>Forgiveness: Giving Up All Hope of Having Had a Better Past

>I’m packing to go to my 40th high school reunion in Jackson, Mississippi today. After drafting 10 of 16 chapters of a memoir which includes some painful memories of school days, I set the memoir aside and started writing a different book this summer. Tolstoy said:

“You must be wounded into writing, but you shouldn’t write until the wound has healed”

Not sure I’ll wait that long, but at least for now I’m moving on to something else. (My spiritual journey, which also has plenty of wounds, but more of them have healed, thank God.)

Anyway, I think the timing is good, as I’m looking forward to being with over 200 of my (over 400) high school classmates tonight and tomorrow. Really. Even though I didn’t accomplish the things I hoped to achieve before the reunion, namely:

Lose 10 more pounds.

Publish my first book.

And yes, I’m heading down to Mississippi with a bit of trepidation. But I’m trying to muster up some forgiveness and humility. Like Anne Lamott said in her memoir, Operating Instructions:

“I heard some one say once that forgiveness is having given up all hope of having had a better past.”

Imagine how freeing that could be. I’m working on it.

Lots to do today to get ready for the big weekend. Have to try on about a dozen outfits to pick out the 3 that make me look less fat. Then pack those 3 plus about 3 more in case I change my mind during the weekend. Obsessive? You bet. But you should have seen the beauty queens at my high school. Ole Miss had nothing on them.

This helps: Lots of my classmates have reconnected through email and Facebook over the past few months as the reunion draws near. One person I’ve enjoyed communicating with has also gotten into writing, and painting. We’ve had a great time emailing, but finally I wrote him and said, “I’ve just got to tell you how shocked I am that you are communicating with me. I don’t think you ever spoke to me in high school. I was intimidated by you because you were in the tough boy/in crowd.” He wrote me back and said, “Susan, we were all scared to death in high school… we were just trying to survive! If I didn’t speak to you it was because I was afraid you wouldn’t speak back.”

Sure wish we could have had these grownup perspectives when we were going through adolescent hell, you know?

Or even while trying to figure out what to do with those stupid hair pieces on prom night! Well, here goes….

>Heroes

>A while back I did a post which was really a cry for help: “I Need a Hero!”

Today I’m writing to celebrate many such heroes who have arisen from the dust on several battle fronts.

First, the on-going saga within the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese… of which my home parish here in Memphis, Saint John, is a member. There are several sites where you can catch up on the drama, but I’ll only list a couple here:

Orthodox Christians for Accountability

Owen White (a parishioner at St. John) blogs at Ochlophobist, and his recent post, “Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Convention Fragments” is excellent.

Voice of Orthodox Christian Unity has a post-convention report.

I’m sure there are many others, but I don’t want to get lengthy here. Instead I want to direct you to two audio links within Owen’s post-convention post, and the heroes highighted there:

First Hero: My Goddaughter, Sarah Hodges, (wish I had a better picture) courageously calling for a vote not to fund convicted sex offender, Bishop DIMITRI, during the Legal Committee meeting. Listen to it here. I listened to this over and over last night, and wept with pride for Sarah’s calm courage, but also with sadness for Metropolitan PHILIP and so many others who disrespected her publically. As Met. PHILIP tried to deflect the truth of Sarah’s efforts with stories about St. Paul and St. Mary Magdalene (comparing them with Bp. DIMITRI!) I pictured Mary Magdalene standing up to Pontius Pilate for his injust treatment of Christ. Sarah was a hero that day. Shame on Met. PHILIP and the other men and women who harassed her and by so doing disrespected our Church, our faith, and our Lord.

Second Hero: My spiritual father, the Archpriest John Troy Mashburn, who called for an immediate audit by a high profile CPA firm and further much needed actions during the Finance Committee meeting, and also Matt Spinolo, who stepped up to offer estimates for the cost of the audits. Both men were summarily dismissed by Met. PHILIP. You can listen to the proceedings here.

My heart is heavy with sadness over the narcissism that’s causing so much harm in our church. I don’t know how it will be resolved. All I can do is continue to pray and cling to Christ’s promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against His Church. (Matthew 16:18) And cheer for our heroes who are not afraid to speak up against corruption.

