If I’m doing the wrong thing, TELL ME!

English was my mother’s second language, and she had a good command of it except for one word: she pronounced “crazy” as if it began with a g—“grazy.”

As a teenager, that drove me grazy-crazy, and finally one day I told her that.

“What?!” she exclaimed. “I’ve been saying it wrong all these years, and NO ONE TOLD ME?”

“I didn’t want to hurt your feelings,” I said meekly.

“But I sounded like a fool in the meantime and looked like an idiot. You should have told me sooner!”

I’ve thought of her anger and humiliation (she was studying Shakespeare at the time, just for fun, and usually beat me in Scrabble) and realized that I didn’t do her any favors by not correcting her errors.

I’ve seen a spate of postings and blogs lately about “loving” people and not correcting them when they stumble, because that’s “judging.”

Love=good.

Judging=bad.

But what about correction?

When a child writes the letters in their name backwards, or a teen driver crosses the double yellow line, or they punch in 10 minutes instead of 1 minute on the microwave, we CORRECT them: show them the mistake and help them fix it. That’s not judging or condemnation or shaming. That’s HELPING them get things right.

If ever I’m on the wrong track with something—an idea, a philosophy, a belief—please, TELL ME!

Don’t let me wander off some literal or proverbial cliff because you’re worried about “offending me.” Maybe you’re wrong, maybe I’m wrong, but let’s get it figured out.

People are quick to pull out the “God loves me anyway” argument, in all its various forms, but conveniently forget this in Proverbs 3:

11 My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction:

12 For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.

Love=correction.

Here’s love in action:

Young Pere said to his grandmother, “How about, you love me enough to let me go?”

Mahrree stared at him before saying, slowly, “If I love you enough, I will allow you to do something that I believe is potentially damaging to your soul?”

“Yes.”

“Young Pere, you were more logical when you were eight! What kind of nonsense is that? If you love me enough. I love you enough! I love you so much that I’ll refuse to let you do such a thing without a better reason, even if you throw a fit and declare you’ll never speak to me again! That’s how much I love you, you ridiculous boy.” (Book 6, Flight of the Wounded Falcon)

Friends and family, love me enough to tell me when you think I’m making a mistake. Correct me, even if you think it may offend me.
How else will I know what the right thing is to do?

Because I want to avoid this:

Mahrree was worried about whose side she was really on. The only way someone could be “surprised” would be because they were sure they were on the Creator’s side, but weren’t.

What if they were already on the wrong side and didn’t recognize it?  (Book 2, Soldier at the Door)

By this same token, be warned that I will tell you if I think you’re doing the wrong thing.
You may become offended, that’s fine with me.
You may unfriend me. Again, that’s ok.
But I love you enough to tell you the hard truth, as I see it, to correct you if I worry you’re heading down the wrong lane.

I may be wrong (it’s happened quite frequently), but know that I will speak up because I don’t want you making bad choices, and I expect you to do the same for me.

I don’t want any of us to go grazy.

Book 6 teaser–What do you find entertaining?

Just as you can learn a lot about a person by what they laugh at, so too can you understand their character by what entertains them.

What one watches, reads, puts up on their walls, and pours into their minds will tell you a lot more about someone than what comes out of their mouth.

book 6 world's entertainment

(I can’t help myself–the first thing I do when I walk into someone’s house is evaluate the art on the walls and glance at the titles on the bookshelf, if there is one.)

Book 5 teaser–Refuse to see the shining light

High Polish Tatra mountains

They will also refuse to acknowledge the darkness, even as they crash around blindly. 

The ancient Israelite prophet Isaiah wrote:

Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20)

I can’t bear to list all the ways the world is spinning in the dark right now (Obama’s recent declaration that all restrooms and locker rooms–even and especially in public schools–be “gender neutral” has me too nauseated to write about it).

However, even though our governments and our so-called leaders may be waaaay off the mark on many issues, we as individuals don’t need to follow. We each have our ability to think, to ponder, to declare that we will continue to see the light, that we will recognize the darkness, and that we will not–no matter how many times everyone tells us otherwise–we will NOT see that the sky is merely blue.

