Let it go

let it go

God’s greatest, most beautiful gift is pure love, free, unconditional, and untainted by fear or envy.

We’ve all felt jealousy’s sting, but we can refuse to let it into our lives. When jealousy knocks at our door, either from our own spirit or delivered by one who is out to manipulate us, we don’t have to accept the call. We can let it go.

For example, I like to write. But for me, walking down the young adult aisle in any bookstore is almost unbearable. I want my work to be on the shelves. I used to shame myself for these feelings but not anymore. I try to work through them. Of course, I feel the disappointment and the rejection, but I don’t wish any harm toward those who have been blessed. Maybe it’s not my time. Maybe there are more lessons I need to learn.

Sometimes I look through the books and check out the blurbs, the opening lines, the storyline. I try to learn. Then if I just can’t take the feeling, I walk away. I don’t have to stay locked in discomfort. I can leave. I can let it go.

I usually think about how I can change my situation. I could give up, or I could choose another path. Maybe traditional publishing is not for me. Maybe I can work harder. Maybe I can try a different type of writing. Maybe I need to do a better job of networking. But one thing is for sure. Envying these writers is not the answer.

Envy corrodes the beauty of God’s gifts.

As much as I hate the envy the oozes out of myself, I absolutely despise the envy others drop at my feet. I’ll own my own faults, thank you; don’t bring me yours.

I don’t like to be involved in a situation in which someone is jealous of me in a personal or professional relationship. I am an extremely competitive person. I strive to be the best. I played sports. I played hard to win. Challenge me, and I will do whatever it takes to beat you. I fight fair, but I do fight.

But there is no room for “winning” in a friendship or romantic relationship. Evoke jealousy, and everybody loses.

Don’t rub it in in my face that you have a better car, a better home, a better job, or a better love interest. Do that to me, and I will say, “Yay you.” If I feel you are trying to hurt me, I’ll walk away. The sting of jealousy is toxic, but I don’t have to embrace it. I can let it go.

And actually, most of the time, I really do mean “yay, you,” or at least I try to.

Again, unconditional love in friendship or romance means you are–or should be–genuinely happy for the other person’s good fortune.

Truth be told, I am slightly jealous of my older son’s career. When I see him follow his passion and choose his own path, I’m reminded of my regrets and failures. I gave in to other people’s expectations. I didn’t do what my heart told me to do. But then I’m reminded that I raised a successful young man who is soaring. I didn’t ground him. I taught him to fly. He’s independent and doing well. He’s living, not existing.

“Yay, you!”

And I mean it.

Maybe someday I’ll get a second chance. And I’ve have a better chance at a second chance if I don’t let envy corrode the good things that will help me achieve my desires.

I also don’t like it when other people deliberately try to evoke jealousy in me.

Nobody likes walking on eggshells thinking they’ll be replaced–as a friend, as an employee, as a partner.

I make mistakes I’m not a super model. I enjoy Starbucks a little too much, and I don’t exercise enough. I’m a faux pas diva. You don’t have to look far to find someone who is smarter, prettier, wealthier, more graceful, better educated, or skinnier than I am. I want to be loved unconditionally for who I am.

Of course, there isn’t such a thing as too much love, but there is such a thing as too much control, better known as the devil’s love child, aka Obsession.

Obsession isn’t cool. People aren’t objects, and their affection can’t be owned or demanded. Love is a gift, given freely, not coerced through mental, emotional, psychological, or physical manipulation, i.e. abuse.

Either you love somebody or you don’t.

Provoke me to jealousy, and I will say take those wings and fly, baby. Do whatever makes you happy. If you love me, you’ll be back. And if you aren’t, then you never did. But don’t be surprised when you discover I may not be where you left me. I don’t hang around for negativity.

Likewise, if I love you, I’m not going anywhere. I’m your friend for life, and I won’t play games with your emotions to coerce you into to acting in a way you don’t really feel.

