The Forest at the Edge of My Yard (or, whatever you’re asked to sacrifice will eventually be no sacrifice at all)

My past forests have been pathetic. In 2015 when we lived in Utah,  I wanted a real forest  even though we lived in a desert. I was in the middle of writing this series and it seemed wrong that I didn’t have a real Forest at the Edge of my yard.

side view of forest

This was it–our “huge” forest. (And the pine tree died the next year. Typical.)

So we created one that summer in the name of xeriscaping, and I documented it in a blog. I even slashed an aspen to see how the markings the Shins left in the forests might look, and I used that tree as the teaser for Book 6.

book 6 teaser front cover

See the lovely scars of black under the W?

Only two short years later I sold that house and mourned the loss of my little forest.

I didn’t realize that God would compensate my sacrifice, and in a grand manner. Now, this is the Forest at the Edge of My Yard in Maine:

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(Morning from the back porch.)

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(Sunset on aspens slightly larger than what I had in Utah.)

This compared to what I left behind last year? There’s no comparison.

We don’t own this land, but my husband’s job allows us to live here and wander in acres of old forests. I just need a geyser somewhere to make my life complete.

I write this as a witness to you that whatever God asks you to sacrifice, it will be only temporary. We’ve left homes we’ve built, we’ve said good-bye to friends and family, we’ve given up jobs and dreams.

Then we’ve been granted new homes, additional friends, ways to see our family, better jobs, and grander dreams.

In fact, if we hadn’t sacrificed what we thought was good, we never would have been granted what was far better. 

But first we had to be willing to give up what we didn’t want to, without knowing what might come later.

That’s immensely difficult: to have enough faith in a different future to walk away from a good present; to find enough hope to believe that what comes next will be worth the current loss. But as someone who has “given up” a few houses, a couple of careers, a lot of friends (but thanks to Facebook they’re not entirely gone), and some big dreams, I have seen–time and time again–that what I’m eventually given in return was well worth the sacrifice.

No real sacrifice HORIZONTAL

In fact, all of our sacrifices have turned out not to be sacrifices at all, but instead were the means to leading us to far richer lives.

“I won’t do it!” said another man in the crowd. “I won’t leave behind everything we’ve worked so hard to build. And not just for me, but for my congregation, my family, my neighbors—I can’t just abandon all that we have.”

“Why not?” Mahrree said.

A man in the middle shouted, “Why not? Do you have any idea how hard it is to start again?”

“As a matter of fact, I do!” Mahrree told him, and nearly grinned as she realized how perfectly the Creator had prepared her for this moment. “I know exactly what it’s like to leave a home I love, to leave books that I considered my closest friends, to say good-bye to memories, possessions, the graves of all those I loved, and to have nothing more than the clothing on my back to walk to a future that I knew nothing about.”

The crowd was silent as she continued. They’d heard her story before in her class, but not told quite like this. Today, it was more than just history.

“Twenty-seven years ago I came to Salem, nervous and at times terrified as to what I would find. All I knew was that the Creator told us to go, and in faith I went. Not blindly, because every previous time I followed His plan, He was right.

“I ran through the forest in the darkest night I’ve ever seen, with hazards on either side, the army right behind me, and a lightning storm before me. But I came out of it safely and my faith stronger than ever. And then I came to Salem, which was a far greater life than I could’ve ever imagined. Now, none of that would have happened if I had said to the Creator, ‘No thanks—I think I’ll just handle the army on my own.’ I realize you’re worried, but staying here and fighting is far more terrifying than trusting in the Creator!

“Soon I’ll be making that journey again,” Mahrree’s voice threatened to quaver but she held it strong. “But I know that whatever sacrifice the Creator asks of me, He will reward me again a hundred times over.

“So what if you lose your homes? Your flocks and property which you don’t even own? Isn’t the risk of losing your souls worse? There’s a saying in the world: It doesn’t matter how you begin the race but how you end it. How tragic it’d be if you’ve spent your entire lives living as the Creator wanted you to, then now, at the very end of the race, you jump off the path and ignore all that you’ve been taught? Why fail the Plan now?”