Take a good, hard look at it. Today, the tiny section I see out my window is blue, but when I get up and view the entire sky, in the distance there are huge clouds, billowing and approaching.

See the entire sky, and the entire world, for what it really is. Identify the light. Recognize the darkness, and don’t let anyone with power, or money, or charisma convince you that you see otherwise.

Three years ago I wrote about the strange habit we have of thinking that “the sky is blue.”

It isn’t.

My first book, The Forest at the Edge of the World makes the argument that while everyone thinks the sky is blue, that’s only an illusion. It’s actually black. (So quit telling your kids it’s blue.)

We have to be brave enough to take a good, hard look at the world, and to make a judgment about what we see. Oh, how we’re so afraid to do that! We’re so afraid of offending the world that cares nothing for us. In the meantime, we offend our Heavenly Father, who truly loves us.

We need to not be afraid to declare, “No, this is wrong. I will not agree, I will not give in, and I will not refuse to see the light.”

I won’t guarantee there won’t be repercussions for going against the world. You will be knocked down, likely not by some high government official, but probably by your social media “friends.” I’ve taken to hiding in my closet on a regular basis when I, once again, write up something that, as the comments and railings pour in, I regret . . . but only for a moment. Every time I think, “Oh, why did I put that out there? Look at the conflict it’s generating! I hate that!”

I hate fighting. I hate arguing. I hate thinking that people don’t like me. (I’m such a 7th grader sometimes.)

But I hate more seeing the good in the world being labeled as evil, the bitter replacing the sweet, the darkness trying to smother the light.

Here’s the great thing about our world right now: all of us can find a forum where we can stand up and declare where the light really is, and what the dark’s trying to do. Most of us won’t shine too brightly. I know I’ve personally got the illuminating power of a penlight on aging batteries, but that’s ok. I borrow strength from the many brave bloggers and writers and religious leaders of many faiths who boldly shine their brighter lights on the darkness.

And here’s the awesome thing: light, shining together, gets brighter together.

And here’s the even more awesome thing: it takes only one light to dispel absolute darkness.

Not a midlife crisis–just black licorice on quinoa

No, I wasn’t having a midlife crisis.

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Someone in my church asked me to do this. Really. Ok, not dress exactly like this, but as something “unrecognizable.”

It’s a group activity called “Where’s Waldo,” and ten adults from our church group (called a ward) were asked to dress up and hang out in the local Walmart while groups of our youth, ages 12-18, with their leaders, found us. I was instructed to “really get into the part,” so I dressed up as best as I could, put on make-up I’d never used before, and since I don’t own jewelry, made up my own goth look with paperclips. (I’ve seen safety pins used in piercing, so I wasn’t that far off, right?)

Then I drove to Walmart, and as I pulled in to the parking lot, I laughed out loud. “Wait—I have to WALK into the store like this! Someone’s going to take my picture and put it up on that website that makes fun of Walmart shoppers.” At least no one would know who I was, because I kept my glasses off. (Worked for Clark Kent, too.)

But my 17-year-old daughter had said, while I was preparing for my big acting scene, “You have to change your walk, too. You have a ‘Trish Mercer’ walk that’s kind of distinctive.”

“It’s because my mom used to make me practice walking with books on my head when I was your age. Victorian England, but in 1980s Utah.”

So as I parked my minivan, I practiced my scowl. As I headed into the store I traipsed, slouched, then finally sauntered in, moving like a sophisticated zombie as I got into my part.

0209161829Grabbing a cart, I headed to the back of the store and loaded it up with Coca Cola Zero, because it was in dramatic black boxes, which matched my dramatic black clothing, and my son’s dramatic dark gray trench coat. I also picked up a tribute magazine to David Bowie, then ‘hung out’ in the bakery department to read it.

And waited.

An adult from my ward was to come by with slips of paper that I’d give to the teams of teens. The kids had to ask me, “Are you a Waldo?” then I’d give them a ticket as proof they’d found me. After they had ten tickets, they were to race back to the church (adult leaders were driving, thank goodness) to see who got their first.

