Wednesday, June 7, 2017

La Rosa, Vol. 1: Chapter 3

“Murt, murt, murt, murt…” The sound of Mirjana’s alarm clock tore her from her sleep, and she couldn’t have been more thankful. “Ay de mi!” she said out loud to herself, “What a horrible dream!” She sat up, glad to be awake, and stretched. Her muscles were sore after the last few days of playing with the children, gardening, and helping with small repairs around the orphanage. Mirjana made her way down the hall to the bathroom, put toothpaste on her toothbrush, and happily hummed in relief to be awake from the nightmare.

But then, turning to look into the mirror, Mirjana froze in shock. Dark smudges ran across her chin and mouth. Nearly a whole minute passed as she stared in disbelief.

Finally, leaning in close to the mirror, she could see it was dirt on her face. Mirjana frantically turned on the water to wash away the soil, desperate to convince herself it was only a coincidence of some sort, that her nightmare was merely that. But when she bent over the sink to wash, she was met with another shock. A long, dark braid fell across her shoulder, intricately woven and adorned with sprigs of meadowsweet.

A shriek escaped Mirjana’s mouth and she to began rummaging through the drawers of the bathroom. “It can’t… It can’t be,” she stammered. Unable to find what she was looking for, she ran to the kitchen and pulled a pair of meat shears from the butcher’s block. In one quick motion, Mirjana lobbed off her braid and shuddered as she felt her hair unravel from its plaiting and brushing against her shoulders. With disbelief and confusion, she looked at her hands. In one she held the kitchen shears, and in the other her braid hung low, close to the ground.

“Quien esta en la cocina? No breakfast until morning prayers! Girls? Are you ignoring me?” The scolding of the orphanage’s matron startled Mirjana back into action. She was no doubt dressing for the day, pulling her steel wool hair back into a knot at the top of her head in her usual fashion. “It’s just me, Señora! Lo siento! I was just cleaning up,” Mirjana called back as she coiled up her braid and hid it under some rotting lettuce in the trashcan. She quickly washed the shears and returned them to the butcher’s block.

Back in her room, Mirjana paced the floor and ran her hands through her newly cropped hair. It was getting hard to breathe, and her head was starting to spin. “It can’t be. It just can’t be!” She sat at the edge of her bed and began to concentrate on her breath, in through her nose and out through her mouth. “MJ, Are you okay? Estás enferma?” Mirjana looked up to see a pair of beautiful brown eyes peeking in through the cracked doorway. “You’re missing morning prayer,” the little girl continued with concern in her voice. “Gracias, mija. I’m fine. Just sleepy,” Mirjana unconvincingly tried to assure her. “Oh, your hair! You cut it all off? Por que?” the little girl asked. “I, um, I just needed a change. That’s all,” Mirjana replied, “Now, go finish prayers and eat. You’re going to need your energy today! We’re going to clean out the old shed and make it into a chicken coup.”

Read chapter two HERE and chapter one HERE.

Thursday, June 1, 2017


/dôn, dän/
  1. 1.
     The first appearance of light in the sky before sunrise.

    "the rose-pink light of dawn"

She did appear like a light. Just as her name might imply, Dawn shined.

I knew her first as an acquaintance, years later as a sister in Christ, and then as a friend. She was real and in-the-moment, either laughing or gasping in all the right places during a story.

In my earliest memory of Dawn, she was like a ray of light after a stormy night. I'm not even sure she knew my name at the time, but she showed me kindness in a dark place. I didn't expect that kindness, especially from a stranger.

Those moments in life are rare and beautiful. Like Dawn. As a wife, mother, daughter, friend, nurse, and much more, she will be so missed.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

La Rosa, Vol. 1: Chapter 2

“MJ, can you check under my bed for El Cucuy? I’m scared.” Although the little girl had only known her for a few days, she looked at Mirjana with love and adoration. “Ah, mija! El Cucuy isn’t real. Besides, don’t you know I’m gangster? I’d bust out my switchblade and make El Cucuy regret rolling up in my hood!” The little girl laughed, “You’re funny, MJ!” “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m a riot,” Mirjana teased, “Now buenas noches, amiga. Morning prayers come early!” Structure was an important part of the orphanage’s program, and as a volunteer, it was her responsibility to uphold it.

