Personal Journey

Don’t Forget the Little Car Accidents

I like telling you about my car accidents. The slaps of fate, I consider my teachers. So when life smacks me down and I taste the dirt, my natural response is to share what it tasted like. This isn’t new. My very first attempt at voluntary writing (age nine) was an apology to the Almighty in response to a botched attempt at digging up a dead cat. How does one botch the exhumation of a dead animal, you wonder? Could the unearthing of rotting pet go well in any reality? It could’ve gone better, I submit.

One of the farm dogs got wind (haha) of what we kids were doing and decided he was going to get himself a little dead cat dinner. Black hefty bag and all. Digging in, girlie, don’t mind if I do…

To say I felt “bad” about my friend’s cat strewn about the farm like confetti, my little experiment gone wrong, was quite the understatement. You’re going straight to hell for this one, Kelly, straight to hell. And so’s the dog.

I penned my confession to God about how profoundly sorry I was, how things didn’t turn out the way I intended, and could God forgive?– I just had a strange curiosity as to what a dead thing looked like. I’d never been to a funeral, never died myself. It was an honest mistake made in the name of science. Kind of like Victor Frankenstein.

Meanwhile, back on track. I had another wee car issue recently. Remember the gal I rear-ended? This time I scraped a car as I pulled into a spot at the YMCA. As soon as I heard it, I went into denial mode. That did not just happen. That was nothing. I actually pulled out my how-to-write book and acted like I was going to sit there and read it because what did I have to hide? I didn’t really scrape the car next to me. It was the tiniest feathery touch. Nothing to worry about.

But my stomach did that dance it does, like when I get pulled over by a (love you so much thank you for your service) man in blue. It’s the Dance de Guilt. So I did what any selfish, overworked, underfunded, stressed out, petulant irresponsible 44 year old would do: I backed my car out and parked in another space.

As I did so, my headlights fell upon the “little scratch.” Eeeeeeck. All pretense of its being feathery left my horizon. It was a bright line the same color as my car, running the entire length. My Dance de Guilt made its way into my heart and began a stomp dance while I deliberated with God about why I should just go. Go! No one saw. It was still just a scratch, went my reasoning. I had no time to do the right thing, went my reasoning. And I was so very tired. And poor. And did I mention I was poor?

We’re not poor, not really, but I didn’t feel rich enough to write my name and number on a piece of paper and put myself at the mercy of whoever’s car I’d redesigned. I hoped the person would come out and not even see it and leave while I had it out with God, that my opportunity to do the right thing would pass, and I’d be de facto absolved.

I kept chanting no one saw, no one saw. God saw.

I tell you I did the right thing for Him. Not for any other reason than for the fact that I love God and God calls me to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly. (Like I could forget, it’s on the right margin of this very blog!) I wish I could tell you it’s my knee jerk reaction to do the right thing.

For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. – Philippians 2:13

I wrote the note and placed it on the windshield. It went something like:

I’m very sorry I scraped your car as I was pulling in the spot next to yours. I do have insurance, but if you don’t mind, I’d rather pay for the damage outright. Here is my phone number, and again I’m very sorry to have caused you trouble. – Kelly Griffiths

Waiting to hear from X Car Owner made me physically sick. I braced myself for the call from some car-obsessed victim junky hoping for a windfall, who’d start the conversation with a hit and run threat, spiced with expletives, who’d rip into me with what the hell’s wrong with you?

Just yesterday this was said from the pulpit of my church (I know you’re going to want to go there when you hear it): We’re going to make holiness sexy again. 

He actually spoke those words. No joke. Holiness. Sexy. Again.

People acting like God and it’s attractive.

I’m determined not to forget the little accident or the elderly, phlegmy-voiced man who called and said he’d buff the mark out, no worries, no cost, who said it was real nice of me to leave a note when I could have just left, and don’t worry, honey, I wouldn’t take advantage… I’m a Christian man.

A Christian man? How peculiar. You have my number because I’m a Christian woman.