Mickey Hodges and Owen White are also my heroes, as they continue their labors to supply much-needed information to Orthodox Christians and the world about these happenings. And also to Orthodox attorney, Jack Turner, who traveled to the Convention prepared to read the police report on Bishop DIMITRI’s sexual assault on a woman in a gambling casino, but he wasn’t allowed to read it. Heroes, all of you. And yeah, I’m feeling a bit emotional, as I look back on the first 17 years of my marriage–my very bumpy journey to Orthodoxy–and then the next 22 years of being in the Orthodox Church, which has continued to be bumpy. Would I be anywhere else? No. Where would I go? Here I find God, especially in His heroes.

As I walked into my dining room to say my Morning Prayers today, my eyes fell on this photograph, taken in April of 1990. It’s me with two of my heroes: a much younger (and beardless!) Father John Troy with Sarah Hodges and me on the day of her Chrismation, almost 20 years ago.

On a different front, Kim Michelle Richardson continues to step up as a hero, advocating for the rights of victims of abuse by clergy, and also for the rights of children without families. In this recent post on her web site, “The Unbreakable Child,” she stands up against the harm being caused by the movie, “Orphan,” recently released by Warner Brothers. Thanks for your continued courage and love, Kim!

This morning I sent emails to the CEO of Warner Brothers and a group of his execs, protesting the movie and encouraging them to consider producing movies which offer hope and healing for victims of abuse while also shedding light on the great need for good homes to help children heal after the loss of their birth parent(s). I encouraged them to consider Kim’s story, “The Unbreakable Child.” I’d be first in line for a ticket.

If you’re interested in writing to these folks at Warner Brothers, send me an email and I’ll give you their contact information. You might be thinking it’s futile, but what if everyone had that response to the evil they saw around them? Maybe together our voices will be heard.

>Operating Instructions

>

As I was about to leave Memphis to fly to Denver on Tuesday to spend a week with my son, Jason, and his wife, See, and my granddaughter, Grace, my dear friend, Deb, came over with a gift for Grace—a wonderful Richard Scarry book. But there was also a book for me—Operating Instructions—by one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott. Her memoirs and novels are terrific, but I had never read this book, which was put together from her journal of her son’s first year.

I read over half of it on the plane coming over… making use of the extra hour we sat on the runway waiting for the thunderstorms to pass over. No matter… the book is amazing. Such a preview of what I was going to walk into… spending a week in the home of a couple with a newborn baby. Nothing could have been better preparation. It has been 32 years since my oldest was a baby and yes, you actually do forget how exhausting it is, so that the species will continue, whether by birth or adoption.

Lamott
, a single mother who helped care for her father as he died, says:

“No one ever tells you about the tedium…. And no one ever tells you how crazy you’ll be, how mind-numbingly wasted you’ll be all the time. I had no idea. None. But just like when my brothers and I were trying to take care of our dad, it turns out that you’ve already gone ahead and done it before you realize you couldn’t possibly do it not in a million years.”

She writes candidly about being totally in love with Sam (her newbown) one day and wanting to kill him the next. Or even the same day. It’s not post-partum insanity. It’s really quite human. That’s one thing I love about Lamott… she allows herself—and us—to be human. (My favorite books of hers are Bird by Bird, Grace, Eventually, and Plan B.)

Listen to her talk about what happens when Sam finally goes to sleep and she has time “to herself”:

“I start to think about the millions of things I could do around the house or at my desk, and I decide on just one thing that could really make a difference in the quality of our life, and then I usually end up thinking, Gee, that sounds like a lot of work for a woman who hasn’t brushed her teeth in three days.”

I’m not even the mother here… just the grandmother… and I found myself not washing my hair for three days and yes, not brushing my teeth until the afternoon one day. And you might laugh, but I went four days without even getting my computer out to write on my blog, FaceBook, or Twitter! (Yeah… I did check email on my Blackberry…. but only minimally.) The point is, taking care of a newborn baby is the most demanding, exhausting, job there is. Exhilarating? Sometimes? Rewarding? Sometimes. So why do we do it?

Survival of the species, I guess. And for me, this week with my granddaughter holds a special significance… a healing of sorts. You see, my son, Jason, Grace’s father, was abandoned by his birth mother when he was less than three years old. We don’t know anything about those first couple of years… but seeing him with his own daughter, as he says, his own “flesh and blood,” takes my breath away. I’ve cried almost every day since I got here.

And for me, a woman who couldn’t bear children, holding the birth child of one of my adopted children is like a bridge to the stars. Tonight, Jason and I talked about the miracle that Grace is—for him and for me—and there was this connection that was pure gold.

