Friday, August 28, 2015

Fiction Friday - Contemporaries - Chapter Five


            After a somewhat restless night’s sleep, Karen determined on a course of action to the best of her ability. Her curiosity wouldn’t let her completely trust the Wellbrooke’s, despite Miles’ specific instructions. But she also knew she would need their help in order to do whatever it was that she was supposed to do here in Kentucky. The smell of coffee floated upstairs at around 6:00am, and because she wasn’t sleeping anyway, she headed down to try to get some energy for the day ahead. She had decided that she wouldn’t need to change the locks or worry about the Kentucky property, but she was still wondering why Miles had sent her all this way.
            Over steaming cups of black coffee, she chatted with Marybelle, but couldn’t determine much from her. She could tell Marybelle was very positive and friendly, but there were times when the conversation would repeat itself, or something strange would come out of her mouth and Karen wondered about dementia. When she had eaten as many bites of the plain oatmeal as she could stand, she headed out to the barn to see if she could find Eli.
            At the door of the barn, she stopped in her tracks when she heard two distinct male voices, with very strident tones.
            “I don’t know that I like strangers on this property. I told you already that I don’t feel like you two need to be staying here for very long and I mean that. Now you’re coming around poking in my business, and all you are is a friend of a stranger. She may have a right to be on this property, but you don’t!”
            “I wasn’t poking in your business; I don’t know what you’re so paranoid about! I only was asking about the sale price, trying to help my “friend” out with her job. She didn’t even know this dude; much less you and your wife, so I don’t know what problem you can have, because it’s not your property.”
            Eli’s voice lowered, but Karen could just make out the next part. “Maybe it should be.” He mumbled as he scraped the tines of the metal fork along the concrete walkway.
            She stepped through the doorway, having calmed a bit, knowing who the voices were. Maybe she couldn’t trust Eli with any details of the estate or finances, but she could hopefully learn something about Miles. “Hey Eli. Sorry to cause you so much trouble, I couldn’t help overhead a part of your conversation. Justin can be a pain sometimes, but I know he was only trying to help. He is right that I don’t, didn’t know Miles very well. Do you think you could tell me more about his family and what he did when he visited the farm? Especially during that last visit?”
            Eli looked a bit sheepish to be caught arguing with someone only a third his age, but he nodded his head. He still glanced untrustingly toward Justin as he said, “We can speak privately, I have an office in the sunroom on the back of the house. I’ll meet you there in about 15 minutes.”
            “Sounds good.” Karen said, as Eli limped off toward the storage room in the barn. Then she turned to Justin, “What are you doing in my business anyway? I know you’re bored, but I didn’t even know you were up yet, and you’re out here bothering our hosts?”
            “Whatever.” Justin shrugged it off with his usual grin. “You must think I sleep more than I do. I was up and had breakfast before you quit snoring.”
            “I do not snore.” Karen hid a smile as she headed in to find another cup of coffee. She had the feeling it was going to be a long day.
           
