An Actual Miracle Occurs…

The most glorious mothering-moments always seem to go terribly wrong for me.

My fifth grade daughter invited a friend, Grace, for a sleepover. Grace’s father is a church leader, a detail which will be important later, and one which my daughter will refer back to in therapy years from now.

My daughter (nicknamed Lolo) and Grace were happily cavorting when their time was rudely interrupted by my teenage son returning home with a few of his friends. Elementary school girls love to antagonize teenage guys, and teenage guys will frequently escalate the return-fire, in order to put an early end to hostilities. (I am frequently reminded of President Truman at these moments.)

I had been working in my home office for about an hour, trying to escape the conflict, when Lolo and Grace came storming into my office, hands on hips.

“Tell the boys to stop scaring us!” my daughter snapped.

I raised my eyebrow, words being too much of an effort by this point.

“They put a big rubber snake in the kitchen to scare us!” Grace said.

“We can’t get to the freezer for popsicles,” Lolo added.

I yelled at the guys but they didn’t reply from upstairs. They had music blaring. So, with a groan which was more a precursor to arthritis than actual aggravation, I walked from the office to the kitchen. There it was, a giant rubber snake, thrown across the kitchen floor.

Shaking my head, I bent to pick it up.

It lifted its head and hissed at me.

The girls screamed bloody murder.

Stumbling backwards, shrieking, I did several things simultaneously. (Incidentally, this is where my heroic part in the tale ends.) I grabbed a phone off the kitchen counter and threw it over my shoulder to the girls. My son and his friends turned off their music, so I knew they had heard my screams. Which was timely because I had two commands.

“Everyone, jump on a dog!” We had two Pyrenees, one weighing 90 pounds and one weighing 160. If they came into the kitchen, the fur would hit the fan.

And… “If this thing bites me, call 911!”

The girls began sniffling and breathing in ragged gasps, so I knew they were starting to bawl. I had to work quickly.

Looking wildly about, I spied a lacrosse stick propped next to the back door that leads to our backyard. With a deep breath for courage, I stepped closer to the snake—which coiled and lowered its head menacingly—and slowly opened the door before grabbing the stick.

The snake was light brown with darker brown markings, but I didn’t know whether it was venomous. A little known fact is that even nonvenomous snakes can flatten their heads into a triangle shape to scare off bigger predators.

Gently attempting to scoop the snake into the lacrosse stick’s net, I only succeeded in angering it. It struck at the net, and I briefly lost bladder control as it rapidly slid toward me. I screamed and jumped back as it slid right under the couch by the backdoor.

My heart was thundering in my ears. If the snake crawled out of the other side of the couch, it would be in my den. We would have to sell the house. I bent down, racking my brain to remember the patron saint of snakes, which I realized was probably Satan. I didn’t know where the snake was under the couch, if it was venomous, or if dust bunnies were any protection. My only real hope was that all the socks and wrappers my kids threw under the couch would form a protective barrier.

I wrapped my fingers around the edge of the sofa and lifted. The snake was coiled on the far end, nearest the door. It opened it mouth and reminded me why I had been screaming moments earlier. The girls shrieked on cue.

Then, thank the Lord, I had a spiritual epiphany. God can talk to animals! He called them in pairs to the ark, didn’t He? Passing along a message to a lone snake would be no problem for Him. Plus, imagine my reputation at church when the leader’s daughter told her father of how Ms. Ginger prayed to the Lord and He answered her prayer and all our lives were spared.

Clearing my throat, I steadied my trembling hands and lifted one to the heavens. “Lord,” I began, with a backwards glance to be sure the girls were paying close attention, “you can talk to animals. You can do anything! Would you please tell this snake he has to leave my house right now? I’ve left the door open for his convenience.”

I AM NOT MAKING THIS NEXT PART UP.

Instantly, the snake uncoiled and slid out the back door.

My jaw dropped in disbelief. Slamming the door shut behind the creature, I turned triumphantly to face the girls. We had just witnessed an actual miracle.

The girls were pale. Grace stood slack-jawed, her eyes wide. “Ms. Ginger, you sure know some bad words.”

