About M.L. Millard

I write YA fiction, children's books, and I have a Bible devotional, too. Warning: My fiction is not "Christian."

Evacuation, a Timeline

10/10, shortly after midnight

I go to bed and see on the news that there are fires one town east and one town north of me. I decide to stay up and keep an eye on it.

About 2 A.M. I see a picture on Facebook of my friends John and Lauren evacuating their north Santa Rosa home because of the Tubbs fire. I’m one town down in northeast Rohnert Park. We pack a suitcase, get our cat carrier out, and find the emergency bottled water, although it seems very unlikely the fire will travel far enough south to get to us. It is moving south though. There’s also a fire to the east.

My boss runs out of her Calistoga hotel retreat in her pajamas after she gets a knock on the door. She doesn’t grab her laptop or musical instrument. The hotel burns down ten minutes later.

About 5 A.M. Sean gets in the shower for work. I’m watching the Twitter feed for hashtag RohnertPark and someone posts a picture of a big orange glow that says it’s from my street. I run outside. There’s the orange glow to the east. A new fire. The Pressley fire. Two neighbors are running to their cars.

I tell Sean to get out of the shower. I get my daughter up. She wonders if she needs to bring her backpack. “No! Just get in the car!” She does. I knock on both neighbors’ doors. They’re extremely grateful. Thankfully we both filled up with gas the day before. (Gas stations run out of gas over the next few hours.) We take both cars to Sean’s brother’s house. John and Lauren message Sean that they were sure their house wasn’t going to survive. They are right.

We get a Nixle alert. Mandatory evacuation of our house. I imagine the single exit to our complex is now frighteningly congested.

I stay in my brother-in-law Jerry’s recliner for 24 hours straight, glued to the news, only getting up for a few trips to the bathroom and one trip to the store, where ash is falling like snow and I accidentally get in the quick check aisle with too many items. No one gets mad at me. The woman behind me is from Glen Ellen, which she’s heard is pretty much gone. Back in the recliner I wonder if Petaluma will be evacuated, too. There’s another fire to the east, right down Highway 37 from Jerry’s house.

10-11

Sean goes to his high school, which is now an evacuation site. Our church is one, too. Almost all the schools and churches are. Thousands have been evacuated from Santa Rosa. Some ran out without so much as shoes or wallets. Every one of my local friends knows more than one person who’s lost their house.

Our evacuation is lifted. Volunteer tractor drivers have plowed a fire break around Rohnert Park. My daughter and I go home, but I don’t like our lack of visibility. We are surrounded by redwood trees. An area less than a mile away still has mandatory evac orders. We go to my parents’ two miles west.

10-12 through 10-14

We hardly know what day or time it is. Sean and I are in my parents’ bed, our kid is on the couch, my mom’s in a guest bed, my cat has an entire guest room to herself so my parents’ dog doesn’t get her, and the bed in her room is wasted while my dad sleeps on an air mattress in the shed.

People (and I use that term loosely) on Twitter tell me I deserve the fire because California is liberal. Never mind that I’m a Christian, not that I would deserve it if I weren’t, just assuming they probably claim to be Christian for certain purposes. So I put up a Tweet about God and being evacuated and a woman tells me “kind of like evacuees of American wars.” I say “I’m against those wars, too. I’m a pacifist Christian,” and she says something about big bank fraud. I say “I’m not for bank fraud, obvi,” but then I block her. How can “people” troll when 20 are dead and hundreds more missing? Some of my actual Twitter friends wish me well, though.

My mom goes to Costco for air purifiers. They are sold out. She goes back the next day, and the two she buys show a red light for half hour or so. They turn amber and finally blue. Every time someone goes in or out, the lights turn red again.

The music store where I work is still open. My student tells me about seeing the fire as she evacuated. “I was scared, I mean I’m only 12, I’ve never seen anything like that.” I tell her “Honey I’m 43 and I’ve never seen anything like that. It WAS scary.”

Lauren finds a rental house for her family because she was smart enough to realize that the market was about to be flooded and started asking around for leads before I would have been able to type my own name in the same situation.

Sonoma County comes to the aid of evacuees in a big way. Local businesses donate food they probably can’t afford to donate. Firefighters and other emergency personnel come from other counties, then other states, then other countries. People are starting to say “worst in California history.” Pets are found. Pets are not found. People are found and not found.

10-15

We decide to go home. There’s been no imminent danger to our home since the second day, but temperatures are still high, humidity still low. I watch online news all night instead of sleeping. I wait for the rain that’s expected on 10-19.

10-16

I pack my kid an n95 mask because school starts back tomorrow. I wonder how well they really work and half regret that she’s old enough to be a big part of making her own decisions now. I’d like to keep her home, but she’s almost an adult, so all I can do is hope she wears the mask.

