Fighting for the Positive

Philippians 4:8
New International Version (NIV)
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

My mind can get so negative. And, it’s not just my mind. My heart, my emotions can get so dragged down so easily, especially since our daughter died. And, because my emotions are so raw and easily wounded, I work very hard to shun negativity. My husband does too.

I know I’ve written about this before, but it is such a hard battle. Recently, after receiving a letter from a former coworker and friend in prison for life for murdering his wife (who was also a friend) I’ve been in a spiral of mourning again. I have been weighed down and have taken to bad habits to ease my pain. But then I remembered that Bible verse in Philippians, the one that reminds us that we can take control over what we think about.

I can brush aside the negative and remember the great, noble, awesome things that are in my life, like my awesome husband, my fantastic family, my sweet little dog, my great friends, and all of the opportunities that are still mine because I chose to live my life in a loving way as opposed to this man, who nurtured bitterness and rage and ended up becoming a monster.

I have wrestled with the thought that I should reach out to him and offer him mercy because I have been offered mercy myself. That is the high road. It’s something he would never do.

But, I just don’t think I have the strength to start a dialogue with him at this time. Not only that, but I remember how manipulative and charming he could be and it’s hard to trust that he’s being honest with me when he writes that he is a more positive person now. I find it hard to believe.

So, while I wrestle with the moral implications of having this part of my past resurface, I have to cling to the truths that I know, the ones that tell me to keep positive, to wait until I’m stronger and pray for the man, but keep my distance for now.

Now, I fight the good fight and listen to beautiful music, enjoy the little pumpkin baby who’s coming over to be loved by me for a few hours and remember some of my favorite things.

My favorite things:

Music. I’ve just been listening to Bjork sing All is Full of Love. What a great, beautiful song.

Service. I remember the times I’ve worked alongside people serving the homeless warm meals and interacting with people who are grateful for every gift they’re given, no matter how small.

Love. It is so much stronger than hate. It never fails, is kind, patient, never rude or boastful, doesn’t hold onto bitterness, ignores offenses, always hopes, trusts and perseveres and is always available.

Literature. I love good stories, the richness of someone who is skilled with language paint pictures with words, and introduce us to characters who become as real and true as your best friend. Some, I studied in college, but others I discovered as I was reading to my daughter. Anne of Green Gables is still one of my favorite books, as is A Wrinkle in Time, both of which I read to my daughter.

Family. My mom just got remarried to a princely man with a funny name. Elbern. I’ve never seen her happier and that is a true miracle. My sisters are my best friends, always around when you need them, caring, giving, praying. My nieces and nephews are all godly young people with a lot of talent. Audrey is an actress in musicals, singing, dancing like an angel. My nephew Jay is an athlete and musician. He sings and plays the piano, and runs like the wind. My niece Abby just turned 17, and she is a scholar and athlete who has just returned from two mission trips this summer, one to Costa Rica and the other to Paraguay. She is quiet, thoughtful, loving and kind. My nephew Joe just turned 14 and returned from a mission trip to Alabama. He’s extremely intelligent, excellent in academics, funny, sweet, kind and a real gentleman. He and his sister have a real affection for one another that is beautiful to see.

Friends. I used to have a lot of trouble making friends as a kid because of the dysfunction in my family. I didn’t want anyone to get too close to me, or to find out what was happening in my house. So, it wasn’t until I was an adult that I really made my first friend. I am thankful for Heidi, my first friend, my editor at the newspaper, who opened up her heart and home to me during my darkest days. I’m thankful for the friends I’ve made from working on the magazine, Tash is quite special to me, a fierce Aussie rocker who is so loyal, so honest. I trust her completely. The new friends I’ve made on the set of the Brothers Barbarian series shoot are all so positive and refreshing. I love how they embrace life and rejoice in being creative for the sake of it, not just to try to make money.

Church. I’ve learned a lot from the various churches I’ve gone to over the years. The church I’m involved in now, Living Faith United Methodist feels like the culmination of all of my years of wandering and trying to find a place to settle. My pastor has tapped into something that has always been a part of my heart — the longing for racial reconciliation, learning to love and embrace the beauty of diversity and feeling free to be who I have always wanted to be.

Roleplaying. I love gaming. I love it. I love the fun of using my imagination in recreation, the creativity and everything about it. I love tossing my pretty dice and finding out whether my character has landed a hit with her mighty battle axe on a monster, or whether she has gotten her head knocked off by that same monster. I love playing with my friends and laughing.

My husband. He’s the love of my life, since we were kids. It just gets better and better. I love working with him on Knights of the Dinner Table. It’s so fun to collaborate and produce something that people love. I love his genius and creativity. I love his gentleness and positive spirit. He is a kind man who loves to laugh. He works so hard to make a good life for me, and takes special care to make sure that I don’t get too downhearted since the death of Amber, even though I know it isn’t easy for him either.

Amber. She may be gone from my present life, but she has still made my life richer and more beautiful because she was here. And, I look forward to the future when I will see her lovely face again. She taught me so much, like, a person’s worth isn’t tied up in what she can do. It comes from what’s in her heart and how much she loves. She taught me that being “normal” isn’t really that important, that everyone is special and individual and different.