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When Karen reached the office area in the back of the house, coffee mug in hand, she found a surprisingly dark room despite the many windows. The huge shade trees at the back of the house blocked most of the light. The thick curtains and blinds seemed to shut out whatever remained. She certainly wouldn’t call this a sunroom, or want to do much work either. She shivered at a blast of cool air as she passed a window air conditioner.
Eli hadn’t arrived yet, so she took a few moments to look around the room. One wall held several bookshelves, piled haphazardly with an eclectic mix of new and old books. The shelves held everything from fiction, to farm equipment, to what looked like ancient accounting ledgers. There was a desk against the main wall of windows, and one set of curtains was open, looking towards the barn area behind the house. There was an 1970’s style wooden chair pulled up to the desk and a soft armchair between the bookshelves. Karen settled into the bookshelves, hoping that the piles of books on the shelves above her would stay in their places.
Eli came in directly from the outdoors, through the sunroom door, scraping his feet on an industrial strength entry mat. He took off his jacket and settled into the old wooden chair with relatively few squeaks. Karen wasn’t entirely sure if the squeaking was from the old wood or his old bones. “Did you have a specific question in mind about Miles, or do you just want an old man’s opinion of what’s important?”
Karen smiled, if there was anything she knew in her relatively short life, she knew the answer to that question. “I’ll hear your story, if you don’t mind sharing it?”
Eli settled back in the chair and then crossed his ankles, looking up at a cobweb on the ceiling. “My story may not be as interesting as you think, but I hope you listen carefully.” He sighed, and rubbed his swollen knuckles.
We first met Miles’ father, Marcus Tanner, when he was only about 30 years old. He wasn’t married and Miles wasn’t born yet. This was many years ago, as I’m sure you can tell, so I won’t tell you how old I am, although my wife and I have been married 48 years last March.”
“Congratulations.” Karen murmured, wondering how long of a story she had gotten herself into.
“Marcus had just bought this property, house and all, and wasn’t planning on staying here, so he came into town, that’s London, if you’re wondering, and found me and Marybelle reading the local want ads at a cafĂ©. That may not be exactly how it went, but this was many years ago, and that’s the way I always tell the story.” He narrowed his eyes, daring Karen to make a comment on interrupt.
“So he hired you to work the farm?”
“I guess so. At first we were only supposed to come twice a week, but then the animals came, and he left, and before we knew it, we had to move in to keep up with everything. He paid us a fair wage, and never minded us taking over the property. I used to wonder what he was doing with the place, until he started visiting regularly. Whenever he visited, he would have Ellen Fisher come over. It wasn’t long before they were married and Miles was on the way.”
“So Ellen was from around here, but Marcus wasn’t?” Karen asked.
“Well, as far as we know at least. The thing is, that Ellen disappeared about 3 years after Miles was born, and Marybelle and I stepped in and raised Miles on our own.”
“You mean with his father?”
“Nope. Marcus Tanner went right back to wherever he came from. I don’t even know for sure where that was, because all we had to contact him were a phone number and a PO Box, and they were in different cities. As best I could tell, the area code was in North Carolina, and the PO Box was in Chatanooga, Tennessee.”
“Okay. I really hate to keep interrupting you, but I want to understand. Are you telling me that Miles never saw his father again? That you raised him as your son?”
“I guess we did. I never thought about it like that, but he needed someone to love him.” At this point the old man finally broke down in tears. “We never had any kids of our own, and didn’t know what else to do. The authorities would have just taken him away. All I had was a piece of paper from his dad, and the phone number and post office box.” The silent tears were swiped away angrily, “Marcus only visited one more time after that. Miles was 10 years old and hadn’t seen his dad in over 6 years. I took Marcus aside and told him if he wasn’t planning on staying, or taking his son with him, he should never come back.”
Now the sobbing became violent, and Marybelle rushed in from the kitchen, putting her arms around her husband and narrowing her eyes at Karen. “Give us a few minutes, dear. You can continue your conversation later. His heart, you know, we don’t want to overtax him.”

Karen left the room, having learned something new about Miles, but nothing to solve the mystery of his death, or her supposed danger.



Feel the need to catch up on the previous chapters? Use the handy links below or click on the writing tab at the top of the page.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

New Friends

Theoretically, Facebook should make it easier to make new friends. And sometimes it does. But you can't even truly consider someone your friend until you've met them in person. Why? Because you can't know who they really are.

I can assume that I will like or dislike someone based on their Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest accounts (I'm getting old, so forgive me if I've left anything truly important out). Maybe you even read their blog or follow their podcast, and you think, "I'm really getting to know this person and like what I see". The thing is, that no matter how honest or emotional or verbose they may be online, they may be a completely different person in real life.

Even the first few times meeting a new potential friend can feel a little awkward One or both of you may put on a facade and not be your true self (just as many people do when they are dating). I can feel strange and you still don't truly know that person.

But let me encourage you to try. Whether you use Facebook or traditional methods, go out there and try to make a new friend. Try to make a friend that you wouldn't otherwise be interested in, but you have one thing in common. Try to make a friend that does something or thinks something completely different than you. Try to make a friend of a different age or a different race or a different family structure.

The thing is, we are called to live in community, The community is not online, it's in the real world, So if you're an introvert, go do introvert things that involve PEOPLE. If you're an extrovert, quit talking about yourself so much and LISTEN to someone. And if you're an ambivert, get off your couch and quit waiting for people to come to you. There is someone out there who needs your friendship. Maybe they just need someone to talk to. Maybe they need a helping hand (or a 32 foot ladder, if you know anyone). Maybe they need a babysitter or a job or a place to garden or some extra food. If we keep doing the same things we've been doing, we'll keep getting the same results.

