Visits From A Man Named Nobody 37

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 37

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The strange square-shaped box composed of pebbles suddenly made sense to Paul. It had to be some sort of water container. His mother left the podium and went into a room behind the stage as the pastor came back out wearing a long white robe. 

He carefully stepped into the tub while someone rushed on stage and set up another microphone. 

“I agreed with Mary that this idea would be the best way to honor not only our Lord God, but also the memory of our dear friend Bill, who we all loved so fiercely,” the pastor, Paul supposed his name was Gabe, said. 

“I was very careful to talk to Mary about this,” Gabe said. “It would be easy to understand someone’s desire to share something with a lost loved one. It would be easy to hear someone talk about God just after losing said loved one. What I should have known was that Bill had been speaking with Mary and sharing the gospel for months. It would be wrong to falsely baptize anyone, but after hearing her testimony and speaking with her several times, I trust her judgement.”

Gabe took a breath. It was obvious he was stalling to give Paul’s mom time to change every bit as much as he was using the opportunity to talk more about God. “Baptism is an ordinance. It does not prove or establish salvation. It’s a gesture to reflect rebirth in Christ. Neither will it wash away the sadness we all feel at the loss we suffered. I know I certainly wish it would, but that’s not the case. We all must feel our grief and mourn with those who mourn. But I find a small bit of comfort in this. Mary is living proof that Bill’s work was always for Christ, and she’s a new bond we have in our lives and, in a way, with Bill. It doesn’t make the pain go away, but it does ease it a little for me.”

Paul hadn’t wanted to punch someone so much in months. Was this guy seriously using Bill’s death to advance his religious goals and pad his congregation’s numbers? Were they seriously going to just give a thirty-minute sermon and then move on with business as usual? Paul wasn’t even sure what kept him in his chair. Maybe he was trying to avoid the scene it would cause if he stormed out, but he wasn’t sure. 

His mother came back out wearing the same kind of white robe Gabe wore. She stepped into the water and smiled. She crossed her arms in front of herself, and Gabe placed on hand on hers and another hand on her back. 

“Mary, have you confessed and repented of your sins?” Gabe asked.

“I have.”

“Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your savior, dedicating yourself to serving him?”

“I do.”

Paul gritted his teeth. She was supposed to say those words during a wedding with Bill, not in some stupid ceremony. 

“Then, based on your testimony today I proudly baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” 

Paul’s mother leaned back, and Gabe held her in the water for a moment.

“Washed clean by the blood of Christ.” Gabe pulled her back up. “And justified by Christ’s resurrection from the dead.”

Again the people launched in to a celebration. It’s like they’d completely forgotten this was a funeral. Bill was dead, and all they cared about was some stupid ceremony. Paul stood in stunned silence wondering at how crass it all was. His mother climbed out of the water and headed into the back room. 

Several people smiled at Paul. One person reached out a hand, maybe to shake it or place it on Paul’s shoulder, but whatever look Paul gave him made him pause and pull his hand back. Good! Paul didn’t want anyone thinking he was anything but angry. This wasn’t some pointless anger. Someone was dead, and everybody just moved on with life as if that death didn’t matter. 

He stormed out of the main room and into the lobby. He sat there stewing until his mother came out. She looked at him, a sad smile on her face. 

“Let’s go,” she said. 

Paul followed her to the car and got in. She got behind the wheel and buckled the belt across her shoulders and waist. 

She took a deep breath. “I’m going to ask you to listen.”

She waited. Paul stared out the window. She could say whatever she wanted. 

“I know how angry you are.”

That was obvious. It wasn’t like Paul ever hid his emotions well.

“I didn’t forget about Bill, and neither did anyone else in there.” She waited, probably wondering if Paul would argue, but he’d already decided to just let her have her say. “When Bill and I talked about … “ she paused, clearly trying not to cry. 

Paul was even more determined to stare out the window. He wasn’t about to watch her cry. Besides, didn’t she just get baptized? Didn’t that make life all better and happy? 

“When we talked about the future, I had thought I’d wait until the wedding.”

A tear fell down Paul’s cheek. For some reason, those words caused every memory Paul had of Bill to play through his mind, and each one hurt more than the one before it. 

“I’m still sad.” The tremble in her voice made that obvious. “I still miss him. I’m even still angry that he’s gone. I don’t have the answers I know you want. I don’t know why God took him now.”

Paul squeezed the handle of his passenger door. 

“I don’t know why God would put him in our life only to take him from us this soon. But I trust Bill, and I trust God. I trust the God who gave him to us in the first place.”

“You wanna know why?” Paul muttered.

