Looking On the Bright Side?

So, I was trained as an election judge at the county courthouse, and I learned way more about elections than I ever thought I would. What astonished me were not the rules to keep track of the ballots, the attention to every detail in order to protect the voting process, but rather the people in the room with me. For the most part, my co-trainees had been doing this duty for years. Faithful and reliable. Exceptional really. It was humbling to realize—for the umpteenth time—how much I have taken for granted in my life.

Driving to get chicken for the kids’ dinner—since I was way behind schedule and frankly fried chicken sounded really good at that point—I considered the cleared fields, the cars, and trucks rolling along the paved roads, the neat houses and yards, the orderly marketplace and quiet town, and I marveled at how much goes right in this world.

There is such a daily barrage of bad news that sometimes I feel inundated with the horrors of our human journey. But when I stop and look around, I can see that quite a few things actually go right each day.

Is it a matter of looking on the bright side? A Polly Anna disposition and all that? Perhaps not. Perhaps it is really assessing reality as it actually is. In fact, much of our world does run quite well by the hard work, decency, and generosity of a great number of people.

I’ve heard it said that the devil in hell doesn’t buy a soul for a fortune—he only needs to offer trinkets. Well, I suspect that we sell our good humor, our cheerful dispositions, our positive outlook, our health, welfare, and even our sanity to the negative details of a world that can’t possibly be perfect. How willing am I on an average day to gripe about a hundred things that aren’t right, when I could just as easily thank God for a million things that have kept me alive and in decent shape?

The sales lady at the Wal-Mart grumbled when I asked for three containers of chicken. She snarled at her co-worker. “Just put out a new batch, and she’s clearing me out!”

Yikes! Guilty as charged. But the other woman winked at me and grinned with good humor. Guess which face I’m going to remember as I head home smiling…

Yep.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

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

What Do You Know?

If Catherine had known what the day would bring, she would never have gotten out of bed.

“Well, that’s not entirely true,” she murmured as she flopped down on her bed that evening. The old-fashioned ceiling fan was covered in dust, and she wondered why she’d ever thought it was a creative choice. “Probably doesn’t even work. Like the freezer…the mixer…the stupid thingamajig on the dashboard.” She sighed, sat up, and rubbed her eyes. Lord have mercy; she was tired.

Boot steps clumped up onto the kitchen porch. One of her mongrel dogs started barking. Heaving herself free of the embrace of the bed, Catherine swore under her breath, her eyes darting to the purple sunset out the window. “Who on earth—?”

The dog she referred to as Sally, though she hated the name, upped her barking to frenzy mode. A shiver ran over Catherine’s arms as she hustled into the room. What if it was a crazy man? Or worse yet, someone selling something? Or—nightmare image—a religious cult member wanting to share the good news with her?

A man’s voice murmured in the darkness. Soothing words. He chuckled.

Sally’s barking stopped. Instantly.

Alarmed, Catherine swung wide the kitchen screen door. Oh. Great. There lay Sally on her back, her legs splayed, with an idiotic grin on her face, getting a tummy rub from a total stranger.

Man’s best friend, maybe but certainly not mine. Catherine gritted her teeth and peered through the dim light to the stranger who had straightened up and stood to face her.

He was tall, his dark hair swept low over his brow, a little long, but not unkempt. He wore jeans and a black jacket over a rolled up long sleeved shirt exposing a serious tattoo, and his heavy boots had traces of mud on them. A working man.

Catherine frowned. He was bigger than her and perhaps two or three years older, but she didn’t feel threatened. Not exactly. She met his gaze.

“Sorry to bother you, but my car died at the end of your lane, and I’d like to call someone for help if you don’t mind.”

Suspicion flooded Catherine like a tsunami. “Why can’t you use your cell phone? Don’t tell me you don’t have one.”

He ran a hand along his jawline; a long red scratch marred a fading tan. “I tried, but either my cell’s out of juice, or there’s no reception around here.”

