Personal Journey

What’s in my Mind, Besides a Tumor

The first time I recall being comforted by God, it was an intellectual decision. I was twenty and living in a section of SanDiego where you couldn’t get a pizza delivered. Too dangerous. So when I heard the following logic my heart was soft to it: Imagine you are in an alleyway in a bad section of town (my section). It is late at night. You are alone. A group of men come out a door and walk in your direction…

How do you feel when you see the silhouettes? Do you reach for your pepper spray? Click the safety on the cute revolver you hoped you’d never need? Or do you pretend (as I so often did) to be utterly unfazed by the unequal sides? As if I could repel them with confidence. Peacocking. Roarless roaring.

Now. What if you knew the approaching men just came from a Bible study? Would that change anything?

For me, it changed everything. A Bible study. The men were trying to live right. It could have been a Buddhist study or a yoga class. If I was honest, any religion seemed to have healing properties. It was a step for me toward God. I had many more to take.

Now, twenty-some years later and in countless times between, I receive God’s comfort. I’m square in the middle of a trial. Not denying that. But a lesson as well. God is my teacher. Some might say I’m ridiculous for seeing it that way. That I’m too weak to walk this journey without the crutch of faith. That my ego wants to believe in a God who loves me when science says I’m just unlucky. I’d respond that I’d rather live in ridiculous peace than in reasonable panic. I’ve done it both ways.

In my last post I shared how frightened I was by the fact that my neurosurgeon referred me to his teacher. When you can’t figure something out, where do you turn? To the teacher. That rationale, plus some ill-placed verbiage from the receptionist had me certain I was about to die. Any minute. That does things to you. You want to stop everything and hug people. You want to tell them nice things. You scramble with a squirrel’s grace into the lap of God and cling to His neck. Your prayers are incoherent.

I waited from Thursday morning until Tuesday morning to learn I was not a walking time bomb. Thursday, the receptionist told me, go today. When I couldn’t get in for a week, I figured my critical scan was sitting in a queue, unread by my neurosurgeon’s very busy teacher. On Tuesday, my regular neurosurgeon called and explained he was leaving his practice and could not be available for the post-surgical two-month infection window. This was a lesson to stop trying to figure things out. Somehow, after the places my mind had gone, generic brain surgery and possible radiation was an unlikely relief. God tells me to trust Him, to not lean on my own understanding. Because my understanding is limited, and His is not. God knew between Thursday and Tuesday that my neurosurgeon was moving. God knows the receptionist could use a class: How to NOT Scare the Hell Out of Patients 101. Words and phrases like critical and the doctor read your scan at home, go today—these would not be used.

Now. In light of my upcoming surgery, I have other fears. New and more specific fears. God knows about them as well. Did you know that Stonewall Jackson was a believer? And he would have known this verse from Job: A person’s days are determined. It was likely on his heart at the Battle of Bull Run. Jackson knew if it was his day to die, hiding wouldn’t help. He knew it so perfectly he didn’t even flinch. He stood there like a stone wall, they said. Can you imagine that sort of faith?

I’m no Stonewall Jackson. I’m more like a bird, easily spooked. Perhaps because I read and write scary stories, I see shadows everywhere. Especially in a dark alley. Squaring off with a gang of men, not only could I imagine what they might do to me, I can imagine their abusive childhoods, their fall into drugs, into gangs, into apathy. But no. They came from a Bible study, you say? I imagine the great work God is doing in them. I can smile.

I have many unpublished posts which read like a small intestine, my fear and my faith circling back on one another and all jumbled up. But I keep them and may eventually share them because I want a record of what was in my mind, besides a tumor. I want to end on a note of heartfelt gratitude for each person who reached out to me during this time. Words, much as I love them, do not do justice to how thankful I am for each of you.

Personal Journey

Pray for Me

I don’t know how to start this, but I’ve always been a fan of the snapshot of the mind. Here is the snapshot of my mind.

