Short Story: Crucible

My eighth-grade teacher once said that a crucible was a really tough situation where guys with serious attitude issues go up against each other, but something good usually comes out of it. Well, looking at it like that, I’d have to say, I’ve done serious time in a crucible of my own.

In eighth grade, I couldn’t decide whether to go onto high school or drop out entirely. I wasn’t a great student. Not the worst—but failing on my own terms, if you know what I mean.

My sister went into the Navy, and my older brother, J. J., was into stuff. My little brother was toddling about the place, and mama was still carrying the baby on her hip like a sack of groceries. She wanted me to go on in school and told me to get extra help. I wasn’t about to ask for any, but then my teacher told me that there was this college lady, Kelsey, who needed to earn points or something for her teaching degree. She needed someone to tutor, and he thought I could use the practice.

The first day Kelsey came after school, I was a little nervous. She was a bookish type—short hair, glasses, dark sweater, and a real stiff handshake—though nice enough.

We went to the library, and Kelsey asked me what I liked to read. I pulled out a book about a sports hero, and she smiled. I can still remember that smile. We met after school for weeks, and every day I read a little better. She’d asked me questions—what I thought about a character or what might happen next. She didn’t seem to care that I skipped over some of the words, or that I couldn’t pronounce the names. It was about getting inside the writer’s head and figuring out why the story mattered. I liked that. Understanding the whole point made it work for me. Kelsey would say, “Motivation is everything, James.”

One day, I had to hurry home. There’s been trouble between Mama and J. J., and I was worried, but Kelsey said she’d come with me so that we could read at home. I wasn’t so sure that was a good idea. My house was on the other side of the river, and I doubted she’d ever been in that part of town before. But Kelsey said she’d be okay with it. So—we went.

Mama greeted Kelsey like a long lost cousin, all smiles, and a big slapping handshake. I looked around for J. J., but he was nowhere insight. The baby was sweating in her diaper, and Mama went back to fixing supper. Kelsey and I sat at the kitchen table, and we started on the last chapter of the book. I had already figured out the ending; I had kinda looked ahead a few days back. I also knew that this would be our last meeting since Kelsey had graduated and taken a job in the northwest.

Suddenly, J.J. stomped in and started yelling—screaming his head off. I didn’t know what had set him off this time, but his glazed, red eyes and waving arms told me all I really needed to know. Kelsey rose to her feet like she was expecting to be introduced, but J.J. got in her face and screamed some more.

“Why didn’t nobody ever help me? What’s so damn important about James that he gets all the attention?”

Kelsey stood her ground, but she couldn’t break through. She said she’d help him if she could, but I knew it was hopeless. J. J. didn’t want to read.

After a bit, J. J. blew out of the kitchen as fast and furious as he had blown in.

Mama went over to Kelsey and lifted a big, black skillet she had in her hand. “I would’ve banged him over the head if he’d have taken another step.” Poor Mama was shaking all over—from rage or fear I didn’t know. Probably both.

Anyway, I knew our time was over. Kelsey had given me her best effort, and I appreciated it, but it was time to move on. Her last words that day were: “Don’t forget the last chapter, James; it’s often the most important.”

I can’t remember the last chapter of that sports book. It didn’t matter much. But the skillet in Mom’s hand and Kelsey’s courage did. I found a job working across the river and, though it took me some time, I did make it through high school. I never went to college, but I got a good job. J.J. did some time in prison, and then one day my sister found him od’ed in his room.

When I think back to all the things I’ve done, the people I’ve known—like Kelsey and mom—and how things turned out for J. J., I’ve got to say that something good came from my crucible. I started reading my life, and I got motivated to write a really good last chapter.

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

Ishtar’s Redemption http://amzn.to/2kHKLtN

Neb the Great http://amzn.to/2kS1Ylm

Georgios I—Hidden Heritage http://amzn.to/2lscPWg

Georgios II—A Chosen People http://amzn.to/2lTK0mu

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Two Brains In One and Sleep Deprivation

sunsetSoooo, speaking of sleep deprivation… We were speaking of sleep deprivation weren’t we? Since it feels like my obsession these days, we must have been.

Why do our days have to get loooonger right when summer rolls around and the garden needs to be tended – on top of a kazillion other things that need to be done in the course of a day?  Does the sun care? Does it take any moral responsibility for the fact that the human race is scurrying about in frantic haste on the surface of the the third planet, wearing themselves to a frazzle because the saying, “Make hay why the sun shines.” seems to make some kind of relative sense to our benumbed, exhausted, and guilt ridden minds?