Holiness. Attractive. The following theoretical scenario is part of my salvation journey, part of what convinced me to follow Christ. It was the first time holiness was sexy to me. And it goes like this:

You’re walking alone down a dark alley in the middle of the night in a shady section of town. Ahead, you see a gang of men walking toward you. (I lived in San Diego at the time, in a section where you couldn’t get a pizza delivered because it wasn’t safe.) Walking alone… a gang of men walking toward me… yes. Quite terrorizing.

Wouldn’t you feel relieved to know those men had just left a Bible study?

Yes, of course. That changed everything. Holiness, the pursuit of it– had I known the men were leaving a Bible study, my hand would be off the trigger, my heart would trust. I could smile at them and they could smile at me.

And we’d all live holy ever after. Holiness. Sexy.


Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:10



Personal Journey

T is for Tory

T (1)Tory was an easy baby, the easiest child, the hardest teenager. I think each phase caused the next. You see, Tory was so breathtakingly sweet that losing her to the atmosphere was that much more bitter. By atmosphere, I mean adolescence. When a rocket re-enters earth, there is a gap in communication while it makes its way through the atmosphere. So you have this fun-loving little person, you have the atmosphere, and on the other side you have a reasonable, able-bodied young adult. I didn’t come up with this; I wish I had.*

Tory made it through the atmosphere. We all did. I remember the moment she turned in her flight suit. She smiled her dazzling and beautiful smile and said sweetly, “Mom, I just realized: I don’t hate you anymore.”

“The feeling’s mutual,” I answered.

Even when Tory was in the atmosphere she did great things. In high school speech and debate, one of my favorite Tory-moments occurred. It was her second year debating and she came up with a unique (and I thought– unbeatable) case. First, backtrack. There is an unspoken hierarchy in speech and debate. It’s not just a seniority gig. It’s also about dynasty. There are those families, you know, speech and debate royalty, who churn out generation after generation of final round winners. Then there are the plebianic masses who do their best to not wet themselves when they face a dynasty debater.

Some dynasty debaters didn’t think Tory’s case was worth a hill of beans, and they convinced her partner to scrap it. Tory, being shy and sweet and dynasty-less, was heart-broken. After all the work she put into it, they were going to scrap it because some Dons** didn’t like it?

Absolutely not, I told her. I got on the phone with the head of the program and outlined Tory’s case structure. “Is there anything wrong with this case?” I asked. She concurred that it was an ingenious case, that it would probably catch everyone off guard, and they should run it. They did run it, and they won with it over and over again.

This, from a 14-year-old who absolutely hated debate.

Then there’s her heart.  At twenty, Tory’s not above playing basketball with Gabe or taking him to the movies. She gives me honest but gentle fashion advice and tells me the hard things not many people will. If I ask her, she’ll even read my fiction writing!

At both Wagner’s and Gymboree Tory was promoted into management. Now Tory works at Aeropostale, a company that perfectly suits her. She handles her college load and a growing financial responsibility–her first car! She and Bob spent many quality hours together car hunting, taking five duds to various mechanics and having them rejected. Finally, a winner!

Bob & Tory at the end of a long car-hunting journey. Victory!

When I think of Tory I think of her at her high school graduation party or at her 16th birthday luau. It’s a My Fair Lady image I have of Tory: grace and peace while she mingles with the people who have come out to love her and celebrate her.

Today it’s my delight to celebrate her in my own way. 🙂

*The atmosphere. That little gem is from Dr. James Dobson, whose parenting books traditionally make me cry. Good tears, the kind that come when you realize you’re not an alien parenting– badly– from Mars, but that everyone struggles. Many of them are still on our shelves, including, The Strong-Willed Child, Bringing up Boys, Parenting Isn’t for Cowards, and Night Light.

**Debate-Obsessed Nerd.

Personal Journey, Poetry

Q is for Quacks

QQuacks. I wish this were about ducks, but alas– here is my post about funny farms, i.e., nut houses, psych wards, mental institutions, behavioral medicine centers (they sound nice). Funny farm is my mom’s favorite designation. She has introduced me thus: “This is my daughter who put me in the funny farm.”