Yes, in the case of romance, it feels nice and reassuring to know that the person you care about isn’t nonchalant about rivals moving in on you, but playing mind games is simply out of the question.

Sometimes I do dumb things that I’m unaware I’m doing, but I choose to never, ever, do anything intentionally to make someone I love doubt my affection, my honesty, my love. I do not betray.

If you care about another person, why would you intentionally unravel his or her security by suggesting he or she could be replaced? How cruel is that?

I think parents can do significant damage to their children’s psyche by suggesting that they might love them a little better “if only” they can live up to an older sibling’s or a classmate’s achievements.

So much for the “if only.” True love is unconditional.

Nobody can make you love them. And you can’t make anyone, not even your children, love you, so jealousy is pointless.

Didn’t the most beautiful angel in Heaven fall as a result of his own jealousy? Hey, don’t fall into the trap. Give others, give yourself, the greatest gift of all, unconditional love.

My goal is to be confident that it will all work out the way its supposed to. And should jealousy try to take hold of my heart or situation, by golly, I’m going to just let it go.

dirty feet

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The mark of friendship

When I finally see my writing dream to fruition and see my book(s) in print, I hope one thing—that my words will make a mark on at least one reader’s soul. I am a fearless fighter for the underdog, so it’s only naturally that what I am writing now is geared toward young adults. But I won’t limit myself. People of all ages hurt. People of all ages need a friend, the connection with another human being who accepts them as they are unconditionally.

Tomorrow is my last day of my first of four graduate classes I’ll be taking this summer—all in English. What can I say? I loved it. I forgot how much I like learning. It’s so much easier to sit behind the desk than to stand in front of it. I felt right at home. Everyone in class was in tune with one another, and my professor is an expert on pop culture. How cool is that?

There is a point to my rambling. My final task in this class is to write a paper about some aspect of Moby-Dick. I noticed that in the front of the book Melville dedicates the book to Hawthorne. Seems like a minor detail, but I think not. I think Hawthorne make a very deep mark on Melville’s soul, and  his response is found somewhere in the book Moby-Dick. The question is what mark did Hawthorne leave on Melville, and how did this mark shape the writing of Moby-Dick?

A true friend leaves a mark on another person’s soul, but rare is such a true friend. We all have acquaintances, but rarely do we find someone who we connect with on such a deep level that it defies definition.

I don’t talk about my parents much in my blogs because they were such private people, but it’s been a year now since their passing—almost to the day, and thoughts of them, especially my dad, have weighed heavily on my soul. Everyone I have ever met talks about them being such good people. But why?

When it came to my dad, he knew how to be a friend, especially to my mother. Again, they were so private. I don’t think I ever saw them show any public forms of affection, and for that matter, I can’t remember getting a hug or a kiss from them past my elementary school years, but I do know they loved me.

My mom was probably the most stubborn, nit-picky woman in the world. Everything in her house had to be in perfect order, labeled, organized, and neatly put in its place. When I was cleaning out their house, I found my old dolls, still in their original packaging, still in almost pristine condition. Why? Because I never really got to play with them. I had to put in a request ahead of time so that my mom could unpack them and bring them to me. I never really had the freedom to choose or the option to make a mess. It was out of the question.

My mom was a bundle of fears and superstitions, and trying to rationalize with her was impossible. I remember as a small child, if it thunderstormed while my dad was at work, we had to unplug everything and go sit on the bed until the storm passed.

When she packed a lunch for me on field-trip days, she always packed enough for two or three lunches—better to overdo it than to be left without. She wrapped my sandwich in wax paper, put it in a baggie, and then covered it in aluminum foil. By the time I unpacked everything, lunch break was over.

I say these things, not to poke fun at my mom’s eccentricities, but to point out that it takes a very special person to put up with our individual quirks—without trying to change who we are.

