Book Review: Wild at Heart by John Eldredge

 

‘’Why does God create Adam? What is a man for? If you know what something is designed to do, then you know its purpose in life. A retriever loves water, a lion loves the hunt, a hawk loves to soar. It’s what they’re made for. Desire reveals design, and design reveals destiny’’ – John Eldredge

Often, I notice how men in all spheres of life are seemingly floating away like a lost buoy swayed by high vicious seas, lacking a sense of purpose due to a loss in support or poor foundations. Whatever floats your boat is the term most applicable to modern day men, pursuing those things that appeal most to their own desires – which isn’t wrong, not in the slightest.

What is it that makes your heart race? Tell me… does working a 9-5 truly satisfy your soul?

I love how John Eldredge relates the relevant beasts of the land to their purpose and what appeals to their inner most being; ‘’Desire reveals design, and design reveals destiny.’’ I am a firm believer in this statement, speak to anyone for longer than 10 minutes and you’ll understand what it is that they’re most passionate about, you’ll notice how their pupils dilate, how their engagement in the conversations begins to heighten. It is not wrong to want to pursue that. I certainly would find little joy in working a 9-5 that steals all my joy and happiness.

‘’For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus’’ (Romans 6:10-11).

If we are being continuously transformed and pursuing Christ, our desires will be for his Kingdom. Let’s face it, our hearts are corrupted, we were born into sin, but Christ provided an option, we can either seek to benefit ourselves in and through our desires, or benefit the kingdom, each will bear its own fruit. You cannot choose to benefit God’s Kingdom and continue to pursue unrighteousness. The point I’m trying to make is: we were created with personality and individuality.

‘’You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!’’ (Psalm 139:13-14).

I truly believe that God has fashioned us in the most beautiful and diverse way possible. But how is the mandate of the kingdom applicable to my individuality?

‘’For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell’’ (Philippians 1:21-22).

Paul’s single objective was to pursue a life that brought fruit to God’s Kingdom, regardless of his personality, he made his personal desires that of furthering the Kingdom, and so should we. All else will inevitably correlate when we pursue Christ first.

Men, your purpose is not to float away. Your purpose is to pursue a life that involves every bit of Christ in it as possible. Take courage, stand strong.

Jacques.

+ + +

 

As a woman, it didn’t occur to me at first to read Wild at Heart by John Eldredge. I had read Captivating by John and his wife, Stasi, and it had had a profound impact on me. It was only when my dad suggested that I read Wild at Heart in order to understand the men in my life better. Even before I met my man, it gave me some valuable insights into men and from that time on I started practising.

Let me explain. A lot of concepts that work in romantic relationships also work in any male/female relationship. I could try out these new revelations on my dad, brother, guy friends . . . the list was endless. Why not form good habits early?

The core of a man’s heart is undomesticated and that is good.
– John Eldredge, p. 4

One of the biggest things Wild at Heart taught me as a woman was create space for your man. Allow him to be who he is: wild, strong, deeply masculine, capable, wanting to rescue and provide. True masculinity is not something to be afraid of or annoyed by.

Society at large can’t make it up its mind about men. Having spent the last thirty years redefining masculinity into something more sensitive, safe, manageable and, well, feminine, it now berates men for not being men.
– John Eldredge, p. 7

Men were created to reflect aspects of God’s heart in a unique way.  They reflect his strength, his desire to pursue, his eyes of fire (spoken about in Revelation 1), and his rescuing, protective, cherishing heart.

“Where are all the real men?” is the regular fare for talk shows and new books. You asked them to be women, I want to say. The result is a gender confusion never experienced at such a wide level in the history of the world.
-John Eldredge, p. 7

But what do we do as women that squash men, make them shrink back? Those were the things that I was paying attention to as I read. And how could I not do them?

There are three desires I find written so deeply into my heart I know now I can no longer disregard them without losing my soul. They are core to who and what I am and yearn to be. I gaze into boyhood, I search the pages of literature, I listen carefully to many, many men, and I am convinced these desires are universal, a clue into masculinity itself. They may be misplaced, forgotten or misdirected, but in the heart of every man is a desperate desire for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.
– John Eldredge, p. 9

I want the men around me to be free to be who they were created to be. The kind of men that make heaven rejoice and the world a better replace. Because just as much as it needs women, the world needs men. True, godly, strong men with lion hearts.
Lil.

Where to buy . . .

 

Sincerely,

Jacques and Lil

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Image: http://www.livewithpurposecoaching.com/blog/review-wild-at-heart/

Book recommendation: Captivating

Do you ever feel that you are “too much” and “not what you should be”?

The non-fiction book that has probably impacted me the most is this book Captivating, written by a Christian married couple, John and Stasi Eldredge. The introduction alone had me in tears.

It began to answer the question: “What does it mean to be a woman?” As someone with identity issues, this text spoke to me in a way that I had never experienced before.

This book, written from the perspective of both husband and wife, is not mainly a book about marriage. It is a book about being a woman – and for me has been anointed. The best way to describe it is that it tore me down and then built me back up, from the very foundations.

Captivating has brought me to tears (eye-swelling, gut-wrenching, soul tears) where wounds so deep—some I didn’t even know existed—got brought into the spotlight. Reading it was very painful at times but I finished the last page a different woman because God used these words to minister to my soul.

I don’t like sounding so dramatic, because people often say about books and movies, “This will change your life!” And I promise I am receiving no money to promote this book. But the fact that I have bought or recommended it for close to 10 people already shows how relevant I find it. If you’ve talked to me about self-esteem or identity issues you’ve probably already heard me mention it.

I know I am not alone in this nagging sense of failing to measure up, a feeling of not being good enough as a woman. Every woman I’ve ever met feels it—something deeper than just the sense of failing at what she does. An underlying, gut feeling of failing at who she is.  I am not enough, and I am too much at the same time. Not pretty enough, not thin enough, not kind enough … But too emotional, too needy, too sensitive, too strong … The result is Shame, the universal companion of women. It haunts us, nipping at our heels, feeding on our deepest fear that we will end up abandoned and alone.
– Stasi Eldredge, pp. 230-131 (Wild at Heart and Captivating, 2005)

Why does this get to us? Because we have believed some lies in our lives, some at a very young age. And they have poisoned our hearts. Jesus wants to draw the poison out of us, the things that paralyse us, and bring us out into his glorious freedom. Because we were created for wide open spaces, for beauty and intimacy, not for shame, and self-loathing and fear.

Trust me I have lived on the one side, and am learning to live on the other. And I am so thankful to a couple who were obedient to God when he surely said, “I want to bring some freedom to some of my precious daughters through you.”

