I’m feeling like this whole stay-at-home, social-distancing, is a great big time out for our world. Have you seen the stories about the reduction in air pollution? About the canals running clear in Venice? Our world is healing. This morning, I went outside at 6:00 AM, because my body still thinks I need to wake up early. The birds were chirping. The sun was starting to come up. I stood out there and I listened to the birds call to one another. I took a deep breath and filled my lungs with air and just let myself be. How long has it been since I just stopped and listened to nature? We are so busy every day. We don’t take the time to do the things that really matter. This is a time to reflect, to just be, to live and love, and to recuperate from the hectic lives we have all been living. A time of healing for nature and for us as a people.
Today, after the sun came up I enjoyed my coffee and a book. Then I went for a 1 mile run and a 1.8 mile walk with the dogs. I came home just as the first fat drop of rain fell. Hubby asked how my walk was and offered to make brunch. Then I put on a dress and attended church…online. Reverend Frazer reminded me that we can use this opportunity to think about mortality and the existence of mortality in life. And also to just be there for one another. Leave notes in each others mailboxes. Be there for your family. Navigate and commiserate. We will get through this.
When we first moved back to Montgomery, the question we heard the most was, “What church do you go to?” My husband was taken aback by this question, because he’s from the redneck state of the North: Rhode Island. I wasn’t surprised, having grown up in the Bible Belt, I knew living in the South is synonymous with church-going. God and college football are the two things most worshiped down here. (War Eagle!)
We weren’t godly in those days. We started going to my parents’ church because they were there. Plus, we needed an answer to the question so the Southern Baptists didn’t try to convert us or the Church of Christ goers. Or the many other churches that stand on every corner in Montgomery. (Our church stands directly across the street from another church–only in the South)
I grew up Episcopalian with a good dose of skepticism. My husband grew up Catholic, went to Catholic school, and felt done with it all by the time we moved here. I went through a long period of non-belief. I questioned whether there is a God. I questioned whether Jesus was just a man. I have a questioning soul, what can I say? I’m a writer.
We moved a few years ago to a new church that we love despite a few setbacks and misunderstandings. Despite my questions, I wanted to raise my kids with the church, especially in the South where it is not only a religious experience but a social one too. I think it would be inherently easier to have faith than to question it all the time. I struggle with this part of my personality, because faith provides solace. People who have a love of God and Jesus can find solace in their faith when someone dies or something terrible happens in their life. I think that’s an amazing thing. I also think part of my reason for initially turning away from the church is because of the judgment I see in so-called Christians. I have read the Bible and studied it, in Catholic school, and on my own. I see a kind and loving God. I see a God who is accepting of all his people, not just a select holier-than-thou few. I want my children to have the power faith can bring to their life. I want them to believe more than they doubt.
I was asked this year to teach Sunday school. I’ve taught before to a handful of kids at Grace. I knew there would be more kids at the Ascension. I questioned my ability to lead children in the eyes of God when my heart and soul still question. But I thought maybe I had been led to this moment, to teach these children, and to find the love of God together.
I have not been quiet about my doubts to my children. I want them to have faith, but not blind faith.
When they were attending an Episcopal School, my middle son said, “Mom, isn’t God the best?”
And I said, “I’m not sure if I totally believe in God.”
And my son said, “Then I need a new Mommy.”
I told him, “No. You can still love me even if we have different beliefs. Not everyone believes in the same things, and that’s really okay.”
I needed to be honest to him in that moment. I like the faith he has. I love that he believes in God, but he needs to know it’s okay to love those who don’t believe in God too. He needs to know it’s okay to love those who are different from you and who have different beliefs.
I like to think about Doubting Thomas when I have my doubts about God. I think about how Jesus showed Thomas that he was alive. Aren’t there miracles in everyday life that prove the existence of something bigger than us? Is this God showing us his presence?
