Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Healing Ruby: A Novel (extended excerpt)

My newest novel, Healing Ruby, will be coming out in the next few months, and many of my family, friends, and readers have been curious about what's coming next. I'm still in the editing stages, so I can't give you a taste and guarantee it's what you'll end up reading when the book is finally in your hands. But I hope to give you enough to whet your appetite!

I'm in the process of raising money to fund my efforts, so if you enjoy the preview below, please continue to read about how you can help bring this novel to completion, and get some special goodies in the process!

Ruby Graves is a young teenage girl growing up in rural north Alabama during the devastating years of the Great Depression. As her father suffers through the crippling effects of diabetes, she secretly obtains a job caring for the son of a wealthy family in town who is dying of tuberculosis. She repeatedly seeks God's healing for both her father and Matthew, but her father's death leaves her faith shattered, and her family homeless. 
When her long-lost uncle arrives for the funeral, he introduces Ruby to the world of faith-healing, and the ability that has been passed down through her family from one generation to the next to stop the flow of blood. When Matthew's condition suddenly worsens, Ruby comes face to face with the power of God to heal, and an intimacy with his presence she longs to hold onto. 
As Ruby struggles to understand God's call to serve and heal others, she must learn to surrender to a destiny that will challenge the social norms of her time, endanger her life, and demand that she count everything she holds dear as loss for the sake of Christ.

I never meant to hurt anyone. It was the last thing I ever wanted to do, but in moments that pass by quicker than lightning, things just happen. That seems to be the story of my life. Things happen before I can stop them, before I even understand what’s happening. Sometimes it’s my eagerness that gets me into trouble—like when Mother’d make me help her with canning all them vegetables, but all I could think about was getting out of that hot kitchen, sneaking down to the creek, and burying myself in the cold water. But most times, what gets me in trouble is just plain anger.
Like the time when I was ten, and Henry was harassing me again, and I was just sick of him that day. I never understood what was so much fun about picking on girls, but that seemed to be the favorite pastime of both my brothers. Seemed to me that teenage boys could find plenty else to occupy their time with, and it would make me madder than a hornet. Maybe that was why they did it.
We weren’t poor back then, back before stock crashes and poverty stole the life out of folks. But we weren’t like the Doyle’s either—we didn’t have a housekeeper to clean up after us—and since I was the only girl, I got stuck with washing the dishes after dinner every Sunday while the boys got to run off to do heaven knows what with heaven knows who. Henry should’ve just left me alone. But he never could pass up a chance to needle me, and he slapped my behind as he dropped his plate into the wash tub. I must’ve gotten madder than I ever had before, because I don’t exactly remember deciding to do it, but the next thing I knew, the knife in my hand went sailing through the air and landed in Henry’s neck.
What happened after that is still a blur. I think I was as horrified as Henry was, and we both just stood there staring at each other in shock. I couldn’t even remember throwing that knife across the room. But there he stood just a few feet away from me, a trickle of blood running down his neck and seeping into the collar of his Sunday shirt. I remember thinking that Mother’d have a time getting that stain out on the washboard. She’d complain about her knuckles getting raw.
Henry pulled the knife out, and blood just shot out of him. It hit Mother’s table cloth, the white one with the lace around the bottom that Grandma Kellum had made for a wedding present. It hit the wall and the door frame where Henry stood. He stared at it kind of wide-eyed for a moment. Then just as Daddy came back in the room, Henry sank to the floor.
Something lit a fire under my feet, and I was beside him in a second. Like I said, it all seemed to happen in a haze of confusion and regret, but I remember the dark red stain spreading through the dishtowel in my hands as I pressed down on Henry’s neck. I remember Daddy rushing over, calling for Mother and hollering at Henry that he’d be all right. I remember the look on Daddy’s face when he yelled at James to go for Dr. Fisher—his face pale, his eyes wide and accusing. I’d only seen him look scared once before—the night little Charlie died from the Spanish flu—and it just about did me in to think I’d be responsible for him losing another son.
Mother came beside me, shoving me out of the way. Her hands were strong and quick, she moved my dishrag away and looked at Henry’s wound, never once grimacing. She put a clean cloth over it and grabbed my hands, pressing them down over Henry’s neck and looking at me with blazing eyes that shot right through me.
“Press hard. Don’t move.” Then she stood and pulled Daddy up with her. “Abner, it’s bad. Real bad.”
Henry’s eyes drifted slowly over to look up at me, and I wondered what he was thinking. I hated for him to be mad at me. As much as I hated his picking on me, I loved him fierce—almost as much as Daddy. Henry could make you smile in a second, no matter what had you in a mess. I loved both my brothers, but he was the one that really knew me, the one who liked playing with me. I couldn’t stand the thought that I’d hurt him.
“Henry?” I whispered. “You all right?”
At that moment I heard the panic in Mother’s voice as it got louder. “I know it’s been a long time, but can’t you remember how—”
“No,” Daddy bellowed. “I can’t do that. I never could, and you know it.”
“But you were there!” she yelled. “You saw everything!” I couldn’t remember Mother ever raising her voice, so I had no idea what to think. Daddy looked taken aback too. He glared at her, then down at Henry, and then he looked at her again. This time the fear seemed more like anger.
“Listen here, even if I knew how, I wouldn’t bring that blasphemy into my house!”
Daddy bent over Henry and lifted him into his arms. He carried him into their bedroom and laid Henry across the bed. Mother followed with her shoulders bent forward like she was ready to tackle Daddy. He turned to her and caught her before she could lay into him.
“Now, Lizzy, there just ain’t nothing I can do. Not like you’s wanting right now. James’ll fetch Doctor Fisher, and you and I’re gone do everything we can. The Lord’ll take care a Henry. Now stop fretting over something I can’t control, and do what you can for him.”
Mother looked like she might just fall over, but then her whole body stiffened. She went to Henry’s head and checked the rags. Then she knelt beside the bed and started praying. Daddy turned to me, and right then I saw that he knew I’d done this. My stomach turned, and I thought I might lose my lunch right there.
“Ruby,” he said. “How’d this happen?”
I couldn’t take him looking at me like that, like he didn’t even know who I was. All I could do was turn and run. So I did. I ran out the door and into the woods as far as my legs would carry me. I tripped and fell a couple of times, but it was the third fall that finally did me in. I had nothing left inside me. All I could do was lay on the ground, my tears mixing with the dirt and leaves, praying God would forgive me and let Henry live. I promised I’d never lose my temper again, and I’d do everything in my power to keep the people I loved from pain. I promised Him that I’d do anything He ever wanted from me…ever. He just couldn’t take Henry.
Sometimes I still remember that day in a dream, and I wonder how much of it really happened, and how much of my memory my dreams have changed. It’s hard to know. Now, when I remember that day, it’s not the memory of Henry lying on the floor, or Mother scrubbing up blood for hours, or even the relief I felt when Henry was all right that my mind sits on. Instead, I think about all the ruckus going on around us that day, about all the promises I made to God to save Henry, and not even realizing that Daddy was already sick.

