Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The ACFW Conference

I'll admit it. I didn't want to go. It was a wee bit expensive for my current budget, and as far as I was concerned, I didn't need to go. I had an agent, and books coming out of my yin yang all the way until 2009! In my mind if I went it'd be for like, vacation, and everybody knows I've NEVER gone on vacation. When Heather Diane Tipton said, "God shows up at conference," it was ME who said, "Oh yeah? He shows up here everyday for FREE!" Yeah. I was like that.

So I have to beat the bushes for a ride because the engine fell out of old blue. It's something about your engine falling out that makes you NOT want to travel. I get a ride to the airport, and I have to lug a box of books with me. I'm praying desperately for a few kind, sympathetic souls to buy those books because God knows I don't want to take them back home. I mean it. I would have passed out books at the airport to keep from taking them with me.

On the plane I have a "nervous breakdown." Yeah. I know "nervous breakdown" isn't a clinical term and nobody really knows what it is. By that I means it's a very subjective experience. Let's just say mine involved crying incessantly and wanting to run away. And this was on the plane. Thank God it was Camy, Ronie, Dineen and Heather (pretty much in that order) meeting me at the airport. These ladies love me, and laughed when I said, seriously, that I had a ghetto credit card and didn't know if it would work at the hotel. They said it would and pronouced a few blessings on me. And isn't that cool, to have blessings proclaimed on your life.

I get to the hotel and people start loving on me immediately! I have to call out Katy McKenna because she is VERY guilty of pouring out love. She was speaking with someone, spotted me, stop in the middle of her discourse and shot over to me like a bullet out of a gun. The woman made me want to go live with her. And it only got worse after that.

Marilynn Griffith gets to our room and she starts talking like she sees me every day. Right away it's like, "Girl, I'm so glad you're here." And she proceeds to tell me about her own nervous break down. So it's my turn to love and exhort and then there are meetings for Mary and a walk for me, another mini pow wow after my walk and Mary warned me not to sit on the bed because there's like some kind of narcotic in the duvet and you get sucked in. But I sat on the bed, thinking it was safe, and the next thing you know the laptop is on top of me and I'm twisted around with my butt in the air in some kind of coma. That was one comfortable bed.

The next day I attended the editors panel. It didn't matter that I have a book out that's doing well. I left that panel convinced NOBODY would EVER want ANYTHING I write EVER AGAIN. I got depressed. Morose. Then I went to Mindy's Mystery writing chat and left CERTAIN that I could NOT, under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES write a mystery. I did EVERYTHING wrong and now EVERYONE would know. Then I went to my room and cried incessantly hating myself for going to that God awful conference.

This prompted me to take a walk and Heather spent a good deal of time speaking to me in soothing tones and telling me Jesus loves me and I could write. When she'd convinced me (nearly) I went back up stairs and cried incessantly because obviously my medication needs adjusting. I felt like I would DIE (@#$% conference!!!!) and started doing what I always do when I think I'm going to die. I prayed the Psalms. Again and again until the wind of the Holy Spirit breezes through the room and tells me to go outside again.

I go, risking Heather thinking I'm psychotic, and she comes to me, and tells me that another poor dear is so depressed she didn't want to come. I stop crying long enough to go help that person, even though I'm completely jacked up. I wouldn't want someone else to feel like I do. So for the next hour or so we break the bread of sorrows together, and love each other just like Jesus would.

Thursday I exhuasted my "episodes" and I felt pretty good after that. I decided to talk to important people since big, weird things were happening with the agency I was with and my publishing house. Those people were a bit of a coup because I didn't have an appointment (Ms. I don't need anything). God was good. He knew I needed to talk with all of those people. So I networked like a fiend!

Ended up Saturday at Lisa Samson's Published Not Popular workshop, and I admit, once again, I started trouble. I joked that I was sitting in the Holy Ghost row (the front) and Marilynn made the mistake of sitting with me. Before Lisa is done I'm crying incessantly, but out of some kind of grateful JOY and then Mary breaks down, and then Lisa and Liz Curtis Higgs and practically everybody and we get a magnificent visitation that makes that little conference room HOLY GROUND. Lisa reminded us that we write out of love and obedience. It's the kind of word from God that strips you of ambition and makes you say, "Yes, Lord." Even if I never earn out my advance. Even if I never get off of food stamps. Even if I never get to buy my husband a new car, or have real medical insurance. I say YES, because I love you, and want to obey you."

Heady stuff.

Next was the book signing. Lisa, Mary, and I were still a little drunk from the big Holy Spirit move and kind of delirious. The three of us made the mistake of sitting together and we acted a pure fool. Everything was hilarious. Please don't sit by Lisa Samson or Marilynn Griffith if you need to be serious. It won't work.