One minute we’re hugging and crying and the next we’re watching stupid movies on TV while Grace sleeps and laughing at the words on the inside of the beer cap that Jason just opened: “Nuttier than a squirrel turd.” Now that’s flavor for you. (We’d usually be grossed out, but once you’re used to diaper duty, nothing really bothers you any more. Did you know there’s a section in What to Expect: The First Year called “The Scoop on Poop”? It describes in fairly good detail, the various colors and textures of your baby’s diaper contents and what they mean. Grace has already moved from “Grainy, greenish yellow or brown—transitional stools which start turning up on the third or fourth day after birth” to “Slightly formed; light brownish to light yellow to dark green—normal formula stools.”

See’s mother has come over a couple of times this week to visit, and to bathe Grace. See’s family is Hmong, and her mother passes on many of their traditional ways of doing things… including an accomplished talent for “swaddling” the baby so that she feels secure and sleeps better. What a joy to be taught this skill and see its benefit to Grace.

And I’ve even learned how to cook the traditional Hmong chicken and rice that the new mother eats for 30 days following childbirth to strengthen her bones and replace the energy she lost while carrying the child and giving birth. First you skin the chicken (we used Rock Cornish game hens for better flavor) and cut it into pieces and boil it for 10 minutes, skimming the yucky stuff that floats to the top. Then you pour off the water and add fresh water and a bunch of green herbs that were flown in from Hmong relatives in California and cook it some more. See eats it three times a day with rice. That’s it. And I thought the traditional Orthodox fasting regiment was boring.

Oh, before I leave Anne Lamott’s book altogether, I want to share something she said that I thought was profound. Lamott is a Christian, a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, and a successful author living in a liberal community. She talks candidly about her faith throughout all her books, and in this one, she talks about the crucifix she has on the wall in her house:

“I went in and stared at the crucifix for a long time and breathed it in. I believe in it, and it’s so nuts. How did some fabulously cerebral and black-humored cynic like myself come to fall for all that Christian lunacy, to see the cross not as an end but as a beginning, to believe as much as I believe in gravity or in the size of space that Jesus paid a debt he did not owe because we had a debt we could not pay? It, my faith, is a great mystery…. I have a photograph on my wall of this ancient crucifix at a church over Corte Madera, a tall splintering wooden Christ with his arms blown off in some war, under which someone long ago wrote, ‘Jesus has no arms but ours to do his work and to show his love,’ and every time I read that, I always end up thinking that these are the only operating instructions I will ever need.”

If I thought my readers would hang in there with me, I’d write about the three trips I’ve made to Baby Depot to exchange the Boppy baby swing that had the wrong parts (twice) and we couldn’t open the battery compartment… or the craziness when I took the shuttle to the Hertz rental car place and left my cell phone on the shuttle and spent over an hour getting it back (thankfully) and then I had to get the instruction book out of the glove compartment to figure out how to start the ignition on the Nissan Murango I had rented, and then my GPS shut down as I was driving from the airport to Jason and See’s apartment but I finally got there. But those were just frustrations preparing me for a week with a newborn.

And now I’ve only got one day left and I miss her already. I am smitten. I’ll just put a few pictures here, and an album on my FaceBook page, and let you decide how long you want to spend oogling her.

Oh, and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know a few of Jason and See’s friends here in Denver… actually, one couple with a new little boy are coming over tomorrow, so they won’t make this post.

Sleep deprivation is setting in (and I have a sore throat and cough) so I won’t try to wax eloquent… I’ll just close with the best: one of my favorite pictures of Grace. God, I love her so much. I’ll be home Monday and will return to subjects much more mundane on Tuesday! Enjoy! And check out my FaceBook page for an album full of pics.

>The Ruffled Apron

>Coming soon, to a kitchen near you! VERY near you. Your own kitchen, in fact! Today I had a meeting with my near “personal chef,” Caitlyn Manning, who is just getting her new business, “The Ruffled Apron,” on its feet. I think I’m her second “regular” client, and I am sooooo excited for this to begin.

Here’s Caitlyn and Claire at our 50s dinner club a couple of years ago.. making mashed potatoes and meat loaf in style! Hi honey, I’m home!

