Someone showed up at a booksigning with a virtually new copy of Angels Whisper in paperback and I asked them where they got it. Turns out, you can find copies on eBay. I’ve also seen them at Amazon and found them at Half Price Books stores. So I guess if you’re looking for a back copy, those would be the places to search.
In the last couple of months I’ve been reading some Christian books because of volunteer work I’m doing at my church (Plainfield United Methodist Church, for those of you who are interested…), but I’m just going to review one of them, The Shack.
Perhaps its the contrarian in me, but the fact that some very conservative Christian denominations were condemning this book as being non-Biblical and recommending against it made me want to see what all the fuss was about. What I would like to say is this–don’t listen to them! The Shack by Wm. Paul Young is a wonderfully refreshing book that will challenge you to think of the Trinity in a totally new way. To those who lay the claim it’s not Biblical, I say this: how do you understand the Trinity without metaphor? The Bible doesn’t say much other than the Trinity is, rather like the name of God is I AM. Since the first century man has wrestled with this Trinity concept. No one has a complete grasp on it, and we’ll never truly understand it because we’re not God. Only God can fully comprehend how there can be three persons that make up one God. So each generation has thinkers who stretch themselves and stretch us by giving us their thoughts on it. Young does that, and it’s refreshing. The story is an account of a man whose daughter dies a horrible, tragic death, and he is angry at God about it. Through an encounter with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit at the shack where his daughter died, he comes to understand the goodness of God and accept that we must trust and put our faith in Him, that He’s not responsible for the sins of the world, but through Jesus He completely understands what it is to be human. He will never leave us, even as we experience the human consequences of sin in this world. He wants to be with us.
I recommend this book! I won’t claim it’s the best written book I’ve read (in fact, there are whole passages that aren’t well-written), but Young’s insight into how we might understand God is compelling. And if you reject his notion, what harm has come from reading it? It’s not wrong for us to be challenged in what we believe, and The Shack will help you wrestle with theological concepts you may not even have thought about. One way or another, it will make a difference in your spiritual life.
Sticking to the Christian theme, Saving Mattie is Phil Dunlap’s first Christian Western, and it’s terrific. His hero, Rawhide Smith, wasn’t looking to save a 12-year-old girl when rides his horse up to a homestead; he was looking for work. Instead he finds a defiant young girl with a shotgun aimed at him. She’s been through a most horrific encounter with outlaws–she witnessed them kill her parents. He feels it’s his moral duty to be responsible for her until he can find a family to look after her. In the process, he ends up being hired by a corrupt cattle baron who will stop at nothing to shoot innocent people and take their land and cattle. Rawhide is determined to get to the bottom of what happened to Mattie’s parents, but on his own can he stand up to the gunslingers in the baron’s gang? When he meets Marshal Moses Brewster, he finds he’s not alone. Still, they’ll need some luck and another helper to right the wrongs that are being done to the gritty homesteaders trying to make an honest living out in the West. Phil has a gift for bringing the Old West alive. You will enjoy Saving Mattie!
More at my next update!
My van was the grande dame of the preschool fleet, a veritable humpback Chevy whale amid the Mitsubishi minnows collecting the children from St. Rita’s school at three p.m. She could hold six screaming preschoolers in the back, all of them with car seats, and without a factory-installed airbag in the passenger seat, she could accommodate an extra child up front when necessary. Today, Monday, it was necessary, and that lucky child was Melissa the Motormouth. Had the incident which was about to occur been worse, my defense would have been to put Melissa on the stand for five minutes and let her talk. I contend no jury in the world would convict me of driving too fast to get her home.
“. . . and then Jason took off his clothes and pooped in the wastebasket,” Melissa chattered, “only it was tall and he missed so it went down the side. And then he looked at it so I went to get Mommy and she said he was like Daddy ‘cause he leaves messes all over the house. Mommy almost cleaned it up, but Spike chased Fluffy through it and got poop on their feet and then Mommy chased them in the kitchen and then they got poopy paw prints everywhere. Yuck! Mommy cleaned Fluffy up and threw Spike outside. She mopped the floor and said Daddy would have to give Spike a bath when he got home ‘cause Spike was his dog and—Mr. Nick, watch out for that man!”
