How an invasion of ladybugs brought down this pacifist and is making her rethink her stance on guns.

See this photo of our latest snowstorm?

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Look closer—see all the spots on the image when I turn on my camera’s flash?

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Ladybugs.

No, no, no—don’t start saying, “Oh, how sweet!” because they aren’t. Not one bit.

They are everywhere. Hundreds, every single day, springing up in the oddest of places. Usually I find them my bedroom and in kitchen–literally IN the butter dish and in the refrigerator (under the veggie drawer, trying to get to my lime).

 

They don’t respect anything or care where they die. My curtains seem to be their favorite death spot. And our cat is useless against them.

 

Did you know that when you step on them with bare feet, they have the softest crunch? Not as bad as cockroaches, but still very unsettling when, in the middle of the night, you pad clumsily to the bathroom and feel tiny “crunch . . . crunch . . . crunch” under your feet.

This has been problematic for me because I’ve gone on the offensive, vacuuming up these creatures every day—hundreds a day–and every morning the window looks again like this:

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I like to believe I’m a pacifist. I don’t destroy spiders, but back away respectfully and let them have the room until they feel like leaving. I’ve caught mice in past houses and released them into the wild. I have a “live-and-let-live” philosophy: everything deserves life, as much as I do.

Except for hornets. Just the other day I followed a disoriented one who must have come out of hibernation early in my classroom. It landed on the floor and I whacked it repeatedly with a binder, to the cheers of my students. Hornets serve no purpose except to sting me and make my hands swell up.

And ants. They can do anything they want outside, but if they invade the house, they’ll meet my can of Raid and my cries of “DIE! DIE!”

Ok, so I’m a pretty bad pacifist, with a “live-but-not-in-my-house” philosophy.

Funny how circumstances can make you rethink your philosophies, how something hitting close to home—or invading your home—can shift everything.

For example, I hate guns. Always have. I recoil when I see one nearby, and the desire to run for cover overwhelms me.

Until recently, when I realized that as a “permanent substitute teacher” I have a responsibility beyond myself.

Our school has recently been discussing ways to improve safety. New measures began this week, and as I explained them to my students, we naturally joked about how to deal with real threats. (These are teenagers—the only way to deal with heavy issues is to make them lighter.) We talked about the door, and how I might be rearranging the classroom to put me nearest the door, in to open it first whenever someone knocks.

A student said, “So that means you get to die first? Mrs. Mercer, how’s THAT supposed to help us?”

Before I could answer with, “Gee, I really don’t know. I hadn’t considered that,” another student suggested, “Seeing her get shot gives us half a second to realize what’s happening so we can hide under our non-bulletproof desks.”

“But if Mrs. Mercer had a gun,” someone said, “she could take out the shooter and save us all!”

Shockingly, I found myself smiling at that.

Wait, what?!

No. No, no, no I hate guns. I don’t even like their shapes. But suddenly, looking at all of my students who daily test and try me, but who I love far more than I ever thought I would, I wavered.

Would I try to take out their shooter? I like to think I’d rush him, like a manic mama bear, screaming and flailing and maybe doing some good before I was cut down.

But if a gun appeared in my hands at that moment—and I knew what to do with it—would I use it in a situation where I thought my students were in danger?

Shockingly, I just might.

Oh, I know all of the arguments against guns—I’ve written them all in my head. Every time I read about an accidental shooting, or another child finding a loaded gun, or someone else being careless and causing injury or death, I point it out to my husband and say, “Again, THIS is why I insist you keep the ammo and guns separate.” He does. It took him years to convince me to let him have any weapons at all.

I’ve always maintained that I would rather lay down and die in front of a gunman, instead of risking taking someone else’s life. Especially if there was the possibility of my misreading the situation and using a weapon on an innocent bystander. Judging a life-or-death situation accurately in a moment’s notice is difficult for highly trained soldiers and police. They sometimes get it wrong, despite all their experience.

But someone like me? Untrained and emotional and terrified? I wouldn’t trust myself to make the right decision. That’s why I’d prefer to lay down and let happen whatever would happen. God will sort it all in the end.

But as a teacher—even a mere permanent substitute—it’s not just my life in that classroom. I’m a pseudo parent for every child in that room, and I have to consider, “What would each of those parents expect me to do for their child?” I still hate guns. I never want to hold one, but . . .

I’m wrestling with that idea as I vacuum up yet another batch of invading ladybugs.

Only a year ago, I would have carefully rescued the stray ladybug I found in the house and escorted it outside, not unceremoniously suck them up and throw them into 22 inches of new snow.

