Is there a reason for why things happen?

I know this is unrelated to fiction, but its something that’s been on my mind and I wanted to share my thoughts.

A friend of mine asked this on Facebook a while back. Someone she knew had committed suicide, and the turmoil of the experience prompted her to ask the question. Although I feel like I have already answered this question for myself, the idea snowballed alongside a lot of other concerns that have been making their appearance in the back of my mind lately. Depression, war, sickness, suicide, loss – it is a season of sadness this year. There are almost daily reminders of the ravages of evil in the world.

Do these things serve a purpose? Are they a part of some greater good that we hope for but cannot see? Or is the universe a purposeless place? Is the pain and heart ache of life a mere by-product of randomness, an incurable, untreatable disease upon the universe?

It’s an easy question to ignore – at least, when life is going according to plan. And yet, when the cold rain falls, I find it almost impossible not to ask, why? Why do these things happen? And when you profess to believe in a good and all-powerful God, as I do, it becomes even more of a challenge. How can we justify such a God in the face of so much evil? Here is my answer, by way of a little biographical information.

There have been many times in my life when I have been faced by something difficult for me, whether it was prolonged unemployment, or struggling with depression; being single, or being overwhelmed as a parent – whatever the trial, if I looked hard enough, I could see a reason behind it. I felt comforted to know that I was growing, I was learning something as a person. I felt that God had a purpose in it.

It was hard work, at times, to get to a place where I could see things in that light. At least, it seemed so at the time. Until I couldn’t do it anymore.

I have four beautiful, awesome, healthy children. They are the most incredible blessing. They are my life. About two years after my second child was born, I conceived a third time, and we told all of our friends and family as soon as we found out. Everything had been just fine before, it would be fine again, right?

No, as it turned out, it would not. At twelve weeks, the bleeding started. I had miscarried. We were heartbroken. The physical experience was overwhelming. The bleeding was so awful that at one point, I blacked out. In retrospect, I think I was anemic. But who knows? I will never really understand.

In the weeks that followed, I dreaded the sound of the telephone. Every time I answered, it was someone who hadn’t heard. I had to tell the bad news all over again. And I simply did not want to talk about it. I couldn’t think about it. I just had to think about something, anything, else. I had little children to take care of, and I had to keep the sadness at bay. I stopped calling people.

A good friend of mine at the time became pregnant. During previous pregnancies, we had always chatted about how our time was going, sharing jokes about the troubles of morning sickness and food cravings. After one conversation , I tried to laugh, and then avoided her for months. She was a good friend, and I just dropped out of her life. I couldn’t bear to talk about my own pain in the midst of her happiness, and I couldn’t pretend that everything was okay. I couldn’t help being angry that I had lost what she had gained.

Not long after, I conceived again. I prayed and prayed and prayed for that baby. I miscarried again. When I pushed my shopping cart past the baby clothes section, I learned to look away. It hurt too much to look.

I conceived a third time in the same year. We were hopeful, but tried to be prepared for the worst. I miscarried again. I have never wanted anything the way I wanted another baby. And at the same time, the thought of a positive pregnancy test terrified me. Emotionally, I was healing a little, but I was a still a mess. I didn’t talk to anyone but my husband about it, and neither of us had much to say.

At that time, we were attending a church in New Mexico that had hired Fernando Ortega to conduct the worship service. He plays beautiful piano music. I remember one Sunday morning, standing in the pew at the start of the service, and this absolutely gorgeous, moving music brought me uncontrollably to tears. I wept and wept and wept. And I thought, first, ‘who’s great idea was it to have Fernando Ortega play the worship music? What are they trying to do to me?’

And I also thought, ‘Why would God do this to me? Three times in one year. Why? Do my prayers mean nothing?’

I felt that I was not simply enduring a hard trial. I felt that God was being cruel, unnecessarily so. Nowhere in me could I find any sense in this.

In all the years of my life previously, I had been able to find some kind of meaning behind the adversity I was facing. God was doing something good, even if I couldn’t see it. I was sure of it. And inevitably, as the pressure slackened and I passed through that rough place, I could look back and see good that had come of it. I cold find ways that I had become a better, or stronger, or more loving person because of what I had been through. But from that point on, that feeling was gone. I simply could not imagine any good that might be achieved by it all.

It would have been easier to believe in a random universe, without wisdom, or meaning or purpose, than to believe that there was a good plan behind all this.

But I did believe in a God who has a good purpose for all things. I still do.

I think, at that point in my life, I learned to live something that as a Christian, I had always tried to believe. We trust that God has a good plan, even when we can’t see it.

The truth is that we really don’t know why God does things. Not in the here and now. God promises that all things work together for those who trust in Him. But we don’t know anything else. All our assumptions about the good work that God is doing in our lives are assumptions. Sometimes it is a real and genuine blessing, to recognize something good that has come out of our trials. But I don’t really know, and I don’t rest my faith on it. What I do know is this.

When I think about my life – when I really stop and think about what’s there, I know that my life is a daily, hourly gift from a good God. From the food on my table, to the unspeakable beauty of my child’s laugh, to the breathtaking blue of the sky, to the miraculous existence of my own body and the complexity of my brain, in the very desire of my soul to know him, I know that God is good. When I think about the great gift of His Son, I trust that God loves me. And because He is good, I trust that He has a good plan for all the workings of my life.

If I feel like that is true, that’s an extra blessing, a gift of God to cherish. Sometimes I don’t feel it. But I believe it anyway.

I’m reminded of the old, and for some familiar, idea of life as a tapestry. A thousands threads woven together to form a picture may have threads of bright and golden colors, and other threads that are dark and coarse and dull. When the work is finished, it will be possible to see how those dark and ugly incidents in life are really necessary to complete the picture, so that all of creation can sing the glory of the Lord.

But here in the midst of this life, we cannot see the finished picture. We can only see the present moment, and whatever share of darkness and heart ache it may contain. It’s a small and limited picture.

I don’t believe in a God who plans and coordinates my good because I can see it happening. It is because of the good that I can see, and I trust the God who has given it to me.