Mahrree knew she was saying the right things. Her chest burned and she felt such energy she could have flown right off the small tower. She watched their eyes as she spoke. So many were hardened and impenetrable, but others’ eyes were softening.

“How do you know this isn’t His plan?” one man demanded. “This can’t be it—”

“How can it NOT be it?” Mahrree shouted, throwing her hands in the air. “Have all of you missed the signs? Land tremors! Deceit awakened! Famine in the world! Now the army marching upon the Creator’s chosen? THIS IS IT, PEOPLE!”

~Book 8, The Last Day, available HERE on Amazon, or HERE as a pdf. download, or HERE on Smashwords.

Book 8 FRONT COVER

Is your life going exactly as you expected it would? Same here. Maybe that’s not a bad thing.

Not what I expected BOOK 8 teaser HORIZONTAL

I hate surprises, procrastination, and not knowing how things will work out. So I plan for every contingency and emergency, and STILL God finds the one (or likely millions) of scenarios I didn’t anticipate and throws that one at me leaving me to think, “Why didn’t I see that coming?!”

And that sums up life, I’ve realized.

How many of you are living exactly as you expected you would? With all your family, financial, and employment goals achieved?

Yeah, same here.

Yet how many of you, if given the opportunity, would go back and reverse all the unexpected twists in your life?

I used to think I would, but now I realize I wouldn’t. Everything good and bad and perplexing has worked to shape me into the person I am right now, and I like who I might finally become.

The unexpected is good, in a long, roundabout way.

Speaking of the unexpected, I’ve heard back from a lot of you about the ending of Book 8. So far no one has said, “That’s exactly what I thought would happen.” (Which is a huge relief because I did NOT want to write a predictable story!)

To be honest, a lot of how the story went caught me off-guard as well. Trying to avoid a spoiler here, but about Lemuel and Perrin? That smacked me upside the head and added an unexpected layer of insight and depth that I didn’t know was coming. I didn’t set out to write the story that way, and that’s why writing this has been so darn fun.

Nor did I expect how eagerly you snatched up the book when it came out. You threw The Last Day to “Bestseller” status–thank you!

Best Selling Book 8 24 hours after release

I’m also happy to report that The Last Day is now available in paperback for $16.65, and for free on Smashwords. In fact, the ENTIRE SERIES is on Smashwords and for free!

I never expected to write this series, never expected to find so many new friends as readers, and never expected to have a little bit of success.

I guess being surprised every now and then is acceptable.

BOOK 8 “The Last Day” IS HERE!!! The final installment of “The Forest at the Edge” series

We made it, friends, to The Last Day!

But what is “The Last Day”? No one’s sure. Young Pere is finally on his way home, albeit with Lemuel Thorne prodding him along with a sword. Shem and Peto are trying to get everyone to the ancient temple site before General Thorne’s army arrives, but not everyone wants to go. A Deliverer is supposed to save the Salemites, a Destroyer is supposed to take care of the army, but they haven’t shown up yet. Mahrree’s become more stubborn than ever insisting on waiting for Perrin, and in the middle of everything Versula Thorne–Lemuel’s oldest daughter–thinks she can stop him. Are you ready?!

Clocking in at about 750 pages, this should keep you occupied for a few hours. You can get it in three ways:

1: Amazon download–priced at $.99, that’s .001 of a penny per page and tons of Kindle-gripping worry and finger-swiping adventure to end your summer right.

2: You can click here to read the entire thing as a pdf. on this website. Once again, I’m offering my book in a free format because I feel this story was “given” to me freely so I want to “share” it freely–literally. I will always offer all my books for free on my website because I’m merely a scribe for a much more creative Creator.

3: Good old-fashioned paperback, priced at $16.95 . It should be available later this week (always takes a few days to pop up on Amazon). Personally I love the feel of paper in my hands, and yes, ALL of my books have a paper component.