Circumstances have changed, and I’m changing too.

And I’m still debating if that’s a good thing or not.

Mrs. Yordin chased after Mahrree. “Don’t you dare interfere with my soldiers!”

Mahrree stopped. “Your soldiers? Eltana, no one in Salem owns anything, especially soldiers! But this is what it’s about for you, isn’t it? Revenge for Gari? You don’t care one bit for these people. You never really tried to live the Salem way. You harbored resentment and anger all this time, and now you’re using these gullible people to try to, what, kill Lemuel Thorne? Is that your goal?”

“Yes!” Mrs. Yordin declared. “For me AND for all these people, and even for you, Mahrree! We kill Thorne, we change the world.”

“Change it to what? Not all change is for the best, Eltana, I promise you. The kind of place where bitter old women like you get their way and peace-loving people suddenly want to know how to bleed a man to death is not a place I’d want to live in!”

Mrs. Yordin folded her arms. “You were always so self-righteous,” she announced smugly. “Always had to tell everyone else what they were doing wrong and why nothing was ever right. No wonder the world forced you from it. They were sick of listening to you. Everyone in Edge was. And now you’re breathing your sanctimonious ranting here.”

“Yes, I am.”

~Book 8, The Last Day, coming Summer 2018

Book 7 Teaser: The best beginning, the ones who change the future

There’s the notion of the family-changers, the cycle-breakers, the ones who look at a long line of behavior and/or abuses and decide, “This is not a legacy I will continue. My children’s lives will be markedly different than mine.”

It’s the realization that just because you were treated one way doesn’t mean you have to perpetuate that behavior. It doesn’t matter what your parents, siblings, or grandparents do; you can choose something better. You don’t have to resort to the feeble excuse of, “Well, that’s how my father/mother/sibling treated me!”

You can be something much more.

You can change the future for those who follow. 

Those are the most awe-inspiring people I’ve ever met, those who won’t allow the filth to continue one generation further.

And those are also some of the happiest people I’ve ever met.

“Versa,” Peto said, “you are like a filter. All the filth the Thornes possessed, you’ve cleaned from the water. Their influences can go no further than you. Your mother says you’re like the general, but you’re nothing like him. You’re strong and solid in ways he’ll never be but wishes he were. The destruction of the Thorne line ends with you and your sister Delia. Your mother ended the muck of the Snyd line herself. Your descendants will look to you as the best beginning, as the women who changed their futures.”

Versa scoffed. “Rector Shin, you Salemites are far too optimistic.”

“I grew up in the world, Versa,” he reminded her. “I still possess a great deal of its cynicism, but not about you. You belong in Salem.”

~Book 7, The Soldier in the Middle of the World, coming October 2017 (Or at least I’m doing the best I can to get it ready. Suddenly teaching school full-time and coming up with lessons nightly has taken all but a few minutes of every day. But this book is rumbling in the background, and I’m working on formatting it in random moments here and there as quickly as possible, because Book 7 is impatient, clawing to break free, and it’s beginning to hurt.)

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Why there will be different answers to these questions, and why that’s ok

Each of my writing classes was subjected to the following experiment.

I’d divide the students into three groups, have all of them close their eyes, then, one group at a time, they’d open their eyes to read three words on the board.

The first group would read this:

chalkboard-fruit

After they closed their eyes, I’d erase those words and write the next three for the second group:

chalkboard-string

After they closed their eyes, the third group would open theirs to find I’d written this:

chalkboard-pain

I’d erase those words, then write the following:

chalkboard-r-pe

Once the all the students opened their eyes again, I’d ask them, group by group, what the missing letter should be to complete the word.

The first group would quickly supply, “It’s an i. The word should be ripe.”

This is when the third group would begin to squirm, feeling like they’ve missed something.

The second group would frown a little, but they weren’t too concerned as they said, “No, the letter should be o. The word is rope.

While the RIPE group would be a little surprised, their response was nothing compared to the discomfort of the third group.

Apologetically, I’d turn to them next. Always there was hesitation, until someone would offer, “The word should be rape.”

The first two groups would stare at them in shock.

“Sorry,” I’d say to the third group, “but you proved this point: all of us see the world in different ways, based upon what you’ve been exposed to. As writers—as people—we frequently don’t understand why one seemingly obvious situation presents itself in a completely different way to others. We assume our interpretation is always the clearest, but depending upon our experiences, there may be many different ‘correct’ interpretations. And, as you can also see, our responses to a benign situation are deeply affected by what’s going on in our heads.”

