members usually have no idea what military ministry looks like, and it’s hard to know where to start. It is cheerier to recount chapel services, promotion celebrations, marriage retreats, and baptisms, but in honor of Veteran’s Day, this is how I’d answer if I had enough time to tell the truth.

A young man comes into the office with the excuse of getting candy. He stays to chat. An hour later he is crying, whispering dark memories of friends lost to bullets and bombs and guilt over making it home without them. The mini candy bar he’d come for sits in his hand untouched.

First she was rushed to the ER. Now she is in a wing of the hospital that others speak of in hushed tones. Deep circles under her red-rimmed eyes, the woman stares at the ceiling. She shies away from the watchful eye of the nurse and itches the bandages which cover deep slashes on her arms. She thinks of the two others from her unit who have been here before her this year.

Photo credit: Caleb McCary 2016

Photo credit: Caleb McCary 2016

“I want a divorce.” He waited until she deployed and told her via text. Now he’s ignoring her calls. She’s blocked from his social media. It’s too late in the States to call her parents. She thinks of their child and breaks down weeping on her bunk. She is thousands of miles from everyone she loves most, and they are being taken away with a single text message.

An aged veteran lies in the hospital bed, heart monitors beeping nearby and a plastic tube pumping oxygen into weary lungs. He has fought in multiple wars but this final battle against cancer is a losing one. His wife sits next to him, contemplating the many years they have weathered and wondering how she can leave this room without him. She watches his chest rise and fall and wills him to hold on just a little longer. Their children need to say goodbye.

He doesn’t want to be here, but he no longer has a choice. The man sits alone awaiting the move to rehab at the end of a trail of broken promises, bad choices, and unspeakable pain. He wonders if there will be anything left of his career and family when it’s all over. He holds his head in his hands in shame and wishes he could get a stiff drink to forget it all. But that’s what brought him here in the first place.

Photo credit: Caleb McCary 2016

Photo credit: Caleb McCary 2016

The cold room smells of smoke and gasoline. It’s difficult to breathe, let alone speak. The team looks at the ruined bodies on the tables, the victims of an IED. A half-burned photo of a beautiful young lady is gently removed from a pocket to be preserved. From another pocket they retrieve a little girl’s pink and white bracelet. It was Daddy’s good luck charm. The team blinks back tears as they prepare these fallen heroes for their final journey home.

The young couple search the ultrasound for any sign of a heartbeat, but the little one within her womb silent is still. Hours ago the little one was kicking her in the ribs as she cleaned house and made dinner. Her due date is only a few weeks away. The doctor sits and tells them how they will proceed with delivery and what arrangements will need to be made.

Photo credit: Caleb McCary 2016

The knock on the door startles her as she makes lunch. She looks at the special clock set to Afghanistan time hanging next to a family photo, and lead fills her stomach. A look through the peephole reveals dress blues, and she knows the man on the other side of the door is about to shatter her life with a single sentence. Her daughter and son are at school, just like a normal day. But today is her worst nightmare come to life.

The flag is draped just so over the coffin. A little boy flinches at the gunshots that ring through the cemetery. He begins to cry as the notes of Taps echo in his ears. He buries his head in his mother’s shoulder. He won’t look at the man wearing a uniform like Daddy’s who holds out a blue triangle covered in stars.

“On behalf of the president of the United States…”

Photo credit: Paula Corley 2013

Photo credit: Paula Corley 2013

“the United States military…

Photo credit: Paula Corley 2013

Photo credit: Paula Corley 2013

“and a grateful nation…”

Photo Credit: Caleb McCary 2017

Photo Credit: Caleb McCary 2017

Chaplains choose to step into spaces full of sorrow and pain. They are light in the deepest darkness. They listen, they pray, they give the best advice they can, and they carry all these stories in silence. A chaplain’s office is as private as the confessional booth. They carry the weight of all the pain and hurt of the unit on their shoulders, and they do it with love, compassion, and courage.

There may not be bullets whizzing overhead every day, but chaplains walk where angels fear to tread.