Catherine winced. She knew perfectly well that reception was spotty. She glanced at the mountainous clouds gathering overhead and made an impulsive gesture. “Well, alright. I still use a landline since my cell phone reception is as unreliable as a man on a first date—” Opps! I didn’t just say… She closed her eyes and stepped aside.

He swept past her and stopped in the middle of the room, looking around.

Thunder rumbled.

Catherine blinked and pointed to the far wall where an old-fashioned telephone, 1950’s style, sat ensconced in a wood frame.

He strode forward, picked up the phone awkwardly, and dialed a number.

Catherine lugged her school bag to the wooden kitchen table and dumped an array of papers, books, pencils, colored pens, and various school paraphernalia over the surface. She sighed and murmured, “It’ll take me all weekend…”

Throat clearing turned her around. She looked at the man in the bright glare of the kitchen. He was good looking. Not classically handsome but familiar somehow. His deep-set eyes looked weary, and something around the corners made her think he’d had troubles of his own. Good grief. He looked like a man who had known deep sadness.

Catherine bit her lip. Still, he was a stranger. A man. Like her ex-husband. Like her brother. Like her father.

This morning when she caught a junior high student cheating and brought the fact to the principal’s attention, she had been told she was too sensitive and needed to be more caring. Later, she discovered that the principal had a very friendly arrangement with the mother of said cheater. In the lounge, all the teachers had laughed when she protested the injustice of it all. Leanne even told her to “get a life and stop acting like a self-righteous old nun.”

Lightning flickered in the windows.

Heat burned Catherine’s cheeks.

The man looked around at the country style kitchen that Catherine had labored so long to decorate. “Nice place.” He held out his hand. “My name is Clem. Sorry about intruding like this.” He flipped out his phone and grimaced. “Not a bar on here.”

“It’s the trees…and the fact that we’re in such a low spot…and out in the middle of nowhere.” Catherine wanted to slap herself. Shut up, you idiot!

Clem smiled.

My lord, how the smile changed his face.

“I’m out behind the McCarthy place. I just moved in…and no one mentioned that reception was so bad. I guess I should’ve done some research.”

“Well, with the storm—”

A thundering crash of rain pelted the metal roof.

Glancing at the sprawled mess of spelling tests and math quizzes, Clem grinned. “I used to be a teaching assistant in Utah…corrected papers faster than a speeding bullet.”

Catherine snorted. “Anytime you feel a hankering to mark off atrociously misspelled words in red ink, you just let me know.”

Flashing lights vied with the pounding rain outside the doorframe.

Clem hustled forward. “It’s my friend, he lives next door. Only other person I really know around here. He’ll take me home.” He shuffled his feet. “If you don’t mind, I’ll come back in the morning and get the car.” He peered down at her as if asking permission…as if it were her lane.

Her throat, suddenly as dry as the Sahara, made her voice sound huskier than she ever intended. “That’s fine. It’s a dead end. No one goes down this way…except to check on the cows…in the pasture.” With a shake, she peered at him. “What were you doing…if you don’t mind my asking?”

He shrugged. “Just getting my bearings. I got work down at the power plant. As I was heading home, I realized that this lane is just behind my house. I had nothing better to do, so I thought I’d investigate. Didn’t expect my car to die.” He snorted. “Or my phone to quit…though…”

She didn’t need him to finish the thought. “Yeah. Me too. One of those days.” She met his gaze again. “Don’t worry about the car. It’ll be safe enough.” She stepped toward the flashing lights.

Clem followed and opened the screen door. He hesitated. “Thanks. I appreciate your trust. I was afraid you’d set your dogs on me.” He grinned as Sally whined and tried to smuggle her fat body between his legs.

Catherine rolled her eyes. “Lord save a woman from marauders with that specimen of canine protectiveness.”