Chapter 1
When Henry and I got home from school that afternoon, Doctor Fisher was talking with Mother in the living room. Just the sight of him sent a shiver down my spine and the memory of Charlie’s last night on this earth through my mind. I felt my breath catch, but then Doctor Fisher smiled at me. I knew he wouldn’t be smiling if something serious was wrong with Daddy, so it set me at ease, and I smiled back.
“Hi there, Miss Ruby,” he said.
I shook his hand. “Hi, Doctor Fisher.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of butterscotch. I grinned and grabbed it out of his hand. He turned to Henry and shook his hand like a man while he pat him on the back.
“Henry! How’s the basketball team shaping up? Ya’ll ready for the game tonight?”
“Yes, sir. Those boys from Cullman won’t know what hit ‘em.”
Henry smiled and walked over to Mother, kissing her on the cheek. She held onto him for a bit longer than usual, and it looked like she might cry for a second. That sent the uneasiness working its way back through my stomach. I looked at Doctor Fisher again. Maybe I’d been wrong. But before I could figure anything out, Mother started throwing out her usual orders.
“Ya’ll better get started on your chores if you expect to make it to the game tonight. Ruby, I need you to finish up the floors for me while I speak with Doctor Fisher outside.”
“Yes, ma’am.”
I put my things in my room then went to the kitchen where the mop waited for me. As I worked my way across the floor toward the table, I could see Mother and Doctor Fisher talking on the porch through the window. Mother put her palms to her eyes and shook her head. I worked my way a little closer to the window, and I could just make out some of Doctor Fisher’s words—something about Daddy’s feet getting worse and how she’d have to convince him to eat better. Mother threw her hands out to the side and groaned.
“We’ve tried everything you suggested. I don’t know what else to do.”
Doctor Fisher put a hand on her shoulder. “I know it’s tough, but it’s time to face the reality that he’s going to lose that foot. Maybe both of them.”
Mother turned away from me, so I couldn’t hear what she was saying, and as I pushed my ear closer to the window, I heard a deep sigh behind me.
“What are you doing?”
I whipped around to find Daddy leaning his huge frame on one of the chairs at the table, his dark eyebrows pinched together into that look that usually meant I was in big trouble.
“I was just cleaning.”
“Cleaning, huh? Since when do you clean windows with your ears?”
He continued giving me the look a bit longer, but then he sighed and pulled out the chair. He fell into it like his own body weighed more than he could handle; then he slapped his thigh.
I thought for a second I was about to get a whipping, and he must have seen my eyes widen cause he let out a deep rumbling chuckle and scratched his beard.
“C’mon,” he said. “You ain’t in trouble, baby girl.”
Aren’t,” I said with a small grin. “And I’m not a little girl anymore.”
He continued to smile, but he looked at me different, like he was remembering me instead of seeing me. “Just like your mother. Can’t just let a man talk like he wants to. But I guess you’re right. You aren’t a little girl anymore. So how about taking a seat and talking with me like a grown up?”
I slid onto the bench nearest me and waited for him to say something. We must have sat like that for a full minute. I laced my hands together on top of the table and looked out the window.
“So how was school today?” he asked.
“You staying out of trouble?”
“As best as can be expected.”
He nodded toward the window and the front porch where I could still barely hear the voices of Mother and Doctor Fisher. “Don’t go worrying yourself over things you can’t control, Ruby.”
I looked at him then, looked deep into those blue eyes that made me laugh nearly every day. “Daddy, are you sick?”
“Are you going to lose your foot?”
“Are you going to die?”
He leaned forward and put his hand over mine—they were still laced together on the table and were beginning to sweat. “Ruby, don’t nobody know what God’s plans may hold. I can’t tell you when my time’s been appointed. But no matter what happens, you can trust God to take care of you.”
I guessed that was supposed to make me feel better, but all I could think about was that he didn’t really answer my question. Then Mother came through the door and went straight to the stove without a word. She checked the fire in it’s belly then stirred the great big pot on top. She wiped her hands on her apron and let out a long sigh that seemed to deflate her and slump her shoulders. Daddy stood and walked over behind her, and I noticed the limp on his right side. He put his hands on Mother’s shoulders and gave them a gentle squeeze.
She turned around and pointed a finger up at his face. “Abner Graves, I don’t know what I’m going to do with you. I’ve told you time and time again about watching what you eat.”
He grabbed her finger and smiled. “And I have. We done the best we can. The rest is up to God.”
“How in God’s name are we supposed to pay for surgery?”
“Don’t worry, Lizzy. It’ll all be fine. It was a fine cotton season, and next year’s gone be even better. Don’t worry about the money.”
He pulled her into his chest and wrapped his arms around her back. She relaxed in his embrace, but then she noticed me watching them and turned back to the stove. I jumped up and grabbed the mop from the bucket, trying to rid my mind of the fear swirling around the edges. I focused all my thoughts on finishing my chores as quickly as possible so I could go to the game.


