Tag Archives: inspiration

Some Last (Written) Thoughts About Bill by John E. Stack

 

Bill has been out of our house for a little over six months and our lives are so vastly different now that we only have one child.  That is on child living in the house.  We have opened our house up again for a new child that has been displaced from their parents and their home.  We notified our agency about a month or so ago that we thought we were ready, but whether it is by the decision of the agency or just God’s will, we still have an empty nursery.  The one thing our agency may not understand is the longer our nursery stays empty, the easier it is to let it stay empty. 

 

For those of you that are reading my writings for the first time, or maybe have forgotten, Bill is a young boy that my wife and I took into care.  We work as foster parents and Bill was our twentieth child.  Bill was a micro-preemie and weighed only one pound twelve ounces at birth.  When we met him, he was up to a little over four pounds. And about two and a half months old.  He was the smallest baby we had ever seen, much less held.

 

We went through a lot with Bill.  He had about every type of therapy you could imagine.  It seems like my wife was running to appointments about three to four times a week.  Bill had a very difficult time gaining weight (not a problem that we have in common).  Since he was very tiny at birth, the doctors wanted him to gain as much as possible as quickly as possible.  Along with being tiny, Bill had (has) sensory problems, particularly with food textures.  He was also very, very active.  Finally, the doctors decided that if he was gaining any weight, it was better than losing it (in his case).

 

Well, approximately two and a half years went by and we began working a permanent placement plan for Bill.  His birthday was rapidly approaching, and he would soon be three.  I guess the Department of Social Services went into panic mode.  If he was still in foster care at three it would really mess up their statistics.  Normally, a transition lasts three to four months.  Bill’s was less than five weeks.

 

Bill’s new parents have had him for the past six months and his adoption recently went through.  We get to see some real cute pictures of him and his new family.  We don’t believe that he is fully bonded with his new mom and dad, but it shouldn’t take much longer.  Once they are ready, we will skype and if that goes okay then we will try for a short visit.  We think they are going to make it.  They may have some rough roads to travel, but we all do once in a while.

 

How are we doing with all this?  Do we miss him?  You bet.  Our house has never been so quiet.  I don’t think a day has gone by where we don’t mention him in a conversation.  He is very much missed, and not by just us.  Family, church family, friends, workers in stores we frequent all ask how he is doing and say how much they miss him.  This life we live affects lots of people – more than we ever knew.

 

Some ask, “why didn’t you adopt him?”  Our response is usually, “why didn’t you?”  You know, it was never in our plans to adopt, but we didn’t know God’s plans for us.  Now that we do, I wouldn’t change a thing.  Will God put that in front of us again?  Only he knows.  Plus, we are getting kind of old to be stepping out like that again.  So, for now, we wait to see the next step in his plan for us.  We never know what to expect!

 

 

***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo, Olivia’s Sweet Adventure, and the soon to be released (hopefully) Secret Lives (of Middle school teachers).

Hey, by the way, if you enjoyed, this share it with a friend or group of friends.  We are always in need of foster or adoptive parents and some of these posts may inspire them to step out of their comfort zone and change someone else’s life.

If you really, really enjoyed this, click on the link and check out some of the great books published by Indigo Sea Press.  That too could change someone else’s life.

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That Special Girl by John E. Stack