Turns out…

The whole time I had been dealing with the snake, just prior to my grand act of faith, I had treated the girls to a stream-of-conscious-swim-through-the-dark-river-of profanity. I had been so terrified, so blind with panic, that I had been completely unaware of what I was muttering the whole time.

I looked at Lolo. “I cussed? Like, the really bad words?”

Lolo nodded, her chin quivering.

Grace was a little more helpful. “You didn’t just use them. You conjugated them.”

Well, then.

A call was made to her father to explain why Grace had learned certain words at my house that day. I found it ironic that I was a woman blaming a serpent for my sin. Maybe it would make a pithy sermon illustration, I suggested. He was quiet for a moment. Apparently, this was not the first time Grace had heard those words, but at least I had used them in the context of abject terror. Which, technically, gave me the moral edge . I decided to give him a pass, though. God had certainly given me one that afternoon.

I do hope that one day in the future, a therapist will put down her pen and say, “Wait…go back to that part about the snake. It actually left?” Because it did. Immediately. And my daughter knows now that when we pray, God listens more to our hearts than our words.

And that’s probably the real miracle for me that day.

That Time A Horse Wore My Pashmina

When I woke up that morning, I didn’t know that a horse would rob me of my most prized possession, or that I wouldn’t have the nerve to report the crime.

For months, I’d been eyeing a outrageously beautiful scarf made by a Parisian fashion house. Outrageously expensive, too, of course. The pashmina scarf in the window of a boutique for weeks. One month, the price dropped. I watched as the price continued to drop over the next several weeks. Then I pounced. Armed with dollar bills from the household emergency fund and pocket change found during laundry.

And suddenly, there I was, wearing a new blue and silver pashmina shawl, one I was absolutely in love with.

Not being terribly fashion-forward, (actually, my sense of fashion has no direction) I had pinned quite a few diagrams on Pinterest on how to tie and wear a pashmina. Finally, I thought, I’ll really fit in with the swanky mom set. I’ll look like I know what I’m doing.

Ahem. Turns out…

Now, spring and summer here in north Georgia often bring intense storms. My little town sits on top of a huge run of granite, which attracts lightning strikes. The firefighters here stay busy during storm season. Add to that our enormous number of pine trees, which have shallow root systems and easily fall over in strong winds, and you have a recipe for frequent damage and blocked roads.

So I wasn’t entirely surprised when barreling down a busy road in my gold minivan (will that van ever stop sending me straight into the arms of danger?) I came up several horses wandering in the road. Two of them were normal horses, as defined by the horses I’d seen in The Magnificent Seven. But one, I knew immediately, was a Percheron. Charleston uses Percherons for carriage rides, so I’ve seen quite a few. Mainly from the rump. This other end, though, was magnificent.

Another horse was on the side of the road munching grass, one was halfway in the road, and the Percheron was sauntering across.

No one was stopping. Cars just dodged around them. To my right, I spotted a pasture fence that had been destroyed in the storm. A pine tree had fallen and smashed several posts, creating a horse-sized hole which the horses were clearly taking advantage of.

I whipped the van to the side of the road and leaped out. Scanning the house on the top of the hill at the top of the pasture, I couldn’t see any sign of cars or people.

No one was home.

I had to get these horses back inside their pasture before some idiot hit them. I had just come from the grocery store, so I grabbed a box of Cinnamon Chex, ripped it open, and ran toward the nearest horse, the beautiful Percheron. He was gorgeous beyond belief.

I offered the Chex to him like a supplicant at the feet of a Greek god. Yes, he really was that beautiful.

Turns out, horses don’t care much for Cinnamon Chex. I ran back to the hole in the fence and pantomimed climbing back into the pasture. I yelled at the horses like they were errant toddlers.

“You get in this pasture right now!”

“So help me, if you are not over here by the time I count to three….”

Turns out, horses don’t really care about being scolded by strangers. The van probably gave me an air of domesticity. They were not afraid.

Desperate now, I couldn’t believe my blessed fortune when a truck pulled off the road behind my van. A rough-looking fellow popped out, and by rough-looking, I mean a man who clearly understand the reality of the situation. He probably had never even been on Pinterest.