What is at the core of a woman’s heart? What are her desires? What did we long for as little girls? What do we still long for as women? And, how does a woman begin to be healed from the wounds and tragedies of her life?
– Stasi Eldredge, p. 224 (Wild at Heart and Captivating, 2005)

John and Stasi don’t claim to answer every question, but they have grasped something true and powerful in the heart of a woman that has often been lost, hidden or crushed. And it is something that the world desperately needs.

~~~

From a man’s perspective:
Q: Would you say it’s beneficial at all to read Captivating as a man? If yes, how so?
A: I’d say yes. Captivating reassured me of a lot of things I had been told about women – growing up with two women in the house, I had never fully noticed things that Captivating spoke about. I think it’s beneficial because it helps you understand just how important a man’s role is, and how it is in a woman’s core to be loved and desired.
– Jacques

Where to buy . . .

Sincerely,
Lil and Jacques

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Image: http://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1442893930i/11413._UY500_SS500_.jpg

Taking it to the Streets

“Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.”
– Luke 14:21 (NIV)

 

It started with a video. Or, thinking further back, maybe it was a book. And before that it was a feeling, a soft call brought on by bits of conversation strung together over a number of years.

A lot of Christians think that working for the church full-time is what their end-game is, or should be. But for me it was always the marketplace, the streets. Beckoning to me. All the hurt and broken people crying out for a saviour, if only they could know His name. Know that Jesus wasn’t just a curse word, and that the church wasn’t only made up of bricks and timber. That the person they cried out for, from the moment of their birth, was not only their creator, but had been the silent (or sometimes not so silent) presence beside them during every moment since then.

The streets. Such a daunting place in various ways. So I prayed for a week straight. For protection for our youth group. And, in the end, it’s a good thing I did. I also prayed for opportunities. For us, and specifically me (the one whose idea it had been) not to fall on our faces.

Eight of us went out, just enough to fit into one of the parents’ people movers. We met and prayed beforehand, to hear direction and also just to focus. On went the worship music and almost as soon as I closed my eyes I saw a picture of a blonde lady in a white t-shirt sitting down with a little dog, like it had been waiting for me. I meditated on that to see if the picture would change but it just got clearer.

I also saw a picture of a big, dark guy (I thought possibly Islander) on crutches with a cast on his ankle.

When I asked the group what they’d seen, there was some confirmation. Tristan had seen a big Sudanese guy on crutches with a cast, while Holly had seen a picture of an ankle with something wrong with it. We were definitely onto something here. Confirmation like that can often build faith because people who are learning to hear God know that it‘s not just their own thoughts (ever wondered that?).

One of the girls had also gotten a picture of a bridge, and somehow, all of us knew before she explained which one she meant. The bridge that I had been told not to walk on, under or near, even during broad daylight. Brilliant.

With genuine fear in our hearts, but just a smidge more of faith, we piled into the Kia and drove towards the centre of town. On one of the main roads I glanced to the left while driving and freaked out because sitting there was a blonde lady in a white t-shirt with a little dog. Such a calm, collected leader I screeched, “What do I do?” and sped up to the normal speed again before someone suggested that I pull over into a side street.

A few seconds’ hesitation in the car at 60 kilometres per hour meant at least a 200 metre walk back to where this lady was (I guess those old “wipe off five” ads from TAC had a really valid point). It’s crazy how even when something has been your idea, you can still freak out in the moment. I asked for someone to go with me and one of our young men volunteered. The rest of the youth group agreed to pray while we approached this lady to say God only knew what, literally.

As we strolled towards her, trying to act casual, I kept praying, “Lord, now would be a great time for you to tell me what you want me to say to her.” By the time we had reached her all I had was “hi”. So I went with that (they don’t call it faith for nothing).

 

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”
– Luke 5:31 (NIV)

 

I looked a little closer and started to feel a lot less self-conscious as compassion filled me. This lady was middle aged, sitting on the grass on the side of the road, leaning against a bus stop sign, crying. I had my second confirmation. Lord, you care for the broken ones, I thought.

We started speaking to her, asking her if she was okay and what was wrong. Through apologetic tears she explained that her husband had left her, her son was no longer speaking to her, and her grown up daughter had just kicked her out of the house.

As our hearts broke for her the words started to come. We told her that we were Christians and that as we had been praying only 20 minutes ago, God had shown me a picture of her and her little dog. I told her, “Jesus loves you and he cares enough about you to highlight you to me today. He sees you and cares about the pain you’re going through.”

When we asked if we could pray for her, she said yes and asked that we also pray for the young people in the community because she saw a lot of things that troubled her. So we prayed a simple prayer for her, her situation, and the community. Most importantly I asked for revelation for her of who Jesus is and what he’s done for her.

As we walked back towards the car (she was heading the same way as us) the boy with me felt prompted to offer to buy her a meal. She graciously said no, for what reason we don’t know. This can be disheartening but the most important thing is that if you hear God’s voice, you say yes to him and step out in obedience. For this guy, offering the meal was all he had to do; it wasn’t his responsibility how she responded. God knows whether maybe she just needed to hear that offer of generosity.

Back into the car we got and drove in the direction of the shady bridge, everyone scanning the streets for a dark guy on crutches, keeping our ears pricked should heaven chose to intervene with any new people as well.

Not seeing anyone on our way who either matched that description or jumped out at us, we parked near the bridge.

By this time it was starting to get dark. We looked down under the bridge (there is a very small river there and a lot of grass) and saw a big pack of teenagers and young adults having a loud, drunken party. I quickly consulted the other adults in the group whether they thought we should go ahead, then asked Lucas to lead the way. We decided, let’s just go for a walk, as a group, in that area and see if we see the guy from our visions. If not, we would go home. We were as comfortable as could be with that plan considering the circumstances.

We walked slowly along with much trepidation, praying and attempting to spot this guy if he was here, while simultaneously trying to avoid direct eye contact with any people in this group that outnumbered us by at least four times.

 

“It is not my heavenly Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish.”
– Matthew 18:14 (ESV)

 

And who should we find under the bridge but a tall, Sudanese young man on crutches, with a cast on his ankle, separated a little from his three friends, about 50 metres away from the party? We were in the right place.

About three of our cluster, comprising the two other kids who had received part of the prophetic picture, approached him. A young girl and her baby walked away with the pram as she saw us approaching, stopping to watch from a presumably safe distance.

I don’t know the first part of the conversation, having stayed behind with the bigger group to pray and try not to look suspicious. Soon enough, they motioned for us to join because the boy had invited them over to meet his friends.

He was blind drunk (somehow not falling off his crutches) but we weren’t discouraged. How else do you expect to find displaced youth on a Friday night who are in need of a touch from God? Sometimes you need to go out and seek the ones who would never step foot in a church, like Jesus did.

Some of us were speaking to him while others were chatting to his friends, one of which had read a lot of the bible and was quite the theological debater. One of the girls was carrying a much-loved, well-worn bible which the young man picked up and began to read aloud all the highlighted passages (there was a lot).

“Wow!” he said. “This is powerful stuff!” He looked up at the owner of the bible. “Can I keep this?”

Smiling, she asked him to hand her the bible and said, “Can I show you something?” Opening the front cover of the bible she read aloud from the inscription page, “To the person whom Jesus loves.” She smiled again. Six months earlier, after she had gotten back from an overseas mission trip, her grandma had prophesied that she would give that bible away. Borrowing a pen from me, she requested his name and wrote it in the front cover, under the inscription.