When my third child was born and put into my arms, I was awestruck. He felt like SUCH a miracle. Many people never get that kind of miracle, and I am still grateful.

Things could have been a lot harder. They are certainly harder for many people around me. And life probably has even worse in store for me before my time on earth is done. But I am trying to be thankful for all that God has done for me. I cannot see the big picture, but I trust that He does.

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Slow Days of Summer

So this spring saw me a bit distracted with some other areas of life that needed attention, along with a hefty dose of writer’s block. But I have been pleased with some of the writing I’ve been able to do in the last week or two. I thought I would share a little from my current work-in-progress. This bit has been written for a while, but it’s one that I enjoyed. I would love to hear what you think, so if you like it, or don’t, leave a comment:)

 

The walls of Anna’s apartment were bare, no pictures, no nicknacks. She changed into her jeans and a faded, cruise line sweatshirt, a lucky thrift store find, and hung up her uniform shirt to wear again tomorrow. She had moved into her apartment with what Camille had been able to give her: clothes, a bed, and a tiny TV. She had nothing else. With her first paycheck she had gone to the big box store and picked out a cherry red bean bag. It sat lumpishly in the middle of the empty living room floor.
There was already a well-formed dent in the bean bag and she settled into it, but the room was cold, so she went to the closet for an old quilt that Camille had been given. People were always giving things to Camille; cast off clothing, unwanted furniture, stray possessions to go with her stray girls. Anna carried the quilt to the bean bag and pulled it over herself. It had a pleasant weight. The cotton squares were soft to the touch – it had been washed until the fabric was thin and easily torn – and she rubbed it against her wrist.
The blanket was another reminder of Camille’s goodness, her ever present kindness and love, a light glowing in the background of Anna’s life. Where would she be without Camille? She knew the answer to that question, and at this moment, tucked in, quiet and safe in her own life and her own home, she bathed in relief that she was here and not where she might have been. She was stilled now, and quiet, the feeling of stagnation and hopelessless that sometimes haunted her was far away. She had been steered into a safe port, a quiet harbor. Sometimes the calm was frustrating – she felt like she was paddling in circles without much hope for the future – but most of the time she felt gratitude. She wasn’t sure who to thank, so sometimes she thanked Camille.
“You don’t need to thank me,” Camille had said, the last time Anna had called, and ended with another long expression of gratefulness. “You’ve done more than I have. You’re the one who has had to fight the good fight, Anna.”
“I couldn’t do this without you.”
“If I’m a help to you, then it’s enough.”
Anna smiled at herself when she remembered the first time Camille had brought her home, to the apartment in Houston. She had felt ill at ease then. She had lived her life in a long string of Houston apartments, but never one as nice as this one.
“So are you paid to do this?”
“Paid? To do what?”
“To look after people like me.”
“No, I’m not paid. Some people are I suppose. But this is just who I am. Come sit down. I’ll tell you about it.”
They sat in the living room, by the glass doors, and the tabby leapt into Anna’s lap to be stroked behind the ears. Camille sat down with her knitting in her lap, but instead of knitting, or even answering, she rested her chin in her hand and looked out the glass at the city beyond. Her blue eyes turned a different shade sometimes, when she looked thoughtful. They looked dark against her pale skin and her white hair.
“I have a niece,” she said at last, “my brother’s daughter, who was much like you. She had a dreadful life. I didn’t have any idea what to do to help her, but I felt it was a calling I couldn’t refuse.”
Camille was a widow, and there was more than one picture of her husband on the wall. One was always at her bedside; Anna had seen it there one day. “What happened to her?”
She answered slowly. “I don’t know. I lost track of her. But, I met other girls.” She cupped her hands together, holding onto an open place within them. “It has been a blessing to me, Anna. Though you might not think so sometimes. After Henry passed away – when you pass from one stage of life and into another, it leaves you feeling stranded at times. It is a disagreeable feeling. But the Lord has blessed me with my girls.” She touched Anna on the chin. “Girls like you. I can see it in your eyes, my dear. You have the desire to be a new creation.” Anna hadn’t known that then, but she knew it now. “You too will pass through, from one life to another. Don’t be discouraged, if it turns out to be a little harder than you expect.”
Lying beside her on the living room floor was a tall book with a cracked binding; an old children’s picture book full of nursery rhymes. Mother Goose gamboled on the cover in fluttering ribbons and petticoats. Anna reverently touched the cover and opened the familiar pages. It was the one solitary link that remained to her past. Her life before Galveston – before Eddie – no, she wouldn’t let Eddie define her life, before Camille. It had been a gift from her very first foster mother. She could barely remember her now. She had no photographs, but she could remember Helen reading to her.
Helen used to stop and wipe her glasses as the story progressed. She read in a shaky voice, and yet she never faltered. But for some reason that Anna didn’t know, and would never know, Helen was not able to continue caring for her, and she had gone on to another home, and another. There had been four all together, and her last foster parents had been happy to see the last of her. She had certainly made their relationship as unpleasant as possible. But sometimes it seemed so long ago that it belonged to another life, another Anna. The petulant, angry, impulsive girl had been swallowed up by the years that followed.
But she had managed to keep this book. It had always gone into her suitcase, year after year. She didn’t open it for most of that time, but now she read it almost every day. She quietly chanted the singsong words to herself, trying to remember the little girl she had been once, tucked in with her pajamas and her bedtime story, listening to a mother read to her. It was a feeling she had forced herself to forget, because it was too painful to remember that she lived without it.
Anna stopped turning pages when she landed on her favorite rhyme. There was an illustration of a little boy in slippers, kneeling by his bed and gazing out the window at the night sky.
I see the moon
and the moon sees me.
God bless the moon
And God bless me.
Camille believed in God. She spoke of him often, as if he were a real person. As if she knew him. Anna had never given much thought to God. Aside from an occasional prayer when she particularly wanted something, it simply never occurred to her to think about God. But ever since the hospital – no, she wouldn’t think of that.
She focused on the drawing of the boy on his knees. Did God really listen when people asked for things? She wasn’t sure. She wondered idly what Mark Powell believed in. He seemed like a thoughtful person in his way. He probably had an opinion on the subject. Had he ever knelt by his bed in his slippers to say his prayers?
She traced the crescent moon with her finger. She had always loved the moon. The moon would listen to her, when there was no one else to hear – that was just nonsense, but she had almost believed it when she was young. That’s what it felt like, when she tried to talk to God. It was like talking to the moon.
She carefully closed the book and curled up snug into her bean bag, It was nicely warm now, with the quilt wrapped tight around her toes. She could just get comfortable if she propped her head on her arm – she pulled the quilt up around her shoulders – she had been up before six o’ clock in the morning – and drifted softly into sleep, the book lying open on her lap and the boy fervently praying into the night.

