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Monday, July 31, 2017

The Trouble with Rhoda: The Other Side

My son, Ethan, and I have a very interesting relationship. I joke that he's taught me everything I know about debating because, in many ways, raising him was one long verbal sparring match! I have to catch myself, though, when I reject what he's saying out of hand or out of habit, and this is one of those times.

Upon reading my better-40-years-late-than-never analysis of Rhoda, he gave me a lot to think about. Specifically, he cautioned me that my tone sounded very much like that of a wounded woman. Believe me, readers, I tried not to take that approach! I have been wounded in love (most of us have, to one degree or another), but I didn't want my argument to sound like it sprang from sour grapes.

So, in the interest of fairness, let me try to capsulize some of the astute points made by my wiser than his years college student.

First of all, it occurs to me that I could easily have borrowed from Shakespeare and titled my previous post “Lust's Labor Lost” because in the scene I zeroed in on, Rhoda’s urge-driven husband took advantage of her vulnerability. But Ethan reminded me that this dynamic can come into play on both sides of the cheap motel bed. That is to say, either or both of the parties can end up feeling used.

Case in point. In high school, I dated a truly kind and loving young man. He was both a gentleman and a gentle man; I’m pretty sure he picked up the tab for every dinner and movie we went to, without expecting anything in return. When I broke up with him after the better part of two years, I offered some lame, Hollywood-esque excuse about having failed to find it within myself to love him. I’ll never forget the hurt in his eyes as he countered with, “I treated you nice!” before backing out of my driveway and out of my life.

When I shared this story with Ethan, his response was, “Good for him!” and “I hope he ended up with some model!” My son saw things from the point of view of the rejected guy, wondering out loud why I had strung him along all that time if I really wasn’t interested. Looking back, I realize there were many reasons for my lack of candor, chief among them the desire to be desired, to be able to say I had a boyfriend, even if he didn’t make my heart skip a beat. I think his parting words to me meant he felt like the effort and hopes he invested in our relationship had been a waste of time. Perhaps it would soothe his damaged heart to know I got my comeuppance later on; perhaps not. Either way, I feel sorry for treating this dear man so shabbily.

Ethan also pointed out that sex is not the only motive for being disingenuous in romance. It can be about material gain (think 20-something trophy wives being scooped up by filthy rich octogenarians). It can be about an ego boost (think average-looking person dating one of the “beautiful people” to buoy up self-esteem). It can be as simple as not wanting to be alone on a Saturday night.

On another note, sex can also be employed as a tool to get what one wants. Remember the scene in The Three Musketeers where the pious jailer succumbs to Milady’s charms and helps her escape? A clear case of manipulation by the fairer sex! Milady used what she had to get her needs met. So I would be remiss in not pointing out that the “taker” in a relationship isn’t always in it for physical gratification. Both sexes are fully capable of playing the “Let’s See How Much Can I Get Out of the Other Person Before He/She Figures Out I’m Just Using Him/Her” game. It’s unattractive and unfair, no matter who’s doing the conning.

Finally, to paraphrase Ethan, sooner or later, most of us end up on somebody else’s emotional hook. It’s kind of the nature of that two-faced beast we call love – but tackling the beast is the only way to find out what lies on the other side.

“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” ~ Philippians 2:3

For more like this, check out: Reflections by Thea: The Trouble with Rhoda

Saturday, July 29, 2017

To Be Continued... AKA, Lust's Labor Lost

Faithful readers, my son brought to my attention that there is definitely another side to yesterday's post, The Trouble with Rhoda He gave me a lot to think about, and I'm collecting my thoughts to bring you part 2 of "The Trouble with Rhoda."

Stay tuned!

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Trouble with Rhoda

I’m trying to figure out why I’m bummed out by a sitcom.

True confessions time. I admitted to my Bible study group yesterday that the “drugs” I use to escape reality, or sometimes just relax (“recreational drugs”?) are food, sleep and entertainment.

