The Brother's Keep series is now available in paperback as a compilation of novellas I-IV. 364 pages in this volume of allegorical Christian fantasy romance.
Coming-of-age amid fallen angels, mermaids, supernatural beings, and vampires has its challenges. But there is hope and beauty in these fairy tales, as well. See how and why.
A woman solo hiked the PCT. This is her engaging rite-of-passage memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. I could hardly put the book down, strong was my desire to gobble up every trail and survival detail. I love hiking, along with exploring the backcountry on horses, and primitive camping. While my own two feet have traversed sections of both the PCT and the AT (Appalachian Trail), I can only, thus far, live vicariously through those who have actually “thru-hiked.” Cheryl Strayed didn’t exactly hike through, having started in the Mojave Desert in California and finished at the Bridge of the Gods connecting Oregon to Washington, but she covered 1,100 miles on her weary, blistered, nail-less toes, having started out ill-prepared and untrained. That’s nothing to scoff at, by any stretch. That’s gutsy.
**potential spoilers below**
The writing is sharp and the storytelling vivid. I trekked into the pages assuming I could relate to the author as I, too, lost both my parents. I know what it’s like when your family unit sort of disintegrates due to grief; when the strong root is dug up, or the anchor is hoisted leaving you feeling adrift. Yet, I couldn’t grasp the author’s perspective on a number of levels. From her form of recklessness and promiscuity, to feeling a life force—though the size of a grain of rice—recognizing she was pregnant, and then using “I got an abortion” and “learned how to make dehydrated tuna flakes” in the same sentence. I couldn’t comprehend why her editors kept in the dalliance with “rad” man, as it had nothing to do with the story and certainly didn’t move it along. I didn’t understand why she unreasonably obliterated a solid marriage to a great guy, or how she expressed pain. And the incident with her mom’s horse, Lady: horrid. Choices, choices!
Still, her descriptions of nature when compared to her state of being proved starkly eloquent. When she hadn’t seen another human for weeks. When silence was tremendous. When she expressed that she was nothing to pebbles, leaves, and branches, yet they were everything to her. “Everything but me seems utterly certain of itself. The sky didn’t wonder where it was.”
When she did have encounters with other characters, they were interesting. Clyde’s words moved me while he said he didn’t believe in reincarnation when Cheryl had asked him. He said, “I believe we’re here once and what we do matters.”
And Cheryl’s mom having cancer that consumed her before she reached 50. I understood the tragedy of it. And the painful truths that came also from the mom’s mouth, about how she never got to conduct her own life—to be in the driver’s seat. She always did what someone else wanted her to do. The most uncomfortable sentiment, “I’ve always been someone’s daughter or mother or wife. I’ve never just been me.” Sorrowful authenticity is a killer.
So, you see, Wild was a weighty, ugly-beautiful book. Hard to rate. It’s like life, you take the good with the bad—which I suppose is the theme of this chronicle. Although I’m a different-thinking person from that of the author, with a contrasting belief system and grief display, and I didn’t quite see in my mind a “healing” take place, I admire Strayed who “strayed” and wrote for us a compelling memoir to digest.
On an early morning walk this week, a great white heron flew in front of me. I felt the flush of wind from its powerful wingspan—it was that close. I might be misidentifying this magnificent creature, but I do know it was not a color-morphed junior—the thing was gigantic and entirely white, no black legs or darkened bill. I suppose I should have been startled by its sudden presence, but I stood in awe as it glided across my path at eye level and then soared skyward. I could have been envious of the bird for its freedom and fearless flight. Instead, I wondered curiously what the view was like up there over the treelined marsh in this Sweetwater valley of Tennessee.
I grew up mostly (or mostly grew up, haha) on Fidalgo Island in Washington State. I used to hike to a couple special spots just to watch the heron(s) in complete harmony with earth, water, and sky. I’d sit for hours as one would move in stately silence, fish with purposeful patience, pass from complete focused stillness to the majesty of commanding aviation in a blink. Strong birds. Confident loners, I somehow took comfort in watching them. Never before have I seen a white one, though, so this unexpected recent encounter was extra special.
There’s an inclination I have to read symbolism in everything, see a spiritual sign beyond the physical, spot an allegory. Probably stems from my Judeo-Christian background, and this nature is quite strong in me. My sister/BFF says that I walk between two worlds. Because it’s true, my mind and heart were heavy and I was seeking God that morning. Though my feet were firmly plodding forward on the path, my cognizance was somewhere else completely. So now I ask what, exactly, is the Lord saying to me? Herons in Hebrew culture represent long-suffering, wisdom, and protection, are forbidden to be hunted or eaten. Early Christians believed herons shed red tears when under stress and their emblem came to represent Jesus’ agony of sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. Yet somehow there seems to be more here, something else I’m not perceiving.