*Important note: all examples in this post are fictitious, composites based on publicly known facts, or my own personal experience. My husband takes privacy very seriously and would never betray the confidence of a soldier under his care, even to his wife.

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Major Milestone: 75,000 words

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75,000 words. 192 pages according to Scrivener.

Do you have any idea what a big deal that is? I have been trying to write a full-length novel since middle school. That’s roughly twenty years for those keeping score. My first attempt at a novel was historical fiction set during the Revolutionary War. The heroine was named Elizabeth Dawes, and I remember absolutely nothing else about it. Dozens of ideas have come and gone since that first attempt. I got bored a lot.

Before we moved I went through my writing box and ruthlessly purged all the ideas and notes I didn’t need. They filled up a large garbage bag. Twenty years of writing was a long lesson in perseverance.

Another reason it has taken so long is I am naturally concise. My college assignments reached halfway down the last required page. I was known for picking topics that were too big for the assignment and barely making them last. My novel takes place over thirteen years, and I’m still struggling to find more words and more chapters. I have to write 50-80 pages before it’s long enough for my preferred agent to consider it.

Pray for me as I try to complete my editing by December and send it out for feedback from beta-readers. That’s a scary proposition. At the moment only five people have ever read even a portion of the novel, and only one person has read the whole thing (thank you, Caleb). I have no idea what people will think of it. As much as I want other people to read it, a part of me does not want to know what anyone thinks ever because they’ll probably hate it and tell me it’s boring and this was a terrible stupid idea.

*sigh*

But I’m not giving up. I’m too close to the end to quit now. Here’s to 15,000-25,000 more words! And thanks for caring enough to read my few and far between posts as I try to finish.

Questions in Black and White

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When my husband was in seminary, I commuted to Dallas on the train for work. I had to leave the house at 5:50 every morning and spent about two hours riding to my office. Remember how I’m not a morning person? It was rough. I managed to get through it by chatting with interesting people, and one woman in particular has been on my mind of late.

I was a little late getting to the train and barely made it on. I ended up in a different car than usual, and eventually I found myself sitting around a table with an older black woman and a few other young white women about my age. We were all pretty quiet, watching the sun rise as the train sped toward Dallas, and one of the ladies was reading a paper. I noticed the front page headline:

60 percent of black children can’t swim

The sentence was mind-boggling to me. Everyone I knew could swim except one kid from church who was afraid of the water after a near-drowning. I couldn’t pull my eyes from the statistic, but when I finally did, they fell on the black woman sitting across from me.

Even I, the queen of social awkwardness, knew I shouldn’t ask. I argued with myself. I told myself to look it up when I got to the office. I imagined a large can of worms being dumped on the table between us.

But this is me. Curiosity won out.

“Ma’am,” I said, getting the woman’s attention, “I just saw that headline on the paper. Why don’t black kids know how to swim?”

There. I asked it, and I couldn’t take it back. I was ready for her to ignore me or growl at me or maybe something worse. The worms were about the hit the table. Instead she smiled.

“Honey, when I was growing up, we weren’t allowed to swim in your pools.”

I don’t what I expected, but it wasn’t that. The ugly fact was spoken with such a kind tone. My eyes dropped to the table, and I felt heat in my cheeks.

“I didn’t realize that was so recent. That’s…” I remember struggling for words and finally settling on “…messed up.”

“Yes, it wasn’t that long ago, but you’re too young to know.” She told me back then if you were black the only swimming options were lakes or creeks, and they were usually dirty and dangerous. Most black people her age just never learned.

“And if I don’t know how to swim, how am I gonna teach my kids?”

“That makes perfect sense. I feel dumb.”

“You’re not dumb. You just didn’t know.”

She told me more of her experiences growing up with segregated pools, water fountains, and schools. The other ladies at the table asked her more questions, and she answered every one. She was kind but blunt. She didn’t blame us, but she also didn’t spare our feelings. I have never been so grateful for someone giving me grace in my ignorance. I thanked her for talking to me and told her I wouldn’t forget it. She got up for her stop and told me she was happy to help.