10-17

Tomorrow is 10-17. I’ve never been the type to think I know what a day will hold, and I think a whole county full of people feel the same way now if they didn’t before. Blessings on you today and every day.

 

 

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The Trade (Sneak Peek!)

Here are the first ten pages of The Trade. This version, which is very similar to the final edit, took first place in the 2014 Redwood Writers Young Adult contest. The Trade is coming soon to Amazon!

THE TRADE

CHAPTER ONE

I was bred for slavery.  Some woman with no food had me so that she could trade me to the factory. At least that’s how they say it usually happens. I wonder if she ever thinks of me.    They don’t keep records on the slaves – there’s no way I could track her down. But if I could, I would ask her if she felt guilty about giving her own flesh to be raised with the beatings and the day in, day out work. Night work too, when one of the bosses feels like sneaking into my room. Maybe she doesn’t know what goes on in here. Maybe no one on the outside does.

I don’t know much about the Outside. Only what I overhear when the bosses talk to each other. Outsiders, other than the women who trade their babies, seem to have plenty of food. It’s what makes the bosses fat. My best friend Caris, who works in the shoe room with me, once had one of the bosses tell her he was going to hide her in a crate and help her escape. He promised her sweet food that she’s never dreamed of, and warm baths every day,  and animals for petting and playing with, not for eating. Then he stopped coming to see her. I don’t know if the Outside has all those things or not, but I know that the women wear beautiful shoes.

I’m stringing tiny beads, clear blue as Caris’s eyes, and stitching them onto a shoe, when a boss crashes through the door.

“To the baths,” he yells.

We just stare at him. We each have our day of the week for a bath, and none of us has ever been ordered to bathe during worktime.

“Now!” He lifts his club.

Still, we don’t move.

Except Caris raises her hand a little, then a little more. “There’s only one bath, Boss.”

I don’t know why Caris always has to be the one to open her mouth. When she gets hit, they usually hit whoever’s nearest her, too, for good measure, and half the time it’s me. Caris is still bruised from last time.

But the boss just says, “Well, take turns then, but make ’em fast, and put on your best clothes after.”

Caris and I look at each other. This boss has lost his mind, we say silently. Best clothes? We have two sets of dirt-colored clothes each. All the same.

Girls start filing past the boss and out the door. I’m in front of Caris when we get into the hall.

“Jeba,” she hisses. I hang back and let her get next to me.

She whispers, “What do you think’s going on?”

“I don’t know. But if he’s crazy, we’re going to pay for leaving the workroom, and it’s going to be bad.”

But we get to the bath room and there are girls from jewelry and clothing there, too. They don’t know any more than we do. There aren’t enough washcloths for us all to bathe on one day, so when it’s our turn, the girl before us hands hers to Caris. Caris adds some water to the tub, strips, and grits her teeth as she puts a toe in the cold water.

“Hurry up,” a boss barks from the doorway.

Caris doesn’t even bother to cover up, she’s so used to the presence of men in her bedroom. She’s too pretty for her own good. Of course, being pretty is probably what saves her from getting beaten to death when she opens her impertinent mouth.

Before the boss leaves, he says, “And when you’re dressed, come out to the yard.”

We bathe and dress quickly, Caris’s long, wavy yellow hair and my shoulder-length dark curly hair dripping wet as we make our way to the yard. We always pretend we’re sisters, or half-sisters, but we look so different it’s unlikely. Kind of a joke. Sometimes I look around the shoe room and wonder, though. Luta has medium-tone skin and large brown eyes like me, and who knows who I’d find in the other buildings. Who knows how many babies my mother had, or who my father is.

In the yard, Caris and I find a bench, and I try not to let too much dirt get onto my damp feet. The bosses mill around, chat, and don’t bother us as we try to draw a week’s worth of sun out of the sky in however few minutes we might have. The good lighting highlights the varied colors in Caris’s bruised cheek. I also notice, when I look around the small, fenced enclosure, the strange absence of the small children from the clothing workroom, but I tip my head back and close my eyes, enjoying the warm light too much to talk.

Soon, though, Caris nudges me. I open my eyes to look at her and follow her gaze to the door. My stomach cramps. An all too familiar stout, white-haired man is addressing the bosses, most of whom walk, quickly for once, back into the building. One boss, a writing tablet in his hand, follows the stout man toward us. I feel Caris hunch over and lean back slightly. The man is our Owner.

The Owner stops in front of us, looks us over with his eyes the color of “mountain ice” beads, and says to the boss, “No, yes,” without ever meeting our eyes The boss writes on his tablet, and they move on to some other girls. A whimper of relief escapes from Caris, but my stomach still hurts, because he’s not gone yet, and even when he goes, whatever new rules he might leave behind will still have to be implemented. I’m especially worried that I was a “yes,” and Caris was a “no.” I don’t know what it’s all about, but I worry that it could mean we’ll be separated.