Free Christmas story

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Good Angels Be My Guard

Edie was in the kitchen, making gravy for the roast, and meditating on the best way to interrupt her husband. Once he was in his recliner, his feet up, his attention on his football game, he never liked to be asked questions. But tonight Edie had too many questions inside of her, fighting to be heard. Like always, she began with the question that least betrayed what was on her mind.

She stood in the door to the living room of the old house they had lived in together for the last twenty years, wiping her hands dry on her apron. After about five minutes had passed, her husband’s eye flicked away from the screen to her face and back again. This was the signal that she might begin.

“It’s Christmas eve,” she said.

He made a sound of agreement in the back of his throat.

“I thought I might go down to the store after dinner.”

“What for?”

“Thought I might get some eggnog. Somethin’ special.”

“If you have to,” he said, shifting in his chair.

“I might get something for breakfast too,” she went on.

“You know I won’t be here.” Owen always took the extra hours to work at the mill on holidays. He did it for the double pay, at least in part, but he also did it for the sake of the other men with families, with children.

“I know,” Edie said, in a mild voice with large, staring eyes. Owen looked up at her with a frown.

“What’d you want it for then?”

“Oh, I just thought maybe – for Travis –“

“Is Travis comin’?”

“He might.”

“Edie.” He looked her in the eye. “He ain’t come here for Christmas for five years. He goes down to your sister’s house now.”

“They didn’t say where he was going this year.”

“They got kids over there. He’ll want to go with them.”

Edie bowed her head and looked down at her knuckles, wrinkled and white.

“I could just get some bacon maybe.”

“Suit yourself,” he said, with a shake of his head, and returned to his game.

“Owen?”

“What is it?”

“When’ll you be home tomorrer’?”

“Late.”

“Maybe we could do something this year.”

“Like what?”

“Well, just in case Travis comes – “

Owen let go a deep, rumbling sigh and said, “Go get your eggnog, Edie. Don’t worry about tomorrow. It’s just a day like any other.”

* * *

            The angel had been there for five years. Through snow, wind, rain, hail, it had clung to the outside wall until its white paint had cracked and weathered to a dismal gray. The straw hair had melded into a brown mass that only parted into strands when the birds pecked at it for string to line their nests. The wings had held out the longest, the tinsel mesh holding tight to the metal frame. But they too were finally becoming tattered and twisted in the winter wind.

It wouldn’t be so bad, Edie thought, if it wasn’t for the wings going ragged like that. She couldn’t see the angel very well in the darkness, as she left the house for the car. It was just a paleness up there in the winter night.

She and Owen had picked it out together, at the hardware store, when the family asked them to take their nephew for Christmas. They had talked about a tree, but Owen didn’t want to clean up the mess. And when Edie saw the angel, leaned up against the outside wall of the store, she didn’t want to take her eyes off it.

“Sure, if you really want it,” Owen had said, when she meekly asked if they could afford it, and he carried it home in the back of his truck.

Travis was seven years old the year he came to them. His father had disappeared years ago, and his mother wasn’t doing much better, so he had become the responsibility of the family. He was sent to a special school, somewhere down near Essex Junction, but on holidays, he came to stay with the family. This was his first year away from his mother for Christmas, and Owen and Edie had been the only ones available to take him.

Edie remembered plainly the look of disappointment on his face when he came into the house and saw that there was no tree. But Edie took him outside in the evening, when the pale winter sunset turned the snow to pink and the angel’s paint shone and her straw hair moved in the breeze. “Just like she was really flying,” Edie said. She put her small hands on his smaller shoulders and said, “Look how pretty she is.”

Travis had smiled. “Yeah, like a real angel. Are there real angels, Aunt Edie?”

“Oh yes, of course.” she said.

“Do they ever come here?”

“Sure they do.”

“Why don’t I ever see any?” he asked wistfully.

“I don’t think they always want you to see ’em,” Edie said thoughtfully. “They like to do things without you knowin’. It’s like when you do something for someone that they aren’t expecting – makes it more special.”

Travis had nodded his small head in a somber way and they had returned to the house. Edie still loved that angel, and she had dreaded the thought of Owen taking it down someday. He had mentioned it occasionally, but he never had.

She drove slowly to the grocery store, looking at the Christmas lights along the street in town as she went, thinking as little as possible about going home again to the dark and silent house she was leaving behind. Edie didn’t normally reflect much on her life, but she couldn’t help being infected by the enormous glow of light, by some excitement hanging in the air that seemed to belong here. She couldn’t help feeling like a visitor from the outside, looking in.

The little market was packed with people. The checkout girls were wearing Christmas hats. People were laughing, calling out Merry Christmas to strangers, buying last minute presents. All the eggnog was gone.

Edie took a pound of bacon and half gallon of orange juice from the shelf and carried them towards the check out. As she went, she passed by a shelf in the middle of the aisle still boasting some Christmas novelties. Red and green sprinkles for cookies, a package of plastic bows, and at the bottom, spray paint. Gold and silver spray paint.

She bent down and took the can from the shelf. Gold wings, she thought. An angel with gold wings wouldn’t look so bad. Maybe Owen would like it when he got home tomorrow, to see that old angel with bright gold wings in the evening light.