“The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”—Romans 8:26
Or maybe there wasn’t meaning in that encounter at all. Maybe that moment was just meaningful in that the heron was neat to look at and nothing else hinges there. Maybe I read too much into things. Except, as the week continues to churn, images of the white heron paint my mind in pure flashes and I’m inspired and hope-filled and utter thanks to the Lord. Regardless and always, God is sensitive, compassionate, merciful, and good. I trust him. And I certainly appreciate that he created that standout heron.
Now back to my chips-n-salsa which I also appreciate. You see? Two worlds, lol.
A problematic social issue, a unit called to respond.
A man struggles to right his wrong.
“If I had said ‘no’ instead of ‘yes’ when they asked me to do this thing, then maybe I would have turned out a hero instead of what I’ve become.
We were trained, hired with the promise of a good wage, to take care of a problem, to get things under control. As a man, I needed to succeed for myself, for my family living in a cycle of poverty in the sertão, the backlands. The earnings proved excellent, and far outweighed the promises made by the controlling peasant guerrillas. But the other part of it… If I knew then what I know now…
I can’t live with myself…
I can’t live.
If I could take it back. Everything I’ve done--
Ach, who could do such things? And if one could, then who would forgive such things?”
This is the story of one man's dark path to redemption.
Lately, I’ve been feeling as if moving underwater through life and had to take a break from routine. So, I’ve been absent from here for a bit. In the interim, a friend shared with me the following film of an underwater artist. Took my breath away. One of the most beautiful presentations I’ve seen, it's proven hard not to replay it constantly. I’ve had dreams of dancing underwater, but I think my day will be in Heaven when I know I won’t drown. Interestingly, this video has helped me as a writer. More on that development will be revealed at a later time. For now, please enjoy this all-encompassing masterpiece.
When I touch base with somebody who I’ve earnestly prayed for, or have been praying for his/her specific situation, I tend to have high expectations. I expect to hear that they are flourishing. When I learn otherwise, that is, more challenges and unexplained struggles have arisen, I may not express my instant reaction but I feel disappointed. Immediately, I start questioning God. “What’s going on here, Lord, am I not praying hard enough? You can move mountains if you want to…I’ve asked you to!” What I forget and, due to my dogged nature, what I need reminded of, is that it’s not about me. The reasons for unanswered petitions, or for circumstances to continue on without a royal ironing out, that is, chaos is still reigning for an individual for who I’ve invested prayer, could be numerous. What I’ve noticed is that when God moves, it doesn’t just affect one person or situation. Rather, numerous are affected on multiple levels. Could be a timing issue, could be a variation in an intended path. Might be a spiritual blockage like an unaddressed grudge, could be that somebody else unforeseen needs to come into the fold and be touched through the condition. James 5:16 tells us, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”
As I, feeling deflated, dwelled on these considerations, I decided I needed some fresh air. Determined to take a walk, I opened the door to sudden bad weather. “Wha? When did this storm move in? It was nice just thirty minutes ago!” Then I felt the Holy Spirit nudge me, saying to my spirit along the lines of, “What I give you when I give it is sufficient to weather the storm. I am your GPS. I am your weather app. But you cannot control the storm. I do.”
Gulp. Fair enough. Yes, I tend to want to control situations. And yes, I am a human with huge error, relentlessly stubborn, forgetful, and often weak. I needed the recap: God is sovereign. So, when things transpire differently than what I personally desire, I am reminded that prayer is a tool and a precious gift. It’s also a form of obedience. That’s right, I don’t control diddly-squat. And right now, I’m relieved. Right now, I’d hate to think how things would indeed turn out if I had the control, with my shortsightedness…can you imagine? *cringe*
God is sovereign. Hurrah for that!
I’m an introvert. Ever since my toddler days, I’ve experienced individuals who tend to make introverts feel as if they are weird, wrong, or incapable. My preschool teacher used to address her concern to my mother that I would sit contently in the corner and work puzzles rather than interact with other kids—the horror! Even today, at age 47, still enjoying puzzles, if I explain to somebody why crowds exhaust me and I prefer solitude to a gaggle, or a few close friends to a drove, I hear the same phrase, “Keep working on it, you’ll get there.” My reaction is often silent, yet in my head I ask, “Get where? I’m already here.” There is such a misconception about introversion, even more so today in this extremely extroverted culture. Introversion is not a social anxiety or disease that one needs to get over or improve. It’s a personality trait. Introverts and Extroverts perceive, address, and pursue things differently. We may have the same goals or desires; we just speak different languages. To confuse things, some linger in the middle between introvert and extrovert. If you don’t know for sure, it’s worth figuring out. Daily life could be so much easier with a little understanding.