Silence.

Just as I suspected, the sun’s not fessing up to anything. Yeah, I know, it’s summer somewhere on the planet all the time. That doesn’t really help!

I just watched the CGP Grey You Tube video You Are Two CGPGREY https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfYbgdo8e-8 and found myself having one of those “Aha!” moments. So the right brain is our silent partner? Yeah, sure. I doubt s/he is so silent. I suspect that silent right brain (Righty for short) is really the brains behind the weird dream sequences which inform us of the real state of our mind and the impending psychotic break we like to pretend isn’t happening.

You know what I am talking about, those dreams where the kitchen broom has grown to statue-of-liberty-size and chases us down the halls of our childhood home, which bizarrely looks a lot like our fifth grade classroom.  Obviously, Righty is having some fun with us after a day of being hammered with twenty kazillion images/problems/paradoxes and only three rational choices.

So, we have two brains in one person?  My son wondered if that was anything like the Trinity, three persons in one God.  Don’t know.

Righty, any thoughts on that?

Oh, yeah, you’ll let me know tonight.

Sigh.

Faith in God

history imageI love history and I enjoy looking back at where we’ve come from – be it the 1660s with Samuel Pepys and Charles II or the 1770s with Jane Austin and her clear-eyed look at the sense and sensibilities of those around her.  Every time I reencounter humanity, no matter the age, I reencounter an aspect of our larger culture as human beings.

One thing remains the same, no matter the era – we struggle for control.  We struggle to understand the natural forces which can so easily destroy us.  We also struggle with the God who made us, defining Him by our standards or rejecting Him – to our peril. In these duel struggles, we find some small measure of security. By studying the elemental forces around us, we manage our natural fate.  By defining God, we manage our supernatural reality.

Or do we?

Samuel Pepys lived an odd faith life, going to church every Sunday, frequently sleeping through the sermons, but he also made personal vows before God, which greatly enhanced his life and his business success. Jane Austin does not often refer to a personal relationship with God, but her characters reflect the faith values which held her society together, however fragilely. But both were aware, however grimly, of their limits and their need for introspection.

Today we live in a time where faith in God is frequently treated as a child’s game, a myth to be swept aside by the serious work of “real” lives – lives ironically filled with games and fantasy.  It seems that truth must be spoon fed to us through fiction in order to be acceptable. We can tolerate the good and evil of Star Wars, the corruption of Sauron and orcs through The Lord of the Rings but not the convictions of people of faith. Even real life stories of “good people” is far too didactic, since we all know we are a mixed lot with good and evil inside each of us.

Yet, history teaches us, and current world events should remind us, that good and evil can be rather simple and obvious.

I have been enjoying some Christian movies this Christmas season, though not all of them would be classified that way: A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol and some modern movies – Do You Believe? Little Boy and Mom’s Night Out. They each speak to the reality of good and evil in the world of human beings. I am looking forward to seeing God’s Not God's Not Dead 2 Dead 2 April 1st, 2016. God’s Not Dead 2 I am relieved that some people are unafraid to see what is right in front of them. They do not need to hide their moral convictions under layers of fantasy.

Fantasy certainly has its place in our story-telling, truth-revealing world, but it is good to remember that truth is present in every age, with or without the sermon. Perhaps the reason we have become so intolerant of Christian stories is that we have become intolerant of the truth they tell. To our peril.

History Minor. (n.d.). Retrieved January 20, 2016, from https://www.sju.edu/majors-programs/undergraduate/minors/history-minor
God’s Not Dead 2. (n.d.). Retrieved January 20, 2016, from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4824308/

 

 

Heaven and Hell

Cat and kittenMama cat with her four adorable kittens has taken serious offense at Red Hen’s incursions into their food bowl.  While I watch the unfolding power-struggle, I have to smile at the innocence of animals struggling for their place in the world and attempting to protect their own. I can solve the problem with a broom, ushering Red-Hen back toward the chicken yard and calming the cat with a few soft words. Tragically, the larger world cannot be so easily appeased.