In the wake of being so boldly transparent with my Christian sisters, I yielded to one of my three temptations last night, after having an otherwise productive and meaningful day. Specifically, I binge watched Rhoda, the old sitcom from the 70’s in which Mary Richards’ sidekick tries to make it on her own. And she does in many important ways – building a career and forging strong family bonds (despite a bumpy relationship with her stereotypically Jewish mother!) – but in the realm of marriage, our ugly-duckling-turned-successful-swan gets it way wrong.

After an eye-blinkingly brief marriage, Rhoda’s handsome, rugged husband complains, “I’m not as happy as I wanna be,” and persuades his tearful wife it’s in the best interest of their marriage for him to take a hiatus to figure things out.

This would lead his troubled wife to believe he's maybe planning a short vacation in a motel to sort out his priorities. Heaven knows, after one failed marriage resulting in shared custody of a son he seems to often shunt to the side, one would hope he’d tread carefully before dissolving a second union. Instead, he finds himself a dumpy apartment and proceeds to stick poor, estranged Rhoda with the rent for the more comfortable apartment they had shared. Unable to keep up with her bills, she’s forced to move to smaller digs after her Sir Galahad husband counsels her not to get too attached to things.

The saddest part is, Rhoda apologizes and begs her way through their whole separation, even as the man she loves takes advantage of her vulnerability. Consider the following slice of dialogue in the scene where Joe comes on to her when she graciously delivers the dry cleaning tickets for his shirts, which didn’t need cleaning but “were getting her depressed, hanging around here without [him] in them.”

Rhoda: I know what you’re thinking.

Joe: Good. I wasn’t trying to keep it a secret.

Rhoda: And it’s exactly what I’m thinking. It’s exactly what the entire free world is thinking! And I am wrong. They’re wrong. The world, you, me, all of us. And that’s not a good idea, Joe.

Joe (persuasively): I’m not so sure.

Rhoda: Oh, come on, who’re you kidding? All we would be doing is blocking out the real issues, Joe… The problem’ll still be there in the morning. Y’know, it’s no solution, Joseph, really it isn’t…. What I’m saying is, the problem is still there. All you’re really doing is taking the pain away for a couple of minutes.

Joe (moving in seductively): Well, what’s so bad about that?

Rhoda: … What’s bad is that, when the pain comes back, it’s worse.*

Alas, Rhoda’s common sense and resolve lose out to her hormones. Perhaps somewhere in her desperate mind – like so many women – she gambles that, if she gives him what he wants, he'll love her. Whatever the reason, she throws caution to the wind. Arriving home the next morning, she’s met by her sister, Brenda, who excitedly exclaims, “You spent the night at Joe’s! Oh!” Then realization sets in, and she adds sadly, “But you came home alone. Oh!”

Why does this depress me so? Because it’s true! Behind the pithy dialogue and attractive actors, we have the whole saga of post-60’s America. Casual sex, no strings, broken hearts and broken homes.

The saddest thing is, naive Rhoda is reaping the results of failing to heed the obvious warning signs that have been there all along. Her beloved Joe is only following through on the framework he’s been laying since day one of their relationship. He doesn't ask for her hand in marriage; he only asks her to move in. She has to cajole him into stepping up to the altar. Perhaps her biggest mistake, though, is allowing the officiant to wed them with the words, “Do you promise to stay together, grow together, and to trust each other, as long as you both shall love?”

Whatever happened to “as long as you both shall live?” That one little letter makes all the difference in the world between one-night stands – which is all Rhoda gets out of the above exchange with her own husband, who (spoiler alert) ends up divorcing her anyway – and the intention of persevering through thick and thin. I know it’s a long shot, and I’m well aware of divorce statistics (heck, I’m one of them), but Joe and Rhoda’s vows are more or less a prenuptial agreement wrapped up in pretty prose. The minute the love starts to falter (and trust me, folks, it will – not necessarily permanently, but life’s vicissitudes being what they are, the skyrockets are surely gonna ebb and flow) – the minute that happens, both spouses have just vowed to vamoose!