Life. Yeah. I love life again. There was a time when I didn’t want to keep living. I longed to go with Amber and couldn’t see how I could go on without her. But, since her passing I have realized that she wouldn’t want me to give up. Since her passing, I have been an extra in a webseries, gone on a road trip to Houston and back with my husband, danced in a club in Ohio with friends, travelled to South Carolina to be with friends and watched my nephew graduate college. Life is still good. It’s a gift and precious. I dare not waste it.

I hope you have some favorite things as well. I hope that you can find what’s good in life and know that you are loved and cherished no matter what you do or what mistakes you’ve made. I hope you know your worth and that you keep positive and never give up. We’re in this journey together, so when you’re feeling down, reach out to someone and let them help you remember the good things in life. Thanks for reading. Bless you and stay positive. Do not let evil win.

2013-02-09 22.24.20

Hanging with a Baby

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It’s been a long time since I’ve taken care of an infant. When our friends needed someone for a few days a week for a couple of weeks, and they offered me payment, I was more than happy to do it.

So, today marks the end of one week. I’ve taken care of her 14 hours this week. It’s not a lot of hours but, it is enough to have been thoroughly charmed. Life is so simple for a baby, except for the fact that they are completely dependent on the love of others to care for them (there are plenty who suffer because of this – but that is another topic).

Her name is Zøe, and she’s five months old. She has wispy auburn hair, big blue eyes, chubby cheeks, a little soft, round belly and the cutest little feet you’d ever want to see. Her eyes sparkle and her face lights up when she’s happy. Even when she’s fussy, she’s still cute. I don’t know how they do that. Whenever I’m fussy, I am anything BUT cute.

Here are some things I’ve learned (or remembered, or noticed) from hanging with a baby this week: toes are fascinating and taste good if you can reach them (which she can with great agility), wiggling is fun, burping makes you feel better, eating makes you feel sleepy and satisfied, naps are wonderful and “whee!” is a fantastic word.

Here are some other things she can do: Smile and eat at the same time, roll over, stick out her tongue and wiggle it, grab glasses fast, head butt, get what she wants with a cry, and squeal like a squeaky door (and sound delightful doing it).

Here are some things she doesn’t do: hate anyone, be cynical, act like a know-it-all, steal (except for hearts), bully anyone or worry.

In short, I like hanging with this wonderful, carefree little ray of sunshine and wish everyone were as easy to get along with as she is. Maybe the people of the world just need a good burp.

Privileged

Since I have started attending Living Faith United Methodist Church, I’ve learned so many things. I’ve learned that being a Christian is, and should be, more than what you agree with and think about, it’s who you are and what you do, how you live. I’ve learned that people of different races and cultures can worship together, and learn from one another by being honest, by talking and listening. I’ve also learned something that I didn’t realize before: I am a member of a privileged race.

My pastor, Dr. Irene Taylor, a former Army chaplain, one of the first African-American students to attend public school in Texas, and a woman of incredible spirit, first brought that to my attention. She didn’t throw it in my face as an insult, she simply stated a fact. When she first said it, I recoiled at the idea. I never felt all that privileged. I mean, I have had my share of trouble in life.

But, since the Trayvon Martin trial and verdict, I’ve been thinking about it even more. What did she mean by privileged? Since I respect her, and since I’ve always known that racism was evil and wanted to be part of reconciliation between races, I decided to actually ponder what she said.

Here’s what came to me: I’m privileged because I don’t actually have to think about racism if I don’t want to. I have a choice to care about it and try to do something to change it, or to ignore it. African Americans don’t really have that choice. In spite of what whites think and feel, racism is still alive and well in this country and African Americans are always confronted with it. They live their lives wondering when will be the next time they’ll be looked at like a criminal by people of other races. When is the next time they’ll be called the N word by a know-it-all celebrity or a man in a restaurant in a booth behind them. When will they feel the sting of hearing about another one of their young people losing their lives to violence? The bereaved mothers’ club is a large one in the African American community, but whites, for the most part, can just move on with their lives and not give it a second thought if they want.

Not only are African Americans in this country regularly confronted by overt racism, they’re constantly flooded by ignorant racism, people who are not of their race who speak carelessly to them about things they know nothing about, but think they do. Now, I don’t know what it feels like to be African American in this country, but, all I can do is try to think things through the best I can and try to be respectful and loving above all things.

So many white folks seem to carry a weight of resentment with them toward people of color, that I feel, and I’m sure they do as well. They act exasperated about having to hear about the problem still, but the fact is the problem still exists and hiding your head in the sand won’t make it go away. But then, we’re privileged, so we can live our lives in ignorant bliss while thousands of our brothers and sisters suffer.

It’s no better in the church than anywhere else, I imagine. I remember growing up hearing racist remarks on a constant basis. I remember there were swimming places our youth group would go that didn’t allow African Americans to swim there. I remember hearing terrible jokes on my school bus and at church. It was disgusting on the bus, but it was appalling at church. I was shocked by it and felt sick to my stomach over it. I was always an idealist. I always felt that if you called yourself a Christian, you should be kind, loving and caring. So, to hear these sorts of vile jokes at church by people who were in high positions in the church was unbelievable.