If you don't have any new friends in life, get out there and make some. They don't have to be your best friend, just keep open arms and an open heart. You don't have to agree with them, you just have to love them anyway.

Get out and explore your world.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Discipline

This is a double post, about self-discipline and discipline for kids.

I have very little self-discipline. I've been trying this whole "no added sugar" thing, and completely polished off the leftover cookies from Daniel's birthday party. I start things (exercise programs, flossing my teeth, reading my Bible) and never get into a good enough habit that I continue them. It's frustrating to say the least, but even more so when my husband has the self-discipline of 10 men.

So, I keep chugging along and "try hard" and nothing changes. Here's the real kicker, though: as Christians we are to live as new creations. So my old self will pass away and I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. So what's my excuse now? Obviously, I'm human, as we all are, and I have my failings and sin in my life, but maybe instead of "working harder" to improve an area of my life, I just need to love harder, pray harder, and let God do the work He wants to do in me.

Now, to disciplining kids. I have some good things (generally consistency) but I also have some bad things in my discipline strategies. I have all these fabulous people around me who magically discipline their kids while maintaining their calm, cool, and collected voices. That usually lasts me about 10 minutes before I get frustrated and raise my voice. I could use excuses, like a lack of sleep, but I know my kids deserve better.

So, what are some strategies for both of these problems that I'm currently facing? How do I let God do the work in me that He wants and work towards disciplining my kids more pro-actively instead of reactively?

I think part of it comes down to expectations. The higher expectations I set for myself (or my kids) the more quickly I will become frustrated. I am human, they are human. God is doing his work in us, and He will complete it, but we need to be patient and let Him do the work, instead of doing it all ourselves. I have incredibly high expectations for what God can do, but if I lower the expectations for what I can do on my own, He has room to step in and fulfill everything else.

If I'm expecting my kids to be anything other than preschool (or Kindergartners) then I'm not doing them or myself any favors in discipline. I have recently started only addressing behavior if it is inappropriate for their age. Does it really matter if my two boys eat a meal under or on top of the table (they are both pretty safety-conscious at this point)? Does it really "hurt" them to be so involved in their school activity that our schoolroom becomes a complete mess of play and fun and learning? If they end up breaking their toy after I've warned them several times, isn't that punishment enough?

I have also started reviewing rules in certain situations where I know my kids tend to get a little wild and excited (like the library). I can't tell you how thrilled I was when we "stood on the line" on the library sidewalk and reviewed the rules. I asked who knew what our library rules were, and the 2.5 year old piped right up with "walking feet".

I know that God will continue to work in me on more effectively and lovingly disciplining my kids, and myself.

Without love, I am nothing.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Getting a Toddler to Sleep

It seems really cute when someone puts a comment on a new baby post that says, "here come the sleepless nights". But then, the sleepless nights really do come. And what they don't tell you, is that they don't ever stop! I only have two kids, so I can't imagine people that have more than that ever get any sleep.

Why am I not sleeping? Well, the first is just the random factor. Odds are, at least once or twice a week, each child will be up in the early am (5am or so) and not be able to get back to sleep. Or they will have a nightmare or hear a noise and come snuggle with mom and dad. This part I don't mind as much.

Why else am I not sleeping? Because my toddler is trying to drive me insane with sleep deprivation! When we first moved to our new house, I was so proud of how well he slept, because he's always been a bit of a difficult sleeper. Well, that was a mistake - the pride. Somehow, he's gotten it in his head that bedtime is now 11:00pm. Nothing we do or say helps.

We've tried continuously putting him to bed starting at 9:30pm, but we usually give up after an hour and a half (at which point he would have been asleep anyway using our current method of "nothing"). We've tried bribery, we've tried nightlights that turn colors when it's okay to get up. I even purchased a book that's essentially trying to hypnotize children into bed (of course, my good sleeper fell in love with the book and asks for it every night, go figure).

It seemed so easy with my oldest child. He would actually ask to take a nap when he was 2 or 3. Although he is giving up his naps now, which makes it even harder because I can't catch up on my sleep with a nap when the toddler naps.

Oh, I didn't mention that the toddler has absolutely no problem napping (usually, crossing fingers)? It's just between the hours of 9-11pm that he refuses to sleep...

