short excerpts...other writings...upon occasion or as prompted...
The tiger in the water? A representation of my life -- spirit and environment!


Monday, January 17, 2011


Raised in a so-called Christian home marked with near-daily explosive abuse of multiple flavors--sexual, physical, and emotion, I was an attendee, but not engaged participant, in Methodist and Baptist churches in my early years, I found no sense in the sermons of the ministers who were often more interested in tangible things than in holy deeds, no examples set by the deacons who were often bedding the wives of their friends, and no love of God in the raspberry-bush switches wielded by my parents that demanded their few ounces of blood every Sunday before we marched into church as a model family. God, to me, was a fantasy, created by evil-doers to make themselves feel better.

When given a chance at the age of 16 to preach the Youth Sunday sermon, the topic of which was “The Christian Home,” I pointed out all of these things, to the great discomfort of the congregation. I concluded that sermon with the suggestion that considerable thought be given to the advantages of raising a child without hypocrisy, i.e. in an atheistic environment. From where came the audacity of a child to make such statements from a pulpit? I don’t really know. Perhaps I envied the lives of my peers who were not abused each and every day and in resentment needed to point out something wrong with their lives, too. Perhaps I had expected the church community to step in and rescue my siblings and me from our physical and sexual tormentors and blamed the people in the community when no one stepped forward. Perhaps the rage in which I was raised crimson-colored all the emotions of my childhood.

In any event, that sermon ended my churchgoing days. My family had been asked to leave the church, and I had not been punished in any way. I suspect that my parents had feared that after such a sermon, were they to have hurt me as a result, I would have flounced into church with that announcement as well, completely destroying their reputations. Or perhaps their sense of the awfulness of what I had done paralyzed them into inaction. In any event, there being no other church within reasonable travel distance, I had spent the rest of my growing-up and adult years in the atheistic environment I had exalted.

My parents never lost their faith as a result of their excommunication, but they never again talked much about it in front of me. We no longer were forced to say grace at meals. Bibles disappeared from our bedsides onto the crowded bookshelves in our library. Although they never mentioned anything to me, looking back, I imagine that my parents felt that something became very broken in their lives that Sunday morning. At the core of their lives festered a desperate need to be respected by the community, perhaps fostered by childhoods in which neither had experienced much respect. Dad’s unusually high level of intelligence brought him only a sense of disappointment and failure when, in order to support his parents and five younger siblings during the Great Depression, he had to leave school in eighth grade and take a job as a shoe cutter, a trade he plied, along with farming, his entire life. Ma had always been the little doll of her family, if my great-aunt’s assessment is accurate, but had found herself rejected and ridiculed by classmates while her brother, who was in the same class, served as class president. As adults, my parents became community leaders, my father serving on the school board and my mother becoming actively involved in one social cause after another, looking for approbation from peers long ago grown up. We children suffered their anger when we failed to make up for their dissatisfaction with their own lives and their sense of underachievement, Dad intellectually and Ma socially. Their church activities provided them the lifeline with which they had clung to the community respect that they so desperately desired. I had cut that lifeline with one sermon.

As for me, I felt that something got fixed in my life that morning. No more hypocrisy. No more pretending to be a pew-filling, perfect family. No more Sunday morning races when I would refuse to get dressed for church, Dad would want to beat me into compliance, and I would run.

As young as the age of eight, I could outrun Dad. I could also run far. Neighbors passing by en route to church pretended not to see the two of us running—around the front yard, across the street, through the tall grass, and into the nearby woods, my long hair flying straight back into the wind and my father flailing a switch, usually broken off from a raspberry bush with healthy thorns for ripping flesh. I could feel the wind brushing past my face, the adrenalin coursing through my veins from fear of the whip and nerve endings on fire with the thrill of the race, my legs fueled by competing thoughts: the stubbornness to do what I wanted, the fear of a dire outcome should I slow down or stumble long enough to be caught, and exhilaration at the thought that just perhaps I could run away from all of it, from the switchings, from the name calling, from the hypocrisy of pretending that we were the picture-perfect family, and especially from pretending to love and obey a God who for me did not exist and whom my parents used as a threat. Only when my father lost the switch and was too spent to care any more about hitting me would I run home. Running back into the “burning house,” as my future brother-in-law would later call it, was the only option that ever entered my head for any neighbor in New England of those days would have brought me back to my parents.