I once asked my pastor, at my high school graduation party, “How can people be Christians and be prejudiced?” I was told to hush, that it wasn’t the place to ask those things.

But I do want to know. How can people cling to racism, and/or hide their heads from the pain of people in our nation that need justice, and still call ourselves Christians? Why are we so defensive when confronted with the problem? Are we more concerned with not having our consciences pricked than doing what is right? Why, as Christians, are we so easily offended?

My pastor said that it isn’t that African Americans want white people to walk around feeling guilty. That isn’t the point of bringing it up. The point is that they want us to care enough to stand up against it — to stand with them as they fight for their rights. They want us to include them in the people we call brothers and sisters. How can you walk by a brother in need and not care? Or do we only think of people as brothers who are just like us? If we do, well, we need to reread our Bibles because Jesus was Jewish and he opened up his heart and salvation to the world. We are all a part of the family by grace, not because we’re white, or Republican, or angry and defensive. The least we can do is open up dialogue and find out what breaks the hearts of African Americans in this country. Since joining some grief groups on Facebook, for instance, I’ve met so many African American women who’ve lost children and are grieving like I am, except for the fact that many have lost their kids to violence. I cannot imagine the grief of that. That is a privilege I have.

This is what has been on my mind and heart these days. I hope you will read it with an open mind and maybe think a little bit. Bless you all.

The Darkest Dark — the Continuing Adventures of Krindar Hammerfall

KRINDAR
Since my last writing, we have encountered darkness like I have only read and heard about and I as much as I hate to document such evil, I feel I must. As I wrote earlier, we had ventured into the excavated temple where cultists had taken several orphans. We had hoped to rescue them from whatever dreaded fate these monsters had in store for them.

Our friends Mahisti, Wazzoul and Monarto took the two children we found before back to Teron to safety. They also directed a volunteer fighter to come down to assist us as we looked for more children in need of rescue. This fighter, to our surprise, was our dear cousin Dekin Hammerfall, a sight for sore eyes, I must say. It was as if a ray of light had just pierced the darkness of that place.

But, as soon as he stood shoulder to shoulder with Haltaf, Race and myself, we found ourselves surrounded by cultists, with glinting scimitars, thirsty for blood. They were heavily armored, so quite difficult to defeat, but we fought like fiends and were able to defeat most of them before one of their blades got past my armor and sent me closer to death than I’ve ever been. All went black for me.

Later, I am told, Race, badly wounded himself, dragged me to safety. My brother and cousin had found casks of a special Krobian Ale and two vials of potion before leaving. I came to my senses in the care of Dout, my cleric mentor.

He prayed over me, and managed to heal not only the vicious wound that had downed me, but the sprain I had suffered earlier. Over the next few days, Dout and I worked to bring Race and Dekin to full health, while Haltaf preferred to seek healing by wetting his beard with the rare Krobian Ale.

It wasn’t long before we were able to return to the temple ready for battle. When we went back inside, we found the altar piled high with burned bodies, incinerated in some sort of ritual. A pile of swords, a few of them finely wrought, also was there.

We also noticed a set of double doors that we had overlooked before. Kicking them in, we found a deep, dark pit with a ladder stretching down. Looking down, we noticed what appeared to be children scurrying on the ground below.

Descending, I prayed a special blessing on Dekin, as he is much younger and not as experienced in this type of fighting as the rest of us. I wanted to protect him as much as I could.

Once on the ground, we were swarmed by children, but these were not the happy, healthy children that we had hoped to find. They were undead children, taken from this world of life and forced into the non-life of zombification.

There was nothing we could do for them but fight for our lives and hope to find more living children once we had defeated them. For my part, however, this was not a battle for swords and axes alone. It was a struggle of spirit and flesh, darkness and light, and there was only one thing I knew to do. I stood tall upon the ladder to cast my god’s power over as much area as possible, and drew my holy icon, commanding these zombies to gaze upon its holiness. This, I knew, would repel them, and that was the purpose of this act, that we call “turning.”

The Guardian blessed me even in this dark place, and wave after wave of zombie children were repelled by my command, while a few others were repelled by the weapons of my comrades. Eventually, we had either killed or turned all of the zombie children in that location to the point that we were free to explore the area.

We were gratified to find four more healthy children as reward for our perseverance. We took them back to safety, even though we knew there were other cultists there that needed to be stopped. There was no way we would risk the children we had fought so hard to recover any longer than we had to. We rushed them out of the darkness, though we know we must return.

For you see, we are the ones who have been chosen to face that darkness in order to defeat it. With the help of our god and the bravery and skill of our team of adventurers, I feel certain that we will succeed. I only hope that some day I may be able to rid my memory of the horrors we have seen in that place. I am quite sure that my sleep will never be free of the images of these atrocities, but, even so, I feel incredibly blessed to be given this mission to free the oppressed and serve my god with honor. Until the next time, I, Krindar Hammerfall, sign off with blessings to all who read this.

Positively Positive

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My husband and I have made a conscious decision to try to remain positive since the death of our daughter. Her passing was such a huge blow that if we didn’t work to look for the good, to find joy in this life, we just wouldn’t be able to carry on. One of the hardest things about keeping that promise is other people.