Before she could think any more about it, she hurried back to the freezer aisle and returned the meat and the juice. Then she snatched the can of paint from the shelf and hurried into the check out line.

“Merry Christmas!” the check out girl said to her, and Edie smiled at her, and smiled all the way to her car. The tiny white lights in town looked even brighter as the night grew colder. An angel with gold wings. It would hide all the tears and ragged edges; it would be almost new again. She imagined a smile on Owen’s face when he pulled in tomorrow, the way he smiled when he had bought it for her, when he saw how much she loved it. And maybe if Travis came…

She pulled gently into the drive, her headlights shining on the side of the house, her mind on where she would hide the paint until tomorrow. She didn’t notice until she reached to turn off the headlights and gave one last look up at the house, and she could see – the angel was gone.

She leapt from the car without turning off the lights. No, the angel was still there. Only the wings were gone. The old ladder that was usually behind the garage was now leaned up against the side of the house, and there was a shred of torn fabric caught between one of the rungs. The wings were gone. Stolen. Stolen away. Before she knew what she was doing, she was back in the car, driving back to town with some half-formed thought of finding the thing that had been stolen from her. She didn’t know where to look, or what to look for, but she drove on anyway, the cold can of paint in her lap. It was beginning to snow.

* * *

            “You were supposed to bring a bathrobe from home,” Mrs. Freshitt said with a resigned sadness. A dozen children in various stages of Christmas dress were moving around the Sunday school room. Danny was violently rocking three other children in the rocking chair, Margaret was chasing Anita in and out of the kitchen, and now here was Mark Hadley in his sweatshirt and his dirty fingernails telling her with pleading eyes that he didn’t have his costume.

“I’m sorry Mark, but everyone who isn’t an angel has to be a shepherd, and the shepherds need to bring their own costumes. Danny!” she shouted, turning her head. “Stop that!” Back to Mark. “Can’t your mother run home and get it for you?”

He stood very close to her then and said in a half whisper, “I ain’t got a bathrobe.” What he didn’t tell her was that he had walked to the church alone, leaving his mother alone and high, sitting on the living room couch watching reruns.

“I’m sorry,” Mrs. Freshitt said with a sigh, “but you’ll just have to watch this year. Maybe next time.”

“Can I still come to the pizza party after?” he asked, but she was already gone. She was replaced by the Bellevue twins in their new terry cloth robes and their arms folded across their chests.

“You forgot your costume?” said one twin with an ugly leer.

“You forget your brain too?” said the other.

“I bet it’s too dirty.”

“I bet he crapped on it.”

“I bet it has fleas all over it.”

He turned on his heel and walked out as fast as he could, out of the room, out of the door. He pulled the cuffs of his shirt over his hands; it was below freezing and he was underdressed, but he was usually underdressed, so he only thought of getting away from the church building. He walked so quickly that he was starting to lose his breath, and he had to take in big gasps of icy air, almost as fast as he could push air out into clouds of white around him.

He was walking toward home, his face burning with an anguish that he had no name for. He wished he could be angry, but he had no anger for any one but the Bellevue boys. Except thinking of them only made him more miserable, because he knew that he had just stood there and listened to them talk and walked out. He had nothing to say back.

He had left the lights of town behind and was climbing the sidewalk that led toward home. He was passing the old Fontescue house, with its bushy overgrown evergreens leaning over the sidewalk. For the hundredth time in his life, he saw that decrepit angel hanging on the side of the house.

But for the first time, he really saw it. The car wasn’t in the driveway, but the truck was, and he could see a blue glow in the windows from a television playing behind the shades. Mr. Fontescue would tear off his arms if he caught him in his yard, but he never came outside in the evening. A reckless surge of inspiration told him that Mr. Fontsecue would never know.

Mrs. Fontescue hardly ever came out either, but she was nice. She kept a jar of sticky old peppermints on the porch and would offer them to the kids playing on the street if she was sitting on the porch in the summertime. Most of the kids didn’t take them anymore, but Mark always did, because he could see that it made her happy. He would eat anything anyway.

He felt bad about Mrs. Fontescue, when he realized what he was going to do, but he put it out of his mind. Those bright silver wings just outside the circle of the porch light were calling to him, and his feet carried him almost against his will into the yard and out behind the garage where he knew that old wooden ladder had been lying for years.

By the time Mark returned to the church, there was already a line of children on the sidewalk, standing by the front door. They whispered to one another as they waited to file through the narthex and into the sanctuary for their performance. Mark had run most of the way back, and his heart was slamming in his head by the time he slowed down enough to walk up to the building. The church itself was lit up, with candles burning in little paper bags in the snow along the sidewalk. He was clutching the wings in his arms and hurrying towards Mrs. Freshitt on the church steps, trying to order the angels according to height. But here was the oldest Bellevue boy pointing his finger in Mark’s face.

“You stole Mrs. Fontescue’s angel!”

“You stole the angel?” cried another child.

“That’s your costume?”

He was engulfed in the sound of laughing voices, accusing fingers, scornful eyes. Mrs. Freshitt looked down at him with panic in her face, and once more Mark turned and ran, faster, faster, as fast as he could run, even though Mrs. Freshitt was calling for him to stop. He came to the end of Church Street and turned the corner without thinking of where he was going. Somewhere the wings grew too awkward, so he dropped them to the ground and sprinted on.

* * *

Helena Freshitt walked slowly down the stairs to the nursery in the basement of the church. Cindy Mitchell greeted her with relief plain on her face. Helena’s son said nothing at all to her, hunched over with his arms wrapped around him, rocking silently in the tiny plastic chair.

“He played with the toys for a little while,” Cindy said, “but then he just sat down. He kept asking for you.”

“Well, I’m here now,” she said. She was too exhausted to manage a sprightly voice for this response, but Cindy seemed satisfied and left her for the quiet of the sanctuary and the sermon that Helena’s husband had just begun.