That special, one-of-a-kind girl showed up in my life a few years ago and totally changed my life. She had been badly hurt, even though there were few outward signs. You could tell by looking into her eyes that she felt unloved and was ready to give up on life. God had given my wife and I  a mission – to love. From the moment we laid eyes on her, we fell in love. I will call her Katherine.
My wife and I first met Katherine at a hospital about an hour away from home. Her room was at the end of the hallway. There was a nurse’s station right outside her room, but it was not being used. The lights were out and the hallway was dark. Even though it was daytime, her room was completely dark. Her bed was situated where she could not even see the door.
About the only visitors Katherine ever received were the nurses or the med tech’s coming in to check vitals or to draw blood. The doctors had given up on her and expected her to die, said they figured about three weeks. The nurses didn’t come in unless they had to because they didn’t want to become too attached. So, she was picked up in order to change her diaper, stuck with a needle in order to draw blood. She didn’t know many good touches. Katherine was four months old when we became her foster parents and became totally involved in her life.
My wife and I worked with the nurses and changed a lot of things, even to the point of having her removed from that hospital and transferred to one closer to home. Even if the doctors expected her to die, we weren’t going to give up. God had a different plan. There was something very special about Katherine. I went through a crash nursing course and the nurse supervisor had to sign-off that I knew how to complete certain tasks. It was tough but she was worth it.
Within a few days after having her airlifted to the new hospital, she was discharged and was able to go home with us. She was now six months old but only weighed nine pounds. When Katherine was less than two weeks old she developed a condition, which caused her intestines to die. The doctors removed almost eighty percent of both her large and small intestines. It took a while, but things started to improve, and her health started to improve. We fell deeper in love.
The adoption went through right after her second birthday. She was stuck with us forever.
Fast forward to about three weeks ago. Katherine was watching a video about kids going into foster care with her mom. As the kids were brought out of their homes they carried black garbage bags. “why are they carrying those black bags?” she asked. My wife explained that when social workers remove children from their homes, the kids don’t have much time to pack. They also don’t own suitcases.
Katherine was shocked, “What do you mean? Those kids have to carry their clothes in a garbage bag? That’s not right.” Katherine was upset about this when she went to bed.
My wife had been talking to me about finding someone that would supply some type of bag that social workers could have on hand to give kids if they had to be taken into custody.
The next morning Katherine woke up with an idea. She decided that for her birthday, she wanted her party guests to not buy presents for her, but to buy things that would fit in a string bag. She wanted to have people by tooth brushes with tooth paste, small blankets, small stuffed animals, toys for little kids, etc. She also figured her mom could make or buy some simple string bags and we could give these to social workers or police officers to give to kids when they were removed from their homes.
Her mom asked her about her birthday gifts and she said that those didn’t matter because we would buy her some things. So, on her birthday party invitations, we put a note explaining Katherine’s wishes.
More than anything we received a wonderful gift. We got to see a heart that was willing to give pretty much all she had and hoped to give to other kids that she didn’t even know. She’s my new super hero.
Happy 8th Birthday, to my beautiful, sweet, and wonderful daughter. We love you.

***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Olivia’s Sweet Adventure, and Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo.

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2017 – A Blank Canvas by Sherrie Hansen

One of the highlights of 2016 for me has been that I’ve started to paint. I won’t say I learned to paint, because except for a 3-4 minute online tutorial on how to paint flowers and leaves, I haven’t had a teacher. I have had a lot of inspiration and encouragement, from both people and places. And somewhere, hidden deep inside me, there was evidently a smidgen of artistry waiting to be brought to life.

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A favorite quote from my favorite author, Maud Hart Lovelace, who wrote the Betsy Tacy books –  “Isn’t it mysterious to begin a new journal like this? I can run my fingers through the fresh clean pages but I cannot guess what the writing on them will be.” (from Betsy in Spite of Herself). For me, the new year has long been the time to start a new diary, write the first words in a blank journal, or begin a new book. I’ve always had a wild imagination, an abundance of curiosity, and plenty of thoughts and opinions. But painting has taken me to a whole new layer of creativity. Here’s why I like to think of 2017 as a blank canvas.

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When we write, we start out with white pages. When I paint, I begin with a stretched linen canvas, painted black. It provides a good base, a medium for blending, and the perfect contrast and background for other colors. Black separates the colors and keeps them from becoming muddled. It gives the painting a sense of unity. Unless you’re a lot younger and much more pristine than I am, it seems fitting to start out with a canvas that’s been woven, wet, starched and stretched, maybe even painfully so.

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To me, the black represents the past – triumphs and treasures, mistakes I’ve made and ongoing struggles. Much as I might wish that some of those events never happened, I realize that they’re the foundation of who I am, and that the finished painting will be many times more beautiful because of the richness of my past experiences and the things I’ve learned along the way. The wonderful thing about painting is that I can start out fresh and cover the background with colorful new dreams and experiences.

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I can paint whatever I like on my canvases. If I don’t like how they turn out, I can choose new colors, or alter the lines, or even start completely over again. There are no rules, no rights or wrongs, no preconceived notions to worry about. It’s all good.