I see another major problem in this whole story line. My friend, Anne, who listened to me rant when I woke up bugged about it this morning, observed that Joe hides behind a veil, so to speak. He doesn't define their relationship at the outset by establishing plans for a life together, and he's just as unclear when he takes off for the great unknown. Poor Rhoda is left trying unsuccessfully to permeate his veil of vagueness, which is really nothing more than gross irresponsibility.

Why? Because Rhoda hitched her sails to a guy with weak character. And character counts.

Despite the fact that hordes of women have adapted their behavior to fit modern morality (or lack thereof), I submit that we were much wiser when we expected more. When we stopped requiring commitment as a prerequisite for intimacy, we handed over the reins of our hearts along with the keys to our apartments.

Yes, we are fully capable of supporting ourselves, buying our own meals at a restaurant, and making our way home if the need arises. That’s not the point.

Chivalry doesn’t have to be dead just because society has declared it outdated. If the dating process is designed to be a prelude to marriage – an interview phase, as it were – why should we be surprised when the men who enjoyed unearned dividends in advance of the altar turn into husbands who tire of those dividends shortly after the honeymoon?

Ladies, we can let our men have their cake and eat it, too – loveless sex and commitment-less relationships – but Rhoda would tell us to expect to come home alone and pick up our own tab – and not just for dinner.

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” ~ Ephesians 5:25-33

*All dialogue taken from Rhoda. “Together Again for the First Time.” Season 3, Episode 2. Directed by Tony Mordente. Written by Coleman Mitchell and Geoffrey Neigher. CBS, September 27, 1976. Stage directions added by me.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Excerpt from Thea's Novel!

OK, readers, here is the promised excerpt from my novel, Belabored. The setup is, my protagonist, Tanya Ritter, has completed a research paper and debate project, similar to Haverford High School's senior project from days gone by. Suffice it to say, the presentation did not go well. She was grilled mercilessly by the teacher and fellow students about her position on her topic, "selective reduction," a form of abortion which sometimes comes into play when a pregnancy involves more than one baby. Physicians often suggest this "procedure" when fertility treatments result in high risk multiple pregnancies (twins or higher). Selected fetuses are "reduced" in utero by injecting a lethal drug into their hearts, leaving their corpses to rot alongside their more fortunate siblings, who continue developing in the womb.
Tanya, still reeling from her public humiliation, next has to listen to her classmates debate the subject of physician assisted suicide. This chapter is her reaction to their presentation.

“Blessed is the servant who loves his brother as much when he is sick and useless as when he is well and can be of service to him.” – Francis  of Assisi

“Of all the arguments against voluntary euthanasia, the most influential is the 'slippery slope': once we allow doctors to kill patients, we will not be able to limit the killing to those who want to die.” – Peter Singer