“I’m sure you have some sufficiently witty and smart remark to make,” his mother said. “I’m sure it’s full of anger and resentment. But before you say that, just ask yourself if you really want to lash out at me right now?”

“So I’m supposed to just sit here and listen to, like, the third sermon in as many hours? I don’t get any say?”

Paul finally looked at her. Naturally, there were tears in his eyes and on her face. He cared less and less by the second. “You think if you talk long enough I’ll just suddenly realize that you all were right, and we should just happily flock to a God who would let this sort of thing happen?”

“No,” she said. “I just wanted you to know that I’m still sad and angry, too.”

“Well you’ve said it,” Paul said. “Can we go now?”

He did have several more things to say. Those church people and his mom may have some misguided idillic vision of some wonderful God, but Paul just had an empty chair where the man who could have been his father was supposed to be sitting. If Bill wasn’t going to sit there, no one would.”

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 35

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 35

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An annoying thought kept popping into his mind. 

He was Bill’s God, too. Well that made Bill an idiot! What was the sense in praying to a God and serving a God who was only going to let you die right when everything was so great?

Another, less annoying and more convicting, thought occurred to him. 

Your mother is downstairs alone.

Paul rushed down, but she wasn’t on the floor in the living room anymore. He opened the door, wondering if she went out with those two policemen, but there was no police car there. 

Paul went inside. He started to worry as he looked around and let out a sigh of relief as he found his mother sitting in the dining room. 

Just a while ago, we were all celebrating.

Paul didn’t know what he felt. Suddenly all the white boards and numbers seemed wrong to him. It wasn’t the same without Bill. A part of Paul was shocked to feel hatred. He hated himself for letting Bill in. He hated Bill for dying, and that didn’t even make any sense.

Paul’s mother sat in her usual place. She stared at the boards as if she were trying to figure the science out. 

“Mom?” He didn’t have a clue what to say. He opened his mouth again to ask if she were OK and shut his jaw as soon as he realized what a moronic question it was. 

“Do you know what he always said to me before he went home?” Her voice quivered even as she spoke. 

Paul shook his head.

“He’d always say, ‘I’m thankful for today, and if this is my last day, I’m glad this was it.’” She started sobbing again just as she finished the quote. It did sound like something Bill would say. It was still stupid. He was still an idiot for pretending a day was worth every day that could have come after.

Paul darted over and wrapped his arms around his mother. Still unsure what else to do, he just held her and let her cry. 

“Why?” Paul hoped she wasn’t asking him, but he knew what he would say. 

He’d say, “Because there isn’t any God. There couldn’t be one if he’d let something like this happen.” 

Something held his tongue though. It was probably because he knew saying something like that wouldn’t help his mother feel any better. As much as he wanted to punch Nobody so hard that mask shattered, he wanted to comfort his mother that much more. 

“You know he loved us, right?” This time his mother pulled back and looked right at Paul. He knew she wanted an answer.

Yeah, he thought. The word didn’t come out. 

His mother grabbed his chin in her hand in a firm grip and stared into his eyes. “He loved you! And I know he loved me.”

Paul’s jaw trembled. “Then why didn’t he stay?”

“Oh, Paul!” She pulled him back into an embrace. “I don’t know how to explain it, but there’s more to love than where you sleep.”

But if he’d stayed, you would have been together! He wouldn’t have been on the road! He wouldn’t have died! In fact the only reason he’s dead is because he was too afraid of pissing off an imaginary being. He died anyway. He did the right thing, and he died because of it! 

“It’s OK.” His mother whispered gently to him, and he realized he was weeping again. He was so angry. All that anger was back. It was like all the years he spent trying to let it go was just like some sort of deposit into an account, and now it was back with interest. The only things stronger were his sadness and his desire to make his mom feel better. 

She held him, and they cried together until the sun came up. 

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 34

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 34

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Oct. 23, 2027, 11:51 p.m. 

18 Years, 145 Days Ago

“Are you him?” Paul asked. 

Nobody shook his head. “I’m not half the man he is.”

“This whole time, you never visited,” Paul said. “And now you show up.”

Nobody leaned back in the chair he was borrowing. He let out a sigh that seemed all the more morose because Paul could hear it through the transparent mask Nobody wore. 

“I come when you need,” he said. “And with Bill, you didn’t need me.”

“What does that mean?” Something cold seemed to slide down Paul’s spine. 

“The people in our lives are gifts,” Nobody said, “but they aren’t ours. For those who believe, those who were separated can be reunited.”

“What are you saying?” Paul asked. “What’s going on?”