Painting - Northern Lights

I don’t begin to know what 2017 will hold. I hope to see Golden Rod finished and published. All things considered, I feel a great sense of anticipation about what the year will bring. I wouldn’t be human if it wasn’t mixed with a little trepidation about what lies ahead. There are some significant milestones in store for me – a big birthday, and the 25th anniversary of the opening of my bed and breakfast and tea house.

BBI - Spring 2012

The important thing is that 2017 will be filled with all kind of opportunities – to choose the high road, focus on the good, to choose hope over despair, and people over technology – to be positive, and grateful, and loving and kind. Don’t be afraid to add some color to the mix. Create some new hues, try something you’ve never done before. Travel to new places and sing a new song or two. For the rest – “Brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. “ (Philippians 4:8)

Zion - Sunset 2015 2

Wishing you many blessings and rich, colorful landscapes in 2017. It’s a blank canvas – why don’t you pick up your brush and paint!

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Transition by John E. Stack

If you have read very many of my blogs, you would know that my wife and I are foster parents.  We work with medical critical babies. We care for them, help them feel safe, and try to help them get ready for their transition back home or to their forever families.  We have had babies live with us for as short as two weeks and up to two and a half years.  Currently, we have a little boy I will call Bill.  You may have read about Bill in some previous blogs that I have written.  He has been a part of our lives for quite a while.

Bill’s life is getting ready to start a new chapter and we are excited for him, but also sad because of the changes.  A special family has been identified to become his forever family and if all goes as we hope, then in a couple of months Bill will have a new mom and dad.

Bill was a preemie, with some medical problems.  The doctors didn’t have a very positive outlook on whether he would have a normal life or how well he would be able to function.  They figured he would have at least some learning disabilities.  In every aspect of his life, Bill was delayed.  Bill was followed by four or five doctors of various specialties.  This meant lots of appointments, lots of blood drawing, and lots of therapy.

In the meantime, Bill was tied up in court.  His birth mom and dad refused to get their acts together.  They talked a good talk, but they refused to follow the plan that the court had established.  After two years, the parents lost their rights.

Well, because the court process is so slow, the Department of Social Services did not start looking for adoptive parents.  They did keep asking my wife if we had found someone.  Finally, my wife told the social worker that finding adoptive parents was not her job.  Anyway, my wife started praying that we could find someone in the local area that would want to adopt.

We are firm believers in prayer.  We have seen too many children far exceed the doctor’s expectations.  We’ve also seen the expressions on doctor’s faces when the child they said would never walk, ran across the floor.  God is still in the business of miracles and we get the pleasure of watching them happen.

Bill is still small for his age, but is now running and jumping.  You can’t understand everything he says, but he likes to talk and asks questions all the time.  Bill loves to sing and everything is classified a drum, and anything can be used as a drum stick. (He plays in time with any music we listen to.)  And, he has a girlfriend, who is about his same height.

Once we were given the okay to really look for adoptive parents, Suzanne changed her prayers a little.  This time she prayed that she wanted a good Christian family that would be willing to adopt Bill, that would understand some of his issues, someone that had previously raised kids, someone that would help foster his love of music, and finally, she wanted to have someone approach her and say that they believed that God had placed the desire to adopt Bill on her heart.  Talk about asking God for specifics.

About three weeks later, a lady at his preschool asked Suzanne if she could talk to her about Bill.  Preschool was what my wife considered her last gift to Bill – the opportunity to be separate from her and gain some independence.  She said that several weeks before she felt like God was pushing her toward Bill and she had really fallen in love with him. But, within the past week she felt that God wanted her to adopt Bill.  She had talked it all through with her husband.  Then she looked at Suzanne and said that she felt that God had placed it on her heart to adopt Bill.  This was one of the few times my wife was left speechless.

After getting some information and a little small talk, my wife had to leave.  As she sat in the car, she felt amazed at what had just happened.  She really found it hard to believe that the lady had used almost the same words that she had prayed.  Then it seemed like a small voice said in the back of her mind – isn’t that what you asked for?

Miracles happen, sometimes we just need to ask.  We are pretty sure that all of this will work out and Bill will get his forever family.  Meanwhile, we work transition and short visits, waiting for all the paperwork to happen.  It is bittersweet, but he deserves the best.  He has been through a lot, but we believe it will be worth it in the end.