Here’s how it works, at least in my case. (She can design her service to fit your needs.) Every Friday she will email me my menu choices (based on the extensive interview/survey she did with me today) for the following week. On Monday morning she will do the grocery shopping (YES!) and then bring the food to my kitchen and prepare three meals for us, each of which will serve 4. (Yeah, there are only 2 of us, but we can either have leftovers or company.) She’ll put two of them in my freezer with instructions for how to heat them up later in the week, and one will go in the fridge for the first night. Salad ingredients, chopped up and ready to mix together, along with her homemade salad dressings, will be in the fridge.

She’s also going to chop up a big container of fresh fruit that we’ll eat on during the week.


Since we’re Orthodox Christians and we fast from meat and dairy on Wednesdays and Fridays, she’s going to include one fast-friendly meal into the mix. (During longer periods of fasting, she’ll cook all fast-friendly meals for us.)

I can hear the nay-sayers in the background: What about personal choices for foods? She covered that in the interview. What about health issues? Covered–she’s going to focus on low fat ingredients as much as possible, at my request. What if I dont like something? I’ll tell her and she won’t fix it again. Duh. Or she’ll adjust it if it’s too spicy, etc.

So, what am I going to be doing since I won’t be cooking much, um, possibly ever. (Did I mention that I really really don’t like to cook?) Here’s the plan:

Mondays through Fridays: 3-5 hours/day WRITING (probably at the library on my new MacBook Pro, which I love); 45min to one hour/day exercise (on new elliptical machine, which I also love); 2 hours/day for everything else, you know, like laundry, errands, paperwork, email, blogging, Facebook, Twitter, and the occasional coffee or lunch with a friend. In other words, I’m headed into serious writing mode beginning the first week in August.

Weekends: More time to exercise, work on projects around the house, and hang out with my hubby and friends. And when I’m out of town, hubby will have healthy meals ready to warm up and enjoy. Hopefully, we’ll be eating out less… I’d like to recover the joy of eating out as a treat, and not something you do just because you don’t like to cook!

The only thing that could mess up my plan? I’ve been called to jury duty (first time ever)… I have to appear on July 30, to choose dates I’d be available to serve, I think. We’ll see how that fits with the new plan. One way or another, delicious, healthy meals from the Ruffled Apron lady will be such a treat!

Watch for a blog post with photos of Caitlyn cooking in my kitchen on August 3. If you’re interested in her service, let me know (leave a comment or send me an email) and I’ll send you her contact info. Her blog doesn’t have her Ruffled Apron info up yet, but she’s working on it. (She’s also on Facebook.)

Mmmmmm! I can smell the aroma now! I’m off to Denver to spend a week with my new granddaughter, Grace Malia, and my son, Jason, and his wife, See, tomorrow! And yes, I’ll be cooking a bit while I’m there, but it won’t be of the same quality as the Ruffled Apron. Anyway, See’s on a special diet for 30 days post partum, but Jason will probably enjoy some good old Southern pot roast, etc. I can handle that. He also mentioned recently that he’s missing ribs…. but I don’t cook ribs. Seems like there’s an ap for that…. hogsfly.com or something?

>My Sister’s Keeper

>
Last night my daughter and I went to see “My Sister’s Keeper,” starring Sofia Vasillieva,(who plays the older daughter on the TV show, “Medium,”)Cameron Diaz, Abigail Breslin, Jason Patric, Alec Baldwin and Joan Cusack. Some great actors.

I hadn’t read the book, by Jodi Picoult.

In an interview, Jodi says:

“I personally am pro stem-cell research – there’s too much good it can to do simply dismiss it. However, clearly, it’s a slippery slope… and sometimes researchers and political candidates get so bogged down in the ethics behind it and the details of the science that they forget completely we’re talking about humans with feelings and emotions and hopes and fears… like Anna and her family. I believe that we’re all going to be forced to think about these issues within a few years… so why not first in fiction?”

I haven’t cried so much at a movie in a long time. And not just because of the good writing and acting and huge emotional impact of the storyline… but also because of what the actor Jason Patric calls “the cracks and resentments that threaten the foundation of our lives” in one of his lines as the father in the story. He was questioning the choice his wife and he made to genetically engineer a child to serve as a “donor child” to try to keep their cancer-ridden daughter alive. He questioned whether or not they had “gone against nature.”

This morning I woke up with these questions on my mind. After a cup of coffee on the patio in this amazingly cool and dry weather for Memphis in July, I came back inside to think some more about what I might write about this story. Picoult did excellent research and wrote an educated fiction story about a subject that will continue to gain importance in modern society. But, why? What’s driving this bus?

