It’s been a rough couple of days with my blog. WordPress installed an editor they call Gutenberg, which is deigned to allow users to easily make impressive-looking posts. Unfortunately, it’s not for writers. As Nathan Ingram writes,
The days of sitting down and composing in the post window are gone (of course there is a question about how many people do this anyway).
Call me old fashioned, but that’s exactly what I do. I’m a writer. I’m not a coder, programmer, graphic designer, visual effects editor, or any other variety of technical creator.
I write words.
And I know how to get stuff done in what they now call Classic Editor. (I get it: “Classic” means old fashioned. I can live with that.)
So I tried the newfangled Gutenberg. I did a couple of posts on it. And yes, it makes designing a simple post easy. But designing a simple post was never hard.
The problem came when I wanted to embed an audio file to my post. Gutenberg’s description says there’s a “block” for that. Maybe there is, but I couldn’t find it. What should have been a 90-second post turned into an hour of frustrated failure. On my one and only Christmas post. Merry freakin Christmas.
Take Two: If I can’t work with Gutenberg, maybe I can get rid of it. That, fortunately, was a little easier. It took several searches, because the older solutions don’t work any more. But there is a free, simple plug-in called Classic Editor that returned my life to manageability.
Just in time for Pentecost… Steve’s Grace is FREE on Kindle!
(All I ask is that you post a review.)
Our friend, Joshua Pettit, has just published a book of amazing photos of southern Utah. Paired with musings from his struggle with chronic pain, the book is intended to be both beautiful and inspirational.
Here’s a sample:
Your words and self talk are what define you and your perceptions in life.
Change those to fit your desired point of view, that’s
all you need to do to be the most unique you.
I tell myself that I am too sexy for my shirt,
and this is how all the birds look at me.
Peace in the Paroxysm is now available on Amazon, coming soon to Kindle.
(Full disclosure: I edited it for him.)
This is an excerpt from the book Steve’s Grace by D. J. Mitchell.
“Christ is risen!” I begin. “Imagine the sorrow his mother must have felt, going to the graveside to mourn her son, whom she watched die just three days before. But instead of a grave and a memory, she finds an empty tomb and the question, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead?’ What a shock that must have been!”
So begins my Easter sermon. I perform it for my family on Good Friday, two days before I will give it to the congregation. They seem to love it. Cindy and Zephyr both proclaim it the best one yet, and even Susan seems impressed.
That doesn’t keep me from being nervous Easter morning. I focus on each step of the service so I don’t obsess about the moment I will stand before the congregation and preach.
After the hymn, I read from the Gospel of Luke.
Then the moment comes. I stand before the congregation, spread my hands and arms upward, and begin.
“Christ is risen!” I proclaim.
Then I pause. The next line won’t come out. I know what I’m supposed to say, but I can’t say it.
I’m not expecting what happens next.
“Christ is risen!” I repeat. “He who was dead now lives. Christ is risen in me!”
I continue in a softer voice.
“He is risen in every one of us who was once dead through sin, yet now we live through the Grace of God and the Sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ! We have been redeemed, that we may escape the death penalty for our sins and live in Grace!”
“Do we fall short of what God wants us to do?” I ask. “Let’s be honest. I fall short far too often. How about you?”
I raise my hand. About half the congregation raises theirs, too.
“Do we try to play God in our own lives, and the lives of other people?” I ask. “I do.”
I raise my hand. More hands go up.
“Are we sinners?” I ask.
I open my hands, inviting an answer as I repeat, “Are we?”
“Yes!” they reply.
“Yes,” I agree. “But we found new life through Jesus Christ. Amen?”
“Amen!” they reply.
“Did you ever have an experience when something strange was happening in your life and you couldn’t figure out why? Then later, you looked back and realized it was God?”
I pause, and see heads nodding.
“That’s what happened to the disciples of Jesus,” I continue. “They were walking on the road to Emmaus, and a man joined them and talked to them. And it was only after they had walked for some time that they realized that man was Jesus.
