In Rememberance and Why Books Matter

This past Saturday a twelve-year-old boy in my Language Arts classes died unexpectedly. I’m heartbroken, I’m ripped apart, I’m still in shock. But I’m also comforted. I’m going to share this story to illustrate how fictional books CAN and DO make a difference, because I know what a lonely profession this can be sometimes.

My student drowned in a canal near his home. His brother and neighbor tried to save him but were unable to revive him. For those that know my novel, 18 Things, it’s about a girl who tries to save her best friend from drowning but can’t and the book is her dealing with the guilt over that experience. My student who died went through books like water, a rare thing for a middle school boy. In fact, the first day of school, after telling me to sit him in the front because he was very hyperactive and wouldn’t pay attention otherwise (HA! LOVED his honesty!) . . . when I introduced myself and told them I’m an author, he immediately asked where he could get my novel. Two days later, he proudly carried 18 Things with him to class and told me it was his new favorite book.

When 18 Truths came out a month ago, he quickly grabbed a copy to read. A couple of weeks later, he ran to class. I told him, “Slow down!” He apologized and explained he wanted to be the first one there because he wanted to ask me some questions about my new book. I said, Ask away! I expected an interrogation about the plot twist at the end (he was quite angry with me for not having book #2 out right away after the plot twist in book #1 . . . did I tell you this was a boy after my own heart?!). You can imagine my surprise when he started asking me all these questions about God. Book #2 takes place in the Underworld . . . a recent book reviewer called it the Christian version of Percy Jackson. My student wanted to know if I made all of it up or if it was in the Bible. I told him I made it up, that’s why it’s in the “Fiction” section in the bookstore.

B&N placement

But I told him I definitely focused on the goodness of God because I think of that as a universal truth. Yes, I know we’re not supposed to talk about God in public schools, but he brought up the subject and I can’t explain things any other way except that the conversation felt right. We talked about how a lot of books that take place in the Underworld don’t mention God at all. Or how many characters act like they don’t believe in God or don’t know if He exists, even ones that have angels and demons in the plot (City of Bones comes to mind, as that’s one of the 8 books our students are encouraged to read this year for school). It was a great discussion, and then the bell rang and that was the end of it.

Then two weeks ago I announced to my classes that we were going to study Romeo and Juliet. Of course I was instantly met with groaning and gnashing of teeth. But the discussion that followed about modern-day examples of groups of people not getting along got very heated.  My student mentioned the holocaust, and much to my surprise, not only did he know practically EVERYTHING about it, my other students knew virtually nothing. It was then that I realized he (the boy who died) is Jewish. The class was riveted listening to him. Anyway, at the end of class, he told me the lesson was epic, he’d never forget it, and that when he was older, he wanted to be one of those Jewish Christians but he didn’t want to tell his parents because he thought they might be mad. I told him I thought that already thinking about such things at age twelve was very impressive, and he said, “Well, I’m a very curious kid.” I laughed and agreed with him. Then he dropped this on me: “Actually, it was your books that got me thinking more and more about God.” Can you say tears? He thanked me for the lesson, told me to have a good afternoon, and was on his way. That was the type of boy he was. Well-mannered, kind, curious, generous, always a smile for everyone, an “underdog.” He classified himself as one since he was small for his age, but always said what he lacked in size he made up for with his big personality. I couldn’t agree more.

I’m honored to have been part of his journey, though I’m terribly sad tonight. When brainstorming ideas with his class about ways we can memorialize him, they mentioned naming one of my book characters after him in the last installment of my trilogy since he loved to read and loved my books. I thought the idea was perfect.

Today I attended his funeral. As I looked at the destroyed faces of his parents, I was humbled by how easily our babies can be taken from us at any time. Even though right now I’m still questioning God about why this happened, I’m comforted that in the midst of mourning, He comes to us. In the darkness, His spirit moves. At the point of our deepest despair, He is closest. If you pray, I’d ask that you keep his family, friends, classmates, and teachers in your thoughts this week as we figure out how to move on without him.

I will say I don’t question my purpose in being an author anymore. Yes, it’s tough work, but if the sole purpose of my books was to touch this young man’s life and draw him closer to God before he died, then that’s all the reason I need to know publishing this trilogy was the right decision.

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Suffering IS NOT Failing

There’s many different cups of suffering . . . in physical aches, emotional pain, motherhood, friendships, loneliness, marriage issues, financial hardships, rejection (writing has dealt me an overflowing cup of this one), abuse, divorce . . . we don’t deserve these cups of suffering, but even though God loves us, He doesn’t take these sufferings away.

Coffee

Oh, how I wish a cup of suffering meant Starbucks getting my order wrong and therefore, ending up getting coffee wasted which results in a massive sugar withdrawal incident that has me sprinting across  eight busy lanes of traffic chasing after SpongeBob (you don’t want to know).

Our pastor’s daughter, Kristy Turner, shared the message, “Suffering Is Not Failing,” at the Women’s Retreat I attended for our church at South Seas Plantation this weekend. She shared from Matthew 26:36-46 when Jesus asks his Father to take the cup of suffering from him because he knows he’s about to go to the cross. It’s because of the anguish Jesus went through that he can relate to our suffering. Ultimately, it’s our sufferings that mold us in life . . . it keeps us humble, reminds us of our constant need for God, and benefits those around us as they see God at work in our lives.