If my students remembered nothing else from my classes, I’m fairly certain they remembered this example.

And it’s probably the most important lesson.

What we’re exposed to creates our interpretation of the world.

How we’ve been raised, what we watch, what we fantasize about, what we believe all taints—for good, or for bad, or for indifferent—how we interpret the world around us.

Repeatedly our society screams about what’s right and wrong, just and unfair, malignant and benign.

And here’s the crazy part: everyone is right . . . in their own minds. According to their experiences, they are interpreting the world as they think it really is.

Paul discovered 2,000 years ago, that “For now we see through a glass, darkly.” Not only are our perceptions warped by glass, but it’s tinted so that what we see isn’t even cast in the correct light.

I’ve never met anyone who actively promotes ideas or beliefs that they felt are inherently wrong.

Everyone thinks they’re seeing things as they really are, pushing for what they believe is the best thing.

Everyone.

There’s no solution to this. And there doesn’t have to be. There’s no correcting those who see “rope” when you know it should be “ripe.” There’s no changing someone’s mind by telling (or shouting at) them they’re wrong. That’s never worked.

Never.

There is, however, recognizing that everyone interprets the same situation differently.

Each one of my classes did the same thing at the end of this experiment: they turned to their peers in the other groups and asked, “Why did you see that word as rope when I thought it should be rape?” In less than a minute, everyone’s answers made sense.

No one argued that someone offered the wrong solution. Everyone agreed that, based upon their exposure before, each person’s response was correct.

If you don’t understand why someone thinks the way they do, try asking. I don’t believe you have a right to argue against someone’s point of view until you fully understand it. (And when you do, you may not want to argue at all.)

Two things I’ve taken away from this experiment:

  1. People don’t HAVE to agree. I’d split up friends for the groups, and they’d be surprised to hear each other’s differing responses, but they’d still remain friends. They didn’t argue, or belittle, or shun, or mock, or condemn. They’d take a few minutes to understand each other, then they’d just let the differences be.
  2. People can choose to change their minds. The attitudes which most impressed me were those of students who said, “I don’t like the way I was thinking about those letters. I now want to see the word as RIPE instead of RAPE.” And they would. No one forced them to change their minds, but they listened, open-minded and open-hearted, to why others interpreted the letters differently, and they chose themselves to accept that new way of thinking.

So can we all.

       Perrin turned to his wife. “That’s why I married you, isn’t it? You always see the sides I can’t.”
       Mahrree reached across the table to squeeze his hand. “And you always see the sides I don’t notice. Works pretty well that way, doesn’t it?
~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti

The parable of the protesting preschooler (or, when God drags us kicking and screaming)

He was sleeping happily on the couch when we hoisting him upright and informed him, “It’s time to go. Get up!”

If you’ve never roused a four-year-old from a late-afternoon nap, you have no idea of the battle which ensues.

He did not want to go, and he demonstrated that by shouting and flailing. Hiding under his blanket didn’t help (he was amazed that we could find him so easily), and when he started kicking, I decided he didn’t need to wear shoes anyway.

“I don’t want to go!” he wailed, but his 16-year-old brother took that as a challenge and flung him over his shoulder like a sack of flour.

Pummeling his big brother’s back, my littlest boy bellowed all the way to the van where he was dropped, shoved into his seat, and belted in before he could escape.

The shouting and protesting continued as we drove for twenty minutes to our destination, all of us trying to ignore his yelling as well as someone can ignore a horde of stinging wasps.

His shouts continued as we piled out of the van, and we received many looks of curiosity and amusement—and probably some disapproval—as we hauled out our protesting son and got in line behind the two hundred or so already ahead of us.

“I . . . do . . . not . . . want . . . to . . . do . . . this!” He was nearly dry-heaving now, and I ignored everyone’s stares around us as I held my objecting preschooler.

Not soon enough, the gates opened, the crowd before us piled in, and we followed, with angry boy still held tightly in my arms.

He quieted as he saw the scene before him, remembering that we did this last year, remembering that it wasn’t as awful as he thought.

He saw the piles of free pizzas—his favorite.

He saw the swimming pools—reserved for all of us who participated in the summer reading program set up by our local library.

He saw the water slides—and I could feel his rigid body go soft.

He wanted this.

But he wasn’t about to show that. Not yet. After all of his protestations, his pride couldn’t let him surrender so quickly.

So we sat down at a picnic table as the other kids and parents rushed into the water. He watched with both longing and resentment in his eyes.