When he has stopped at all the girls, The Owner goes back into our building, and a boss tells us to line up at the door, which we do without speaking. Each girl receives an order when she enters.

“To your room. To your workplace. To your workplace. To your room.”

Caris receives a, “To your room,” and I a “Workplace,” and she squeezes my hand as we part ways.

When I get to my work stool, I pick up the shoe I’d been beading when the boss sent us to bathe. Gradually the room fills up most of the way with other slaves, and the same boss that divided us comes in and says, “Look happy, or you’ll regret it until the day you’re dead,” and then leaves us unsupervised. We look at each other, completely perplexed, and then settle back to work.

The thing is, I don’t know how to look happy. I try to remember how Caris looked when she thought that boss was going to sneak her to the outside. I raise my eyebrows and smile with my teeth showing and mouth slightly open, but it just doesn’t seem like a person would make shoes with that expression all day, even if she were happy.

Have I ever been happy? Sometimes I’m less scared than other times, but happy? Once, a half wild dog found its way into our yard and Caris and I petted its wiry coat and played tug of war with it. The way it looked at me made me happy, but at the same time I knew the dog would probably be in our next stew, which made me feel worse than if the dog had never come.

I decide my happiest moment was the time Caris got chocolates from the boss who said he’d help her sneak out. After he left her room, she came and got me and shared them with me. Sitting on her bed, we ate them all, one right after the other. For one night, we were happy.

Remembering that night, I take a pair of shoes to the ‘finished’ pile and start beading another. Why we’d need to look happy when we’re all alone I cannot imagine.

I work steadily, but I can’t help but stop my needle for a moment when our Owner walks in with another man. An Outsider? Our first visitor ever, at least in my workroom. I smile bigger and whip my needle through the leather before my hesitation is noticeable.

“And this is one of our shoemaking rooms,” says our owner importantly. “Say hello, girls.”

He has never addressed us directly before. It takes us a moment to register that we’re supposed to respond.

“Hello,” we say to the Outsider, smiling like someone is standing behind us pulling our cheeks back.

“Hello. Nice to meet you,” he says, and I see something I never thought I would see. An Outsider who looks as sad as one of us. I have never seen a true Outsider before, but the bosses get to live part time on the Outside, and I’ve never once seen that expression on one of them.

The Sad Man has very nice clothes, flowing and embroidered with a swirling black and purple design. I wonder if our girls made it. His erect posture tells me that he is in charge of his own life, and maybe others’ lives too. He smiles kindly, nods, and turns to leave.

Our Owner gestures to the doorway. “And this way to our fine jewelry artists.”

And then we are working alone again. I think we are done having to look happy, but I keep a small, closed smile on my face just in case. I finish pair after pair of shoes. We’ve never worked for such a long period of time without a boss at least wandering through the workroom. Usually one is there the whole day. My fingers are tired, but we know we can’t stop until someone tells us to.

I let myself get lost in the colors of the beads. Everything else is dirt brown here. The tables, the floors, the walls, the stools, our clothes, our bedding. The girls from clothing and jewelry tell me that they use beautiful colors, too. I imagine an Outside with nothing brown. Every single thing lagoon blue or ruby red or grass green, like my beads.

Finally, a boss comes in. I’m careful not to stop because he hasn’t told us to, but I want so badly to stretch my hands and lay my head down on the table. I’m still beading when, out of the corner of my eye, I see the boss’s club raised.

“Luta,” I scream.

But there’s nothing Luta can do. The club is on her back before she can move. The boss is not giving out disciplinary bruises; he’s going crazy. He moves from Luta to Vondeen, and the rest of us scramble up and race to the door. I push at the others to get them through the doorway, but the boss is coming for me next. His club comes down over my head. I throw my left hand up in time. I’m through the door before I realize that my whole hand is on fire with pain. Instead of running to my room, I keep going and barge in on Caris.

“What’s wrong?” she gasps.

I’ve woken her. “My hand.” Holding my left hand in my right, I carry it to her. I’m crying hard now that I realize the pain is not going to go away any time soon.

“What happened?”

“A boss went crazy. I think my fingers are broken.”

“But why?” Caris asks, not as concerned about my fingers as I think she should be. “They usually don’t hurt you so bad that you can’t work. Tell me everything that happened. Something is going on.”

“He just went crazy. Luta and Vondeen are still on the floor. They’re still on the floor!” I’m starting to shake.

“I’m sorry, Sweet, I’m sorry.” She finally looks at my hand. “Can you move it?”

I try. “No,” I sob.

“Jeba, you have to try. You have to be able to work.”

“I know,” I squeal. “It won’t move.”