You could say I’m somewhat of a funny farm connoisseur. I’m not going to name-call or rehash my bad experiences, but I’ll say this– Oakview has trays of fresh-baked cookies sitting all over the place and deli trays… and that’s just the snacking. I’m reasonably certain they treat mostly hobbits there. If you ever decide to go off the deep end, insist on a bed at Oakview in Middleburg Heights.

It was a year after my mom quit drinking that things got crazy in the truest sense of the word. That was when I began a relationship with the Cuyahoga County Board of Mental Health. You see, brains accustomed to decades of pickling and frying don’t always take well to quitting cold-turkey. So it was with mom. She overcame her addictions only to be faced with a complete psychological breakdown. Think The Shining. 

My new friends from the board of health came out to hold my hand, along with the Berea police, who responded to mom’s 911 call.

911, what is your emergency?

My daughter’s trying to have me committed.

Imagine my despair when I was told that the police could offer no assistance in getting mom to the hospital. I had high hopes of them swooping in and taking this problem off my hands. Nor could the officers convince mom to go willingly. Manhandle is the only way to describe how we got her into the car while the police and social workers looked on. My manhandlers were: 1. Bob 2. My sister’s boyfriend (who became her husband in spite of this) and 3. A family friend. These men are my heroes. It’s easy to rescue a damsel in distress when distress looks the way it ought. This was tough love in the extreme. And from that day’s tough love I don’t know if I’ll ever be vindicated. I operated under the delusion that mom wouldn’t remember anything, like in the old drinking days. Au contraire mon frère, said my social worker. She’ll remember it all.

One doesn’t just walk into the funny farm. One must go through the ER. And the ER doesn’t appreciate patients who require a posse of strong male nurses to restrain them as they spew expletives in an uninterrupted torrent that rivals Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 in length. The good folks from the board of health advocated for me when the emergency room tried to deny mom treatment. Helen Keller could see mom was having a psychotic episode, and the ER wanted to send her away? That falls under the definition of quack.

You could say quacks were the beginning of mom’s journey to the funny farm. Beginning in her early twenties, beginning most likely when she left the hospital with yours truly, mom suffered from anxiety. Babies, divorce, freeways, the human condition… all of it was too much. Mom sought help where so many people seek it. Her first quack put her on valium.

Next up, valium-like pills, then social drinking, then pills and drinking and where did that tatoo come from? In 1998 I wrote a poem about my  mom’s search for the right pill and it was published by The Comstock Review.* It was my attempt at capturing the lunacy: doctor appointment number gazillion. He was tossing his soup can back and forth and nonverbally screaming his desire to dispatch my mother as quickly as possible to get to that soup. Mom wanted to feel ok and this pill, this time it was going to work. I watched my mom nearly destroy herself by self-medicating against the physiological truth going on insider her. It took a radical breakdown to finally get to that truth: bipolar disorder.

My mom is in good company: Carrie Fisher, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Vivian Leigh, and Jean-Claude Van Damme all have bipolar disorder. One can lead a full life with bipolar disorder. One can even learn to make light of it: This is my daughter who put me in the funny farm.


*A Vice From Your Doctor

“I shake a lot,” you said,

and he was shaking too,


caressing a can of soup,

“This will stop it.”

A slip of paper.

The newest brand, less

addictive, less side effects

(you’ll like it)

you did like it.

And you both stopped shaking.

It’s taken years to collect enough

slips to feed a flame

that, starving, snake-licks up

your pared legs, chokes

you silent, shakes you frozen.

You are a curled brown leaf

unable to dress.

You know now he was right

about soup:

It’s hard to eat

when the spoon shivers.



Personal Journey

L is for Luke

LLuke. When he was a chubby toddler, we called him The Mayor. It was during the summer performances of Music on the Mound that Luke, then 3 years old, would go blanket to blanket and engage his constituency in monosyllabic conversations that culminated in uproarious laughter and his parting wave. Then on to the next blanket, the next set of hearts to melt… Luke could charm the socks off a Gulag prisoner. Though he’s tough as steel, and probably because of that, his smile is a gift that never gets old.