In terms of Christianity and the modern church, there is even black and white disparity for how we are expected to love and have community with others. There is a reason why there are so many spiritual gifts tests available. Heed them! Because God didn’t wire us the same way, so we shouldn’t be expected to operate in the polar opposites capacity if we weren’t naturally equipped to function in that manner. I do believe there are times when God asks us to go beyond our natural realm. He gives us what we need when we need it to fulfill that particular commission. But I feel an ultimate purpose for our lives is to see clearly by walking in truth, grow in how He’s gifted us, reach out to others in our specified manner according to our divine gifts and/or skill sets. Extroverts, to my understanding, are good at verbally reaching out by lively conversation and engaging with others, while introverts might discreetly send a card, email, or touching song link to the individual on his/her mind.
God most often calls me to deep waters to pray and intercede, meditate, worship, and write. Another person might thrive leading a room full of energetic children or hosting an event. I wouldn’t expect to stick a people-person in a place of solitude for a great length of time and watch them flourish. They’d get through the situation, perhaps, but it would be somewhat of an affliction. I’ve learned this through my son who, though we are very close, is my polar opposite. He’s as much an extrovert as I am an introvert (an INFJ, to be specific) and I’ve learned a lot by watching him grow. So…the same goes for an introvert when asked to do something out of an ordinary characteristic for them, which I’ve also had more of than a healthy share.
There is beauty in the diversity of gifts, which seem to conjoin personality traits. We are various parts of a body meant to work together as one. Introversion is not a disease, it is not fatal, it’s a part of the body, and it has its specific, healthy place in life and in God’s kingdom.
Romans 12: 4-8
“For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.”
For the first time, I’d experienced a debilitating writer’s block. Part of the problem was that I had too many things going at once. Spread in different directions, digging into numerous genres and projects, I was suddenly staring at the computer, numb, with no flow, zero movement. It’s as if I’d lost focus and motivation.
Meanwhile, several acquaintances asked what my current work in progress was, so I shared about my writing block dilemma. A good friend put a question to me bluntly, said, "In terms of writing, Tessa, if you died today, what would you want to be remembered for?" And just like that I gave him my answer. He said, "Then stop wasting time and get to work."
That verbal smack in the face was exactly what I needed (thank you very much). A reminder, a single push sharpened my focus, renewed clarity of purpose and aim when time is valuable.
This honing perspective proves a good application if you’re struggling with any vocational motivation, really. Use it as a kick-start. If you died today, what would you want to be remembered for?
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters…”—Colossians 3:23
Here it is, the last day of January, and ever since the beginning of the New Year, I’ve witnessed many people talk about wrapping 2017 around a single word. What one word will be your emblematic motto?
I’ve always had a Biblical verse as the theme for an oncoming twelve months, never a single word. After pondering, I finally deliberated that my word is Onward. I don’t have new plans for this year, per se, but I have pre-set plans that, unless the Good Lord deems otherwise, I intend to accomplish. So…onward I go. My word just happens to coincide with my verse for this year: “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” Proverbs 16:3
To help inspire me, I’ve posted near my desk a recent drawing my son did. It’s a ten-second sketch, but speaks volumes of how he sees me. How I interpret, anyway. In the rough outline, I see most of all, diligence. Diligence is a part of my name…literally, my birth name means diligent harvester. And back in the day, a few I’d toured with didn’t call me “Tenacious Tessa” for nothing. All of this is a part of me still, and accompanies my present word for a 2017 focus, Onward.
Another word has snuck up, however; more like hammering me in the head everywhere I turn. That is, Meekness. It’s a word definition I seem drawn to, yet hear very little about in this day of narcissistic society. The world tends to interpret meekness as weakness or wimpy. Truth is it takes more strength to hold your tongue when you want to give a what-for, to exhibit kindness regardless of circumstance, and to portray leadership partnered with humility, a humble leader, putting others first. When I recently heard a sermon by Mark Hoffman/2RC on the topic of meekness, I learned a perfect definition for the word. Meekness is “Strength under control.” That is definitely something for which I wish to wrap not only my year but also my entire life around.
Okay, so maybe I have two words this year. To sum it up, I strongly desire to have a year of pressing onward with meekness. How about you? What might be your word?
The Unspeakable (Puma) is now in its second edition, a version with the same storyline but repackaged. Newly categorized under Christian Suspense, and International Mystery & Crime, if you have not yet read this book I invite you to do so – though it might keep you up at night.
When bad things happen to good people, what then?
When a furtive conflict is pitted between violent leftist guerrillas and a rightwing paramilitary group in Colombia, a North American woman mistakenly gets caught in the middle.
“I spent four months, one week and two days in a clandestine prison referred to as The Water Cave. Every day I stared hell in the face, and each day I wanted to die. I don’t want to share too much too quickly. To understand fully, you must join hands with me, fasten your heart to mine, and course through my book. Stumble over the incomprehensible human rights journey with me. I've pondered it to the brink of questionable sanity, and it's the only way to explain. I suppose I should consider myself lucky I survived at all—for many did not—yet, perplexingly so, that’s not the premise of this narrative.
He altered my life, marked me forever.
But it’s not how you might imagine.
This is a story involving Horacio Botello, my torturer known as Puma.”