Having run home, I always ended up in church. There, sitting in a pew, watching Dad and Ma acting in a devout manner and being viewed by the church community as ideal parents, my anger toward them would reach a full but quiet zenith. After the church service concluded, my parents would accept the sympathetic comments of my friends’ parents, especially those who happened to catch a glimpse of our Sunday morning marathons. These people would knowingly smile, nod, and assent as to how difficult I must be to raise—and my rising anger and frustration at the unfairness of it all made me want to run again—far away from my parents, the church, and the complacent people in the church pews. I resented being abused, and I trapped the church and its people in the web of angry emotions that encompassed my teenage years. I never asked how others in my family felt about being alienated from the church. I did not care. I had been freed.

This excerpt is adapted from my book, Blest Atheist (MSI Press, copyright 2009).

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Finding Doah

My continuing apologies for not being able to deal with graphics on this old computer--my laptop is STILL in computer repair land on the East Coast, and I am told that those experts have not yet figured out the problem nor made a decision what to do. In the interim, Word does work, and so I am hard at work on my next book, in and around travels and real work. I have completed six of nine chapters, and chapter seven is nearly done. As promised, here is an excerpt. It is a just-finished section of chapter 7, which I will post on all my blogs for which the topic is pertinent.

As a child and through his teenage years, Doah had a habit of slinking off, mainly from curiosity or because he wanted to go somewhere and there was no one to take him at precisely the time he wanted to go. It was not the kind of disappearance that a fully mentally competent child of the same age would make. Rather, it was a matter of marrying “want” with “immediate fulfillment” prompted by naivete and complete trust in the safety and kindness of the surrounding environment associated with the simplicity of mental retardation. Usually, we would find Doah a couple of aisles away in the grocery store, in the backyard on the swings, or at a neighbor’s house. Scarier disappearances, however, did occur, like the time he decided to walk down the middle of Lee Highway, the main thoroughfare in Arlington, Virginiua.

One Sunday morning when Doah was twelve years old but the size of a seven-year-old and with the mental age of a seven year old, I emerged from the shower and could not find him. I checked the entire house. No Doah. I checked the backyard. Empty swings. I checked with the all the neighbors. No visit to their homes that day. Frantic panic set up, and I began walking the streets in our subdivision, calling his name. Neighbors I had never before met told me that they knew Doah. Really? He had been wandering farther afield than I had known. When? I suppose I will never know the answer to that question. At the time, though, I was more interested in how far his wandering might have taken him. I returned home to Donnie empty-handed.

“Why are you losing time by walking all over the neighborhood?” he asked me. “Just think where he is.”

“Thinking” actually referred to what I often knew about my children from unexplainable sources. For example, I occasionally “knew” in advance that one or another would get hurt at school that day, creating a dilemma in that I had no way to tell a teacher to be careful and try to prevent the accident. No teacher would believe me, yet each time the child in question in woulds indeed return home with some minor injury. If I were sitting quietly, thinking about nothing at all, sometimes an image would appear of the child, either where the child was at the moment or what would happen to the child in the immediate future.

“Nothing comes to mind about Doah,” I told Donnie.

“Just calm down and think for a minute,” Donnie advised.

I emptied my mind and, blast!, in came an image of Doah, clothed in white with a blue belt. He was standing, surrounded by white. White everywhere. Well, one can imagine the worst possible scenario from that.

“I think he’s dead,” I told Donnie. “Everything around him is white.”

“What else?” Donnie pressed, knowing that I am one to miss details. “There has to be more. What is he doing? Is he saying anything? Is there anyone else there?”

Ah! I could not see whether or not there was anyone else there, but he was standing and clapping! Clapping? Church!

Although Donnie was agnostic and I atheist, we did allow our children to attend church services if they wished. Doah had taken up recently with a church downtown, about a mile from where we lived. He would get there by bus, or someone would pick him up. If the latter, the van driver would always come to our door, and that had not happened this time. Still, I knew Doah was at the church.

Donnie and I drove to the church apprehensively. What if he were not there? Then what?

I walked in the door and immediately knew I was in the right place. The inside of the church had been painted—all white. I wandered through one of the rooms, heard some singing, and moved in that direction. As I turned the corner, I saw another white-walled room, and there in the front row was Doah, standing and clapping, dressed in white clothes, with his blue money belt around his waist. Thank God!

I do not know how to interpret these out-of-the-ordinary experiences in my past. I find it hard to believe that such “help” would come from something demonic. Yet, clearly most parents do not find their missing children by emptying their minds and allowing an image of the location of their children to enter. In some ways, these images presaged how nowadays I approach contemplative prayer. Perhaps back then they reflected God’s way of dealing with an atheist in the only way she would (or could) accept.