She pointed ahead to a man I’d been watching already. He was staggering down the shoulder of Highway 31, every so often lurching into the right traffic lane. The sleeves had been cut out of his flannel shirt and his too-long pant legs were bunched around his feet. Wiry, ebony arms flailed as he strove to gain his balance.
“Uncle Harold walks like that and Mommy says he needs to dry out but Uncle Harold never looks wet to me . . .” Melissa was saying, but I stopped paying attention to her and slowed the van, approaching the stranger as cautiously as I could with traffic whizzing around us. I checked the rear and side mirrors to see if I could cut into the left lane.
The traffic was too heavy. He moved a little farther away from me toward the far right of the shoulder. Thinking I had room to quickly scoot by him, I nudged the accelerator.
He chose that instant to stumble toward the road again. I slammed the brake pedal to the floor and inched to the left. The preschoolers screamed, all of them, all at once. The next thing I knew the man was tumbling into the ditch. I hadn’t heard a thump, but I couldn’t swear I’d missed him. I pulled the van over to the side and started to get out of the car.
“Where are you going, Mr. Nick? Can I come, too?” Melissa begged. Simultaneously my daughter Stephanie said, “Daddy, don’t go!”
I reached into the middle row and squeezed Stephanie’s hand. “It’s going to be all right. I have to make sure that man is okay. No, Melissa, you can’t come. Everyone stay in your seats.”
I locked them in the van and ran over to the ditch.
He lay face down in a carpet of green, shaggy weeds. We hadn’t had rain in a week so there wasn’t much water in the ditch. Probably no chance he could inhale water and drown, I thought, but I gently moved his face to the side anyway. He was breathing but unconscious. I checked for blood. The shirt was stained, but not with blood. He smelled of body sweat unchecked too long by soap or deodorant.
The mid-May sun, still high in the sky, made the beads of ditch water in his black hair sparkle. I patted his face. “Hey, buddy, are you all right?” There was no response. “Hello?” I lifted the eyelid I could get to.
“Is he okay?” a woman shouted. I looked up and saw a blue BMW parked behind my van. A woman in her mid-thirties, dressed in a business suit, stood next to it, waving at me. “You didn’t hit him. I saw it happen. He looked like he had a leg spasm or something. It made him jerk and fall. He might be one of those insurance swindlers, though. You need to be careful.”
“I don’t see any wounds, but he’s unconscious,” I shouted back. “Do you have a cell phone? Can you call nine-one-one?”
“It’s in my car.” She turned and started toward it, then scanned the road, one hand shielding her eyes from the sun. “Wait. There’s a police car coming. I’ll flag him down.”
While she stopped the police car, I ran up to reassure the kids that everything was fine. I reminded them to stay in their seats while I talked to the police officer.
From the way the officer approached, one leg stiff at the knee, I knew it was Ken Roth, an ex-reserve who’d been wounded in Desert Storm. Roth’s daughter Jamie and my daughter Stephanie had gymnastics classes together, so I saw him every Monday night. After a quick hello, he followed me to the ditch, listening to my story. The woman who’d flagged him down hung around; he’d asked her to stay until the ambulance came and he had a chance to get her statement.
Roth checked the man over for injuries, found none, then went up to where my van was parked. He inspected it carefully, examining it, I guessed, for evidence that I’d hit the man. After a few minutes, he returned to the trench.
“It doesn’t look like he’s hurt or that you hit him, Nick,” Roth said. “Don’t know why he fell, but, phew, he stinks. Might have been alcohol. I don’t see a wallet or anything. Looks like he might be homeless.”
The man and his clothes needed a good washing—that was beyond dispute—but I didn’t smell alcohol on him. I didn’t contradict Roth, however.
Roth stood up. “The ambulance should be here soon. I’m going up to call in. Will you stay with him?”
I said I would.
After Roth left, I took a little more time to examine the man. His hair was matted and hadn’t been cut in a long time. He had a stubby beard which I estimated at a week’s growth. He appeared to be in his late fifties, with age lines in his face that, minus the unkempt beard and hair, would have made him look distinguished.
I thought I saw the corner of something sticking out of his right back pocket. Roth had felt for a wallet but hadn’t actually checked anything else in there. I tugged at the corner and pulled it halfway out. It looked to be the Polaroid photograph of a hotel room.