From there was the Gala and we all got "Fly" in our finest finery. I got to take a picture with Liz Curtis Higgs and she told me not to go to Tattoo school (you had to have been there to understand). I took lots of pictures with women I adore. And the love flowed like wine pouring off the mountains. I know that metaphor doesn't make sense, but it's in Amos(I think), and it's beautiful!

I'm so glad I went. I got so many Jesus kisses that I started thinking He was sweet on me. And thanks to everybody who made it such a wonderful experience for me.

You know who you are.

Monday, September 18, 2006


Two days ago I woke up at 7:30 pm. That wasn't a typo. I awakened to start my day as it was becoming night. I can't tell you how badly I felt about it. A wave of self-loathing and shame rippled through me and I could hardly stand myself.

I'm in the thick of the night. It's early for it, but it is what it is. It didn't take long for things to go south since I start my day at night and with a heaping dose of self-hate. Before the night was over, I'd cried incessantly, frightened everyone in the house, and seriously considered exiting stage left, only a long time ago I made a promise to me not to murder myself. Even though I've had three attempts, I've managed to keep my promise for the last ten years, no matter how tough things have gotten.

I'm a survivor.

I've been communicating with a friend by email, and she too has experienced this night. She prayed for and exhorted me, and one of the most touching things she said was that I wouldn't loathe a friend who was sick and needed sleep. She said I was doing exactly what God wanted me to do: resting. I just cried and cried when I read that, because I wouldn't loathe a sick friend who was resting. It saddened me that I could not extend to myself the easy grace that I'd liberally offer another.

I've been reading the devotional book God Calling. It's written by "two friends", women who'd gathered together to pray. During these times, Jesus speaks to them, and they wrote the things He said. The entries are all in Jesus words to the friends (to all of us, really). Both women had seen more than there fair share of tragedy, poverty and suffering. I figured I could relate. Because I'd had such extremely harsh days, I missed some of the devotions. I went back and read in a quite space this morning. One entry moved me so deeply:

September 15

Quiet Strenght

"Rest in Me. When tired nature rebels it is her call for rest. Rest then, until My Life Power flows through you.

Have no fear for the future. Be quiet, be still, and in that very stillness your strength will come and will be maintained.

The world sees strenght in action. In My Kingdom it is known that strenght lies in quiet. "In quietness and in confidence shall be your strenght." Such a promise! Such glorious fulfillment! The strength of Peace and the Peace of strength. Rest in me. Joy in me."

That's so delicious, isn't it? It's an icon of God's mercy. He really does know all that we can bear. He doesn't despise us when we're weak. It's then that He really shows off. That night, when I hated myself for not waking up, He loved me perfectly as I slept.

I have a lot to learn about Him.


Sunday, September 10, 2006

Thinking About Fathers

I'm thinking about my fathers tonight.

I had two. There was the father whose DNA I carry--the one who married my mother. And then there is my father--the one who raised me, the husband of the great aunt that raised me from the time that I was ten months old until I walked out in to the world as an adult to have my own family.

My bio father is James Hawthorne. It's funny, my family always called him by both those names, James Hawthorne. It was never just James. I can't get those same people to call me Claudia Mair, but that's another story. So I heard lots of James Hawthorne stories growing up--we were a real story telling lot, but none of the James Hawthorne stories were good.

Someone told me a story about my father hijacking a Sears truck and selling the booty. I thought the story of him pretending to be a professor and teaching art at Temple Unversity until they found out he wasn't who he said he was is hilarious. I heard stories of him being in and out of jail. I must admit, he was a bit of a scoundrel. But we all have our "stuff", don't we? I think a lot of his failures were driven by his heroin addiction. Heroin was the big drug of the seventies, like crack and meth are the big drugs today. He was an alcholic--a legacy that would haunt most of his children in one way or another. I have no memory of seeing him in my childhood when he wasn't drunk, except for once. I had a rare visit to my bio mother's house when I was 13. It was the first time I'd stayed over. In fact, I spent about a week there. Let's just say the great aunt had a hard time letting me go. During this visit my sister took me to my paternal grandmother's house and he was there. He looked at me, nodded a greeting, and turned to watch television. He didn't recognize me.

And then there is my uncle father. He was a big,loud, manly man, like the Marlboro man, only he was a black construction worker. Oh, it was so sad to watch him waste away to 90 lbs when he had cancer. Lord, have mercy. He too, was an alcoholic, but the kind that worked hard, provided for his family, and pretty much stayed out of jail. He use to let me schlep around with him. I always talked him buying me toys at the grocery store. Or at least I'd get something from the bubble gum machines. He worked early in the morning, so he went to bed early, but that never stopped me from waking him up for whatever I wanted to say to him. I probably woke my father up about 12 times a night. Mostly because my brother Michael was tormenting me, but sometimes I'd be reading and got bright ideas. Like the time I decided I wanted a cat.