 

Have you ever considered an adventure in foster care or adoption?  Check it out.  It could be the most blessed ride you have ever taken.

***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo, and Olivia’s Sweet Adventure.

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Children Don’t Belong in Plastic Bags! by Arhonda Luman

It was a day like any other. I was at work styling hair and giggling with my customers, until one man, who was patiently awaiting a haircut, remarked “OH! That scared me!”

He had all my attention. I jerked my head around so quickly it nearly spun off my shoulders. His face was ashen, but a smile slowly appeared.

He was not the type of man to be easily scared. I tried not to panic. Cautiously, I asked him, “What happened?”

 

He grinned a bit more but the smile wasn’t quite to his eyes yet. He was trying to recover his senses. mannequin  Quiet stalked the room like a lion does it prey. Every eye was upon him.  The room full of people waited for his response.

He looked into the room next to where I work and said, a little sheepishly, “I thought there was a child in that plastic bag on the floor.”

I had to go look at the scene because I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. When I entered the room, I knew what had happened.  The child wasn’t a child at all. It was a mannequin head that is used for practice. It had been packed into a bag to take to State Board when my granddaughter went to test for her license.  My little boys, who are akin to a hurricane, had made a spin through the room and knocked it off the table without my knowing. Ha!  It was funny, but I couldn’t laugh.  I had seen the look in my customer’s eye and the stress on his face. He couldn’t believe I would have a child in a plastic bag, but his eyes saw something different. His emotions were torn asunder trying to decide what he should do. Clearly, if there had been a child in the bag, he would have contacted child protective services as fast as his fingers could dial. And he should have if that were the case.

I forgot this incident. It blended into the obscurity of a sea of episodes that one accumulates over a lifetime. Then, yesterday, I was playing on Facebook, and something drew my eye to a video. It was about a homeless man being a hero. It drew my attention as sure as it was a magnet and my eyes were steel. As I watched it,  everything stopped around me. There was no sound, only the caption below.  I watched in horror as the video revealed what is missing in the hearts of many people.

The city was a large one.  The day was frigid. Busy people brusquely walked to and fro. Some were shopping, others were trying to get to work. The little boy stood on the edge of the sidewalk holding a black plastic bag. He was begging.

I leaned closer to my computer screen. Bile rose in my throat as I saw people, waltz by him as if they could only dance to their own music. So lost in themselves, they could not hear the sound of the little boy’s distress. They were all bundled up for the day in their warm coats, hats, and gloves.  Gucci shoes clicked on the concrete. Men glanced furtively at their Rolex watches.  They never even noticed the boy wearing a t-shirt in freezing weather.

My mind furiously searched for answers to a thousand questions. Was this video staged? Why isn’t someone helping?  Can’t someone give him some warm cocoa? Why doesn’t someone go to a thrift store and buy him a jacket?  Who is holding the blasted camera??

Of course, it was a surveillance camera, In my distress, I almost missed that nugget of knowledge.

homeless-in-americaI screamed at the monitor screen, “Help him!”

The boy stood in the cold for over an hour. When he could not stand the cold any longer. He climbed into the large black plastic bag to shield himself from the wind. Only his head and shoulders were visible. Hundreds of people passed him. Still, no one offered help.

“Why?” I didn’t know. I cried.

After two hours, a homeless man approached the little boy. He sat him up so that he could look into his eyes. He removed his coat and placed it around the child. Though I couldn’t hear what he said, his actions spoke volumes. The coat was symbolic. By giving it, he offered the boy hope.

Again, I had questions. Why did the homeless man wait so long?  I shuddered. The sobering clutches of reality made its grand entrance.  I knew what he had been wrestling with in his soul. He had a front row seat in the arena of humanity and witnessed first hand, his own fate. If he gave up his own coat in the freezing temperatures, it would likely mean his death. It was obvious to him, anyone who did not have enough compassion to help a child, would never find enough in their hearts to help a grown man.

I was ashamed.

Have we become a nation that can ignore the cry of the little children? We, who live in the land of milk and honey, can we not spare a cup for the poor and desolate?  What are we to become if our bowels of compassion are locked so tight that all that is good in us dies.