El Cucuy may have not been hiding under the girl’s bed, but something else was lurking nearby that night. It watched through the orphanage’s windows as Mirjana tucked all twelve girls into bed, one at a time. Her long hair cascaded down her shoulders as she bent down to kiss each child on the forehead. Beams of moonlight cast through the windows and shined against her locks like light reflecting on a black river. The creature yearned to run his long, gnarled fingers through it.

No one has ever seen the face of the El Somberón before, but centuries of legends told of his covet for girls such as Mirjana, catching his eye with her long, flowing hair. His origins are unknown, but new stories accumulate yearly of young women going missing, last seen wandering into the dark forest following a tall, withered man with a large brimmed hate hiding his face, carrying what looks to be a silver guitar on his back.

Unaware of El Somberón’s watchful eye upon her, and unfamiliar with the wives’ tales of his existence, Mirjana sleepily shuffled off to her own room with a heavy heart. She was already three days into her stay at the orphanage, with only four days left before she returned to the States. She had already grown so close to the girls, and she knew saying goodbye would be difficult. Too tired to dig through her toiletry bag for a hair tie, Mirjana climbed into bed and allowed her hair to spill across her pillows. The long day of hard volunteer work had exhausted her, and she quickly fell asleep.

It felt like she had been sleeping for hours when the music stirred her from her sleep. It wafted through the cracked bedroom window like fog. It was beautiful, unlike anything she had ever heard before, and it beckoned her. Not of her own volition, Mirjana climbed out of bed and followed the sound down the long corridor to the back entry of the orphanage.

Entranced, she wandered barefoot into the yard, passing through the children’s poorly maintained playground. Broken swings swayed ever so slightly in the night breeze, and the old wooden teeter-totter creaked as she past by. Had she not been completely intoxicated by the melody that called for her, she would have noticed herself traipsing through the meager garden she had helped the girls tend to the morning before.

The music led Mirjana into the dark, canopied forest beyond the orphanage’s yard until she came to a stream; barely a trickle after the summer’s drought.

Then, before her, a figure stood shrouded in darkness. El Somberón slowly emerged from the shadow of the tree he leaned against, and in the dim light Mirjana could see his inhumanness. His height alone was alarming. His long, gnarled fingers looked like the twisted branches of a tree as they nimbly strummed a silver lute that glittered in the moonlight. His face remained hidden by the large brim of his hat, but she could see a long, matted beard hanging down past the wreath of meadowsweet he wore around his neck.

His frightening appearance broke her trance and Mirjana opened her mouth to scream, but before she could make a sound, the creature was suddenly by her side. In a blink of an eye, El Somberón reached into the earth and forced a fistful of dirt into her mouth. She gagged against the bitter taste and her eyes watered as she found herself completely immobile. “A mouthful of earth today, mi belleza, for one day, it is the earth that will swallow you.”

As the creature leaned in to smell her hair, she caught a glimpse of his twisted, decaying mouth. She closed her eyes and prayed he would kill her quickly. She could feel his breath against her neck, hot and rancid, as El Somberón moved to tower over her from behind. He ran his monstrous fingers through her dark locks with gentle finesse. “Ah, never cut. Just as I had hoped!” he said, excitedly. Mirjana held her breath in anticipation, expecting that he would hurt her any moment, crying to herself, “Mi Dios, llévame! Por favor!”

Read Vol. 1, Chapter 1 HERE.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

La Rosa, Vol. 1: Chapter 1

"I sure do like that rose tattoo,” he said as he pointed to her chest suggestively. "It's a scar," she replied, tugging at her dress to hide the crimson mark. "What was his name again?" she wondered to herself, "He looks like an 'Eric.' Or maybe Jake? I guess it's probably best I don’t know. Easier that way." "You ain't even took one bite of your food yet, pretty thing," he said with a crooked smile as he scooted closer to her in the tiny diner booth. He pushed his greasy, dishwater blonde hair from his bloodshot eyes, breathing down on her with the distinct smell of cheap liquor on his breath. "Maybe we can get out of here and find something else that will... please your appetite. And I can take a better look at that tattoo." "Scar," she sighed, amazed at his total oblivion to her disgust of him. "Let's go then," she said in a soft voice, almost a whisper.