We were dog people. Never had a cat, but one night I asked Daddy for one. I completely forgot about it. I forgot most of what seemed so urgent that I had to wake him up. But he was my hero. He never forgot. One day I went into the basement and a cat greeted me. Scared the dickens out of me since I'd never seen a cat down there before and nobody bothered to tell me about him. I took 10 steps backward because that's what I heard you should do when you see a black cat. He wasn't black, but I did it anyway, just in case you needed to take ten step backward upon viewing all felines.

My Daddy (uncle) died when I was 10, only a two months after my beloved great-grandmother Ma Brown, whose name continues in my books, died. Poor Mama. Can you imagine burying your husband eight weeks after burying your mother. I miss all of them, because all three are with Jesus now.

My bio father still lives. He calls me sometimes, and he's sober--or he was the last time we spoke. I love him. He's mellowed out in his old age, and he's very sweet. He never fails to tell me how sorry he was he wasn't there for my childhood, and I forgive him. After all I'm forgiven much. I like having him in my life. He makes me laugh, calls me his baby, and he doesn't mind that I'm Eastern Orthodox.

A father that lavished love upon me, and a drunken absent father. A father who died when I was too young, and a father who might as well had been dead for his influence. It's a hard pill to swallow.

They say your relationship with your earthly father colors how you see the Father God. I think that's true. Most of my life I haven't really trusted the Father God. Maybe I thought He was mostly absent. Jesus was different. Jesus was much more approachable. It's like Jesus was Somebody who really loved me, and kept the big God from killing me. Sounds strange, but all those Charleton Heston God killing people with plague images must have gotten to me.

There are a few things I need from God. I need Him to be my Daddy. Something is going on with my housing situation. I may be forced to move. Or forced to rely on God to provide in a whole new way. I don't have a regular income. Money comes in burst--sometime nice, big bursts, and then it's gone. And often when money is thin, that's when disaster strikes. My car is finished, too. The engine fell out. Yeah, I know that sounds crazy, but the truth is, the engine mounts collapsed and the engine fell out, and it can't be repaired. That's completely absurd, isn't it? It actually made me laugh. The car ran pretty good and we'd just put a new, and very expensive transmission in it and then the engine fell out. I'm gonna have to put that in a book.

So, money is thin, and we may have to move, and we have no car and a place to live and a car are needful things. That leaves me with this thing of trusting God. I have to trust him. I can't connive, or manipulate. I have to go to Him honestly and just like a child, in the same way I asked my Daddy for a cat, I have to ask Daddy God for a car and a place to live. And I have to not think of these coming from anybody but God. I'm not asking anyone else to help us. No friend. No family. I'm simply asking my Father God.

You know what? He'll give me that. I don't think it's too hard for Him. Nor do I think he wants to punish me, though I completely deserve His holy wrath. But I think God loves me. I think He wants to give me more than I'm capable of even taking. That's what Theresa of Avila said, that God wants to give, give, give, if only there were takers.

I trust Him.

And God won't die. He won't disappear leaving me to navigate life with no guidance that every girl needs from a good man. God won't get drunk. He won't forget to call. He won't make promises He's incapable of keeping.

He is a different Father. He is the loving God kind.

And I take great comfort in that.

He'll take care of YOU, too.

Hey, if you remember, pray for us, okay?

"What I'm trying to do here is get you to relax to not preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving. People who know God and the way He works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how He works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday needs will be met. Give your attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes." Matthe." 6:31-34 The Message

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Dirty Hands in the Dark

It's always the same, but it surprises me every time.

I live in the midwest. Michigan. It's a temperate climate with breathtaking season changes. I long to be a Southern California girl. I'm beginning to think a change in place could save my life.

There's always that first cold day. You go outside, maybe to take the kids to school, and the frigid air bites into you. You're shocked to see what in summer would have been dew, frozen all over the car. You have to warm the car up.

That day always surprises me. It's cold here for much of Spring, and it's getting down to the fifties now, early in September. I know every year that cold day will come, and many more will follow, but I'm taken aback every single time.

I know the dark day will come for me. I could be going along, wearing tiaras and enjoying the love of friends and family, and then something shifts on the inside. I try to ignore that unstable something. I listen for it, but I go on, never letting on that I heard it. I felt it move. It's begun.

I start to sleep more in the day time, while my wild mind prowls about in the night devouring information, books, emails, IM's, television, movies. But nothing fills.