A group of us prayed over him for healing, and to receive the Holy Spirit and a revelation of who Jesus is. He hugged us all goodbye—it was fully dark by this time—and we walked back safely to our car. Thank you, Jesus.

Sometimes when doing this kind of thing, people can feel pressure to witness to a certain amount of people, or see people saved and changed in an instant. But often that is for a sense of validation or success, and Jesus calls us to go out and sow the seeds (remember that the farmer sowed on all kinds of ground). That night we simply made ourselves available to God and said, “Jesus, what are you doing in our community tonight? We want in.”

 

Sincerely,
Lil

Okay


Short Story by Lil Williams
Jared ran until his vision blurred, until his ability to breathe at quarter capacity was about used up, until he thought he’d drown in his own sweat. The sun and the footpath had assaulted his skinny legs and joints, all the while his ‘below average’ in PE stood mocking him. He would never run again by choice. 

Why did all the streets look the same? He turned around and doubled back a block, sure that he’d just missed a landmark that he recognised. The dog had moved. Not quite a landmark he had to admit, but memorable just the same. Jared never did forget a good set of teeth, even on a canine. Which house, though?

“Here, boy,” he called and whistled as he looked around. Ah, sweet suburbia. He yanked his hand back over the fence as the dog tried to take a chunk out of his hand.

***

Jared kept his eyes down, watching the linoleum floor whizz past. People probably weren’t staring but it was embarrassing anyway. He’d like to meet the person who invented the wheel chair rule when you’re exiting the hospital (even for a mental health issue) and give them a piece of his mind. These insurance schemes were some kind of sick joke. How can a person be deemed wheelchair reliant one second and totally fine the second they hit the hospital carpark? You’re on your own, buddy. Flawless logic. 

As soon as the car door slammed, he ripped the name bracelet off and slipped it out the crack at the top of the window. If only he could get rid of all the evidence that easily. Jared imagined the response of the kids at school next week. His mum kept assuring him that everyone would understand and that they would all welcome him back with open arms. He nodded and smiled to make her feel better, honouring the unspoken agreement amongst teenagers. 

***

He was running out of time. A guy’s life was hanging in the balance and he couldn’t find the damn house. Jared stood staring at the dog, out of biting range, and chewing his own lip. He pressed his temple. His mind could still bring forth a vague picture of the house, an image from a long ago birthday party, tinged with the filter of childhood innocence. Had he ever looked at the letter box? Fifty-something? Or did it end in a five? Jared could remember the colours of the balloons hanging from the letter box—blue and green—but nothing that would actually help him now. He wound the drawstring of his jacket around his index finger until it began to cut off circulation. He set off running again. He was sure it was this street. He would check every house. Time to ditch the jacket.

***

 Alex sat on the edge of the bath tub, willing himself to walk out of the room. Talking himself into staying. Trying to convince himself that what he was about to do was his only choice. A slip of the knife, or a gulp of the pills. A tug of the noose, maybe, but that required more work. A millisecond of courage. That was all it took. He reread the note then folded it gently, neatly, on the bathroom bench. 

I couldn’t go on like this. I’m sorry Mum, Dad, Jessie. I love you all, and I’ll see you again one day.
- Alex

Short and sweet. So why the hesitation?

***

The one with the dog. Of course. Jared rubbed his hands together. Alrighty, then. He reached slowly into his pocket for the squashed, more than slightly melted, Kinder Surprise as the dog spat and growled at him. The stained teeth its curling lip revealed looked like they could still do the job. “Here you go.” Jared offered the kinder surprise. His phone buzzed in his pocket, diverting his attention for just long enough to remember the following phrase: Mom says chocolate isn’t good for dogs. . . . Jared snatched it back into his pocket. Damn.

Distraction was his only option left. He wasn’t exactly a dog whisperer. Jared threw the kinder surprise to the right side of the yard, hoping to land it outside the fence, just beyond Lassie’s reach, and prepared to make a run for it. He’d beg his legs for forgiveness later.

He reached the door without tripping more than once, and tugged at the fly screen as the dog raced back, teeth bared and aimed at his bum.

“It’s the postie!” he yelled, pulling at the door handle, as he saw a curtain flutter to the left. His social life was over. 
***

Alex looked the same as everyone else. Maybe Jared had read the signs wrong. I mean, Alex was basically top of the food chain at Westlake High School. The lion. And lions didn’t think suicidal thoughts, or do suicidal things, to Jared’s knowledge at least. Yet he had cleared out his locker completely. Everything, even the girly pictures tacked to the door. It was a lot of effort to go to, just for the weekend. If Alex wasn’t a lion, Jared would say that he was identical in some ways to himself, the runt zebra of the school yard. 

Jared thought back to a Friday afternoon last year when he had cleared out his own locker, carefully, considerately. He hadn’t received any concerned or even curious questions. Not one person had even asked what, or why. Their eyes had slid over him as if asking a question was too much effort, on to the next thing with vague hopes that he would be okay. The few people Jared had taken pains to hide this from had not seen him with his arms full. ‘

Jared would watch Alex sometimes in homeroom, or P.E., and wonder what his life was like. He thought being that popular must come with a certain amount of pressure, which he didn’t envy, but surely it had its perks too. Jared was pretty sure Alex didn’t think about him, at least not anymore. 

They had never been friends, as such. But there was a time when they had been friendly over a joint history assignment. It was the only time Jared had ever been to Alex’s house, apart from the primary school party. Alex’s mum had apparently made him invite the whole class so Jared didn’t consider his invitation too special. 

Jared now watched Alex laugh as one of his muscular friends punched him playfully in the shoulder, every bit the high school cliché. 

According to the rumour mill, Alex had been in some kind of accident while up on the Sunshine Coast over summer break. He’d apparently been water skiing or something with a bunch of his mates and gotten some kind of injury, presumably serious. Word gets around. But when he came back all seemed to be well, with the exception of sitting out in P.E. for the first four weeks. But Alex kept on smiling. What didn’t get around was what exactly the injury was.

“What are you looking at, Jareldine?” asked Alex’s friend, Ben, with a smirk that Jared wished he had the nerve to wipe off the guy’s face. How original, Jared thought, but averted his eyes quickly. 

There had to be another reason. And yet, empty lockers spoke for themselves.
***

Alex grabbed his phone off the edge of the basin and plugged in his headphones. Something to make the room feel less silent, and judging. He surveyed his options laid out on the vanity and slowly inched his hand towards the knife, stolen from the second kitchen drawer. His fingers trembled as he shuffled his palm up toward it like an awkward army crawl. It seemed like a quick option, and not at all girly. And tile didn’t stain. 

His dad would be home first. He wanted to spare his mum and Jessie. He quickly reached over for the pen and added, “This is not your fault” in messy letters to his note. There was a crash outside and Callie was barking. He listened for a moment, popping one of the earphones out. Was that someone outside the house? But Callie stopped barking, and he couldn’t hear anything else. Great, now he was paranoid. What time did his dad say he’d be home again? Pulling the knife into his lap, he refocused. This time he was not just messing around.
***

        Jared waited primly outside the sick bay, trying not to look like he was listening to the conversation through the door, but truth be told he’d always been an awful eavesdropper. And he couldn’t help himself if people were going to raise their voices. People walked by to and from the school office.

“This really is a worry, son. Legally I should report this, ‘specially since it looks self-inflicted. An accident? Come on, I wasn’t born yesterday. At least let me call your parents.” A pause. “They’re not home? Well, when are they home?” An indistinct murmur. “Ah . . . I see. Well, go back to class for now, but I expect to see you next week.”

Alex Grayson opened the door, looking both ways then locking eyes on Jared. Jared stared so hard to the left that he thought he’d give himself a crick, but before he’d looked away they’d both registered the mutual surprise. Alex readjusted his long left sleeve ever so slightly but the movement caught Jared’s eye. A fresh bandage winked at him before disappearing behind navy cotton blend. 