The doorbell rang. Paul looked at his own door and then over to Nobody. “What’s happening?”

“Everyone has to learn how to deal with pain,” Nobody said. “I wish I could do more than offer these stupid words. Those of the faith, mourn with hope.” 

“No!” Paul heard his mother scream from all the way downstairs. 

He burst out of his door and down the stairs. His mother was on her knees weeping. A pair of police officers were standing outside the door. 

“What happened!” Paul asked. A part of him knew, but he didn’t want to believe. Everything Nobody said made more sense as Paul thought about it. He didn’t need to be here as long as I had Bill.

“Young man,” the officer on Paul’s right said, “we’re sorry to have to bring this news to your mom.”

“It can’t be true,” Paul’s mother wailed. “Why now?” 

“Someone tell me what happened!” Paul screamed as loud as he could. 

The officers looked at each other. The one on the right shrugged and looked at Paul. “Your mother is listed as the next of kin for William Arnall.” 

“His name is Bill.” Paul clenched his fists. “And what does it matter who his next of kin is.”

It can’t be! What did I do? Why would this happen to me? Paul looked at his mother. Why would it happen to my mom?

“There was an accident,” the officer who seemed to want to do all the talking said. “Mr. Arnall died before anyone could get him to the hospital.”

Paul stood there and stared at them. His jaw moved a few times, but he didn’t even know what to say.

“Did … did you hear me?” the officer asked. 

What a stupid question. Of course Paul heard. What was he supposed to do. Part of him wanted to console his mother. Another wanted to lash out at the police, but neither of those felt right. They didn’t do anything but their job. His mother shouldn’t need comfort. His mother deserved to be happy. 

But there was someone who deserved something. 

Paul rushed up the stairs. He practically kicked in his own door, but of course, that coward was gone. 

“What? No verses to quote? No five minute conversation to make it all better?” Paul screamed into the sky. He didn’t know how, but Nobody always knew what Paul said and did. Well, let him hear this. “It’s all stupid!” Paul said. “And it’s all crap! If there were really a God, he wouldn’t send us someone like Bill only to take him away! Bill was more Christian than you were, and God takes him before he can even be with my mom? I say screw you and screw your God! I know you hear me! Don’t come back! I don’t want you!” 

By the time he was done shouting, he was sitting on his floor weeping. “I just want him back.”

It came out a soft wimpier. 

… to be continued …

Pastor Tom Leake, A Tremendous Example of Faith Given to Christ

Pastor Tom Leake, A Tremendous Example of Faith Given to Christ

Obviously, this isn’t the next installment of Visits, but I have this unfortunate need, and this feels like the right place.

I may have said a total of 50 words to Pastor Tom Leake in person. I attended his Growing Disciples Class on The Sermon on the Mount. But I watched him the same way I watch all of my heroes. When I want to learn about writing, I watch Brandon Sanderson. When I want to learn more about how to coach the game of football, I watch Kyle Shanahan. When I want to know how to be a better Christian, I, of course, seek Christ, but I feel that Pastor Tom is as good an example to follow this side of Christ as any. It’s weird to write the word “is” because I learned March 26 that my hero died, and I’m not even sure how I feel.

I have many people I look up to. When I think about Pastor Tom, I looked up to him the same way I looked up to those who were much further off and less approachable. I’m certain we didn’t know each other as well as either of us would like, but he was so beloved by people he’s shepherded at our church for more than 22 years, and I’ve only been a member for just over two of those years.

So I wanted to dedicate this post to him and to Christ, who gave Pastor Tom a strength and conviction that is a testament to God’s power and mercy.

Somewhere around four years ago, I hated “organized religion.”

I’ve mentioned a few times that my home town had a lot of churches that were more cultish and hate based than anything else, and that led me to believe that’s what a church was. I wanted no part of it. I’d been to other churches. For me, it was downright frustrating to believe in Christ and yet feel confounded in trying to find a church that actually followed him. To be fair, I didn’t look very hard. I didn’t look much at all. I found a church in Virginia that I appreciated, but I live in Maryland now.

Then a friend offered the link to Hope Bible Church’s webcast of sermons. She told me to watch.

The first thing I noticed right away was that Pastor Tom opened a book of the Bible and just taught about that part. He was in Acts 2, and at the time of his death, he’d made it to Acts 14. It’s called expositional teaching. True, there were breaks in that to cover things like parenthood or how a church should function in society and how Christians should submit to leadership, but even those were grounded in specific passages of the Bible.