So, we finally ordered some melatonin. Hopefully, a little drug therapy and some desperate prayers will eventually solve this situation. Because Mommy need sleep!

Oh, and just FYI, if I look like a zombie right now, that's because I feel like one. And I've been having some really weird dreams, like a place that sells honey butter chicken and biscuits called Bah Bar Shop. Don't ask me where my brain comes up with these things. I'm pretty sure I'll just be hallucinating constantly in a couple weeks.


Monday, August 24, 2015

Post-Modern Theology and Morals

For the purposes of this post, I'm using the Merriam-Webster definition of post-modern "of, relating to, or being a theory that involves a radical reappraisal of modern assumptions about culture, identity, history or language."

First, I want to say that there is truly nothing new under the sun. We seem to think that we are the only "post-modern" society, when anyone who has actually studied theology, philosophy or history, knows the cyclical nature of the world we live in.

Second, I want to point out a few fallacies of a post-modern theology or moral stand.

For the first part, if you are familiar with your Bible, you may associate "nothing new under the sun" with Ecclesiastes. If you have read Ecclesiastes or Job, you will see several examples of "post-modern" thinking from approximately 950 years before Christ.

Nearly all of the great philosophers challenged current thinking, and asked critical questions about life, culture, and theology. So, to say that a new way of thinking is unique to only this generation, is a little naive.

Now, let's look at some fallacies in what is considered to be "post modern" theology and morals.

First, there is the idea that if the general populace agrees on a new moral, then it shall be. This is not only a moral fallacy, but a "post modern" conundrum. If what we are doing is radically reappraising modern assumptions, then why would the cultural plurality be the answer?

If we are doing away with every moral compass and just going off of each individual persons moral compass, then how can you judge anyone for breaking a law or doing something you feel is wrong (it is, after all, just your opinion)?

I find that many post-modern people believe two things about theology: that the Biblical standard for right and wrong is irrelevant, and that bad people deserve to get punished and "good" people do not.

First, if the Biblical standard for right and wrong is irrelevant, then why should you personally get to determine who gets punished and who doesn't? What is your standard? Every law and morality in the universe is based, to at least some degree, on the moral standard of the Bible. Are you really greater than those who come before you? If you think so, definitely read Ecclesiastes, you need to hear it.

Second, if bad people deserve to get punished then on what moral standard should they be punished? Should they only be punished if it's something that's personal to you? Should they only be punished if they hurt someone physically? Should they only be punished if they hurt someone who can't hurt them back? To what degree have they done wrong and who determines that degree? The government? The populace? Courts and judges? The media?

The painful beauty of truth is that we have all sinned. My sincere hatred of another person is just as hurtful to society, myself, and God, as the physical murder of a man. We can attempt to justify all we want to that our good outweighs our bad, but who is to determine that? The scales of justice truly are blind, in that God cannot look upon sin, of any kind.

The sad truth of our "Me society" and the "Facebook generation" is that we feel that our own viewpoint must be true because we can be friends with other people who feel the same way we do. In all honesty, if we started a petition to have people who don't have children be allowed to count their dogs as dependents, we could probably get it to pass in Congress. Society is no longer based on standards, but rather based on opinions. The dangers of not thinking for yourself can seem humorous, but they are all too real.

To truly live in a "post-modern" society (whether 950 BC or 2015), we need to be able to think critically and have an answer for the faith to which we've been called. My faith is not groundless. My faith is not tradition. I know who God is because I have seen His power at work in my life and in the lives of those around me. God is not someone to be feared or a religion to be hated. Jesus was not a good man or a great prophet. Christianity was never designed to sit within the four walls of a church one morning out of the week. I walk in the way that I was taught, not because I was taught it, but because it has been proven true.

Ask critical questions. Ask where your own moral standards come from. Learn what others are thinking without letting it dilute the truth. Let's live in a post-modern society and become the post-post-modernists. Or would that be the post-modern modernists? Here is the biggest critical question to ask when you are evaluating your own heart and beliefs: If you claim to be a Christian, are you simultaneously trying to claim that your viewpoint is greater than His?

I'm not a big history buff if you ask me about dates or names or battles. But I can tell you that history comes in cycles, and I pray and hope that we are due for another Great Awakening soon.