But no one came by, and the stray thought went through my head, What if this was just a set-up to get me to dress up bizarrely and make the rest of the shoppers nervous?

Because by this point, I’d noticed—even without my glasses—that carts would approach, hesitate, then turn or take a circuitous route around me. I felt badly about that, because I’m usually a cheerful shopper, smiling at others and saying “excuse me.”

But not last night. I could feel the darkness of my clothing, the drama of my makeup, and the pinching of the paperclips on my earlobes. Altogether, that meant I wore a perpetual scowl.

I felt terrible that the way I dressed and presented myself made others feel uncomfortable, and maybe even threatened. (But not terrible enough to quit.)

So I tried to ignore everyone else as I thumbed through the tribute to David Bowie, reading about his wild early years which I felt I was living right then. That’s when my cell phone rang. It was my neighbor Elise, also in the store dressed up (whew—wasn’t a set-up) asking if I was there yet. “Yep, hanging out in the bakery department, like I’m supposed to.”

She chuckled. “Well, Cindy’s been looking for you. I’ll send her over again.” A few minutes later Cindy approached me nervously, until her eyes lit up. “Holy cow, that is you! I walked past you twice but didn’t dare talk to you.”

“Sorry,” I said. “Without my glasses, I can’t recognize faces until they’re right in front of me.”

“Very convincing,” she said, handing me the tickets I was supposed to give the teens. “And the Bowie magazine is appropriate.” She took one last look at me, shuddered briefly, and left, and then I waited.

And eventually . . . the fun began.

I kept my head down as I read, but I could see feet approaching from different directions as the sweet and innocent youth of my church approached the strange gothy woman in the store. You see, we live in a quiet valley where nothing too exciting ever happens, and where people are pretty much white bread and baked potatoes.

I was black licorice over quinoa. No one knew what to do with me.

Waldows in Walmart Feb, 2016

Our collection of “Waldos.” I’m in the middle, looking as disinterested as possible.

As I saw the feet tentatively congregate around my cart, I’d slowly look up, with as much snarling apathy as I could muster. “Like . . . what do you want? I’m reading my Bowie, here. Can’t you tell?

Then their eyes would bug out, they’d take a step backwards in alarm, and someone would mutter, “Isn’t that Mrs. Mercer?”

“I don’t know . . . I think so. Whoa.”

“Are you . . . are you Waldo?”

I’d roll my eyes dramatically (yes, I practiced that too) and fished in my trench coat pocket for a ticket. “Oh my gosh, look—can we get this over with already? I’m late for a Walking Dead party, you know.”

That’s when they’d start smiling and laughing, but still they stayed back a few feet.

One of the leaders, a lovely woman in her 60s, stared at me in shock. “Trish? Oh my gosh . . . Trish?!”

Only for her did I break out of character, because she really did seem disturbed. “Cindy didn’t recognize me either,” I consoled her as her group of five girls hustled off after the next clue.

But for the other groups, I just glared menacingly and went back to flipping pages of my magazine after I handed them their tickets. I think a few of the younger girls were worried by my appearance, and I nearly lost it when a fifteen-year-old boy exclaimed, “Wait—she’s my Sunday School teacher!”

I may have lost all credibility with him.

But all of the effort was worth it when one high school girl said, “Wow—I thought you were a teenager.” I’ll hold on to that one for a long, long time.

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I’ve lost 30 years! And my mind!

After a while the groups of kids slowed down, and I finished reading, waiting for the call that we were done. At the end of the Bowie magazine, looking at pictures of him in his 60s with his spikey gray hair and dazzling smile, I couldn’t help but think, “He was a great looking senior citizen.”

Image result for david bowieI flipped to the earlier pages and felt as uncomfortable as I had when I first walked into the store, dressed up as something I really wasn’t. Bowie—actually, David Jones—seemed a lot happier and more handsome in his later years. The gray hair suited him.