I don’t want to look into her eyes. When girls can’t work, they disappear.

 

CHAPTER TWO

Caris gets me quieted down, and we agree that I might be able to get some work done with one hand, and the bosses might not notice that I’m working at a pace of about a bead an hour if Caris lets me take her shoes to the ‘finished’ pile once in a while.

“But we need to keep our eyes and ears open,” she says. “Can you tell me anything more about what happened today? Why they separated us?”

I tell her everything that happened, even though I don’t know how keeping our eyes and ears open will help us if something big’s going to happen.

“So you were supposed to look happy,” she summarizes, “a stranger came in, and then the boss went berserkers. Maybe you weren’t happy enough. But why would you need to look happy?” Without waiting for an answer she asks, “What did the stranger look like?”

“Not quite as old as the Owner. Not quite as fat. Sadder than I’d expect from an Outsider. Maybe we were supposed to cheer him up, and we didn’t.”

Caris chews her bottom lip. “Hmm. That would be a strange way to try to cheer someone up. No idea who he was?”

I shake my head, and don’t tell Caris that I’ve named him Sad Man.

In the workroom the next day, I almost cry with relief to see Luta and Vondeen across the table. It’s almost impossible for me to bead one-handed, and to make matters worse, I’m working on no sleep because the pain in my hand kept me up all night. I don’t turn in a single shoe of my own. Every once in a while when the boss isn’t facing us, Caris slides me one of hers and I make plenty of noise scooting my stool back and shuffling my feet over to the pile. I pretend to take another unbeaded shoe from the center of the table, but really it’s the same shoe I’ve had all day. We make it through the day, and I start to think we can do this until my hand heals. If it ever heals.

Three nights later, although I’m so tired I can hardly move, the pain keeps me awake again. I haven’t even closed my eyes when I hear the other women start getting up in the morning, and I will myself out of bed and grab my work shirt. A boss blocks my open doorway. It’s the one who always sounds like he’s losing his voice. He’s cruel. Even Caris watches her mouth around him. I cover myself, instinctively; bosses only come in our rooms for one thing. But never during waking hours. Something is wrong.

“Get your things and come with me,” he rasps.

My heart starts whooshing instead of beating. Girls who can’t work disappear. Someone must have finally seen Caris passing me her shoes. I hope they didn’t punish her for it.

The boss doesn’t look away while I change. I don’t have any ‘things’ to get, so I slip my sandals on and he purposely drags me out of the room by my bad hand. I hope for a glimpse of Caris in the hallway, but she’s not there. Then we walk by the workroom, and I see the back of her golden head and cough to get her attention, but she doesn’t turn around. I keep walking and finally start to cry. Because Caris is okay, and because I can’t say goodbye, and because I’m going to disappear.

My heart is still whooshing as we pass other workrooms and wind through hallways I’ve never been allowed to walk before. We end up in a big, brown, square, boss-filled room that has a door to the outside. The door is open, and a scared looking girl holding a baby is taking hesitant steps in through it. She looks around at all the bosses, chooses to go left, then right, then finally stops and waits for someone to tell her where to go.

“Over here,” an uninterested voice calls to her.

She heads for the table where a boss is waiting with a writing board. I want to see what they give her in exchange for the baby, but my boss is leading me toward the open door. I want to yell, “Don’t do it! Take your baby and run away! Find another way to survive. How much food can you carry with you – ten days’ worth?” They’re going to make me disappear anyway, I have nothing to lose, but I still can’t find my voice.

As my boss walks through the door, he nearly collides with a young man who backs up to let us pass. The young visitor is dressed much like the Sad Man, but he’s about my age. He smiles at me, and my heart stops whooshing and starts beating again. It’s like he wants to tell me with his smile that everything’s going to be okay. But he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know that I’m one of the girls who can’t work.

Careless, floppy curls the color of the chocolates that Caris and I shared cover his head and fall partway down his neck. His eyes are the color of “shady moss” beads, the deep, dark green ones with the golden flecks, and they, too, try to tell me that all is well.

Do visitors come here more than I thought? Maybe this is the room they come to when they want to order our shoes and clothes, or the furniture that men supposedly make in other buildings. Maybe he’s here to buy. Whatever he’s here for, once again I wish I could find my voice. I want to beg him to help me.

But we keep walking through a dirt courtyard to a guarded gate. The boss leads me through, and says, “Here she is.”

I take no notice of who he’s talking to, because before me is the largest animal I’ve ever seen. Ten times as big as a dog, maybe more. Shiny brown with a stringy black tail and hair down its neck to match, and enormous gentle black eyes.

A thin man gets out of a cart which is attached to the animal, takes my good hand, and carefully helps me up into the cart. I did not expect to be pulled to my final resting place behind a magnificent animal. I wonder what other creatures live on the Outside that I’ll never get to see.