            As if I weren’t upset enough after my own debate debacle, the next one gave me nightmares. Literally.
            Carl Zeppo and Zara Patel presented Monday on physician assisted suicide, and let me tell you, Dr. Chase didn’t grill them the way he did Sophia and me. He just let them make their points, everybody asked their stupid questions, and he moved on. But, oh man, did it bring stuff up for me.
            Suddenly I was back in my grandparents’ room – the one at the top of the stairs that I sleep in now. When I got too big to squeeze into their double bed between them, they invited me to set up my sleeping bag and camp out on their rug whenever I wanted. Mom was fine with it as long as I got to sleep on time, and Grandma and Granddad always turned off their TV the minute I crept into their room. I remember thinking that I wouldn’t want to turn off a show in the middle, but if it bothered them, they never showed it.
            While Zara gave her side of the debate, my mind switched gears and I could hear the hum of the oxygen machine and smell the disinfectant. Both my grandparents got pretty sick in their later years, ending up on hospice with visiting nurses, that kind of thing. Both were unconscious at the end, which was really sad, except Mom said they could probably still hear us, so we whispered in their ears about seeing them in heaven, and prayed they had accepted Jesus into their hearts so that would actually be the case. At the time, I bought everything Mom said about such things, but now I’m not so sure.
            The reason the debate reminded me of all this was because a big part of the discussion focused on physician assisted suicide being a “humane” alternative for the sick and elderly. “Death with dignity,” they call it, as opposed to the messiness and inconvenience (not to mention expense) of having to be taken care of. Apparently, a number of states have legalized patients’ rights to choose the time of their own death, and doctors are supposed to help by supplying some sort of lethal injection. So much for the Hippocratic Oath.  According to Zara, who argued the con side, sometimes there’s a big push from family members and society in general for such people to hurry up and die so the rest of us can get on with our lives.
            When she said that, I felt the breakfast burrito I consumed two hours earlier rise up in my throat. I willed myself to keep it down by recalling the last time I saw Grandma alive.
            “Read to me, Tiny Tanya,” she urged. That was her affectionate name for me as long as I could remember, and she’d no doubt disregard my protruding gut and still call me that today. Her cancer-ridden body made it impossible for her to get out of bed. Macular degeneration and cataracts had done their worst, and she could barely see.
            “OK, Grandma,” I replied, settling myself in the chair by her bed. I opened my backpack and pulled out the novel which had been assigned to my fourth grade class. “This is great! I can get my homework done and still hang out with you!” 
            Looking back, I remember the plot bored even me and probably sent Grandma more quickly into her pre-death coma. But if she found the book lackluster, she never let on.
            “Oh, Sweetheart, you are just what the doctor ordered!” she beamed, squeezing my hand. “How did you get to be such a good reader?”
            Evidently, she hadn’t picked up on my mispronunciations and the skipped sentences my teacher was always calling me on. To her, I was Meryl Streep doing Shakespeare.
            Two years later was like a bad rerun. This time it was Granddad who was dying, and Mom was again muddling through with the help of hospice nurses and home health aides. But they were all home sleeping when Mom could’ve used their help that November night at 2 AM.
            I woke to hear Granddad sounding agitated, insisting on going to the bathroom by himself. He wasn’t strong enough to get out of bed on his own, but he what he lacked in physical strength he made up for in sheer will.
            “Shhh, Dad, you’ll wake Tanya,” I heard Mom cajoling as I made my way to the doorway of his room. By that point, she was fumbling to get his 200 pound frame onto the bedside commode. Even at age 12, I realized this wouldn’t end well. I instinctively stepped in to take some of the load. Mom flashed me a smile that warmed the dark room like sunshine, and said she’d never been prouder of me.
            After that, I kind of became her right arm. I mean, I still went to school and everything, but when I came home, I would ask Mom what I could do to help. She showed me how to change his adult diapers when he got too weak for the commode, and together we would roll him from side to side so we could fasten the strips of tape on the sides. I won’t say it was pleasant, and I know it made Granddad feel weird, but in a strange way, I think he felt good that we cared enough to do something like that for him.
            One day when I got home, Mom was in a state trying to get somebody to chill with Granddad so she could do some errands. She looked older that day than I had ever seen her, and I could tell she’d been crying.
            “Don’t worry, Mom,” I reassured her. “I’ll stay with Granddad. Everything’ll be fine.”
            Two lines formed between her eyebrows while she considered this.
            “I don’t know, Tanya. It’s a huge responsibility.”
            I kind of pushed the issue, reminding her how much I had already done for Granddad, and that I’d been staying alone for short periods for quite awhile. I could tell she was still undecided, so I rested my case with, “Besides, Granddad’s not going anywhere, is he?”
            That did it. She smiled indulgently, grabbed her purse, barked a few orders, and flew out the door.
            Granddad was still pretty alert at this point, unlike how he was at the end when the drugs controlled both his pain and his mind.
            “Hey, TT Pot,” he began, using his pet name for me. I didn’t like it, but never had he heart to tell him.
            “How’d you like to hear a story? Just like when you were a little girl. It’s been too long, don’t you think?”
            “Sure, why not?” I answered, not knowing that would be the last time he’d ever tell me one. I knew I couldn’t relax like I used to as a kid, when his bedtime stories would put both him and me to sleep. Still, I lowered the side bar of his hospital bed and cozied up to him as best I could without disturbing the cord from the oxygen tank, which snaked across the floor and ended in two prongs that had an annoying habit of slipping outside his nose.
            “Oh, Tanya, don’t ever make the mistake Washer* did!” he cautioned me, referring to the title character in the story, a wayward raccoon who wandered out too far in the river near his home and ended up going over the falls. “Mother Raccoon couldn’t reach her little Washer because he went just a little too far.”
            A coughing spell interrupted him. I gave him a few sips of water and waited for him to continue.
            “Well, you know what happened next. Sneaky the Wolf captured him and took him by the scruff of the neck back to his den! He planned to serve little Washer to Mother Wolf and the cubs. But Mother Wolf ruled the roost,” he chuckled, “so you know that never happened.
            “In fact, she took a liking to little Washer, and so did the cubs. They became playmates and Mother Wolf decided to adopt Washer and raise him with her other children.
            “There was just one problem, and you know what his name was!” Granddad laughed and waited for me to answer, as I had done every one of the thousand times he’d told me this story.
            “His name was Sneaky!” I cried with the gusto Granddad expected.
            “That’s right, Tanya, his name was Sneaky. Sneaky threatened to eat Washer one day, until Mother Wolf pounced on him and caught his flesh with her massive jaws.”
            Here Granddad assumed an ominous, yet feminine, voice. His speech was weak and somewhat breathless, but he carried off the inflection the way he always had.
            “‘What are you doing with my cub, Sneaky?’ Mother Wolf growled through her sharp teeth.”
            Granddad then took on a sniveling tone for Sneaky. 
            “‘What do you mean your cub?’ Sneaky replied. ‘That’s not one of our cubs! That’s going to be our dinner one of these nights!’
            “‘Oh, no, he’s not, Sneaky!’ said Mother Wolf. ‘I’ve decided to raise him and teach him
to hunt with the others.  He can teach our little wolves things they could never learn otherwise.
It’s been decided!’
            “Well, you know what happened, TT Pot. They argued for a while, but Mother Wolf won
out, as usual.”
            Granddad was beginning to sound hoarse, so I gave him more water.
            “Thanks, T,” he said gratefully. “Now, where was I? Oh, yeah, Mother Wolf brought Washer to the big pack meeting to meet Black Wolf. He was the pack leader, and a fearsome sight to behold. Mother Wolf pleaded with him to let Washer into the pack, but, uh, but, lemme see  – ”
            “It’s OK, Granddad, you need to rest,” I offered, seeing he was fading.
            “No, no, it’s OK, T,” he protested. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak, and he started rambling like he used to when he got too tired. I guess the dark room and warmth of the covers made him sleepy, and he always ended up nodding off and mixing bits of his dreams into the story.
            “Well, you see, Mother Wolf went to the White House and the Obamas were all there, too, of course  – ”
            I couldn’t help it, I started to laugh. It was just like old times, but with painkillers added in.
            I let him drift off, silently remembering the details he had left out. Sneaky’s visit to Black Wolf before the pack meeting, where he got the senior wolf to promise that Washer would be dead meat if he showed up. Black Wolf’s surprise defense of Mother Wolf when the rest of the pack descended on her, trying to get to Washer. And how Mother Wolf finally realized if she truly loved her adopted cub, she had to let him return to his own people, where he would be safe.
            e H