By the time the call came for “All Waldos to come to the front of the store,” I was relieved. While it had been fun to dress up and freak out the youth of my neighborhood—especially since it wasn’t Halloween—I was anxious to become me again. While I had a small shopping list in my pocket, I couldn’t bring myself to actually buy anything in my present get-up.

As I approached the other Waldos at the front of the store, everyone’s jaws dropped. I have to admit I rather enjoyed the attention—I’ve never been a jaw-dropping woman—but I also was glad it wasn’t going to last more than a few minutes.

Waldos in Walmart Feb 2016

“Like, totally . . . I’ve got a Walking Dead marathon to get to.”

At home, my husband took one look at me and said, “Are you going to need a shower to get all of that off?” I had even gone so far to buy a gray hair touch-up kit to darken my bangs and color my streaks of gray. “You really don’t want to keep using that stuff, do you?” he hinted.

I’m blessed to have a husband with the same attitude of my dad, who once said, “I don’t like a lot of makeup on my wife. I want to be able to recognize her in the morning, not wonder how some stranger got into my bed.”

“No,” I assured my husband, “this it was just for the night, and yes—I need a long shower.”

I took a couple of selfies in the bathroom, because that’s what you’re supposed to do after you spend an hour putting on makeup, and then I tried to wipe it all off. Half a jar of Vaseline later, I took a shower to scrub out the rest of the dyes and gunk.

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Never let middle-aged women take selfies.

This morning as I looked at myself in the mirror to get ready for the day—gray streaks highlighting my hair again, and pale, dull eyes looking back without any ringing makeup—I knew that was a much better look: the clean, basic, unmade me. Kind of like Bowie in his later years, looking genuinely happy in his rawness.

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What, you’re supposed to use a cell phone for a selfie? Have you seen my cell phone?

I’ve discovered that with the right makeup and the right clothing, I can look like just about anyone, as skilled make-up artists have demonstrated. Even untalented me turned myself unrecognizable.

And I don’t like that.

I’ve always been averse to lots of makeup, and I think it started way back in the 1980s, when coincidentally I first fell in love with David Bowie’s music.  I also noticed a Robert Plant video where the same makeup and clothing turned a variety of different young women into creamy, rubber copies of each other. It struck me as strange, and as sad.

I never wanted to be an imitation of someone else.

So I’ll go out today as usual, “au natural” (but dressed, so don’t panic). (Ok, I’m wearing a tiny bit of eye shadow and mascara, so people can find my eyes.) No one will mistake me today for something I’m not. Because even if I had an identical twin, no one can copy my look.

(Not that anyone would want to, but that’s a rambling topic for another day.)

 

“Make your decisions as to what to embrace, but let me embrace my belief.”

In 1836 a prophetic man wrote the following words which we still need today: “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege: let them worship how, where, or what they may.” (emphasis added)

The idea of allowing all people to “worship how . . . they may” is vanishing. The definition of worship, like so many words today, has shifted to mean: whatever you spend your time, money, and thoughts pursuing. The implications reach even beyond worshiping Deity (although an argument can readily be made that just about anything can become one’s “god”).

The quote above is a declaration that each person should choose how they will live and who they will follow. Many cultures believe in a judgment day that will eventually evaluate the correctness of one’s life. But we mere mortals don’t make that final judgment. Nor should anyone force another to live a life that feels dishonest.

I’ve written this book series to speculate what may happen to a society when beliefs and ideals are eliminated to allow for only one point of view, and where people are restricted to only one location. Forcing a belief or behavior works, albeit only temporarily, as fallen political regimes—and rebellious teenagers—have demonstrated throughout millennia. A person’s individual belief is an intimate and even sacred thing. It’s also vulnerable, subject to enlightenment as well as destruction.

Beliefs can strengthen and unite us, but they don’t necessarily have to divide us. You don’t need to agree with all of my beliefs, nor do I have to agree with yours for us to still value each other.

You may not believe in a god, or you may believe in a different manifestation of Deity, while I believe in a Heavenly Father and his son Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost.
But we can still talk together.

You may believe in redefining the definition of marriage, while I feel that only God can do that.
But we can still be Facebook friends.