Boxed Sets?

I’ve had a number of readers ask for this, and I don’t know how to offer it. All of the books can be purchased as paperbacks, and I’ve designed the covers to have a uniform feel so they line up nicely on the shelf.

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(These are my “proof” copies, and the last two books still have all my notes sticking out. I showed Book 7’s notes to my students last year to demonstrate how with even half of dozen proofreaders, errors still show up in the printed copy.)

But as for an actual box to put them in? I haven’t yet found an online source that can do it for me.

So I may just have to order boxes, cut and tape them to the right size, decorate them myself, and send them out to you if you purchase all eight books and ask me for a box. Hey, at least each box will be unique and a potential collector’s item, right? I’m still working on the design, but markers will surely play a part in it.

And maybe some stickers from the dollar store.

I’m all about quality.

Book8AD

Share this with your friends, let me know what you think of the ending, and be assured that I’m already working on preliminary notes for the prequel. It may be “the last day,” but the story is far from over.

Front Cover of Book 8: The Last Day! (And one more teaser)

Book 8 FRONT COVER

It’s seriously close, friends–the RELEASE of Book 8, The Last Day! I have been immensely blessed to have the time and resources I needed to get this conclusion out before school starts again next month.

I hadn’t released the cover until now, because frankly, it’s been a hard one to create. I had several visions of what I wanted it to be, who I wanted as models, but none of it was working the way I hoped it could. I loved this cliff side photo I took back in April when I visited Utah, the way the sun came down and sparkled its way through and naturally left its bursts on my image. I used it as a teaser, but in the end it became the official cover.

It may seem that I didn’t use any models in this one (again, lots of ideas, none working out) but in the end I did. In the corner of the open D of “Day” there are two figures climbing. It’s pretty subtle, but in the end I thought this would represent the feel of the book best.

Now, back to the last fine edit of the hard proof copy in my hands RIGHT NOW, but first, one more teaser for you:

“Are you about finished?” Beaved interrupted hotly. “Because I’m supposed to bring him at any moment!”

Cloud Man nodded and patted Young Pere’s hand which still held the unlocked chain together. “I think we’re almost ready.”

~ Book 8, The Last Day, coming before August is over

The worth of battered books, and us (plus a sneak peek into Book 8)

I woke up dreaming of a battered book. I’d been thumbing through it and wincing that poor-quality sticky notes had left yellow squares on pages, along with what I suspected was coffee or soda splotches. And that brown smear? Oh, I hoped it was chocolate.

I sighed in frustration. Not that long ago the book was brand new, but it had suffered from living in a student’s backpack for a few months.

The dream was so vivid probably because I recently went through my classroom novels and grumbled that books which I had purchased at the beginning of the year were now filthy and being held together by . . . sheer determination?

But the words that went through my mind as I woke from my dream were, “So what? The words are still readable, the story still wonderful. It’s worth isn’t lessened because the book’s been misused.

Abused text

I’ve met a lot of people who have been treated horribly, yet have beautiful stories to tell, maybe because of the mistreatment. They hold together through sheer determination, which makes them even more valuable.

 

Young Pere scoffed quietly. “I know what you’re suggesting, but who would want someone like me? After all I’ve done and been through?”

“No one’s perfect, Young Pere. Everyone has less-than-impressive moments. We all hope someone will forgive us of those moments and let us move on. Could you love someone who made mistakes in their past but feels about them now the way you feel about yours?

He pondered that. “I think . . . I think I could.”

~Book 8–The Last Day–coming Summer 2018

The hardest, toughest, scariest, best year I’ve ever endured: my first year as a 10th grade teacher (plus another sneak peek into Book 8)

“You’re gonna miss me, aren’t you, Mrs. Mercer?” a student asked me yesterday.

“You big goober, of course I’m going to miss you.” But I didn’t say the first three words out loud. (At least I don’t think I did.)