“That’s a little odd, don’t you think?” I ask. “They spent three years traveling with Jesus. He was their teacher. They saw Him after the Resurrection. They saw the holes in His hands and feet. Yet here is a man they don’t recognize, and it turns out to be Jesus?
“Maybe he was in disguise,” I suggest.
Some people chuckle.
“Or maybe,” I continue, “Jesus appeared in a guise they didn’t recognize at first as being Him.
“Has this ever happened to you?” I ask. “Something in your life happens, and it seems so painful or wrong that it doesn’t even occur to you that it could be God working in your life? But later you realize that’s exactly what it was?
“It happened to me,” I say. “I was comfortable in an ungodly life, but God shook it up for me. At the time, it didn’t occur to me that this could be God working in my life. I mean, I got into a situation where I did some bad things and almost lost my family over it. I should have gone to prison. How could that be God?
“And it wasn’t,” I say. “I did those things, not God. Just like the man on the road to Emmaus who was not Jesus. But he was. They saw the Risen Christ in a stranger. And I can look back now and see the hand of God even in that most despicable moment of my life. That’s what it took for God to get my attention. I had to fully live up to my capacity for sin in order to realize I needed God. Because how can I ask for redemption if I don’t know I need it?
“I am a sinner,” I say. “I was raised from the dead by Jesus Christ. How many of you are willing to say that with me?”
“I am a sinner,” I repeat. “I was raised from the dead by Jesus Christ.”
About half of the congregation says it with me.
“Let’s say it again,” I suggest.
This time, everyone joins in.
“Christ is risen!” I proclaim. “His tomb is empty!”
Then, in a softer voice, I add, “And so is ours.
Steve’s Grace is available here.
Most of my books explore in some way the topics of spirituality and peace work. Domino Theory is different. It tells the story of a drug addict named Danny McCabe who’s been framed for murder. And it explores the workings of the brain of an addict in frightening, first-person honesty. I know this, because I was there.
I don’t want to use. I really don’t. For one thing, heroin and alcohol is a bad mix. You never know when you’ve done too much. You’d suddenly pass out and quit breathing, and if there isn’t someone around to wake you up again, you’re dead.
I remember the first time it happened. I came to and my buddy Pete was slapping me in the face. I was like, “What the f***?”
“You weren’t breathing,” he said.
I thought about that for a sec. Then I told him the truth.
“So what? I don’t care.”
I think that’s what scared me the most when I woke up the next day. I almost died and I didn’t care.
What does it matter if I do some while I’m drinking? Even if I died, it would just end the misery.
But the misery isn’t as bad now as it was when I kicked. I’ve been off the sh*t for three weeks. Well, almost three weeks. Two and a half, anyway. My body doesn’t ache any more. I’m starting to be able to sleep at night, if I drink enough. Yeah, I drink more, but I’m off the dope. I’m clean, and that’s something to be proud of.
So what am I doing with a bag full of dope in my room? I don’t want to use it. Really, I don’t. It was too hard to get off of it.
But the sh*t is calling to me. That goddamn heroin is calling my name.
I drain the third Moosehead and reach for the fourth. Two thirds gone now. I’m pretty drunk, but not drunk enough to ignore the dope calling me. I suck down half the bottle in one swallow.
Damn it, I hate that shit! F***ing heroin. For months I couldn’t not do it. Now I’m clean, and it still wants me back. It’s like an evil woman that won’t let go of me, and I can’t say no.
That’s the thing. I know I can’t say no. I always go back to it. I always have, and I always will. Yeah, I’m clean right now, but that’s temporary. I know it. You know it. The dope knows it. It’s calling my name. It knows that sooner or later I’m going to give in.
I drain the fourth bottle and reach for the fifth. Only one left after this, and I’m still not drunk enough. I light another cig.
The heroin calls. I hate being dope sick. I f***ing hate it. I don’t want to go back.
But we all know I’m going to. I can’t say no.
I chug the fifth beer and open the last one, desperate to block out the Siren’s call. That’s exactly what it is, calling me to jump back in the dark, cold water. Calling me to die.
I can’t say no.
I reach under the mattress and pull out my works. I thought about throwing it out, but I couldn’t. I knew, even then, that I would come back. The dope is too strong.