All of a sudden he twitched, pulled his left knee toward his waist, and then turned himself over, the photograph still half in his pocket. He opened his mouth in a yawn. The teeth were yellow but straight, and there were no signs of dental work. I still could not detect alcohol on his breath when he muttered, “Ugghh.”
“Hello, are you okay?” I asked.
His eyes, bloodshot and yellowish, opened. The pupils were huge, dominating the flinty brown irises, and his eyes glowed like those of a cat in the dark. “Cahill wore red,” he said in a hoarse voice. Then the eyes closed up tight.
Had he said “Cahill”? That name had been in the news recently.
“What?” I nudged his shoulders. “What did you say? Come back.” He didn’t respond.
Roth returned. “Did you turn him over?” he asked, looking at the body.
“No, he did it himself. And he talked to me. It was a little bizarre, but for a moment he came to.”
“What did he say?”
I paused for a moment. If he really said “Cahill,” there might be a story in him the freelance reporter in me didn’t want to share yet. Now I was sorry I’d said anything. “Well, it wasn’t very clear, and I’m not sure I heard him right.”
“Nothing that would tell us his name or anything?”
“No, it wasn’t anything like that.”
“Well, there’s an ambulance on the way. Don’t know what’s keeping them. Nick, I need to get your statement.”
“I know. I’ve got a van full of anxious preschoolers up there, though. Can it wait until I’ve dropped them off?”
His mouth tightened. I could tell he wouldn’t let me go, but he understood about the preschoolers. “Why don’t you go see how they’re doing? Maybe I can get your statement when the paramedics get here.”
I scrambled up the ditch toward the van.
The kids were all out of their seats, even the three-year-olds. The older ones must’ve sprung them. Every child had his or her face pressed against a window. I opened the driver’s door and reached for Stephanie, who was kneeling on my seat. She wasn’t crying but the look in her eyes told me she was scared. “It’s okay,” I said, hugging her.
Using my most soothing voice, I got the rest of them back in their seats. There was no use explaining what was happening, so I just reassured them we would be going shortly. They were no sooner seated when the ambulance, siren blaring, pulled up. They popped out of their seats again.
“Are you going to jail, Mr. Nick?” Melissa asked anxiously.
“No, of course not,” I said, but not before the three-year-old Starner twins began crying. Then some of the others started, and suddenly I had my hands full.
Stephanie, who’s four and a half but really good with the younger kids, helped, but by the time I’d finished calming the tow-headed twins, the paramedics had returned from the ditch with the man on a stretcher. All the kids watched in awe. The paramedics said something to Ken Roth, who was standing next to the BMW taking the businesswoman’s statement. He nodded. They loaded the man in the ambulance and took off.
Roth closed his book, helped the woman into her car, and watched her leave. Then he walked over to me.
“Everyone okay here?” he asked.
“For the moment,” I answered. I turned to my charges in the van. “This is Officer Roth, kids. Can you say hello to him?” They did, with just a bit of awe, after which Melissa started.
“Mr. Nick didn’t hit the man on purpose,” she said. “He ran in front of us and Mr. Nick had to run him over . . .”
“My daddy didn’t hit him!” Stephanie protested loudly. “And he’d say he was sorry if he did . . .”
“It’s okay, Stephanie, Melissa,” I said, holding Stephanie’s hand. “Officer Roth and I are going to talk for a couple of minutes, and then I’ll take everyone home.” To the group, I said, “Can you be real quiet so the policeman can hear me?” With wide eyes, they nodded their heads.
True to their promise, the kids were mostly silent while Roth and I stepped out of earshot and went over what had happened. Roth seemed satisfied with what I told him, though he questioned me twice about what the man had said. Each time I insisted, and it was almost the truth, that I couldn’t be sure what he’d told me. Either Roth figured I was on the level or he decided I wasn’t going to let on, because he didn’t push it beyond the second “Are you sure?”
“Did they take him to Johnson Memorial Hospital?” I asked.
“Yeah. Do you want to be notified if they find anything?”
I nodded. “I know I didn’t hit him, but I’m sure I must’ve scared him. I’ll try to stop by the hospital after I drop the kids off. When will you have the police report filed?”
“Now that we have these laptops, we file them as soon after the fact as possible. Mine’ll be transferred to headquarters by the time you get home, if you want a copy.”