Chuckling, Clem scratched Sally behind the ears. “I don’t know. I think she did all right. Glad she didn’t eat me.” He stepped out onto the porch, waved to the bright lights from the car parked in the driveway. He turned back to Catherine. “I’ll be back in the morning. Mind if I stop in and say hi? I’ll bring my red pen…”

Her heart jumped to her throat. Catherine swallowed. This does not happen in real life. Not to me. She sucked in a deep breath. “Sure. No, I mean, that’s fine. I have a pot of strong coffee about 7:30—sleep in on Saturdays…” She wanted to slap herself again.

“Great. See you then.” He stepped off the porch into the rain and disappeared into the waiting car. The bright lights swiveled as the car turned and drove away.

Catherine limped back to her room on shaky legs, her whole body radiating a heat she could hardly explain. She flipped the fan switch and plopped down on her bed. The blades turned smooth as silk and sent a delightful breeze over her skin. It suddenly struck her as enchanting. Even the dust looked rather quaint. “Well, what do you know? It works.”

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

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

Brave Smile

I met a brave smile yesterday, and my faith in humanity flickered back to life. I had recently met with a painful disappointment, and I believed that a piece of my heart was broken beyond repair.

But I discovered that even a broken heart responds to a brave smile.

At the time, I was sitting between two young women I hardly knew, making light conversation with a few heavy topics thrown in for variety. The woman on my left was as innocent as the dawn of creation, but the one on my right smiled through sad eyes. Perhaps I read more in than was there…perhaps I saw myself reflected in her gaze. But that was what amazed me. I dared to care.

As I drove home from Mass tonight, a storm flickered in the northern sky. There isn’t usually lightning this time of the year, but the weather has been oddly mixed up. Probably just matching humanity’s mood swings. From the CD player, a violin rose and fell in wild cadences and on the horizon clouds loomed like mountains. I drove through the black night with rustling trees swaying and dried corn stalks swirling from the barren fields like remnants of ghosts.

At Mass Father had mentioned that life expectancy in the US has dropped the last few years, partially because of “diseases of despair”—addictions and suicide. This reality struck me as especially terrible in a generation with more technological and medical advancements and greater wealth, education, and entertainment opportunities than ever before. I guess the old saying is true: You can’t buy happiness…or even a ray of hope. Later as the priest held up the Host, I more clearly understood the reality of perfect God coming as food to a starving and imperfect human race.

And loving us anyway.

I rarely know the deep grief of those around me, but I still find it comforting to remember a young woman with sad eyes smiled at me.

The wind blows, rattling the windows as the threatening storm arrives, bringing freezing temperatures. Soon, the kids and I will watch part four of a series on John Quincy Adams, and I’ll be reminded once again that humanity has faced mighty trials both personal and societal yet lived to tell the tale…despite our hurts and broken hearts.

Despair is not the only option to pain, grief, and fear. Courage and endurance are still possible. No doubt, you, too, have known your share of grief. Just a quick scroll through any social media platform or the news of the day is enough to make a person want to crawl under a rock. Forever.

But a brave smile offered me encouragement and solace when I needed it. I doubt she’ll ever know. But you and I know.

A brave smile can enkindle a spark of hope in a world that needs it badly. Even if your heart is breaking…smile anyway.

Dare to care.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

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

What Are We Searching For?

I decided to check the final 2018 stats on my blog this week. Nearly gave myself a heart attack. Not that it was bad…but the reality of the numbers and the fact that the globe was almost completely covered overwhelmed me. 65 countries have logged into my website this year, many of them multiple times. Even hundreds of times. The US, of course, topped the list with over 4000 views.

I’m from the generation where globetrotting was considered unusual. Travel abroad was for those with money and means. Granted, I grew up in a house where foreign students boarded with us from all over, so I understood the multicultural reality of our planet.

But websites and blogging have tightened the embrace.

On a given day, I may interact with people from half a dozen countries. And I might not even realize it. I’m used to calling my dad and asking about the weather in Kansas, but it still feels weird to ask a friend what the weather is like today in India. Or to be checking world time zones to see if someone would be available for a chat. And to consider that normal.

