At the intersection of writing and life with the author of the Cameron Ballack mysteries

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Pocket Poem...for Jordan

Today is "Poem in Your Pocket Day", where poets and versified wannabes share meaningful poems with others.

It sounds awkward, but one of the most meaningful poems I know  is one I created myself, because in it I recall how our son Jordan entered eternal life when he was a mere nineteen months old. The final poem in my book Through a Child's Eyes and twenty-two stanzas of iambic pentameter, it displays how sweet little Jordan went from one dream to another, straight into the arms of Christ.

Without further ado, here is "Jesus (The Final Epic)".

Jesus (The Final Epic)
On mattress all familiar now I lie.
The beam so soft from outside comes within
And pierces darkness deep. A shaft of light
Now beckons to recall that in the midst
Of life, there is a certain hope for me.

Wherefore this beauteous sight I cannot tell.
It seems to mingle with a call divine.
Is darkness coming, and, if so, will I
Be sure that thus beyond the shadow’s gloom
I surely find delight that God is there?

So sleep a little bit, I tell myself,
And wake again when light invades the room.
The heaviness upon my eyelids pressed
Will gently wrestle me to slumber’s bay
And once again I’ll wake to morning bliss.

The dream begins, and there I find myself
Crawling thro’ meadow warm and floral spray,
And through the loamy soil I come upon
A flowing river lapping o’er its shore
Upon which sturdy boat I spy alone.

And then this wildest epic takes new form:
I clamber toward the small conveyance here
And, scrambling over side onto its deck,
Discover strength not previous known before
As this adventure takes a strange new turn.

At first a whisper soft speaks o’er the waves
Before the boat dislodges from its roots.
No oars are needed to glide swiftly on,
For far away the drawing point reveals
Itself—a voice that’s calling out my name.

Onward the river moves in powered calm.
The peaceful torrent flows within my dream;
Upward it climbs to raging waterfall
That flows reversedly to higher ground
Of forests verdant green on mountainside.

With instinct charged I bolt from here in haste.
Renewed in spirit now I sprint headlong,
And, clutching in my hand both spear and sword,
Toward higher elevation I plunge on
To seek who far off grandly calls my name.

I seek a bold adventure, lordly gain,
I sense a battle for my body’s health.
With courage I, prepared for struggle great,
Fly over fertile ground with swiftest feet,
Yet knowing not if this be heav’n or earth.

And then from forest thick my little form
Tumbles into a clearing bathed with light,
Where stunned (my eyes can scarcely take it in),
I see the genesis of sacred voice
That draws me, sweetly calling forth my name.

Lion of Judah, Citadel of Grace,
He speaks my name, not his, but his I know:
The King of Kings, Messiah, Lamb of God,
Redeemer, Son of David, Prince of Peace,
And ‘round him there a crystal fountain flows.

With quizz’cal look I glance upon his brow
And gaze upon that skin once torn by thorns
Before I lock my eyes upon his wrists
And side where holy gashes bore so long
Ago the sin he washed away from me.

With trembling voice I ask him,  ‘Where am I?’
And broad the smile expands upon his face
As Jesus says, My son, throw down your spear
And sword—They’re needed not within your home.
To which I make reply,  "What is this place?"

In thund’rous laughter loud Jesus calls out
The truth: Why, little Jordan Christopher,
You’ve reached my Sacred Mountain’s summit high
And in my Holy City evermore
You’ll live—For I’ve made you completely new.

So with one final earthly heartbeat more,
I throw aside forever spear and sword.
And to my family on earth I give
One final whispered gracious soft farewell,
And pounce to take a leap for which I’ve longed.

The power surges deep within my veins
As all my muscles move with apexed might
To bound thro’ heav’n’s sweet air, and tackling thus
My dear Good Shepherd, sending with a laugh
Us both into the Fountain’s roaring foam!

With holy scream I throw my head far back,
And smiling ever widely I shout out:
‘This, my eternal home! This is the place
For which I’ve longed and sought forevermore,
Although I knew it not for all my life!’

My Savior’s nail-scarred hands encircle me
And lift me out from there with splashes fresh.
He looks within me deep, a blessing great
Before he wraps me in his arms so tight
And turns into the City’s entry path.

Around us there explodes a tumult great
Of angels, saints, and martyrs bringing me
Into the city with triumphant song,
And there forevermore my home shall be,
And where one day, I’ll join my family.

Yet deep in Heaven’s din I clear perceive
My great Redeemer’s voice within my ear.
The saintly roars all strangely fade away
And unmistakably his whispers dear
Bless my initial entry to my home.

My little Jordan Christopher, he says
How long I’ve waited for this special day,
For you to enter your inheritance
And all encumbrances be thrown away,
So everlasting joys will now be yours.

You are my little soldier, my brave soul,
And I am your Commander holding fast
To bear you to my Father’s throne, where you
Will have eternal joy and peace at last.
You’ll have eternal joy and peace at last.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Great QUEST For Recognition

QUEST Magazine's spring issue is out! For those who don't know, QUEST is the national magazine of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, shining a spotlight on individuals and families afflicted by MD and other neuromuscular diseases. I am overjoyed and humbled that my debut novel, Litany of Secrets, gets a short plug in this issue! I am very grateful to have any size of platform in a national publication, highlighting Detective Cameron Ballack who is wheelchair-bound with myotubular myopathy. Please do your best to circulate this to your friends, regarding both Litany of Secrets and the army of brave warriors who faithfully fight on through many difficulties!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

What Does This Mean?