Granddad slept for about half an hour, but then I began to detect an odor I knew only too well. I considered my options. There was a good chance Mom would get home soon, so maybe it could wait. But then Granddad started squirming, trying to get comfortable, and I knew only one thing would accomplish that. I wrestled an adult diaper out of the full package and went to work. At first he resisted, saying he could wait till Mom got home, but from the smell of things, I knew sooner would be better than later.
            I patted his arm and tried to sound confident.
            “It’s OK, Granddad. We’ll get this on in no time.”
            With a weak smile, he relented, and 20 messy minutes later, the deed was done. It wasn’t on straight, and shortly after I finished, a yellow trickle made its way down his left leg via the gap where his hip met his thigh. But my pride was undaunted. When Mom walked in the door, she burst into tears, saying I was the best daughter anyone could ever have, and she wished she could do something to reward me.
            She didn’t realize she just had.
            So when Carl made his case for assisted suicide, all I could think of was these were the moments I’d have been deprived of if that had been law of the land when my grandparents were dying. Sure, my life might’ve been easier if I hadn’t gone through all that stuff, but no one can tell me those two old people didn’t have something rich to contribute even from their deathbeds. I count those last days with both of them among the sweetest in my life, and if I could have them back, I’d gladly tuck in next to them in those God-awful hospital beds and be just as content as I was camping out on their rug when I was a kid.  

