Friday, April 17, 2015

Grieving the Loss, Step by Step

We've all heard about the grieving process: Denial. Isolation. Anger. Bargaining. Acceptance.

Grief can be a result of many things. The loss of a loved one...the loss of something special. I know it is a step by step journey toward acceptance and letting go. I know it takes time and little things matter most. And I know it's good to have friends and family around to help make things better.

But I didn't know how deeply the grief could flow through a person's heart.

For the past several nights I have cried myself to sleep. Flashes of memories and unbidden vignettes punctuate my dreams. There are good memories and not so good ones. Some make me laugh. Some make me smile. Some make me weep, wondering how my students are doing. So many times I watch them struggle with things that are too big for their teenage shoulders to carry, and it breaks my heart.

Like the young man who came running into my room at 7:30 a.m. one morning - he'd just found out his parents were getting a divorce. His gut-wrenching sobs brought my world to a standstill...and over a decade later, I wonder how he's doing.

Or the young woman I found crying in the ladies room because she simply couldn't take the teasing and bullying anymore. Righteous anger rose up in me and I wanted to confront the "mean girls"...but she needed a shoulder more than a defender.

And there were many - so many -  desperate to fit in, being torn apart by compromise, lies and guilt. I spoke truth and prayed it would grow into revelation.

I've witnessed hundreds of young adults search for significance...for value...for assurance that someone cares. Knowing I won't be part of that process at the school where I've taught for twenty years is indescribable. Yet, I must believe I can go on and make a difference regardless of where this new path takes me. I continue to pray for all of "my kids", knowing that God watches over them now and always.

Where am I in the grieving process? I don't know how to answer that, because the ebb and flow of emotions is so unpredictable.

One step at a time...

Friday, April 10, 2015

For All My Students, Now and Then...

Teachers spend years watching students grow and, hopefully, learn. For a dedicated teacher, it is a journey of discovery and revelation. Teaching is my passion, and I have never regretted the days spent in the classroom.

Much to my profound surprise and dismay, my contract is not being renewed at the high school where I have taught for twenty years.

But I don’t want to focus on their…decision.

Rather, I want to share what my students have taught me. Some of the lessons were funny, some were difficult, and some were life-changing.

Teen culture changes quickly, and teachers who don’t keep up are left wondering what’s going on. Fads, slang words, fashion, music – it’s all important to students. Minimizing their interests to trivialities means missing out on a key part of their lives. Let’s be honest. I don’t want to listen to hours of rap or hip hop; however, I occasionally allow students to use this art form in poetry classes to show how words ebb and flow in different ways. To my surprise, some rappers have amazing things to say. Stepping into the world of my students for a brief moment is inspiring and keeps me young.

Perhaps the most significant lesson for me was learning to listen. While it sounds simple, it isn’t. Teens want to know their voice is heard and their viewpoint is valuable. Part of helping them develop strong opinions is listening to their perception of the world. I'm astounded at how simply and accurately most young adults view this complicated society. Teens are great B.S. detectors, even as they sometimes spout it themselves. When a student takes an assignment on homelessness and transforms it into a cause/effect essay with detailed solutions to the problem, I am in awe. When a student takes the time to carve a replica of Chateau d’If (the prison in Count of Monte Cristo) from solid wood, I am transported to a place of admiration and wonder.

Of course, there are humorous moments, like science projects that get in the way of my teaching. I mention this one in my recently published novel Midnight Diamonds. And then there’s the student who said he was late because his mom hadn’t dried his favorite jeans. I love hearing my students laugh at the guttural growls of Boris Karloff in the 1931 movie classic Frankenstein, or how they applaud the football captain for his creation on Snowflake Day (yes, I created a day for my high school students to make paper snowflakes and celebrate winter).

There are also days when it’s time to be quiet and sensitive to each other. We’ve had a few days like that recently…and I am humbled by my students’ outpouring of love and prayerful support. Nothing is more moving than to have a large group of students ask if they can pray for me.

Teachers should laugh with their students…cry with them…make the journey alongside them while gently guiding them. Most of all, teachers should learn from the ones they’re teaching. I am blessed to have grown by leaps and bounds with some of the most amazing young people in this world.

So, to all my students, past and present - thank you for allowing me to walk beside you on this unpredictable path called life and for providing signposts along the way.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Sassy Saturday...and Elizabeth Ellen Carter

Hello, everyone!!

I'm beginning a new feature on Baby Steps and Dreams - Sassy Saturday.
Each week I'll try to feature a new author and their works.

Today I welcome Elizabeth Ellen Carter who lives in Australia.
Recently her novel Warrior's Surrender won the Romance and Writers Down Under People's Choice Award for Best Historical novel!! What an honor!

CH: Great to have you here, Elizabeth! 

EC: Hi Cynthia. Thank you very much for the opportunity to make a guest appearance on your blog.

CH: Was there a defining moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?

