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During a conversation with my husband the other night, we happened upon the topic of change. It came up because I’m going to Detroit Pride this weekend to join up with Free Mom Hugs. For those that don’t know, Free Mom Hugs, a group which also includes dads, gives free hugs, high-fives, fist bumps, and encouragement to LGBTQIA individuals who have been rejected by their families. I’m totally stoked about being able to show a bit of love to someone who may just need it, lord knows we all do from time to time.

I reflected on how this was not what I was raised to believe, and how people can grow and change.

I know because I changed.

I was raised in a very conservative home where I was taught, especially in church, that being gay, or at least, being in a gay relationship, was a sin. It was never really an issue, just one of the countless sins we were told about. I didn’t know any better until I actually met people who were “out” in high school and in my first year of college. Listening to their stories really made me question the belief system I had been taught. Why were people being judged and condemned for how they were born, for who they were, for who they loved? The more I reasoned, the more my views changed and I struggled with what my religion said vs. what I knew in my heart to be true.

My brother came out soon after. He had been raised with the same teachings, I know he didn’t choose to be gay. Why would God make him that way if it was sinful? Why would God make anyone gay if it went against what He wanted? It didn’t make sense. I started reading more and researching, not only personal stories, but articles and studies on religion to see what was actually being said in translations and realized that I didn’t agree with the interpretation that had been preached to me for all those years. I was soon completely convinced: people don’t choose their sexuality, it’s hard-wired from the very beginning.

With this realization, I made it a point to be an ally. We’ve raised our kids to be accepting of everyone. We’ve also been very fortunate to belong to a church where everyone is welcome, no matter what, with no agenda to “fix” people. One of our pastors even risked her job to marry two wonderful men a few years ago and we became an official Reconciling Ministries church the year after. The current pastor and his wife are all in, letting the rainbow banners fly. Our denomination is in a struggle right now to officially adopt a policy where gay marriages can be performed without penalty and I’m happy to say that there has some progress made on this. It looks much more hopeful now than it did a few months ago. We have wonderful new members who came to us because they have faith, but have not felt welcome in other places. There is still much to do.

Faith is important to a lot of people and it makes me sad that being gay is a reason for some to shut others out, no matter what the religion is. Do the homework, not just “research” from the conservative side, but objective research from real science. Talk to gay Christians, or gay Muslims, or gay Jews. You’ll find many. There are plenty of gay atheists, too, in case you’re not religious. Get their perspective, and really, truly, listen to them without judgement. Listen to religious scholars on the other side with an open mind and pray for understanding.

There’s another reason I think this is an incredibly important topic. According to The Trevor Project, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged 10-24 and LGB youth seriously think about suicide three times more than heterosexual youth. (https://www.thetrevorproject.org/resources/preventing-suicide/facts-about-suicide/#sm.00001dqohxj19xof4dx2kuf9llet1) They would rather die than deal with the pain they feel from being rejected by the world, their places of worship, even their parents. That should say something to even the hardest heart. Think about that. Children would rather take their own lives than subject themselves to the humiliation heaped on them by those who think they are less than. As someone who has been on that precipice, that decision is born out of desperation, not attention-seeking. The methods used to change children are bogus, as proven over and again. Conversion therapy is cruel and it doesn’t work. You can’t “pray the gay away”, you can’t beat it out of someone, and you can’t change their mind. That’s not how it works. Again, do the research. Hear them.

LGBTQIA people are not broken, they don’t need to be fixed. Like everyone, they need to feel loved, they need to know that they are accepted, and treated with dignity and respect. I thank God, those long-ago high school and college friends, my brother,  and my sister-cousin, for being brave, for opening my eyes, for opening my mind. My life is richer and fuller for that, for the friends I have, for the love I am shown daily. I shudder to think of what my life could have been like if I hadn’t followed my heart.

Growth is often uncomfortable, because you often have to fix stuff, but the rewards are wonderful. When I see anti-gay protesters, so angry, waving their vile signs, it’s difficult to not be angry myself. I want to jump in and defend my friends and family so badly, but getting in someone’s face rarely changes their mind. Instead, I try to love. I try to set a good example. I try to stand up for what I know to be the right thing. I teach my students that using the word “gay” or “queer” as insults is not acceptable when the situation pops up, besides teaching acceptance of all as a norm.

I’m also still learning. As I mentioned, I want to be the best ally I can and I want to do it right. I make mistakes sometimes (I still have to make myself think of and say correct pronouns for the gender fluid, just because it’s a habit) but that’s part of growth and understanding and I welcome it, even when I screw up. I can do more.

So, Happy Pride Month. Much love to my family and friends who are celebrating and know that I have your back, always. May God bless you always.