            I only wish Jess could’ve gotten to meet those two wonderful people.

*The bedtime story Tanya's grandfather tells her is based on the following:
Walsh, George Ethelbert. Twilight Animal Series: Washer the Raccoon. Philadelphia: John C. Winston Co., 1922. Print. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Deliverance, Part 3

A friend called early this morning asking for unceasing prayer. Her world had been badly upset by human error, and she was dreading the outcome.

Together we prayed with a group of like-minded ladies, who rise early every Tuesday to lift the world and its troubles up to heaven before starting the business of the day. This was the first time we had joined their conference call to the Almighty, and it settled my friend's heart.

Afterwards, we prayed, just the two of us. The Lord brought to mind many situations in which I could see no escape from dire events ... yet, He had made a way. I particularly recalled an ordeal that lasted the better part of a year. The stress became so great that I begged God to help me hang on and just show up everyday. Just when I was at the end of my own resources, He used the very person who was making my life miserable to release me from the trial!

If I've learned anything in my years as a believer, it's that my Lord and Savior can do "exceedingly abundantly above all we ask or think, according to the power that works in us" (Ephesians 3:20). I'm trusting the God who has walked behind, before and beside me all these years to deliver my friend today.

The same God who calms hearts and steadies knocking knees can stabilize this toppling world we live in... if He chooses. If He sees fit to do otherwise, He can help His children stand firm in the midst of insanity and turmoil.

As a precious saint once declared, "I love order, but I've learned to function in chaos!"

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." ~ Matthew 6:31-34

For more like this, check out: Reflections by Thea: Deliverance

Check out Mercy Me's Even If

Saturday, July 22, 2017

A Matter of Life and Death

I’m deeply troubled by the recent news story of barely 20-year-old Michelle Carter, who was convicted of manslaughter in the death of her 18-year-old boyfriend, Conrad Roy III. The court found her guilty on the strength of numerous text messages she sent to Roy, urging him to follow through on his many threats to take his own life.

I would counter that we can’t feed our youth a steady diet of abortion justification and euthanasia glorification, and expect them not to buy into those values.

Earlier texts from Carter emerged, in which she urged young Roy to seek help rather than end his life. One of her final communications before the boy’s suicide read, "You just need to do it Conrad or I'm gonna get you help.”

Reread that. “Ambivalent” covers that sentence the way a bikini would cover Chris Christie.

Neither does “confusion” capture what she’s expressing. The girl’s mind is downright fractured. Think about it. On one hand, she’s coercing Roy to carry out his own death; on the other, she’ll sound alarm bells if he chooses life. Kind of along the lines of, go rob that jewelry store, and if you don’t, I’ll call the cops.  

