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Undignified

2 Sam. 6:22 A – ” I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.”

Author Jim Forest’s account of meeting Thomas Merton for the first time is one of my all-time favorite stories about meeting your hero.

Think of yours.

Think of how you’d expect them to act.

Then scramble that notion, and you might gain a whole new respect.

In Forest’s account, he and another Catholic Worker member have traveled from New York to Merton’s Trappist monastery in Kentucky.

They are tired. They’ve traveled what feels like forever to get there.

And despite his dogged stated, Forest goes to the monastery’s chapel to pray. He begins, and his prayer is loudly interrupted.

By laughter.

An unusual sound for what he thought would be a reserved, somber place.

He writes:

The origin, I discovered was [my friend’s] room. As I opened the door the laughter was still going on, a kind of gale of joy. The major source was the red-faced man lying on the floor wearing [the Trappist habit], his knees in the air, hands clutching his belly…I realized instantly that the man on the floor laughing with such abandon must be Thomas Merton…And the inspiration for the laughter? It proved to be the intensely strong smell of feet that had been kept in shoes all the way from the Lower East Side to [the monastery] and were now out in the open air.

Merton was bent over double, laughing at the smell.

And that is why other novices (approximately 200) often couldn’t identify him when they first joined the monastery themselves.

Thomas Merton, while being the most well-known monk of his day, often went unnoticed.

One said, “If you had asked me which one he was, he would have been the second to last one I picked.”

The reason for this:

His laughter.

He adds, “He was always laughing! And I had an idea that a monk should be very serious.”

It causes me to think of that opening scene in the film Amadeus. Where Mozart is running around like a wild child, and the much older, Antonio Salieri, is looking for this divine musical prodigy.

When he’s told that the immature child is, in fact, Mozart, he’s appalled.

I love this barrier that is broken. It’s the shining moment when fact and fiction collide. The hero is right there.

Questions to consider:

What are our often preconceived notions of others?

How can we change them to see through a different lens?

And if we do, how will this free us to experience personal joy in brand new ways?

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Influence

If your sphere of influence is literal,

what does it touch?

One person at work.

Maybe two at the store.

These are three people, in that order,

that no one else has the privilege to encounter

quite like you.

To make an impact.

Them on you.

And conversely,

you on them.

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Poem

Ocean, ocean pushing past

You traveled far and now you’re here

To wet the feet of sunburned travelers

Your touch is like bathwater

The foam of many rolls

Thank you for breaking where you did

Our toes are grateful

The sand climbs to our calves

The wind pushes beyond the dunes

Resplendent mercies are ours

From your mighty efforts

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Writing / Faith

I firmly believe writing is now an exercise in faith for me.

Would I have said this 5 years ago?

But the more time I log at a desk, ideas hit me, I see something greater at work.

What strengthens you?

In Greek, the root word for faith, offers us both a noun – pistis and a verb – pistueo (believe).

I love the duality of such a word. It involves our heart and our hands. It isn’t simply verse memorization or Sunday School bible trivia. Faith requires exponentially more.

A pastor, at a new church we attended last week, spoke on just this. He differentiated on two terms I use often.

He said, “Hope is future-oriented and faith is today.”

I immediately thought of the scripture, as so many of us can recite by heart: Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

And I thought of so much Thomas Merton literature I’ve read since last year. He went into far greater depths than this blog (a lifelong quest really) to serve as a witness that faith was applied daily. It was growth at a much more practical level than anything I’d done prior. He emphasized how any act could be an act of service, a chance to serve One greater.

Merton likened his writing testimony to Christ’s sacrifice:

To be as good a monk as I can and to remain myself and to write about it. To put myself down on paper, in such a situation, with the most complete simplicity and integrity, masking nothing, confusing no issue: this is very hard because I am all mixed up with illusions and attachments…

One of the results of all this could well be a complete and holy transparency: living, praying, and writing in the light of the Holy Spirit, losing myself entirely by becoming public property just as Jesus is public property in the Mass. Perhaps this is an important aspect of my priesthood—my living of my Mass: to become as plain as a Host in the hands of everybody. Perhaps it is this, after all, that is to be my way of solitude.

And from this quote so many things jump out –

  • the importance of being ourselves
  • living simply
  • masking nothing
  • avoiding confusion
  • admitting confusion
  • showing transparency (in life, prayers, everything)
  • writing as a form of worship
  • losing ourselves in One greater
  • finding refuge

And if that list doesn’t startle us to action, then I must share this other Mertonism: Faith relies completely on him in perfect trust … letting him take care of us without knowing how he will do so.

Summary:

Whether in word or deed, everything matters.