But I meant I would miss him, to my surprise. Back in autumn when I thought about this last week of school, I imagined myself dancing triumphantly out the doors having conquered my first year of teaching high school.

But I don’t think I’m going to be dancing tomorrow.

I started teaching the last week of September 2017, three weeks into the year. I had no training, no prep, no syllabus, and no real idea what I was in for. I’d taught college writing for a dozen years, but that is NOT the same as 10th grade high school. Not at all.

I knew the school was desperate, or else why would they have hired me and said, “They’ve had a rough three weeks. Just . . . mom them.”

Oh, I can do that. No problem.

But these weren’t my kids—

No, scratch that.

They were MY kids.

Last summer I had the weirdest sensation that I was going to find “MY kids.” That feeling emerged between moments of despair that I was leaving the greatest neighborhood in the state of Utah, and the greatest LDS ward (church congregation) in the world, and would be driving 2700 miles to a place I didn’t know, leaving behind half my kids and all of my friends.

I shed tears daily that summer, packing up our house, driving for six days cross country, settling in an unfamiliar rental house in Maine at the end of June, trying to find new work since I shut down my Etsy shop . . .

I’d read the job listings at the high school where my husband worked and saw the posting for an English 10 teacher. I’d quit teaching college a few years ago and was looking for a new career path, but that post gnawed at me. I knew they had already hired someone, but unexpectedly the words drifted in my head, “He had better be good to MY kids. Why did they give MY kids to him?

But they’re not my kids!

Then the teacher was fired two weeks in, and an emergency substitute brought in. “She’d better be good to MY kids . . .”

But they’re not my kids!

Then I got a phone call from the school. Would I be interested in taking over as Permanent Substitute?

Finally, I get to take care of MY kids–

Who keeps saying that?!

It’s a good thing I was so naïve, because knowing what I know now, I would have turned down the offer in September. Except that I needed to find MY kids.

The first morning that I stood in front of my first English 10 class, I thought, “Ah, here are MY kids!

I knew them. Already. Names would come later, but their faces were familiar. And as I learned their stories over the course of the year, I’d think, “I already knew that somehow. Because you’re MY kids.”

The same thing happened with the next classes, and creative writing, and advisor, and AP Lit—I knew them.

And man, were they ready for me.

I mean, they were ready to push and pull and yank and try me in ways I’ve never before been tried. This has been, hands down, THE hardest, toughest, scariest, best year I’ve ever endured.

I’ve never worked so hard, read so much, researched so deeply, looked so near and far for what to do and teach and say. I’d come home at 3pm and would usually put in another 5 hours of work each night and spend my weekends trying to learn how to teach high schoolers.

Some days were great—lessons and discussions took off better than I could have hoped. (I discovered my kids really like to write on the white-board with colored markers. And get treats. They’re just big 1st graders.)

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Ok, more talented than mere 1st graders. I left this 10th grader’s work up for a couple of days because it was so beautiful. “On thin ice.”

But a lot of days were discouraging, and I’d think, “So I totally botched that. Why in the world did I think I could do this? Wait, wasn’t I going to find a new career besides teaching?” I had “one of those days” just last week, a they-need-to-hire-someone-else moment.

There were days when I knew I wouldn’t make it to June. The entire month of October my guts were in a knot of anxiety. I was going to fail MY kids, I just knew it.

Administrators would call me occasionally, asking how things were going. “Fine!” I’d chirrup, even though I had students much larger than me insisting I couldn’t make them work. That never happened when I taught college.

I still remember the new faculty meeting we had in November, when Mr. R. said, “We want each of you to wake up in the morning excited about teaching here!”

I don’t know if he could read the anguish in my eyes—I had just sent my first student to the office, and he was suspended for a week. I had failed MY kid.

But I smiled back, although I felt akin to drowning in the ocean, and Mr. R. was in a lifeboat peering over the edge and asking, “Doing all right?”
And I answered, “Swimmingly! No problems!”

My thumbs up would be the last anyone ever saw of me.