Please don’t mistake the tone I’m taking for glibness. If anything, I’m flabbergasted that we’re even having a discussion about whether Carter should be held responsible for Roy’s suicide, given our country’s love affair with death. Why isn’t America applauding her the way they oozed sympathy for Brittany Maynard’s family, who aided and abetted her decision to end her life after being diagnosed with terminal cancer? The press was positively reverential when the 29-year-old publicly trumpeted the beauty of choosing her own death in the face of a malignant brain tumor.

Again, don’t get me wrong. This poor girl was suffering beyond what I can imagine. I get that. I just don’t get that she thought the answer to her suffering was to promote a philosophy which would open the door to untold suffering for future families. Take, for example, the heart-wrenching situation of Charlie Gard’s parents, who fought tirelessly to choose life for their ailing son at their own expense, rather than accept the death sentence issued him by physicians who presumably forgot (or at least reconstructed) their Hippocratic Oath, and a court which ruled death to be in his best interest.
The Carter case also brings to mind a compelling article I read several years ago following the acquittal of Casey Anthony for the murder of her two-year-old daughter, Caylee. The author argues we ought not be surprised when our young people make murderous decisions, as they have been steeped in the Roe v. Wade culture and mindset since before they could talk. In other words, we can’t heap up an avalanche of lies and bad-think and present it as truth to our kids from the time they can gum Cheerios, and not expect them to internalize that training.
I think what prevailed in the end for Carter and Roy was the shortsightedness, not just of youth, but of society as a whole. For the moment, though, let’s stick to the main players. Carter was foolish not to consider that her texts urging Roy to carry out the deed he had long threatened could be produced as evidence against her. Roy – that poor, distraught young man – didn’t seem to realize that beyond the grave could lie greater pain than the temporary torment in which he found himself. Neither one seemed to comprehend that today’s actions lead to tomorrow’s consequences, which is something about which I could write another whole article. Suffice it to say that together they failed to recognize that present agony often gives way to future strength and character.
I know of what I speak. As a young single mother who could see no light at the end of the tunnel, for a time I saw the idea of self-harm as a valid option. Were it not for the lifelines of devoted family and caring mental health professionals, my kids might well have had to survive a preventable tragedy. I shudder to think what their fates (and mine) would have been, had the people in my sphere of influence not deemed life – even painful, arduous, inequitable life – worth living.
As a culture, we used to agree on certain assumptions. Call it the Judeo-Christian mindset or just a simple morality code, but we used to corporately concede a few core principles. Among them was the fact that life was inherently valuable and worth living, and not to be tossed aside casually when the going got tough. This included the preservation of one’s own life, as well as that of the unborn. Now, however, as Americans have become more “enlightened,” we’ve taken the lives of approximately 
60 million preborn children since 1973, and six states and the District of Columbia have adopted physician assisted suicide laws

Unless we reverse these trends, we will have only ourselves to blame when the next Michelle Carter or Casey Anthony practices what we’ve been preaching for the last 44 years.

I’m going to let my readers ponder these statistics and ethical questions for a bit. My next post will be an excerpt from my manuscript, Belabored, in which my protagonist, Tanya Ritter, weighs the value of life based on the final days she spent with her ailing grandparents. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017


It’s come to my attention that I’m a lightweight. Not where the scale’s concerned, heaven forbid. But in matters requiring self-improvement, and the steps needed to get there – well, that’s another matter.

Specifically, I’m engaged in the Beta reading process for my manuscript. This means fellow writers and non-writers whose opinions I respect are graciously giving of their time to read and critique the novel I’ve been laboring over for three years. This process, in theory, will give me the tools I need to perfect the book before finally foisting it on the agents who expressed interest at the conference I attended last April. I should add, my Beta readers are reviewing draft number three, which means drafts one and two have gone by the wayside and been replaced by this “new and improved” version.

But “new and improved” are two little words which are, I’m learning with chagrin, most assuredly a matter of interpretation.

Here’s a sampling of what I expected my critics to say upon laying down the final page:

“Perfect as is!”