You may disagree with me on gun rights, or trends in schooling, or the nature of the family, or evolution, or which chocolate chip is better—Nestle’s or Hershey’s.
But we can still eat cookies together.

We don’t have to agree on everything, but we must agree to respect each other.
And we can.

In fact, I grow when you challenge my ideals, and I appreciate the opportunity to evaluate further what I think I already know.

I’ve worked with people who were diametrically opposed to so many of my beliefs that it was difficult to find common ground, but we found it. And worked together effectively.
And even called each other friends at the end.
Because we respected each other.

Then again, that was about 20 years ago.

Our world doesn’t seem to want to embrace mutual respect anymore. We used to call it “tolerance,” but even the definition of that word has been skewed to mean, “If you don’t agree with me, it means you hate me, therefore I get to call you names and bully you.”

This all-encompassing preoccupation with the self, instead of concern for others, creates a me-above-the-world mindset that promotes the individual before anyone else.
And that creates tyranny.

All the “great” dictators of the world started as bullies, or were bullied. But we all learned back in grade school that once you allow the bullies to get power, no one feels safe.

The bullies are winning now, in much larger venues and with much higher stakes. Incivility has become acceptable and even trendy, and it’s forcing people to retreat to different sides and take up arms.
But when did an all-out war ever really resolve anything, except to prove who’s the better bully?

Now, I readily concede that what I attempt to paint as a clear picture of mutual tolerance becomes murky when one person’s belief begins to affect the life of another. What I strive to maintain in my life may infringe on what you believe, and likewise your ideals may harm me.

But it’s also a very large world, with a great diversity of cultures, ideals, and peoples.
The point is, there is room for everyone. There’s no need to force every person into the same spot, the same box, the same belief system.
There’s room to explore, to change, to grow, to move.

Diversity is good. Diversity makes us think and reevaluate. Diversity reinforces our beliefs, or it can even lead us to a better, higher ideal.

Even the topography of the world is vastly diverse. How dull would the earth be if we had no deserts, no forests, no plains, but only ocean? The oceans never invade deserts, and forests stop so that plains can exist.

People are even more varied than topography. I don’t see that as a problem, but as a solution. The ocean doesn’t insist the desert changes for it; it simply resides where oceans reside best. Nor do the beliefs of others need to invade the corner of the world I inhabit, forcing me to change. Allow me to live how and where I choose, and I promise I won’t try to transform your section either. We can even visit and learn about each other, and there may even be some shifting of minds and hearts.

But there’s no reason to angrily insist that all the ocean water needs to go, or that all of the sand needs to vanish. We need both deserts and oceans—there’s room for all of the earth’s diversity, and room for all of our diversity, too.

We can still allow everyone to coexist, without choosing to feel threatened that others are different. I appreciate the sentiment of the coexist bumper sticker, symbols of differing ideals combining together to create a diverse whole.

coexist

Having met earnest believers of other religions, I’ve felt myself enlightened by their depth of soul and sincerity of heart. Goodness, like cookies, comes in a variety of sizes, colors, and flavors. I’ve learned to not label individuals with the slurs of generalizations. That’s what bullies do—shove individuals into groups, then attack the whole to promote only themselves. Some days it already feels that the world is out to get us, because the bullies are winning.

Sometimes it’d be nice to retreat to the very edge of the world, where few people rarely venture. But now’s not the time to run away, but to take a stand and ask, “Why does civility, equality, and freedom mean you have to destroy me?”

I started writing this book series four years ago, and have been grimly surprised to see elements I worried and wrote about initially are manifesting in society today. Books seven and eight will describe a world which frankly terrifies me, and it seems we’re running headlong towards that end in real life.

I also decided some time ago that I can just drift with the current like an apathetic fish and float to whatever dismal end there is at the end of the river, or I can swim against the current and insist on staying right where I choose to be.

I’ve chosen to fight the current, and to live at the Forest at the Edge where I can still speak my mind and follow my heart.

You’re more than welcome to join me.

IMG_5601edit   Trish Mercer