But somehow I got through it with the belligerent and mean and vulgar students, and the depressive boys, and the moody girls, and the ones who just wanted to hang out and talk, and the boys who showed me pictures of their trucks and lobster boats and the gadgets they were buying for the upcoming season, and the girls who told me about their horses and kittens and farms and lambs, and the kids who wrote about families breaking up, and drugs ruining lives, and alcohol wrecking another day, and all I could think was, “Oh, MY kids. Oh, my heart.”

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Kids, be nice! How many times I have said, “Be nice”? (And Marilyn, you ARE amazing. Can I erase this now?)

They don’t know that I prayed for them, daily. Always as a group, but frequently by name. I’d ask God how to help this boy, or that girl, or that parent. Sometimes I had such a long list to go through at night that I’d fall asleep before I finished, and would wake up thinking, “Who’d I stop on? Whoever I didn’t get to, can You help me say the right thing to them?”

One of my classes is taking a final right now, some staring glumly at the page, others writing frantically, and here I sit typing this up and trying not to get misty-eyed as I realize that after this they won’t be MY kids anymore.

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(Mr. R,just ignore that a certain student is wearing his baseball hat in class–again.)

They’ll be someone else’s kids in 11th grade. (Because they darn well better not fail so we’re stuck with each other again next year.) Some may still come by my room to give me updates about their lives, and maybe some will return for AP Lit (I’ve been hired to teach next year, so I guess I found my career after all). A couple even call me Mama Mercer, so task #1 is complete.

My kids will move on.

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Guys, you’re supposed to be WRITING about the pond, not going INTO it. Guys?

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Please nobody ask about the frogs. Just don’t.

Surely next year’s sophomores could never become MY kids. I mean, how many kids can I have? (Don’t answer that, because already I’m planning how to do things better for MY new kids next year.)

And yes, I’ll miss MY kids, because I had no idea how badly I wanted to be their teacher. God knew, and He’s probably smiling smugly down on me because, once again, He knows me better than I know myself. He shoved me clear across the country to fulfill a dream I forgot I had: to teach high school English. Now I just need to get a whole lot better at it.

I doubt I’ll dance out of here tomorrow once my grades are submitted. I’ll walk through silent hallways and empty parking lots, hoping I didn’t fail my kids too badly or too often, and probably quietly crying as I did last June, but for entirely different reasons.

Because, dang it, I am going to miss those goobers.

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You have AN awesome summer, too! (See? I failed to teach her “AN awesome”. Crud.)

SNEAK PEEK into Book 8:

Lemuel concluded that falling asleep was impossible. His mind was haunted with visions of Perrin Shin in a general’s uniform. He stood with his arms folded and that one menacing eyebrow, arched.

Behind him stood her, with her head tilted in that annoying and admonishing manner all teachers possessed that indicated, Now you’ve gone and done it.

~Book 8, The Last Day, coming Summer 2018

 

Book 8 IS COMING THIS SUMMER! (I promise, really–just hang in there, friends)

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Sorry I can’t be more specific with the date. I need to finish this year of teaching in June.
Then prep for and teach three weeks of summer school.
Then move into our fourth house in just one year (a personal best [worst] for number of moves for us).
Then finish editing Book 8 (all of my beta readers have now sent me their suggestions).
THEN publish and get this into your hands before school starts again in September. (Writing is a hobby, as you might have figured out, and not my full-time job. I squeeze it in when I have spare moments.)

I hope you’ll feel this last installment was worth the wait.

(If not, remember that you probably picked it up for free, so I’ll give you your money back.)

They can keep changing the rules, but we don’t have to be obedient. (Plus 3 sneak peeks into Book 8)

My 6-year-old tried to play chess with me at their school’s STEM night last week. I didn’t realize he knew the rules, and it turns out he doesn’t, because he produced a secret weapon: a 6-legged spider he’d made out of clay in his class earlier.

“This is spider-guy,” he announced. “And he can eat all of your little white guys there.”