My dad accepted everything. I can’t remember him ever raising his voice to her or showing any signs of temper. Later, when she became very ill and very afraid, her remarks would come across as curt, or even hateful—not to me but to him. And he would explain to me that she was afraid. He never got mad at her, never tried to make her see how wrong she was. He wasn’t a weak man. He was strong. He loved her so much that he just absorbed all of these things and let them slide.

He was at her side constantly till the moment she passed away. That’s a true friend.

My dad was a true friend to everyone he met. It used to scare me. If anyone were ever broken down on the side of the road, he thought nothing of stopping and helping them. I was always afraid he would run into a thug who would pull a gun on him and take his money, but I guess God protected him. Everyone he helped truly needed his help. And he expected NOTHING in return. Now days everyone wants something for anything. I don’t want to ever become like that. I hope I can just give because I love. I don’t want to become jaded.

I think the sweetest story I ever heard was when my parent brought me home from the hospital. My aunt told me this story not too long ago. I was a tiny little thing, five pounds or so. My parents had lost their first baby. It was stillborn, the cord wrapped around the baby’s neck. I remember the weeks just before I had Josh. I had hellacious nightmares that something horrible would go wrong—and sure enough it did. We almost lost him. The doctors told Kenny they were going to try to save at least one of us. (I didn’t know this until recently.) Josh suffered from a prolapsed cord, quite similar to what happen to my mother’s first child.I wouldn’t let Kenny call my parents to tell them I was in labor. I didn’t want them to worry. I  let him call after Josh was born.

When I was an infant, I’m sure my mother, who was always extremely anxious her entire life, was afraid something would happen to me. She would not go to sleep. She had to be awake when I was sleeping, just to make sure I was okay. My father, out of love for my mother, agreed to take turns staying up with me just to make sure I made it through the night—and I was a perfectly healthy baby. Well, I WAS perfectly healthy until my dad fell asleep and dropped me on my head. You can imagine the panic that ensued and the trip to the emergency room for the doctors and nurses to reassure them I was just fine. I mean look at me. I’m a picture of total physical and mental health. Just because I stalk celebrities and write psycho blogs doesn’t mean anything is wrong with me. Right?

When I was growing up, there were two particular games kids played. The first game called for a person to fall back into another person’s arms. Either the friend would catch him or not. The other game was mean. Just as a kid prepared to sit down on a chair, another kid would pull it out from him, and everybody gathered round would get a big laugh, everybody but the kid who hit the floor.

Those two types of games and kids who played them are great metaphors for the people we meet in life. Some people are just waiting to pull the chair out from under you, and some people will always be there to catch you when you need them–without wanting anything at all in return.

So as I prepare to write my final paper for my grad class, I ponder the art of friendship.

I hope when I complete my novels I can leave a mark on my readers that will inspire them to be a friend.

There is no greater gift than friendship. I don’t mean acquaintanceship. I mean true friendship, in which a person is willing to do the catching no matter the heaviness of the burden.

That kind of friendship is born of love. And my dad set a pretty good example of that.

Ask love

I’ve tried. Really. Whenever I need a little boost, a little inspiration for my blog, I check out Plinky.com. But Pinky hasn’t done it for me in the last year. But this week, I said to myself, “Self, you are writing this blog whatever the topic may be. No excuses.” That was Monday.

The topic? If you eventually break up with someone, was it ever true love?

Really?

THIS is the topic I pushed myself to write about? Yes, I fit the bill of true romantic, but expert on love? I think not. A romance writer would certainly be better fitted to write about it than I. What do I know about relationships? I write YA. I see love through the eyes of a teenager. Can you say drama?

And concerning this blog, we really don’t want to go there. Not today. Although I must admit I’m pretty excited about my current WIP. The drama is definitely cooking.

But back to break ups and true love. I refuse to speculate. I can tell you that just because one person in the relationship goes away, love does not die. I know that for a fact. My parents were married for more than a half century. There was a spiritual connection between them that transcended physical death. I believe it. My father could not live without her. And no one but me knows what he went through the days leading up to her death. That, I will not print.