I think it’s fear of death. Even young Kate, near the end says she doesn’t fear death. What she fears is what her disease is doing to her family.

Important stuff for all of us to think about. I’m definitely going to get the book and read it now. I’d love to hear from others who have read the book or seen the movie–your thoughts?

>July Parties!

>
Okay, I admit it. Facebook is sucking up too much of my personal time. I haven’t written a thought-provoking blog post in a while, nor have I worked on my book or written any essays. Here it is 4:30 in the afternoon and my day is almost gone and no time to write. So, I’ll post a few pictures from recent celebrations and promise to write something in the next day or two!

Saturday night we drove down to Oxford, Mississippi, for Tom Franklin’s birthday party. (That’s Tom, right… photo by Doug McLain.) Tom and his wife, Beth Ann Fennelly, are both writers who also teach at Ole Miss. Read about my trip to the Neshoba County Fair to hear Tom read last summer. They are so generous and hospitable to the community around them. Listen to Beth Ann read from her poetry here. That’s Beth Anne, below, right. (Photo by Doug McLain.)

My husband and I went down to Tom’s party (which he invites everyone to on Facebook!)
along with our daughter, Beth,
and her friend, Kiel, who was visiting Memphis from Atlanta and had never been to Mississippi. I think he was favorably impressed, in spite of the tacky billboard along Highway 6 that says:

“Mississippi: Our Children Can’t Read.. We are all losers.”

Anyway, the evening was wonderful, including barbeque, a water slide (for those weighing 115 pounds or less… barely missed it, darn!) keg, wine, cake, and lots of great folks to visit with.

Including Tom and Beth Anne’s precious daughter, Claire, and her friend Cecile Roberts, daughter of Lyn Roberts, manager of Square Books. Photos of the girls by Doug McLain.

Bill enjoyed catching up with fraternity brother, Richard Howorth, outside on the patio.

Writing group buddies Doug, Herman, Michelle and Patti were all there, as well as Elizabeth Kaiser from Barry Hannah’s Thursday Pub Crawl and Scrawls.

All in all a great summer night in Mississippi!

It was fun to visit with Debbie and Neil White, too.(in photo below, with Michelle and me)

Then on Tuesday night I hosted a going-away-girlfriend-party for my Goddaughter, Julie Stanek, who is moving to New Jersey at the end of July. July and I have shared lots of great times during the years she’s been in Memphis. She an artist, and hosted the Mixed Bag Ladies gatherings a while back, where I met some more of her artist friends.

So, we had a private room at Grove Grill where we had fun with

water-tattoos and worked on a memory book for Julie.

I’m going to miss her sooooo much, but wish her happiness!

Running out of time to write, so enjoy the pictures. Here’s Nancy and Julie.

Jenny and Julie with the drawing Jenny did of Julie for her memory book.

Jenny and Sue working on memory book during dinner.

Julie and Janan.

More parties coming up, with a wedding on Sunday and folks here from out of town. Stay tuned!

>SuSu is a Grandmother!

>Nearly 24 hours after being induced, See Vang Cushman gave birth to our first grandchild, in Denver Colorado, on Tuesday night. Please join us in welcoming GRACE MALIA CUSHMAN to our family!

After two failed epidurals, antibiotics for fever, and long hours of waiting, we are so thankful for the safe birth of our beautiful granddaughter.

Here are the stats:

4:48 p.m. (Mountain Time) on July 14, 2009
6 pounds, 2 ounces, 19 1/2 inches long!

We’re so proud of See!

Back in Memphis, “Pops” and “SuSu” celebrate with a champagne toast.

SuSu and Aunt Beth share their joy and relief after a long day of waiting.

About 10 minutes before Jason called to say Grace had been born, I opened a note from See that came in today’s mail, and inside was this beautiful photograph they had taken when she was 38 weeks pregnant. What a treasure for them and us.

As I waited for Jason’s phone calls with updates all day, I remembered back 28 years ago, when we were waiting to hear that Jason was arriving from Korea. He was 2 years and 9 months old when he arrived at the Memphis airport. The second of our three wonderful adopted children, and our first from a culture so foreign to us. I can never make up for the loss he suffered when he was parted from his birth mother. I can only pray that God grant him great joy in sharing his own daughter’s life, as he has brought me such great joy as my son.