“Thanks,” I said. We returned to our vehicles. Roth sat in his car talking on the mike.
“Everything’s fine,” I assured the children as I eased into traffic. “I didn’t hit him, but he fell into the ditch because there’s something else wrong with him.”
“Why did he fall?” Stephanie asked.
“I don’t know yet.”
“What’s his name?”
“He told me a name, but I don’t think it was his name.”
“Whose was it?”
“No one you would know,” I replied.
No one she knew, but if I’d heard right, I could guess who he was talking about. And although I didn’t know yet what any of this meant, I definitely wanted to find out.
Published in The Plainfield Messenger, Thursday, November 11, 1993
It’s over. Give up the fight. Christmas has come to Plainfield.
I base this pronouncement on three things: 1) Plainfield Plaza has put up its huge, red “Seasons Greetings” sign; 2) The first Christmas tree in a home has been spotted in the area; 3) My friend Lynn has finished her Christmas shopping.
Of the three, I am most distressed about the last. I barely have the list together for my family, let alone actually have any of the shopping done. Organized people like Lynn shop all year long, finish the buying just when the Christmas season starts, then are able to have fun during the holidays. They are complete killjoys.
Not that I don’t want you to think the first two items on the list don’t worry me. Christmas comes early enough to the big Indianapolis malls without us having to face it out here. I used to think we were safe until closer to Thanksgiving, but perhaps not. Next year someone probably will carve pumpkins that look like Santa Claus and place them in the store windows, sneaking Christmas in weeks before Halloween.
And yes, there really is a house with the Christmas tree up. I won’t give away the location. It’s not in Plainfield, but it is in southern Guilford Township. We saw the house from Ind. 267. The date we saw the tree—I am not making this up—was October 16. Scary.
Of course, these are not the only signs Christmas is here. Wal-mart has had some semblance of a Christmas area for a month. All the card stores got their Christmas cards out with the Halloween cards, they just didn’t feature them until November 1, when they put up their Christmas trees.
Kroger has an aisle featuring Christmas wrapping paper and other Christmas stuff. They put it up when they put away the Halloween candy. I haven’t checked Marsh yet, but I bet they have theirs out, too.
It didn’t help when we got two inches of snow on October 30. I am sure it emboldened any retailer who might have been on the edge. Having snow flurries this past Saturday surely pushed them over.
I don’t mean to sound like a Scrooge. I myself have played a part in this. My children have already watched “A Charlie Brown Christmas” several times. They took it out of the library. I let them do it. I have weak moments.
So now they sing Christmas carols a cappella. I’ve drawn the line with Katy when she’s asked to watch our copy of Disney’s “A Very Merry Christmas” tape. I probably won’t be able to hold out much longer, though.
The Toys ‘R’ Us catalog came in the Sunday paper. My children have memorized the page numbers which have the toys they want. I don’t pay much attention at this point because I know they’ll change their minds once they see a few more Saturday morning cartoons.
I know I have to start planning the Christmas party for Katy’s preschool class. As the Parent Representative, it’s my responsibility. But I want to put it off just a little longer, maybe until after I have purchased my Thanksgiving turkey. Of course, if I hadn’t completely spaced a 59 cents-a-pound turkey sale last week, I wouldn’t be able to use that excuse now.
I have yet to figure out why it is we want Christmas to come so quickly. Rick Shefchik, a columnist at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, observed that Columbus Day has now become the unofficial kickoff for Yuletide promotions. He predicts that in another year it will back up to Labor Day.
Under these conditions, I think Macy’s will soon stop waiting until Thanksgiving Day to bring in Santa Claus. Watch for them to start sponsoring the Macy’s Halloween Day parade.
Okay, there. I’ve had my say. Sure, I ranted and raved a bit, but I feel a lot better. Now, where’d I put that Christmas list …
Published in The Indianapolis Star, Sunday, December 3, 1995
I am logging day four now in stripping wallpaper from what used to be the nursery. The wallpaper, which I’m certain was described as strippable when we bought it, has been coming apart in pieces instead of hunks and sometimes only a layer at a time. That it is taking so long is not setting well with my youngest daughter, who is counting on me to transform this room from “a baby’s room” into “a big girl’s room” – my daughter, of course, being the big girl now.