Basketball was just catching on in the more rural areas of Alabama, but our school in Hanceville had a pretty good team. We figured it was a good season if we beat Cullman more times than they beat us. That fall, we’d gotten beaten pretty bad in football, so everybody in the town was counting on the basketball team to lift our spirits. I liked it better than football. For one thing, I could play basketball. James and Henry had taught me how to shoot on a basket they’d nailed to the side of our barn. Even Daddy had helped me some, and I was pretty good too. But he drew the line there. When the boys had friends over, and they started playing real games, Daddy’d insist I go help Mother in the house. But I sneaked out a few times, and I showed those boys that a girl can give as good as she gets if you just give her half a chance.
We got to the gym early on account of Henry being on the team. James was already there waiting on us in the parking lot with a couple of his friends, including Emma Rae Calhoun. She still had another year in school, and she was sweet on James. He went to all sorts of trouble to make sure no one knew, but I could tell he was sweet on her too. He’d walk her home from church a couple of Sundays every month, and he made sure he was extra clean on those days. That was the only clue he really gave, other than walking her home, but it was enough for me to know. He came over to us just as we got to the front door. He put a hand on Daddy’s shoulder, and his eyebrows mashed together till his face turned almost identical to Daddy’s.
“You feeling all right?”
“I’m fine son.” Daddy stood up a little straighter and made more of an effort to hide the limp I’d seen earlier.
James didn’t look convinced.“If you ain’t feeling right, you need to stay home and rest. I can get Henry home. Besides, we’ll want to go out with some friends afterward anyway.”
Daddy stopped walking and looked at James with that same look he’d given me at the table earlier, and James knew it as well as I did. Then he looked over at the hopeful expression on Henry’s face and frowned.
“Said I’m fine. Now you go on with your friends. Henry’ll just come home with us.”
Henry’s face fell, and James nodded before turning back toward his friends. Daddy took a few more steps and called over his shoulder as we reached the door. “Make sure you’re home at a decent hour. I’ll need you to start mending that fence early tomorrow.”
“Yes sir,” James said.
We walked into the gym, and Henry headed straight for the court where some of the other boys on the team were already shooting around. Daddy and Mother headed for the same spot where we always sat, close to the floor near the middle of the court. The Doyles came in right after us, and they nodded at Mother and Daddy as they sat a few feet away. Their daughter Mary sat down behind them and glanced around. I gave her a quick smile, and she managed a polite wave of her hand. Nothing that seemed particularly inviting. Mary was in my class, but she didn’t look like any eighth grader I’d ever seen, maybe because she’d started school later than most. She was always so well put together, with hair that just shone like everything when the sun hit it. She’d already caught the attention of a few high school boys, but not any that had the guts to talk to her in front of her parents. But then again, I didn’t know too many regular people that spoke to the Doyles.
Mother leaned toward me and nudged my side. “Why don’t you go say hello to some of your friends?”
“I will a bit later.” I’d long ago lost hope of getting Mother to understand my preference for solitude. I was a bean pole of a girl, with little interest in clothes or talking about boys. I spent most of my free time at school reading or daydreaming about the adventures I’d go on as soon as I was old enough to get out of this town. It wasn’t the best way to go about making friends, and the few times Mother had forced me into socializing, I’d just embarrassed myself.
But Mother was not one to give up easily. “At least make an effort to be friendly, Ruby. Your Daddy and I expect you to be polite.”
I looked over at Daddy knowing he wouldn’t care one way or the other if I said hello to girls I was barely acquainted with. He was already engrossed in watching Henry and the other boys go through some practice plays. I sighed and pushed myself off the bleacher, ignoring Mother’s satisfied smile. Mary already had a few more girls around her, so I knew this would be awkward. But if I got it over with quickly, maybe Mother’d leave me alone the rest of the game. I forced a polite smile and climbed the three bleachers to the group of girls. Evelyn Brachman and Judy Carr went to Cullman, so I only knew them by reputation, but Era Calhoun was a ninth grader at Hanceville. All were from wealthier families in the county, and even though most of their parents seemed friendly enough with mine, they’d never seemed interested in being friends with me. I guess I couldn’t say I had shown much interest in them either, if I was being fair about it anyway.