“What are you doing here?” The nurse had opened the door behind him. “Alex,” she jerked her head. “Class, if you don’t mind?” She eyed Jared. “And you?”

Jared held up his right index finger, a few drops of blood dripping half-heartedly down it. “It’s nothing. Miss Crandie didn’t want blood on my essay, that’s all.” He tried smiling to take away the awkwardness, but had always had a tendency to increase rather than lessen awkward situations.

The nurse leaned back into the room without taking her hand off the door frame—inhospitable body language if Jared ever saw some—and he heard her mutter, “And you think iPads in schools these days would at least reduce the papercut rates . . .” She shoved a band aid in Jared’s direction with a humph. 

“I know,” he said, jerking his head to the right. “Class.”
***

The 6 o’clock news ended while his dad grunted over the newspaper. At the table, Alex glared down at his half written English essay and tried to tune out the new program that was starting. One of those A Current Affair type shows, where they bring the ‘real issues’ to light for the world to gasp and marvel over.

A woman was being interviewed, some kind of doctor. “Is it true that your research has proven a strong link between the repression of male emotion in the western world and a higher rate of suicide?” Focus on Shakespeare. This Macbeth was a real bastard. A hot flush crept up Alex’s neck. “Men, especially teenagers, need to feel that they are allowed to be struggling. Allowed to ask for help.” Who were the three witches again? Thank goodness for Sparknotes. 

“Turn this rubbish off,” his dad said, gesturing an impatient hand toward the flat screen TV, even though he was closest to it. He turned the page of his newspaper.

Alex’s mum hesitated as she looked between the television and her husband. Her words “I think it’s interesting” were lost in the sound of him slapping the paper down on the coffee table with a sudden smile. Alex slouched lower in his chair, picking at the table’s reclaimed wood.

“What’s for dinner?” His dad approached the table and glanced over Alex’s shoulder at Macbeth. “What rot. Haven’t they found something better to read by now?” He mussed Alex’s hair as Alex laughed half-heartedly, but the words of the television doctor repeated in his head.
***

Three simple words. Are you okay? It shouldn’t have been that hard to say them, and yet it was. Jared imagined all the possible humiliating responses, especially if Alex’s friends had been around. But weren’t those three words the very thing that Alex needed? The words that, if spoken, could have averted disaster. But he couldn’t find the courage, and so stayed dangerously silent. He’d let Alex walk away with his stack of books, just like his fellow students had done the previous year to him. He felt haunted by his own hypocrisy as he fiddled with the fly screen door. Was it locked from the inside or just stuck? He jiggled it with more force, no longer caring if ‘property damager’ was part of the label beside his name. It could join the line behind words like ‘loser’, and ‘gay’.
***

“But it was just water skiing. A few stitches, laying off exercise for a while, sure, but I swear I’m fine.”

“Alex, I know it’s hard to accept.” The doctor clasped his hands and unclasped them on the desk, his words aggravatingly slow. Like that would somehow make this easier. “And while, yes, physically you will heal, this is something that I’m afraid is not going to bounce back.”

“You’re sure?” Alex gripped the sides of his shorts, wiping off the sweat. “I don’t believe you.”

“Yes. I’m sorry, son. Having kids is—would have been—a long way off though. Most guys your age haven’t really thought about this stuff yet.”

But Alex had. And telling Kelsey was something he couldn’t even bear the thought of. 

“Your mum says you’ve been battling with a bit a bit of depression and anxiety lately . . .” The sentence hung in the air; an invitation to bear his soul.

“Look I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but I’m fine. Thanks though.”
***

Jared was in a real panic now. He shook the screen door furiously. Was he already too late? He hadn’t seen that curtain flutter again, and there was obviously no one else home. If there had been, they would have come out several minutes ago, demanding to know what the hell this skinny stranger was doing on their veranda. He’d found a broom leaning up against the front of the house to ward off the dog, but he was out of kinder surprises and Lassie had already gotten two decent nips in. 

“I’m trying to help,” he grunted to her as he gave the heave that finally unstuck the door—or broke its lock. Evidently the family relied heavily on the fly screen door, because the actual door was unlocked. He fell through the doorway, panting, and shut the door in the dog’s face, not caring for the moment if he squashed her nose. He wondered if this was what having a heart attack felt like, but it was no time for speculating. Jared opened one door, surprising an already frightened tabby cat, then another. “Alex?” Nothing. He strode through a vaguely familiar living room. What if his instincts were off? Would he get done for breaking and entering? No time. He followed the passage way. Past an empty bedroom that he presumed was Alex’s. The contents of his locker were spilled across the bed and water skis sat skewwhiff on a shelf above the desk. How was this going to go down? They weren’t even friends. He faced two closed doors at the end of the hallway.

“Alex?” He tried again. “It’s me, Jared. From school. I just thought . . .”

His hand trembled on the door handle for a second. He thrust open the door as the knife clattered to the tiled bathroom floor. 

“What the?” Alex Grayson looked up in about as much shock as a person could be in. “What are you doing here?” His face was unusually pale and his hair was sticking a bit to his clammy forehead. Jared looked at Alex’s muscular forearm, the scars making a trail right down to his wrist. 

Jared turned his own arm skinny arm around and offered it to Alex. “Um, I saw you clear out your locker yesterday and I just came to ask you something.”

A life or death situation

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Being an Australian, it’s not often I face life or death situations. In fact, it’s pretty rare.
In a country so safe, a lot of young people think they’re going to die when they choose to. I can understand why. I don’t see people dying in the streets or war tearing my nation apart. It’s not a common occurrence to have your car held up at gun point, and often the unspoken expectation is that we are guaranteed our full life expectancy. In many cases this is true with our public health system having the crisis of too many people living too long.

But every day we face a life or death situation that a lot of people are completely unaware of. And it starts and ends with a choice.

If you live in a Western nation, the chances are you’ve heard about God and Jesus, and this thing called ‘the gospel.’ But what actually is it? What does it mean when someone says they are a Christian? What does this man Jesus, or the person of God mean for you? Why should you even care?

Here are some verses from the Bible and a bit of explanation to unpack what it means in a simple way. You can decide for yourself whether it applies to you.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  John‬ ‭3:16‬

That’s the first thing. God created you and loved you before you were born.

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven (except Jesus) given to mankind by which we must be saved.”Acts‬ ‭4:12‬

I’ve heard more than once before that there are many ways to heaven and all religions are essentially worshiping the same God. It sounds nice, but it’s not true according to the Bible. A relationship with creator God is available to everyone because God’s word says that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Acts 2:21),” but there are not multiple routes.

Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).”

One day as Jesus is travelling with his disciples (followers) he asks them, “Who do people say I am?”

They reply, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asks. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answers, “You are the Messiah (Mark 8:27-29).”
It’s a question to ponder.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).”

A lot of people say that they’re a good person and so a good God wouldn’t send them to hell, but God doesn’t rank sin on a scale. That’s a human tendency. And his definition of good is perfection.

Even Jesus himself says, “Why do you call me good? No one is good — except God alone (Mark 10:18).”

But salvation is not based on your “good deeds” or brownie points, but your relationship with the person of Jesus Christ.

“This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Jesus Christ in his physical body (Jesus dying on the cross). As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault (Colossians 1:21-22).”

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).”

In this unequal exchange we give Jesus all our dirty laundry and he gives us a whole new life and right standing with God.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).”