Lately I have read several furious posts by people justifiably outraged about Planned Parenthood’s assaults on humanity and the world’s apparent lack of concern.  I am outraged too.  Yet I also live in a society that has some good in it.  I feel like I am living in a duality – a heaven and hell reality.  Some how we have managed to make a pretty good living while slaughtering millions. Some how we have managed to acquire a high standard of living while racking up unpayable debts. Some how we have managed to secure technological and scientific advancement while losing touch with our families and our better selves.

IMG_0273 (2)Blagobear in the flowersWhen I pondered what to write about this morning, I considered all the beauty in my little world: the late summer flowers coming into bloom, the antics of young animals at play, the enticing challenge of teaching young minds to read and write, the adventure of new recipes, and how my third daughter made the most delicious “sand-cookies” and how she almost convinced the little ones that she really did use sand.  All these are worthy topics, but how can I justify my public time and attention on the good and the beautiful, while tragic and terrible reality exists along side, creeping up behind?

After many years dealing with loved ones who suffered from various addictions, I finally came to accept that I needed help – along with them.  I went to a few Al-anon meetings and discovered there what my faith had taught me all along.  I am not alone and I am not here to fix the world, I am here to love the world. But love does not mean to enable the wicked and wrong to conquer the good and the beautiful.  Sometimes brooms are necessary to move an incurring hen to her rightful place.  Sometimes videos are necessary to expose the horrors of genocide. Sometimes we should be outraged.

We live in a world incorporating elements of both heaven and hell. It seems to me, it is best to appreciate the one while holding back the other.  Ignoring either is to invite insanity and spiritual death. While I’d like to make Red-Hen understand her place, I know she will try again, as will Possum and many other wild folks of the woods.  But I keep my broom handy and enjoy the late blooms anyway.

 

Nature Never Forgives?

rainbow 3The quote attributed to Pope Frances saying, “God always forgives, man sometimes forgives, but nature never forgives…”  seems very apropos today. The whole concept of forgiveness is a rather celestial one. From debt forgiveness to nature’s revenge, what can we take away from this assessment?  How do we direct our lives toward forgiveness and being forgiven in a world born of both natural and super-natural truth?

For me, nature has been a rather simple affair. Like the Holy Father, I have found the natural world to be awesome…though not without some terrible characteristics. This year’s bountiful garden may produce wonderful fruits and vegetables, but weeds grow fast, spread their seeds wide, and poison ivy never gets friendly.

poison ivy For the past several summers, I have made the same mistake.  At some point in late summer, I forget the tortures of past experience, and I step into a poison ivy patch or cut down what I consider some harmless vegetation, and I end up with miserable itching for weeks. Is there a statue of limitations on my experiences? Yet, as the memory of my suffering decreases, so my reckless boldness increases.

When I look back on history, I see the same trend.  I read about debt crises of the past and I wonder that humanity could fall into the same terrible pattern again and again. Though the momentary crises with Greece may be passed, the problem of world debt is not.  Like poison ivy, it is born of the same truth, a reflection of indisputable reality. And reality will take care of itself.  Looking at the looming social security crises, I can almost feel the creeping itch of poison seeping into our system.  Debts will have to be paid, sometime, by someone.

Yet, Greece’s debt was partially forgiven.  As Pope Frances reminds us – men can forgive.  We have the power to do so, but we cannot totally eradicate reality.  That is the province of God.  Only God can forgive our debts so that they are totally wiped clean.

It seems a generous thing to forgive as God forgives.  In fact, we are commanded to do so by God Himself. Yet, I do not believe God intends us to forget reality altogether. There is a reason He made nature as predictable as it is. There is a reason why He made us a combination of natural and supernatural reality.  We are not yet fully alive to the supernatural world.  We have limits.  If you doubt this – time and death will have their shared wisdom to impart.

So though nature can be awesome and beautiful, it is also a powerful teacher. It is a part of a complete reality which reminds us of something we might like to forget: we are not God.

As we steward our planet, spend our money, choose our next president, forgive our friends and enemies, it might be wise to keep nature’s limits and poison ivy’s wrath in mind.

Living the Adventure

sunsetAs the hot sun beats down upon us, lush 9 foot corn stalks breathe out their earthy, green scent, and humongous humidity make me wonder if rural Illinois should be called the biggest-corn-growing-jungle-of-the-world, I am trying to wrap my mind around the fact that a new school year and all of winter’s thrills stands just before us.  We best be ready.