My husband leaned over to me and whispered, “Go wade in the kiddie pool. I bet he’ll follow.”

So I announced my intentions to our son, then strode over to the pool. My feet had barely touched the water when he was by my side, dancing in excitement.

“So you want to go in?” I queried.

“YES!” he cried. Forgotten was his early protests, maybe forgotten was his twenty-minute temper tantrum, certainly forgotten was his pride as he began to strip, right there, to get out of his pants and underwear.

Discreetly I brought him back to our table where we covered him with a towel and put on his swimsuit. Then he ran—even though we shouted to only walk—back to the kiddie pool.

No amount of water could have wiped the smile off his face as he played and splashed and pretended to swim. We went down the big water slides together, and with joy he climbed out of the landing pool and raced back to the pool—the deep one, though—and jumped right in.

Dad followed, because our four-year-old can’t swim, and even though he bobbed under the water a couple of times until Dad could rescue him, he was still smiling as he coughed and spluttered to clear his lungs.

Pizza was eaten, the boy was nearly drowned a few more times, and a good time was had by all.

At the end of the evening when the sun went down and the winds came up, he was eager to be wrapped up in a towel and brought back home to a warm bath.

“So,” I started casually as I washed the chlorine off of him that night, “are you glad you went to the pool with us?”

He grinned.

“Even though you were screaming and crying that you didn’t want to?”

He laughed. Oh, that was so three hours ago!

I was about to be smug that I was right all along—he would enjoy it—until I felt God tapping me on the shoulder, as He occasionally does, to point out something He knows I’ll bite my tongue about later.

How many times has God placed before me a situation that I didn’t want because it would yank me out of my warm, soft spot?

How often has He dragged me away, kicking and screaming, to a new adventure?

How often has He patiently ignored my protests, even when I was utterly ridiculous in my complaints?

How often did He sit next to me, long-suffering, as I surveyed the scene before me, knowing that I’d want it, but that my pride wouldn’t yet let me admit it?

How often has He gently led me to the water, waiting for me to finally give up and jump in with both feet?

How often has He chuckled as I bounded and cheered and flopped and laughed with joy at my new situation that I was so sure I did not want?

And, perhaps most importantly, how long until I quit instantly whining to God whenever He thrusts me into a new situation that I will eventually love?

I’m afraid my pride won’t allow me to answer that just yet.

“There’s another plan for you, my boy. You’ve changed your path before, now do it again.” 

~Book 3, The Mansions of Idumea

Four reasons why change is the best, crappiest thing that can happen to you.

I hate and love change.

Sometimes change is most welcome: when you finally get a new job; when you finally move into that better place, and when that baby finally decides to be born. There are times when change is desired, sought after, even prayed and begged for.
The change that cancer is in remission.
The change that you are no longer in debt.
The change that you get to throw away your “fat” clothes.

But change is also a nasty beast. When life is floating merrily along, change is the white water rapids which you didn’t expect to throw everyone out of the boat.
Chronic illness.
Loss of job and/or house.
Death.

It’s when God whispers, “Plot Twist” in your ear, and you know nothing will ever, ever be quite the same again. And often, it’s a huge battle in our minds to decide if this latest plot twist is a good one or not.

But change has to happen, for these terrible, marvelous reasons:

1. It’d be horrible for things to stay the same. Don’t believe me? Think about this: What if your baby really did stay little forever? Never learning to speak, or walk, or play? After a while, you’d grow annoyed, even dissatisfied with this creature who does nothing but leaches off of you, year after year, whining and crying and demanding you carry it around. While it’s sad to see our little one outgrow those newborn clothes, it’s also thrilling to hear their first laughs, see them figure out how to toddle, and watch their personalities grow.

We don’t really want things to stay the same. We’re excited when that baby is old enough to catch a ball, when we can take him camping, or to the movies. While one stage quietly fades away, a new, even better stage takes its place. Progress is exciting.

2. We’re not mean to be stable. It’s the one thing in life most of us crave—stability. Maybe we crave it because it’s so elusive. I cringe whenever I read articles about money management and budgeting, because our income is rarely the same each month. And our family life is always changing; kids never have the same schedules year to year, and someone is always doing something new, somewhere else, with someone else. They go to different schools, go to college or the army, and find significant others, once again changing the dynamics of our family.