The clicking of her heels against the sidewalk and the shuffling of his feet as he staggered drunkenly behind her were the only sounds beyond the traffic. She could hear him mumble something as he followed her, turning down a dark, dank alley. She almost asked him to repeat himself, but hesitated. "No names. No talking. The less, the better," she reminded herself as she continued into the shadows, finally coming to a stop. The stench from a nearby dumpster turned her stomach, and she startled as a cat pounced out and scampered away.

"Here?" He asked, "Alright, well, whatever works for you!" He reached out and caressed her shoulder, leaning in close as he said, "Now how about that rose?" She flinched at his touch, but he didn't seem to notice. "It has thorns," she said, but he seemed just as unaware of her speaking as he was of her repulsion. "You’re cold as ice, baby! You sick or something? I'll get you warmed up in no time." Part of her wanted nothing more than to run away, but she knew she had no choice. She broke her stillness and slowly reached up to touch his face.

Just when her fingertips grazed his cheek, their eyes met. "W-w-what are you?" he asked. Her touch sent a chilling pulse through his body as her eyes lit up like pools of lightning. He struggled to break free from her hold, but he was overcome by weakness.

She lifted him from the ground like a rag doll, one hand braced upon each side of his face. He tried to scream but only gasps of air escaped his mouth. "What am I?" She asked, "What are you? Your wife calls you abuser and adulterer. Your grandmother calls you thief. Wasn't it her pills you stole? And your sister? She called you monster. You..." "How?" he managed to whisper, "What are you? How do you know these things? How..." 

He fell silent and his head dropped as the last bit of energy slipped from his body into hers, rushing through her, warm and somehow satisfying. "Well, Mirjana," she asked herself out loud, "He asks a good question. What are you? A vindicator? A vampire?"

She allowed his limp body to fall to the ground with a thud as she smoothed out her dress. He wasn't dead, but as far as she could tell, he'd never wake again.

She felt too restless to just go home. After all, she hadn’t spent more than a couple hours out at a time for weeks now. "Maybe a movie," she thought to herself as she walked back down the alley to the sidewalk, heading to the diner where her truck was parked. "He was a scumbag. A total jerk," she tried to console herself as she pushed the image of his terrified face out of her mind. She hated how good it felt draining him of his life essence. "At least I didn't kill him this time!" she continued, "What is this? Like, four in a row now still alive? Someone will find him, right? And they’ll call an ambulance, surely! And he'll spend the rest of his miserable life in coma where he'll never hurt another person ever again!" She thought back to the first few who weren't so lucky. They were all bad men, but reminding herself of that didn't seem to make her feel much better. "Get it together, MJ!" she thought as she climbed into her truck.

She sat in the parking lot of the movie theatre and took a couple long, deep breaths, looking into the rearview mirror and running her fingers through her hair. She wasn't quite used to her new shoulder length bob yet. It had only been about a month since she cut it herself with a pair of kitchen shears. She paused as she remembered that night and panic began to creep in. "Not now, chica!" she scolded herself, "Get your butt out there and do something normal!" She climbed out and slammed her truck door shut with an unintended force that rocked the vehicle, startling herself. She looked around and was relieved to see no one else seemed to notice, then she slowly crossed the parking lot, carefully watching the pavement as she walked.

"Hello! What can I get for you?" the ticket clerk asked. "Whatever is about to start," Mirjana replied, staring down at feet. "Huh? Sorry, what?" the clerk asked, unable to hear her soft voice, muffled as she looked down. "Whatever is about to start," she repeated, careful to not look up at him. "Miss, I'm sorry. Can you talk directly into the speak-thru?" She hesitated and almost turned to walk away before taking another deep breath and slowly looking up at him.

