Showing Up by Staci Stallings

Showing Up

    Sometime ago a friend called me.  She was freaking out because a friend of hers was having a really rough time.  He was at church cleaning, and he’d called her needing to talk.  Apparently he was in very bad shape emotionally.  She called me.  “What do I say to him?  I’m afraid I’m going to say something wrong. I don’t even want to go.”

    It’s the one fear that stops us, all of us, at one time or another—not having the foggiest idea of what to say to someone who is hurting.  Generally it’s in the major, life-altering, horrific moments of life that we sense we are truly not up to the challenge.  What do you say to your friend who just had a miscarriage, or that kid who just lost his brother?  What do you say to the person who just lost their job or their spouse or their child?  What do you say?  What can we say that will make any difference whatsoever?

    We don’t know, and so we say nothing.  We don’t want to get too close because it’s overwhelming and impossible to find the right words.  Nothing will bring them back, nothing will fix the situation, and cowed by the Goliath of There’s Nothing You Can Do, we do nothing.  We slink away, praying for them maybe but saying nothing.

    Don’t think you’re alone if you’ve ever experienced this.  I’m right there with you.  I can’t count the number of times when it was too easy to walk away, too easy to hope somebody else said something, too easy to hide in my fear rather than step out in faith.

    So I told my friend the honest truth.  “Show up.  It’s the hardest thing you will ever do, but it is the one and only thing that the person really needs.  Show up.  Go.  Take Christ with you, let Him lead and talk.  But you have to go.”

    The other night I got an abject lesson in showing up.  It’s one I’ve been learning for awhile although I didn’t really realize it.  There was once again in our small town a tragic wreck.  Six kids, going too fast on a country road, lost control, slammed into a pole.  The driver died.  Barely out of high school, this young man is now gone forever.

    Although they have lived in our little town for many years, the family is a transplant.  They don’t go to our church.  They pretty much stick to themselves, not many friends, few really know them all that well at all.

    Ironically, the boy played baseball last year, his senior year.  He played center field on my dad’s team.  Only five months out of our family tragedy in the loss of my older brother to suicide and five years out of the tragedy of losing his second baseman to another wreck, my dad happened to be up town.  He drove by the family’s house and noted only their car in the driveway.  No one else.  No one bringing food.  No one to offer a shoulder to cry on.

    I don’t know how the next moments went.  I don’t know if he drove by, thought about it, rethought about it, argued with himself, and had to turn around and go back.  (I surmise that because that’s how it would’ve happened if it had been me.)  Or maybe he saw, understood, and stopped immediately.

    In any case, the crystallizing of this lesson for me appeared in that moment because my dad made the decision so many of us don’t.  He stopped.   I can only imagine the thoughts streaming through his head as he went up and knocked. I can only imagine how fear tried to tell him this was out of his league, that he shouldn’t bother them, that they didn’t want to see anyone, that he had no idea what he would say to this couple who was hurting so badly.  Yet he stood there and knocked until someone opened the door.

    Upon hearing this story, my thoughts immediately traveled back over the last few years, and suddenly I understood what my dad has been teaching me—not through words but through consistent action, even when it’s been hard.  You see, this wasn’t the first time he stopped.  There was the last wreck when he went to see the parents of the teen who died and the parents of the teen who was driving.

    It wasn’t easy, I’m sure.  But he showed up.

    Then there was the time a young family in our parish was hurt by a priest who was immediately removed.  Many in the parish blamed the family member hurt by the priest.  Dad, being a good friend of the father, went to their home, and they talked.  I still wonder how much that single act had an influence in the entire family still being an active and vital part of our church.

    Looking back, there are times he showed up for me too.  Times honestly it would’ve been easier to figure it would blow over, and I would get over it.  But he wasn’t willing to take the chance.  He showed up.  We talked.  And for me, it made a big difference.