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9).”

It’s that easy. The gospel is simple enough for a child to understand.

“Each of you must repent of your sins (turn from them and think differently) and turn to God, and be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2:38

Choosing Jesus means a new way of life.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).”

So many people think that they have to say no to everything from then on or that Jesus steals your fun but the Word says that it’s Satan who comes to steal, kill and destroy, but that Jesus came so that we could have LIFE, and have it in it’s fullest measure.

Whether we like thinking about it or not, we will all die one day and stand before God’s judgement seat. With Jesus, we are completely justified. Without him, we stand alone. It’s completely up to us.

This free gift of salvation is available to everyone but only through one means. You have to believe in Jesus and give your heart to him to receive it. I can’t make the decision for anyone. You have to choose for yourself.

So who do you say Jesus is?
Sincerely,

Lil

The Tourist or the Traveller


The tourist or the traveller. The onlooker or the connecter. Touring is seeing things from the outside. A big double decker red bus to take you past Big Ben and the London Bridge. Take a picture, tick another thing off the list. Sometimes even underwhelmed because of all the hype. A portrait of you (and 35 other people) in front of Buckingham Palace. 
Travelling is experiential. 

While touring is really fun, what I’d trade it for in a heart beat is relationship. In order to get “inside” a country you need to connect with its people. People are what make me come alive, and who would have thought that a family I hadn’t seen for nine years (and had only known five days before being apart almost a decade) would touch my heart so much in the span of an afternoon. 

If all you’ve ever done is see the sights, and not taken the time to engage with the people, you’re missing out on the best part of travel. 

Because people take a little piece of you, and they give a piece in return. Not even the top attraction can do that. It’s amazing to find that sitting on the train back to London I’m thinking more about the contents of a poem written and published by a little girl in Grade 4 than all the sights I saw yesterday. 

It doesn’t take long, but extraordinary people can touch your heart in the briefest time together. Whether it’s having tea and cake at a strawberry cafe or having to go to the bathroom in the forest on the way to visit Roald Dahl’s grave (England, what do you have against bathrooms?) or strolling along a village street in the rain with a dripping dog that currently looks like a (cute) rat and smells wet, it all counts. 

There’s nothing wrong with double decker buses, or walking tours or theme parks. They’re all lovely. But tomorrow, next month, they are gone. People crowd into your heart, in ones and twos, to stay, and to keep it warm. They line the walls to make us strong, and soft, just as we should be. 

Novels for Kids

 

If you’re looking for some books for your kids to read, have a look at 8 recommendations that I absolutely loved as a kid (sorry if there is a girly bias).

45 + 47 Stella St

  1. 45 + 47 Stella Street
    Author: Elizabeth Honey
    Ages 8-12 years

Reading this as a kid and not fully understand the line between an author and a narrator, I got a little confused for the first few chapters as to who actually wrote the book, Elizabeth or Henni. You can imagine a kid sitting there at the kitchen table scribbling it out because the voice is so authentic. The storyline, quirky dialogue and overuse of punctuation like the exclamation mark makes this one of my most fun reads to date. Henni and her group of friends spy on their new neighbours whom they nickname the Phonies and the childlike portrayal of the situation is so relatable, despite how ridiculous it is. You can read it in a couple of days (or one day if you have absolutely nothing else to do).

Peter Pan

  1. Peter Pan
    Author: J.M. Barrie
    Age 8 +

According to several websites as well as personal experience, this classic works best as a book to be read aloud. I read this to my youngest sister a while back. It’s a story of an incredible journey that had both of us in literal tears on the last page. Prepare for more emotion than the Disney movie gives you, and for more layers to the characters and themes, which is why Peter Pan is so brilliant. The language and style of writing you don’t see very often anymore, and it combines aesthetic qualities with humour. Peter is probably my favourite fictional character because of the complexity of his desires and the myths surrounding his origins. While a child will understand the basic storyline, modern children might need certain things explained to them.

anne of green gables

  1. Anne of Green Gables
    Author: L. M. Montgomery
    Ages 8 +

Reading Anne of Green Gables is in some ways like reading about myself, sans the carrot-red hair. Her passion for life, her creativity, independence as well as fierce loyalty and temper are all part of her charm. But probably the most inspiring thing about her is her ability to affect positive change in people and situations around her. She can turn the dullest person in the room into the life of the party (besides herself) and befriend the toughest, harshest person. To this day, Gilbert Blythe is my favourite male lead in a novel (sorry Mr Darcy) because of his schoolboy charm and his singlemindedness in pursuing Anne.

hodder-the-naughtiest-girl-in-the-school

  1. The Naughtiest Girl in the School
    Author: Enid Blyton (part of series)
    Ages 6 +

Let’s be honest, anything by Enid Blyton is brilliant. The woman was a genius (although does anyone else wonder how she had the time to write as many books as she did?). From the Secret Seven, to the Famous Five, to the adventure series, 5 Find-outers and Dog, Mallory Towers, St. Claires, Mr Twiddle and Mr Pink Whistle and not forgetting Naughty Amelia Jane, Blyton had some pretty famous hits stored in her imagination. Enid Blyton is the author who got me into the genre of mystery and formed the basis of my love for reading. Her books are easy to read, and you could begin at 6 years old for her simple ones, or even younger if you’re being read to.

diary-young-girl-anne-frank

  1. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
    Author: Anne Frank
    Ages 10 +

Where to begin? This text is unique in many ways. It is an irreplaceable snapshot of history through the eyes of one of its victims, like a still photograph in a moment of time. This diary is written entirely without hindsight or the hindrance of adult editing. Anne’s raw reflections and discoveries as she lives in a secret annex above an office in Amsterdam during World War II is informative, as well as heart-warming (and breaking). Be prepared to be attached to this little girl as you view the effects of the Nazi regime on its primary targets. Another way this text is unique is the way that Anne often side-lines major historical events in favour of recounting her latest interaction with the hunky Peter Van Daan. Her innocence is contrasted with what you know must be coming and this diary allows you to see feel the injustice of so many lives cut short. I feel like reading this was a rite of passage for me.

little house

  1. Little House on the Prairie
    Author: Laura Ingalls Wilder (part of series)
    Age 8 + (to read alone)

My mum read the whole series to my sister and I when we were younger and I loved learning about the American pioneers through the eyes of a child (with the hindsight and detail of an adult). The three of us rode the emotional roller coaster of the Ingalls family and learnt things like how to make a football out a pig’s bladder, smoke meat and deal with a bear that you happen upon in the woods. I grew up with Laura Ingalls as one of my role models, and the story of the Ingalls can teach you a lot about family relationships, as well as independence.

the twits cover

  1. The Twits
    Author: Roald Dahl
    Age 6+

This is a short, funny read showcasing why Roald Dahl is such a genius. This book has the ingredients for a classic Dahl read: a strange or mean character, some great sketched illustrations, a gross-you-out aspect or two that kids love, and of course a moral (one of which is shown below). What more could you want?

The Twits

The_Bad_Beginning

  1. A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning
    Author: Lemony Snicket (part of series)
    Age 9 +

The reverse psychology on the back cover is enough to get you sucked in (well played, Mr Snicket) but as it warns, these books are not for the faint of heart. However, if you like learning crazy new words, about crazy new inventions and some seriously unlucky orphans, then this serious will interest you. The writing style is different to most of what you read today, and Lemony Snicket comes up with extremely creative ways to get his point across. Some of the themes in the series are a bit serious, so just be careful if your child is very sensitive or under the recommended age.

mandie.jpg

BONUS:

The Mandie Series by Lois Gladys Leopard. If you love a good mystery (and want your kids to read Christian-influenced books) this series is the one for you.

Happy reading!

Sincerely,
Lil