There is no deliberate attempt on my part to make this job last any longer than is necessary. But to my surprise, I am not annoyed it has taken four days. In fact, I suspect there may be subconscious forces at work here.
This job has actually lasted longer than four days when you consider that my five-year-old has had me under duress for nearly a year now to change the appearance of the room. She can’t remember when it didn’t look this way. Even when she outgrew the crib, we just changed her over to a twin bed in this same room, reasoning that the simple pictures and lowercase letters on the wallpaper would take her through a few more years.
That time has past now, she says, arms folded. She already recognizes the alphabet, she tells me. She is studying the letter sounds in kindergarten, she says. I know this since we practice the sounds often. I also know she doesn’t quite have them down yet. (“Thursday begins with ‘F’,” she says. “No, it doesn’t,” I reply. “You know what ‘F’ sounds like. It’s not Fursday, is it?” She giggles in response. “It should be. I like Fursday,” she says.) But I can’t deny she’s getting there.
She makes me drawings that resemble cross-stitch samplers with alphabet lettering – though the ‘n’ is always backwards – and a message correctly printed that says she loves me. She prints her name and short phrases on cards we send to relatives.
Yes, she knows the alphabet well enough for this wallpaper to come down. But as I stare at the last few remaining panels, I am suddenly not so sure I want to scrape off the last little moons and blocks and cats and sailboats.
When I ask her if she wants the feminine wallpaper her sister has, she says no. She likes Disney stuff and wants something from Pocahontas. Or maybe it’s Beauty and the Beast. Or Aladdin. Depends on which day I ask her.
Her mother and I agree that we will paint the room a nice, neutral color and put up whatever border she chooses. Then, if in a year or so she changes her mind again, we can easily change the border. Eventually she will want what her sister has. Then I’ll have to repaper. I suspect I may not be in a hurry then, either.
The new paint and border will be my next project soon enough. I can remember when the next project was getting this child potty-trained. It wasn’t that long ago. I wonder how she could have grown so fast when I feel so unchanged. Then I get up from the kneeling position I’ve been in. My legs and knees remind me that I have aged, too.
The last panel comes off in pieces. I look at the torn shreds and suddenly think it would be nice to save a piece of it. One little strip with a pastel cat or sailboat. Something I can put back to remember by.
The sailboats are all torn, but I discover one cat that is salvageable. I brush my fingers over the back of the paper and feel the stickiness. Not something that would keep well in a box. I know it my heart it has to go.
Still holding it in one hand, I run the other hand over the soft yellow color I painted the walls above the chair-rail height wallpaper so many years ago and try to recapture the twenty-something mentality I had then. But it is gone for good. Like so many expectant fathers, I wanted time to move quicker.
It did, and now I wish it would slow down. No, more than that. I wish I could grip time and hold onto it, just like I can grip this wallpaper cat from the torn fragment of a disappearing nursery wall.
Published in The Indianapolis Star, Sunday, September 5, 1993
I’m standing at the front door, waiting for the school bus to pick up my 6-year old. I am also scanning the neighborhood for crow in case I should have to eat it.
It was just two weeks ago that I chuckled in disbelief as some stay-at-home mom friends spoke wistfully about their children starting first grade. Though Liz, my 6-year-old, was also starting first grade, I was hardly so maudlin. The truth is, I could hardly wait.
After all, this was the same child who somehow could not find anything to do all summer, despite my many suggestions, some of which included chores. I knew this was a child who needed school.
And I don’t go in for sentimentality. Had I not been the one throwing rose petals in front of the school bus last year when it came to pick Liz up for kindergarten? Men, I told myself, just don’t place emotional markers on those kinds of events.
The first sign that I might be wrong occurred on Saturday as I was cutting the grass. The blur of my elder daughter, hair flowing behind her, caught my attention as she ran past. I was struck by how big she seemed, and at the same time, how little. Could she really be six, I asked myself rhetorically.
She is, of course. She asserted her independence when we purchased school supplies by selecting the purple glue stick that dries white instead of the normal glue stick I had suggested. The official school supply list didn’t say the glue stick couldn’t be purple, so I let her have it, as well as the “litterless” lunch box she thought was cool. I applauded her concern for the environment, but I think she really just likes the colors.
Standing in line at Wal-mart with the other back-to-school parents, I contemplated my days without Liz.
