Love in the Middle of the Hard Knocks

Excerpt from Wil Clarey – School of Hard Knocks (rough draft)

In the midst of the attack, my mind retreated. I curled into a ball and isolated my mind from anything outside of that ball. The kicks and punches kept coming. I felt severe pain. And I felt something I had never felt before – rage!

Outside of my protective ball, I heard tires squealing, a horn honking, and a man yelling.

The attack stopped.

A distant voice asked, “Are you okay?”

There was a touch on my shoulder, painful though half numb.

Sirens and voices tried to penetrate my shield.

Someone tried to pull me out of my ball, so I rolled tighter.

“Wil,” Mrs. Brewer’s voice penetrated my shell. “It’s okay. These people are here to help you.”

I went slack and unconscious.

I came to as I was being loaded into an ambulance.

On the ride to hospital, I imagined the police holding Todd while I hit him.  I imagined him in jail.  Anger fueled the darker side of my imagination.  My face and ribs burned with pain and my gut burned with hatred.

Mom arrived at the hospital just after I did. She tried to comfort me. When she spoke to an officer, I could see the fury in her face.

Doctors and nurses poked, prodded, x-rayed and scanned me all day. 

Through each procedure, the pain fueled my hatred toward Todd and his friends.

Late that evening, they finally decided I could go home. I had a couple of cracked ribs and a lot of bruises, but nothing too serious. I think I could have won a costume contest for most zombie-like face. 

They insisted I leave in a wheelchair.  Mom pushed me to the open door of the room and stopped. There were two cops bringing in a badly beaten boy. The boy was Todd.

Mom tried to pull me back.

“No!” I grabbed the door frame. I had to see this.

Tears streaked Todd’s face.

Shame filled mine.

Not shame for being his victim. Shame for having the same kind of hatred that filled his face.

Mom rushed me toward the waiting room.

We passed one of the cops talking to a nurse. “His dad beat him for getting caught.”

“Mom, stop!”

I touched the officer’s arm. “Is he gonna be okay?”

He looked me over and said, “Probably about the same as you, except he won’t be going home. He has a spot waiting for him at Juvie.”

“Can I talk to him?”

Mom tried to move me on. “No, Wil, that’s not a good idea.”

“I just want to say one thing. I don’t have to be close.”

The cop smiled. “Sure kid.” He turned to Mom. “I’ll take him, for his safety.”

I wonder if the officer thought I was going to yell at Todd. I wondered what I was going to say myself.

I was stopped at the threshold. A nurse was swabbing his face.

“Todd.” I started.

The nurse turned.

Todd’s face turned to pain and hate when he saw me.

“I, I just wanted to say that I forgive you.”

I turned to the officer. “That’s all.”

I glanced one more time in Todd’s direction. The nurse was dabbing her eyes. Todd’s expression was blank.

______________________________________________________________________

I have struggled over the past week with what I could write to illustrate the idea of loving God and loving people. I looked in Vine’s and Strong’s and the Bible and racked my brain for good stories and kept coming up blank.

I sat down today and this scene from Wil Clarey – School of Hard Knocks came to mind. I argued with myself because the book deals with forgiveness, not love.

Then it hit me. Forgiveness is one of the purest forms of love.

Too often we think of love in terms of affection. We love because we have an attachment to someone, or we share a common family or origin.

When Jesus illustrated who we should love, he told the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Through that he showed that we should extend our love beyond our definitions to those we would otherwise hate.

In the Wil Clarey story, no one would blame Wil for hating Todd. I left out the most brutal parts of the attack. Wil had every right to be angry. And he was!

When Wil saw Todd in the same condition as himself, full of pain and rage, it opened his eyes. He realized that, if he continued down the path of hate, he would become that which he hated. He decided that it needed to stop with him.

Right now, we live in a country divided. Each group sees the other as so irreconcilably different that they are not worthy of our attention, much less our love.

How often do we look at those who are different and want to avoid them? Do we look at those who cause pain in our lives and want to cause pain back?

What would happen if we flipped that around and repaid hurt with forgiveness, apathy with caring, pain with love?

I won’t spoil the Wil Clarey story with what happened next. I will say that it was a much better path for Wil to take.

How can you and I start down that path today?