For some reason that neither of us can fathom, there are some people who seem just as dedicated as we are, to be negative. Those are folks that repel us with their wall of anger, bitterness, cynicism and self-pity. The problem is, we’re both the sorts of people who hate to write anyone off. We like to believe that every person has redeeming qualities and that the people who are the most negative are the ones who need the most kindness and love.

So, we try. And, sometimes it works. Some people do respond to kindness and love. Some folks are just having a hard time and need encouraged. The problem is that there are others with whom bitterness and negativity seem to be a way of life that they will never give up. They call it realism, but, their reality is nothing I want to be a part of.

But, since I’m trying to remain positive, I will move on. Let’s just say that we have had to put distance between ourselves and some folks who just insist on dragging us down, and into whatever drama that they seem to thrive on.

The great thing is that these people are few and far between. The great thing is that we are surrounded by positive, uplifting people all over the place. They are the ones who make your soul feel like it’s been bathed in aloe vera just by their presence, a word, a smile. They are ones who bring with them a feeling that they’re there for you. They’re the ones who work to keep positive themselves and to spread love and kindness in the world.

We have met a lot of them through our work with Knights of the Dinner Table and Kenzer and Company. Some, we have never met in person, only talked to online. Take my special friend, Erika. She lives in Australia, has cerebral palsy, and was also Amber’s friend. We hang out online and play games and I am thankful for her.

Some folks we have met online have actually made great efforts to come to visit us.

Take our friends Tash and Tony. They live in a beautiful place called Adelaide, Australia. In 2009, they flew ALL the way over here, spent several days with us, Tash took me to a day of Lollapalooza, then stayed with me when I got sick from the heat not even complaining she was missing some of the music, then went with us to Jolly’s folks’ place and Gen Con. That was one of the highlights of my life actually. Amber loved them.

We also met a bunch of positive folks on the set of Brothers Barbarian, Season 2. It was one of the most amazing times, working for four days to shoot scenes in and around a beautiful place called the Doe Run Inn, in Brandenburg, Kentucky. There was no TV, no internet and barely any cell phone service.

What did we do at night? We sat around and talked. Gasp! Do people even know how to do that anymore?

While we were there during the evenings, sitting around an old, old mill stone cover, we got to know Larry Elmore, the gentleman artistic genius that is quite the legend, Ken Whitman, a manic, positive bundle of energy who conceived of the story and wrote the script for this fun web series, among other things, Jesse Meyer, the amazing makeup artist and special effects whiz, Lynette Cole a wonder with costuming who is just the sweetest lady you’d ever want to meet, and many, many more. I grew very close to everyone, and was so happy to meet Tana Stalcup, a model who played the evil villain of the series, and her daughter Sydney. Sydney and I got the chance to hang out while her mom filmed scenes. We talked as if we’d known each other forever. She showed me pics on her phone and made me snowflakes out of paper. We hiked around the waterfall and bridge on the place, even though I was wearing a costume that I kept tripping over.

One of Jolly’s best friends is Craig Zipse, a talented guy who draws maps, created the game The Great Space Race and is such a sweetheart that everyone loves him. If they don’t, they should. Nobody lifts Jolly’s spirits like Craig. Sometimes, a text or e-mail from his buddy is just what the doctor ordered to give him the boost he needs to make it through a day. I love Craig too, he’s just that much of a great, positive person.

One of my friends is Bev Shideler, known as Moonshadow on our forums, who for some time helped us out with proofreading. She was a great proofreader, careful, precise and easy to work with. I love her sweet spirit and bubbly personality. This summer, I had the privilege to meet her beautiful daughter Tarra and Tarra’s friend Amber at Origins, the gaming convention in Columbus, Ohio. Being with them really was healing and encouraging. They’re the sort of people who brighten a room just by being in it.

I have been speaking of people who are positive, and whose presence heal and encourage us, but, it’s more than just being cheerful. I mean, pain hits us all and nobody can be happy all of the time. But, it’s people who have learned how to deal with pain and stress without lashing out at the whole world. They’re people who have found healthy releases for the negative emotions that hit us all. For me, I write and release my sorrow and pain. Other friends create music, art or play fantasy games to release tension. Some watch films. All of us know how to share things with one another without tearing another person down. I appreciate my friend Carolyn for the way in which she and I can share our burdens with each other and understand what it feels like to be women who struggle with self esteem issues. Other friends that I’ve already mentioned are also people who respect my emotions and feel free to share their own with me. But, we don’t wallow in our pain. We remember to laugh, to dance, to sing, and to post pictures of cats.

I am thankful for all of the positive people in my life, that’s for sure. I hope that Jolly and I, can keep our promise to stay positive and keep moving through life with kindness and love. So glad there are folks willing to go along for the ride.

A Special Dog

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Everyone thinks their dog is the greatest, right? They should anyway. My husband and I, however, believe we do have one of the most wonderful pooches in the world.

Her name is Violet and we found her looking at shelter websites for dogs. I had been wanting a dog for years. I was always crazy about animals, and dogs are at the top of my list of favorites. But, I hadn’t really been able to have a dog for many reasons. We were in the Army, we lived in apartments, etc. One reason we didn’t get a dog was because Amber was afraid of dogs. Every time she was near one, she would tense up and she often would begin to gag, sometimes vomiting because of her anxiety around them.