Kindness is one of the cheapest commodities available. There is no reason it cannot be freely given. The homeless man set an example for us all. He, who used the frigid sidewalks,  to teach by example,  gave all he had, himself.  In so doing, he gave hope and encouragement to those not as fortunate as he. He might not have a college education or drive a luxury vehicle. He might not own anything but the clothes on his back, but he jeopardized his life to save a child. Even he knows, children do not belong in garbage bags!

 

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Happily Ever After (revised) by John E. Stack

(This is a revision of a previous blog in regards to Foster Care and Adoption.)

Stories. We hear stories everyday about people who were down and out, and they turn their lives around. They become successful and often wealthy. What about the stories we don’t hear? Are those lives successful? Do they pull themselves out or are they even capable of success?

We read stories where everyone lives “happily ever after.” Again, this isn’t always the case. This story about a kid is true. I’ll call him Calvin. This kid’s name may not be Calvin, and he could be either male or female. But, it is a true story all the same.

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It didn’t matter where he was or what school he attended, in his mind people always disrespected him, because of his clothes or the way he looked. Life really sucked when you were thirteen and stuck in middle school where no one knew anything about you. Nor did they even care!

“I said get out of my way,” yelled Calvin, as he pushed the boy against the locker. The boy slammed against the metal lockers with a loud bang.

“Calvin, in my office, now!” said Principal Stern. “I’m really tired of your attitude. We probably need to call your mom. These outbursts really need to stop.”

“Foster Mom,” replied Calvin, a little louder than necessary. “I don’t live with my mother.”

“I said – to my office, Calvin!” responded Mr. Stern.

All of a sudden Calvin was near tears. “Go ahead. Call her.” he replied in an almost angry tone. “If I get into trouble again, she will just call the social worker and have me put with a new family. So what does it matter if you call her. You won’t have to worry about me anymore either.”

Calvin was a kid in the system. Yeah, one of those foster kids. Those are the kids that the state has to pay money for someone to take care of them. Maybe you think that you’ve never seen one before, but you have. There are usually two types: one that you never notice and one that you can’t miss. The one you never notice usually blends in with their current family. They are dressed nicely and they are treated like one of the family. They get to go shopping at the mall and get to go on vacations with their foster family.

The other type of foster kid usually doesn’t match the family they are with. They might look kind of dirty, or they need a haircut, or maybe their clothes don’t fit quite right. Their pants are either too long or too short. Shirts are almost always second hand, stained or too big. It’s obvious that they don’t belong to the family they are with. They are treated differently, like when the family goes on vacation, the kid gets to go into respite care with another family. Life is definitely not fair.

Calvin’s story was typical. He didn’t know his birth dad. Brandi, his mom, never really had it together. She was really wild in school – bad boys, alcohol and drugs. She liked to party and it finally got to the point that partying became more important than anything else, even him. His mom was fifteen when he was born. Brandi’s dad told her mom, “She needs to keep the little brat, so she can see what it’s like to raise a child on her own. That will teach her a lesson to not go sleeping around.” They had helped out a little bit, but kicked her out after a while when she didn’t follow their rules.

Calvin was three when he was taken away. Calvin lived with the first foster family until he was six. The second liked kids with problems because the state paid them extra money. There were many others. But few really cared. His current foster mom really cared, but didn’t know if his anger problems could be controlled.

She also didn’t know, nor did he, but Calvin had a little brother.  His name is Bill and he was born when Calvin was ten.  Bill was born with cocaine and heroin in his system.  He is okay for now, but they do not know the long term implications of the drugs.  Bill was also taken away by Social Services and this time Calvin’s mom was put in jail.

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I don’t know if Calvin’s and Bill’s stories will have happily-ever-after endings or maybe real-life endings, but they will have some sort of ending. Kids in foster care have a very slim chance for success. Often circumstances push them toward drugs, alcohol, prostitution, or some form of abuse. Those chances for success get better when they have someone in their lives that care.

In North Carolina there is, as I suspect it is in other states, a shortage of foster parents. This results in over-crowding of good foster homes and the outgrowth of lots of bad foster homes. There is always a shortage. Right now in NC there are 5 to 7 thousand kids in foster care.