Scanning the road, he immediately sized up the problem. “I’ll go after them,” he called, pointing to the others that had wandered further down the road. “You get that one back in the pasture.” He was pointing to the Percheron.

“I can’t! I’ve tried!” I yelled back. What did I look like, an idiot? (Turns out…)

He glared at me, frowning. “Use your scarf.”

My pashmina! Of course! Why hadn’t I thought of that? Oh, that’s right, I’m an idiot.

I untied it, raised my hands, then paused. I started to call out to the man again but now he was out of earshot. What exactly was I supposed to do with a pashmina and a Percheron?

Thank goodness I had Pinterest pinned so many knot variations. Determined to redeem myself, I threw the pashmina over the horse’s neck, tying it off in a jaunty French bow at the side of his neck, letting the both ends of the scarf hang loose.

Suddenly the horse charged past me, off at a gallop down the road.

“Come back!” I yelled, but only half-heartedly, because the sight of his glorious black mane and that blue and silver pashmina blowing together in the wind as he ran…I was practically breathless with admiration.

“I have to say,” I murmured, “you wear it better.”

The horse galloped past the man, who turned to stare at it incredulously, then back at me.

Embarrassed by the triumph, I was about to tell him where I had learned how to tie a knot like that when he yelled at me. I mean, yelled. I will edit his words for the sake of clarity, and in case any children read this.

“What are you doing? I told you to use your scarf!”

“I did!” I protested.

“I meant, use it like a lead! A harness. A rope! Use it to guide the horse!”

Oh. Well, he might have said that in the beginning.

Moments later, two more people stopped, both of whom were horse lovers and owned nearby stables. Someone said the owners had traveled south to pick up a new horse. They’d be due back in the morning.

Together, the other folks rounded up the horses and got them safely back into the pasture. The angry man put me in charge of “supervising” from a distance, which I took to be a subtle apology and an admission that the scarf really did look that good.

They put the fence back together and checked it to make sure it would hold. The owners might not even notice the damage.

But the next morning, what would they think when their prized horse trotted out of the barn wearing an expensive designer pashmina, artfully tied at the neck?

I’ll never know.

I slipped back to my minivan, quiet as a mouse, and slid the van back onto the narrow country road. And I never saw my beloved scarf again…

That Time My Minivan was an Instrument of Swift and Certain Vengeance

In the long and noble history of mothering, the worst Sunday morning ever recorded came on a lovely spring morning.

My husband had volunteer duty at our church so he was already gone. I loaded our three kids into our gold-colored minivan and headed up Georgia 400, a fast-moving highway that offered a lovely view of towering pine trees on either side. The kids were sleepy and perhaps a bit cranky—my memory does tend to flicker when I recount the events just prior to the horror—so I turned on 104.7 The Fish, my favorite radio station here in Atlanta. With praise music pumping through our speakers and the sun shining, we buzzed down the highway. I sang to the tunes and expounded to my kids the glory of praising the Lord on a day like this, how your soul just rises up and you have to sing.

Up ahead, on the left side of the highway next to the guardrail, some poor creature had met its demise. A turkey vulture stood over the carcass, claiming it. I wasn’t terribly close, but in Atlanta that is a common enough sight. I hate turkey vultures, those debased creatures who feed off the misfortunes of the innocent and indecisive.

As the van barreled on, getting closer, the vulture decided to take his breakfast to-go. Grabbing the carcass in his talons, he lifted up, spread his enormous dark wings, and began to cross the highway in front of us, taking the carcass to the pine trees.

Our eyes met for a horrible brief second.

We knew at the same moment.

He had miscalculated my rate of speed, and his. The minivan now appeared to be an instrument of God’s swift judgement. But at the moment we should have collided, killing him instantly, the vulture lifted straight up—and dropped the carcass.

The carcass hit my windshield and exploded, a balloon of death that no child should ever see. My daughter, sitting in the passenger seat, opened her mouth in a silent scream, reminiscent of a Munch painting, but with pigtails. Panicking (did you know blood is completely opaque?), knowing I was in fast-moving traffic and had zero visibility, I did what any driver would do. I turned on my windshield wipers and blasted the windshield with washer fluid.