I thought a lot of my sufferings during this retreat . . . I felt God whispering to me during her message that I’ve always been so self-sufficient because of the sufferings I endured as a child. I HAD to be independent for survival, and now it’s a difficult habit to break. I don’t admit weakness or ask for help easily. This wouldn’t be so hard if I just sat back and relaxed, but my adult life has been filled with one big project after another. Hubs often feels the need to ask me, “Why do you have to take on the world?” I just thought I liked activity, but this weekend I realized that deep down in my soul, I felt the need to prove something to myself and to the people who ignored me and made me feel insignificant growing up. Jesus reassured me that even if I didn’t do allll those things, he still loves me and I was worth dying for *wipes tears from eyes*

So will I still “think big”? Sure I will! It’s a part of me, but I’m gonna ask for more help along the way and believe my husband when he tells me that sometimes “less is more.” I’m going to take more time to enjoy the simple things in life . . . things I got to enjoy this weekend. The smell of coconut scented sunscreen melting into my skin as I relaxed on the beach, the whispering of the waves, laughing with my friends, the horizon of a sunrise, the treat of a cold Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino from Starbucks, the warm breeze and water washing over my sandy toes as I read a good book.

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Keep calm and carry on!

It’s easy to get caught up in the suffering, the “failing,” and the busyness of life. But it is possible to have peace with God in all things. To end with another cliché (hey, don’t give me that judging look that says you’re a writer–you have no business posting a blog filled with clichés), “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” Take a deep breath, and know that God loves you!

What about you? Have there been times in your life when you felt like you needed to think small instead of big? Have you drank from the cup of suffering and thought it was because you failed in some way?

If My Life Were A Book . . . Confessions of A Failure

This past week held two big milestones for me–my 15th wedding anniversary with my Prince Charming and my new adventure into the world of “Middle School Teacher.”

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My Classroom

This afternoon I skipped (yes, skipped–I do that sometimes just to scare the students) down the hall to obtain a large sheet of white butcher paper so I could start my “Character Traits” poster with my classes. As I walked back to class, I started thinking (and yes, smoke did blow out of my ears), if I was the main protagonist in a book, what kind of character traits would my students, and better yet, my own family, write down for me?

I’d like to say my list would look like this: loving, joyful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, self-controlled, compassionate, forgiving, grateful, honest, helpful, well-mannered . . . or anything halfway close to my own protagonist in 18 Things. The best time to catch me displaying some of these traits are after a few cups of coffee in the morning 🙂

Reality probably looks more like this: frazzled, frustrated, angry, busy, grumbling, bi-polar, worried, brutally honest (to the point of being insensitive to others), oversensitive (when comments are directed toward me), a “yes person” (most can see that “YES” sticker plastered across my forehead from a mile away which is why I get roped into too many activities). This Jamie appears after working all day without chocolate because she’s trying to be a healthy role model for her students and is therefore now suffering massive sugar withdrawals.

Not a pretty picture, aye? I’d say that’s more of the “home” Jamie than the “Mrs. Ayres” at school. If I acted like my real self at school, I’d probably get fired! Luckily, my family hasn’t figured  out a way to get rid of me yet.

It’s not like I want to be this way. So it’s funny when I opened up my book to do my bible study tonight and read the words of Paul in the book of Romans, chapter seven: “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it . . . What a wretched man I am!”

Yep. Luckily I believe in a very forgiving God who gave me a very patient husband 🙂

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Our wedding kiss *don’t everyone aww at once*

My faith has taken me through 15 years of marriage with two beautiful daughters and no doubt will take me through my years as middle school teacher!

At the end of my Bible study today, I had to write a description of a good role model. I simply wrote this:

Someone who always loves. Without love, actions are empty. A role model’s criterion for their actions isn’t based on what they like best, but what’s best for those around them.

While I’m on the subject of love, Ima gonna break down dat definition for ya like it’s 1990 and it’s Hammertime at my middle school dance:

Love isn’t a feeling *Gulp* I don’t think I could ever “fall out of love” with my husband. Instead, love is a decision to meet the needs of others before yourself. It’s not a natural inclination past those first days of marital bliss. Love is something we must choose to live every day.

Now, as a writer of love inspired stories and a teacher, I’m an expert on definitions, so there’s no need to confer with Webster *steps down off pedestal*

I’m taping my role model definition to my bathroom mirror as a reminder of the type of person I should be each day, not just on the days when I feel like it and not just at work. There’s a quote by Erma Bumbeck that goes, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything that you gave me.”

Or as Master Yoda puts it: “Do or do not. There is no try.” Talk is cheap. Words without action=failure. When I look back at the chapters of my life, I want my traits to resemble the characters in the books that inspire me.

What’s  your definition of a good role model? (Lord help us if anyone says Justin Bieber, lol. Thankfully, I don’t think any of my middle school Language Arts students have found my blog yet! *looks around with crazy eyes*

Until next week, Live~Laugh~Love!