And then another shift, but not just a shift. Something falls from a high shelf and shatters to floor in my soul. And I hear it. I feel the force of it crashing to my own grund zero, splittering whatever it is into a million little shards cutting into me.

I don't eat but the bare minimum. And a little something sweet. I lie in bed willing myself to deal with this. To just keep breathing. I don't go anywhere not trusting what I'll want to do. I have to live. I tell myself I will win. I'll still be here in the Spring comes, but it feels like a lie. It's September. The days don't get swallowed hole by night descending before I cook dinner yet. I shouldn't be like this now. It shouldn't have fallen so soon, but it falls earlier every year.

I don't want to be this way. I don't want this suffering every year like clockwork. And don't tell me that I have a demon, or that I don't have faith, or that I'm speaking something negative. I've done more than I will ever tell you about. This is my cross and it doesn't move no matter how many times I ask Jesus to take it from me.

It's like darkness closing all around and I can't see anything. And that darkness is thick and palpable and it feels like God isn't real, only there is this part of me that knows God. This part that knows God does not forsake me. He actually enters the darkness with me. Holds me in it. This is the God who once asked that a particularly bitter cup be removed, and then said never the less, not My will. Your will be done.

I try to take my cue from Him.

I don't know why I tell you this, except that this is my story. I've learned to know God is with me no matter how dark the night. Maybe someone needs to hear simply that. Maybe someone is feeling about the ground for another hand, and just keeps coming up with fists full of dirt.

I'm here with a bit of good news. I promise you that God's hand rest atop yours. No matter how dirty they've become.


Friday, September 01, 2006

Princess Day

Today is my birthday.

It's Princess Mair day! Okay. So what. I haven't grown up enough to be the Queen yet. Cut me some slack. I'm working on it.

Actually I'm not, it's way more fun to be the Princess.

I've become remarkably easy to please at 42. I only wanted three things: to sleep as long and luxiouriously as possible. This is much easier to do now that I've gotten rid of the homicidal spring mattress and my walls are colored cinnamon diamonds. I want the second season of Grey's Anatomy on DVD, and I want to have a Columbo marathon right in my bed. Very Bell Brown.

I did get to sleep like a princess--well, not really. I mean, I didn't have to be cursed by an evil witch and have to be awakened by a charming prince. The prince did come in here, but I was already awake. He said:


"Hey, baby!" My sunny, well rested reply.

"I've been violently ill."

"Violently ill?" That didn't sound good. That sounded like I'd have to cook dinner! Preparing dinner is not on my birthday agenda.

"And the phone has been ringing non-stop."

Of course the phone has been ringing! It's the Princess'birthday!

"Are you okay, Ken?"

"Yeah. It was that pizza."

Honestly, ALL food makes Ken sick. We have this kind of conversation every day.

Ken: "Did you pre-order your DVD's yet?"

"No. I wanted to make sure it was okay."

He makes some unintelligible noise that sounds like a cross between a grumble and an agonized moan. I make it affirmative, whether or not it is.

Ken: "I gotta go shopping. Sorry for the late start."

"It's not late. I just woke up!" And it's so 4:00 in the evening, but I'm a princess! I can sleep for hundreds of years if necessary, and still wake up gorgeous and sought after.

The babies come into the room. They aren't really babies anymore. They're seven and nine. We still call them the babies though.

"Happy Birthday, Mom."

"Thank you!"

"Did you see your presents?"

I'm surrounded by hand made cards crafted with love, and a lot of glitter. Few presents could possibly touch my heart more than these. They also give me a piece of polished glass. A little circle of pale pink and purple. I tell them it will be my lucky stone. I give them big hugs, and revel in the feel of their little girl bodies, now all long legs and arms, pressed into me. They grow so fast, don't they?

Kamau blows into the room like a tornado. My boy. At twelve he is silly and noble, and as close to perfect child as a mere mortal can get. "Happy Birthday, Mom." He says this in one of his gazillion crazy voices. He blows out of my room practically before I can get the thank you out of my mouth.

Abby is next, and she throws her hands up with her birthday greeting. She tells me I can eat all the cake I want because calories don't count on Princess Birthdays.

Woo hooo.

Does it get any better than this? Snail mail and email love. A surprise letter from the prodigal boy, phone calls and hugs and no calories! I think I'll have myself a t-bone steak in that case!

God's goodness is so evident in the most simple things. I don't have to work hard at practicing His presence today. He's everywhere, filling me up with His sweetness like icing. Raining on me like confetti. Being my McDreamy.

Thank you God. For everything I wanted. For everything I needed. For never going away.

I love you!

Princess Mair (For real! I've even got a jeweled tiara in my afro today! Woo hoo!).