“Hello,” I managed. I forced my hands behind my back so I wouldn’t fidget with them.
Mary said hi, and so did Era, but the other two looked around like they were wondering who might be looking at them. I didn’t want to cause any of us any more embarrassment than necessary, but there was my mother to appease.
“Mind if I join y’all for a few minutes?”
Mary was the only one that really looked at me, and I was keenly aware of how plain I must seem to her. “Why sure, Ruby. Come sit by me.”
I had to admit, she seemed downright genuine about it. I decided to give it a shot, and maybe the other girls would warm up to me. As I took a seat and got comfortable, the game started, so I did my best to follow along with the girls’ conversation while keeping up with the game. It didn’t surprise me in the least when they started going on and on about how handsome the players were. Henry made a nice shot near the goal, and we all stood to cheer. I couldn’t hide my shock when Judy leaned toward me and spoke.
“Henry’s your brother, right Ruby?” she said.
I nodded and she exchanged giggles with Era. I thought I remembered Henry walking with Era a couple of times when James would walk her older sister Emma Rae home. I hated the way the girls acted around both my brothers. It was all giggles and batting eyelashes, and complete nonsense if you asked me.
Just then, Mr. Doyle stood up and started pacing along the edge of the court. I knew he’d start hollering soon. His youngest son, Matthew, was a senior on the team, and Mr. Doyle was constantly yelling during the games. He did it during football and baseball too, so we’d all gotten pretty used to it. Mary’s face flushed a slight shade of pink, so I wondered if she was as used to it as the rest of us.
“What’s Matthew planning on doing after graduation?” I asked.
Mary sighed and shook her head. “That’s all anybody in our house can talk about these days. Daddy insists that he goes to college and learn about business, but Matthew just wants to play ball.”
“Basketball, baseball, football; you name it. He just wants to play. But Daddy says he’s dreaming.”
I watched him run down the court, watched the intensity in his eyes and the balance in his body as he changed direction on a dime. He was tall and lean, with large muscled shoulders. I remembered watching him play football and baseball, too. He was gifted. How could his daddy not see that?
Down below us, Mr. Doyle paced behind the wall of the cage, barking and clapping. He was every bit as intense as Matthew, and it seemed to me he’d be supporting his dreams. But Mr. Doyle owned several businesses in both Hanceville and Cullman, and his older sons were already working for him. Maybe expectations were a lot heavier than dreams. I know mine seemed to float all around and never land on anything solid.
I started to turn back to Mary to try to keep up the conversation, but just then it seemed like the entire gym gasped. My gaze shot to Daddy, expecting to see him laid out on the floor, but he was standing next to Mother looking all worried at the court. My next thought was for Henry, and I found him in the crowd of players gathering underneath the basket furthest away from us. One of the players waved Coach Rayburn over, his face stricken with worry. I tried to get a glimpse, but then I saw Mr. Doyle run across the gym. Mary and I both stood at the same time, and I saw him then. Matthew was lying on the floor unconscious.
Coach Rayburn and Mr. Doyle slapped his face a few times and finally got him to come around. They lifted him off the floor and put his arms around their shoulders, then talked for a minute before they started moving toward the exit. About ten feet from the door, Matthew started coughing so bad they had to stop, and I heard another gasp from some people nearby. I tried to look closer to see what was happening, but I couldn’t see anything from up in the stands. Mary and her mother moved toward the exit too, so I followed them through the crowd opening up to let them by.
Just as we got to the door, the men moved Matthew the rest of the way out of the exit, and from what I could see, I thought he might have passed out again. Mary and Mrs. Doyle followed along behind them, clinging to each other like they might fall over if they let go. My heart thudded in my ears, and I wished I could comfort Mary. But they were gone in a matter of seconds, and I had no idea what to do.
I turned to search for Mother and Daddy in the crowd. Maybe they’d know something. As I looked around, I saw what had made those people gasp the second time. All across the floor where Mr. Doyle and Coach Rayburn had stopped with Matthew, was a large splattering of blood nearly as black as tar.