Being a foster parent is a tough job. My wife and I have been foster parents for almost nine years and haves had 20 kids in foster care. We do new-borne babies and keep them until adopted. We fall in love every time. Of the 20, we adopted one, and wish we were 20 years younger so we could do more. I said it was a tough job, the toughest job you will ever love.

In November we will celebrate adoption Sunday. Check it out. There may be a life out there that you can change and give the gift of a “happily ever after.


***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo and Olivia’s Sweet Adventure.

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Mythical Truth by Arhonda Luman

unicornWe live in the day of instant knowledge. The internet, with a tap of a button, can search for anything you can imagine, and plenty of things that are unimaginable. One can search  until they are blue in the face, and still, have a problem finding truth. Truth seems to be as elusive as a unicorn.

It has been said, that knowledge is the answer to truth. The problem   with that statement is, knowledge  fails to provide us with a mental grasp of every topic that can be thought of,  from religion to politics and believe it or not, every day living.

We base our truths on our heritage, environment, education, life experiences and probably a few more factors I missed.

In the name of truth, people on opposite sides have been killing each other  since the beginning of time. All of whom believe in their view of truth.

Oh, I know from personal experience that many of us think we are living in truth. I’m the first to be guilty of that.

When I was a young woman, I believed myself, to be honest. When someone who knew me asked a question, they knew they better have their loins girded up because I would tell them the truth. As an old woman, I have come to believe that the truth is; there are many truths to any given situation. As a result of that, now I can only say, “My answer is my truth.”

Every day of our life is a revelation that will eventually lead us closer to the truth. Sometimes I miss the interpretation because of being busy, or maybe I rob myself from enlightenment because of lethargy or denial, but it is ever-present and will reveal itself a little at a time to those who seek it. There are those who are exempt from learning. They are like the potatoes in granny’s bin, they have eyes but cannot see.

I’d like to share a couple of “aha!” moments that happened in my personal life that might give credence, and maybe a bit of sanity, to this muse. Perhaps it will aid someone else in their search for truth!cherries

One day a couple of weeks ago, I poured ice from a local establishment into my cup to make myself a soda. Just like I do every day,  I poured the soda over it. When I took a drink,
I shuddered. It tasted like it was flavored with cherry or some other fruit. It wasn’t awful, but it was not what I thought I was getting. My first thought was to check the can of soda to see if I accidentally picked up one with cherry flavor. To my amazement, it was not cherry flavored. My next thought was that the Dr. Pepper company had “Improved,” the taste again. I was aggravated and poured it out.

A few days later, the same scenario happened. This time, one of my children got the ice and I thought, they must have bumped the cherry button on the soda machine. I rolled my eyes and threw that concoction out. Three times this happened. Finally, I was determined to search for the truth. I opened my own refrigerator; a dorm sized one that I usually only keep soda and ice in, and discovered that my husband had brought me a bag of apples and plums as a gift. He did not tell me he did that, so I hadn’t discovered it. I blamed several entities, but the fault lay on my doorstep.

You would think I would have learned a valuable lesson. Not so. It wasn’t two days later that I was driving down a street and saw a house where someone had planted trees in their tiny front yard. The trees were cute last year, this year they are almost touching. I gasped.

Totally in disbelief, I asked myself out loud, “Why do people plant trees that close together. Don’t they know they grow? It won’t be long, and their yard will look horrible.!”

Exasperated I turned down the street my shop was on, and when I started to turn in, I saw a pile of garbage and limbs in my yard where my husband was clipping branches.  My yard looked horrible. Shame encompassed me like a vice. Again, I gave away blame, but I was more guilty than they were.

Food for thought.

In my quest for a deeper meaning, I did a search on, “Fault line.”  I was surprised but not shocked at the definition.