I could throw it away now. I could open the window and throw the spoon and the syringe out into the alley with the rats.
But I won’t. I can’t. No matter how much I try to deny it, I’m a junkie. Once you cross that line, there’s no going back.
I drain the last beer, slide the empty back into the six-pack, and reach for my knapsack. I pull out the zip lock bag and look at it. I feel my soul drain out of me. Once again I am hooked. I haven’t even opened that bag yet, but I’m going to.
I don’t have a choice.
Why did I write such a seemingly uncharacteristic novel? The answer is simple. All my books seek to overcome misunderstanding. They seek to reconcile. For many people, a drug addict is unpredictable, incomprehensible, and not worth spending time on. I sought to show the interior workings of the addict mind in the hope of helping people understand why we do what we do.
I tried to do this without glorifying the addict lifestyle. Danny’s life is miserable. He has nothing to live for but his next fix, and the vague hope that someday things will be different. But, at least in his mind, he has no choice. Regardless of the consequences, and even though he knows it will make him more miserable, he continues to use. The lies addiction tells him are so deeply ingrained that he believes them without question.
Despite Danny’s hopelessness, I also tried to write a novel that provides hope, because there is hope. I’ve been clean over thirty years. There are millions of people like me who finally got clean and sober, and who are now productive members of society. A lot of people don’t believe an addict can change. Even Danny doesn’t believe it at the beginning. And admittedly, it usually takes a huge upheaval, usually a terrible loss, for an addict to take the chance of really trying to get clean. Sure, they make promises. There was a period when I made such promises every day, but I almost always broke them before the day was over.
But once in a while, something changes. Something gets in through the lies, and we hear hope.
Up jumps the cute girl who read Chapter Five. She’s way too perky. I listen to see if her name is Teresa or Shawna.
“I’m Jamie and I’m an alcoholic,” she says. I wasn’t even close. Anyway, she’s way to pretty to have anything good to say. She probably sipped wine after class at the university, maybe got a DUI or something. I don’t care what she has to say, I just like the way she looks so clean. I bet she smells nice.
“Sixty-four days ago I was lying on the floor of a jail cell down the street here,” she says, gesturing. “I was puking my guts out, dope-sick, and wishing I could die. They arrested me for writing bad checks, but I don’t remember doing it,” she says. “All I know is, I was driving down PCH, and I was driving too fast because I needed to get loaded. This cop pulls me over and takes me in. My car got impounded, I lost my job, and my family wouldn’t bail me out.
“At the time, I thought it was the worst day of my life. But it wasn’t. It got worse for a couple more days. And I finally came to laying on the floor of that jail cell, covered in my own puke. That was the worst day of my life.
“When the cop came to let me out, I was crying,” she says. “I told him I didn’t know how I got that bad, and I asked him, ‘What can I do?’ He gave me some change and told me to call Alcoholics Anonymous. He even looked up the number for me. So I called. They told me there was a meeting here. I walked over from the jail. I looked like sh*t, and I was still shaking pretty bad, and I know I must have stunk. Clint was sitting in that chair right there,” she gestures toward the front row. “When he saw me come in, he came over to me and shook my hand and welcomed me. And he told me it was going to be alright.
“I didn’t believe him. But he was telling me the truth. Because, you know, my family doesn’t want to have anything to do with me now, and I still don’t have a job, and I can’t afford to get my car out of the impound yard yet, and that costs more every day. But I haven’t had to drink or use since I got out of jail. For someone like me, that’s a big deal. I haven’t had to sleep with anyone for drugs or alcohol. I haven’t woken up in a place I didn’t know, with a person whose name I couldn’t remember. That used to happen a lot. Not every day, but a lot of days.
“That cop saved my life. I don’t know how this is going to work out, but I believe it’s going to work out. Preston, you mentioned hope, and that’s become an important word to me. I know some of you guys were a lot worse than me, and this worked for you. So I know it can work for me, too. But I have to be the one who does it. No one is going to do it for me.
“Thank you,” she finishes.
The room applauds, as they always do. I find that my mouth is hanging open. I close it, and I clap too.