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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Westall Family Update

Greetings from Alpine, Texas!

     We’ve been in southwest Texas now for just over a couple of weeks, and I’ve been asked several times about how we’re adjusting. I’ve been thinking on this today, one of the most beautiful days we’ve had since we got here, and I thought I’d share a little bit with all of you about all the adjustments we’re working through.
     First of all, there’s the weather. WIND!!! I’m talking straight-line wind that might just blow your five-year-old into the air a little if you’re not holding his hand. I’m told this wind is nothing. I’m starting to get a sense that I should be very afraid of March. But, the wind not withstanding, the weather has been mostly nice. Bautiful blue skies with gorgeous mountains surrounding us on all sides, and a mild temperature I could definitely get used to. It’s so nice to be able to force my kids to play outside in the middle of December.
     I haven’t quite adjusted to the laid-back mentality of a small town with virtually no crime. I still feel a bit of anxiety at sending my boys out into the neighborhood to play, and I can’t shake the need to make visual contact at no more than thirty minute intervals. I’m not sure that instinct will ever go away, and I accept that as a good thing. The boys—not so much.
     We haven’t found a church home yet, but I suspect that will take us a some time. Finding a place where your soul is nourished, your family is loved, and you can grow in your walk with the Lord as you serve others is a search that shouldn’t be rushed. So we’re taking our time and exploring our options. At least in a town this size, our search can’t take too long! I believe with all my heart that God brought us here, and He will provide for us.
     We are slowly acclimating to our new surroundings. It doesn’t feel like home yet, but we’ve all made a few friends, and we’re jumping into the experience with both feet. Even my ten-year-old, despite his best efforts to be mad at us for moving, has been having a good time making new friends and going hunting.     
     With Christmas quickly approaching, we are trying to focus on the opportunity to spend time at home rather than on the road between our families, and keep our minds focused on the beautiful gift of Jesus’ birth. But we all miss home, miss our family and friends, and ache to see their smiling faces. So if you think of us these next few days, please pray for our peace of mind, for us to have joy in this opportunity before us, and to keep our eyes on God’s will. We have appreciated your thoughts and prayers, and we send our love to all of you.

     May you enjoy the Christmas season surrounded by love, grace, and humility, knowing that you are loved by the Creator of all things, and saved through his son! Merry Christmas!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Standard Kids

Okay, so now that school is finishing up for everyone, I think we can all take a huge sigh of relief and be glad certain aspects are behind us for a while, especially all the tests. I have certainly taken, given, and analyzed my fair share of tests, and it wasn’t until this spring that I found myself truly anxious about them. For one thing, I’ve always been a skeptic when it comes to standardized tests. I’ve seen many bright students of all ages do poorly for various reasons, and knew beyond all doubt that the test didn’t reflect the student’s level of understanding, or their ability to be successful in the next level of study. I can hear several of my former students and their parents shouting “Amen” right now.

Well, for all my thoughtful, mature perspective on the matter, I fell into the trap! Brody (my 4th grader) went back to his old school a few weeks ago for a few days to take the standardized test he’s taken every year since first grade, which has never made me anxious before because I always knew he was learning what he should and that he was a very intelligent, thoughtful child. However, I turned into helicopter mom. The poor child got in the car with me every afternoon only to face a barrage of questions. “What was on the test today? Did you know the answers? Were there any fractions? Any decimals?” I was so terrified he was going to have to do decimals (because that was the last unit in his book and we hadn’t gotten to it yet), that I actually sat him down the Monday morning before he left and gave him a short lesson on how to add and subtract decimals and how to identify their place value.

So why did the test freak me out this year? Because, I realized it wasn’t testing him, it was really testing ME! I kept wondering all year if we were studying the right things, if I was testing him enough, and what would I do if he went in and completely bombed the standardized test he had always done so well on? Well, we got the results back, and I saw that he was fine…well, mostly. His grammar score did go down, and I should take responsibility for that because we didn’t work too heavily on that this year. But I realized something MUCH MORE IMPORTANT.

See, here’s the thing, I’ve always loved being a part of the educational system, and I have a passion for teaching kids math. I’ve also been very alarmed at the direction our schools are taking in their choices for curriculum and teaching methods. Now, I’m not getting on my soapbox here, because my point isn’t really about all the political nonsense going on in our country or our educational system. We’ll deal with that later.

My point is that no one knows my child like I do, and I am capable and responsible for measuring him according to God’s standards, not the world’s.

The reality check came for me in two parts. I was reading a story out of Texas where many people are challenging the standards that have been adopted in the past couple of years. This is going on in many states as people are starting to realize all the dangers in the Common Core Standards. What I found completely baffling was a quote by a mother who wanted to keep the standards, because if they got rid of the standards, how would she know whether her child was learning what he should and where he stood in relationship to other kids his age.