His face was young and his eyes were kind. The whole world seemed to stop and fall silent as Mirjana's brain began flooding with knowledge of this young man's life; not details such as his name or age, but snapshots. "Worked hard in high school to get B's, stole a candy bar from a gas station once but immediately regretted it, visits his nana at the nursing home every weekend..." "Miss? Hey, um, are you okay?" Mirjana snapped back to reality as the clerk called out to her, looking through the glass of the box office with a concerned expression, asking if he should call for help. "No, um, I'm… I just, I changed my mind," she stammered as she averted her eyes back to the ground and made her way towards the parking lot.

"Deed reading strikes again!" she whispered to herself, crushed that her first attempt in weeks to lead a normal life was disrupted by these afflictions. One might think the ability to know all the deeds of a person by simply looking into their eyes would be a gift; however, Mirjana saw it as nothing more than a curse. It felt like an invasion into the lives of strangers. And how could a good social worker do her job without even looking into the faces of the people she served?

"How many days has it been since I even worked last?" She couldn't quite remember. All she knew was that just over a month ago, she took a week off to volunteer at a small orphanage in Mexico and she returned... different. She couldn't even explain to herself how her life changed on that trip; how could she begin to put it into words for others to understand?

She felt tears welling up as she reached out to open the door of her truck, longing for escape. The tears burst free and ran down her face as she stared in shock at the door handle left in her hand, realizing she had unintentionally tore it from the truck like paper mache. She felt like throwing the silver scrap metal and screaming, but to avoid drawing attention to herself, she quietly slipped the handle into her bag. In desperation, she walked to the passenger side of the truck and, ever so carefully, opened the door, climbed in, and scooted across the seat to rest her head on the steering wheel and wept. “Where do I go from here? How did I even get here in the first place?” she asked herself.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

This Lady: Her View

My name is Nathan. I am a feminist.

There. I said it.

But feminism may not be what you think it is. It's not about man-bashing to make women stronger; it's about acknowledging and appreciating the strength women already have. Or, at least, thats what I read on a really cool meme once... Either way, God has enriched my life with some incredible women. Their immeasurable and often unacknowledged influence has shaped who I am and aspire to be.

In honor and appreciation of these women, and of all women who breathe life into those around them, I'm writing a series of posts called "This Lady." I hope to inspire a few moments of mindful gratitude to whomever stumbles across my virtual chicken scratches.

It was late 2006, and the sudden loss of a dear friend hit me hard. It also devastated my wife. We were young, and it was the first real tragedy we'd experienced as a newlywed couple. I was worried that I might not know how to grieve and be a supportive husband at the same time.

< Enter Tracey >

I can't quite remember exactly what she said to me, but I can guarantee it was more about how she said it; with sincere compassion. She didn't hand me a list of "should do's," but instead, she pointed me inwards. She redirected me back to my own faith and to who I am as a natural caregiver. Empathy showed in her eyes as she stayed the course, not steering away to a more palatable conversation as most people would have.

Fellow sociology major and Ball State Alumni, Tracey also introduced me to pumpkin spice (true story). An advocate for adoption, diversity, and multiculturalism, she humbly shares from a place of both academia and personal experience. Tracey is also a badass. She candidly shares pieces of her journey while discovering what it means to be a breast cancer survivor. Her accounts are real and inspiring, and the zeal she has for life is contagious.

It's difficult to describe exactly what makes her such a powerful woman, but the answer would certainly include her insight and perception. Most of us would be better off if we could just catch a glimpse of the world, and of one another, from her view.

Read the 1st installment of this series HERE, and the 2nd installment HERE.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

This Lady: Mine

My name is Nathan. I am a feminist.

There. I said it.

But feminism may not be what you think it is. It's not about man-bashing to make women stronger; it's about acknowledging and appreciating the strength women already have. Or, at least, thats what I read on a really cool meme once... Either way, God has enriched my life with some incredible women. Their immeasurable and often unacknowledged influence has shaped who I am and aspire to be.

In honor and appreciation of these women, and of all women who breathe life into those around them, I'm writing a series of posts called "This Lady." I hope to inspire a few moments of mindful gratitude to whomever stumbles across my virtual chicken scratches.

So, for the second installment of this series, allow me to introduce you to <insert drum roll here> my wife!

Is she hot? Hella.
Is she my glue? Absolutely!