Images (all sourced 23 August 2016):
1. https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51T9246WNTL.jpg
2. https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/00/ea/05/00ea059736280bb14648b78bf8bc614e.jpg
3. http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/anneofgreengables/images/3/3d/Greengables26.jpeg/revision/latest?cb=20121202062002
4. http://www.enidblytonsociety.co.uk/author/covers/hodder-the-naughtiest-girl-in-the-school.jpg
5. http://judyoz.com/media/ecom/prodlg/diary-young-girl-anne-frank.jpg
6. http://www.anglophilebooks.net/shop_image/product/7021.jpg
7. https://d20eq91zdmkqd.cloudfront.net/assets/images/book/large/9780/1413/9780141322759.jpg
8. https://clubs-kids.scholastic.co.uk/products/The-Twits-Roald-Dahl-9780141322759
9. http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/snicket/images/1/1d/The_Bad_Beginning.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20120428195154
10. https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51QZ6YB2ECL.jpg

9 Signs of a Bad Boy


I know the bad boy cliché is often celebrated in teenage movies. His name is always something like Jesse, he wears black, has ‘fantastic’ hair, rides a motorcycle, and is always, always misunderstood. Sound familiar? It’s like three movies that came out this month. The bad boy can seem like something that every girl should experience as a rite of passage but behind all the leather and spikey hair (I know this was more a 90s version of the bad boy) there’s something deeper going on, and it’s not that nobody except you ‘gets him’. Here are nine red flags with a guy, signs that a relationship might be toxic. Although he seems so exciting and he’s different than all the other guys, meanwhile you know who he’s hurting? You. But you’re worth more than that, so let’s take a look.
1. You’re always making excuses for him

It might be normal to say every once in a while about your guy, “You just don’t know him like I do”, but if you find yourself saying it all the time, that’s not good. If the people who care about you are all saying the same thing, and it’s negative, alarm bells should be going off. Surely they can’t all have impure motives, or be prejudiced, or misunderstanding, or old-school, or overprotective, or narrow-minded. Maybe they’re actually just right. I know denial is something that’s hard to come to terms with. That’s why it’s called denial. But if you are constantly having to defend him, there’s probably some behaviours that are really not up to code.
2. You hide aspects of your relationship

Not proud to say that this is one I did a lot of throughout high school. Things only came out years later that my parents kept saying, “If we had have known that…!” Exactly why I didn’t tell them at the time. You get it. Because you he’s cute, and funny, and maybe one day he’ll change and you will live happily ever after.

Ladies, please hear me. You cannot change a man! Believe me, I’ve tried. The only one who can change someone is Jesus. Also, making people change is not in your job description.

You hide it when he hurts you, emotionally or otherwise, from other people, or always brush it off. You’re conveniently vague when someone asks you about how it was last weekend hanging out with him. Are there some kind of big things you’re keeping from your loved ones about your relationship? Do you ever think, “If they knew about this or that they’d lose it?” Unhealthy.
3. You always take the blame or feel that you’re in the wrong, no matter what the situation

This is one particularly toxic mind-set that girls are experts at. Whether a guy’s conditioned you to think this way, or you’ve just taken it upon yourself, good soldier that you are, it is unhealthy and can be how relationships end up in abuse.

Let me be very clear. There is such thing as inexcusable behaviour, and there are no circumstances under which it is okay for your boyfriend to hit you. Not ever. Not even if he’s angry. Not even if he feels you deserve it. Or you feel you deserve it. Not ever. No exceptions or justifications. No terms and conditions apply.

He will always say he didn’t mean to when he hurts you, or “maybe if you just didn’t make him so angry” then he wouldn’t have to treat you that way. Or that this is the “last time”. Believe it? Neither do I.

“We accept the love we think we deserve.”

Stephen Chbosky had it right in his novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower and these thoughts will lead you to a place of dangerously low self-esteem. If you think you are worth nothing, then you are willing to accept someone who treats you as nothing. Thinking this way is not just someone putting you down, it’s you putting yourself down. It affects the way you think about yourself and shakes your identity until over time you start believing things about yourself that are wholly untrue. And often it takes someone else who loves you to point it out. I remember getting in an argument with someone I loved, defending the lie that I had believed about myself and allowed to become part of my DNA.
Ever had the kind of thoughts that I’m referring to?

Why are you here? No one needs you. You don’t add anything of value. Don’t get too comfortable because once they really get to know you they will leave you. You are alone and will always be alone, because that is what you deserve. If he treats you like that, it must be because you deserve it. Why would someone who loves me say something like that just to hurt me? It must be true.

And so the cycle goes on. The message to our hearts is you are too much, and somehow not enough at the same time (credit to John and Stasi Eldredge, Captivating). The message says, “Shut up, back off, sit down, go home. Give up.”

It takes a long time to pull you out of that dark tunnel, and the easiest way is to avoid it altogether by recognising the toxic signs in the beginning stages.
4. He only hangs out when it’s convenient for him

Wow, you feel so lucky that he finally made time for little old you in his busy schedule. Well, you shouldn’t. A guy with integrity and respect for you will make time for you if he’s interested. A bad boy will make sure you know that he’ll only hang out if nothing else comes up; he’s keeping his options open. Way to make you feel like he’s scraping the bottom of the barrel with you. But you are first prize, a top-notch catch, a winning goal, a score, a top-shelf girl. Don’t let someone make you feel merely satisfactory. The daughter of a king shouldn’t settle for that.
5. You have to choose between your loved ones and him

While it’s likely that a lot of couples at some point or another get in fights over their in-laws, if you get into regular fights with your family over him, that’s another story. They don’t like the way he’s treating you, and you get angry and defensive because you want so much for them to just like him (for goodness sake). I feel your frustration but there is wisdom in dropping your defences for a minute and listening to their reasons for objecting to him. The phrase ‘love is blind’ was not coined by a fool.

It’s a bad sign if he draws you away from your family and friends and doesn’t want to get to know them. A guy who’s truly pursuing your heart, and is out for your good, will want to get into your world (not to mention impress all the people you care about) and learn all about you. If he always resists spending time with your loved ones and either only wants to hang out alone with you, or with his friends, not only is that selfish, but it indicates no sense of accountability with the way he’s treating you. As a lady, you deserve respect.
6. He doesn’t want to tell anyone about your relationship

He says that he doesn’t want to wreck what you have, or he likes it better when you two are just in our own world, or he wants to focus on school. Okay I admit that last one might be legit but if the rest sounds like a load of crap, it’s because it probably is. He wants the benefits of being your boyfriend but won’t make a commitment. I knew a girl who was seeing a guy for a while, but all he wanted to do was sit at home and watch movies with her. He never made the commute to see her, and never took her out on dates, even though she expressed a desire to share those things with him. She ended up wondering if he was ashamed to be seen with her, because they never seemed to go out in public.

Trust me, if a guy is truly into you, he will want to show you off to the whole world.
7. He pressures you into things and always makes you feel guilty when you say no

This one’s a no-brainer. If a guy is manipulating you like that, he obviously has ulterior motives. You are the boss of you and your body, and you do not have to feel guilty about setting boundaries. Every good guy will show his respect for you by respecting those boundaries that you’ve put in place. If he keeps over-stepping the line, he clearly doesn’t have your happiness and welfare in mind.

Because your value is beyond measure, don’t give yourself away to someone like that. If you trust a guy like that with your heart, don’t be surprised when he hands it back to you pulverised.
8. You feel like you’d be jeopardising his safety or mental health by breaking up with him