“Don’t look!” I screamed. The praise music was still going strong. Perhaps God was oblivious to the drama unfolding below.

The blades struggled to clear the carcass, sweeping it back and forth across the glass. I’m pretty sure it was a possum, judging by the nose.

Finally the carcass was thrown off the windshield. More windshield washer fluid cleared most of the blood. That’s when we saw it.

The wiper blade had trapped a long strip of intestine. Merrily, it waved back and forth, back and forth, as we drove. Frantically, I kept blasting the windshield with fluid to clear the rest of the blood.

After another upbeat praise song, the intestine finally broke free and flew across the highway like a party streamer in hell.

We rolled into the church parking lot seconds later. I’m not sure why the parking attendant didn’t call security, since a deranged mom with a gold minivan dripping in blood surely is not a common sight, not even for Baptists. I guess he thought we really needed to be there, for reasons entirely all our own.

The kids stumbled out of the van, pale and close to vomiting, legs wobbly, glassy-eyed from witnessing such carnage, especially carnage set to praise music.

And me? I confess, I was angry. These things should never happen on Sunday morning when you’re singing praise music! I stormed into church (the parking attendant had a walkie-talkie, and he was speaking into it rather urgently), found my husband, and blamed him for the whole thing.

I certainly can’t blame Jesus, can I? That would be wrong.

It was Sunday morning, after all.

My favorite line from The Last Monster is….

“The world around us is filled with monsters and freaks and mysteries.
And me?
I am the Guardian, who will watch over them all.”

“Uniquely imaginative….An appealing tale for readers dealing with their own insecurities.”
Booklist

“While the fantastical elements are compelling, it’s the real-world situations that make this book stand out. A perfect recommendation for introspective kids who feel like outsiders.”
School Library Journal

Happy New Year!

Forget resolutions. They leave us cranky and preoccupied.

That’s my current philosophy, at least. I’m a goal-oriented person, though, so I naturally lean into the future. This year, however, as I made my list of goals, the goals sounded flat to my ears. They’re all good goals. Achievable, too.

Maybe that is why I am discontent. (and it’s winter…que Shakespeare on that line…)

Goals are about what we want to achieve. But does that leave room for wonder? If I am so busy looking at the work of my hands, will I remember to look up and see the stars?

This year, I choose wonder. I choose mystery. I choose to let go of the reins and let another heart, another set of eyes guide me.

Make Your Library A Haven for Teens

I recently had the privilege of speaking to Forsyth County library employees on making the library a “safe place” for teens. We run a teen author workshop that is consistently well-attended and filled with the most wonderful teens on the planet.

(Yep, I am biased. But I’m also right.)

While the teens have led the way to creating a library experience like none other, I’ve been making notes and studying what works and why. I will be posting here what I’ve learned, and hope you take every last bit to use at your own library.

Here’s the first lesson I learned:
They need us to listen. So…don’t try to make a perfect list of talking points, or a lecture, or even a plan. You won’t know what they need until the meeting is already underway.

Scary, but usually true.

Teens need to be heard. I call it Vitamin H. Vitamin H is the most life-giving, life-sustaining, and life-affirming vitamin known to humanity.

In fact, teens may not be able to tell the difference between the feeling of being loved and the feeling of being listened to. Being loved = being listened to. Being listened to= being loved.

(for more fascinating insights like that one, check out this interview: Ellin Galinsky, Inside the Teenage Brain, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/teenbrain/interviews/galinsky.html)

Second, be patient.

I understand that it’s awkward when a group first begins meeting together. I’ve led groups for twenty years, and I can tell you that the first six months may be wonderful and meaningful…but the gold comes later.

When a teen reads her work to the group, and you know you have heard her heart, a hush falls over the room. It’s a sacred moment. And sacred moments become much more common after the first few months. So jump in and let the group grow.

(And bring snacks.)

And remember, don’t put pressure on yourself to have a master plan for creating the perfect evening. I always scout a few YouTube pieces to show the teens, in case we want to branch out and talk about the mechanics of writing. I look for interviews with their favorite artists and writers, and we have had some great discussions around those.