    I so remember when my brother died.  There were two guys from my hometown who made the hour and a half trip to where my brother’s family lived even though they didn’t have to—they could’ve just come to the funeral a couple days later.  So why did they come?  Because Dad had been there for them.  And then there were the two kids from the family who had been hurt who came to our house over Easter just a week after my brother’s death just to talk with us and see how we were doing.  That had to be terribly hard.  I’m not sure I could’ve done it at 20 and 17, but they did.  Why?  Because Dad had been there for them, and they, too, had learned the value of showing up—from him, and now they wanted to be there for him.

I know their stories, and I know why they came.  They came because they had learned how important it is to show up—especially when it’s hard.

    For me, as I thought about this lesson, I had a moment of true clarity.  Someday when I pass from this life, one of the biggest compliments that could ever be said of me and my life is simply this.  “She showed up.”

    I know it doesn’t sound like much, but the more I learn, the more I’m beginning to think it’s everything.

Copyright Staci Stallings, 2007

Saying Good-bye to Guido by Staci Stallings

Saying Good-bye to Guido

Three things to set the groundwork for this piece:  First, the majority of the info you are about to read came from a six-year-old drama king.  Second, said drama king started kindergarten last fall.  In their classroom they had a bearded dragon, which is pretty much a forearm length iguana (I know, reptile lovers will quibble, but I just want the non-reptile lovers to get a picture of this thing).  Third, I do NOT like reptiles of ANY kind–snakes, lizards, etc. all give me the shivers.

This particular kindergarten “pet” definitely qualified as a reptile, so when I visited the classroom, I stayed well away from the tank it was in.  As a long-time friend of the teacher, we had several conversations about Guido the Bearded Dragon throughout the year.  Then last Sunday she told me that Guido was not doing well (you can imagine my reaction).  He was so weak that she was having to (brace yourself!) feed him baby food with a syringe because he was no longer eating on his own.  Guido had been a gift from a young lady who had had him a long time.  He was very old, and the teacher was worried that the end was near.

Sure enough, on Friday six-year-old drama king got into my van after school.  “Mom, it was the worst day of my whole life!”

“Why?  What happened?”

“Well, Mrs. Scott had to take Guido to the vet (at which I’m thinking Why would she do THAT? What could a vet do anyway?), but this morning we found Guido in the tank, and he wasn’t breathing anymore.”

Like a good mom, I was sympathetic.  “Oh, I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, it was bad.  I had to get a box.”

“Really?”

“And Alyssa had to get a cloth.”

I’m now picturing this kindergarten class of 23 springing into action over the funeral preparations for a dead lizard.

“We got everything,” he continued solemnly, “and Mrs. Scott put him in the box.  Then Will carried him out in the box, and there was this BIG hole, and Will dropped the box and Guido into it.”

I don’t know why but something about this picture struck me as quite touchingly funny.  I know it shouldn’t, but, have you ever been so into picturing the story a six-year-old is telling that you just kind of get amazed at how perceptive and SERIOUS they are about life?

“So did the whole class go out for the funeral?”

“Uh-huh.  Everyone.”  (In their cute little school uniforms, 23 kindergartners standing around a hole in the ground, I’m sure that was quite a sight.)

“Did you say any prayers?”

“Mrs. Scott did.  She cried.”

“Did you sing any songs?”

“Well, the only song we all knew was ‘God Bless America,’ so we just sang that.”

(Go ahead, try not to laugh!  I was about to lose it.)

“Really?  Well, what about Father Waldow, did he come to the funeral?”

To which my precious little six-year-old drama king replied, “Mom, he dug the hole!”

Come to find out, I’m not sure all of that was exactly accurate, but that’s how it’s in my mind now, so I’ll leave it at that, and add just two more little pieces of this story.

First, upon talking with the teacher later, I found out that they had a little wake service prior to the burial.  She took Guido out of the tank, put him on the cloth in the box, and set the box on a small table.  Then each child was allowed to go by the box.  She said, “Some chose to touch him, others didn’t, but they all got to say good-bye.  Then we took him out and buried him.”  She said, “I swore I wasn’t going to cry.  Father Waldow had given me a little prayer book to God bless the cats and dogs, and I added bearded dragon.  Then when I got to those words, I just cried and cried.”