Now I admit, many things can be chalked up as trivial in our day-to-day lives – hair products, favorite brands of peanut butter, type of GPS we use to get from place to place. But faith is learning to see beyond these things and learning to sink our teeth into something more indiscernible, something less mundane.

Communion with others …and communion with God while being with others (and being intentionally alone) is something very much in this realm and also the spiritual.

Every time I type on a keyboard, write a note by hand, this is a moment to give. It’s a chance to grow. It’s service to you, to others, and ultimately Him.

Think about your life. Where you’re currently at. How can you grow your faith where you stand, sit, sleep, eat?

If you coach soccer, or cook dinner for the family, or service hundreds of screaming kids at VBS/church, this is faith. It’s a chance to do more than Disney wish or blindly hope.

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Secret Places

verse taken from Jer. 23:24

Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?

No. This isn’t the voice of Amazon.

Although that sentiment rings true for many of us, when we think of some all-knowing, all-seeing omnipotence.

America is seeing a trend towards more than just commercialism, idolatry, and self-worship.

We, collectively, are tapping into a scary new terrain – ambiguity.

Phones save information for us. [I know my number, a couple of others – including 911.]

Computers save our browser history, credit data, and passwords.

Geo-fencing markets to us and supplies us never-ending chances to buy more, sinking deeper into obscurity.

And largely, we haven’t fought back.

The speaker above isn’t Big Brother. And it isn’t the government either (sorry conspiracy theorists).

No. The voice is taken out of context (my apologies), but it led me to emphasize that one phrase ‘secret places.’

We are obsessed with comfortable cloudiness.

My own stems from TV (streaming services 24/7) and overt self-indulgence throughout each fiscal year.

What is not overt and continually remains a mystery is how we protect broken, dilapidated portions of our lives.

Much like a home, the soul is largely neglected. I feel, inside more weeks than not, I’m a shell of what I want to be:

Honest, hard-working, transparent, giving, humble

Social media has allowed me to look the part, but again, this protects those secret places in my life.

If, instead, I thought of a spotlight following me around, and life was anything but a stage, then I think I would begin to allow the secret places to be revealed – to expose me for who I am.

Flawed, treacherous, unhealthy

loving, loved, saved

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Join me this weekend!

Friday, 4/26 – Saturday, 4/27 in Bowling Green, KY

The middle grade and young adult events will take place on Friday, 4/26. There will be panel discussions and time to ask authors questions. (I’ll be co-hosting a session on YA writing at 11am.)

Then, Saturday, 4/27, you will have plenty of time to get copies of books by Kentucky authors (like Eliot Parker & Tasha Cotter!) & out-of-state guests. It’s a great event. Hope to see you there.

Address for events:

Knicely Convention Center

2355 Nashville Road, Bowling Green, KY 42101

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7 Things a NEW Dad Learns

Angry crying is the wellspring of life. – Anonymous

As a mid-30s male jumping into the foray of parenthood, I’ve witnessed things my 20-year-old self would’ve ran from. For family members & friends wondering where I’ve been

I’m still alive.*

*No matter what the suffocating mound of Pampers, Huggies, disinfectant wipes, and empty Enfamil canisters behind my closet door suggests.

My wife says ‘Hello,’ by the way and wants to know if you have any good vacation recommendations. We hope to book one for the year 2032. Will Bermuda still be permitting tourists then? Will the polar ice caps make our destination point moot?

We tell folks that our honeymoon lasted 10 years and swear the best isn’t behind us. Regardless of what our Friday night routines tell us. (I’m still hunting for those dang Dr. Brown bottle pieces.)

For any soon-to-be fathers out there, here are 7 things this dad has learned:

  • Set the alarm 1 hour earlier than pre-Baby days
  • Wet wipes are the new paper towel
  • Diapers aren’t Tupperware containers (not air tight)
  • Happy Mom + Baby = some sleep
  • Toes will be bent on the bed frame
  • Keep swearing to a minimum (<2 per day, never in front of Baby)
  • Sound machines are better than any DJ you’ll find. I recommend the ‘waves’ setting.

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REMEMBERING SHERRY

I distinctly remember Dad telling me he’d met someone in the fall of ’92. Fresh from the battlefield of divorce, I was skeptical of anything good ever happening again to a seven-year-old.

She lived an hour north of us in a community called Eubank.

I felt the strain of my boat coming unmoored from its place at the dock.

I asked why he wanted to remarry. Weren’t my sister and I enough?

He told me I’d like her, and I agreed to be civil that first meeting.

They went on 2 dates in December and were married by mid-month.

I wasn’t happy, but I could tell Dad was.

Sherry introduced me and my sister to her daughter. We stared at one another across the small living room like detainees awaiting interrogation.