The Word is Love

The Word is Love

Last year our church encouraged us to pick one word to focus on for the year. My word was “rest.” With COVID, that word came true for me. I didn’t do nearly as much work for the church since we didn’t have in person services most of the year. My brain got a rest from my normal job as I was reassigned to a job that required little hard thinking. Lower finances meant fewer projects around the house. Yeah, I got a little more rest.

Then there was that guy whose word was “gather.”

Yup.

That didn’t work out so well with COVID.

This year I made no plans to pick a word. I could have chosen “discipline” as I have been getting pretty good at exercising every day. I could have chosen “organize” as I’ve made my man-cave/writing corner much less cluttered. Maybe “budget” would be good as we are going to need to get diligent about that this year.

I chose not to choose.

Until today.

I went for a good walk at lunchtime. My earbuds blasted some good music while I power walked down a paved path next to a frozen wetland area and stark winter trees.

I prayed as I walked, lifting several people up in prayer. For one person, I asked the Lord what I should do. The answer was immediate. “Love them.”

If someone was watching me, they probably would have been amused at my expression. It said something between “Duh!” and “Huh?”

I marched on and discussed with the Lord what that means. I knew it should apply to everyone and not just that one person. What does it mean to truly love people?

The question haunted me the rest of the day. How do I show love to that person who just cut me off in traffic? Am I supposed to show love to my customers? What does that look like?

Jesus’ words in Matthew 22:37-40 kept invading my thoughts. He said that the greatest commandment was to love God. The second greatest was to love your neighbor as yourself. In Luke 10, he defines “neighbor” through the parable of the Good Samaritan. He cast a very broad net with that story. Basically, everyone who comes across your path.

This thought process has ignited a desire to explore what it means to truly love. Plans are forming in my mind to explore that word – in the Bible, in practical actions, in the words I write.

Feel free to join me in this process. Add your thoughts. Direct my studies with your questions. Share your own studies and stories.

So, maybe I do have a word for the year.  The word is LOVE!

P.S. – Look for another blog here in a week (or two) as I begin to share what I find. Feel free to bug me if I take too long.

Short Story Mayhem

Last year I wrote a short story for Christmas. It was fun to write. But it was so bad that editing would not have saved it. In the trash it went.

This year I had no plans to try again. Then it popped into my head. The very first thought of it was almost complete. I had to write it.

My free time in the last few weeks has been spent gushing the words of the story out. Sure, it needed some minor tweaks, and a bunch of typo fixes, but it is complete today, 5 full days before Christmas!

This story is different from any other I have written.

I started to explain why but I think it’s best if you just read it. You can find it at Christmas Stories.

Let me know what you think. If you like it, feel free to share it by sharing the link.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Road Trip!

I’ve spent the last two days on the road. Tomorrow I arrive at Ridgecrest! I have been vlogging my trip. The video for day one is complete and uploaded. Lots of driving across the plains and my random musings.

Day two is in the works. If all goes well, I hope to upload it tomorrow night! It was a shorter drive today so I took the time to stop by a museum. Check back after it is uploaded to see which one!

Check it out at The Wandering Pen!

Old Dog, New Tricks

Due to COVID, I currently work in a hospital print shop. I have for the last 7 months. With the help of my coworkers, I’ve acquired several new skills.

Newly acquired skill, painting with glue.

We often have people from other locations help us out as we are the busiest print shop in our company in this area. One day, a guy I’ll call George (not his name) was helping us. He was at the workstation next to mine and was applying a second coat of glue to a project that I was taught only needed one coat.

I was curious. Did I miss something? I asked, “Hey George, didn’t you glue that already?”

Maybe I phrased that wrong because his reply was almost violent. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years, don’t tell me how to do my job!”

I was stunned silent. I thought about explaining that I was just curious but he shoved his earbuds back in and went about his redundant work.

I had to wonder, “Do I get that way?” When someone criticizes my writing, do I get defensive, or do I try to learn.

I have to admit, I sometimes get defensive. When someone points out an issue, I’ll try to explain it away. My reaction should be to learn from that criticism. Even if the critic has no writing experience, they have reading experience and can tell when something doesn’t sound right.

This old dog can learn new tricks. I was over 50 when I started getting serious about writing. I have learned a ton last few years. I still have a lot to learn.

In just a few days I take off on a road trip bound for the Blue Ridge Christian Writers Conference. I hope to refine my writing more and make some great connections.

I will be vlogging my road trip and time at the conference on The Wandering Pen, my YouTube writing channel. I can’t guarantee that I will be posting every day as I will be busy but I will do my best to make it fun and informative. See you there!