My son, stood next to me as the teacher told the story, and he very solemnly nodded at each word.

“When it was all over,” she continued, “we came in and had a birthday party for one of the little girls, and we talked about celebrating life and how we celebrate it in different ways–sometimes with birthday parties and sometimes by saying good-bye to really good friends.”

I think those are very wise words to live by.  I just wish we did a bit more celebrating of life every day, in every way, with every person we meet.

Maybe then we would all feel as loved as Guido the Bearded Dragon was by a bunch of kindergarteners who learned a little about death and a lot about life that day.

Copyright Staci Stallings, 2008

Praying at Sunrise by Staci Stallings

Staci new haedshot

Praying at Sunrise

I grew up on a dairy farm.  It wasn’t one of these massive things they have now.  This was a family owned dairy, which means the family WORKED.  During school, I was usually at the barn by 7.  Okay, 7:05, but who was counting?  I can’t say that I just loved the work because frankly it was not much fun.  It was loud, smelly, sometimes dangerous, and always WORK.

Since it was family-owned-and-operated, my parents were out there too.  One of the things I remember most was that many mornings my mom who did the outside chores while I worked inside the barn would come in the barn.  “Come here.”

That was always just for me.  And so, together we would escape.

Now I always had a fascination with sunrises and sunsets.  I don’t know why, but that was just part of me.  Mom knew that, and now thinking back, probably shared that fascination.  So together we would go outside, face east, and pray together.  The prayer stuck with me.  It was very short, and it wasn’t until many years later that I even learned where it had come from.

It wasn’t a prayer we said in church, but I knew and know that prayer by heart in a way I’m not sure that any other prayer is a part of me.  It goes like this:

Thy will be done today.

Today is a day of completion.

I give thanks for this perfect day.

Miracle shall follow miracle,

And wonders shall never cease.

I suppose that’s the kind of prayer you should pray at sunrise.  It’s something of a blessing of the day.

That prayer has gotten me through many tough moments.  The day as a young teacher I was called into the office to defend myself against an angry parent, that prayer was my safe place.  The day I had a biopsy that turned far too serious in seconds, that prayer sustained me with God’s loving hope and promises.  The one day that I could not get the prayer out was as I lay with my children the night of 9/11.  Getting through the word “perfect” was impossible.

The thing is that prayer and those sunrises are now being passed on to my children.  We leave for school early each morning and our drive is lit as the sun comes up.  That one is in our standard prayers.

Prayers and sunrises.  They kind of go together for me—unless I happen to be blessed enough to be sleeping at that time, which for me is pretty much the same thing as praying, but that’s for another time.

Copyright Staci Stallings, 2008

Manna: Learning to Accept “What Is” by Staci Stallings

Manna: Learning to Accept “What Is”

Have you ever wondered about manna?  You know the flour-like substance that the Israelites were given to sustain them while they walked in the desert for forty years?  I’m kind of afraid I would have been a little like them after awhile.  “Is this all there is?”

I know that sounds whiny and not very grateful, but the truth is, I know me.  See, I’m the kind of person that likes things my way.  I have a hard time accepting what is currently happening–especially if what is currently happening happens to be boring, or frustrating, or hard.

Call me crazy.  I don’t think I’m alone.

So I can understand the Israelites when they got upset about the manna.

But here is something I didn’t know until recently.  The word manna can mean two things, depending on the punctuation used.  With a question mark, it’s a question.  As in “manna?”  As a statement it means basically the same thing except not as a question.  Confusing.  I know, but stay with me here and you’ll see where I’m going with this.

As a question manna means, “What is it?”  Think about this, you’re hungry.  You and your family has been walking around in the desert for a long time.  You’re tired, and you’re beginning to think this whole thing was a huge mistake.  When one morning you wake up, and miracle of miracles, there is something covering the ground.  What is the first question you would ask of each other?

That’s right:  “What is it?”

That’s the question the Israelites asked when they found the manna on the ground.  Manna means “What is it?” as a question.