“Thanks for asking.”

That conversation made me realize that sin has generational effects. Getting rid of Jim Crow laws didn’t heal hearts or even mend fences. The consequences of segregation were real and lasting, even if I was lucky enough not to feel them. I wondered what else I didn’t know.

Last week I remembered that black woman’s willingness to educate a young white woman on a train and wondered what if? What if we all were willing not only to listen but to ask? What if we started the conversation instead of waiting for the other side? I think I’m fairly normal in that I worry I’ll offend someone of a different race no matter how innocuous my comment or question might be. I debated with myself for two days about whether I should call the woman black or African American and finally settled on black because that’s what she called herself, but I’m still concerned someone will be upset with me. I have friends and family of different ethnicities whom I love and trust, and I know they would tell me anything I wanted to know from haircare to food to politics. The truth is it’s easier on me to not talk about it.

I realized after Charlottesville that it’s not about my comfort. I need to be willing to ask first like I did that sleep-deprived morning on the train. I am once again wondering what I don’t know because I’ve been too afraid to ask. If you are white, I invite you to enter into the awkwardness of talking about race. You’ll have red cheeks and sweaty palms. You’ll feel ashamed, confused, and ignorant. You might want to run away from the conversation. Don’t. Ask your black and brown brothers and sisters about their experiences. So many want to tell their stories if we are willing to listen.

If sin has generational effects so do love and compassion. Let’s start the conversation and change the future.

These little arms belong to a dear friend’s first baby and my youngest shortly after they were born last year.

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” -Philippians 2:4

The Lord’s Prayer As a Counter to White Supremacy

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Amen.

The Chief End

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Something to think about for those who would claim to represent Christ while at the same time holding to a Satanic ideology of white supremacy. When Jesus taught his followers to pray, he specifically told them to pray “Your kingdom come.”

In this model prayer Jesus tells his followers to look expectantly toward the coming Kingdom. The Kingdom that they were a part of and would be working to expand. That kingdom had it’s birth with a dark skinned Middle Eastern man and expanded, despite persecution, thanks to the missionary efforts of his disciples. These were also Middle Eastern men. Among his most faithful followers were Middle Eastern women who were often marginalized in their own society but people who Jesus elevated as equal co-heirs in his kingdom. There were tax collectors, adulterers, prostitutes, and murderers.

The people who made, make up, and will make up the Kingdom of God…

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Great Childrens Stories You May Have Never Heard Of

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As my oldest is getting to the age of learning to read and write, I am gleefully anticipating introducing different stories from my own childhood. Many of my friends had never heard of my favorites, so I decided to list a few here. One can always use a new title for the personal library, right? Most of them are older titles, so it might take some searching to find them. I’ve included a brief synopsis of each book along with my own memories and experiences with them. Enjoy!

Mistress Masham’s Repose by T.H. White

Maria lives on the aging English manor of Malplaquet with a wicked governess who is plotting to steal her fortune. One day she notices a walnut shell with a baby inside. Yes, a baby small enough to fit into a walnut! She finds herself befriending a colony of exiled Lilliputians, the tiny people mentioned in Gulliver’s Travels, and that’s only the beginning of her adventures.

I loved this book as a little girl. I promptly forgot the name after I returned it to the library, and years later it took me hours of googling to find it. But find it I did, along with the discovery that Terry Pratchett loves it, too. I think that proves I have good taste when the creator of Disc World agrees with me! I still want my own spider-silk handkerchief, and I have a feeling my kids will, too.

The Sea Fairies by L. Frank Baum

A little girl named Trot wishes she could meet a mermaid, and the queen of the sea fairies grants that wish, giving her and her old sea mariner friend, Cap’n Bill, tails! They travel to the kingdom of Queen Aquarine and King Anko for a tour under the sea. When they are taken captive by sea devils, they must find a way to escape the clutches of a mysterious enemy.