Most of the evening, however, is devoted to listening. I listen to them, they listen to each other.

I have a list of insights I’ve gleaned from running these groups which I will be posting here in the coming weeks. Why am I passionate about this topic?

Aristotle said, “To educate the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”

As a nation, we’re neglecting the heart. And fixing that oversight begins with the simplest of steps.

Teens need a safe space where they can be heard. Your library is that space. It’s not as daunting as you might think, and you don’t need to be a writer or a speaker to do it.

You just need to listen.
Because what you hear will change your life.
More on that next time!

What I’m Reading…

Everything, actually.

My high school-aged daughter and I have been battling all summer to see who can read the most books. She prefers long tomes in the fantasy genre and I love middle grade fiction which tends to run much shorter. She finally resorted to grabbing a stack of Goosebumps titles to gain a quick advantage. On the afternoon I caught her doing that, I snapped “I better not catch you with another book!” Sigh. Not my finest parenting hour, but needs must.

My favorite books this summer are classics that I am re-reading from Corrie ten Boom. I had forgotten how beautifully written THE HIDING PLACE is and how deeply moving. I have two regrets in my life, the first being that I never had a chance to meet her, and the second being that my mother neglected to take me to an Elvis concert when I was a baby so that he could kiss me. It seems that being kissed by Elvis as an infant conferred magical properties on some kind. I’m sure of it. I’ve been able to pin most of my life’s misfortunes on this tragic omission.

But as they say, if it’s not one thing, it’s your mother.

Now, get out of here and go read a good book!

Summer at the Post Road Library

Every summer, I partner with the incredible staff at the Post Road library here in my cozy north Atlanta suburb and bring young adults a super-cool writers workshop. My kids tell me I shouldn’t call it super-cool, but I think it fits.

Here’s how it works:
We watch a movie on a Saturday, then the following week, we have a discussion about the techniques used by the screenwriters to bring the story to life. There’s no homework except to watch the movie…and perhaps eat popcorn for extra credit. :) Writers will gain a better understanding of what makes each genre work, and how their own stories can come to life with the right techniques.

Here’s our schedule:

Adventure Stories
Movie: Saturday, June 4 at 2:30 p.m.
Back to the Future (Rated PG, 1985)
Workshop: Tuesday, June 7 at 1:30 p.m. Please register.

Boy Meets Girl Stories
Movie: Saturday, June 18 at 2:30 p.m.
10 Things I Hate About You (Rated PG-13, 1999)
Workshop: Tuesday. June 21 at 1:30 p.m. Please register.

Teen Against the World Tales
Movie: Saturday, July 2 at 2:30 p.m.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (Rated PG-13, 1986)
Workshop: Tuesday, July 5 at 1:30 p.m. Please register.

Detective Stories
Movie: Saturday, July 16 at 2:30 p.m.
Super 8 (Rated PG-13, 2011)
Workshop: Tuesday, July 19 at 1:30 p.m. Please register.

Teens can also bring in their own work to read to the group, but not everyone feels comfortable reading their work out loud, so there’s never any pressure….but we do promise positive feedback and plenty of encouragement.

Come join us if you can. You can register at the Post Road library or on their website at
http://www.forsyth.public.lib.ga.us/

Here’s what the media is saying about THE LAST MONSTER

“The world around us is filled with monsters
and freaks and mysteries.
And me?
I am the Guardian, who will watch over them all.”

THE LAST MONSTER, by Ginger Garrett, Delacorte Press

“An appealing tale for readers dealing with their own insecurities.”
Booklist

“A perfect recommendation for introspective kids who feel like outsiders.”
School Library Journal

Preorder now for the best price at:
http://www.amazon.com/The-Last-Monster-Ginger-Garrett/dp/0553535242

Or:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-last-monster-ginger-garrett/1122342054

Here

“The world around us is filled with monsters
and freaks and mysteries.
And me?
I am the Guardian, who will watch over them all.”

THE LAST MONSTER, by Ginger Garrett, Delacorte Press

“An appealing tale for readers dealing with their own insecurities.”
Booklist

“A perfect recommendation for introspective kids who feel like outsiders.”
School Library Journal