The more I watched, the more I realized Pastor Tom was this man who was grounded in faith, convicted in his belief and loving in his temperament. Some can argue I didn’t know him that well, and I didn’t, but that’s the man I saw, so that’s the man I’m speaking to you about.

Not long after my wife and I became members of the church, Pastor Tom was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. It was the second time he’d battle that condition. He was given less than a year to live, and he spent the next two years preaching, and I testify to you that he preached with as much fervor and energy as I’d ever seen. I watched for two years as a man’s clothes grew looser and looser. He moved more and more slowly. His strength and body rebelled against him. In his last sermon, he had helpers walk him to a lowered pulpit so he could sit while he taught scripture, urging others to serve the body of Christ.

I want to lie down and nap after I stub my toe, and this man preached about serving the church less than two weeks before he passed away.

That is strength, and that strength comes from Christ. This isn’t my statement; it’s his. Every day he spoke, he spoke about how Christ sustained him. Every day he preached, he talked about how it’s the purpose Christ has for him.

Now he’s gone. He’s gone, but I’ll never forget that example.

So I end this knowing what he would want. The last words I heard from him were for Christ, and if he had another second to live, I think he’d want to say, “Turn to Christ! Only he can save you.”

I am a sinner. I’m guilty of more sins than I can count and a number of sins I’d rather not discuss. There never was nor would be a thing I, as a man, could do to reconcile myself to God, the God of Abraham, the God of Issac, the God of Jacob. He is a perfect and holy God who can’t abide sin. So how do I approach him? There is no sacrifice I can offer. The blood of animals and the deeds of my life could never make up for the sins I’ve committed. There must be a death. So God, in his abundant mercy sent his only begotten son down to earth. He is Christ. Christ was born of a virgin, according to prophecy. He lived a perfect, sinless life in accordance to prophecy and by the testimony of those who served him and even the enemies who conspired to have him crucified. The crime he was killed for was speaking truth. They asked if he was the son of God, and Christ replied truthfully that he was. But they did not kill Christ. Christ, the son of God, the man who is God, gave up his mortal life. That was the propitiation for the sins of mankind, and his one sacrifice was sufficient for all of mankind. And those who turn to Christ, confess him as Lord and believe in him will be saved. More so, God raised him from the dead. And as such, death has been defeated, and we too can share in the eternal life our master Christ has if only we believe in him, pick up our cross, and follow him.

I don’t follow him or serve him anywhere nearly as well as Pastor Leake did on this earth. Pastor Leake has received his crown of glory in Heaven. I’m still struggling just to act like Christ is some small way.

May God rest the souls and hearts of those who truly knew Pastor Leake. If I feel such loss for a man I didn’t know personally, I can only imagine the pain and loss they feel.

God bless and receive your servant Pastor Tom.

Thanks for reading,


Musings On Christianity 18

Musings On Christianity 18

Should We Fear Death?

I’m pretty sensitive to my body and what it tells me. When I don’t feel right, I sometimes wonder, “Is this it?” In my past, I looked at death with a lot of fear.

That doesn’t mean I look forward to death, though I confess I have done that too in my life.

What happened though was that I was afraid of death because I didn’t understand how this life works. This existence isn’t the reward. If it’s anything, I’d say it’s a trial.

I’ve been concerned about what would happen to my family or friends. I’ve worried about all the things I’d like to do.

All of those thoughts weren’t fixed on the correct point.

“Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” (Psalm 139:16)

I’m not actually sure how long I could ponder what that one verse means, but I start with the realization that my days are numbered. God knows the exact moment I’m going to die. That means there’s nothing I can do or say to extend those days by a moment.

“And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matthew 6:27)

There’s something strangely comforting about knowing that I’m going to die exactly when I’m supposed to. I’m not sure this is as comforting to others as it is to me, but allow me to explain my reasoning.

If my death is an event written in the book of life before the very world was formed, then it’ll come exactly when it’s supposed to. This, to me, means that I can focus not on when I’m going to die, but more or how I’m going to live. Instead of exercising so I don’t get sick and die, I can exercise because it will make the quality of my numbered days better. Instead of living in fear of that inevitable day (and even people who don’t believe in God know they’re going to die), I can live making the most of the days I have.

Does this mean “live every day to its fullest?” Well, yes, but not in the way some think. I still don’t needlessly put my life at risk. Nor do I throw my money around because I might die tomorrow.  Instead, I can see today as the gift it is.

This can be equally convicting. I only have so much time in my life. I can’t waste it on non-fruitful pursuits. Look, I love playing video games. It actually gives me time with my brother on weekends. However, if I had to choose between playing one more game or hugging my son one more time, I’d of course want that hug.