Guys who threaten to hurt themselves, or worse, if you break up with them are definitely toxic for you. They don’t need judgement, or for you to panda to those feelings; they need help. That is an unhealthy place to be in, and he should really speak to a professional about it. Threatening to do some kind of self-harm if you break up with him is also undermining the stability of your relationship and keeping you there for the wrong reasons.
9. He doesn’t treat one or all of these three things well…

If a guy is not so nice to his mother, to elderly people, or is cruel to animals, this is disturbing. First of all, if he treats his mother with disrespect, what’s to stop him from doing it to you after the honeymoon phase has worn off? Respect for elders is a godly principle and you’ve got to wonder what’s going through his head if he doesn’t treat them nicely. Thirdly, not liking animals is one thing, but being purposely cruel to them is another. If gets a kick out of inflicting suffering, or finds suffering funny, what does that say about him?

When seeing all these toxic traits and behaviours in a guy, we ladies should start to think, is this the kind of guy I want to be with? Is this what I want for myself?

And if you think about it long enough, I hope that you, like me, will start to want something better. And then start to believe that you can have it.
Sincerely,

Lil

P.S. Does it bother some of you that I didn’t add a tenth thing to my list?

An Ode to Mums

It’s funny that no matter how old I am, or how long I’ve lived out of home (four and a half years), I still run to my mum when I’m sick. This morning I didn’t think twice before texting her before work to pray for me. And only a mum would call you at work from three hours away just to check in. That’s a mother’s heart, whether you’re two, 22 or 42.

Tonight I stood in the medicine aisle at the supermarket on the phone to Mum asking her question after question about paracetamols, active ingredients, dosage . . . When you’re vulnerable, she’s often still the default. And my amazing mother stood at the kitchen bench on the other end of the line cooking tea for the rest of my family (asking my brother to help her chop the carrots because I assume one of her hands was busy holding the phone for me) while advising me on low-strength pain killers.

Mums are the most hardworking, caring, underappreciated, faithful people in the world, and worthy of our deep respect. Today I want to honour my mother, and all mothers, because for starters we wouldn’t be here without them, but we also wouldn’t be who we are without them. Your mother has such a profound impact on you and for the last however many years I’ve been taking close mental notes as I observe my mine.

Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.

Proverbs 31:28

Who else will make you an average of three birthday cakes each year, decorated like a pro, no matter what you pick out of the Women’s Weekly  recipe book? Or can turn crusts into normal slices of bread (the seven-year-old moment when I knew I had a super-mum), or reads you and your sister seven whole novels out loud? Not to mention pick you up, drop you off, clean you, feed you, wash for you, cook for you, discipline you and teach you? This is the short, non-comprehensive list, in case you were wondering.

How much do we appreciate these amazing women in our lives? In our hearts, probably a lot, but how much of that makes it into our words or actions?

Try thinking of a nice thing you can do for your mum in the next week, then go and act on your warm and fuzzy thought. I know it’s not Mother’s Day, but why should it have to be?

Sincerely,
Lil

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Image 1: http://www.designbolts.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Happy-Mothers-Day-Quotes.jpg, sourced 15 June 2016.
Image 2: https://au.pinterest.com/anapazsousa/mums-quotes/, sourced 15 June 2016.

The Headstone (creative)

Here is a short story I wrote in my third year at Deakin. It’s a bit quirky and longer than my usual blog posts but stick with it if it’s holding your interest. I’m really passionate about fiction so I hope you enjoy this.

Sincerely,
Lil

THE HEADSTONE

The little decisions were always the hardest for Tom. The most important, heartbreaking things could be going on in his life and the thing that he was wrestling with was which flavour ice cream to get at the school canteen or which friend to sit next to at lunch. Was there a way to pick one without offending the other?
The shop was bustling, like death was somehow electrifying, and not quiet, like it should have been. “Glasgow’s Most Exciting Headstones” the sign outside boasted. If the sign was boastful, the inside of the shop was positively up itself. The hodgepodge of items crowded around shoppers, pressing in from every side like mourners at an open grave. It looked more like a Poundland tribute to Halloween, with black crepe paper and badly cut cardboard crosses strung limply around the room to strike a certain ‘mood’. Were those cobwebs real or manufactured? Tom wondered as he pulled back his hoodie to get a better look. Why had Sarah left him in here to make this choice by himself? She was the adult, after all, and from what he’d seen the last fifteen years, capable of making a decision. Tom always manipulated people’s view of his age, depending on what suited him, and right now he felt seven and about three feet tall.
The girl behind the counter beamed out at the room like she was about to give them all a prize. Maybe it was a smug smile because she felt like she was further away from death than the rest of the room—except for Tom. It was hard to tell. Tom would have guessed her to be about the same age as him, but why was she working here? Tom checked his watch. School wasn’t out yet. Over leggings she wore a fluffy purple skirt that reminded Tom of a tutu, and a festive looking cat winked at him from the girl’s t-shirt. Tom thought she belonged in a store selling tiaras or frosted dream cakes, not working here as some kind of fairy of death. He wondered what her name was.
“Ashley with three e’s?” whispered Tom to himself,  a grin wrapping its fingers around the corners of his lips, hanging on, before falling backwards, arms flailing, into a deep abyss.
“What was that?” the girl asked, leaning low over the counter to catch the words that had already vanished. The ends of her braided strawberry blonde hair brushed the newspaper at her fingertips. She pulled her lips further back to reveal more slightly crooked teeth. She wasn’t altogether unattractive and Tom might have felt flattered if this were a normal situation, but it wasn’t. Her smile reminded him of a happy meerkat baring its teeth.
“Uh, nothing,” he mumbled, and looked away.
“Can I help you, sir?” she persisted.
“No, thanks. Just browsing,” Tom replied as a reflex before realising how idiotic he sounded.
She gave him a knowing look and turned away.
A family of four came side-shuffling down the row of gravestones toward him, the two young children shrinking back into their parents, making it hard for the parents to walk. Tom tried to shift politely out of the way, but his bulky school backpack knocked an urn on a shelf behind him. His foot shot out as a reflex to break the urn’s fall and the girl behind the counter lunged forward. Most of the other people in the shop glanced up, but only as a reflex, and then carried on with their browsing.
Tom muttered a general apology as he replaced the lid on the unbroken urn and returned it to its shelf, gingerly. It had a black and white sticker that said ‘test urn’, whatever that meant.
“No bother, son,” the father of the family said brusquely, patting Tom on the shoulder with a clumsy hand.
That damn backpack. His mum had always said—
But which headstone to get? He wished Sarah would come back. About ten minutes after walking into the shop, she’d remembered how she’d forgotten her dry cleaning “just up the street”. She’d been gone half an hour and Tom was feeling more awkward by the minute, especially with the girl behind the counter staring him down. He would have gone out to find Sarah by now, but he’d only been to Glasgow a handful of times, and never to this section. The times he hadn’t come with school, he and his parents hadn’t strayed far from Sarah’s university. Tom had one awful, sudden thought that maybe she hadn’t really needed to go to the drycleaners. That maybe she wasn’t coming back. His tongue felt swollen, like it might choke him any second, and he forced himself to look around—really look—while he talked himself down.
The walls of the shop were a staid grey, the paint peeling off at the top corners, like it was tired of being there and wanted to crawl away. A few people around Tom were crying as they perused the headstones, noses wrinkling as they sniffed, and dragged crumpled, expired tissues of their pockets again and again, trying not to drop their umbrellas in the process. He felt a numbness filling him from head to toe, and the emotion of the other customers made him uncomfortable, rather than sympathetic. That’s what death was, above all things: uncomfortable. And there was nothing weirder than a group of strangers wandering around a graveyard-themed store, trying to find that one particularly exciting headstone that the wet sign outside promised in cursive letters and no uncertain terms. The blonde fifty-something lady to Tom’s left—a widow, most likely—stepped deep into his personal space to peer down at a white marble headstone. She smelled like his grandmother’s perfume and public transport.  Her hair was pinned back in sedate curls and her expression was appropriately demure, as if only missing a black fascinator. Tom wondered what his expression was like, and decided it had to be less impressive than hers. She sniffed almost violently and blew her nose into an already full hankie, tucking it back into her black sleeve. Tom glanced down at his blue jeans and maroon hoodie almost guiltily.