Here’s what I do know about love. You cannot force another human being to love you. And the person you love today, may not be the same person tomorrow. I’m not saying you may choose a different person. I’m saying the person you have chosen may have grown into someone new. People change. Constantly.

So I suppose, yes, if you break up with someone, you could have loved the person he or she used to be. You just may not love the person he or she has become. Or you may have never loved the person from the beginning. You may may have loved love. But we’ll get to that later.

Forgive me. I have re-enrolled as a grad student taking a full load of graduate English classes this summer. I forgot how much I’ve missed the literary aspects of writing. I’ve dabbled in everything—journalism, songwriting, commercial fiction, academic journals. I love it. I love writing. But there’s something about the literary aspect of writing that awakens me. It’s nice to visit that place for a while.

Love inspires story, and the conflict of loving a dynamic character who changes sets the stage for an interesting tale. Right now I have so many book topics pulsing through my tiny little brain that I have to force myself to push that thought aside. I must finish what I’m working on now before I go onto my other three projects.

I can tell you this. As a teacher, I have certainly put in the hours as Love Counselor. I think every teacher does. Our halls are filled with broken hearts. And the school parking lot has seen its share of broken windows. A scorned Southern woman, no matter how young she is, doesn’t take rejection lightly.

One of the last Southern gals who had a spat with her beau put her foot through his truck window.  She meant business, and I bet the young man who owned the truck gave considerable thought before dumping his next girlfriend. Love hurts, if not the heart, the wallet.

What I’ve seen most with the YA crowd is that teenagers, girls and guys, create a character in their minds and fall in love with that character. They project their feelings onto the body they’ve chosen to play out that persona. The problems arise when they realize the person they want to love doesn’t exist in that body. They’ve fallen in love with the idea of love. Again, another great jump start for a novel.

As an older, wiser human being, especially an older, wiser teacher, I’ve learned a lot about dealing with human beings. When I was a rookie, I saw students as gum-smacking, trouble making, chit-chatting adolescents.

It didn’t take many years for me to realize that these adolescents don’t stay 15 forever. They grow up into adults. I try NOT to see my students as who they are. I try to see my students as who they will be. Many of my former students are my close friends and colleagues.

That’s cool.

I think because I have accepted that I am working with works in process, I can love my students unconditionally. I have come to accept that I have no control over who they are and who they will be.

And if they hate me now, so be it. Years from now we may reach an understanding.

I think my favorite love quote comes from Johann Wolfegang von Goethe. He said, “What’s it to you if I love you?”

Kind of quirky, isn’t it? I mean he’s right. Love is unstoppable. If someone wants to love you, there’s not a darn thing you can do about it. Kind of powerful, isn’t it?

Well, so much for my philosophical views on love. I’m certainly no expert.

As for the answer to the question– If you eventually break up with someone, was it ever true love?—I would say you’d have to ask love.

Snarks and sharks

I am a self-confessed control freak.

I don’t want to take charge of other people. I just want to take of situations. I am such a people pleaser that I worry, worry, worry if I hurt anyone’s feelings.

That doesn’t sound like such a bad flaw, but really it is, especially for a writer. There is simply no way to please everyone. And everyone is a critic, both in a literary and a literal sense.

The experience of teaching has been a great teacher for me. I’ve never had any type of real discipline problem in my classroom. I have a quiet voice. I stand five feet tall, yet when I was younger, older adults who had never stepped into my classroom used to say, “Oh, I bet you have trouble keeping the kids in line.”

Their words fired me up. How dare they judge me without knowing me!

The first year I taught one of my students nominated me as “My Favorite Teacher.” A Channel 4 newsman surprised me with his camera crew, visited my classroom, and presented me with my award. I was on TV. Ms. Supa-stah Teachah.

Not.

I had to go through a season of my life when I learned I was not a superstar. Everyone didn’t love me.

There’s a quote by Natsuki Takaya that says, “Even the smallest of words can be the words to hurt you, or save you.” I learned the hard way that telling a teenager “no” can be dangerous to one’s self esteem.