Some people with the mindset of living their lives to their fullest sadden me because they’re avoiding the very thing that can do that. To each his own. I mean that. But I had a life where I had money. I could go where I want and do what I want. I could have adventures and party till all hours of the morning. I even did that a few times.

I was miserable. Now, I don’t think that “people need romantic love.” That’s nice. I’m glad I have that. But I was more alone than that. I was fixated on promotions and money and status. That objectified people. Not intentionally, but it was the same result.  I had all the objects a person could really want. Now, having people I love around me is better.

I’m not a social butterfly. I will never be a person who wants to go to a social gathering. However, intimate, meaningful time with people I love has an even larger importance to me than I thought possible.

Even more so, knowing my days are numbered and the days of my loved ones are equally so, means I only have so many chances to fellowship with them or evangelize to them. Every moment around people is an opportunity to love them in all the best ways.

There is another comfort though. Those who are saved know that though they may die, they will yet live again. Yes, my days on this Earth are numbered, but those days aren’t counting down to the end; they’re counting down the days to perfection, to bliss, and to everlasting joy.

As much as I enjoy this world, the next will be indescribably better. I want tomorrow to have all the people I love and all the gracious gifts I have. I would even appreciate more. However, I want to make sure that I appreciate what I have. I want to treat what God has given me with the respect and care these gracious gifts are.   

I don’t long for death, but I think fear is a strong word. It gives me motivation to do more, not for the worthless gain that left me with tons of possession and no love, but for the God I serve and the people I love so much.

So I hope not to fear death, but make the most of the time I have. I hope not to fear a mortal end, but work to ensure the life that comes next is even more full. This is the mindset I’ve currently formed as I grow in Christ.

For our panel: How should Christians see death? How does one balance the inevitability of death with the comfort of eternity? What is the Christian way to live life to the fullest? Does a Christian life mean an absence of any Earthly pleasures or blessings?

Testimony: My Trial of Faith as My Mom Struggled With Cancer Part 28

Testimony: My Trial of Faith as My Mom Struggled With Cancer Part 28

See Part 1 here.

See Part 2 here.

See Part 3 here.

See Part 4 here.

See Part 5 here.

See Part 6 here.

See Part 7 here.

See Part 8 here.

See Part 9 here.

See Part 10 here.

See Part 11 here.

See Part 12 here.

See Part 13 here.

See Part 14 here.

See Part 15 here.

See Part 16 here.

See Part 17 here.

See Part 18 here.

See Part 19 here.

See Part 20 here.

See Part 21 here.

See Part 22 here.

See Part 23 here.

See Part 24 here.

See Part 25 here.

See part 26 here.

See part 27 here.

The Pieces

It would be a week before we had an informal service for Mom.

That first weekend was mostly an opportunity to see each other. If one were to ask me how many siblings I have, I tend to stop and count. My childhood to my adulthood has seen a sort of core group of siblings. That group consists of five of us (the five youngest).  There are more, but the divorce, distance, and time have estranged us in some ways. I keep in contact with a few of them via social media, but I’m honestly terrible at things like that.  Even among those five, I tend to interact the most with my immediate two siblings (the children of both my mother and biodad).  Why? Simply because I see them the most. I’m positive I don’t call or message any of them as much as they’d like.

However, those of us in that core five were all there. I’m stunned because I simply can’t remember the last time we were all under the same roof at the same time.

We’re all extremely isolated individuals, me more so than the rest. But we had time together to talk. This isn’t the part where we all huddled together and held each other. We’re a family of task oriented people. We see a thing to do, and do that thing. The closest “group hug” we came to was the one I spoke about in the last segment. We spent the bulk of that week seeing more and more family and arranging for the service.

We went to the funeral home the following Monday. We were all pretty much still angry and hesitant at that point. We didn’t bicker with one another at all (which is frankly evidence of God’s grace in and of itself). We didn’t even snap or bark at anyone.  I could feel the tension, but we all focused on respect and making sure we had Mom’s final arrangements at heart. Please don’t misunderstand.  I’m not claiming we were all ready to lash out (although I was).  I’m simply stating it’s hard to let go emotionally when it’s so darn hard to let go physically.  I had no idea how long it takes to arrange a cremation.

We picked an urn. My aunts needed a smaller necklace because Mom wanted at least some of her ashes spread with her parents. Some of us wanted death certificates.  I was one of those. I don’t have any idea what I would need it for. I think I just wanted something. I certainly didn’t want any of the ashes. I don’t begrudge those in my family who do, but I personally wouldn’t be able to function if I had a constant reminder of the wound that exists in my life right now.