I just kept thinking, why are we so willing to accept the measurement of our children given to us by others? Why do we see ourselves as unqualified to assess whether or not they are growing and learning as they should? We’re their parents!  Not only are we capable of evaluating our children, it is our responsibility, and we have no business passing it off to someone else. Now, I don’t mean everybody has to abandon the educational system and homeschool their kids. But I do think we should find a way to leave behind all the craziness of the Standardized Testing World. It’s like an alien planet that has kidnapped all the kids and teachers then sucked out their joy of learning and ability to be creative or even curious. The whole school year has become this monotonous march to the dreaded EOCT (or whatever test your kids are taking).  No wonder kids hate school.

The final part of my reality check came just two nights ago. Lately, Fox has been going through a stage where he doesn’t want to sleep by himself. Most nights, Brody either says no to letting Fox sleep with him, or begrudgingly agrees if I bribe him. Well, that night I had put them to bed separately, but thirty minutes later I turned off the tv and heard their little voices talking. I started to go up and fuss at them, but then I stopped on the stairs and listened. Brody was in Fox’s room reading to him from the Bible that used to be his, but is now Fox’s Bible.

My heart just melted listening to Brody’s sweet voice answering questions about God from Fox. And it hit me that it really doesn’t matter if he makes great scores on some stupid standardized test created by some strange person in the distant land of the Kings of Education that neither knows him nor values him. What truly matters is that I help him learn to measure himself against the standards set by God, who does know him and has loved him since before the foundation of the world.

I am not out to raise a kid that meets the standards of this world, and I am so extremely blessed that I got to spend all the days of the school year watching him learn and grow, both in his intelligence and his spiritual maturity.  I pray that more and more parents will realize that they can let go of their anxious fears for their children, and begin to value their own ability to assess what’s truly important.
Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of a day when his children would not be judged by the color of their skin, but the content of their character. Our kids spend so much of their time being measured. And even though King’s statement was about skin color, I think the general message can apply to just about any kind of measurement we give power to.  Let’s stop giving so much power to the world’s standards.

And that, folks, is your WWW for the day!

P.S. When I was talking to my husband the other day about the blog, he asked me, "So where does all this wisdom come from?" I realized he probably wasn't the only one who didn't understand where the name of this blog comes from. It's actually from a joke I started with my middle school math students many years ago. When I lectured them about life, I would always end it with, "And that's your Westall's Words of Wisdom for the day." It was then shortened to WWW. I began joking around with them that I should start a blog, and its address would be www.www.com. The idea was to post all my lectures so they would always have them if they needed a refresher. Anyway, so when I finally got around to starting the blog, the name seemed fitting. So, hopefully you understand it's not coming from a place of vanity, but from an affectionate connection with my former students.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Seventy Times Seven Equals Infinity

So, let me tell you about this really strange, wonderful dream I had two nights ago…

I’d really like to start my story with that sentence, but the only way you’ll truly get the magnitude of this dream is if I back up and tell you a little more about the past two years of my life. Now, I actually wouldn’t mind diving into all the juicy details, but hopefully you’ll understand that in sharing intimate details of my life, I also inadvertently share intimate details of my loved ones, especially those closest to me. So out of respect for their privacy, I might be a bit vague at times, and I ask that you just go with it and not try to figure out the missing details. Despite some ambiguity, I pray you’ll see how this story might relate to your own life experiences, and that you’ll find something in it to encourage you.

Okay, so back to my story…

2011 was the start of a long journey for me, and it started off with circumstances that were devastating. I’m talking the kind of devastation that changes a person forever, and boy did it. (Here comes some of that ambiguity I was talking about. Bear with me a moment.) Betrayal changes the way you see the world around you, especially the people in it. But it isn’t just the people around you that you start to doubt. You doubt yourself, your judgment, and for me, I began to doubt things I had believed about God my entire life. I doubted that God loved me—that I’d ever even known him—and I started to think that there was no way I was actually going to heaven. I remember sitting outside many evenings crying out from the depths of my soul for God to show me somehow that He was here. Nothing crazy, no big miraculous sign or anything. I just needed one small thing, anything, that I knew could only be from Him. I prayed for a dream.

Well, time passed, and there was no dream. I went to a wonderful retreat that I loved, and where I grew closer to understanding my circumstances. I saw so many people experience that moment of intimacy with God that I was craving. I knew God was speaking to me, but it was through the words of others and the Bible, not the deeply intimate thing inside of me that I knew would be His presence.

So I came home from the retreat and faced my circumstances with two choices. I prayed and prayed for wisdom, and at the time I honestly felt that neither choice was sinful, and that I was spiritually free to choose either path. So let me get a little metaphoric on you for a moment. If you had to choose between a very steep, perilous, LONG climb up a mountain and another climb that appeared to be a shortcut around that very scary, perilous mountain, which would you choose? So here’s the thing. I just knew that if I took the scary path, I would eventually get to the top of the mountain, and at the top would be this gorgeous, thrilling experience that would surely be worth all the difficulty. And if I went around on the shortcut, I would be giving all of that up just so I could stay “safe.”