The last year has been a struggle. I’ll never forget the week my mother was dying. I had two separate altercations with students, both simply because I told them “no”—not out of meanness but because I was doing what had to be done.

One might think my foes would have had more compassion, but they didn’t. I had to face a firing squad. Even when I tried to tell them I still cared about them, they responded with hatred.

It’s not like it was the first time I’ve had to deal with mean people.

Snarks and sharks. That’s what I call them.

Snarks are those people who serve up backhanded compliments and snide remarks. Sharks are those people who attack when their prey is weak.

I used to do a lot of ministry work, but I’ve learned snarks and sharks are everywhere, even churches. Once I took a group of junior high girls to Nashville for an overnight Bible study. A relative loaned us his old limousine—emphasis on OLD as in ratty and falling apart, and off we went.

The girls felt as though they were princesses on their way to a ball. (I didn’t tell them about the rat we found later in the trunk.) We stayed downtown in a hotel with inside doors, a first for most of them.

When we returned, a lady from our church compared us to “the streetwalkers on Second Avenue.” And all we did was eat in a restaurant, play a game of laser tag, and have a Bible study. (I will admit one of the girls entertained the crowd at the Melting Pot restaurant by doing a monkey walk in front of the restaurant window, but she wasn’t imitating a streetwalker. She was imitating a monkey. There is a difference.)

Why would someone say something so mean?

When my oldest son was born, he almost died from a prolapsed umbilical cord. I had to have emergency surgery, and he was completely blue at birth. The doctor told us to keep him at home for a month with limited visitors. Yet, the pastor of my church chastised me for missing. “God gave you that baby,” he said. “And he can take him away.”

How could someone be so callous?

I’ve often asked God, “Why do some people hurt us at our weakest moments? Why do some people kick us when all we want to do is be kind?”

The answer He gave me is really very easy. We can’t force another person to love us, and we can’t be forced to love anyone else. That’s why God gave us free will. Even though God loves us, He won’t force us to love Him.

Love isn’t love when it’s forced.

Love has to be given and accepted unconditionally. I know that if there is anything good in my life, anything that speaks of love, it is from God. God is love.

I’ve had limited success as a writer, mostly as a freelance journalist. If I had to give any advice to a beginner, I would say, “Toughen up. Not everyone is going to love what you write. You’ve got to learn your craft. Take the advice your mentors give to you in love, and shake off the criticism from the snarks and sharks.”

To be honest, if I do get published as a novelist, I will be overjoyed, but I won’t be overly surprised. You see, everything that I’ve ever prayed about and dedicated my heart to, God has given me. He gives us the desires of our heart because He puts them there.

I may not be writing for BMI, Rolling Stone, or any of the major music publications, but I get to write. I get to interview some of the most interesting people in the world. I couldn’t ask for anything more. A bigger paycheck couldn’t buy me any more happiness.

My goal as a writer for young adults is simple. I want my readers to believe that this author loves them and understands them, unconditionally, just as they are.

Maybe they’ll find a way to reciprocate that love and pay it forward, maybe even to a snark or a shark.

I love YA!

My kids

It’s Valentine’s Day. Who do you love?

(Yeah, I know I’m supposed to use an objective case pronoun there, but Bo Diddley didn’t write it that way.)

It’s my policy to stay away from syrupy sweet romantic anecdotes that make readers say “yuck.” So instead, I’ll talk about another kind of love.

The other day my English students and I were reading from Luke, Chapter 15, the parable of the prodigal son . What? Reading from the Bible in a public school? Our literature book includes the parable, so we analyzed it for its layers of meaning.

I asked my students with whom they identified more. The wayward son who wanted his rewards, squandered them, and then crawled back for redemption? Or the faithful son who never physically strayed but whose heart blackened with jealousy and entitlement.

Only the father had it right—unconditional love. He loved both of his sons despite their flaws. He gave his gifts out of love, not out of obligation.