Jesus made an important impact on the Israelites and continues to impact our culture and world today (obviously). His good works show us how to live as Christians. My times of doubt come more from the ability of some people to twist the Bible into some perversion to further their own agenda. Then I become angry with how organized religion can accentuate hate. It’s times like that I feel like I could turn away from the church again.
In Sunday School this past week, I helped out. We went over the Genesis 2:4-3:24 Chapter where Eve hands Adam the forbidden fruit. We talked about God’s love. We talked about how it would feel to be cast out of the Garden of Eden.
My nine year old son raised his hand and said, “Yeah, but what if God’s not real anyway?”
Maybe he is like me and has a little too much of Doubting Thomas inside of him but maybe that’s okay.
What do you think? Is doubting normal? Do you have faith? If so, how did you come to it or was it something you feel is inherent to you? Let me know in the comments below.
This weekend, I took my kids to a new church. Same domination: Episcopalian. I’m not very religious, but my kids like church and believe in God, and I decided to try out a church that might have kids. We went on sort of a crazy day, because the church was starting a discussion on gay marriage. But we sat down and had breakfast, I dropped the kids at Sunday school, and we listened as the reverend spoke about Acts and the Jerusalem Council. Then we went to the church service. We enjoyed ourselves, and I think we’ll go back.
I’m not here to get into a religious or political discussion or even to discuss my opinion on gay marriage I’ll put it out there though: I’m for it. Everyone deserves to be with someone they love. Attending this church this weekend made me nostalgic for my own childhood.
My mom dutifully took us to church as kids. A lot of times my sisters were acolytes. I stood in the front with the choir. I earned my gold cross. I wore white dresses and dress-hats that stuck into your head and made you itch, and stockings with white seemingly unbendable shoes. Everything seemed to be white! And I couldn’t wait to get home and strip out of those dress clothes, often in the hallway before I’d even made it upstairs to my room.
We often attended breakfast at church, the smell of bacon beckoning me. I’d eat and my friends would trickle in, and then we’d run in the halls, go see the babies in the nursery, and finally make it to the sanctuary where I usually scribbled on paper and held my mom’s hand. I hated the way the wine tasted, and me and some of my other childhood friends would run after communion to get a sip of water and rinse out our mouths.
I spent nights outside with EYC, getting into trouble. I did lock-ins and trips to the beach. I established friends and memories that will never fade, in the sinking Alabama sun, as I discovered myself, learned about the history of religion, and began to establish my own religious code of ethics.
These are the memories I want for my children. Memories of inclusion. Memories of fun and fellowship.
This past week, I attended a book club to discuss my book The Devil Withinand do a little book signing. I’m always a little nervous attending these functions, but it’s nothing a big glass of wine won’t cure. 😉 Luckily, the book clubs I go to usually have wine. Don’t get me wrong, I’m fairly outgoing but I’m always nervous and a little shy in a group of people I don’t know at first. It takes me a few minutes to come out of my shell.
Book clubs are always interesting, because sometimes readers have insight on your book that you didn’t necessarily have. Or their opinions about the characters and the events differ from the author’s own thoughts. I find this intriguing, and it’s one of the things I love most about writing: the reader’s reaction.
At this book club, one of the attendees questioned by inspiration. I’ve never had this happen before, but it made me think about inspiration. Because really, inspiration is a funny thing. Slimy, slippery, there one minute and gone the next. A single fleck of an idea that spins into a larger story like a blanket being spun from yarn.
What about this sign inspired me to write about Will and his family? I’d driven past this sign a million times, and then one day as I drove past it I thought about a little boy, growing up on that beautiful rolling hill, in a family that used religion to justify abuse.
Religion and the South go together like peanut butter and jelly. But religion and big churches can always be used to further hateful agendas. They can be full of hypocrisy. They can provide so much good too: comfort, devotion, and social outlets. And looking at this sign, spawned the idea in my head of Will being stuck in the middle of the two: devotion to religion as a comfort and devotion to religion as a way to further hate.