But here’s the thing.  Manna can also be a statement.  As a statement, manna means “what is.”

How profound.

Every day God gives us “what is.”  He gives us “manna.”

Here’s the more profound part.  At first the Israelites were thrilled with the manna–what is.  They rejoiced for the Lord their God had saved them from hunger and death.

However, that joy and praise did not last.  Eventually, as “what is” turned from one day to twenty and then to day fifty and then to day three hundred and then to day six hundred, the people got tired of “what is.”  They got tired of the provision God was sending to them, and they began to whine and grumble.

Now maybe you can’t relate to this, but I can.

I pray and ask God for His provision and He sends it.  I am grateful… at first, but soon, like the Israelites, I forget about the provision that God sent me and start complaining that I don’t have something else.

With the Israelites, they grumbled that they had no food, and God fed them with “manna.”  As the manna continued, they tired of it and complained they had no meat.  So God sent meat.  Then they complained about water, and God sent them water flowing from a rock.

Were they ever satisfied?

Are we?

Of course not.  The whining and complaining continued for them forty years!

Even St. Paul said the story of the Israelites is meant not as a model for us but as a warning of what not to do!

“What is” in your life that you are taking for granted or out-right grumbling about?  Might it be time to return to gratefulness for God’s Provision?

“What is” is what God sent–for this time in your life.  Do you accept that or fight against it?

It’s the question I’m most wrestling with right now in my own life.

By:  Staci Stallings

An Interview with Author Deanna Klingel

Congratulations on your newest book, Cracks in the Ice. Please tell us what it’s about.

Cracks in the Ice is Christian fiction about the niece of a mafia don who has the dream of Olympic gold in figure skating. She’s close to her goal when tragedy happens. Without the support of friends, family, or faith, she loses her identity, spirals into despair and alcoholism. The two people who never give up on her are able to help her crawl out of the abyss and back to the church of her childhood, and the arms of Forgiveness. It’s the story of second chances.

Tell us what motivated you to write Bread Upon the Water, also out last year.

Bread Upon the Water is a true story of a modern day hero of faith. Father Tien Duong was the pastor of our church for a couple years and I got to know him. I pestered him for his story of miraculous escape from Vietnam, and convinced him people would want to know it. He’s a very humble man and being famous was never on his agenda. I struggled to convince him. I wanted to tell his story as a model of faith.  I also wanted the younger generations of Vietnamese and Americans to learn the story of Vietnam from a point of view other than Hollywood. I wanted everyone to learn what it’s like to be an immigrant today.

Please share with us concerning Avery. I quite enjoyed Avery’s Battlefield and see that you also have Avery’s Crossroad. Will we be able to find Avery in any upcoming stories?

The Avery and Gunner books were a lot of fun to research and write, and I’m having a ball marketing them. I’m nearly every weekend at a Civil War reenactment, dressed in period clothing, meeting the middle schoolers and signing books for them. Both the books have received bronze medals from National Stars and Flags Book Award. Kids are loving them, and so are adults. I’d love to continue their story, but I sort of boxed myself in by writing an epilogue at the end of book two.

How do you choose your characters, or do they choose you?

I usually know my character before I start writing. He lives a while in my heart. Then when I start writing he unveils his secrets and I learn more about him while I write. They are all very real for me.

What motivates you to return to your keyboard daily and write?

Writing is what I love to do, so I’m highly motivated. When I’ve got a story in progress, what motivates me is to see what happens next!

What do you hope to write someday?

I haven’t really thought that far ahead. I think what I hope to write is what I try to do now, which is write books that people enjoy and read, books that will be around after I’m gone.

If you could choose to have one strength of another writer, what would it be and from whom?

I recently finished reading what I think might be the best book I’ve read in two years. It’s A Noble Treason. It’s brilliant. The writer (Richard Hanser) writes classical prose that is so learned, and beautiful. I’d like to write like that. The second best book is Prague Winter by Madeleine Albright. I’d like to have her memory of historical facts. I can hardly remember when I last had an oil change. I’d love to have a profound memory like hers. Since I write a lot of historical stories, it would be a great help.