She had dog therapy at school sometimes. It was not her favorite thing. Her teacher reported once that Amber vomited one time when the dog had just barely entered the room.

Still, over the years, I had been working on her, telling her all my stories about Happy, my wonderful dog. She would roll her eyes and laugh. She watched dogs on television, however, with interest, especially the agility competitions.

Over the years, as I anticipated that glorious day when I would finally have my wonderful canine pet, I did research on dog breeds, temperament, care needs, habits, etc. Mostly, I was just dreaming, to be honest.

When we moved into a house with a fenced yard, we had a Persian cat. Amber liked cats because they didn’t try to jump up on her or lick her. Licking was just possibly the grossest thing she could ever think of.

When our dear cat, Elphaba, contracted a disease common to Persians, and we had to put her to sleep at the age of 5 years old, we were devastated. We mourned for that precious kitty for months. We didn’t jump right in to getting another pet.

But, eventually, I became obsessed with the idea of having a dog. I thought about our situation — our fenced-in yard, the fact we work at home and are around most of the time, and things finally seemed to be coming together. After months of reassuring Amber (what my husband calls brainwashing) she was finally warming up to the idea. I promised her the dog would not be allowed in her room unless she wanted it there. I told her that we would not allow it to lick her, and that whenever she wanted to come out to the living room, if she didn’t want the dog in there with her, we would let it go outside in the yard while Amber was there.

Most of the time, you hear about kids begging their moms for dogs, but here, the situation was reversed. In our family, it was the mom (me) bugging the kid, “Can I have a dog, please? Please, please, please?”

Looking on the websites of many shelters in our area we saw lots of wonderful-looking animals. We wanted a small dog, so that Amber would feel comfortable that it would be too little to reach her in her wheelchair. We also wanted one that had a calm temperament, not the rambunctious sort that jumps on kids and licks them. We also wanted one fairly young because none of us wanted to go through the pain of losing another pet anytime soon.

When we saw this face, with those beautiful ears, we had to meet Violet. Amber loved the name, by the way, since her favorite color is purple.

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We made an appointment to meet her, drove to the shelter and fell in love. She was pretty nervous at first, but then she’d been on an 8-hour bus ride to get to us, so I don’t blame her one bit. She was gentle, however, shy but sweet. Amber liked her shyness and gentleness. We knew she had to be ours, though I was a little worried if Violet would warm up to us a little more once we got home.

We were thrilled with how happy that dog was to be at our house. It was if she knew she were home because she made herself right at home. Jolly gave her a piece of a hot dog and sat in his spot on the couch, while I sat in mine. Violet jumped up and made herself right at home, claiming her spot. We were thrilled.

As I wheeled Amber back to her room, the dog followed us and went right into Amber’s room as if she owned the place. I gasped, remembering my promise, and asked, “Amber, the dog’s in your room, do you want me to make her leave?” To my delight, Amber shook her head no. To reaffirm I understood I asked, “she can stay in your room?” and Amber smiled and said, “yeah.”

They were absolute best buddies after that and I cannot tell you how happy that made all of us. Violet often hung out with us in the “girl’s room” sitting on the window seat, and even being welcomed onto Amber’s bed, a sight that absolutely floored us. Never in a million years would we have expected Amber to be comfortable with a dog sitting on her feet in bed.

Amber also loved to go outside and throw toys for the dog to play with. This was also special because Amber had allergies and didn’t always like going outside before. But, she loved that dog so much she wanted to play with her. Just remembering that makes my heart so warm right now. Those were special times.

Whenever Amber got up in her chair to come out to the living room to be with us and play her Wii, the dog would practically celebrate, dance and follow her into the room, howling the way she does as she announces the arrival of someone very special.

When Amber passed away, as you know, it was the worst time of our lives. Our dog was put in her crate as we rushed to the ER. She was there for at least 10 hours before my husband finally felt he had to go back to the house and let her out. When we came home without Amber, the dog could not understand where she was.

I was deathly ill, with the same virus that Amber had suffered from, and so I was really out of it as my husband tried to cope with our loss. I was in my room, so sick, being looked after somewhat, by my sisters. They did what they could for Jolly, but I never will forget how he was racked with sobs on his air mattress out in our front room, and there was Violet, ministering to him like a sweet angel, helping him find comfort for his grief.

As we have navigated our way through this painful experience, Violet has kept by our sides, going with us to the office, out for ice cream, and everywhere we can take her. She is our prized little girl, a hero in our eyes, who fits in so well, and who still perks up every time we say the name “Amber.”

The Chameleon

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That’s my super power. No. I don’t actually change my skin color to match my surroundings, but, I do change my personality and thoughts in order to blend in with whoever I’m with. That’s not an admirable quality for the most part, but I have to admit the truth.

It started as a kid in an often tumultuous home. With a dad with a temper problem, I was the one who was always trying to read the atmosphere and situation in every situation in hopes of somehow either deflecting and softening bad moods and making myself safe. That became a natural part of who I am – the girl who doesn’t really know who she is.