Before I knew it, the clay creature had wiped a handful of my “white guys” off the board.20180501_182939.
So that’s how this was going to be played.

“Fine,” I said, and looked around for my secret weapon. “This is Stapler Man, and he can chomp your spider-guy.”

“Good job, Mom!” he cheered as I nudged his spider off the board, but then he plunked spider-guy back into play. “But my guy has 175 lives.”

“I see,” I said, and if he was going to change all the rules every minute, like a game of Calvin Ball in Calvin and Hobbes, so could I. “Stapler Man has 180 lives, and he’s coming after your king.”

My son sighed and said, “You can’t change the rules like that, Mom.”

“But you just did.”

He hesitated, seeing that if he turned things unfairly to his advantage, I might too. (Yeah, I’m that kind of mom.) “Let’s go see the salmon babies,” he said, and the game was over as we headed to the fish tanks.

In my sophomore English classes we’re reading All But My Life, about a 15-year-old Jewish girl who is forced into the Nazi labor camps and is one of the few who survives. Last week we read about the ever-changing rules in regards to Jews; they can’t own phones, or cars, or bikes, or even fountain pens. They have to turn over the gold, their goods, their houses. Signs go up: “Gardens only for Germans,” and “No dogs or Jews allowed.”

The rules change daily, to the advantage of the Nazis, but the Jews aren’t able to play that game back at them or they’re shot.

My students, while fascinated by the story, have asked why this “history” book is in our English curriculum. We talk about language—euphemisms, propaganda, etc.—but the class is also about thinking and analyzing.

So I’ll tell them, “This memoir isn’t only about history, but about language, about control, about the direction we’re going right now. How are you going to survive in a country where the rules are changing daily?”

We all see this—it’s no secret: the elite, in various organizations, are manipulating situations to fit what they want to have happen. It’s not about the good of the country, but the selfishness of a handful. The rest of us struggle to know if we can shift those rules again, or somehow subvert them.

In the book we’re reading, Gerda Weissmann begins to learn English on the sly, and even though she’s denied an education, her father teachers her out of the textbooks they still own in the privacy of their house. (Proving that homeschooling is for subversives.)

My parents grew up in Nazi Germany. Their families–not Jews and certainly not Nazis—realized early on Hitler was going to be disastrous for Germany. Quietly, privately, they tried to subvert the changing rules the elite imposed upon them. They had more chickens than allotted and hid them when the inspectors came; they had doctors write notes excusing their children from attending Hitler Youth; they traded cigarette and coffee rations (Mormons don’t use those) on the black market for more flour and sugar; and my great-grandfather blackmailed a Nazi recruiter who tried to secure his money for their cause. The Nazis never bothered him again.

In the Book of Mormon is a story about a group of followers of God who are oppressed by their government (Mosiah 24). They’re told they can’t pray or they’ll be executed. The people simply didn’t pray out loud, but in secret, knowing that God would still hear them. Quiet subversiveness when the rules are purposely stacked against them.

It seems almost daily that the rules are changing, that more and more laws are purposely designed to hold down one group while elevating another.

Unfair? Absolutely.

But the question is, how do we respond—individually and collectively—to the oppressive elite?

Maybe a situation is benign enough that we can pull out our own “stapler guy” and change the rules once again for more even odds.

Or maybe a problem is so grave that our defiance equates our death—politically, mentally, spiritually, or literally. That’s a much more difficult situation to manage.

But there seem to be many opportunities for outward obedience yet inward rebellion.
However, there should never, ever be quiet acceptance.

Because if we don’t even try to fight, then we’ve already given up and they win.

(Because I’m so eager to get you Book 8 “The Last Day” this summer, I’m giving you THREE sneak peeks!)

#1 Sneak Peek

“Oh yes, General.” Young Pere squinted with disdain. “That makes me want to call you ‘father.’ Hit me all you want, Thorne, but you can never change who I am or what you are. So choose the slagging canyon yourself.”