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I caught the travel bug when I was a kid. Not during family vacations, those were always filled with tension and fighting and I could never wait to get home. The first time I realized how beautiful travel could be was during my 7th grade trip to Washington D.C. As part of the National Junior Honor Society, we were given small freedoms and allowed to reasonably explore things on our own. The next year, it was Disney World and my first trip to Florida and my first time on an airplane. I was hooked.

When I was sixteen, I earned a place on the Michigan Lions All-State Band’s trip to the international conference in Brisbane, Australia. I convinced my mother to let me go and spent months fundraising. Enduring the world’s longest plane ride, we visited not only Brisbane, but also Sydney, and spent a lovely three days in Hawaii, all the while performing in parades and concerts over a two-and-a-half week period. Even after dealing with a vicious stomach bug shortly after arrival, staying in a dorm with mice and giant cockroaches, a haunted hotel room in the red-light district section of Sydney (complete with gunshots in the walls), and getting lost in the not-so-great section of Honolulu, I was in love with travel and learning about the world outside my own country. This is also when I learned that I don’t like Vegemite, but that’s an different story.

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In the years since, I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, and Italy. (My layovers in New Zealand and Amsterdam technically do not count, but they did stamp my passport, so there’s that.) I don’t count Canada because it is literally (and I’m using that correctly) about twenty minutes away and I’ve been there frequently throughout my life, especially after I turned nineteen, which is the legal drinking age there. Don’t judge.

All of these places taught me lovely, wonderful things, not only about the places and people, but also about myself. I learned how to make myself understood in another language, not perfectly, not even remotely close, but enough to order at restaurants, find the restroom, and ask for towels at the hotel. I learned that I am perfectly capable of navigating through unfamiliar places and can sort out the London Tube map on my own. I’ve made amazing, life-long friends in other places, even though we keep in touch only online. (Sabrina, I SWEAR I will get back to Italy, no worries!)

One of the most important things I’ve learned, though, is the importance of other perspectives. The American viewpoint is not the only one, people see things differently in other places. There are different norms, different customs. Travel has made me much less arrogant and more tolerant of others, more open to listening and understanding, even if I don’t agree. Granted, the places I’ve visited aren’t as far removed from me as a remote village in Kenya might be, (another place I’d like to visit), but they’re definitely not the same as where I’m from. Different cultures, different histories, different mindsets. I find it all fascinating, learning that will never end.

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The point of all of this is to motivate. Don’t have a passport? Get one! Plan, save, do whatever you can to enable to you to get out and see the world, not just your own backyard. While there are many universal truths, seeing the world through someone else’s eyes will open your own. My own list keeps getting longer, to the point of I’m considering becoming a flight attendant when I’m done teaching just so I can travel the world over. Of course, if my Mega Millions ticket ever hits, I’ll be able to do it a lot sooner.

Even with all of its problems, our world is a beautiful place. Go see it.

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Someone needs this today.

You’re amazing. You’ve overcome so many things.

You’re wonderful. Someone thinks so, for real.

You have a purpose, even if you don’t know what it is yet. I don’t know mine, either.

Don’t give up. Please.

Life sucks sometimes.

Still don’t give up. Ever.

You’re worth it.

 

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I haven’t written in a while, I’ve had a lot going on. It’s been all I could do to post a meme. May is always crazy busy, especially if I’m in a show. Any parent with school-age children can tell you that there is at least one activity per week in May and having a high-schooler is no exception. Concerts, advanced-placement testing, driver’s training… oy. Add to that my own end of the year teaching craziness (data, testing, data, testing, data…why???), a college graduation, and that leaves little time to write.

But now I see a light at the end of the tunnel (20 teaching days left) and I’m making myself sit down to write. It’s important, like exercise.The more you do it, the better you get.

Here are some of the random things that have either happened or that I have thought about during the past couple of weeks.

  • Anyone who is wondering what to name a baby (or a pet) should go sit in on a college graduation. Seriously. We listened to 1,200 name combinations read in about an hour and a half. The odds are that you’ll find something you like.
  • One of my favorite authors, Rachel Held Evans, tragically died at the young age of 37. She is responsible for shaking up the Christian world in amazing, progressive ways and was a voice of reason in these crazy times. I feel she was a true modern-day prophet.
  • I believe now, more than ever, in supernatural things.
  • There is a new royal baby. I make no apologies for being happy for them because new babies are wonderful and I like them. Fight me.
  • You meet some incredible people in theatre. No joke. The level of bonding can be intense.
  • If you really love someone and they really love you back, you feel safe and valued. I feel safe and valued.
  • One way or another, I need to stop wishing my life away. Changes must be made. Do something that you love, or at least find fulfilling.
  • My faith has taken a beating lately.
  • Having adult children can be wonderful.
  • Eating the first asparagus of the season right from the garden is fabulous.
  • I feel much younger than I am. I’m not comfortable with my number and I don’t know that I ever will be.
  • Do you have a pen-pal who lives in a different country? You should. Mine started out as a pen-pal, but is now a dear friend.
  • I’ve never been more disillusioned about the state of our country than I am right now. O. M. G. It feels like we’re living in a dystopian novel.
  • It’s spring, time to get my hands dirty, literally.
  • Teachers compiling data is a stupid thing. Really, really stupid. Hire someone to do that; there’s more than enough on my plate.
  • I am still planning on moving to London.