But rather than describe her beauty or her uncanny ability to coral this man-child she calls husband (I'm still convinced she accepted my proposal as an act of charity), I want to take just a second to acknowledge who she is beyond her role as my wife.

This woman is BOSS. She's built her career as a stylist with excellent skill and service, impeccable business savvy, and an upstanding character. Her success and reviews speak for themselves, but she does much more than just make people feel pretty. Each year for Christmas and her birthday, the cards and gifts pour in and make a tangible statement for the impact she has. If you need someone in your corner - whether you're suffering a loss or rejoicing for an answered prayer - she's your woman. She is with you in the moment, ready to call you "Darlin'," hand you a glass of wine, and have a good chat. But if you come to her with a problem, don't just expect head-nods and "uh hum"s. She's a problem solver, passionate to help others stuck in a rut.

She is strong and grounded in faith, and about as genuine as it gets. As an animal advocate, champion for women's rights, ferociously loving and fiercely loyal; there's a lot to be said about her - too much for just one short post.

She is so many things. But with much love, and certainly most archaically, I'm glad to call her mine.

Read the 1st Installment HERE.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

This Lady: The First Lady

My name is Nathan. I am a feminist.

There. I said it.

But feminism may not be what you think it is. It's not about man-bashing to make women stronger; it's about acknowledging and appreciating the strength women already have. Or, at least, thats what I read on a really cool meme once... Either way, God has enriched my life with some incredible women. Their immeasurable and often unacknowledged influence has shaped who I am and aspire to be.

In honor and appreciation of these women, and of all women who breathe life into those around them, I'm writing a series of posts called "This Lady." I hope to inspire a few moments of mindful gratitude to whomever stumbles across my virtual chicken scratches.

It only seems fitting to start this series with the lady who birthed these ridiculous shoulders - the lady that taught me how walk and talk, the lady that loved me when I wasn't much more than a lumpy blob that pooped and cried a lot.

The first lady. My mother.

Compassion is her greatest strength. Often to her expense, she loves and gives without condition. She's too humble to know it, but she's the kind of role model I want to be for the kids I work with. Her faith inspires me, and her quiet wisdom continues to serve as a guide. She embodies much of how scripture depicts living and loving like Jesus; bold in mercy and grace. In her strength, she has helped me find my own.

This lady - the first lady - is more of a blessing than she'll ever know.

Read the 2nd installment HERE.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

tattoo #3 - momentum

An arrow draws from the tension of the bowstring to launch forward. Likewise, our circumstances, both past and present, positive and negative, can be used to direct and prepare us for our journey. That's why the overall design of my newest tattoo that I just got last fall resembles an arrow, as a reminder that tensions in life can serve as momentum to move forward. God redeems all things, including our experiences. Each moment is a gift, and where we have BEEN equips us for where we ARE; here and now. 

In the center of the image, there are fragments of a compass and a clock, symbolizing the importance of mindfulness in the moment, being present, and making the most of divine appointments. The experiences that led us to this moment also prepared us for it; if it's to weather a storm or to be a haven for someone else in the midst of a tempest. 

As a nod to my wife Kimberly, born on March 18th, the clock is set to 3:18. Time shared with her is a blessing, and my life is so much more fulfilling with her in it. The head of the arrow is a lion, symbolizing Christ and resurrection, as well as strength and courage. The arrow shaft is the coordinates to my parents' farm in IN, where they raised me and still live today. The value of compassion they instilled in me remains as a guide. 

Lastly, the overall design is in honor and gratitude of our dear friend, Marva Diana Rhea. She was a gift to us, and I have very distinct memories of her encouraging me in my work with at-risk youth. Although already in the field, her untimely death led me to dig my heels in and strive to make a greater impact. Losing her to domestic violence is a difficult memory, but it's integral to where I am today. One common interest Marva and I shared was mythology. We had a conversation once about the Roman goddess Diana, and Marva loved that her middle name was that of a goddess known for her wisdom and strength. As goddess of the hunt, bows and arrows were often used on coins and in temples to represent Diana. Likewise, I've chosen to honor Marva with an arrow because of how she influenced the direction of my life and the momentum her memory gives me.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

a little something extra

I remember it clearly; hustling down the halls of my school as a kid, carefully managing my every move. I had to get from point A to point B quickly enough to stay off the radar, while somehow moving slow enough to avoid drawing attention to myself. The pit in my stomach and thumping in my chest were undetectable to most. Many would've seen me as reserved and aloof. The truth is, if I could've just faded into the shadows, I would have.