Jason, See and Grace, May God Grant you MANY YEARS! I love you so much, and I can’t wait to see you next week! (I’ll be visiting from July 21-27.)

SuSu

>Who Cares? Part 2

>A few posts ago, I wrote about my second writing critique class in Oxford with Barry Hannah… the one in which he told us “You’ve got to make me care about these people, whether they’re fictional or real. If I don’t have a reason to care four pages into the story, I’m not going to keep reading.”

Barry’s words were ringing in my ears when I started reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Let me say up front that the only reason I read the book was because it was highly recommended by two dear friends who generally have excellent taste in books. And, it’s this month’s selection for a book club I used to participate in, and I was thinking about returning to the fold. The club meets tomorrow night, and I’m looking forward to the fellowship, and to hearing what it was that everyone loved about the book. As a writer, I care what intelligent readers think. But, do I care about the characters peopling The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society?

Not really. I really didn’t get “hooked” on the story until about page 125, almost half way through the book. With most books I would have quit much earlier, but I had made a sort of commitment to myself to read this so I pressed ahead. I know I’m in a huge minority since it’s a best seller. But I also know that I’m old enough to trust my own taste… in art, music, architecture, movies, clothes, food, and definitely literature. I can definitely appreciate the talent involved in a book, painting, song, movie, etc., even when it’s not my “taste.” Here’s a graphic example: “No Country for Old Men” was an excellent movie. Am I glad I saw it? Definitely NOT. The images of evil remain with me to this day and I found nothing redemptive about it whatsoever. Still, the writing, acting and filming were excellent.

That said, I’ll try to cast an objective net across the Guernsey Literary Society book and see if I can catch a few gems to share:

The most redemptive quality of the book for me is the author’s voice—she reminds me a bit of Flanner O’Connor. Can you hear O’Connor in these phrases?

“Lamb also taught Hunt’s youngest daughter to say the Lord’s Prayer backward. You naturally want to learn everything you can about a man like that.”

And this one:

“I know that I am fortunate to have any place at all to live in London, but I much prefer whining to counting my blessings.”

And especially this one, since Miss O’Connor raised peacocks:

“I have a parrot in my keeping too—her name is Zenobia and she does not like men.”

These quotes are from various characters, but the author’s voice still comes through, to me. Here’s one more example:

“Did any of you ever think that along about the time the motion of a SOUL gave out, Freud popped up with the EGO to take its place? The timing of the man! Did he not pause to reflect? Irresponsible old coot! It is my belief that men must spout this twaddle about egos, because they fear they have no soul!”

But apart from the author’s voice, I couldn’t find a whole lot more to praise. The structure of the book—a collection of letters—left me a bit confused at times about the action of the story. I found myself having to refer back to the labels in front of each letter and try to remember who the character was. (But I had to do that all the time while reading The Brothers Karamazov, so maybe this is the result of my feeble brain rather than an inadequate literary technique.)

Really, in the final analysis, I think I was just bored with these people and their lives, and even the setting, which is beautiful in many ways. Someone who visited the Channel Islands did these three beautiful videos if you want to see some images of the book’s setting: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Actually, I might have liked the book more if I had gone to the website first, and watched this video of Annie Barrows talking about the book. The video is more entertaining than the book, in my opinion. But again, I’ve probably got a degree of ADD, growing up watching television more than reading books. Ah, the consequences of a poorly-spent youth. It would have also probably inspired me more if I had heard these excerpts read first.

Anyway, I’m going to the book club tomorrow night, with an open mind. If you’re thinking of reading the book, you might want to check out the “Virtual Book Club” questions for readers.

And now, on to the next book on my shelf, Eat, Drink, and Be From Mississippi by Nanci Kincaid. (Watch for a review soon.)

>"Up," Warhammer 40K, National Treasure 2 and Scrabble!

>It’s been a while since I’ve spent 12 hours with a 13- (almost 14) year old, and I must say I’m exhausted. Happy, but exhausted. Our Godson, Patrick, is visiting from Sumner, Washington. Last summer he brought his service dog, Kudzu, but Kudzu is “retired” now…. enjoying life as an ordinary pet, so he didn’t make the trip with Patrick this summer. (Patrick comes to Memphis to visit relatives every summer, and we always look forward to a special time with him. Check out the photos from last year’s blog post to see Kudzu!)