“How are you, Jeremy?” she asked her son. He was eight years old, but looked six, his skinny body refusing to gain weight. “I brought something for you,” she said, taking the package of organic sugar-free fruit snacks from her pocket, one of the rare sweets he was allowed. She sat down in a small chair beside him while he tore into the package. She was careful not to touch him by accident; he couldn’t stand to be touched. “Thank you for being such a good boy and staying with Miss Cindy while Mommy was busy.”

Jeremy hadn’t slept well the night before and they were both tired. She wished that she could just take him home, but he might scream when he saw that the service was going on without him, and she wouldn’t risk that. She closed her eyes a moment and tried to think of something relaxing they could do together until it was time to leave.

He finished picking out all the red and green ones – he would never eat the others – and said, “I want to see the angels.” He had been to the full dress rehearsal of the Christmas play, and he had loved the children dressed in white with paper wings tied to their backs. “Where are the angels?”

“I’m sorry, Honey,” she said, “but the angels are all done.” She had decided to save this explanation for after, out of concern that he might react badly during the play if he knew he was missing it. He stopped eating the candy and began rocking back and forth again. He always did this, he was autistic after all, and this is what autistic children did. What worried her was the angry set of his face, the hard look in his eye that told her that he was not going to accept any simple explanation for this.

“The angels. I want to see angels.”

“You got to see them yesterday, Honey.” And yelled during half the rehearsal so that they had to hold it twice over.

“Angels! I want to see!” Before she could get hold of him, he crawled over the table and hurried across the room to where the crib stood in the corner. He crawled underneath and curled up in a ball. There were tears on his face.

“Oh Jeremy,” she said. Helena had been through this before. There were weeks when she went through this every day, sometimes many times a day. This, too, was part of having an autistic child. She had little resource left for this at the moment however. Her husband had taken a call at this congregation a year and a half ago, and she had done her best to be the model pastor wife, to teach Sunday school class, to sing in the church choir, to be a cheerful soul in spite of the constant exhaustion and wearying emotional work of raising her son. She spent nearly every hour of the day with Jeremy, since the local school was so underfunded that they had no resources for a boy like him. She spent day after day with someone so contained in his own mind that he was incapable of understanding what he was putting her through, of understanding that things simply couldn’t be the way he wanted them.

After a few minutes he began to cry out, and she was afraid he might start yelling soon and disrupt the service upstairs. So she got down on her hands and knees to look underneath the crib at her son, wedged tightly beneath the crib mattress and floor.

“Jeremy, I know you’re sad. I’m sorry.” There really wasn’t much point in explaining, but she never knew how much he understood and she always tried. “The angels all had to fly away. Let’s go look out the window and maybe we’ll see them.”

His balled up fist flew out at her, smacking her face, and she cried out in pain. She hurried away from the crib and went to the bathroom door in the back with her hand over her nose, waiting for the pain to stop. She kept her back to him, repressing the almost irresistible longing to scream at him. She knew she shouldn’t be angry. He just couldn’t understand – he couldn’t help it, but she hunched her shoulders just the same and took several deep breaths before she spoke again.

“Jeremy,” she said, her voice patient but firm. “You hurt Mommy. Jeremy – “

She turned around in time to see him slipping out the nursery door, just glancing over his shoulder at her as he went.

“No!” She chased after him, but he was at the top of the stairs when she reached the bottom, and he had already run away by the time she reached the back door.

No, not again.

* * *

            Jacob Freshitt stood calmly in the pulpit, in his white gown and colorful surplice????, speaking to his congregation about Mary’s tremulous approach to Bethlehem and all the little fears and worries that conjecture could add to the young couple as they waited for their miraculous child to be born two thousand years ago. He paused to take a look around the sanctuary. It was a crowded room, with several faces he wasn’t accustomed seeing: congregants who only attended on holidays, grown children come back to town to be with their parents, their own children glassy-eyed and staring in their laps. Most of them, however, were familiar, and most of them quite old.

“Those famous words of the Apostle would not be written for many more years,” he said to the hushed room amid flickering candles and boughs of green, “that all things work for the good of those who love God. But Joseph and Mary didn’t need to be told those words. They showed that they believed it during their long journey to Bethlehem.”

Jacob was deeply committed to the pastoral ministry, but he had the misfortune of being plagued by a mind that wandered at unexpected moments, and as he turned a page in his notes, he was struck with a sudden doubt of the relevance of all this. What, after all, did such remote events in history have to do with the people looking up at him? They were thinking of presents that still needed wrapping, of meals to prepare and road trips to make and snow that would need to be shoveled. He had carefully written his sermon looking for ways to make the Christmas story seem real, and memorable, and deeply significant in some new way. But looking around at the politely attentive faces, he felt that the story was too familiar. There was nothing here to feed the soul, nothing to reach through all the other cares and preparations vying for attention in the minds of his listeners.

He looked down at his page, at a particularly elegant description of the shepherds on the hillside, and wished that he could sit down and rewrite it, to make it ring true somehow. It was too late for that now, though. Maybe next year, maybe next week, he would think of something better. This would have to do for now. He looked up after what had been a brief, if still a slightly awkward pause, and opened his mouth to begin the next phrase. The congregation, however, went on staring at a silent pastor, because at that moment Helena Freshitt hurried in through the doors at the back of the room and stood staring helplessly at her husband in the pulpit.

“What is it, Helena?” he asked, although he was fairly certain what the problem was. Every eye turned to stare at her, standing in the aisle with her hands clasped awkwardly in front of her red dress.

“I’m so sorry. It’s Jeremy. He ran away again.”

The congregation had been through this too. Pastor Freshitt hardly needed to say anything, before men and women stood up wearily and struggled into their heavy coats a half hour before they had expected to.

“I’m not sure which way he went,” Helena said.

“We’ll look for him,” Mr. Hendrickson said, patting her on the shoulder as he passed her on the way to the door.

“Come with me in my car,” Kitty Daniels offered. “Where’d you leave your coat?”

“Oh, it’s hanging up. And Jeremy’s too.” She was close to tears now, but there was nothing to do but to keep going. They would help find him – again – hopefully before too long. It was so cold outside, and he had only his dress shirt and sweater vest to keep him warm. Jeremy had so little to protect him against the world.