When we’re both seated on a wooden bench, the man shakes some straps, and the animal pulls us away. I turn back to see the factory, and realize there are many more buildings than I’d known. Maybe some of them do have men making furniture. Brown buildings on endless brown dirt. I face forward again, and far ahead, something dark shimmers.

The Dreaded Question: What Is “The Trade” About?

I’m about to put a new book on Amazon. The great thing about publishing books yourself is that you don’t have to box your book into a genre or sell it to an agent with an elevator pitch. The terrible thing about publishing books yourself is that by not having to pitch an agent or publisher, you might find yourself with something that’s also hard to pitch to readers. Can you describe it in 140 characters? Can you sell it to a captive audience during a short elevator ride?

What will you say when you hear the dreaded question: WHAT IS YOUR BOOK ABOUT?

My new book is called The Trade. It will probably appeal most to 15-17 year old girls. It’s set in a world like our own, pre-industrial. The main character, Jeba, begins the book as a slave, beading shoes. The problem is that I don’t want to give away any more than that!

Two themes in The Trade are beauty and sacrifice. Is that enough or do I have to tell you more? There’s a little bit of romance, but it’s not the main storyline. Is that enough? I wrote the book because I wondered “What would someone do if they found out that _______,” but I can’t tell you what’s in that blank without giving something away. Is that enough?

Am I confident that it’s a good book? I’m confident that the first ten pages are good, because they won a writing contest. As for the rest, it can’t be as bad as a few novels out there that managed to find a big publisher! (I won’t name names.)

It’s the worst thing in the world (okay, ALMOST the worst thing in the world) to have to tell people what your book is about. If I had enough money, I’d buy one for each of you so that you could find out for yourself. But I don’t have enough money, so I have to convince you to buy it. The Trade is about a slave, and it is about you. It is simple to read but deep in meaning if you take the time to contemplate. I love it, and I hope you will too.

 

One More Thing Before You Go Off to College

The other day I was sitting on a bench at the local junior college when a man approached me and introduced himself. There was no doubt in my mind what he was about to ask.

“I don’t know if you’d be interested, but we’re having a Bible study at six o’ clock.”

Yep.

I explained that I was just picking someone up and that I already went to church. I asked him what group he was with, and that’s when I got a shock. “[Blah blah blah] Church of Christ. We don’t have a church here yet, the closest one is in [blah blah.]”

And a rush of memories came back. 25 years ago, at another university, my roommate and I were invited to a Bible study downstairs from us. Beginning of the year freshmen, we said yes. When we got there, the Bible study leader read from one of the books of history, stumbling through the proper nouns and then guessing what each verse meant after he read it. I don’t fault him for that, I just thought it was a strange passage for someone who’s obviously never read the Bible before to choose for a Bible study.

But our neighbors were nice, so we went to a large group meeting in one of the lecture halls soon thereafter. Before the sermon, they played a video of one of them walking around campus asking people what they thought of their group, [blah blah blah] Church of Christ.* Every interviewee said some version of “Aren’t they a cult?” My roommate looked at me with alarm. We listened to the sermon about how the definition of a cult is a group that follows one leader, and if that’s the definition that they were proud to call themselves a cult following Jesus.

Soon after THAT, we got invited to their Halloween party at someone’s house. My roommate was freaked out by the cult people, but this nice girl named Marina was asking, and I guess I have trouble saying no or something, so I went. On the way, Marina, who obviously did not come from money (we were riding a city bus, my first time) told me that she’d given all her jewelry to the “church” and shyly added that she’d kept one pair of earrings because they were from her grandma. This didn’t seem right to me. At the party, everyone was very nice. Eventually, we all packed into the living room to watch a movie. It was some comedy. At one of the places in the movie that’s supposed to get a laugh, we all cracked up, and then someone said indignantly, “That’s not funny,” and a murmur spread across the room condemning the humor. “Not funny, no, not funny.” I kid you not.

Oh man, did I wish I’d had my roommate’s strength to say no to the party. I wasn’t entirely sure she was ever going to see me again. These people were programmed, and they were dressed like zombies and vampires.

Maybe cult is too strong a word, but all I know is that I never wanted to get on a city bus so bad. Maybe it wasn’t a cult, but all I know is that all these kids were fresh out of high school and sending someone their jewelry and letting someone else tell them when to laugh.

I was out of there.

So anyway, you’ll get a lot of advice when you go to college, but people might not tell you this one. Don’t accidentally join a cult.

*Some legitimate churches have Church of Christ in their name. Do your research on ANY group that invites you in. If you are interested in attending church while you’re away at college, call a couple of local regular churches and ask what college groups they recommend. Intervarsity is a legitimate one, and I’m sure there are others.