We started the morning at 9 a.m. with a stop at McDonald’s, then Davis Kidd Bookstore, High Pointe Coffee, and then back to our house to do some online shopping for his birthday gift. That’s where I was introduced to a whole new universe called “Warhammer.” It’s a game that’s played on 4 ft X 6 ft tables, using miniatures of a huge array of war beings. Patrick plays at an “academy” in Sumner every Wednesday night, where he learns how to assemble and paint the miniatures, as well as game strategies. So today he was looking for some pieces to add to his set.

First he chose a Tyranid called Broodlord (the red one, above).

Next it as another one called Carnifex.

And finally a group of Tyranid Genestealers.
Hopefully they’ll be waiting for him when he returns to Washington next Wednesday.

So, how does a kid who likes sci fi war games also love a sweet Pixar movie like “Up”? We both loved it, and I’m not even into animation. Great story line, lots of laughs, lots of fun.

On our way home we stopped at a Red Box and picked up a DVD for the afternoon—National Treasure 2.

When Father B got home from work we headed out to eat, returning home for an evening of Scrabble. It was a close match, but Fr B pulled off a victory in the end, and Patrick beat me in the final couple of plays, earning second place. We take our Scrabble seriously at the Cushman house… so I’m sure there’ll be a rematch in the future. But for now, kudos, Patrick! (My “excuse” for losing to Patrick is the 5 Cokes he had today….Hope he can sleep tonight! Me? I’m going to be dreaming of Broodlords and Genestealers! Or maybe about the much gentler adventurers in “Up.”) Good night,all!

>Doubt

>A few nights ago I watched the movie, “Doubt.” Well written, well acted, good cinematography. Streep and Hoffman are pros. I knew the subject matter going in, and I was a bit surprised by the “messiness” (in a good sense) of the script. A friend who didn’t like the movie said, “I didn’t like the way they just left it sort of hanging.”

But that’s what I liked about it the most, because that’s how real life is—messy, open-ended, not always neatly tied up. (Watch a trailer here. .)

If you know me well, or even if you just follow my blog, you know I have no tolerance for any kind of abuse—of adults or children—but especially by clergy. That’s one reason I have championed Kim Michele Richardson’s (true) story so strongly. (If you haven’t read The Unbreakable Child, read it now!) Read my interview with Kim here. And check out her website here. And watch a book trailer by clicking on the arrow below.

As a victim of abuse myself, I just don’t have much compassion for those who inflict it on others, in any form. Or for church leaders who allow abusive clergy to continue to “serve.” So, I sat down to watch “Doubt” with every expectation of having clear convictions about the abusive priest, the character played by Hoffman. And then I watched a complicated story unfold, and the soul of the nun, played by Streep, struggle with her own doubt about the priest’s guilt or innocence. Right through to the end of the story.

Part of me wanted to crucify the priest, but another part of me recognized the nun’s uncertainty. What if the priest was innocent? It wasn’t a clear-cut case. I wanted it to be, just like I want it to be certain when I make a stand against something or someone I consider to be evil. It’s easy to feel self-righteous when defending the defenseless—especially children—but also lay persons, when the possibility of corruption in the ranks of the clergy exists.

All of which caused me to think about my own faith. And my own doubts about everything that faith hinges on—God, the Church, the sacraments, the value of fasting, the significance of the virgin birth, the spiritual significance of icons. It’s not that I’ve never had doubts before. I’ve struggle with them from time to time my entire adult life. And it’s good to know I’m in “good company.”

Like Mother Teresa, whose own struggles came out when her letters were published in book form last year: Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light. An article about the book in Time Magazine said:

“In more than 40 communications, many of which have never before been published, she bemoans the “dryness,” “darkness,” “loneliness” and “torture” she is undergoing. She compares the experience to hell and at one point says it has driven her to doubt the existence of heaven and even of God.”

Doubt was her companion, and yet her life spoke loudly of her love for Christ.

In the literary world, Dostoevsky wrote, in a letter to a friend in 1854, shortly after his release from prison:

“I am a child of the century, a child of unbelief and doubt…. What terrible torments this longing to believe has cost me…. It is clear that I do not believe in Christ and preach him like a child, but that my hosanna has passed through a great furnace of doubt.”

And this from the author of some of the most beautiful works of literature ever written, and which are shot through with the spiritual life of the Orthodox Christian.

I’m not a nun, and I’ll never be a writer of Dostoevsky’s caliber. But I am a child of God, and today, I believe. God help my unbelief. (Mark 9:24)

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