I wrote this post when Luke was considering whether or not to attend high school at St. Ignatius. He’d been homeschooled all his life, and St. Ig had a reputation of three hours of homework per night. Three hours was the totality of Luke’s academic day up to that point. And don’t forget– there’d be no more sleeping in, no more school on the couch wrapped in a cozy comforter, no more getting out of school simply by scowling at mom when she’s in a fit of weakness. Going to school, any brick and mortar school, would mean galactic shifts in the tectonic plates of Luke’s world.

Luke received First Honors in his first semester at Saint Ignatius, a 4.1 GPA. Transition accomplished.

If you hung with me through that shameless kid-bragging score, here’s some balance. Luke’s had his share of disappointments. His gym grade is partially based on how many baskets he makes. Not cool for a soccer player. Or Luke’s attempt at memorizing all 75 prepositions for his English test– a valiant effort but an imperfect result. Now the big one: Soccer tryouts didn’t go as he’d hoped. Rather than wallow in self-pity, Luke held on to Michael Jordan.

Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Cut. I don’t even know logistically how that’s possible that Michael Jordan could be cut from high school basketball and still end up professional. But it’s true. So Luke, not cut from high school soccer, just not getting his exact desire, could surely make the best of it. And he did. And I’m proud. I don’t know how many goals he scored or assisted– lots. I’m more pumped that Luke persevered.

This was a really hard post to write because Luke hates having anything written about him. Super-private, he is. If I don’t post anymore after this, it’s because Luke took his revenge.

Last but not least, Luke has a soft spot in his heart. Her name is Delaney. Here they are, looking adorable.

Luke Delaney Horse


Personal Journey

K is for Katae

KIn a lineup of siblings, first-borns traditionally shoulder the heaviest burdens. Katae has always gracefully shouldered her world, praying that God would make her a good example, always considering her brothers and sister. In our home Katae would do what needed to be done; she’d find the holes and fill them; she’d enlist her siblings to help. First-borns are often leaders that way, sympathetic to their ragged mothers. Katae was the one who cared. She never saw me as Super Woman or– most likely, never even saw me as Capable Woman. All my shortcomings hung way out in those early years when I had more littles than bigs.

Katae played soccer until homeschool status prevented her from playing at the high school level. Then she helped Bob coach. Up through the ranks of Civil Air Patrol Katae worked, becoming a Master Sargeant in just two years and hating every minute of it. In an activity even more hated, speech and debate, Katae also shined. It doesn’t matter how Katae feels about a job: she gives it her all. I don’t have to see her to know that she does exceptional work at QDRO (a company that divides 401K and retirement packages according to divorce decrees). At twenty years old, Katae graduated from Bowling Green State University and landed a good job in an economy when even bad jobs were scarce. At twenty-three, she’s still shouldering her world gracefully.

Because they love her so, Katae’s leaving felt like a mortal wound for a while. I didn’t even recognize it at first. One day I realized that the kids were just… off. And Gabe said, “I miss Katae.” It’s the way things are supposed to be. A daughter grows up. She meets a great guy. She gets married. And we all miss her. But we’re happy for her too. And when she comes for a visit, Katae’s a rock star. Really, we didn’t lose a daughter; we gained a son. Paul is as beloved as Katae. He brings a playful spirit into every pursuit. Can I still cry when, after a lovely visit, they get on their motorcycle and leave?

When Bob and I went away on our 20th anniversary cruise, it was Katae and Paul who took Gabe to his swim meet so he didn’t have to miss it. Anyone who has experience in swim meets knows we asked a lot of Katae and Paul, like six hours’ worth of stifling hot, chlorine-asphyxiated swim meet on one of their two weekend days. I trust Katae to be kind to her little brother. I trust that she loves people the best she knows how, that her intentions are good. Katae has always been a kind spirit. Sleek and soft and beautiful, like her many cats, is Katae.

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