Excerpted from Believer in Waiting (forthcoming), copyright 2003.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Life in Cyberspace

My sister writes to my Mommy a lot in cyberspace. We all do. One time, however, my sister wanted to send Mommy a package. She did not know where to send it. She could not send it to cyberspace! I think she had a problem sending a package to cyberspace because there was no zip code to use. All real places have zip codes, right? So cyberspace must not be a real place, at least the way I figure.

Mommy lives in cyberspace for a couple of reasons. First, she travels a lot, and that is the way she keeps in touch with us. (I have a place in cyberspace, too. If you ask me, I will tell you my address there.) Second, sometimes Mommy's work requires her to be in cyberspace.

For several years, Mommy worked for an organization that existed primarily in cyberspace. People in a number of cities across America worked from home, and they were linked by e-mail. Mommy did many different things for that organization.

Sometimes she would send out addresses for people helping with specific projects.
Mommy learned the importance of accurate typing (although she probably will never be able to type accurately without those typing lessons I plan to get for her) when she received a number of surprised responses from her message giving the address of Mr. and Mrs. Lord. Mommy had titled the message: "The Lord's E-Mail Address."

Everyone thought that Mommy had some great connections.

Conclusion: Be careful whose e-mail address you share and with whom.

This story is excerpted from a collection of vignettes that I helped Doah, my severely mentally challenged youngest son, to write and publish several years ago (copyright 2003). It was my attempt to help him understand literacy and the purpose of writing and reading.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Welcome, 2011!

Wishing everyone a happy new year on the remarkable date of 1/1/11. I managed to get back into an older post and copy out the image. (Where there is a will, there is a way.) I have not been able to peck out as much as I would like on the new book in the past week on this computer, so I am awaiting with great expectancy the return of my own laptop, either repaired or replaced, in a few weeks -- a new start to a new year.

One great thing about Face Book is watching the New Year be embraced in country after country as it approaches our California coastline. We are among the last to welcome the new year, but the advantage to that is we get to enjoy a lot of other celebrations, beginning on the morning of December 31 (which I fortunately had off this year).

As the new year enters, we have had a remarkable change happen. Our little Simone, the feral cat we rescued when we moved nearly two years ago, changed from being aloof and afraid to affectionate. For the last few days, she has been following me everywhere, has nestled beside me on the couch, and has wanted to be petted. I always thought she would domesticate -- I am pretty successful at domesticating feral cats, the key to which is being patient. Two years is a long time to wait, but it looks like at least one little Leaver is entering the new year in great style.

So is Nikolina. She got her leg braces on Tuesday. They are pink! When I am able to post in a normal fashion and add new pictures, I will put a copy of Nikolina in her braces on the right sidebar. In the interim, it is great to see how she likes wearing them and knowing that in a while she will be able to stand and walk. The question asked when she was born in April 2009, will she be able to work, has been answered: Yes, she will!

Wishing a brave new world for all of you in 2011 -- and may it be gentle to you, as well!

About Me

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I am the mother of 4 birth children (plus 3 others who lived with us) and grandmother of 2, all of them exceptional children. Married for 42 years, I grew up in Maine, live in California, and work in many places in education, linguistics, and program management. In my spare time, I rescue and tame feral cats and have the scars to prove it. A long-time ignorantly blissful atheist converted by a theophanic experience to Catholicism, I am now a joyful catechist. Oh, I also authored a dozen books, two under my pen name of Mahlou (Blest Atheist and A Believer-in-Waiting's First Encounters with God).

My Other Blogs

100th Lamb. This is my main blog, the one I keep most updated.

The Clan of Mahlou
. This is background information about various members of the extended Mahlou family. It is very much a work still in progress. Soon I will begin posting excerpts from a new book I am writing, Raising God's Rainbow Makers.

Modern Mysticism. This blog discusses the mystical in our pragmatic, practical, realistic, and rational 21st century world and is to those who spend some or much of their time in an irrational/mystical relationship with God. If such things do not strain your credulity, you are welcome to follow the blog and participate in it.

Recommended Reading List

Because I am blog inept, I don't quite know how to get a reading list to stay at the end of the page and not disappear from sight. Therefore, I entered it as my first post. I suppose that is not all that bad because readers started commenting about the books, even suggesting additional readings. So, you can participate with others in my reading list by clicking here.
I do post additional books as I read them and find them to be meaningful to me, and therefore, hopefully, meaningful to you. One advantage of all the plane traveling I do is that I acquire reading time that I might not otherwise take.