Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Hurray! Picture me doing a little happy dance. This morning I completed Section Five of MAN FROM MACEDONIA. Tomorrow, I will begin the Sixth and LAST section of the book. What a journey it has been so far. In June, I will have been working on this book for three years. I can see actually light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. I told a writer friend not long ago that if I even hint at writing another biography that she had my permission to slap me silly! Unless of course, George W calls in need of a biographer, or Tom Selleck. Just kidding.
Section Six will reveal the scandal that cost Secretary Johnson his job and his very public resignation. It will contain the chapter that gives the book its title. And, there will be stories of how Aaron crosses paths with Charles Colson with an offer he simply couldn't refuse. I look forward to rolling up my sleeves and wrestling with the words that will complete Aaron’s story.
I also discovered something today. I need to quit talking so much. After I did my happy dance, I decided I needed a little break before I continued my afternoon writing schedule. We live out in the country, and the road our house sits on only has about ten houses spackled spaciously along it. It’s a beautiful little, narrow road. It's quiet, and the only traffic on it is the ten folks who live on it. It’s perfect to walk along to take in nature. A herd of bison is fenced along a few acres of the road. It’s not surprising to see deer crossing back and forth at their leisure. Hawks fly over head, and bunnies, pheasant, and an occasional fox sometime keep me company. I have dubbed this stretch of wildflower-bordered road, my Prayer Road. I have walked down this road many times with a prayer on my heart and a burden to unload. I even have been known to pray out loud as I walk. Why not? I may look crazy, like I’m talking to myself, but I know Whose ear I have and He’s listening.
Well today on my Prayer Road, I brought MAN OF MACEDONIA to God and thanked him for the past three years He’s allowed me to write on this project. I thanked Him for Aaron’s life, and for the honor of chronicling his experiences. But then, I did something I haven’t done in a while… I stopped talking and just listened. I have to decide how to approach this last section. It’s the climax of the story… the pay off for the reader. I’m feeling pressure to write it in such a way that honors not only Aaron’s life, but also God’s faithfulness to Aaron and to the rest of us struggling to give God glory in all that we do. And you know what? God whispered. Had I been talking the whole time, I would have missed it.
My challenge to you is to find your own Prayer Road. It may not be a road at all, but some place that beckons you to be still and listen. God just might have something He wants to say… and that you need to hear.
Monday, May 18, 2009
Do you remember how it was when Rock Hudson died from AIDS? Everyone was afraid, confused and rumors on how AIDS was spread abounded. For a few years there, we were chasing our tails as we tried to educate ourselves about this horrific disease.
Back in 1990, the person I'm writing about, Secretary of Corrections Aaron Johnson, had an AIDS crisis of his own. What I mean is, that in his ninety-five prisons, inmates were entering the institutions with full-blown AIDS and no one knew how to treat them or what to do with them. The inmates themselves were shunned by other prisoners, and the administration didn't treat them any better. Dr. Johnson's first exposure to the horror of AIDS came the day he was summoned to the prison cell of a female inmate dying from HIV. She was placed in a cell at the end of a corridor. Dark, wool blankets were thrown over her bars so no one could see in, and when he walked under those blankets into her cell, he found this woman sitting on her stark cot, shriveled, sore-ridden, and comforted only by the two tatter photographs of her young children. It was in September and the woman had been given three months to live, and was begging the Secretary to allow her to spend her last Christmas at home with her children.
You'll have to read the book to see how that story ends, but I tell you this because, I don't know about you, but compared to this, I really don't think I've had to make any real hard decisions-- at least not ones like this. Not ones that affect others' lives in such a personal way. Also, not ones that are fraught with such a combination of emotions, ethics, compassion, and law. How does one make these kinds of decisions? Better yet, how does one make the right decision amidst the clamor of panic and fear? Aaron made his decision from a deep part of himself that belonged to God, and it didn't turn out to be so popular.
Today, let's pray for the strength to do the hard things, the right things...the God-things, even when the world wants us to sit down and simply be quiet.
Friday, May 15, 2009
On Tuesday, May 12, 2009 Gary and I became the proud grandparents of twin girls. Kasia and Isamae debuted into this world healthy and beautiful and joined their big sister's Paisly and Zella. Their daddy, Matthew, and mommy, Sarah, are doing well, but since they've brought the girls home, they haven't exactly gotten the best night's rest. The last two morning they've come down the stairs, each carrying a tiny bundle in their arms, and with these lopsided smiles on their tired faces--that beg,"We are blessed way beyond what we ever asked or imagined...so here Grandmas, please feel free to share in the blessing," as they hand one gorgeous baby to me and other to Grandma Steph, and then sleep-walk back up stairs for about a twenty minute nap.