EC: I think it was somewhat predestined. I always loved reading and when I was about 9 or 10 I would spend school holidays writing my own stories if I had run out of things to read. I figured the only way I could get reliably paid for writing was to work as a journalist and I managed to get an old-fashioned Jimmy Olson-style cadetship one week out of high school.
Even though it was a different form of writing, I never lost the desire to write fiction. I made a half-hearted attempt at writing a novel when I was 22 but it was nearly another 22 years later when I finally became serious about writing and finishing one.
Moonstone Obsession started with a scenario in my head which wouldn't go away. I would dream it. I knew the only way it was going to go was if I wrote it. After encouraging words from my husband I was persuaded to submit it to the Romance Writers of Australia competition for unpublished manuscripts. I was so encouraged by being short listed that I submitted my already completed manuscript to several publishers and Etopia Press thought enough of it to put it under contract.

CH:  What’s it like to immerse yourself into a story and its characters?

EC: Oh goodness, you live and breath it sometimes. Last night hubby and I were in bed talking about a particular plot development (did I mention I'm married to an amazing man?) and a few weeks ago I was at work when a scene unfolded right in front of my eyes. I had to get up from my desk and dictate the scene into my phone.
Specialising in historical romance means that research is especially important - and for me its great fun, learning about the French Revolution and counter-revolution at Vendee or the perilous relationship between Medieval England and Scotland is part of the joy.
My characters are such fun to write. Broadly speaking they are likable even if they do have some rough edges. Those edges are usually born from some hurt or pain in their past

CH: What makes a hero someone to remember?

EC: I love writing about a hero's struggle. In many respects he has a two-fronted battle. Not only does he have to overcome his personal demons in order to make a relationship with the heroine at all possible but also, there is often an external threat which can be as serious as a threat to his life or to the family and friends whom he loves or it could be his reputation at risk.
Either way a hero is someone who put the highest good against self-interest and personal gain, even if means our hero has to risk it all. Who doesn't love a man like that?

CH: How important are historical events in your stories?

EC: Very important. I try to get as accurate as I possibly can without making the novel read like a history book. Every now and again my editor will remind me not to make something a history dump. :)
I try to put people in their historical context and to me that means they are fully engaged with their world - they will talk about the events of the day, wars, politics, fashion, entertainment. As a reader I prefer historical romances which don't shy away from tackling issues instead of being all about ballgowns and bling.

CH:  How do you incorporate strong females into your stories?

EC: Actually, that's the easy part because women have always been strong. The way they manifest their strength may not be in a way that a modern woman might recognise but her strength of character, strength of mind, resilience, resourcefulness are all there. She is both a timeless woman that everyone can relate to and a woman of her time. I find great pleasure in bringing her world to life.

CH: I have no doubt many, many readers will become immersed in the beautiful world of Warrior's Surrender. Thanks again, Elizabeth, for taking time to share your words and heart.
Here's an excerpt from Warrior's Surrender

A shared secret from their past could destroy their future…
Northumbria, 1077. In the years following William the Conqueror’s harrying of the North, Lady Alfreya of Tyrswick returns to her family home after seven years in exile. But instead of returning victorious as her dead father had promised, she returns defeated by Baron Sebastian de la Croix, the Norman who rules her lands.
To save her gravely ill brother’s life, Alfreya offers herself hostage to her enemy. As Alfreya gets to know her new husband, she finds he’s not the monster she feared, and their marriage of convenience soon becomes a bond of passion. But Sebastian is a man with a secret—one that could destroy him.
As a series of brutal murders haunt their nights, the man who betrayed Alfreya’s father returns claiming to be her betrothed. He has learned Sebastian’s secret and will use it to further his own ambition—using Sebastian’s own family—which will destroy Sebastian and mark him a traitor, and plunge an unprepared England into war with the Scots…

By the light of the fire she could see the abandoned chair. To see the second chair Frey must peer around the door.
It too was empty.
Frey frowned. Did she doze and Sebastian slipped past her unseen? She took a further step or two into the room and looked.
The bed was…
Before Frey could complete the thought, she was grabbed roughly from behind and held firmly against a man’s broad chest. A large hand covered her mouth and suppressed an involuntary scream.
The man recognised her and relaxed but did not remove his hand.
You picked the wrong night to slit my throat while I slept, princess.”
Sebastian’s whispered voice filled her ear. He held her still for long moments before speaking.
Are you recovered? You will not scream?”
Frey nodded and shook her head in answer to each question and she was released, her heart pumping furiously.
Do you suggest I pick some other night then?” she said, wiping her mouth to rid the sensation of his hand.
Sebastian ignored her barb and poured a small measure of spiced wine into his goblet. He handed it to her and watched as she drank.
Why do you assume the worst of me?” she asked.
Habit,” he answered, arms folded across his chest. “Now tell me what you’re doing in my chambers while others sleep.”
I have to speak to you.”
Sebastian’s eyebrows rose in surprise. It might have been scepticism, but Frey couldn’t be sure.
And it couldn’t wait until morning?”
All of a sudden Frey’s courage left her and she wondered if her senses had taken leave of her too.
She was an unmarried woman, alone, late at night in the bed chamber of a man whose mere presence made her feel powerful sensations that she struggled to understand. What on earth was she doing?
She shook her head softly.
This was a mistake.”
As she turned to leave, Sebastian grabbed her wrist.  
It’s a mistake to not finish what you start.”

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