My kids play online games with people from all over the globe. But they don’t see it as unusual. They’ve grown up with it. They may not be multilingual except for high school level Spanish or German, but they manage to make headway in a world dominated by computer technology.

Back in the day, science fiction really was really fiction. Nowadays, we have nearly everything Captain Kirk had—but better. Granted we don’t travel to distant galaxies…or do we? We’re building telescopes that can reach to the edge of the universe. That’s a pretty big reach. We’re exploring planets, stars, black holes, and outer space like never before in human history.

At the same time, we’re discovering more about our universe on the opposite end of the spectrum. Go small and discover a whole new world. Look inside and travel deep into the microstructure of life.

It isn’t just that we are interconnected, but we’re a world changing at super speed at the same time. If Adam and Eve chomped on an apple for knowledge…I’d say we must be getting pretty close to the core.

Or maybe not.

God is infinite. Our search may go on forever.

Which begs a question: What are we searching for?

I remember returning to the US from the Peace Corps in the Philippines and realizing that there was a lot of work that needed to be done in my own hometown. In my own family. I hardly needed to go across the planet to find a cause to live for, a love to die for, or a purpose to give meaning to my day.

I’m glad that my website reaches so many countries, and I’m glad that my kids are living in such illuminating times. But I can’t help but wonder if we tend to look up when we should also look in. We’re peering at a screen when we should be gazing into a pair of eyes.

Am I tapping a pad, when I might be holding a hand?

Yes, I reached around the globe this past year, but have I touched a heart today?

Maybe I should tighten the embrace…indeed.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

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

Ironic Twist of Fate

In an ironic twist of fate, short-term memory loss has advantages. For example, it’s great for my daily workout. I run downstairs on a specific errand…get sidetracked, drop the laundry into the dryer, sweep up a mess, and climb all the way to the top step, before I realize that I really came down to get some frozen pumpkin to make a pie.

Short-term memory loss may also be one of the reasons mothers can enter into a third pregnancy as if they had never suffered morning sickness in their lives. Or why an otherwise perfectly sane person adopts a second puppy.

There are a lot of ways of peering at reality. Not that objective reality changes. Nooo. That’s silly. Two plus two still adds up to four. Unless you want to throw in variables…or play socio-political mind games. But that’s another story.

Still, I like to tell my kids that, as fate would have it, their weaknesses can, if utilized properly, become their greatest strength. Stubbornness heated in the fire of charity can be forged into loyalty. Unregulated passion can be shaped and molded into charity. Intellectual challenges can inform our human empathy. Physical imperfections can free us from societal-conformist chains.

When my daughter sliced her finger while making her very first batch of potato soup today, I kicked myself for not watching her more closely. But then I remembered that I learned to make potato soup pretty much the same way. The irony of injury is that we learn to be more careful, and potato soup eventually gets made without any unsavory ingredients.

My life appears to be stuffed with irony. The more I empty myself of selfish preoccupation, the more God widens the breadth and depth of my human journey. As I settle into the frozen stillness of winter, the more snugly the seeds of spring embed in my soul.

My memory loss doesn’t seem to reach back to childhood, though. If anything, I can recall images and sensations more vividly as I grow older than ever before. Perhaps because in my mad rush to get pumpkin for pies and load washers and clean up messes, a part of me understands that every bit of this journey will become a memory. And as ironic reality would have…I might enjoy the moment more…then.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

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

Well Lived

My youngest son decided to reorganize his room today, and when I went to check, I saw that he had piled a stack of box springs and mattresses on top of each other to rival something out of The Princess and the Pea. He called it King Sized. Yep. I’d say so. I swallowed and merely asked him not to fall off in the middle of the night and break himself into Humpty-Dumpty pieces. He assured me he’d be careful.

I had a sudden memory of the first time one of my boys climbed a tree, reaching what my mother’s heart considered dizzying heights. I knew at the time that climbing trees was a normal pastime for kids—I had climbed plenty in my day—but still, I had the urge to ask him to get back to earth. An urge I resisted.