Thousands of miles and more years than I'd like to admit now separate me from those halls, but I've never really shook the habit of hiding. The jeers and jabs that echoed down the corridors of what should've been a safe place still echo in my mind. Fading into the shadows continues to appeal to me occasionally.

But something amazing has happened. God blessed me with an incredible wife who has been a safe haven for over half my life now. She loves me wholeheartedly and pushes me out of hiding daily. She's a beacon of light and has walked alongside me as God leads me closer and closer to a place of healing; and within that place, I've found a little something extra.

Somewhat recently, several new people have come into my life. I've had great friendships with some really good folks throughout my adult years - but theres just something timely and unique about this particular convergence. Like a mid-2000's sitcom about a group of unrealistically diverse characters, we span the whole gamut; no two of us are quite alike. Our truest commonality is the commitment we all share in our work with at-risk youth. 

These people embody many of the things I value. They live in gratitude and joy, warmth and kindness. They are intentional and sincere, and live in the here-and-now with appreciation for the wonder of life. In this community we share, and with the ferocity of my wife's love, I rediscover what it means to be me.

Whether we're processing the burden of our work, sharing an adventure, or taste testing new and exciting tequilas, the energy is always electric. Those echoing halls from years ago seem more like a nearly forgotten dream. The urge to hide and be lesser-than dissipates and a weight falls from my shoulders, freeing me to be not just myself, but a little something extra.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

a living hope

My every need is met, more than adequately.
I am blessed. I know this.

But with risk of sounding like a pharmaceutical ad, depression doesn't discriminate. Depression doesn't care that I have a wonderful marriage, loving parents, amazing friends, and a fulfilling career. Depression certainly doesn't mind how difficult it can make it for me to go out into the world with knots in my stomach, a buzzing of doubts and insecurities cluttering my thoughts, a numbing pain in my heart, and a stiff aching body. Depression couldn't care less about the people depending on me to show up to work each day, or those who've invited me to share life with them.

But thankfully, depression doesn't get to decide my fate. Even when I've lost all sight of light, there is a Living Hope.

Ephesians 2:10 says, "For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do."

This verse has a special place in my heart. Its a reminder that, in those times of feeling worthless, I was created with a purpose to share the love of Jesus.

ποίημα is the word used in the original Greek text of this verse to signify a piece of workmanship, like a sculpture or a ballad. In fact, the pronunciation of this word, poiēma, is the root for the English word "poem."

As someone with a passion for songwriting, this concept really resonates in me. Each song I've ever written feels like a piece of who I am; they come from my heart. To think of myself in these terms, as someone the Creator of the universe so lovingly crafted Himself, is a powerful and moving thought. Thats why I had this Greek word tattooed on my wrist a few years ago. I was in a dark place at the time, and struggling to see any sign of hope. When the day came to get this tattoo, I faltered a bit. But within minutes of questioning if this was a sentiment I wanted branded onto my body forever, I received a text from a dear friend sharing this very same verse with me, "For we are God's handiwork..."

Recently, I've found myself in another valley. Depression has weaseled its way back into my life in a way I can't quite seem to shake this time. Months have passed in shadows, with the last couple weeks seeming to be the darkest I've met yet. Again, I know I'm blessed, but reminding myself of that somehow only leads to more shame and darkness. I worry the storm cloud over my head is beginning to wear upon those around me, and all those symptoms of the aforementioned pharmaceutical ad run rampant.

Fortunately, my focus was returned to this powerful verse, "For we are God's handiwork..." in the Orchard Community Church service this morning. I was reminded that I am made alive in God's mercy and grace, and that I've been given a life of purpose. These aren't things I'd forgotten; but a fire needing rekindled.

And although the waters may still remain rough for some time, I know I have a living hope.