Ah, babies! Thanks to all who have been praying for the safe delivery of these little ones. I do not take for granted that all deliveries will go as planned. And with this new territory for us, with twins, we simply did not know exactly what to expect. But we did know that the risks were greater for the babies and for their brave mother. Sarah is doing wonderful. She was a trooper, who did all within her power to bring her daughters into this world as safely and healthy as possible. I love this young woman as if she were my own child. As with her other two children, I know these new babies will be in the capable and loving hands of a mother who knows how to sacrifice one's self in the name of love. She will protect them like a momma bear, nurture them from a deep well of wisdom and heart, and train them in all things good. Of course, I have no doubt that my son will be standing right beside her with his quiet strength, his humble spirit and a heart so full of love that between the two of them, these little girls will have no choice but to be happy, well adjusted, and have no excuse to be rebellious teenagers.
Of course, these little twins are just the latest in the Cleveland baby boom. It seems, we've scored a hat trick-- we've been blessed with three new grandchildren within a little over two months. Our cup runneth over. If you've read my blog of late, you all but need to scroll down a few inches and find the smiling picture of newborn grandson, Cormac. His entry into our lives in February brought just as much joy and wonder...especially since he is our first grandson. His parents, our son, Nathan and wife, Erin, have delighted us with this little boy who is so full of charm, I giggle every time I think of him. Erin is a first time mother with an 'old soul' within her. She just seems to know instinctively how to care for this child. I love seeing her with her son as he makes her laugh with his antics and his big eyes and his Buddha belly. Another daughter-in-law who has filled my heart like my own. And watching my first-born with his first born is an experience that God has just added in my life like the cherry on top of a turtle sundae...so very sweet.
Again, thank you for your prayers. God has been extremely merciful and generous. I can only bow on bended knee and accept these precious, wiggly, soft-skinned gifts with gratitude and awe.
Saturday, May 9, 2009
I have several 'writing spots' at my house. We live on three acres with a little pond and a little barn. Of course I have my office upstairs overlooking the pond where most of the work takes place. But then, when the mood strikes me, I can be found carting my laptop off to my inspirational points. One is on our front porch on my yellow swing. From there I can see one of my flower gardens and the horses down the road. My next place to settle in to write is my back porch. It's screened in and it's my favorite place to write during a summer rain storm, or late a night as the crickets and bullfrogs converse. Mid-morning, one of my favorite spots to plop down and write is the porch of my garden shed-- which is really the back portion of our barn sectioned off just for me and my pots and dirt and assorted whirly-gigs and the like. The little porch is just a few feet from the pond. I watch swallows dive over the pond scooping up bugs for an early lunch, and hear some kind of fish jump out of the water, also helping himself to a bug feast. I also sometimes just write inside the shed at my potting table... just because. That give me a great view of our neighbors cornfields and barns. And then there's the shade of the 'Dancing Trees', as my granddaughters call them. It's where we can be spotted twirling with glee between the long willowy branches, when we've a mind to. Regular people call them, weeping willows. But for me, Paisly, Harper, and Zella...they're the Dancing Trees. Anyway, under those tree, I have a great view back toward the house, the pond, etc., and write as the branches gently dance around me.
Yesterday, I wrote on the porch of the potting shed for about two hours. Another hard section to write as Secretary Johnson walks into the cell of a woman dying of AIDS. At first, he's afraid to even shake her hand when introduced. But by the time, their time together ends, he hugs hers, prays with her and promises to try his best to get her an emergency parole from the governor, so she can spend the last three months of her life with her young sons. Aaron Johnson is a compassionate man, and his life story will inspire us all to consider all persons holy.
This morning, I write this sitting on my 'girl chair' in my office. It's big and comfy and has great big blue flowers all over it...as I''m thankful for the honor of telling Aaron's story.
Saturday, May 2, 2009
This week was a good writing week. Hardly any distractions. Lots of rainy days. What else to do but write, right?
This week I wrestled with the chapter in my book when Dr. Johnson had to oversee his first state ordered execution. Can you imagine? How it works in North Carolina, most executions are carried out in the early morning hours. The Secretary waits by his phone for the warden to call him and tell him all things are ready. Then the Secretary calls the Governor on a special hotline to tell him things are ready, and the Governor will then give his nod. Then the Secretary calls the warden back to tell him to proceed with the execution. Before those phone calls were made, Aaron was sitting by the hotline to Governor Martin's office hoping it would ring first telling him there had been a stay of execution. The number to this hotline was only known by Governor Martin himself, so when that line rang about midnight, Aaron's spirits jumped. He quickly answered the phone. To his surprise, it wasn't the Governor on the other line. It was someone he didn't know. Someone who should not have had that number. But, what this person told Aaron helped lift the burden of what he had to do. Aaron, to this day, still thinks of that caller as an angel. He also, still doesn't know who that caller was.
This chapter was a tough one to write. It's about people suffering and consequences of actions. It's also about redemption.