“I wouldn’t change it for the world!”

This last one is so obvious, I’m embarrassed to even mention it: “How has society survived this long without the pearls of wisdom in your book?”

Oddly enough, my critics found room for improvement.

The advice I received is research based and makes good sense (my author friend has taken classes and is a veteran of the very same conferences I attended). More dialogue and action, less rumination. Distinguish characters by giving them habits or mannerisms that set them apart from each other. Don’t break the momentum of the scene by having the narrator wax philosophical or have too many “in the head” moments. In short, propel the plot forward at all times to keep readers engaged.

But here’s where the lightweight label comes into play. While my ears absorbed the wisdom in these astute suggestions, my mind’s eye saw a billboard flashing bold, neon letters: “This means a fourth draft, Lightweight!”

As much as I hate to admit it, my ego isn’t the sturdiest piece of my makeup, and those gently delivered truths toppled it a bit. Not completely, though, I’m happy to say. Like Weebles© which “wobble but they don’t fall down” (remember those bottom-heavy toys we used to play with? not a bad comparison for yours truly, in more ways than one), I lurched a little, struggling to find balance and steady my bruised psyche, even while realizing the criticisms were for my own good.

For authors, rewrites are the name of the game. In the half hour or so I’ve been working on this piece, I’ve hit “backspace” probably 50 times or more. Revisions are the nitty-gritty, brass tacks, meat and potatoes – pick your cliché – of the writing process. I sat in a workshop in which agents perused writers’ opening pages to decide whether to read on or do their version of The Gong Show, and those professionals weren’t kind. The material either grabbed them right away or it didn’t, and they didn’t concern themselves with little things like the author’s self-esteem. That said, much as I would relish sweet, syrupy words of admiration from my critique readers, disingenuous praise won’t get me past the publishing world’s gatekeepers.

So here I sit, pondering my fourth draft, and gagging at the prospect.

On another note, I recently had to do a little “surgery” on the American flag mounted by my front porch. When the wind would catch it a certain way, a corner got snared in the bracket securing the pole and, well, it got in its own way. My flag was quickly coming to resemble the one that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen our National Anthem – tattered, but intact.

Independence Day was fast approaching and I realized that, by the time I took the trouble to replace my ailing banner, the Fourth would be a distant memory. Expediency won out over veneration, and I decided a slightly frayed flag would be better than no flag at all to honor the land of the free and home of the brave.

With that in mind, I excised the ripped portion, hoping no patriotism police were lurking about, waiting to charge me with desecration (if flag burning comes under the category of free speech, surely flag snipping must fall under the same protection). The end result was an emblem with imperfect but smoother edges, and one that doesn’t keep getting caught up in itself.

I need to submit to the same process to which I subjected this symbol of our nation’s freedom. Vicissitudes, be they viewpoints, winds of fancy or emotions, aren’t going to let up just because I want them to. But I don’t have to let them keep unsettling me. Rather, I must allow wiser Hands than mine to shape my ragged ends and cut out what isn’t right.

Still, I try to tell God His business: “Every day that I ‘waste’ rewriting this manuscript is another day the abortion industry goes unchecked and unchallenged, capturing young minds and hearts! Every day that goes by is another day society brainwashes our youth, telling them aborted children feel no pain while their limbs are being wrenched off, and that post-abortive parents feel nothing but relief after believing that lie and destroying their offspring!”

He calmly reminds me He’s in charge of the timetable, and my ranting isn’t going to change that. Perhaps He’s using this time to strengthen my resolve and make me better able to withstand even harsher criticism when the book finds its way into print. Certainly, He knows which words are needed to change people’s thought processes, which is what I’m endeavoring to do; apparently, getting those words right takes multiple tries.

Whatever His reasons may be, I’m choosing to – relax isn’t the right word – but simply take the gun away from my head and rest in His timing. And that’s a huge relief.

 "My times are in Your hand." Psalm 31:15