What inspired me to write this book? My own background of growing up in the South. My own thoughts on how religion and Christianity ought to promote love and peace instead of hatred and judgement, a thought I’ve struggled with my whole life in respect to the promotion of the Christian agenda. Spirituality and godliness plus church don’t always necessarily go together. One can lead a Christian life without ever attending church. Or one can lead a life promoting kindness and faith without even believing in God.
Driving to Knoxville with my oldest son two weeks ago, we passed this sign and here was our discussion (He’s 11):
M: What do you think about the message on that sign?
C: I think it’s true. Church is good. God is good.
M: So do you think if you have a person who is always doing the wrong thing, and he’s hateful, and hurtful that if he goes to church the devil won’t get him?
C: Backtracks, Well, um, maybe not.
M: What if you have a person who doesn’t go to church, maybe doesn’t even believe in God, and mostly does the right thing (there is no always–no one always does the right thing)? Is that person doomed to an eternity in hell, because he didn’t go to church even though he was true and good?
C: You’re right. The devil wouldn’t get that good person.
It’s all about perspective. I’m interested in knowing what road my next flake of inspiration will take me down.
When nine-year old William loses most of his family in a car accident, he is left alone with a religious zealot of a father. As a result of his father’s abuse, William blames himself for his family’s death and becomes convinced the devil is leading him astray. The backdrop of life in a rural town in the 1960’s sets the tumultuous scene as William struggles to cope in a world no child should have to face on his own. Will William be saved, or will he succumb to the devil within?
The characters came alive for me in this novel. Will, Lulu, Miz Leigh, Pop are so wonderfully described that they remain etched in my mind. In fact, since I finished the novel, I continue to think about them. Aptly titled, this novel is heartbreaking and tragic but I found, curiously, that this novel sends a positive message about the triumph of a little boy’s spirit over unspeakable grief and abuse. This is a very good book and I highly recommend it. Looking forward to the next novel from this author.
Well written and strong descriptive characters, most of whom I wanted to strangle. It was not my usual read. The abuse this poor boy endured after a traumatizing event was torture! I felt broken for him. I wanted to hold him and comfort him. I could totally relate to how this boy felt consumed by the devil. The words people say to us get burnt into our minds and as a child we are so moldable to these perceptions that others imprint on us. I recommend this book but carry some tissues!
I couldn’t put this book down. I just had to know what happened to William. I love that one of the characters had a health condition that was practically unheard of in the period this book was written. The author makes it as common as freckles. Well done! I want to take this child home with me and just love him. There was definitely a devil in the midst. Well written and I am looking forward to the sequel.
Excuse the cellphone quality photo. I haven’t quite downloaded the camera photos yet. When you come back from Paradise, where you lived for six days without children, it’s hard to get back into the swing of things. We stayed at Paradisus Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic and my hubby and I had some much needed alone time. Rekindling, if you will? We also met some great people who seemed more like characters in a book, but as we all know “Characters are only works of fiction, any resemblance to someone in real life is purely coincidental.”
Originally, when we planned this trip I thought The Devil Within would already be out. I anticipated having it published in April or May, but we all know how seldom things go as planned. That’s the fun of life. I was pleasantly surprised to know the paperback came out the day before we left, and guess what? Now the kindle edition is out. For some reason they’re two different links and the Kindle link is hard to find. I’m hoping Amazon gets that sorted out. I’m sure they will.
Click the book below for the link to the Kindle edition:
So let me tell you, the absolute best way to make a book a raging success is to fly to the Dominican Republic for a week the day it comes out. No, I’m kidding. I really wanted to bomb the market with this book. I wanted it to have a fantastic first day out, because I feel like this book is special. And I don’t know if thousands of authors say that. Oh, look at me, I wrote a book. But I didn’t think I would ever publish this book. I wrote it more for myself, the inspiration plucked from the sky somewhere. Writing it took me on an emotional journey through the doorways of youth, religion, hate and love. In this book, William experiences suffering that no small child should feel, but the truth is every day in the “real world” children are coping with the harsh realities of what William’s fictional life: being hurt by the person who is supposed to care for them the most.