But it didn’t remain that way for long.

Sherry brought out a tantalizing tray of Rice Krispy Treats, and I was weakened – much quicker, I might add, than my sister.

My footing felt uncertain on the steps of this new threshold.

She wanted me to enjoy them. Dad had told her how much I loved the marshmallow-y sweets.

I smiled and reluctantly took candy from a stranger.

But little did I know that I was meeting someone who’d blossom into a fixture in my life for the next 27 years.

Today.

Sherry’s best friend, Becky, stands at the front of Morris & Hislope Funeral Home and relays all the kinds gestures she’s been shown over the years.

Sherry is described as an angel. Someone capable of letting anyone close, just with her eyes.

She is a rock for countless souls descending to pay their final respects.

A Garth Brooks song is playing – The Dance, one Dad and her first danced to at their wedding.

He tells me its the song he heard playing when he left the hospital just one week ago.

Sherry’s pictures are featured on poster boards, and her eyes are penetrating even still across the parlor.

Her smile is fixed in each Polaroid like a singer about to sing a song everyone has come to hear.

Dad’s brother is providing the eulogy and red roses rest atop the casket.

It’s a color scheme Sherry would’ve wanted, Dad said earlier.

The funeral is tomorrow, and while Sherry will be laid to rest with her parents, her brother, even her son, Jason, she will be emblazoned on the hearts of all who can still hear her laugh.

She now sings on that high mountain and her work down here is done.

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AN INTERVIEW WITH STEPH POST, AUTHOR OF THE NEW NOVEL MIRACULUM

I had the chance to interview the fantastic novelist, Steph Post, recently. (That’s her with the bow-and-arrow above.) She posts some terrific content online from Florida. I was first introduced to her work, A Tree Born Crooked, on Goodreads. And from that book till now, I’ve been hooked. Or, arrowed. However you want to say it…her writing is top-notch! I’ll leave the clichés alone.

So she took precious time to answer some questions and then she went back to writing more amazing fiction.

Here’s the conversation:

Steph, if you weren’t writing, what would you be doing with all of your free time?

Taking care of more chickens, more dogs, making my art. Though, honestly, I can’t imagine not writing. It’s so ingrained in me, so much a part of my life now. But in-between books, when I’m working on promotion or beginning research, I have a lot more time for my animals and my garden, and my guilty pleasures like playing video games.

Persephone, the chicken
Hatchet, the cattledog
one of Steph’s print series

Have you ever given up on a writing project?

Not entirely, but I have put projects on hold, which I’ve circled back around to. I started the novel I’m currently working on a few years ago, but I had to drop it at the time. I just wasn’t ready, or even capable, of writing it then. I sort of felt like a failure for stopping work on it, but now that I’m back at it, I can see that I absolutely had to take that break, to ensure that the work went in the right direction.

Definitely. So…In your eyes, what does it mean to be a “successful” writer?

To be constantly working on a book. Of course I want the books to be well-received. I want to be engaged with the literary community and always stay true to myself as an authentic voice. But success measured by outsiders may not always be a constant. For me, it’s always been about the work, the actual act of building a book. As long as I can keep doing that, I consider myself successful.

Do you have a set routine as a writer? Things that work for you?

I go through cycles, depending on what stage of a novel I’m working on. But when I’m really in the groove, I write 9-noon, every day. The hours lengthen at the drafts progress, though. I’m also one of those writers who can only write from home, at my desk, in my studio. I so admire authors who can write anywhere—in hotels, on buses, while traveling—but I’m certainly not one of them.

Your new novel, Miraculum, has garnered some big reviews…Are there any symbols running throughout your novel we should look for? Do readers recognize them?

There are so many symbols running throughout Miraculum and it’s been awesome to see readers catching on to them. In particular, I love to use animals and animal symbolism in my writing. The obvious ones in Miraculum are the fox and the snake, for Daniel and Ruby, as the trickster and the embodiment of regeneration. I love it, though, when readers find symbols, themes or motifs that I didn’t see myself in my own work. It’s always fascinating to see what connections are being unearthed.

Steph, thank you for taking the time to chat. Keep up the great work!

If you’d like to learn more about her work, check out her site at: http://stephpostauthor.blogspot.com/.

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Independent

You’ve always had it

and I wanted it

so badly

the Spirit

and independence

to make a baby coo

and scare a poacher

all in the same breath

You brought neighbors closer

and shied away

from false prophets

I admired the heart

you gave

to others

without ever asking

for anything

And seeing your Spirit

hurt by anything

was too much so

I looked away

at anything else

Because I knew

I couldn’t handle

the crippling weight

you carried

on your back

in your joints

and never complained

even once