Later as I plodded up the steps with my umpteenth load of laundry, I noticed that my formerly clean counter was now hosting what looked like a rather odd science experiment involving toothpaste, shampoo, and baking soda. I didn’t even ask. Just waved my hand in a “You know what you’ll be doing when you’re done—right?” attitude. “Please don’t spill it all over the floor” didn’t even need to be verbalized.

Sometimes I wonder what a stranger might think if he or she wandered into our home on any ordinary day. It’s generally quiet, though the piano is played quite a bit. Holidays and birthdays are celebrated in style with a cleaning frenzy right before. With laughter.

But more often than not, there are piles of books here and there. Pencils and papers scattered about. Drawings half-finished on the couch. Knitting projects proudly ensconced on a living room chair. Woodworking projects clutter the basement floor. Broken floor tiles skitter underfoot. Light smoke from the wood stoves tints the walls. A couple door handles are loose.

It is a well-used house. The kitchen sink is practically never empty, even though I (and the kids) do dishes the livelong day. The washer and dryer have given us their hearts and souls several times over. Footsteps patter upstairs or down the steps constantly. A door opens and shuts like a heartbeat.

We are not living in a magazine. Nor would I want to. The kids learn from taking their room apart and building glorious beds. They see new heights from the tops of trees. They practice drawing a face…or a landscape…a hundred times over and scatter the results everywhere. Birdhouses are built and hammered on posts outside. The birds come, lay eggs, and their lives join with ours.

There will be a day when the footsteps will fall silent. When the beds are made to perfection and the counter will stay clean for days on end.

I do not forward to that day. I am content with reality right now.

Our lives may not be perfect, but they are well lived.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

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

Walk On Water

As I grow older…though not necessarily wiser…I gain more experience on which to base my judgments. So it’s not completely irrational that I think I know what I’m doing most of the time. The operative word here is “most.”

I discovered recently that I had completely misjudged someone based on past experiences. Usually, I give people the benefit of the doubt using my trusty default nice streak. But at the time, I wasn’t in any mood to do that.

Granted, there had been a host of disappointments that set my trust-o-meter to sub-zero, but still, this person carried not an ounce of responsibility for other people’s failures.

As my life—with truth and lies unfolding—becomes more complex, my world shifts and my vision blurs. As I pondered my past mistakes, I realize that misjudgments are probably more often the case than not. It’s hard to judge myself accurately, much less anyone else. It’s impossible to climb in someone’s head, peer down into the heart, search out motives, and clear away all the emotional clutter we carry around inside, burying our better selves or hiding behind chosen perfection.

So, in all humility, where can I turn? Who will understand and not judge me for a mere fool? Who sees beyond my excuses and takes an honest look at how I behaved?

In the end, I turn to the One who has much better eyesight than I do. One who can peer into my self-centered mind, my protective heart, my overzealous soul, and take me where I actually stand. In surrendering myself to God, I have found peace. I’ve also discovered that I can accept the mystery of other people a bit better. That doesn’t mean I accept evil as good. But the controlling—save myself, others, and the whole blinking world—part of me has loosened its grip.

I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Good heaven! I don’t even know what will happen this afternoon. But I’m getting a little more comfortable with that fact…that uncertainty. Reality has consequences. Jump from a cliff without wings and you’ll likely die. Lie, cheat, steal, treat other human beings as toys…and the taunts of hell will trip your every step.

In a world where everyone seems like an expert—I’m okay being uncertain about some things. I’m glad that God is God. I don’t want His job. I’ve got to make a semblance of sense of the struggling-to-survive-world in front of me. This human journey is a labyrinth fraught with peril, and our choices can have eternal consequences. Yet we must live. We must make decisions. We must keep walking. On water. So it seems.

That seems to be the key. If we’re going to join the mystery of God and trust Him with our frail humanity, we have to walk on water.

Just keep walking.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

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