 

 

 

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PURPOSE by Thornton Cline

PURPOSE
by Thornton Cline

In my debut non-fiction book, “Not My Time to Go” on Indigo Sea Press I devote chapter seventeen to the purpose of living on Earth. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines purpose as the reason something is done or used or the aim or intention of something.
Throughout my true compelling close-call, near-misses with death I gradually discovered my purpose for living on Earth. I once believed that I existed just to eat, drink, and be happy. I didn’t think too much about other people’s lives, but put high value on indulging in worldly pleasures. I didn’t have much concern for my fellow brothers and sisters. Life was all about me. And while I played the violin and piano growing up, I used those talents and gifts for my own self-seeking purposes, not for a higher purpose.
Through all of my self-seeking, I gradually became reckless, taking foolish changes with my life. Many times I felt immortal. I depended only on myself for everything. The Lord was far removed from my life, despite my childhood spent attending church. I had forgotten how to pray, and, in fact, I didn’t feel like I needed to pray at all.
Of course, that was far from the truth. My guardian angel, other angels, and my Lord and Savior have always been by my side. I just haven’t come to that realization yet. All that time when I thought I was doing it on my own, my angel and the Lord were there helping me through everything in my life.
While I was depending on myself, they were what I needed. But no one could tell me. No one could preach that message to me. I had to learn it the hard way.
Slowly but surely, I came to the realization that I wasn’t here on Earth only to take up space and to exist. I also realized that life wasn’t about partying and pleasing myself with selfish ambitions.
Through the near-tragedies that I experienced, I began to conclude that life on Earth was a testing ground for my everlasting life in Heaven. Life was about storing up treasures for the hereafter. It was not about pleasing myself in partying and living it up, nor was it about accumulating riches and wealth while on Earth. I realized that I was constantly being tempted and torn between the invincible greatness and goodness of the Lord Almighty and the dark, evil forces of Satan. I discovered that every decision I made in my life had its consequences.
Life, I finally saw, was about God’s kingdom on Earth, serving God faithfully, and planting seeds by helping others so that the fruits of my labor could be reaped later. My mission was to reach others with my gifts and bring them into God’s fold.
Finally, life makes sense knowing why I am here on Earth and what my purpose is. It took those 11 close-call, near death experiences to help me to discover my purpose and the meaning of life.

Thornton Cline, author of "Not My Time to Go"

Thornton Cline, author of “Not My Time to Go”

Recent discussion about "Purpose" with the Richmond, VA writers group

Recent discussion about “Purpose” with the Richmond, VA writers group

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Why Do I Teach? by John E. Stack

As a public school teacher, I take a lot of things personally.  Whether it is hearing how bad our students do on end-of-grade testing, or some bureaucrat stating that paying out teachers more money will not improve achievement, it really bothers me.  Then, you have some idiot that is either a teacher or is someone associated with the school system being inappropriate with a child.  So, all teachers are then identified as being child molesters.  

Most of us really take our jobs seriously, and we work not thirty-five or forty hours a week, but often work sixty to seventy hours a week writing lesson plans, grading papers and attending school functions that many parents are too busy to attend. Why do we do this?  Well, it is not the big bucks that we supposedly make.  We do this for several reasons.  We care about the students and want them to do their best.  We also want our schools to look good.  If our students do well on end-of-grade testing, then our school gets a good grade.  Personally, I feel if they become successful my taxes won’t have to support them.

End-of-grade testing is how the school systems put a value on the teachers.  Teachers do not like giving the tests and students do not like taking them.  Still, we put our all into preparing the students to take the test.

There is also a big push on teacher/student relationships.  It is said that if a student doesn’t like a teacher then they will not do the work.  My dad did not care if I liked the teacher or not, if an assignment was given, then it better be completed.  I raised my girls with the same rule. It was never what did the teacher do, but what did you do?  The teacher was shown respect and looked at as a professional.  It is not like this anymore.

It really starts to weigh on a person when they are told they don’t meet standards, even though they have been doing a great job for years.  Adequate compensation (pay raises) is a thing of the past, which tells us that our government doesn’t respect as professionals.  It is always something that makes many teachers feel inadequate.  Most only want respect and to be treated as professionals.

Our small town publishes a newspaper three times a week and on one day it publishes the court records.  Seldom does a week go by where I don’t read three or four names of students that I taught – drugs, alcohol, assault…  It just adds to the pressure.  You wonder if you could have done something different to change their lives or their decisions.

For me, being told that my scores are not good enough, that I don’t know how to relate to students, plus all of the above really made me want to get out of teaching.  Again, I take a lot of things personally.