And thank goodness. Because, honestly, I find I get bored with predictability. While we crave stability, I think a lot of us also crave adventure. That’s why we go on vacations, take up new hobbies, write books, take classes, take on new challenges. We need to be shaken up every now and then. Snow globes aren’t interesting until after they’ve been tumbled around.

life as a snow globe

3. What would we miss if we didn’t change? Years ago we built our dream house, with a huge yard, and plans that we’d stay there forever. It’d be where our grandkids came to visit us.

Four short years later, we lost that home and had to move two thousand miles away. I was bitter that we lost our dream.

After two more moves, we settled in rural Virginia, and our kids had adventures we never could have had otherwise. We traveled and learned and had a great time.

Not long ago we had the opportunity to drive by our old “dream house.” I was startled to hear myself say out loud, “I’m so glad we didn’t stay here.”

Because staying would have been terrible . . . for me. I realized then, as I looked at our old house, who I would have been had we never left. I would have been narrow-minded, fearful, and quite prideful, I’m ashamed to admit, had I stayed in my small town, with my small ideas, and with my small ambitions. I needed to change, in order to help my nine children who have so many different challenges. Our change changed everything, and I liked who I had become because I was forced to change.

4. The only way to grow is through change. And I’m not just talking about our children. I’m talking about us—adults. We’re not done improving simply because we hit a certain age, although some may think we are.

I once met a woman who lived in the same house she was born in. She never traveled out of her little town, except occasionally down to the “big city” ninety miles away, which she found a terrifying place. She married and raised her family and lived to be quite aged, all staying in the same neighborhood, and only occasionally crossing the state line to visit a grandson in another rural community.

At first, I envied her. She had a place that was home. At the time, we were moving around a lot, and all I wanted was a place to consider a permanent home.

But I was struck by a strange sense of stagnancy. Of dullness. Of fear. Of entrapment as I chatted with her. She’d never seen the ocean. The “distant” states of Colorado and California were evil and horrible places. When she heard of all the states we’d lived in, she literally pulled back, almost as if she feared I was contagious. She promptly turned to the person next to her—a long-time neighbor—and started up a new, safer, more predictable conversation.

I didn’t feel as nearly as contaminated as my acquaintance thought I was. Moving to new states, starting new jobs, beginning new projects are—initially—terrifying, but eventually invigorating. I think about how much I’ve changed over the years, and I like what I’ve picked up along the way.

This poor, dear woman, however, never felt she could leave. Her great-grandparents settled the area as pioneers, and she felt duty-bound to stay where they had landed.

I always wondered if it ever occurred to her that her ancestors once started somewhere else, and made a lot of changes in their lives to get where they finally ended? That perhaps they appreciated the changes they experienced, and maybe were sad that she never encountered any?

The purpose of life is growth through change, and that thought is simultaneously terrifying and thrilling.

Last month I was harvesting berries in our yard which, after eight years of work, is nearly exactly the way we want it. Our neighborhood is wonderful, the valley picturesque. We’re conveniently situated to all our children and the colleges they want to attend, and we love where we live . . .
Then God whispered into my ear those two words which terrify and thrill me: PLOT TWIST.

“No!” I nearly cried out. We’ve finally got some stability! Predictability! . . . Wait.

Have I become complacent? Narrow-minded? Or, even worse, stagnant?

Within a handful of short days, my husband was recruited, interviewed, and invited to take his dream job . . . thousands of miles away.

Change, coming again. I handled it in the most mature manner possible: I wept every day for three weeks.

Then God started trickling into my mind the reminders I listed above, knowing that while I’d “kick against the pricks” for a while, eventually I’d become intrigued. He patiently ignored my protestations, just like I do when I pat my children on the head as they whine about something they don’t want to do, but later will realize they really wanted all the time.

God’s smirking at me right now—yes, He does smirk. Because He also knows just how much I love a good plot twist.

But usually not while I’m in the very long middle of it, where I can’t see the outcome. While we’re trying to figure out if this change is temporary or permanent, who will join Dad and when, do we rent our old house, keep it, or sell it, then what will we move into, once we finally join Dad in several months . . .

Change.
I hate it.
I love it.
Right now, however, I just hate it. Mostly. (I have to confess, the coast of Maine is intriguing . . .)

Stay tuned. Plots change every day.

Crud and hallelujah.

Eventually Mahrree whispered, “I never wanted to leave this house . . . Every good memory is in this house.”

The woman answered just as softly. “And you take every good memory with you. Your life isn’t the house. Your life is your family. Things don’t matter. People do.”
Book 4, The Falcon in the Barn

(And thanks to eBookDaily, who today just featured me! Ebookdaily125)