Jacob stood in the pulpit, silently watching his congregation abandon him mid-sermon to scour the streets for his son. He hesitated for a few minutes; he was always more prone to thought than action. He felt that he ought to direct, to take control of the search effort, and yet he abhorred the idea of leaving the pulpit before the service was over. Before long he was looking out at only a handful of people, all of them with hair whiter than the snow outside, if they had any hair left. Except for young Lucy Crawford with her new baby asleep in her lap – she was asleep as well, her head listing to one side.

“Well Pastor,” called out old Mrs. Carr into the waiting silence, her back so bent that she came no higher than his elbow. “We don’t need ya’ here.”

“Oh. Oh yes.” He hurried towards his office, taking off his stole as he went, and pulled his coat on over his surplice. The street had only a handful of people left, still discussing which ways had been left unlooked, and Jacob set off on foot with no clear idea where he was headed. The real danger was Main Street, where the traffic was heaviest, but then there were all those Christmas lights that Jeremy loved – he might head that way. He passed another church building around the corner from his own, still full of people, no doubt deep in a sermon nearly identical to the one that had just been interrupted. He went on in the general direction of the park, peering into driveways and into shadows behind bushes for some sign of his son. Giant flakes of snow were dropping from the sky, making more shadows and playing tricks on his brain, so that he went more slowly, seeing cold and crouching boys everywhere.

He crossed Main Street and looked up and down the sidewalk without any clue which way he should go. So he thought about where he would go, and looked at the park full of spotless snow, and the long shadows of lampposts stretching out across it. He began to walk around the park, looking for movement among the park benches, and had already reached the conclusion that he was not going to be very effective in the search for his own boy, when he came to a set of shuffling tracks. He hurried after them, the soft snow rushing over his dress shoes and freezing his ankles.

He came at last to a park bench in the shadow of a spreading maple, out of sight of the road, and was surprised by what he found there. An older woman, just passed middle age, was standing so that she faced his direction, but she didn’t look up at him as he came. She was not a part of the congregation, but he thought he might have seen her somewhere before. She was dressed in a long coat with a pale scarf over her graying hair, and she was looking down at the park bench, at something there that he couldn’t see. Beside her stood Mark Hadley, who should never have been out in this weather in only a sweatshirt, also staring down at the bench. Jacob thought Mark was supposed to have been in the Christmas play, but he had not noticed his absence until now. Mark gave his pastor a momentary glance, nodded at him, and looked down again. Jacob hurried up to them to see what was on the bench, and there was his son.

Jeremy’s skin was pale and white as death, his eyes closed, his cheek pillowed in his hand. On his back was a pair of wings, tattered looking things on a metal frame, ludicrously large for his narrow shoulders.

“Oh God,” he cried and stretched out his hands, as if he might protect his son from something he couldn’t see. Then he saw the little body rise with a breath, and realized that Jeremy was only asleep. “Thank God,” he said, to those two solemn spectators. He looked at them, and they both looked at him, somewhat bewildered, and not at all concerned at finding his boy alone and underdressed on a park bench. He whipped off his coat and laid it over his son, but he didn’t pick him up yet. He wasn’t sure how to set about the wings, for one thing. He had no idea where they had come from, or how he was going to get them off, or how he would pick up his child without taking them off, so he stood and watched a moment with them. The snow fall was growing less, but an occasional flake still drifted down, and one landed on Jeremy’s cheek and instantly melted.

“How did you find him?” Jacob asked.

“I just came into the park,” Mark said. “I wasn’t really thinking about where I was going.”

“That’s what I did too. But I was looking for ‘em.” the woman said, nodding her chin at the bench. “He could be a real angel, couldn’t he?” Her voice was nearly a whisper. “Poor little lost angel.”

Jacob made an affirmatory noise to this, because his child did look strangely angelic at this moment, in spite of the frayed fabric of the wings and the little cocked bowtie wedged under his chin. “Maybe he is,” Jacob said, a little wondering himself. Jeremy was certainly unlike any human Jacob had ever known, but he had a way of bringing people together, in ways that no one ever expected. “A little lost angel.”

“Mrs. Fontescue,” Mark said, looking up at her with an agitated face. “It’s my fault. I took the wings.”

You did?” she said, her surprise plain on her face. “What for?” She sounded terribly weak and frail as she spoke.

“I – I didn’t have a costume for the play, at the church, and I thought I could be an angel. But – everybody just laughed. I didn’t mean to take them from you, I just thought it would work out somehow –” he stopped and stared at his sneakers in the snow.

She looked at him a moment and said, “That’s alright. You were trying to do something good. I understand.” Mark looked up at her, surprised, and nodded his head.

“Maybe you could help her with something to make up for it.” Jacob suggested. “Do they – do they go to something?”

“I’ll hang them up for you again,” Mark said, with newfound confidence. “I’ll come tomorrow. Oh –” Tomorrow was Christmas day. Everyone was supposed to be busy on Christmas day. Well, it didn’t matter. “I’ll come tomorrow.”

“That’ll be fine.” And although it hadn’t seemed possible, the woman’s eyes grew a little brighter. “I’ll cook something for you if you like. I’ll make you lunch. I’ll be alone all day tomorrow.” Mark nodded again, but they both went on staring at Jeremy.

A car was pulling up alongside the park, and Jacob recognized the Daniels’ old Ford and waved his arms. His wife emerged from the car and hurried in his direction, clutching the collar of her coat to her throat.

“Oh, Jeremy.” And turning to her husband she said, “Honey, is everything alright? How did he get here?”

“I don’t know. But here he is.” Helena looked to Mark and than Edie for an explanation, but no one seemed to have one. She leaned on her husband’s shoulder and the tears came at last, slipping one by one down her cheek and into her gloves as she wiped them away.

“I’m sorry this happened, Jacob. Tonight of all nights.”

“It’s alright, Sweetheart,” Jacob said, rubbing his wife’s back, trying to think of something to say that would actually mean something.