Yes, I know. It's surprising to see me back in the blogosphere.

I've been away for awhile. Sorry for springing that sabbatical on everyone. It wasn't intended. Just needed some cyberspace R&R.

But recently, I've been thinking about a situation in education that seems to be reaching epidemic proportions.

First, a story.

It was during the 2010-11 school year that I entered my 4th period classroom at Westminster Christian Academy. This was before we moved to our new campus, and at the old building you were taking a risk on the room atmosphere being temperate. Hot and cold extremes raged all year long, so I wanted to get in the room and open the windows in case I felt it was a bit toasty. Now this room wasn't mine [I was what they call in pedagogical parlance, a "floater" from one room to another] as Laura Pettay, our sophomore English teacher, had the room as hers. I arrived early enough to catch a conversation she was having with a student. Apparently this student had been disrespectful to Laura during class and she was shaking him down afterwards. Now their conversation was semi-private, but I didn't need good ears, plus I seem to have a gift for acting like I'm ignoring people when I really have an ear on their activity. After calling him out for his insubordination, Laura asked him, "So how are we going to remedy this?"

To which the student said, "I don't know."

That seemed to send Laura well over the edge. "Are you kidding me?" she gasped. "You were that disrespectful in class, you've had time to think things over, and you're going to tell me that you have no clue how to remedy this?"

The student, straight-faced, replied, "No, it's 'remedy'. I don't know what you mean by that word."

Back turned to the proceedings, I promptly grabbed a hand towel near the white board and stuffed it into my mouth to stifle what roaring laughter I was about to emit.

Looking back, that moment has transposed itself in my mind…from hilarious, to tragicomic, to outright sad. I realize now how very different my upbringing was, where I knew the meaning of "remedy" from an early age, likely because there were so many situations that I in my childish silliness had to make right from said screwups. But there were other things that set my upbringing apart as well.

Before coming back to that, another story.

Recently, I gave a test in Ethics class. We just finished the seventh commandment (that is, in the non-Lutheran version), so we were closing things out with an exam on sexual ethics, divorce, pornography, and homosexuality. It was a third of the way through the test that a student approached me with a question about an item in the multiple choice section.

It read, "In the Sermon on the Mount, what reason does Jesus give in permitting divorce?"

The choices were (A) financial ruin   (B) sexual infidelity    (C) lying   (D) murder of the spouse

The student's query was "What does 'infidelity' mean?"

Never mind that we'd defined it over and over. I felt like I was living Laura Pettay's class all over again. I said, "Look at the root word. Think about what it means. Notice the prefix 'in'. Think about what that does to the root word. That should help you."

I'm not sure it did, but those moments are increasing exponentially. Students are asking what "detest" means, for the definition of "genetically", "fragility", and "sacrilege". Granted, the frequency of these moments isn't as wanton or shameful as Miley Cyrus fans who can't even recognize Joe Biden from a photograph. But it's there. And if you don't have a deep, functioning vocabulary, you will severely disable your ability both to communicate and to understand communication.

What to do?

First, get off your digital devices (except for this of you reading this right now on one!). They do no good for communication (text messaging is not a life skill, people) and in fact, they harm cognitive reasoning, attention span, and the desire to know and learn for its own sake. Plus, people who spend so much time on their phones and such have this annoying habit of failing to look people in the eye when in conversation. Quite frankly, that sucks and those types of people should be ashamed of themselves.

Oh my gosh, do you ever need to read. That is the way to build vocabulary skills, not these vocabulary books in which you learn definitions, take a quiz and then forget everything you wrote by lunchtime. When I was younger, my dad read to me and my two younger brothers. Sometimes Dad--who always followed the text with his finger as he read--would say a word that ordinary I didn't know, but he wouldn't stop and define it for me. And I don't think he expected me to ask (although I'm sure I was free to ask if I wished). But by a seemingly implicit agreement, I would listen to what he read and then I'd figure out the meaning of the word in question from the surrounding context. It's an ironclad truth: Reading builds and strengthens vocabulary.

On a curricular note, I'll offer this remedy (pun intended from referencing the anecdote above!): Any move a school makes to resist the offering of Latin or any move a school makes to eliminate Latin from their curriculum is academically suicidal. Knowledge of Latin (and Greek…I'm a big fan of teaching Greek in the middle and high school grades) meets several objectives. One, the wrestling with declensions and forms in the classical languages is of a higher level of reasoning ability than other disciplines. But secondly, the amount of cognates and linguistic transfer from Latin and Greek to our English tongue is quite substantial, so a thorough drenching in the classics can assist students in figuring out textual meanings. (One can also make a case for expanding German in our school curricula, given that English is a significantly Germanic language, but one step at a time).

Ask yourself: If your school is not taking definite, forceful steps toward reading excellence, why not? And if schools are actively implicitly or complictly leaving Latin out of their curricula, one has to question why? Why limit your students? Why offer mediocrity when they can have the chance for an education of distinction and supreme quality.

Words. They are meant to be known. And loved. But we actively need to pursue that.