Somehow, I believe her. I know she didn’t just say all that for my benefit. She’s real.
But Danny doesn’t get struck sober. He struggles with his demons. Despite the mess he’s in, he’s terrified to give up the only thing that ever made him feel better. He knows he needs to get clean. But he hasn’t yet gotten to the point where he’s more afraid of using than he is of being clean.
Unfortunately, there are no guarantees when it comes to drug addicts, except one: in the absence of some kind of spiritual intervention, they will continue to do what they’ve been doing, and it will get worse. The disease of addiction is deadly, and most addicts die from it.
But there is also hope. A lot of addicts do get clean. I’m one of them.
If you want to know whether Danny is one of them, too, read the book!
Benji’s Portal tells the story of an ten-year-old boy who discovers a portal that allows him to travel anywhere in the universe. Benji Haight and his family recently moved from the city to a small town, and Benji isn’t fitting in well at his school. The kids tease him on the bus, and his only friend is another social outcast who lives nearby.
Benji’s life changes when he discovers an old homestead behind their house. The homestead includes a well, and when Benji looks into it, a mass of swirling stars rises from it.
“So tell me about your day!” Dad suggested,
“Yes, tell him about the kids on the bus,” his mother prompted.
“Okay,” Benji said, reluctantly. “These kids were teasing me about my name. They were chanting, ‘We hate Haight.’ But it was only about a dozen of the older kids, so I just ignored them. Then at school, I kicked a double at kickball, and Tommy said I was really good at kickball!”
“That’s wonderful,” his dad said. “What else did you do today?”
“I went tiger hunting,” Benji began. “Then I found a pond, and I was hunting alligators. I found an old fireplace, where people used to cook alligators. Then I found an old bottle, and I was going to bring it back to show you, but I forgot because of the stars.”
“The stars?” his mom asked.
“Yeah!” Benji continued, excitedly. “There was a well near the pond, and it was full of water. And I looked into the water and all these stars came up from the bottom. They looked like the Milky Way, and they were just swirling right there in front of me! It was really cool.”
“Hmm,” his dad said. “And this happened while you were hunting alligators?”
“Well, yes,” Benji said. “I mean, I was pretending to hunt alligators. Everyone knows there aren’t any alligators around here. Or tigers either.”
“But there were stars in this well?” his dad asked.
“Yes, Dad,” Benji confirmed. “I can show you if you want. I’d like to take you there.”
Benji’s mom gave his dad a knowing look, and then turned to Benji.
“You know, Benji,” she said, “wells can be dangerous. If you were to fall in, you would drown. I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to go back there without one of us with you.”
“Mom,” Benji protested, “I’m not going to fall in. Besides, even if I did, which I won’t, I can swim, remember?”
“But no one would know where you were,” she said. “We wouldn’t be able to come help you.”
“Your mom is right,” his dad said. “It’s best that you stay away from that well. Maybe one day you can take me there and show me what it looks like. But until then, play somewhere else, okay?”
“Okay,” Benji said, sadly. “I’ll stay away from the well.”
Of course, Benji doesn’t stay away. He soon discovers that the well is a portal, and that he’s the only one he knows who can operate it. Thus begins as series of adventures on alien worlds. But the old homestead also has ties to their family that none of them yet realizes. Benji’s ancestors were driven out of town because the residents feared they were witches. And they’re pretty sure that Benji and his family are witches, too.
Benji’s Portal is available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle editions.
One reader writes:
This is the story of a flawed character in a flawed world, trying to come to terms with the depth of his own failures. It is the story of one man’s search for redemption. Does he find it? We’ll leave that for you to decide…
This is a good read. It’s engaging, well-paced, and incredibly thought-provoking. Some books entertain and then fade away; some books stick with you long afterwards and make you think. This is one of the latter. Are there parts that made me uncomfortable? Yes. Were there situations and decisions that made me cringe? Absolutely!
Could I put it down? Nope.
I couldn’t put this down. A very inspiring story. It really made me do some soul searching. I highly recommend reading this book!
Thank you both for your praise, and for taking the time to post a review!