My dad wanted a boy – so I became his boy, a tomboy, climbing trees and playing cowboy. He wanted me to like spinach, I liked spinach. I did whatever I could to accommodate him.

As I grew up, and after having some psychological counseling I realized that this has become my mode of operation and still is. It’s not so bad being able to get along with just about anyone. But, the worst part about it is the anxiety I feel in every social situation, trying to read emotion, trying to be careful not to tick anyone off, trying to yield to the desires of the strongest willed person that I’m with.

There is another problem that comes with being a chameleon, and that is not knowing what I really want, or who I am. People ask me my opinions all of the time and I really don’t know. “What do you want to eat?” I don’t know, whatever you do. “Where do you want to go?” Doesn’t matter.

It has been a slow process but I am beginning to learn a little about what I prefer, but, when I’m with someone stronger willed than I, I always yield to their wants.

That’s why I have a hard time being around people who are very strong-willed and who sort of steamroll over me. It’s painful. The hardest thing in the world for me to do is say no. Whenever I stand up to someone else and try to establish boundaries, I inevitably feel guilty about it and stress over it for awhile after.

Yes, I am a mess, it would seem. But, I do think we all have our quirks. There is a plus side to this super power. Even though I am sort of out of touch with myself, I am very attuned to other peoples’ feelings and that makes me pretty sensitive to the needs of others. That’s a good thing in many ways.

I am also pretty easy to get along with. I can usually be counted on to put others’ interest above my own, and that is a biblical principle.

What I need to do, and what I’m working on, is to learn to care about who God made me and to grow up into a person that was uniquely made, someone with my own place in the world. It’s been a long journey, and looking up ahead in the road, I think it will be long for me in the future with a lot of bends and twists. If you happen to pass me on the road, I’ll greet you. If you like hugs, I love them. If not, I’m cool with that too. My only hope is that when you see me on the road, that I haven’t blended in so much with the scenery that you don’t notice me at all.

Dream within a Dream

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There was that dream again. The one where no matter which way I turned, I was lost. I just kept trying to get home, but when I turned and headed for something that looked familiar, or helpful, I somehow ended up more lost than before. I woke up feeling confused, tired and out of breath. How many nights have I had dreams like this? Too many to count.

I usually remember my dreams because sleep hasn’t ever been something I’ve been good at for long periods of time. It started when I’d wake up with a knife of panic through my heart at the sound of violence in my home, a father’s rage out of control and suddenly, the peace of the night was obliterated and every night became a time of longing — longing for morning.

It didn’t get much better in college. Who gets much sleep there? There were papers to write and tests to study for. Yes, I was a studious sort, not one to go to parties or whoop and holler all night like many in my dorm. But, their parties made the little sleep I did get challenging.

After college was the Army. Not the best place to go for a nice, restful life. First there was basic training where I had to get up at O Dark Thirty, or had fire-guard duty all night. Then, there was AIT (Advanced Individual Training) where I went through public affairs/journalism school with assignments to write every night and cleaning detail. I swear, I had the longest hallway in the barracks to sweep, mop and buff every night by myself. I was supposed to have partners, but not ever sure what happened to them. The drill sergeants used to laugh at me as I scolded them for walking on my floor. They called me “the girl that never sleeps.” Then, there was regular duty. My first assignment wasn’t too bad at all. I was assigned to the Army medical center in El Paso, Texas, William Beaumont Army Medical Center. It was a pretty cushy job for a soldier. You worked regular hours for the most part and mostly had weekends free. Oh, I did have all-night duty sometimes, and some extra duties since I was the photographer for the place. One thing about working in a medical center, and not being a medical person yourself, you are surrounded by people who don’t think blood, guts and death is any big deal and they like to tease us tenderfeet with our own squeamishness. One night I pulled all-night charge of quarters duty in one of the WWII-era wooden outlying buildings belonging to the hospital. The sergeant I was on duty with told me that the morgue was in the basement of the building we were in – but it wasn’t the regular morgue for people who die in the hospital. It was a morgue where they kept the bodies and body parts that they used for training interns and other personnel. He told me there was a head in a jar and asked me if I’d like to go down and take a look. He laughed himself silly when I said, “n-n-no…” and jumped at every spooky noise the rest of the night.

Then, when I got stationed in Germany, things ramped up a bit. Hubby and I were stationed with the nuclear missile command and that was a no-nonsense place, about as far away from cushy as you could get at that time. Still, I recognize that it was nothing like Iraq or Afghanistan, so I don’t want anyone to get me wrong and think that I have illusions that I was in combat or anything. Still, we did go to the field quite a bit, and had all sorts of duty that of course, was always all night at least. We also had alerts, where we’d get calls in the middle of the night and we had a half hour or so to make it to the kaserne (post) after a call. Once there, it often happened that we’d have to load up our trucks for convoying out to the field and spend a couple of weeks out in the woods with no showers and not too much sleep.

When I gave birth to my child, sleep was an endangered species for all of her life. In some ways, she was an infant her entire life. She couldn’t do anything for herself physically. Mentally, she was very smart and aware. But, physically, she would need help during the night on a regular basis, to turn over, to massage cramps out of her legs, to help her when her feeding tube would malfunction and to help her with being changed or being sick. It was lucky I was a light sleeper. I could jump out of bed at a single cry and be in her room within a few seconds, though I would be groggy and a bit wobbly at times. Sometimes, I would even be a bit grouchy but I really tried not to be, because I never wanted her to feel like she was a burden.