A Hundred Answered Prayers

The idea for this blog entry came to me not as a blog entry, but as an anthology with many contributors from my town. I thought maybe the concept would take wing, and people from towns all over the world would create their own “A Hundred Answered Prayers” (A Hundred Answered Prayers in Denver! A Hundred Answered Prayers in Dublin!) and God would be glorified. Alas, people who were excited to share their answers to prayer in Bible studies were less enthusiastic about opening up to the world. I can’t blame them. And so my anthology ended before it began.

After a while, I realized that I could probably remember a hundred times God had answered my own prayers! If I’d kept a prayer journal over the years, I could blog them all right now! Unfortunately I never did keep a prayer journal, so I’m going to list some of the amazing answers to prayer that have stuck with me and come back and add others as they happen or as I remember them.

Tell me one of your answered prayers in the comments! Together I know we’ll get to a hundred and a hundred hundred.

Here are mine.

Healing

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. —James 5:14

My sister told me I’d better get to the hospital to say goodbye to Dad. He’d been sick for almost a year, misdiagnosed with “anxiety and depression” and now told that he only had a few days to live. They were pretty sure it was liver cancer. Only awaiting the biopsy results.

Dad said that he was okay with going to heaven now; I wasn’t to worry about him. But I cried, put my hand on him, and asked God to heal. My dad was my softball coach, never mind that it had been twenty years ago. He taught me The Lord’s Prayer. He carried my band instruments. He loved dogs and birds and March Madness and Mom’s cooking and panning for gold. He was my dad!

I felt terrible leaving Mom alone at the hospital. I shouldn’t have left. I listened to Tree63 and cried all the way to my other sister’s house, spent the night there, and drove home the next day, whereupon the first sister called.

“Dad’s going to be okay!”

“What?” Isn’t it funny how we’re surprised every time God answers a prayer? “What,” I said.

“It’s an infection.”

The kind of infection doctors call each other in the room to see. The kind of infection none of them had ever seen in someone who was alive. But an infection nonetheless. Prayer answered mightily. 12 years later, my dad is still on his feet.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy  —Psalm 103:2-4

My daughter had abdominal migraines (possibly called cyclic vomiting syndrome) when she was little. Pretty much there’s no stopping it. Every couple months she’d wake up in the night (sometimes not totally wake up, which was scary) and barf every couple hours until around noon the next day. After a couple years, it started happening about every month. Then it happened about every 12 days a few times.

I think she was about six. I told her, “We’re going to pray about this EVERY night. We’re going to pray hard.”

And so we did, every night, with total faith and desperation.

12 or so days passed, and it happened again. I had a private talk with God. “What are you doing?” I asked. “This was a really good opportunity to show her that You answer prayers!” (Yes, I talk to God like that sometimes.)

So I told my daughter about the Bible saying that we should be persistent in prayer. We kept praying every night.

Meanwhile, my daughter kept asking for the Pedialyte popsicles we always kept on hand for rehydrating after her episodes. I’d always told her we needed to keep them in case she threw up, but I decided what the heck, I’ll just buy them all the time. She started eating about three a night, and guess what. She STOPPED having her episodes.

Did God heal through Pedialyte pops or just heal some other way? I don’t know, because she’d been having Pedialyte every day since and has only had one or two barfs over the decade since. (Pedialyte is not meant for constant use, so use caution, but we were desperate.) My daughter still gets headaches, but with an Advil here and there, she’s doing okay. If this were the only prayer God had ever answered, I’d be forever grateful.

While you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus. —Acts 4:30

For a year or so, I woke up at night with my arms, face, and chest numb. I got so worried that I went to my doctor and asked if I might have a circulation problem. He assured me that it didn’t sound like a circulation problem but didn’t know what it was. Then, at our annual church picnic in the woods, I stretched my arms up and behind me to try to make my chronically uncomfortable (though not painful) back more comfortable.

CRAAACCCKKK

My spine zipped from the middle all the way to the top. No more discomfort. No more numbness. Thank you worship time. Thank you God!

Social Situations

When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. —Psalm 34:17

Okay, this one’s kind of funny. When my daughter was a baby, there was another baby in the nursery who liked to shriek. They weren’t crying, they weren’t being bad, they just liked to shriek. This startled my daughter every time and she bawled uncontrollably.

That’s not the funny part.

Our quaint little old church didn’t have a speaker that worked in the “cry room,” so every week I had to pick up my baby from the nursery and sit outside with her. I felt very disconnected.

So I prayed for God to resolve this situation. I didn’t have the slightest idea how.

About a week later, the parents of the shrieking baby, whose family had attended our church for generations, up and moved across the country. Everyone in our small church was stunned and sad.