Steve’s Grace is free on Kindle through Friday
This week only, Steve’s Grace is available for FREE on Kindle. Download it here.
Steve’s Grace tells the story of a distinctly nonreligious man and his path back to faith. He doesn’t plan to become religious. But then, he doesn’t plan to lose four days in a blackout in Las Vegas, either. Stranded and broke, burdened with shame and guilt, and certain he’s about to lose everything important to him, he winders whether he’s been too quick to dismiss God.
I’m already a day late getting home, and I’m sicker than I can ever remember being. My chest feels like there’s an elephant sitting on it.
I don’t know when I showered last. I probably reek of sex. I know I stink of sweat. And, with no money, I don’t see how I can clean up before I get home and face Susan.
I wonder how much longer I will have a family.
I cough again, a hacking death rattle that lasts for more than a minute.
I wonder if I am dying. Have I killed myself with this latest debauch?
I wonder if Vanessa is out running up my credit card, and how I will explain that to Susan. I should call Susan and have her cancel it.
But I can’t. In my compromised state of mind, I don’t dare even hint at the truth of what’s happened for fear that Susan will read whole story from my voice.
I unzip my bag and stare at the Bible sitting there. I can’t believe I have it. I’ve never owned a Bible, and have never read the Bible. I have never possessed one any longer than necessary to remove it from a hotel room and deposit it in a trash can.
Yet there it sits, like a hot coal in my bag that I’m afraid to touch. Will it burn me for all the disrespect I’ve shown it over the years?
I pick it up, and it does not burn me. I feel the gold inlay of the cover, as if reading it in Braille. I flip it open at random, and find myself reading Psalm 119:
My soul melteth for heaviness: strengthen thou me according unto thy word. Remove from me the way of lying: and grant me thy law graciously. I have chosen the way of truth: thy judgments have I laid before me.
The way of lying, I think to myself. Is there any way out of that for me? After what I’ve done these past few days, how can I possibly be honest?
I can’t even call my wife and ask her to cancel my credit card!
But here’s the real kicker. I’ve been berating myself because, one way or another, my wife is going to find out. I’ve been berating myself not for what I did, but for not lying well enough.
“Oh, shit,” I murmur, as I begin to realize how selfish my thinking has been.
I flip to another page, and find myself reading Isaiah:
Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
I slam the book shut, close my eyes, and lean my head back, holding the book in my hands on the table. Is it possible that God forgives even the worst sinner? Is it possible that there is a way out for someone like me?
“I can give you a ride,” says a gravelly female voice.
In my present state, she sounds to me like an angel, and my eyes flick open.
She doesn’t look much like an angel. Fiftyish and overweight, her mousey-gray hair is pulled back in a pony tail. She smiles, revealing bad teeth that have seen too many years of smoking.
Still, I smile.
“Seriously?” I ask.
“Yep,” she says. “I’m headed for Long Beach.”
“That’s closer than here,” I observe.
She gazes at me appraisingly.
“You don’t have any money, do you,” she says.
I hang my head.
“No,” I admit. “It was a bad, bad weekend.”
She reaches in her pocket and pulls out a wad of bills. She peels off a few and hands them to me.
“Go take a shower,” she says. “Pay at the cashier, and they’ll give you a ticket. I’ll be right here in the food court when you’re done.”
I stare at her for a moment before taking the money.
“Thank you,” I say, gratefully.
“Oh, I’m not doing his for you,” she says, and chuckles. “We’re going to have five hours together in the truck cab. I’m doing this for me.”
Of course, the path to faith is rarely quite that simple. Steve’s doubt runs deep, and so does his denial. He’s quick to rationalize the events in Vegas as “not that bad.”
But as his memories begin to return, he realizes they were indeed that bad, and worse. He’s committed an unforgivable sin, something he never thought himself capable of. Unable to deny the horror of his actions, his brain shuts down, and Steve enters into a period of psychosis.
As he gradually heals, he explores what it means to follow God. But sometimes, the line between faith and insanity is not quite clear.
Steve’s Grace is available from Amazon in paperback or Kindle.