How does God enter into your writing life?

I’m not sure He enters in, like coming and going. He resides there. I don’t necessarily start out to write something Christian, but I am who I am, and my work just turns out that way. I think writers write what they know, but they also, intentionally or not, write who they are. I do.

         

Staci Stallings

As

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

— The Our Father

The most perfect prayer. The one Jesus told us, “When you pray, pray like this.”

Ever since, we’ve been praying the words He taught us. In fact, we’ve prayed it so often

that many of us don’t even think about what we’re saying anymore. We run through

the words almost unconsciously – memorized to the point that we no longer have to

concentrate on what we’re saying.

But let me tell you, saying this line without really thinking about what it means

is a scary proposition. Why? Because you are asking for exactly the same treatment

you’ve been dishing out. So the question becomes – what have you been dishing out?

Are you judgmental? Do you judge situations and people without really getting

to know them? Do you practice quiet prejudice – boxing people in and labeling them

because of some outward characteristic? Then when you say “as,” you’ve just given God

permission to judge you on the same scale.

Are you petty? Do you watch for the faults of others and then make sure to point

those out to everyone within earshot? Then you’ve given God permission to pick out and

point out each and everyone of your faults.

Are you jealous? Do you judge actions without bothering to learn the whole

story? Are you exacting? Harsh? Impossible to please? Do you brush by people

because they have the wrong kind of jeans or the wrong accent or the wrong personality?

Think about what you’re setting up for yourself. By saying “as,” think about what

you’ve told God to do when you stand before the Throne.

The good news is that “as” works just as thoroughly in a positive direction. Do

you have mercy on those around you? Do you forgive? Put the past behind you and truly

move on? Do you bless those who have hurt you and pray for those who hate you? Do

you actively look for the good even when it seems buried?

If so, that is the scale God will use for you. It’s a smart thing to remember the

next time you blithely say “as I forgive those…”

Copyright Staci Stallings, 2004

It Happened at the Fair

Title of Book: It Happened at the Fair

Author: Deeanne Gist

ISBN  978-1-4516-9237-2

Publisher: Howard Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Publication Date: April 2013

Reviewer: Dell Smith Klein

“A transporting historical novel about a promising young inventor, his struggle with loss, and the attractive teacher who changes his life, all set against the razzle-dazzle of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Deeanne Gist, author of It Happened at the Fair,lives in Texas. She has become a popular writer, has received several RITA nominations, and two Christy Awards.  Her background is in education and journalism.  Gist is active online. Find out more about her at her website I Want HerBook.com, or at Facebook.com/DeesFriends.  It Happened at the Fair was the first book I’ve read by Gist, but it won’t be my last.

REVIEWER’S COMMENTS

It Happened at the Fair, by Deeanne Gist hit me with two great surprises.  1) I’m allergic to cotton dust like Cullen McNamara, and 2) I’m a hard-of-hearing (HH) woman with several deaf and HH family members.  The question of oral or manual communication has been batted back and forth in my family since the 1940s.

Cullen, the main character in It Happened at the Fair faces serious consequences in the culture of 1800s that thought deafness on any level meant mental illness.  Being HH wasn’t Cullen’s only problem – he had financial problems, women problems, and had to deal with someone who wanted him to fail.

Cullen’s tutor, Della Wentworth, shines in her teaching of lip reading but I had to chuckle at Cullen’s thoughts as he watched Della’s lips and tried to keep his mind on lip-reading, not kissable lips.  Poor guy!

The author handled the deaf and HH problem very well, both for the time setting of the book and for today.  Also, I felt like I’d had a good look at the Chicago World’s Fair.  Best of all, Gist’s characters were so much fun – Cullen trying to protect Della and Della trying to protect herself from Cullen!  No question, It Happened at the Fair was fun to read.

 Yes, I recommend It Happened at the Fair by Deeanne Gist and hope to read more of Gist’s future books.