I felt a little guilty, and I missed the baby’s super sweet mom, but it’s also kind of funny.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[a] for those who are called according to his purpose. —Romans 8:28

I can’t tell you who this prayer is about. All I can tell you is that it’s someone my schedule didn’t allow me to avoid. Anyway, this person drove me absolutely bonkers. We all have people who grate on us, but this is the only person about whom I’ve prayed, “God, You say that all things work for my good. How is this relationship good for me?” I was actually on my knees, which I don’t always bother with. “Am I learning patience?”

You’d think that if God was going to speak to me audibly only three times in 43 years, he’d speak to me about something earth-shattering, but God chose this irritating social situation.

“I’m going to show you how a relationship can change.”

The funny thing is that I wasn’t at all surprised to hear God’s voice, but I WAS surprised at what He said.

So did that relationship change, you might wonder? It did. Maybe not as dramatically as I hoped, but it’s still changing.

Direction

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. —Psalm 32:8

I used to write Christian songs. I have a binder full of songs, most of which no one has heard. Two have been heard by successful Christian artists at songwriting conventions. At the conventions, my songs weren’t among those the clinicians seemed enthused about.

So as I sat on my couch playing barely-passable guitar and scratching out lyrics, I sometimes prayed, “God, is it okay if I spend my time this way? It will seem like such a waste of time if these songs don’t reach the masses or bring in any money for my family. I could be working during these hours or at least cleaning the house.”

I prayed like that a lot. I got discouraged and my songwriting dwindled.

I think I mentioned above that God has spoken aloud to me. Three times. Well this is the one and only time He spoke to someone else about me, that I know of.

My friend Joel approached me at church one Sunday. He said, “I was lying awake last night, the wife was asleep, and God spoke to me and said, ‘Ask Marie when she’s going to write some more songs and when she’s going to bring out the old ones.'”

I immediately started explaining. Again, funny how I didn’t bat an eye about God speaking audibly. It seemed completely ordinary.

“Well I’ve been busy” etc. etc.

“So you DO write songs?”

“Well, yes.” I’d assumed he knew.

“Whew!” he said. “I thought you were going to think I was crazy, but God told me to ask you so I thought I better do it.”

Those kinds of things aren’t coincidences, people! That conversation gave me so much freedom. If I want to devote time to something that doesn’t bring in money and might never amount to anything, I can relax and put my heart into it. Later, when I wanted to write a novel, I remembered Joel and let myself invest the time. And yes, I wrote some new songs.

Also, I thought it was funny that God asked “When” instead of telling Joel to say “Tell Marie to write more songs.”

Thought-Prayers

Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. —Matthew 6:8

Sometimes I forget to pray for what I want. There was a time when my husband and I needed to find a new home. Our landlord wanted to move back in to our rental. I had a toddler and a broken toe and we wanted to buy so that we didn’t have to get forced out of a rental yet again and my husband’s public school teacher salary was barely enough to get a loan for a two-bedroom townhouse. It was a seller’s market, and that’s an understatement. Places were going for 30K over asking price the day they went on the market. We were running out of time, and places were getting snatched away from us north and south.

So I probably prayed. I don’t remember exactly. But I DO remember that when our realtor drove us to one townhouse I exclaimed “I used to wish I lived here!” I had not remembered the complex and definitely didn’t pray to live there. I’d only thought it fleetingly years before. I believe in being specific with prayers, but sometimes God hears the specific even when you forget.

We got our keys to that townhouse 8 hours before we had to be out of our rental.

Delight yourself in the Lordand he will give you the desires of your heart. —Psalm 37:4

Before I had my daughter, I taught an after school band program. Then I stayed home with my daughter, and during her toddler years, I remember having the thought, “It would be perfect if I could find a band teaching job during the school day when she goes to first grade.” But I knew that would be hard because I didn’t have a teaching credential, only a music degree.

Then I forgot about that.

In the spring of my daughter’s kindergarten year, a principal called my house. She wanted to know if my husband (a credentialed music teacher) needed a part time school to make his next year’s schedule full time. I have no idea why she thought that (cough cough, God) but I said, “No he doesn’t, but I’ll teach.”

Schools are desperate for part time music teachers, so she basically said “GREAT,” gave me a cursory interview, and off I went. Oh, it was one of the few places that didn’t require a credential, and it was a dream of a school environment. Organic garden, cooperative staff, the works. Deuteronomy 8:18.

Sometimes we forget to put the desires of our heart into a “Dear God, in Jesus’ name” format, but God knows. He always knows.

Abilities

10 But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” 11 Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” —Exodus 4:10-12

God has given me strength in ways that I don’t want to go into in this blog. But here’s a particular instance that’s easy to share, where God helped me be more than I am. I was getting ready for another beginning of the year band parent night. Every year I stammered through my list of vital information, always forgetting something even though it was right there on the list I’d made and stared unseeing at.