So, when it comes to dreams, I usually remember them because I’m often wakened right after having one, or in the middle of one. As a young person, I had a recurring nightmare about Satan and hell being in my basement. It was terrifying to say the least. I trained myself, eventually, to rid my mind of these dreams by thinking of stories as I went to sleep, and making up tales in my mind.

As an adult, the dream of being lost has always been part of my dream life. It was always a huge fear of mine because I was never good at directions or in being aware of my surroundings as I traveled enough to remember how to get back to those places. I remember Mom dropping me off for piano lessons in our little town’s downtown area. The music store had lessons and I took some. Mom, who was a teacher, wouldn’t be able to pick me up afterward, she said. It was only a few blocks from my home and I would have to walk home. I tried to remember afterward which buildings I was supposed to turn at. I didn’t know to look at street signs then. I got very lost, ending up in the section of town where the bars were, a place considered somewhat seedy.

Scared, I eventually went into a bar and asked the bartender if I could have a dime (that’s how long ago this was) to call my mommy. I remember the guy couldn’t see me until he walked over and craned his neck. He walked me out to the phone booth and put the dime in for me, because I couldn’t reach. I finally got home, but, I have always been this way when it comes to finding my way around. That fear creeps into my dreams, that feeling of not knowing where you are.

It’s gotten worse since Amber has passed away. I sleep somewhat better now, but, the feeling of being lost is still with me. When she was around, she was a lot of responsibility, but I was used to it, and it was pretty routine. Now, I’m cut loose from my moorings and wandering through life a bit aimlessly.

I’m sure I will eventually come to a place where I feel grounded. I’m getting there, closer every day. I just have to remember to tell myself stories before I go to sleep.

Promise to Keep

AmbernMomatprom
I clutched a promise to my heart,
And then I let it go.
I whispered it into your ear,
So only you would know.
Now, in restless dreams and stirrings,
In heat and cold and pain,
I strive on to keep that vow
The one I made when I had nothing else to gain,
But the admiration in your eyes.
And though I am oh so lonesome now,
Though I ache to see your smile,
I march on, staggering some beneath the load.
I will go that one more mile.
Someday, I want to see you again.
I want to look into your beautiful eyes.
I want you to say, “well done, mom.”
Oh, to have that precious prize.
Yes, I have a promise to keep,
For you, my precious one.
And, I won’t rest until I see your face,
and it will be like you’ve never been gone.

Why I Love Roleplaying Games

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The subject of this blog hit me yesterday. Roleplaying games are a big part of my life. What started out as a hobby became a passion and then a profession. Yet, the majority of my friends and family not only do not play them, they know next to nothing about them.

My husband (then my boyfriend) Jolly, discovered roleplaying games while in college. One of his buddies had picked up a copy of Dungeons & Dragons in a hobby shop while looking at war games, which had been something Jolly and his friends were passionate about playing.

They decided to try it out. They brought the game to Jolly’s dad’s barbershop, where we first delved into the world of roleplaying games. Immediately, we were enchanted. Yes, there were a lot of rules, and we didn’t understand all of them at first, but that really didn’t matter. What thrilled us, as creative people who love to write, was the wonderful, unique way in which a group of people can all create together.

In this game, one person acted as the DM, or Dungeon Master. Jolly took on that role in the beginning. The Dungeon Master was the person who was in control of what world the other players would play (or adventure) in. He could use some published world and/or campaign settings called modules, or he could use his own world.

Jolly, the creative writer that he always was, had already created a rich and complex world called Alderac. Now, I may be a bit biased because I love him, but, I must say that my husband had a knack for bringing his world to life for us. He created characters for us to interact with, commonly known as NPCs (non-player characters) that really began to seem real. Some were annoying, because frankly, Jolly has a wicked sense of humor and liked to mess with us. Others were challenging, evil and hostile. Still others were pretty standard.

The game campaign would usually revolve around have a group of adventurers made up of the players’ characters, known as PCs, to go on some sort of mission or quest, often consisting in exploring what are called dungeons in the game. These dungeons are labyrinths of winding tunnels and rooms where all manner of nasties usually awaited the adventuring group, known as a party. There were traps that you had to watch out for, and then there were monsters. Monsters could be anything from gelatinous deadly molds and slimes, giant rats and spiders, to dragons or vampires.

Players would each use dice to roll up characters to play in the game. You could be a fighter, a magic user, a thief, or a cleric. You could even be a paladin, bard, barbarian or monk. There were many possibilities and that was part of the fun. The dice would determine what your stats would be. These stats were for strength, intelligence, wisdom, dexterity, constitution and charisma. Those attributes, and how much each of these stats had point-wise, would determine things like how well and hard your character would hit with a sword or other weapon, how quick and agile your character was, how many spells they could cast and languages they could know, how healthy they were and how charming they could be. Each character had a certain amount of hit points that determined their life essence, essentially. If they got hurt by a monster or by falling in a trap, etc., they would lose hit points. If they lost too many of them, their character would die.