I chose to climb the mountain.

Now, this wasn’t just any mountain, and it threw some big time boulders at me. I lost friends over choosing this path, and I left a church that had grown to feel like my family. And as for my family, well, it hasn’t been easy living out this choice knowing many of them either don’t understand or don’t agree (though many of them do!). I have struggled to take each step up this mountain, and sometimes I have walked to a ledge and wished I could just throw myself off. Forgiveness is not something you do once and move on. It is a struggle every day, sometimes seventy times seven times a day. It is a choice of the will to force your mind not to dwell on hurt or anger. For me, it was seeing the enormous amount of sin that God has forgiven me for, and realizing I have no business holding a stone in my hand. And it was finally looking at others with a compassion that I know only comes from God, and being able to restore relationships that seem to befuddle even other Christians.

Lately, I came to see that I was nearing the top of my mountain. I have found a church where my family is loved and accepted, and where we can live out the call God has placed on us for serving others. My relationship with my husband and children has deepened so much, that I can look back on the circumstances I faced and honestly see them as blessings. I have spent the last eight months homeschooling my sweet boys, and despite those days when I have utterly failed in every way imaginable, God has blessed me with knowing I will look back on these days and give anything to get them back.

And yet, through all this growing I’ve done, God still has kept His distance in a way. I still felt like the invisible person in a crowd hollering at Jesus for attention, just hoping to catch a crumb of his love for me. I prayed over and over for a dream, just a simple little dream where I would know it was from God. Just a crumb.

I had finally come to the point where I just accepted that God didn’t do that kind of thing in our relationship. I was okay with that. I was content with trusting in Him, and I have been at peace for some time now, knowing His blessings and mercy have been poured out over my family. I haven’t even prayed for the dream in months.

So, let me tell you about this really strange, wonderful dream I had two nights ago…

Yes, finally. A dream. Not just any dream, mind you. THE DREAM. I have no idea why God waited so long, but maybe it’s because I have finally gotten to the point of letting go of the past where I am truly open to His presence. Or maybe he just likes making me wait on things. Who knows? I’ll do my best to describe it, but as in many things that involve God, words seem inadequate. But here goes.

As in most dreams, I was in a circumstance that makes no sense in the light of day unless you get all Joseph-like and try to interpret. There was warfare going on around me—bombs, planes, gunfire—you name it. I’m hiding behind something, and I look up just in time to see a large plane coming down right behind me. Nose dive into the ground. Huge explosion.

In my mind, I think, “I’m actually about to die.”

Then this wall of flame envelopes me from behind, but it doesn’t hurt. Immediately I get hit by this wave of something else. It’s not fire, but an intensely bright light that flickers like fire. And I remember thinking to myself, “I’m dead!!!” And I am so excited about it! It’s better than any excitement I’ve ever felt, like multiplying Christmas morning by a thousand! I’m dead!!! I am about to see Jesus, and the joy inside me is NOT EARTHLY. That is the only way I can think to describe it. All of this lasted for a few short seconds, and then I jerked awake and sat straight up in my bed.

I have thought a lot about this short dream the past two days, and I have taken many things from it. The main thing is the joy I felt. I want it back so badly, that I can truly understand now that to live is Christ and to die is gain. Not just gain, but the most abundant, overflowing joy imaginable. I’ve known almost my whole life how to explain in words that we are to seek first the Kingdom of God, and all that we need will be added to our lives. But I know what it feels like to desire to be with Him with all my heart. All I want now is to face every day with that joy inside me, and to share it as best I can with others.

So if you see me, and I seem a little excited, maybe even inappropriately so, just keep in mind it’s because I am so EXCITED about dying!!!

Monday, July 16, 2012

ECFL Summer Blog Tour

Love's Providence
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Collegiate athlete Lily Brennon has always been the piece that doesn't quite fit in the puzzle, especially in her fragmented family, and no amount of rule-following perfection seems to bring her any closer to the love and acceptance she desperately seeks. If not for Jackson Carter, her childhood best friend and the only boy she’s ever loved, she’s sure she would have run away years ago. But when Jackson loses his father and a future basketball career within months of each other, his faith is so shattered, he shuts out everyone, including Lily.

After months of heartache, Lily begins to piece together a life without Jackson, and while vacationing on a beautiful island off the Georgia coast, she begins a long-distance romance with Alex Walker, a police officer with a quick wit and a cocky grin. He revives her hope in love again, but their intense attraction and his devastating secret test Lily’s values, stretching them until they break. Through her struggles to remain true to her principles, an agonizing choice between Alex and Jackson, and a series of terrifying events that threaten all of them, Lily must endure losing everything she’s been grasping so tightly. Only then will she discover the depth of the love that already surrounds her.

Love's Providence

As part of the Edgy Christian Fiction Summer Blog Tour, I'd love to offer Love's Providence as a hot summer read. Check out the review below from Book Wormz!