From the corner of his eye, Young Pere could see Hili beaming. But Thorne stood shocked, not used to such flagrant insubordination, and evidently didn’t know how to proceed.

Finally Thorne whispered, in as sinister a voice as he could muster, “I have one more thing to do with you, Shin. Then I will kill you myself. Nothing will give me greater pleasure. Your days are numbered, make no mistake about that!”

Young Pere nodded once, not at all intimidated. Thorne was full of unmet promises; just ask anyone he’d told he’d give a medal. He still owed Young Pere a few.

#2 Sneak Peek

Shin frowned at Sergeant Beaved. “So I’m supposed to go along with all of this?” 

“If you want to live, yes!”

“Is that what all of you do?” Shin exclaimed. “Just go along with whatever unbelievable and unlikely story preserves you for another day?”

“Yes,” Beaved said shortly. “Why not?”

“Living in lies? That doesn’t bother you?”

Beaved leaned in. “What bothers me is the idea of dying, Shin.”

“Doesn’t bother me,” he said, almost believably.

“Look, Shin, just . . .” Beaved groaned quietly. “I don’t know what the truth is myself, but I do know this: you have a chance to survive this. A small chance, getting smaller each time you open that big mouth of yours. But if I were you I’d cling to that chance, do whatever it takes to preserve your life. You can fix the lies later, if necessary, but you can’t if you’re dead.”

#3 Sneak Peek

“I’m as helpful as I know to be, Teach,” Shin said down to the man following him on the slope of the mountain.

“But one could be more helpful, Shin. Considering that Thorne has repeatedly threatened one of your security detail if you fail.”

Below him, Cloud Man bounced his head, oblivious that Thorne had threatened to bounce the vial head down the mountain if the private wouldn’t be more cooperative.

“Interesting,” Shin said as he searched for better footing. “Thorne’s so ‘noble’ as to force us to seek out Salem, and he’s so ‘noble’ that he’s also threatening one of his own soldier’s lives to do so. Perhaps I’m not that familiar with the definition of nobility. Enlighten me, Teach.”

He heard Teach moan below him again, maybe because of the question or because he was smacked by another tree branch. Hopefully both.

“Nobility. Doing that which the circumstances demand.”

“That’s it?”

“Language usage wasn’t my specialty in the university,” Teach admitted.

“What was your specialty?”

“I specialized in it all.”

Shin stifled a snort. “But not language usage?”

“Why bother? Everyone knows how to talk, don’t they?”

Shin reached for another scrubby brush. “So who decides ‘what circumstances demand’? When someone is acting in everyone’s best interests and not just out of his own selfishness?”

“Are you suggesting General Thorne is selfish?” Teach asked.

“Yes.”

The scoff behind him made Shin glance down.

Teach was aghast. “You actually admit that?”

“I said only what you’re thinking, Teach. What everyone on this hill is thinking but is too afraid to say.”

A surprising perspective of Godliness I’ve learned from teaching high school (yes, He’s still there)

They come into my room with complaints, always. It’s the nature of teenagers, and because I sit behind the desk I hear it all.

Usually they march right up to me and express how annoying, or rude, or fake, or awful someone is. It’s more important than lunch, more important than study hall, more important than catching the bus after school that I know just how wronged they were.

Sometimes they sit at a desk and vent to another student about so-and-so’s inhumanity, and because teenagers are notoriously loud, I hear all of that too.

Later, more come in and I hear the other sides of the stories—because these students are friends of the horribly offensive one or might even be the offender themselves.

And then I put together the picture based on the selected pieces dropped in front of me, and a new image emerges.

I understand many new angles, a variety of aspects.

Who’s at fault?
Well, all of them.

Who deserves retribution?
None of them.

Who deserves mercy and another chance?
Each and every last one of them.

Sometimes the students demand that I take a side, that I assure them that their anger is justified. I can’t do that, because I’ve seen the backside and know that there is plenty of blame to go around. I’ve never seen anyone wholly innocent.

I think deep down all of them see that too.