Contrary to what you may be thinking, this is not going to be funny. Some of you I know in life, and some are my friends through this blog. Either way, I am blessed by so many of you and want to share some tough news I got last week.

I have a brain tumor. Had it a while, actually, and it didn’t give me much trouble until now. In fact, what we affectionately referred to as my “marble” was a convenient scapegoat anytime I forgot something or said something dumb. My kids would invoke its presence whenever it helped their argument. Your tumor’s showing, Mom, you never told me to do the dishes…

Today I go to see the doctor who taught my neurosurgeon. You read that right. Taught. My. Neurosurgeon. Not today, but soon a man will have his hands inside my skull. Or more specifically, his hands on fabulous microscopic instruments inside my skull. I will have a fantastic haircut, and I will cry right up until the moment they put some happiness elixir in my veins.

While I am frightened, I trust God loves me and has already taught me through this. Only because of God could I face this surgery and feel blessed. Here’s how it went down.

I am a homeschool mom. I teach cozy creative writing classes in my living room. During my class break, I returned the call from my neurosurgeon’s office. I am supposed to have my head checked every now and again, in case my tumor decides to “turn on.” How it works is I get an MRI. It goes to my neurosurgeon. He calls me in. I pay the co-pay. He tells me I’m fine and to come back next year.

I wouldn’t have called in the middle of class if I thought it would be anything unusual. But, not only was it not your tumor hasn’t changed. It was here’s the name of the specialist neurosurgeon at the Neurological Institute, the director of the institute. Go see him today. To. day.

“Today? I’m in the middle of teaching a class,” I said.

“Well, tomorrow’s fine then. Just don’t wait.”

I’m serious. That’s how it went down, word for word. I had all these little people, aged ten through thirteen zigging around my house, giggling and cavorting. My own son was buzzing by on his new hoverboard blasting the Russian National Anthem so loudly I couldn’t hear to make the appointment.

“How do you feel,” asked the gal on the line.

“Fine, except I’m scared to death.”

This I said from the privacy of my bathroom. My students were waiting for me to finish the lesson, and I was numb in my hands and feet, probably due to the fact that my galloping heart stole all the oxygen. Fight or flight reflex, thank you, and now we’ll write some stories together…

God got me through my classes. When Bob walked in the door, he remarked that his day was rotten. But now that there was meatloaf for dinner, everything was going to be alright. You see how wonderful Bob is—it wasn’t even steak. Then I told Bob my news and the meatloaf and a whole host of other things were forgotten. Pretty much everything, actually.

I tell you, the hardest part was waiting to know what was going on. I believe in God, that He loves me and has a plan for my life. I know where I come from, what I ought to do and not do, and where I’m going when I die. Still, my faith doesn’t mean I never fear. I’ve been feeling a whole lot of fear this week. I’ve been doing a lot of hugging, especially my husband. I want to crawl inside my husband’s body and not be me. Since that’s not possible, I just crush him to me. Often. When I am afraid, I turn to God and ask Him to help me take another step, write another word, smile when I feel like crying.

I’ve been asking friends and family to pray for me, and I am so grateful for each of you. You know who you are and I love you. LOVE. You.

The first thing I did on hearing the news was to halt a writing project I was going to cram into my weekend.  Not because I don’t love writing, but the idea of cramming anything was overwhelming. The next thing I did was be present for the class I was in the middle of teaching. I purposed to mark the moment, to love my students, and be thankful for God’s blessings.

Even as I waited to hear more news from my neurosurgeon, we had trivial things to do like take the van to the shop, paint the walls (we’re about to put our house on the market haha), and grade book reports. I would be doing these things and stop and wish I could hug people. I hugged Bob a hundred times. I actually felt like cooking because it was a tangible way to show my love, which explains the meatloaf. But above all, I wanted to feel I was in the refuge of God’s arms. I wanted the peace that passes all understanding to guard my heart and my mind against the fearful what-if’s that slammed into my consciousness with tidal regularity.  Thank you to James who prayed with us at church through the most agony I have ever felt. And to Nancy, whose “random” email telling me to stop procrastinating set this all in motion. God loves me through you.