In short, I had the same public speaking problem many people had. I didn’t feel like throwing up, but I was far from eloquent and only passably informative.

One night, I LOST MY NOTES minutes before the parent night began. I tore through my trunk, my purse, everywhere. There was so much information to give the parents, and I knew I’d forget half of it. All I could do was pray.

This is one of those answers to prayer that some people would explain away with psychology. But I tell you, no one but an all powerful God could have made me the most comfortable I’d ever been in front of an audience. A switch was flipped, and I was never nervous speaking in front of people again. And I didn’t forget any more information than usual!

Peace

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. —Colossians 3:15

I used to have terrible nightmares.

One night before bed I desperately prayed for peace in my dreams. That night I dreamed that a man at my church handed me an envelope that said “Col. (something I couldn’t remember)” In the dream I thought, “Who’s this colonel the envelope’s addressed to?” But when I woke up I knew the dream referred to the book of Colossians, which is abbreviated Col. and is a letter Paul wrote to the people of Colossae.

I read Colossians over and over. The man in my dream also told me to stay on the worship team, which I made sure to do.

No more nightmares!

Deepest Desires

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. —John 15:7

When my dad was sick, he was so weak that he hardly participated in conversation at family gatherings. At some point I realized that I hadn’t heard him laugh in a very long time. We didn’t know if he was dying, but I remember praying to hear him laugh one more time.

I think my daughter was about to turn four. Not long after that prayer, we were at my parents and she and I were playing Uno on the floor, my dad sitting in a chair a couple feet away. My daughter “shuffled” the cards (have you seen a three-year-old shuffle?) and dealt them, and I got a hand full of one color. “I thought you shuffled these,” I said. She shrugged exaggeratedly. “I KIND of shuffled them.”

My dad, tickled, said “Ha!”

Your Turn

Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! —Matthew 7:9-11

Of course I have many more answers to prayer I could list. Some aren’t interesting to read about, some are too personal, some would divulge private information about others, and some, sadly, I know I’ve forgotten. Yes, there have been times when God hasn’t answered a prayer the way I wanted, but many, many more times he has answered in miraculous ways.

I’d love to hear one of your miracles in the comments.

 

Dealbreaker (a song)

I drove through the little town of Penngrove on this hot summer night. When I got home, I wrote this silly song.

There’s a second hand store down in old Penn Grove

And in August when it feels like you’re sittin on a stove

It’s the only place lit red and green with Christmas cheer

They haven’t taken down their lights it’s been half a year

 

On our first date we drive that Penn Grove street

I see those Christmas lights and say “They’re kind of sweet”

I go to squeeze your hand but you are starting to frown

You say “I hate when lazy people don’t take Christmas lights down”

 

It’s a dealbreaker

It’s a dealbreaker

It’s a dealbreaker honey cause it don’t seem right

That you can’t take a little Christmas on a hot summer night

 

You can chew your food like a cow chews its cud

You can ditch me for your friends and come home covered in mud

You can leave your dirty clothes in piles on the floor

But I won’t have you humbugging the second hand store

 

It’s a dealbreaker

A dealbreaker

It’s a dealbreaker honey cause it doesn’t seem right

That you can’t take a little Christmas on a hot summer night

 

So you’re not too bothered by what nazi protesters* did

and you can’t spare twenty dollars for a foster kid

but a Christmas song in April makes you flip your lid

It’s a dealbreaker honey cause it don’t seem right

That you can’t take a little Christmas on a hot summer night

 

*This was supposed to mean nazis who are protesting something. I may have to change it.

Things I Learned When I Decided to Write a Novel

As I format my next novel for CreateSpace and prepare to take an indefinite break from novel-writing, I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned in the last eight years.

1. People will think you’re writing about yourself no matter how many times you say “It’s fiction.”

2. The rule about getting rid of any unnecessary words can be taken too far.

3. Maybe Nicholas Sparks isn’t so bad after all.

4. Critique groups are a Godsend.

5. Finishing a manuscript isn’t actually that difficult.

6. Rewriting is actually that difficult.

7. Just because your friends who said they wanted to read your manuscript never get around to it doesn’t mean they don’t love you. At least, that’s what you have to tell yourself if you don’t want to cry all the time.

8. Facial expressions are impossible to describe.

9. John Gardner and Sol Stein are the best at writing about writing.

10. Agents are stupid anyway.

11. CreateSpace is awesome.

12. CreateSpace doesn’t put writing on the spine in books under 131 pages.

13. The local bookstore doesn’t sell books with no name on the spine.

14. Just because your friends don’t buy your book doesn’t mean they don’t love you. At least, that’s what you have to tell yourself if you don’t want to kill yourself.

15. It’s neat to hold your own book.