Oh, and if you criticize my videos, I’ll try to appreciate it and learn how to do them better.

Am I Crazy?

Am I crazy for participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) during the same month as the Blue Ridge Christian Writer’s Conference?

Yeah, probably!

But then my favorite Bible verse is 2 Corinthians 5:13 – “If we are out of our minds, it is for the sake of God.” (Loose quote from the NIV)

Problem is, I love writing – especially when it’s like today. I gave myself an hour to write a scene. It was an epic action scene where my band of travelers had no choice but to engage in battle with the guards who were pursuing them.

I won’t tell you how successful they were (but I’m only a third of the way through so – duh). I will tell you that the chapter ended with a plot twist that I didn’t see coming.

I love it when that happens!

Now I need to get back to my conference prep, working on one sheets and business cards.

As for NaNoWriMo, I most likely won’t reach that magic number of 50,000 words, but I will be motivated to write more. I’ll also be inspired by the stories of others and share a bit about my latest novel Reymons.

Should you participate in NaNoWriMo?

Do you love writing?

Do you have an idea for a novel that is just dying to get on paper?

Then, yes! Absolutely participate!

Don’t worry if you don’t make the 50,000 word goal. Just get going!

When you do, look me up under the user name Reymons.

An Old Guy Can Write YA?

In the hills of North Carolina stood a little country church in bad need of a paint job. The deacons got together and decided to hire a local painter. The painter arrived with a pickup filled with paint, rollers, brushes, and ladders and got to work.

The job went great and it looked like he would be able to finish in one day. When he got to the steeple, he realized that he had only one gallon left. He debated whether to run into town to buy more paint, but he would never finish that day if he did.

He had a solution. He had two gallons of thinner. Soon he had that one gallon stretched into three. Like Jesus and the loaves, he thought.

He got out his tallest ladder and proceeded to coat the steeple with the thinned paint. Nobody will ever tell the difference way up here. He was nearly finished when the sky turned dark. Thunder rolled and the painter sped up.

Just as he was making the last stroke, lightning hit the steeple and a loud voice thundered from heaven, “Repaint! And thin no more!”

Some of you started to read that joke and said, “Not this one again.” Some of you got to the end and laughed. Most young readers, if they got to the end, went, “Huh?” That’s the challenge I face as an older writer trying to be relevant to today’s young readers.

            Is it even possible?

            Yes!

So how does this 50 something writer stay relevant to today’s young people? Here’s what works for me.

            First – Hang out with young people!

I have an unfair advantage in that department right now. I currently have three teenage kids at home (we started late). There have been teens in our home for eight years now!

That’s not enough. Teen kids often treat their parents like they’re from another planet (which we are, in a manner of speaking). For most of my adult life, I have remained involved in either children’s or youth ministry. I’ve gotten to know many young people and they have shared many of the secrets of their generation.

You can also volunteer at school libraries, Big Brother/Big Sister programs, youth centers, etc. Get involved and listen with an open mind to the things they are saying and doing!

            Second – Immerse yourself in the culture!

I’ve often volunteered to put together the music playlist for the hangout times at youth groups and camps. It was a proud moment when a youth told me that my playlist was “really good.” I researched what they were listening to. I listened to the songs (many today have lyrics inappropriate to youth groups), and I put together lists that would be both fun and uplifting to youth. (If you have i-Music, you can find one here.

The styles are much different from what I grew up with, but I’m learning to appreciate the drive behind them and enjoying many of them.

I also try to keep up on other entertainment that’s popular today. TikTok, Instagram, shows on Netflix and Disney+ are places that I visit as time allows, often with my kids. Mind you, I can’t spend the kind of time that many youth spend on entertainment, but I do what I can to stay current.

            Third – Get their help!

Run your ideas by the youth you know. After you’ve written, have them proofread.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “People don’t say that anymore.” And “That doesn’t make any sense.” And the worst, “Boring!”

Take their advice! Rewrite, edit, and work with your helpers to create writing that they will relate to.

There are many other tips I could list here that apply to writing for young readers. White space, chapter length, hooks, and others can take your story from good to gripping. I plan on learning more about them in two weeks at the Blue Ridge Christian Writers Conference. There’s still space there and there’s a virtual option. Check it out HERE!