I love young adults. Whenever I go to conferences and hear speakers talk about the YA culture, I want to scream, “I get it! I live it! Every day! Don’t you understand? I can write. Publish me! Publish me!”

Stories rush through my head like an Ocoee River rapid. But I don’t want to write just any story. I want to write a story that reveals truth and love.

Teenagers don’t understand real love. Heck, a lot of adults don’t understand it.

Like it or not, we’re all selfish. Rarely do we give without expecting anything in return. Young girls, especially, fall prey to their own selfishness. They want acceptance. They want to be loved, so they do whatever it takes to get what they want in return.

I want to tell them, “You don’t need any other human to validate your worth.”

Real love isn’t selfish. Real love isn’t real love unless you give it away, no strings attached.

My students’ responses to the prodigal son question varied.

Some of them have made major mistakes in their lives. They identified with the prodigal.  Some of them have tried their best to follow every rule. They identified with the older brother.

When I asked the class how they would feel if I gave an A to a student who slacked all year while giving a B to the students who worked hard, they protested.

“So,” I said, “you think you’re entitled to an A just because you think you earned it? I’m the teacher. I make the rules. The grades are mine to give. Who are you to say who gets what? You don’t see the big picture.” Or more accurately, the other side of the picture.

I used to be just like the older brother, quick to judge, prideful. But through my bought with pride, God developed my empathy and allowed me to see with His eyes, the other side of the picture.

The students in my class room are like portraits in an art gallery. When the kids come into my room, they see the other portraits, but they don’t see what’s on the other side.

I work with a lot of good kids. I’m blessed to have them in class. But sometimes they can be really hard on the kids who aren’t as smart or well behaved as they are. But then they don’t see the other side of the portrait. The portrait may pretty or horrendous on the one side, but the other side of the picture reveals the truth behind what’s up front.

The other day I had a student come into class with a scowl. She dropped her books on her desk and gave me what I thought was a death stare. I wasn’t exactly having a good day either. My first inclination was to say, “What’s your problem?”

But I resisted the urge to make it about me. Instead I asked, “What’s wrong?” And I listened. I found out she had been in an accident that morning, and she was still scared to death. I’m so glad I wasn’t a jerk.

Good or bad, students may never know their classmate sleeps on a mattress on a concrete floor in a truck stop. They may never know their classmate’s parents were taken to jail the night before. They may never know their classmate was the academic  leader in an elementary school in another state before his parents got divorced. They may never know their classmate cuts herself because her mother tells her she’s fat.

When people hurt, they do whatever it takes to make the pain go away. Their portrait shows “the whatever it takes to survive.” But the cause of the pain is hidden on the backside of the frame.

I teach. I see more than most. The good. The bad. The ugly. I see the serious. I see the silly. Today I witnessed a wedding. One of my students performed the ceremony while the flower girl carried a can of Febreeze.

The YA crowd is an anomaly. They live in an adult world, but they still have the heart of a child—hence their moments of random goofiness.

When I write my stories, I want to make my readers laugh, to give them an escape from reality, but I also want to give them unconditional love. I want them to know no matter what there is love waiting for them.

Words are powerful. The greatest gift anyone can give me is honesty. I want to trust what people say. I think young adults want that too.

I want my readers to trust me, but I don’t want to come across as self righteous or condemning. To imply I don’t fail is a lie.

I found a quote by Nathaniel Hawthorne in our literature book today. In case you don’t know, Hawthorne despised the judgmental attitudes of the Puritans, and his works reflect his disdain. Hawthorne said, “Those willing to resist society’s self-righteousness may achieve the humility necessary for genuine fellowship, but they will have trouble making themselves understood.”

I think young adults understand, more so, maybe, than jaded adults. Time hasn’t completely hardened their hearts—yet.

So I wish you a sincere Happy Valentine’s Day. Find someone who needs love and show it. We have the power—with our words—to make or break someone else’s day. May we use it wisely.