And lastly:

  • It’s been a bad year for suicides. Suicidal people are not weak or looking for attention, they’re desperate and genuinely feel that ending their lives is the only way to end their pain. Don’t judge them, listen and love. Get them help. You could save a life.

I promise I’ll be more organized next time.

The End

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I got another rejection for a novel yesterday. It’s nothing new, nothing unexpected, but for some reason, it really did hurt. It’s a reality in the life of a struggling writer and, like I said, not unexpected. I joked on Twitter (@BrownBallantyne, in case you’re interested) that I was going to wallpaper a room with rejection emails and in reality, I’d probably have at least a good two walls worth. J.K. Rowling, with her twelve rejections, has nothing on me!

It frustrating when kids at school, my target audience, read it and love it, but I can’t find an agent or publishing company that will take the chance. I know, it’s all a part of the deal, and usually I take it in stride, but sometimes it just really gets to me. I start wondering if I’m any good, if I should just quit putting myself out there. It makes me wonder if people really mean it when they tell me that they love it or if they’re just wanting to spare my feelings. I mean, I get it. It’s hard to tell someone that they suck, especially when you know them.

I know that the biggest part of writing should be for the sheer joy of it, and I do love writing, but the goal is to actually make it into a career, i.e., the proverbial “do what you love” path. I would, eventually, before I die, like to do what I love for a living. It’s just taking a really long time to get started, or to even get noticed in this super-competitive world.

I’ll admit, I was a little spoiled because my first book, Put Up Your Hair, was picked up almost immediately by the first company I queried, Heritage Books. I was confident, overly so, that my success with fiction would come just as easily. The past few years have taught me some hard lessons on that front. Apparently, I needed a little humility. I definitely have it now!

And then, I remember the student who ran up to me after she read Traveler, begging me to write the sequel, or the class that looped with me who wanted to hear it all again during read aloud time the following year, telling the new students that it was such a good story. I think about the students to whom I gave samples of other stories, who clamored for more. (I promise that I’ll finish the paranormal book after the Traveler sequel, N.!) That kind of thing gives me a little boost each time it happens and encourages me to keep putting my thoughts into words.

I don’t mean to sound discouraged, just letting off a little steam. I’ll shake it off and move on, hoping to write another few thousand words this weekend. I’ll keep sending out the queries, each one with a little prayer, and hope that one day, I’ll catch the right agent in the right mood and things can progress the way I’d love for them to go.

One day…

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I need a place.

I need to walk down worn cobblestone streets and sidewalks, molded with ruts and grooves over time, no intent for repairs.

I need wooden walls and tables that have seen at least three centuries.

I need to put my hands on limestone walls and feel the thousand years of memories they hold.

I need to fill my soul with the connections of those who have gone before, who have shaped our now with their words, their deeds, or their silence.

I need a busy high street, crowds from the world over, chattering in languages I don’t understand, but love.

I need the history of place that has been through generations too many to count.

I need the old without the museum, the present that doesn’t overstep its bounds, but melds with the past into one beautiful now.

It’s been too long.

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On which day of the week were you born?

Have you ever heard this old rhyme?

Monday’s child is fair of face

Tuesday’s child is full of grace

Wednesday’s child is full of woe

Thursday’s child has far to go

Friday’s child is loving and giving

Saturday’s child works hard for its living

But a child that is born on the Sabbath Day

Is bonny and blithe and good and gay.

I used to have a children’s poem book when I was little and this was one of the poems in it. I am a Wednesday’s child. For some reason, it’s always stuck with me, especially after I was diagnosed with depression. I thought it was slightly ironic. I always thought that Monday, Tuesday, and Friday sounded the best and that I kind of got a raw deal, lol.

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What about you? Do you identify with your day of birth in the poem? Are you a gorgeous Monday’s child or a hard-working Saturday’s child? Or are you completely the opposite of what it pegs you as?

It’s just for fun, a little diversion for the middle of the week. Post your comments and let’s see what happens!

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