When you are young, the world seems so big. Sometimes it seems magical. And other times it’s terrifying. As I wrote The Devil Within I felt horrified for William. My heart tugged for him, and I longed to help him escape. I longed to give him a chance. And so, this book is personal to me because it tells a tale of survival and that’s what we’re all trying to do in this amazing unrelenting world of ours.
When I started writing The Devil Within, I knew religion would be a huge part of the book. Religion, for anyone who is from the South or has lived in the South, is such a huge part of Southern culture. I’ve been toying with the idea of blogging about religion, but my views on religion are not standard—especially for a southerner. I’ve worried about alienating readers with this post, but I have to be true to myself and my beliefs.
The truth is, religion is a private matter between a person and their God (or their lack of God as may be the case), but in the South religion permeates all aspects of public life too.
I grew up in Montgomery, Alabama. I went to an Episcopal Church where I was baptized and confirmed. For fun, I’d go with my friends to their youth groups. My youth group called EYC was a second home to me and we did tons of fun things, which in the end should have kept me out of trouble but didn’t. But through it all I never felt a close kinship to God or Jesus. I have always been a questioner. I love to question things I can’t explain (how did we get here? Is God real? If God’s real then why are so many wars fought in her name?)
When I moved away for college, I stopped going to church. I had a boyfriend in college who was church-going and I went to the Methodist church with him a couple of times but eventually turned my back on organized religion. I had grown up thinking liberally in a conservative place and the hypocrisy of religion bothered me. Everyone is hypocritical—I get that, but I hate the idea of people being judged on their lifestyle because “God” said to do so. Isn’t God supposed to be loving?
And now I’m going to tell you the most hypocritical thing of all. I go to church. I work in the nursery there. When we moved back to the South, I wanted my children raised in the Episcopal Church. Why, you might ask, would I want that if I’m a questioner, an infidel, a heathen? Because in the South religion is a way of life. In the South, the first question out of someone’s mouth when they meet you is, “What church do you go to?” In the South, friendships are not made from cradle to the grave but from the baptismal font to heaven. Simply put, I wanted my children to fit into the society in which they were being raised.
I instill questions into my children’s head. I ask them if they believe in God. I ask them to prove it to me. I don’t want them blindly following. If they’re going to believe, then I want them to have a true belief, a belief I wish I had but never did. All my children believe in God, and I find comfort in that, because there is something comforting in believing in a higher power who can take all the pain away. There is something comforting in knowing you’re not alone in this world. There is something comforting in knowing that despite your sins, in the end you will be forgiven. I often think how much easier life would be if I had that kind of faith and believed in it wholeheartedly.
The Devil Within explores the intricacies of religion. William is wracked by guilt for sinning against his God. He blames himself for the deaths of his mother and siblings, because he believes he was being punished for his sins. He believes the devil has led him into temptation. But in the end, religion is such a huge part of his life, his world, and his culture that he still finds solace in it despite the fact that it almost destroyed him. How wonderful would it be to have that kind of faith?
Today I wrote for Mid-Week Blues-Buster. I skipped this one last week, because I just had so much going on. But I love Johnny Cash, and I couldn’t pass up a chance to let his music inspire me. Today’s MWBB was inspired by the song, “Ain’t No Grave,” by Johnny Cash.
The worms of cancer had spread through Dad’s body, wriggling their way through his intestines and then up to his brain before he even knew they existed. Simon said Mom fainted when the doctor gave him three weeks.
“Hell, three weeks and I’ll be up dancing a jig,” Dad said.
But, of course, he wasn’t. Hospice came with a hospital bed, and they set it up in the guest room. And a week later I took leave from work, and traveled the five hours to the town that held remnants of my childhood. I fell into my twin bed at midnight and turned out the lamp still adorned with a pink shade. I dreamt about the bullies who used to live next door. I woke up with tears in my eyes, after dreaming about how Dad used to take Simon and me to get ice cream every Sunday after church.