I’d be grateful if you who read me would think of me today and say a prayer for me and for my family, especially Bob, as we get our marching orders for the surgery. Parting thought. We are always as close to God as we wish to be. Trials make us desperate for Him. That’s the snapshot of this mind: desperate to be in God’s arms.

Look at the birds of the air: They do not sow or reap or gather into barns–and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Matthew 6:26


Personal Journey

Writing: The Reach that Doesn’t Sleep or Die

I am blessed to have people who believe in me, even (and especially) when I don’t believe in myself. Like the ones who scrawled my work-in-progress in the sand while they were vacationing. We thought of you, it said. We love you, it said. I now understand why writers make such a big deal about thanking the ones who’ve helped them along the way.

Some mornings I open my email to find comments on my blog. I LOVE comments. And I try to be generous with them too, as opposed to just liking a post and skipping away (although I do that too). Recently, I woke to this gift in my inbox:

I love your style of writing—humorous, entertaining, inspirational—the way I aspire to write one day. I’ve been enjoying reading several of your posts, some old, some new—they encourage me to relax and write and not worry about things (people’s opinions) so much. Thanks for that!

In addition to giving me a smile, Mia demonstrated what I love about writing. It reaches out to people even while I sleep. Posts I wrote months or years ago don’t have an expiration date. It doesn’t matter that it’s been 23 years since I wore pillowcases into America or four years since my brain-tumor-your-van’s-broken moment. To a new friend, it’s new. King Tut, centuries dead and forgotten, was new to us when he was unearthed. Reading is archaeology without the dirt. Writing is setting down buried treasures for someone else to find.

This, I tell my students. Our minds are always changing and evolving. Our opinions (if we’re not bullheaded or hopelessly dogmatic) will change over time and with experience. Just this morning, I read about a fellow blogger’s mental evolution on diversity. His post reads like a mind map of tolerance. And I love that it’s set down for people to happen along, long after he’s moved on to other revelations.

That’s the motivation for writing my novel too. I want to put some world down on paper, set it down so people can pick it up and enter it for the first time. We’ll have a connection. I won’t even need to be awake, alive, and certainly not present—which is perfect for the introvert in me.

I happened on this picture of a barn. It looks just like the barn in my novel, which is also on a hill and has woods behind it. Trespass asks what if? What if someone was given the ability to read minds? What if she liked a certain amazing guy and wanted to know if he liked her? What if she read his mind? Imagine the chaos for a teenage girl to have access to the minds of teenage boys and the world at large.

Soon you won’t have to imagine, because I’ve written it all down…

And I’ll finish this little update with a shout out to my husband, who champions my writing and is a man of grit and steel who ever leads me to be a better, stronger version of myself.


on writing, Personal Journey

The Sunshine Blogger Award

Some bloggers reel me in—usually with a strong literary voice and brutal honesty. I’m a sucker for poetic confession. We all struggle inside ourselves, and I appreciate a writer who can fly that flag and call it fiction or essay or Dear Diary…

MrHushHush is one such blogger, so when I saw he was looking for beta readers, I jumped at the chance to swap books with someone whose work I admire. So glad I did!  

Thanks for the nomination, Jordan!

What is this Sunshine Blogger Award?

This award is given by bloggers to fellow bloggers who inspire positivity and creativity in the blogging community.

Why did you start blogging? Until blogs, the only thing I could self-publish was the yearly Christmas card. I love putting my mind on a blank page. Or is it my blank mind on a page? It’s not that I think my mind is any more interesting than the next one, but I think we can, by writing, capture our minds at various stages of life, stages we won’t ever get back again. My blog is a history, for what it’s worth.

Who is your favorite blogger? No way. Can’t choose just one.

What keeps you going and motivated? Sheer love of craft, and when that doesn’t work, YouTube videos like this one:

PS – I listen to these while peddling away on my recumbent bike. Nothing beats getting yelled at by Sylvester Stallone while you’re sweating enough to hydrate a Willow tree.