I’ve never met a girl who didn’t want to be a mermaid at some point. This story was more than a little wish fulfillment for elementary-aged me. It’s an exciting adventure that I think even boys will enjoy, especially since Cap’n Bill is such fun. And in case you’re wondering, yes, the author is famous for The Wizard of Oz.

The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden

Chester Cricket falls asleep inside a picnic basket in Connecticut and ends up in the subway station under Times Square. After befriending a cat, a rat, and Milo, a little boy running his parents’ newspaper stand, Chester turns out to be quite the musician, copying the beautiful music he hears on the radio. That’s just the beginning of his new life in New York City.

My favorite image in this story is Chester bedding down in a cricket cage shaped like a miniature pagoda, stuffed to bursting with a dinner of mulberry leaves. I think any child will fall in love with Chester and his friends. I plan to look up some songs Chester plays so my children can better imagine the story.

The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson

A tramp finds three children hiding under a bridge and discovers they and their mother are homeless. Normally very independent and loving his freedom, he feels compelled to help the little family, and they change his life drastically.

I remember loving the adventure of the story and how the tramp was friends with gypsies and other unusual people. It also made me want to go to France as the story is set in Paris. One other thing to note is the book I read growing up was illustrated by the same person who illustrated Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series. I’m excited to see what my kids think of it.

The Grandma’s Attic Storybook by Arleta Richardson

A grandmother tells her granddaughter stories of her childhood growing up on a farm in Michigan. This book a series of vignettes rather than a continuous story, so each chapter was totally different. The book is a compilation of a larger library of Grandma’s Attic stories by Richardson, but I’ve only read this book.

I’ll never forget the story about the facial mask made with beeswax. It made me wary of DIY facials well into adulthood! I also never plotted revenge pranks on my sisters after reading how that backfired in one of the stories. My husband was raised on a farm, so I think he’ll like it, too. You may not be able to find this book (amazon had a few used ones, but that was it), so I’d recommend the Grandma’s Attic Treasury, especially if you have girls.

The Little Lame Prince by Miss Mulock

Young Prince Dolor, lamed shortly after birth from being dropped by a vain chambermaid, spends his days in an isolated tower while his evil uncle runs his kingdom into ruin. A fairy godmother gives him a magic traveling cloak that acts like a magic carpet, giving the prince the ability to see his kingdom and observe the people he should rightfully rule.

The fact that this story begins with a tragedy might make it difficult for some to enjoy, but I envied Prince Dolor his magic traveling cloak and other gifts from his fairy godmother. It’s a lovely story with a wonderful moral, and I think that children with disabilities or other limitations might find it encouraging.

Olga da Polga by Michael Bond

Did you know some guinea pigs are tremendously good storytellers with a flair for the dramatic? Olga da Polga the guinea pig comes to live with the Sawdust family, and life for them and for the neighborhood animals is never the same again.

If the author’s name sounds familiar, you’re probably a fan of Paddington Bear. We had some neighbors who had a guinea pig named Olga da Polga after this book, and it quickly became a new favorite in our house. I also had a guinea pig named Velvet, so I loved the silly stories Olga spins about how guinea pigs lost their tails and how the sky is falling. My children already love this book and want me to get the sequels. Once we arrive at our new home, they’ll be on order!

The Wingfeather Saga: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, North! or Be Eaten, The Monster in the Hollows, and The Warden and the Wolf King by A.S. Peterson

Janner, Tink, and Leeli Igiby live in the land of Skree which is ruled by the evil Fangs of Dang, ugly, brutal lizard-like beings with venomous bites and sharp claws. When Leeli kicks one of the Fangs in the shin to save her dog, Nugget, all three children end up in big trouble.

Last but certainly not least, this fabulous series was discovered by my husband. He’s a fan of Andrew Peterson’s music, and Peterson is at least as good a writer as he is a musician. He has been reading this series aloud to our kids each evening, and it’s a hit. “Not my totatoes!” is a regular war cry about the house, and my oldest is fond of recruiting me to shoot Fangs with a laser gun. I particularly like the character Pete the Sock Man.

I hope this list gives you some ideas for your next bookstore trip or Amazon wish list.