The rest of the week was mostly spending time together. We played cards. I’ve played cards with my mom for 38 years. Playing a game without her felt like trying to shuffle with one hand. All of us kept having those moments where we found ourselves looking for her.

One sister kept walking to the living room expecting to say hi to Mom.

Dad wouldn’t go into the bedroom.  He and I both slept in the living room. I haven’t spoken to him about it yet, but I have to admit, I simply couldn’t sleep.  Something happened to my back during the trip, and I’m just not used to having people around. I think there were perhaps seven people in the house at any given time, and there were times where there were perhaps 15-20. Neither my dad nor I do well around large groups. I’d discussed getting a hotel room, but it became pretty obvious that we all just needed each other, even if we just had to be around one another.  Thanks be to God, my back eased up after a few days. I think having Dad around, sleeping in a chair or couch next to the couch on which I slept was more of a comfort than I realized even in that moment.

The days were harder I think. There were things to do, and that required going through my mom’s stuff. I am firmly convinced that my mom stalked her children. She had copies of things I’d thought lost long ago. She had pictures from events I didn’t remember taking a camera to. She had every baby picture of every one of her kids in multiple sizes. She kept random letters from old teachers of mine. She had this for all five of her natural born children.

We each kept what we felt meant the most to us. I honestly don’t have a clue how one of my sisters managed it. She plowed through all of that paperwork to find what we needed for all the administrative things people have to have in times like this. I helped when I thought I could be helpful. We eventually got everything compiled into whatever group it needed to be in.

One thing remained: the obituary.

At first, I thought there was a form to fill out and that someone else would write it.  That wasn’t the case. Someone had to write it. A lot of people had thoughts on what needed to be said. Then I volunteered. I’ve written more than five books, and each of them are more than 30,000 words. Some of them are more than 60,000. I’ve written hundreds of news stories, dozens of features and thousands of captions. Mom’s obituary is 337 words, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever written.

I waited until everyone else had gone to bed (or at least started that way). One of my sisters talked to me about the important things to note. The problem was, there were so many people who mattered. I did the math, and realized my mother is directly connected to at least 50 children (three generations).

After I finished researching and talking to my sister, I opened this very lap top on which I’m typing now, and prayed.

I don’t remember all of the exact words, but I was horrified. I wanted to pay tribute to my Mom, and I wanted any who read the obituary to understand why she was so special. If she knew you, she loved you. It was like the greatest disease you could wish for. All she had to do was meet you and know one of us loved you, and she loved you. She loved you and forgave transgressions for which other parents would cast you out of the house. She provided for you no matter what debt that put her in. She was meticulous in identifying birthdays, anniversaries, school days, and anything else that mattered.

I’ve prayed many times. I’ve seen many of those prayers answered. But in a moment, a flash of realization, God answered. He didn’t answer with audible words; he answered with inspiration.

To tell of everyone my mother loved or cared for would take too much space, and to list just some of them would raise them above the others, when my mom would never want that feeling. In these ways, my mother was so very much like our savior Jesus Christ.

I typed out the words in moments, but my eyes were flooding with tears before I finished the third paragraph. Then, as I teach my students, I had to revise and edit. I’d just finished shattering my heart describing a woman I loved so very much, and I had to stomp on the shards over, and over again to make sure that the skill of the writing matched the emotion of its content. I read it at least five times.

I tell you all, whoever reads this, I’ve often been described as dogged and driven. People sometimes speak of amazement with how able I am to focus on a task. This isn’t my strength. It never was. It was only ever the strength and faith God gave me, not one he placed in me as my nature, but one he loans me through his own. I’m weeping now, this very moment as I type this recollection. But I endure because of the strength He has given me.

When it was done, it all came rushing out.  I made it outside, sat on the step of the porch and let it all go. I don’t have a clue how long I balled. Amidst gulps of breath and sniffs of snot, I quoted every verse of scripture I could bring to mind.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew Chapter 5:4)

“We rejoice in our suffering, for suffering builds endurance, and endurance builds character, and character builds hope, and hope does not put us to shame because God has filled us with love through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5).

“‘For I know the plans I have for  you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

I thanked God for the strength he gave me. Eventually, the tears ceased. I went back inside, and went to sleep.

The next day, the family was happy with the obituary. We sent it off, and I created a program for the service, so people would have something if they wanted it.

My adopted sister and brother (I honestly couldn’t explain with a million words how my head works, so just know that if I think of you as family, you are) stopped by for a day. They brought their youngest daughter.  We talked, and they provided me company and comfort. I showed them all the stupid stuff my mom kept just because I had it once. She kept this photo copy of a random comic I bought. I didn’t even buy another issue, but there it was.