Instead, I commiserate with them, tell them I’m sorry they’re dealing with this, then . . . I leave it.

Because I realize they’re not as far apart from their enemy as they think they are. Actually, they’re so close they’re nearly side-by-side, except for this sliver of animosity wedged between them. I’m not going to try to remove that wedge because I see how close they are to resolving it themselves, and the knowledge and growth they get as they do so will be the best learning they’ll have in school.

So I watch, and on a rare occasion call an authority because a law’s being broken, but for 99% of the time I pray silently these silly teenagers get over themselves and move on.

And so far, they have been. Grudges melt away. Enemies share a pencil. Students put on suspension come back with sly smiles and ask, “I’m still your favorite student, right?” (I hesitate to answer that one, every time.)

And this, I’ve discovered, is a tiny glimpse of how God works. We wander into His heavenly room full of complaining prayers, demanding He wreak vengeance for us, tell Him how unfair and unjust life is. He smiles consolingly, wraps His comfort around us, then because He sees just how close we are to solving the problem ourselves, He steps back and lets us flail and muck about, giving us words of encouragement, but not interfering 99% of the time. He knows we’ve got this, if we’ll just calm down enough to hear His words.

Image result for god at his computer

If we accept His perspective and insights, our hearts soften, our anger dissolves, and we leave with our enemies not so enemy-ish (and grateful that God didn’t smite them with a falling piano as we earlier requested).

Then He smiles and hopes that next time we’ll remember to first show a little more mercy, a little more patience, a little more love, a little more Godliness.

“He was very easy to talk to,” Versa said. “He listened to my long descriptions without any expression of surprise or dismay, as if he’d heard it all before. No judgments, no criticisms, just patient listening. Much like I imagine the Creator would listen.”

~Book 8, coming Summer 2018

weekly meme Creater easy to talk to

Book 8 teaser: Your heritage doesn’t determine your legacy, and that’s a good thing.

As a 10th grade English teacher, I learn a lot about students from their writing. I read about divorces, neglect, drug use, alcohol problems, and misery.

And I hold all of their words sacred. They’ve trusted me with them, and they could write about something easier, but they share what eats at them. They have to, before it consumes them.

My students likely don’t realize how much they’re revealing, but maybe they do. Maybe they hope someone’s paying attention when they write, “But that’s not who I want to be. I plan to be different.”

And I write back to them. “I know you’ll be different. You’re amazing already.”

They apologize for turning in work late—someone was kicked out of the house in the middle of the night, someone was taken away by the police, someone was using again, someone didn’t pay the electricity bill, an elderly guardian was afraid of the snow and didn’t want to send the child out into more danger—

I smile and say, “Whenever you can get it to me.”

“I will,” they say with determination. And they do. And it’s good.

My heart seizes nearly every day. Yesterday a student, with tears in her eyes, said, “Today’s my last day. My dad got custody again and I’m moving to his town this weekend.” Her best friend sat in the corner, weeping.

I realize I have no real problems—none at all. The ones I have are merely stubbed toes compared to the severed arteries these students walk around with, smiling bravely and vowing to be better to the world than it’s been to them.

I wish them luck. I pray silently for them, asking for inspiration as to how I can help. All I get back is, “Show them love. They need someone to love them.”

I know some people who take great pride in their heritage, brag about their legacy and ancestors, sit arrogantly on the shoulders of giants as if they climbed there all by themselves.

Then there are others who have crawled out of pits their families have dug, and they wipe themselves off and declare, “My children will never know of this place.”

I stand in awe of the second group.

Since I’ve moved to Maine last year and was asked to be a permanent substitute teacher (I love that oxymoron), I’ve taught my students probably a dozen things. In return they’ve taught me thousands.

I have a lot of catching up to do.

“I’ll remind her every day that her heritage doesn’t determine her actions. She’ll be the best beginning of a new legacy.”

~Book 8, The Last Day, coming Summer 2018

best beginning BOOK 8 teaser