Kindergarten had been only a half day. She went in the afternoon. My younger daughter, Katy, still took naps most days. I relished the quiet, knowing it would be broken soon by Katy awakening just a little while before Liz rushed through the door to tell me what she had done that day.
Now she would be gone far longer, away from my influence and entrusted to a teacher I hadn’t met yet. Katy would miss her and expect me to play with her as much as Liz had. While it would be very different, I was sure it would not be cause for emotion.
But now, as I stand here waiting, I’m not so sure. I wonder what kinds of feelings my mother had when I started first grade. Had she felt a sense of relief or regret that I had gotten older? Had she cried after the bus doors closed?
These are idle questions now. My mother died more than a year ago.
I wonder if I will be alive to see Liz’s reaction to a child starting first grade. I wonder if she will ask me how I felt, and if I will remember.
Liz is dressed and ready to go. Her teeth are brushed, her hair is pulled back and her bed is made. She correctly reports her bus number, teacher’s name and other vital information when I prod her. She refuses to let me pin a note to her shirt that contains some of this information.
She says she won’t forget. I believe her. The note remains off.
We wait on the front porch well in advance of the expected arrival time. I made idle conversation that Liz almost ignores. She is so excited, I forgive her.
The school bus comes. I take the obligatory photograph of her getting on the bus. I wave goodbye, but I can’t see if she’s waving back. My eyes have somehow misted over.
I enter the house and realize that gender is irrelevant in this case. We all fall victim to the great parental paradox: We want our children to grow up, but we can’t help wanting to hold onto them for just one more minute.
Published in The Indianapolis Star, June 20, 1993.
He looked down at me from atop the scaffolding assembled in the family room where he was repairing the ceiling. I was headed for the kitchen to cook dinner after sending the children to the back of the house to play. Seeing me buzz through, he asked, “So, did you take the day off, or what?”
I froze. The essence of his question, of course, was ‘so what do you do?’, and you’d think, as many times as I’ve answered it, it would be easy.
It’s never easy. Sometimes I think I’m somewhere around the bottom of the list in terms of respect society attributes to certain jobs. I’m a stay-at-home dad.
Don’t get me wrong. I chose to do this, and I’m glad I’m doing it. But too many times I’ve encountered cynicism about being a stay-at-home dad. “What did your children get you for Mother’s Day?” I’ll get asked. Or, “Oh, so you’re Debbie’s wife.” I’m a little sensitive about the question.
I looked up at him. This young man had lightly asked a question he didn’t know was loaded. Fortunately, he hadn’t noticed yet I was stalling. My brain worked feverishly on a reply.
I’ve read the replies some stay-at-home moms use, and they are very tempting to adopt. Christine Davidson, author of the book Staying Home Instead, once told a woman she operated a 24-hour-a-day child-care center. Because she was the director of the center, she said, she was on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I know how she feels.
My wife Debbie, how stayed at home with the children for four years before I started my stint, used to say she was a homemaker. She always said it plain and simple, without excuse.
I could never use the term “homemaker.” Besides the feminine connotation, it reminds me of an old Steve Allen joke. (“Tell me, Tony, are you a good homemaker?” “Why, yes. Just last night I made it home about 4 a.m.”)
The man on the scaffolding continued to look down at me, waiting for me to say something. He tilted his head as if to ask if I’d heard him. I cleared my throat to gain a few more seconds.
It struck me that if I was so sensitive about this, what reasons could I have possibly had for becoming a stay-at-home dad?
I know why I did it. I did it because of my beliefs. Particularly when children are young, I believe the family works better when there is a parent at home. Family psychologist John Rosemond calls this “undeniable truth.”
I believe in my children. The time we spend with them is an investment in the future.
My wife believes this, too. It’s why she spent four years at home. But after four years, she told me it had just become too much for her.
We decided something would have to change, but what? What price were we willing to pay for extra years of parental guidance for our children? For me, what I was about to say would be part of the price.
I took a deep breath. “I’m a stay-at-home dad,” I said. Then I added quickly, “And I free-lance a little at writing.”
Chicken, I thought.
“Oh, really?” he said. “You know, I envy you. I wish I could stay home with my kids.”
I smiled at him. How refreshing, I thought. Maybe society is changing. Maybe, in time, my occupation will become a little more accepted. I would be very happy to see it.
And more than just a little relieved.