Students in my class would recognize what’s called a phase card. It’s a card that indicates what privileges a military student has.  My mom kept it. I don’t even know how she got it, but there it was. If some random person took a random photo of me, she found it, printed it, and put it in a book.  She did this for every one of us.

Dear God, almighty Father, praise you for giving me a mother who loved us so much.

One of my nieces, a talented stage performer, recorded hymns. Not only were they beautiful, but they were so comforting because these were hymns my mother requested. They were hymns of praise and worship. As I’d grown in my faith, I realized how estranged my family had become with Christ. Those requests, and hearing someone we love sing them, comforted me because they demonstrated that though we struggled with (at best) misguided churches, my mother’s faith remained all the days of her life.

All that was left, was to say goodbye during the service.



Questions and Revelations

Did the verses help?

They didn’t help. They filled me. They gave me strength. They weren’t like some bit of fresh air from a stuffy office; they were the source of any effort I could offer. They still are. If one were to ask me to prove God exists, I can’t really point to anything specific. I don’t think that’s how it works. Instead I invite them to seek Christ. Read God’s word. Let it be what you turn to in times of need. If you do this with an earnest heart, you’ll get it, and if you never do, there isn’t anything I’ll be able to say or do that will convince you. Since I’ve began this journey, I’m certain that my ability to get through it is based primarily on God’s word and the ability he gave me to seek it to find the right verse for the right occasion.

What did the obituary say:

I thought about where to put this, and it just seems this is the right spot. One can read it if he or she wishes, but he or she can also move on.

These are the words God wrote through me to pay respect to my mother:

Marietta Zavala

June 23, 1949-July 26, 2018

Marietta Zavala, 69, passed away July 26, 2018, in Yuma, Arizona.

She was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, June 23, 1949, to Dale and Corinne Starbuck.

She moved to Yuma in 1984, where she began working at Yuma Proving Ground until she retired Dec. 1, 2010.

She is survived by her husband Rafael Zavala, and her sisters, Gladys, Dawn, and Michelle.

She is also survived by her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, but to offer names would require more space and time than a simple column can provide, for what made her special, was her endless love, compassion, and generosity to anyone she met.

She managed birthdays, wedding anniversaries, and holidays for more than 50 people, a number which only reflects those she was related to by blood or marriage, but she loved and cared for so many others who think of her as Mom, Grandma, or Great Grandma. She never let a single child she ever met go without presents or, more importantly, a phone call to tell them how much she loved them. This is the legacy she leaves on this earth. It is one of a woman who would always welcome those who needed somewhere to stay; it is one of a mother who cared for children as if they were her own regardless of their relationship. That boundless affection was reflected in her constant desire to prepare her home to be a place of welcome for those for whom she cared.

When someone needed anyone, she was always the first to be called and the first to be there. She will be missed by all those who are now unsure of who to call because the one who was always there has been called to Heaven.

The family is scheduled to host an open house memorial from 4-7 p.m. Aug. 3 at 7584 E. Olive Ann Lane, Yuma, Arizona, 85366. Flowers and letters of condolence may be sent to the same address. 

If you have other questions regarding my faith or thoughts or actions at this point, feel free to ask, and I’ll add them to the blog.  I try to ensure these passages are self reflective. My chaplain told me to take this opportunity to look at myself, but at the moment, those were the only real thoughts going through my mind. Questions might help me remember other thoughts or parts of The Bible I’d overlooked while typing this post.

Thanks for reading


Story Review: The Death Mask from Posh Bytes by C. Rose

Story Review: The Death Mask from Posh Bytes by C. Rose

51RWebyS42L._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_Spoiler Free Summary:  In The Desk Mask, from Posh Bytes by C. Rose, Beetle is a mortician who’s tired and lonely. Thyme is a woman who just lost a mother she never really had. As Beetle is about to finish his final service, he realizes he has the chance to do something he’s never done, and doing so means giving Thyme something she’s never had.

Character:  It’s been weeks since I’ve read this book, and this story alone would have qualified as one of my favorites of the year so far. Beetle and Thyme really resonate with me. Watching those two was such a charming experience.

Exposition: Here’s where I freely admit that the type of story this is probably has me thinking unfairly high of the story as a whole. There is a lot of exposition that takes some of the drama and joy out of the story. The telling exceeds the showing. I didn’t notice as much because I was so enamored with the characters and their story. It felt a tad like UP. If someone else were to read it and not feel the same, I’d wager this is because this hit the right sort of emotional button with me and it might not with others. The exposition isn’t so bad as it slows things down. Please understand the difference. If it had far too much exposition, no amount of charm from any one character would be enough to hold my interest. More accurately, it’s fair to say this story simply relied a bit more on telling us how things went than showing us.