This year I will have one in college, three in high school, and four kids in grades 7th through 2nd. I’ll also be taking some classes myself. Might as well live the adventure.  As my husband would say each time he took the boys out for a driving lesson, “No guts, no glory.” Not the advice I would give, but I knew what he meant.  He certainly lived to the fullest extent possible before death took him where I cannot yet follow.

I am looking forward to the challenges of teaching various grade levels, encouraging my eldest to maintain his A average in college, helping my second son discover which university he would like to attend and what degree he might like to pursue.  I love teaching reading to young minds just awakening to the power of the written word.  I am inspired by the beauty of art and it’s application in the home. My spirits rise when my kids practice their musical instruments, and we all learn from history, attempting to come to some greater understanding of our present times.  Even basic math and its cousin Algebra encourage our brain cells onto feats of learning, discovering new wonders of our world.

I am grateful for all that God has placed within my reach to love, admire, and assist.  I can be of service and I can grow, nourished by the reality that much of life is what we make of it.  Trials, challenges, and tribulations will always be a part of the human experience, but I am most content when I face them with a spirit of love and hope.

There is much to grieve in this world and through prayer we can be reconciled to our sorrows.  Yet sorrows and our weakest selves must not define us. There is an adventure in living, no matter how hot the sun or how encroaching the vegetation.  Truly, living the adventure means seeing the quest in our own lives.

 

Catholic Life Support 2 – Books

Here is Catholic Life Support 2 – Books. These are new books written by Catholic authors. Our goal is to help encourage, support, and assist each other in our journey toward our greatest good – God.  Enjoy:)  Great books for great souls!

Navigating Deep WatersNavigating Deep Waters: Meditations for Caregivers by Jeannie Ewing: Grief afflicts everyone’s lives, including caregivers who provide long-term care for one who requires special needs. Yet caregivers are so often left feeling burnt out, aggrieved, and simply lost or emotionally drained. Navigating Deep Waters: Meditations for Caregivers is a unique resource for busy caregivers who are physically and emotionally spent at the end of a long day. http://amzn.to/1JVuURI

The Scholar's ChallengeThe Scholar’s Challenge by Julian Bauer: In the third century, the Roman Empire threatened Christians with torture and death if they did not sacrifice before the Roman gods. The Church thrived under such pressure, for as Tertullian said, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christianity” Instead, the greatest threat to Christianity was Christianity itself. Divergent theories of God’s nature, apostolic tradition, and dissimilar copies of Holy Scriptures caused the early Church to question itself. Without telephones, printing presses, or a reliable postal system, the 1,800 bishops of that time found themselves in numerous cultures, speaking different languages, and needing someone to gather and consolidate authentic Church doctrine and reliable Scriptures. They found such men in Origen and Jerome. http://amzn.to/1Fbb3ri

Affairs of the HeartAffairs of the Heart – God’s Messages to the World by J.I. Willett: Affairs of the Heart – God’s Messages to the World is the wake-up call to follow your dreams and change the world one person at a time. This clergy-approved book is changing lives and relationships and is a great women’s inspirational story. http://amzn.to/1H1LnPc

Birds of a FeatherBirds of a Feather by Kaye Park Hinckley: The first story in this collection sits a reader bolt upright. Two stories in, you marvel at this storyteller, who sends us flying over new country, a landscape of modern parables where faith runs river-deep. Kaye Park Hinckley seems to overflow with beautiful, heartbreaking love and lessons. A world with broken wings can surely make use of such stories.  http://amzn.to/1AAbkZ0

Trusting GodTrusting God with St. Therese by Connie Rossini: Are your fears, weaknesses, doubts, and anger keeping you from intimacy with Christ? Do you struggle with despair? Let St. Therese teach you perfect trust. Learn how Therese of Lisieux trusted God through tragedy, scruples, spiritual darkness, and physical suffering. Connie Rossini pairs episodic stories from the saint’s life with memories of her own quest to trust. http://amzn.to/1AAReOv

A Body in PrayerA Body in Prayer by Neil Combs: A Body in Prayer was written for people who want a richer prayer life. From getting past obstacles (no time to pray) to learning to include God in the little moments of life, a Body in Prayer shows different ways to think about prayer and to use our whole bodies to pray. By being the hands of Christ, using our eyes see Christ in others and even using our stomachs to fast, we find many ways to be A Body in Prayer. http://amzn.to/1KBCGl6