She turned to him, gesturing to the headstone. “What do you think?”
Tom panicked. “How should I know?” he said somewhat roughly, and immediately regretted it when the lady’s eyebrows pulled together and another tear slipped out. She didn’t wipe this one away and it hung off the edge of her downy chin, accusing him.
The girl sprang out from behind the counter and said, “I think this one’s just gorgeous, love. And for the low price of £900.99, well, you can’t really go wrong.” She snuck a glance at Tom in her peripherals and smiled brightly at the lady. “Tissue?”

When he was thirteen, Tom had come home from school with a black eye and a busted lip. His face was grubby with streaked dirt and dried, crusty tears; his fists were aching from clenching them for hours on end. His dad had come home early and found him at the kitchen table digging his HB pencil hard into the pages of his maths homework. There were no lights on, and through the window the light was fading out of the sky.
“Hey, Dad.” He had spoken first, trying to sound casual, but keeping his eyes down. The Trigonometry sum under his pencil swam out of focus and back in again.
His father greeted him while hanging up his coat and switching on a lamp suspended above the table. Picking up a pencil like usual, his dad took a seat opposite him and finally noticed the way Tom was clawing at his pages, head bowed.
“What’s wrong, Tom?”
“It’s this maths problem. I just can’t—” As he said this, Tom finally looked up, the events of the day stamped on his face. He ground his teeth, mouth closed.
“Son, what happened to you?” His dad leaned forward. His eyes were wide, waiting in tense concern for Tom’s answer. Instead of speaking, Tom watched his dad absently bend the pencil he’d picked up, pressing the top end down with his thumb until Tom thought it would snap. Suddenly he dropped it and it clattered to the table in the silent room, rolling a little toward Tom.
“I just don’t get Pythagoras theorem,” Tom sniffed, stifling his dad’s suspense and driving his own pencil further into the paper until the lead finally snapped. “And sine, cos and tan sound like types of vegetables.” e He tried to laugh but it was squeakier than he intended; he cleared his throat lustily, shoving his shame down deep. “My teacher says I’ll pick it up in no time, but I find it hard to believe her. And I can never choose which one to use for which problem,” he huffed.
“Tom,” his father said firmly, his brown eyes kind. “Forget your maths. We need to talk about what’s really going on.”
What’s really going on.

Tom wandered around the shop for a while, looking for more signs of peeling paint, while the girl retreated behind the counter; one eye on him, one on the lady with the big flashing dollar sign over her head, and apparently one strange, third eye to look down at the newspaper. She was the kind of person he could imagine saying, “I’ve got my eye on you” to a customer and winking, without getting fired. He inched closer to the signs above head height behind the cash register—promoting ways to R.I.P eternally, memorably, fashionably—and didn’t look her way until he felt obligated to by her stabbing glances every couple of seconds. What was she so fascinated by?
“What’s the time, please?” he asked, self-consciously running his tongue over his top teeth to check for food, and then felt stupid. Ice cream didn’t stick.
She beamed. “Half four.”
His mum had always believed that telling you when you had something in your teeth was the hallmark of a true blue friend. She had quoted Dr Seuss in her gentle Northern Isle lilt: “Be yourself, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” Never be ashamed of who you are.

 

At thirteen, when his dad had finally got it out of him, the most embarrassing thing for Tom was not that he’d been beaten up in the school yard. No. The most shameful thing was that his sister had come to stand in front of him and fight back. He appreciated her efforts, but even at thirteen he’d been sure that men had to fight their own battles. It didn’t escape him that the whole thing seemed kind of topsy-turvy.  Sarah had unintentionally made his situation worse because, of course, they wouldn’t hit a girl, and she couldn’t be around every time they came for Tom, which he learnt the following afternoon in the locker room. That night he’d struggled to find the right way to tell her not to interfere again. That that was the best way to help him. To not help him. Surprisingly, she had tried to prolong that conversation, drawing Tom gently from his masculine cave with words like “safe space” and “trust circle”, even though it had only been the two of them. She was the fix-it, stiff upper lip kind of person when it came to these things. It was the first time Tom had not given in, had kept it together, and it felt good. At least for a while.
The girl rested an elbow on the counter, reading the day’s obituaries and twirling the end of her braid around her fingers. Occasionally she paused to errantly chew her left thumbnail. Reading the daily death column could have been misconstrued as morbid, but Tom saw it as how passionate she was about her job—or even keeping abreast of the current industry trends. He didn’t take the time to wonder how a girl this young had ended up in a job selling headstones in the first place. He tensed as the name MacDonald caught his eye, yet couldn’t stop himself from leaning over to get another look at what his sister had drafted the night before.

Loving parents
Tom and Eilidh MacDonald
passed away in a road accident
5 miles outside of Ullapool
Sunday 22nd November 2008
Aged 49 and 46 years
leaving behind two children
Sarah and Tom Jr.
Funeral Friday 10am
St. Bridget’s Cathedral

Tom caught a glimpse of his face in the mounted wall mirror below the ridiculous signs. His brown hair hung limp on his neck and forehead, a mixture of grease and the afternoon’s rain. His dark brown-black eyes stood pronounced by the bags comfortably encircling them. His mouth was twisted into some kind of unintentional snarl, which was surprisingly hard to get rid of. He knew why the girl looked at him now with a renewed, but different, kind of interest. Tom didn’t like being observed in this way, like he couldn’t be trusted not to throw his backpack at one of the headstones or start juggling the urns. He turned away. Where was Sarah?
People always thought they could help when you were grieving. Two days after the accident, an old friend of the family had run into Tom in Ullapool, outside a shop along the bay. Under low clouds the storefronts followed the curve of the shoreline, huddling in close to each other like old gossips, most likely in conversation about him.
“Tom!” Tears had sprung into her eyes as soon as she spotted him and moved in for a bosomy hug. “Oh, you must be just devastated. The whole community is rocked. What a horrible way to die! All strewn across the wet road like that. I always say, these roads are so dangerous . . .”
Sarah had stepped out of the shop behind him a moment later and moved in front of him to take over the conversation with Mrs MacAvill, although Tom could still see over her head. At that moment she hadn’t seemed twenty.
Tom remembered going home and kneeling by the toilet, vomiting until his stomach was empty; the way his dry retching had bounced off the bathroom tiles after there was nothing left to throw up. He slumped back against the cold, hard wall, trying to catch his breath. People always thought they could help, but they couldn’t.

“You look a bit lost, dear,” the blonde lady wearing black observed with another sniff. “Do you have someone here to help you? Who are you finding a headstone for, anyway?”
The girl behind the counter looked over at him, waiting to see what he would say. The young family from his clumsy moment before turned their bodies to stare at him too, seeming relieved rather than irritated at the distraction.
Tom stared back at them, his vision blurring at the edges. His throat closed over, and he felt like he would choke. He swallowed convulsively, trying to arrange his face into a smile.
The motorbike crashed again and again and there was nothing he could do to stop it. The tires screeched. Tom willed the brakes to work. He screamed. He screamed. The blood flowed out on to the road, pooling, and then was absorbed by the frozen bitumen. The wind nipped at the edges of the strap holding a backpack to the back of the bike, and whipped his mother’s chin length hair against her face.
What was it the neighbours and relatives had all said? “Thank God the kids weren’t there to see it.”
The bell on the door jingled cheerily and Sarah’s voice came from behind Tom. “Sorry I took so . . . long.”
Tom turned and saw her assessing the situation, everyone’s gaze now encompassing both of them.
“What’s wrong, Tom?”
        . . . Those who matter don’t mind.
“Are you . . . sure I can’t help you, sir?” the girl working there ventured tentatively, now that the room was finally quiet. “You’ve been here a long time.”