“I just don’t understand why these things happen. I try so hard, and nothing ever comes out right.”

Mrs. Fontescue’s solemn words returned to him and Jacob said, “We just try to do something good. It’s all we can do sometimes. God makes up for the rest.”

“If this is God making things right –” Helena said, but the ungrateful speech stopped on her lips. She knew she didn’t want to doubt the goodness of God, but she was having a hard time believing in it at the moment.

Jacob looked at Edie, and then Mark, and then his son. “I think it is,” he said. Helena looked at him, still confused, and Jacob was trying to think of a way to explain when Edie said,

“He doesn’t like to tell us what He’s gonna’ do.” They all looked at her wide, childlike eyes, a strange sight in that faded old face. “He likes to surprise us. Makes it more special that way.”

Jacob looked hard at her. He works all things for the good of those who love him, he thought to himself. Two thousand years ago – and right now. For Mark and Edie, for Helena and Jeremy, for a small congregation on a winter night.

“Yes. Yes I suppose it does,” he said. It was time to get back, to get Jeremy home, and to tell the congregation that the search was over.

Everything they had lost had been found.

Deaming is Believing

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My new title is on its way to Amazon. It’s pretty much completely different from anything else I’ve published, and I’m not sure if I’ll write anything like it again. I just had this idea one day about daydreams and how much would be revealed about ourselves if other people saw what we imagined, and the absurd difficulties we would be in if they became real – thus my first sorta’ paranormal story was born. The word count is under 10k. It seemed appropriately autumn-ish and I wanted to get a new title out there, however short.

First reviews

Product Details

A few weeks ago, I woke up from a dream in the night in which I had been looking at my novel on Amazon, and it had received several one star reviews. At the time I had not received any reviews for anything.

I would not exactly rank this as a nightmare, but I suppose it does reflect some of the fear that comes from putting one’s work out into the world. I have done my best thus far to remember that anyone’s opinion of my work is not a personal reflection on me, but I don’t always succeed at that. I try to write for myself rather than for anyone else’s good or bad opinion, but it’s a difficult task sometimes. Nothing slows down my writing process more that obsessing about whether or not my work-in-progress is ‘good’.

However, I was really pleasantly surprised this morning to discover that THREE whole reviews for my little Christmas story have been posted. Apparently they were written in January, but now I can actually read them. I’m not exactly sure which of my friends posted them:) but it was really encouraging to see that some of you enjoyed the story and took the time to review it.

It will be a help the next time I’m slogging through a book that seems to be going nowhere.

The story is here, in case you’d like to read it next December:

Good Angels Be My Guard

 

Now in paperback, and other news.

Product Details

Love Divine is officially available in a few different formats now.

For Nook readers, for Kobo readers, and for Apple devices.

It is also available as a paperback through Amazon, (actually through Amazon’s publish-on-demand company, Create Space). All this means is that when you order a copy, they print up a new one for you.

However, I have not yet had a chance to look at the paperback in person, so the cover may be off, and who knows what else. But if you would like to check it out, it can be found here.

Did I mention that I used Draft2digital to do all these wonderful things? They are still in Beta testing, but so far it has been a good experience. If anyone buys the book and finds something that’s off, I would definitely appreciate it if you let me know.

So, there is my news as I inch my way slowly along the path of self-publishing.

Excerpt from Love Divine

If you click on the Look inside feature at Amazon, you can read the beginning of the novel, but just for kicks I decided to post a little excerpt from Chapter 3, so here it is:

From Love Divine:

Lauren stood in the driveway of the beach house considering the enormous cardboard box, thin and tall, that stood against the door of the garage. While she studied the box and the threatening rain clouds in the sky beyond, she heard footsteps on the road behind her and turned to see a woman jogging around the corner and up the hill, her headphone wires swinging with her stride. Lauren received no insight from the jogger, so she returned to her contemplation of the box, exposed to the elements by some inconsiderate delivery service. She decided she would do him a favor by moving it.She knew that someone was living in the house; Mrs. Tripp had said something about her son coming by, and she had seen a car in the driveway a few times. But there was no sign of him now, and the clouds were moving fast. Carrying the box under the relative shelter near the front door seemed like the best thing to do. She gripped both sides of the box, half her height but only a couple of inches thick, and lifted. It was heavier than she had expected and she put it down to get a better hold on it. Then she lifted it again and managed to carry it towards the front door, but her foot slipped on the loose gravel alongside the drive, the box dropped on her toes and a part of the cardboard ripped off in her hand.She brought the box to rest on her unbruised foot and hobbled towards the wall to lean it against the door. She heard the sound of footstep on the road again, another jogger by the sound of it, but she was too engrossed in the damage she had done to look behind her. Instead, she got down on one knee to inspect the damage of the ripped cardboard. She forgot all about the box, however, when she saw what was inside it. It was a painting, and she pressed her nose to the box to get a better look at the myriad of colors under the glass. It was an enchanting glimpse, and she pushed the ripped cardboard down to see as much as possible.
“You like it?”
She fell back onto one hand and looked up at a black-haired young man in shorts and T-shirt and running shoes standing on the cement path behind her.
“Oh, I’m so sorry. I just wanted to move it somewhere dry—” She stood up, and then straightened the bent cardboard with a guilty look. “I didn’t mean to rip it.”
“It’s alright. Doesn’t look like you hurt anything.” He wiped his face with his shirt collar. “Are you the gardener by any chance?”
“Sorry, yes. I’m Lauren Phelps.”
“Benjamin Tripp.” He held out his hand to her, but before she could take it, they heard an enormous bark and her dog came tearing around the house, pushed passed Benjamin and crashed into Lauren’s knees, sending her back a step and into the doorpost. “No, Dante!” she commanded, seizing him by the collar.
“And this must be your dog.”
“Yes, it is.”
“His name is Dante?”
She shrugged. “I was taking a class in medieval literature when I first got him.”
“Ah-hah. You like the painting?”
“Oh, well, I couldn’t really see it. I was just curious—”
He looked carefully at her for a moment and said, “Come inside with me. We’ll take a look at it.”
“Are you sure? I don’t want to bother you—”
“Come on. Come take a look.”
“Just let me tie up Dante’s leash.”
He has a good face, she thought. It was a handsome face that invited one to look longer than was really necessary. She followed him into the house knowing that the warmth of his invitation was almost as compelling as the picture. He must be good with people. Good with women flashed in her mind for a brief moment, and she immediately categorized him as out of her league. As if I had a league, a reflection that made her smile privately to herself. She took note of the muddy sneakers he had kicked into the corner beneath a fragile, three-legged table and a black abstract sculpture that might have been a woman, or might have been a goat.
He had carried the picture easily and now he pulled it from the box and leaned the frame against a wall.
“Have you seen the house before?”
“Once. Your mother showed me the way into the garage. I may need to get some tools from time to time, clippers, gloves, that kind of thing—Oh.”
The painting was beautiful; a bath of color that drew her in until she was standing in front of it.
“That’s my Chagall,” he said, from across the room, where he was leaning the empty box against the wall. “I’m never happy without my pictures, so I brought a few of them along. Only I forgot this one and didn’t have time to pick it up myself. You like it?”
“Oh. Oh yes. I’ve never seen—I’m sorry, I’ve just never seen anything like it before.” She spoke in a quiet, reverential voice. “What is it?”
“It’s Adam and Eve. The garden of Eden.”
“It does look like paradise.” He couldn’t help seeing the unmistakable sincerity in her face, with one hand in her pocket and the other across her body holding her elbow. Minutes passed by and she didn’t say anything.
“Take a look at this one,” he said after a while. “This is Matisse.”
“That’s beautiful too. I never imagined—” she stopped.
“What?”
“It’s so real. Almost more real than reality.”
He leaned against the counter now and watched her without disguise, unnoticed, as she went from one frame to the next. “I never thought of putting it like that. You must be an art lover?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know anything about art.” She had moved on to the simple drawing he had hung up a few days ago.
“What’s this one?”
“Marc Chagall again. Ruth and Boaz.”
She studied it for a while, and then turned to look at him with a curious expression on his face. “Chagall was Jewish,” he added, “and he used a lot of Biblical events.”
“I never imagined the stories like this. I’m so glad that somebody did. But what kind of paintings are they?”
“Cubism mostly. Picasso is the premier. The yellow one over by the wall is one of his. But there are many interpretations. Not everyone cares much for it, I find. But I don’t know how I could live without it.”
“I’m like that too—with some things.” She went to a black and white print in the corner and he followed after her a few steps behind, charmed by her look of pure delight. She looked almost pretty standing there, moved and enraptured by his pictures, drinking them in as he himself had done again and again. But now she had lost some of her ebullience and her forehead was wrinkled.
“I like it with my mother’s black clock. I don’t why. It seems fitting for some reason.”
She looked intently at the whitened cross and the figure on it and said, “I don’t really like pictures of the crucifixion.”
“I don’t always like them either. I’ve never understood why artists get so worked up about Jesus Christ anyway. I’ve always thought of him as just an ordinary guy.”
“But he wasn’t,” she said, without turning around. “He wasn’t an ordinary guy at all.”
“Well, maybe he did a few miracles or something, but history is full of things that no one can really explain. I’m sure there’s some practical explanation for it all that we just can’t figure out, like how they built the pyramids.” He laughed, but Lauren remained quiet with her attention fixed on the frame. “Can you imagine if he were here today—what he’d say to all these Christians? He’d probably tell them I’m dead already! Get over it.” He laughed again and she turned to face him with a serious eye. It wasn’t a look of reproach or anger or anything like that, but she looked hurt. “Sorry, I’m just running my mouth. I’m like that sometimes. I didn’t mean anything.”
“I know you didn’t,” she said, and moved sadly away from the wall. After a glance at the clock she said, “I should be getting home. Dante’s going to start barking for me. Thank you for showing me the pictures,” she said, and she smiled then.
“You’re welcome. If you ever want to take another look, just let me know.”
She moved towards the door and was gone.
“Poor girl,” he said to the empty house. “So many freckles.” But he found after a few minutes that he was actually thinking of her eyes. They were not remarkable, not at first, but they opened up like a deep well— He stood watching paradise for a long time, as the light of the lowering sun altered the intensity of color, and the long shadows reached around the room.

Thanks for reading! You can read the rest here.

Love Divine is available!

My first novel, Love Divine, is now for sale as an ebook on Amazon.com.

Love Divine

You can see it here.

In the next couple of weeks or so, Love Divine should also be available for Nook readers, Kobo readers and through Apple ibooks.

For those of you who prefer an actual book in your hand, I am working on a print on demand option through Create Space. This is bit more complicated and I don’t know when it will be available, but it’s coming along.

To make things a little easier, I am using a new service called draft2digital.com to help with formatting and publishing, which I have been pleased with so far.

If anyone decides to spring for the book, and you find typos or errors, please let me know! I can fix them.

I need to get going now but I will be posting an excerpt from the book sometime soon.

To find out what LeAnne is publishing…

I’ve always been mildly surprised that I don’t like blogging very often. After all, I like to write. I’m also interested in myself, which is what I would be blogging about. But it never works. I lose interest, I forget, I get an idea for a brilliant post, sit down to write it, and start working on a story instead. So I guess there’s something to be said for knowing what you are actually going to do, and a consistent blogger I am just not going to be.

SO, I am going to use this lovely little blog to post info about when my books are published and leave it at that. It will likely be more interesting than my thoughts on myself anyway.

My current plan is to format a Christmas story for Kindle and to make it available before Christmas actually arrives. I will also post it here for free, as my gift to anyone who is interested.

My first novel, Love Divine,will hopefully be ready early in 2013. I’m hoping before Valentine’s day at least. I’m looking forward to my little book making its way in the world, and hope that later projects will go smoother once I have at least one book’s worth of experience behind me. So that’s that!