"I started reading this delightful book thinking it was just the normal Christian Romance. Boy was I wrong! This little book packed a punch and pretty soon I was transported into an all out mystery/suspense with action and adventure. Wow. 
This is an excellent read for young adults and I'd even recommend it for young Christians who are in the throes of decision making as it relates to purity. This book shows us what can happen when we compromise our standards and change our minds to please those around us. In this book, our heroine Lily was hurt by the love of her life and meets another guy who seems great but her decision to start a relationship with him will change her life forever. 
The story line though predictable (most romance novels by nature are predictable) kept me coming back for more.  I kept trying to tell Lily what to do throughout the entire book. It really was an interesting read and worth the time. I give this one 4 stars."

~Joana James

Friday, July 6, 2012

Review: Every Bush is Burning

Review: Every Bush is Burning 

by Brandon Clements

Click here to order
Jack Bennett has a wife, two kids, the perfect job--and the perfect affair. When he is caught and it all comes crashing down, Jack is left with no one to turn to. No friends. No family, except his recovering drug addict of a sister.
On a Sunday morning drive, he sees a homeless man locked out of a church service, banging on the door. He stops and offers the guy a cup of coffee. He asks the man his name, and the guy says Yeshua.  As in, Jesus.
Jack's not stupid. This isn't the real Jesus. But with nowhere else to turn, Jack forms an unlikely friendship--one that will test his idea of truth, faith, love, and forgiveness. And Jack is completely unprepared for the real-life twists his story is going to take.
My thoughts:
From the outset, this book intrigued me because of the writing style; it was different, and the author pulled it off well most of the time. The story is written as if it’s a letter to a fellow patron of the coffee shop where Jack is penning his tale, a method I’ve never read in another novel. Though I’m sure it isn’t a new concept, it certainly isn’t common, which most people in the business will tell you to stay away from at all costs. Clements does a great job, with only a few sections that seem to go off on unrelated tangents. The only other criticism I have of the writing is that there are moments when Yeshua gets on a high horse and starts preaching, and it comes off as the author preaching a message he wants to get across rather than as a character truly interacting with another. Otherwise, the writing is crisp, and moves the plot along nicely.

The idea of Jesus himself appearing to Bennett was fascinating, and I had mixed feelings about it throughout.  But by the end of the novel, my concerns were resolved, and I could look back over the journey of reading this book and honestly say I enjoyed it thoroughly. I also loved that these characters were outside of the traditional characters you typically find in Christian fiction, without being controversial just for the sake of pushing the limits. I found all of these characters to be realistic in nearly all their interactions and dialogue. And I absolutely loved the ending, but I don’t want to spoil it for you.

Overall, I’d give Every Bush is Burning 4 stars, and I would definitely recommend it to others. I would also recommend it for readers 18 or older (personal taste) for the occasional language and sexual references.

Happy reading!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Review: The Well and the Mine, by Gin Philips

Review: The Well and the Mine, by Gin Phillips

Summary from Goodreads: 

"After she threw the baby in, nobody believed me for the longest time. But I kept hearing the splash." 

So begins The Well and the Mine, a magnificent debut novel set in 1930s Alabama. The place is Carbon Hill, a small coal-mining community, in the midst of the Depression. The Moore family, a loving brood of five, is better off than most, generous to their less fortunate neighbors. But darkness arrives at their doorstep when a mysterious woman throws a baby down the Moores' well, and the story slowly unfolds, through the alternating voices of nine-year-old Tess (who witnessed the crime); her older sister, Virgie; her brother, Jack; and her parents, Albert and Leta.

The mystery of the baby and why the Moores' well was the chosen location for its disposal is the catalyst of this intimate novel -- the splash whose ripples widen to reveal a community divided by race and class. The revelation of this shadowy side of life in Carbon Hill is leavened by the awakening conscience of a family that survives adversity with pluck and determination. In her first novel, Phillips has found beauty, depth, and the promise of salvation in one strong Southern clan.

My thoughts:

Gin Phillips does a beautiful job of painting a picture of Depression era Alabama. Through the viewpoints of one family in the coal mining town of Carbon Hill, she brings alive a time that many young people today can't imagine, much less relate to. The writing is superb; it often feels like you're sitting down with these people at their kitchen table while they tell you a fine story over a tall glass of sweet tea. I love that Phillips shows an accurate picture of Southern life--the heat, the love of family, the complicated social relationships--without a derogatory or melodramatic tone. It's very real.

If you're looking for a leisurely read that will take you back in time, this is your book. If you're looking for a conflict-driven page-turner, this book isn't for you. Although the mystery of the woman who dropped her baby in the well adds some suspense in the beginning, this is really a slow-paced, Sunday-afternoon-drive through the country. Kick back, relax, and enjoy the view.

This would also make a great read for those of you in high school who can pick your summer reading selections. There's enough history and symbolism in this book to please just about any lit teacher. 

Happy reading!