Worldbuilding: I can’t recall any of these characters overlapping, though it’s probable there’s an Easter egg in there somewhere I don’t remember. Here though, the conflux of character and theme left me feeling a lot like a pleasant summery blend of UP and Speaker for the Dead. To be fair and honest, I’m not saying this story reaches that level of power, but it resonates with those themes and connects to the same emotional scale.

C.-Rose-276x300Dialogue: The absence of Valerian detracted from the dialogue. I’m of the opinion the author knew and associated with that character most (Note: I’m discussing development of character and not similarity in behavior). This dialogue probably got a bit forced, but it was natural enough.

Description:  Like with Supernova, this story relied on description more, and I could tell the author took more time with it. I hope to see more from Rose at some point, and if that happens, I hope she combines some of the elements that make these stories stronger.

Overall:  This is my favorite story of the anthology. Supernova was powerful, but I’m a comedy guy, not so much a tragedy one. That’s not to say that The Death Mask didn’t have it’s share of sad moments, but I felt far more uplifted (no pun intended) at the end of it than I did with Supernova. I mention this because I feel strongly that these two stories alone would be worth the price of the entire anthology.

Thanks for reading


Bob is back! The 2nd Edition of Bob Drifter is live!

Bob is back! The 2nd Edition of Bob Drifter is live!

Greetings all,

The Journals of Bob Drifter Front CoverI’m thrilled to announce the that second edition of The Journals of Bob Drifter is live! After two more editorial passes, two different design runs, a huge lesson in publishing a digital book (which I’ll blog about tomorrow), and a brief wait, my book is back on the digital shelf.  The buy page for the book on my website (linked above) has been updated for the second edition (the audio book won’t change (that was already solid). The paperback SHOULD be out today or tomorrow (I get to look at the printed proof today).  Here’s the link to the Amazon 99 cent buy page.

To celebrate, I have Bob at 99 cents during the month of November. Can you all help me get Bob’s story off to a great start?

A reminder: This is not a sequel! I did an editorial pass, and now I can set the price, which helped. I’ve explained this, but I don’t want anyone to feel ripped off because they bought a book they’ve already read.

For those interested in knowing, there are so many ways to help an indie author get more visibility. This is a perfect opportunity to mention those things. I hope those of you reading this take a few moments to do any of these things. It really helps a writer out.

  1. Buy the book. Sales always help. It’s a customer’s way of showing support so much more than it is an author’s way to make money.
  2. dragon-860683_960_720Read the book. I’ve had a lot of personal friends buy my books. They’re not readers. They love me, and want to support me, so they buy my books, which is great! The next step up is to read it. Now if you’re in the first few chapters and it doesn’t hook you, don’t force yourself to do anything you don’t enjoy, but I always tell people that the biggest thing anyone can do for an indie author is to buy, read, and enjoy the book.
  3. Leave a rating. This takes less than a second, and some people really rely on these ratings. Don’t be afraid of leaving a one-star rating, but I hope you feel Bob or Caught is worthy of a five-star rating.
  4. Leave a review. This is absolutely essential to indie authors, especially on Amazon. The book’s visibility on Amazon is directly related to the sales and number of reviews. This is why some, less ethical, authors by fake reviews (I don’t). The review doesn’t have to be as detailed as one of mine or long. It can be a simple sentence. As long as there’s a text review, you’re helping. Amazon has some strict rules on these. Goodreads is another great place to leave a rating and review. I’m a big fan of Goodreads as it’s the only social media I’m aware of that is just for reading. If you do both, that’s really some next-level support.
  5. Recommend this book to readers you know. Word of mouth is still the best marketing strategy. Most of my favorite books and authors were recommended to me. The only author I take credit for “discovering” is Peter V. Brett, who I discovered  while reading an anthology. If you know someone who reads, and you think they’ll like an authors (my) book, let them know about it.
  6. You can always like and share posts about sales and new books as well.

All stock art from

So those are just some ways to support an author. Please don’t consider this a “direction.” I’ve had a few people ask what they can do, so I thought this post at this time was appropriate. At the end of the day, all any writer wants is for people to buy, read, and enjoy his stories. Many of you have already done that. I can’t thank you all enough for the support you’ve already given. I hope those who haven’t had a chance to read Bob choose today to give it a try.

Thanks for reading,