As the colors of dawn were spreading through the sky, I tiptoed to my father’s room like a child just woken from a nightmare. Simon was sitting on the edge of Dad’s bed, and he turned and looked at me with a grimace on his face.
“The nurse had to go to the bathroom.”
“What’s the song?”
“Ain’t No Grave by Johnny Cash. Dad’s playing it on repeat. I guess he wants to be a zombie or something.”
I laughed at my little brother, and came up to sit next to him on my Dad’s bed. I glanced over at Dad’s sallow cheeks, and listened to his raspy breathing, noticing how his chest was still rising and falling like the waves of the ocean just outside our front door. He was asleep and soon he’d be asleep forever.
“The song’s about salvation. Dad wants Jesus to meet him in heaven.”
“The song’s about someone wanting to live forever. Big headed and all that,” Simon said.
Tears sprang to his eyes, and I wrapped my arms around him. We sat huddled together on the side of the bed as Dad’s breathing rattled on, listening to make sure it didn’t stop. The nurse came back in, and she nodded at us then parked herself in the corner chair with her knitting needles.
“How’s Mom taking it?”
“Best she can. She thought there would be more time.”
“Don’t we always?”
“The nurse,” Simon said, nodding toward the woman in the corner, “said it would be soon. He’s not doing well.”
“So no jig dancing for him?”
Simon laughed and we hugged each other harder. Silence descended on the room, as we sat there listening to the clock tick through the early morning. The birds came out and began singing their songs of spring. Dad opened his eyes.
“My little girl.”
I scooted toward him. He wrapped his bone thin arms around me, and I let him hold me. I stopped crying and pulled away.
“Remember that time you took Simon and I down to Cheaha to spend the night. Mom refused to come. It rained all weekend, and we were miserable, but you were intent on staying. You wanted to show her all the fun memories we were making?”
We talked all morning about memories from our youth. “Ain’t No Grave” played in the background of our words. Dad asked Mom to read John 3:16 from the Bible.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
“That’s what the song means,” Dad said to Simon and me. “No need to fight about it.”
Then he turned his face away from us, looked at the white wall, and the rise and fall of his chest ceased.
If you live in Alabama, or have driven through Alabama to get to the beaches, then chances are you’ve seen the above sign. This sign was inspiration for my new book, “The Devil Within.” The real truth about this sign is that a contractor, named Billy Newell erected the sign because of his deep love of God. You can read more about the truth here: http://blog.al.com/live/2009/09/ws_newell_dies_contractor_erec.html
But this sign inspired to spin some fiction! Here’s a little blurb from the first part of “The Devil Within” (still in editing, but hopefully will be out in May), just to give you a little teaser!
Everyone has seen the sign. It sits on the highway between Montgomery and Birmingham: Go to Church or the Devil Will Get You! A caricature of a devil holding a red pitchfork with eyes burning holes into every car that passes by.
My pop put up that sign. It was the beginning of the end in my eyes. He did it right after the accident. He went down the street to Baker’s Seed and Feed and Hardware Shop, squeezing my hand too hard as he dragged me in—the only child left. He bought red paint and some two-by-fours, and then we hopped back into the Ford truck and drove all the way down to the end of the property next to where the pond stands. He handed me a Coca-Cola, and I lay under a tree thinking about how Momma had looked like an angel in her casket and wondering when I’d ever see her again. The Coca-Cola almost burned going down my throat.
“What you think, boy?” he asked, spitting some tobacco out of the wad in his cheek.
I stood up and walked around, looking at the sign. He had traced the devil from an old sign, colored him in, painted words in bright red, and then put it up. It looked crude, but I guessed it would do. I was more interested in finding some peanuts to add to my Coca-Cola, but I nodded enthusiastically like it was the best piece of artwork I’d ever seen.