Bottom line: if you have something that you think the next generation needs to hear, write it. Bring it to them in a way they will understand, enjoy, and believe!

Writing About Disabilities: A Conversation with Felicia

My oldest daughter Felicia is disabled. I admit that is a term that I am not comfortable with. I like to think in terms like “challenged” or “differently abled”. The plain truth is, though you can’t tell by looking, she has medical conditions that severely limit her abilities.

She is also an author currently writing a novel with a main character that shares her disabilities.

She and I had a lengthy conversation about writing about disabilities as well as a little trivia contest about our mutual favorite author, Ted Dekker.

I somehow managed to brutally edit that conversation down to 23 minutes of the most important topics. This was my first attempt at using Zoom recording for a video so please excuse the less than stellar quality.

I should mention that Felicia and I have rather different world views. Differences aside, we can still learn from each other and have mutual respect and love for each other. I would even go further to say that we need to hear from people who differ from us in order to learn and grow.

I hope you learn something from this conversation. Feel free to take part in the conversation in the comments on the video. You can find it here.

The Happy Little Weed

Weeds! Gotta hate ‘em. I go out every Saturday morning and do battle against them. By the next Saturday, there they are again, grinning from leaf to leaf! What can I do?

Okay, if you think this is going to be another blog about how weeds are like sin and we need to pluck them out, think again. I don’t disagree with that notion, but this is a story about a happy little weed that appeared in our yard a few years ago.

When it first appeared, I didn’t notice. It was just a little clump of grass in the dirt next to the deck.

The next summer, it came back. This time the clump of grass had stalks in the center that reached up to the deck. Quite handsome. I cut it back after the summer but left it there to see what would happen.

The next year, it reached high enough to provide a backdrop for my profile picture.

I tried to trim it back this last year with the hard-plastic blade attachment on my weed whacker. It destroyed the blade before I was half-way through. I actually resorted to a Sawzall to finish the job.

This year may be its last. It’s already taller than me when I’m standing on the deck, and it’s still growing. Its base is so wide that we have the walk to the side of our path to get around it.

Once it dies off for the winter, I’ll trim it back again (chain saw?) and try to dig it up to transplant it where there’s more room. Maybe I’ll try to split it up so it can bring its joy to multiple parts of the yard.

So, what does my happy little, um, big weed have to do with anything? I think it’s a lot like life, especially this year.

Sometimes those little weeds in life pop up in places we don’t expect. That new friend or neighbor. That hobby you started out of boredom. That opportunity to change careers (because your current job disappeared). That nagging sense that there’s more to this life.

There’s a lot of things that seem like weeds that are choking your life when they start. Maybe they need to be pulled up at the roots. Maybe they don’t.

My point today is to stop and think before you yank that weed out.  Maybe it isn’t a weed but a healthy volunteer plant like our ornamental grass.

Maybe that person could become a life-long friend.

Maybe that opportunity could become a life changer.

Maybe that hobby could become a living.

Maybe that prayer could change your life.

If you want a little more joy, look for that happy little weed.

I Must Confess

I must confess.

I just killed someone.

They had to go.

I admit that the flames may have been a bit much, but I needed the drama.
After all, they say, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.”

For the very first time, I killed a character in one of my books.

Don’t worry, the gang in Kerryville are fine.

I went into my writing session tonight determined to trim the character list in Reymons. It had gotten too complicated to write dialog that the reader could easily follow. That’s the very reason I stopped writing that story and turned to editing Wil Clarey: School of Hard Knocks.

At first, I was just going to delete a character. I then realized that Reymons need a bit more drama with its fast-paced action. The Young Adult (YA) audience won’t put up with a book that doesn’t engage the emotions.

The challenges that come with writing for different audiences are daunting. I had one of my daughters read a section of Wil Clarey that I had just written. Her confusion showed me that I had to paint the scene a little more clearly for the younger reader.

For YA, I know that gripping scenes that pull the reader into the middle of the drama and action are what turn pages. My hope is that Reymons becomes a book that the reader cannot set down.

If any of you wish to be a test reader for sections of Reymons or any of the Wil Clarey books, email me. Anyone who brings constructive criticism to either of those books will receive a free copy of the book and acknowledgement in the books if and when it is published.

Thanks for reading this. Be sure to check out the links including social media. I have added a link for my new (as of the beginning of the year) YouTube channel, The Wandering Pen.

Farewell and write well.