Over the last year, things have started to change and my outlook has started to improve.  Over the last year, I ran across a few of my previous students.  One young lady followed some advice and was happy to tell me that she got a book published.  (She started working on it in middle school and talked with me about publishing and what she should do.)  Another was on maternity leave from her corporate job and she just had to show me her newborn son.

This summer I ran across two young moms that I had taught, one of which was a nurse practitioner.  She told me about three other students that I taught that were also in the medical field.  It is so nice and enlightening to see where your kids (yes, my kids – it I taught them then they are mine, no matter how old they get) become successful.  What a breath of fresh air.

Then, my wife went to register our little boy for preschool.  The lady asked if I still taught school and to let me know her son was now a doctor.  Wow.  After eighteen years, the mom remembered I was her son’s math teacher.

Most recently, I received an email from a parent stating her son was going into the military.  They were giving him a graduation/leaving for the military party.  She asked him if there was anyone in particular that he wanted to invite and he said that he would like for “Mr. Stack” to be there is possible.  What a privilege to attend.  I asked him why the Army and he responded that my influence and stories helped point him to what he really wanted to do.  As a middle school teacher I seldom get to hear about the choices my previous students made.  These are some of the bright spots.

Every new teacher goes into the profession just knowing that they are going to change lives.  They are going to give everything they have to try to do this. I have a niece that is a teacher, a niece that is studying to be a teacher, and a young lady that my wife and I mentored that just took a position in the mountains of Arizona to teach in a Christian Indian mission.

Why do I teach?  I feel God put me in this position, but still, I teach to make a difference.  

***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo, and Olivia’s Sweet Adventure.  Also, soon to be released Cody and the Great Zoo Escape and Secret Lives (of middle school teachers).

    

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Gratitude

Gratitude.

A simple word that carries so much power. As the launch date for Root draws closer, as I tick down my to-do list to get ready, I can’t help but think about how grateful I am to all the folks who made releasing Dormant memorable. Of course, there are the folks I expected to be grateful to – my parents, my sister, my husband, my critique group – but it’s the surprises that come to mind today. From the woman at work who sent out an email blast on the day my book was published to the high school classmate who invited me to speak to her middle school students. The support I gotten from my old school mates almost makes me miss high school (almost…OK, not really).

I remember the sweet ladies in my mother’s book club who read Dormant and discussed it with me via Skype. I’m grateful to my mother for buying a lot of copies and giving them to her friends. I appreciate all of the people who invited me to speak at their book clubs. It’s humbling to have serious conversations about ideas and characters I created. I’ve been awed and amused at some of the reader theories.

I think of the people who griped at me for killing off Hugh. As one reader pointed out, “he’s the only one with any sense.” Any author will understand the feeling of glee when a reader is upset over a character’s death. Means we made an impact.
And to the people who kindly listen to me natter on about my writing process, my latest book, and my experiences, I’m grateful to you for listening!

And there are the people who live far away from me but still wanted signed copies and were willing to pay a little more one. The bookstores who host readings and are so kind to nervous authors. And I will never forget those of you who come to my readings!

Self-promotion is very difficult for me. I constantly doubt the worthiness of my stories, I hesitate to add my voice to the clamor of promotion requests, even though I know it’s an important part of the process. So when I do, I’m very grateful for the support I receive from the likes, retweets, shares, and comments.

I don’t write my stories so you’ll like me but I would be lying if I didn’t admit to feeling a rush when someone tells me they enjoyed Dormant. Writing is a combination of transcendent and nonsensical moments. Sometimes I love what I wrote enough so I don’t think I need feedback from readers. Then someone tells me how much they loved Dormant or how much their daughter or son loved it and I realize that, yes, I do need to hear what you think.

Gratitude is humbling. Gratitude reminds me that people are generally good. Gratitude reminds me to say thank you. To my now and future readers.

LeeAnn Elwood McLennan twitter photoLeeAnn Elwood McLennan is the author of Dormant, book 1 in the Dormant Trilogy (www.indigoseapress.com, Amazon and Barnes and Noble). Root, Book 2 in the trilogy will be released soon so you should pick up a copy of Dormant today to get to know Olivia Woodson Brighthall and her family.

 

Follow LeeAnn on Twitter and Instagram @atticusmcl and on Facebook at LEMWrites.

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