What is your weirdest habit? See above. No. I’m even weirder than that. My weirdest habit is so weird I’m going to give you my second weirdest one, which is that I allow my dog to lick the sweat off my arms and legs when I return from a long run or get off the recumbent bike.

What is your favorite cuisine? My humble beginnings don’t allow for cuisine, but I have an addiction to Mitchell’s salted caramel ice cream.

What is a personality trait you would like to change in yourself? I’d like to silence the little voice that tells me I suck.

What are the first three things you always notice in a person? How firm the handshake, how steady the eye contact, and whether they’d be a protagonist or an antagonist.

Which is the best book you have read to date? Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy. A coming-of-age story about a cadet at the Citadel. Pat Conroy builds the most beautiful mind I’ve ever read. If I live to be a hundred years old, I don’t think I’ll be able to write like him. But I’ll give it a go.

How do you deal with negative comments or hurtful feedback? I curl into the fetal position for a few minutes to a few hours, depending on the hit. Then I transition onto my couch, where I type out swaths of rage until my fingers and mind are numb. Then, click select all/delete. I pray and ask God to remind me of how little I am and how big He is and I do the next right thing, whatever that is. Usually, it’s laundry.

What is your goal in life? To write fiction that pulls people out of this world and provides a temporary refuge in another. But also, to write books that not only mirror the human condition but underscore how we can be the best version of ourselves.

To my nominations, I hope you’ll play along because I look forward to hearing your answers to these questions!

My Nominations:














Personal Journey

Dear Diary…

Some people can’t think of anything to write. I don’t have that problem. I can always, ALWAYS throw some words down on a page. Probably a result of hours spent freewriting with my students, if you put on a timer and tell me to write, I’ll fill pages and pages of stream-of-consciousness. Some people start describing things. Some start telling stories. I just sling my thoughts at the page like Jackson Pollack on Starbucks.

Trouble is, I’d like to give you something other than mind puke, but I’m busy with my WIP and some flash and my 5000 Words classes. Oh, and the fridge broke, which meant I had to clean twelve years of spilled pickle juice, gelatinized meat blood, broccoli bitties, milk flakes, and unnameable other foodstuffs off the walls and shelves. My husband had to tell me to do it, that’s how possible it was that I wouldn’t take the opportunity to clean the fridge, even though it was empty, off, and every shelf was tossed onto the floor. See, my husband knows I’d rather write than do just about anything else. And we pay, especially when company comes over and I scurry around trying to make up for being a writer. It doesn’t work. I see all the dust I normally don’t see, and…despair, my friends. Despair.

In my defense, one can’t be great at everything. I’ve chosen housewifery to suck at. I mean, whoever stood over a coffin and complimented the corpse on her dust-free hutches and shiny stove top?

I used to be a neat freak like my mom, who still keeps in an inhumanly clean home. You could lick her floor and be entirely safe from germs. You could ladle a cup of cold water straight from her toilet bowl and think it Perrier. I wish there was a way to measure the number of dust motes in a given home. My mother would have exactly none. There has never been one single crumb in her silverware drawer. I have enough to recreate a loaf of bread. Just add water.

So the fridge broke and my husband will fix it. HE WILL. He fixes everything against all odds. Our furnace was declared legally dead over ten years ago by a grimy, GED-wielding twenty-something from Furnaces-R-Us. He charged me the $75 cleaning fee (though he didn’t clean it) and assured me we could apply the fee to our new furnace which would cost a jillion dollars. Bob came home and fired up that sucker in three minutes. And, like the dad from A Christmas Story, he’s been keeping it alive ever since. Ish. Did I mention we have a wood burner as well?

My point is, Bob keeps our appliances alive-ish far longer than I would have thought possible, so when he says he’s going to fix our 17-year-old fridge with a $14 part he got from Amazon (same one at Sears, $60), I believe him. Our food is on the back porch, thank you Cleveland weather. And I spent two hours cleaning the fridge (since he asked). Some people would feel a sense of satisfaction at a pristinely white fridge. Not me. I got bleach on my black pants and the nagging thought that it’s going to get dirty again, so why bother? That’s a really dangerous way to think. I’m pretty sure hoarders and people who get social services called on them think that way.