AngelhoodAngelhood by A.J. Cattapan: Seventeen-year-old theater geek Nanette believes her life is headed toward stardom on Broadway. But when her dream theater college rejects her and her best friend dies in a terrible accident, Nanette decides the world would be better off without her. Unfortunately, the afterlife offers something less than a heavenly situation. Trapped between alternating periods of utter darkness and light, Nanette is stuck following a high school freshman around. Soon, she learns she’s a guardian angel, and the only way she can earn her wings is to keep her young charge, Vera, from committing the same sin she did—taking her own life. http://amzn.to/1Kt9KZd

The BenchThe Bench by Linda Rawlins: Rocky Meadow, Vermont, seemed to be a quiet little town until people started dying or showing up in the emergency room under mysterious circumstances. Dr. Amy Daniels is a trauma surgeon, who recently moved to Rocky Meadow after a family tragedy. There she meets Father Michael Lauretta, a psychologist priest who counsels troubled clergy and pastor of the famous Rocky Meadow Retreat House. Together, they save lives and souls and try to solve a mystery before they become the next target of a greedy killer. Will they be able to put a stop to this deadly rampage? http://amzn.to/1cnconz

Return to ParadiseReturn To Paradise by Tim Speer: David had planned to go to his college homecoming and then spend a week with his parents. However, an accident on the highway sends him on a detour that will ultimately result in him spending the weekend in Spring River, a small farming community where many of the local farmers are facing foreclosure. Is David’s arrival in Spring River purely happenstance, or is there a reason for him to be there? As David learns more about the corrupt practices of the local bank he must decide what role, if any, he will play in trying to stop the foreclosures. Complicating his decision is Sarah, a local waitress. With plans to only be in town a couple of days, David knows that Sarah will likely be just a passing acquaintance. But is that all she really is to him? Through prayer and faith, the town of Spring River is given new hope. http://amzn.to/1LUcS0B

The Blood Cries OutThe Blood Cries Out by Karl Bjorn Erickson: Seattle Police Homicide Detective David Lightholler finds himself on a case unlike any he’s faced before. In the midst of working the darkest double homicide of his career, he unearths violent secrets of his family’s past that promise to haunt him for many years unless he can bring redemption and meaning out of the evil of the past–and present. http://amzn.to/1HGUFQU

Neb_Cover front cover onlyNeb the Great – Shadows of the Past by A. K. Frailey: Neb fears his own passion; he must love someone. When he finally meets his match, it almost destroys him. The innocent are never truly alone and the guilty are never really free. Neb the Great battles for souls as well as power. http://amzn.to/1PSkvuM

 

Chasing LibertyChasing Liberty by Theresa Linden: Liberty 554-062466-84 of Aldonia lives in a responsible society that cares for the earth and everyone on it. They have learned to balance resource consumption with replacement initiatives, unavoidable pollution with clean-environment efforts. Science ensures that every baby born is healthy. The government ensures that every baby born is needed. All are cared for, taught, and given a specific duty to perform, their unique contribution to society. Why is Liberty so unsatisfied? http://amzn.to/1GnBudY

Passport

Passport by Christopher Blunt: A coming-of-age story about a young man’s discovery of self-sacrificial love. It is told through the eyes of Stan Eigenbauer, who is living a generally upright — but comfortable and self-satisfied — bachelor’s life. When he meets a lovely young woman, he thinks he’s found the one thing that was missing: a passport to “heaven on earth.” http://amzn.to/1eQuwsf

 AWSAHI Final CoverA World Such as Heaven Intended by Amanda Lauer: In “A World Such as Heaven Intended,” Amara McKirnan and Nathan Simmons share a devotion to their Catholic faith but their loyalties lie on opposite sides of the conflict. Dedicated to the Confederate cause, Amara offers to help out at her uncle’s makeshift hospital in Atlanta. Fate brought Nathan to their doorstep and into Amara’s life. http://amzn.to/1fWw2JA

 

A Catholic GardenerA Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac: Cultivating Your Faith Throughout the Year by Margaret Rose Realy: The first book to offer gardeners spiritual resources and creative projects that connect a love of gardening with their Catholic faith. Margaret Realy, master gardener, retreat leader, and writer, presents this spiritual companion that follows the natural and liturgical seasons and offers gardening tips and easy-to-do projects for each month of the year. http://amzn.to/1KkoV95