One of my favorite things was always rolling up characters. As a writer, creating people is a real thrill. It was a real awe-inspiring thing to see a bunch of numbers on a piece of paper, suddenly become a person (or elf, or dwarf, etc.) that could walk around, talk smack, fight and interact with the creation of the DM.

Jolly’s friend Joel also acted as DM, so we had a variety and Jolly got a chance to play. His first character was a big fighter named Terac. My first character was a magic user named after a tough lady in the Bible, Jael. She usually could cast one spell a day. Web was one of her favorite spells, where she could use it to tangle up baddies. Jolly’s friend Lew played a grumpy little dwarf named Balin. I loved that old coot. 😉

In Jolly’s campaign, I played a paladin, a holy knight named Shirl after a character in the book Sword of Shannara. Her goal in life was to go down to hell and kill Satan. No lack of ego there on my part, was there?

We had many funny, wonderful adventures together. Not only did playing the game allow us to create together, it really helped us form bonds of friendship and gave us an activity that was wholesome. While most college kids were out getting drunk at parties, we were rolling dice and making stories together in adventuring parties.

Then, the televangelists hit the airwaves with their “Dungeons & Dragons is evil diatribe.” I was shocked. I was attending a Christian college and was a fully committed Christian girl. I knew that the things they were saying were simply not true. They had gotten on the warpath about a really creative, wonderful activity and made it evil by their accusations and sensationalism, finding a few kids to tell horrendous stories about how they’d been sucked into Satan worshipping by playing this game. As a Christian, I’m appalled by the un-Christian type of manipulation that was performed here, and the outright falsehoods perpetuated by people who were supposed to be representing God. As a Christian, I am also dismayed that they were spending so much time focusing on this non-issue when there were much more important things they could have been discussing, like who God is, what His love is like and how can people know that love. In my opinion, that would have been a much more productive use of their time and wouldn’t have alienated an entire section of the population who now suddenly saw Christianity as its enemy. But, that is a topic for another time. I will move on.

When my husband became partners with the good folks at Kenzer and Company, an opportunity arose for the company to be able to produce its own roleplaying game called Hackmaster. Hackmaster was first introduced in Knights of the Dinner Table magazine as the comic characters’ game of choice, a satire of Dungeons & Dragons. The first edition of Hackmaster (jokingly dubbed 4th edition as a sort of one upsmanship over D&D 3.5), used Advanced D&D as its skeleton where the rules are concerned.

It was a license with the company that owned D&D, and therefore was required to fit into the company’s vision of what it should be – a parody game. There was a lot of humor included in the game for that reason. One of my non-RPG playing friends picked up on of the game books and started reading it once while at our place and laughed herself silly.

Knowing that this license would eventually expire, the D-Team (development team at Kenzer) came up with a plan to write our own game from the ground up. The first venture was a western roleplaying game called Aces and Eights. That game was hugely popular, due to the innovative rules and the production quality of the core book, which was a beautiful 400-page book, bound in tooled leather (well – leather-like material) and using full color art from great western artists.

Then, when the license expired, the company began to create a new version of Hackmaster, one that would be all our own. The new version’s rules are revolutionary, innovative and fresh, while still retaining the feel of old-school fantasy roleplaying. We’re proud of the efforts, which are still in progress. Already, we have produced two tomes in keeping with our previous A&8 book, a hard-bound, full-color monster tome known as the Hacklopedia of Beasts and another similarly produced Players Handbook. The books are beautiful and the system is even better.

But that isn’t the purpose of my blog – to advertise. Yet, it is part of my journey in the RPG world.

One of the things that thrilled us as young roleplayers was the idea that you could take the idea of roleplaying into any genre: in roleplaying you could be a spy, a superhero, a starship captain, or a cowboy, as well as a knight. The possibilities are endless.

Since being involved in Kenzer and Company, over the years my husband and I have not only had a lot of fun being involved in creating games for people to play, but we’ve acquired so many rich friendships with people from all over the world, traveled to, and participated in many gaming conventions, which are tons of fun, and even become friends with some of the greats in the RPG industry, including the beloved, late Gary Gygax himself.

To anyone who would assert that this game is evil, or ruins lives, I would say, “If that’s what you think, you really don’t know what you’re talking about.” I’ve been involved in roleplaying for more than 20 years now and have never known anyone whose life was ruined by an RPG, was motivated to murder or suicide as a result of playing these games, or who have become a Satanist by playing one of these games. You don’t learn to cast real spells, you aren’t involved in real magic, and it’s the same as any hobby. Anything taken to an extreme can be harmful. But it isn’t the activity that is necessarily evil or harmful. This is my take on the situation and I appreciate that people who don’t know about the game might be leery of it due to things they have heard.

I would encourage anyone who feels uneasy about this activity to not participate in it, of course. I would never urge anyone to go against their conscience. But, I would also encourage people to not alienate those who do think it is a fun thing to do. I cannot tell you how many good people have been completely turned off of Christianity by the attitudes of people toward them when they learn they play RPGs. That just isn’t good for anyone, in my opinion.

Now, I think I will spend the rest of this Saturday rolling up another character. There’s nothing more fun than that.