How did I go from a Mama’s-girl-neat-freak to the life’s-too-short-to-clean-your-house woman I am today?

That’s too long of a story to tell, and I’ve probably mentioned it somewhere in my blog. It has to do with four kids and homeschooling and having the joy sucked out of my life with the force of a Dyson and a decision to be relational first, let the crumbs fall as they may. And lay there, as they may. They’ll be there tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. Or until I have company over, which thankfully is every week. My 5000 Words class is a good excuse to shine up.




on writing

A Writing Exercise on Mood Creation

Two canoes.

With a rope I drag one behind me and return to the place. The empty canoe yaws and straggles and hampers so I have to relearn my paddle. Last time the water was serrated, chopped into spades by homeless and invisible gusts. The sudden rain made the most fragile bubbles when it struck the lake. Last time out we weren’t concerned about a squall or fragility. All our bubbles till then were blown from soap and sticks and had iridescent rivers on their hardy surfaces.

I row. I decide that today, if it strikes me, the rain will run right off in jagged rivulets. I row harder. My hitching breaths throw their own quick ghosts that die off like unspoken words. An ache develops in my shoulders. I row until they are screaming.

Today the water has no pulse. Even the jostling canoes don’t mar the reflection. Clouds rise like saints in white robes, their unhurried legions make a serpentine ascent to the treetops, to the colorless sky.

From tall, parlous grasses red-winged blackbirds shriek complaints to one another. Then in a black conflagration, they launch into space. They glide, unhinged from gravity. Fish too, wend unconcerned through a watery, leaden passage that hungers in silent patience.

My fat canoe sits next to your sleek canoe and I cannot help but think how unfair that is. Both are grey steel.

They say it’s low lying clouds, not ghosts rising up all over the water like a rapture.

I don’t believe them.

This is an assignment I gave to my 5000 Words class: write a 500+ word description of a lake. The key was that someone they knew had drowned in that lake. They were to describe the lake, the emotion coming through in the description alone, not the story of what happened to the victim. As I began to do this assignment, I found it difficult to make the word count without dipping into plot. So I allowed my students to tell a story in addition to describing the lake.  


Fiction: The Colonel’s Last Wish

In the bombed-out shell of a Starbucks cafe, he sat at a buckling and tilted table. What the colonel wouldn’t give for a green-smocked barista right now. A US Army truck painted over with his familiar insignia passed by, likely headed to the dump. Halfheartedly, he returned salute, then covered his nose. The dead Americans stank.

A familiar voice whispered, “You have one more wish.”

“I know.” He was afraid to say more. He’d already been tricked into wasting two wishes.


“I wish we had more recruits,” The colonel had mumbled. To himself. Barely aware of the vaporous and negligently-clad genie behind him. All he did was tap the kettle spout on the relic that had mysteriously appeared on the desk. No one saw who left it. The colonel’s words were barely out when a crowd of youths showed up, eager to don the newest nuclear plastique vests and pay the highest price.

Next, it wasn’t even a wish, just wishful thinking. “Oh, that they’d all fall– every major city…” The new recruits departed in unison, waited till all were ready. A thousand magic-controlled minds depressed the igniters… boom.

Thankfully, the colonel was in the underground bunker when it happened, else he might have wished himself dead. Everything good was gone. How could he tell the genie he wanted it back, just, sans Americans? What did he want with cornfields and rural towns of gun-toting Republicans? The colonel wanted the cities, the nightlife. The Starbucks. The pretty young baristas.

But these genies, they were black souls. They sneaked up on you and gave you exactly what you asked for, not what you wanted.

All the colonel wanted was a cup of espresso. “Can I wish for more wishes?”

“You know the answer to that.”

He spat at the genie’s feet.