What Third-World Children Taught Me About Body Positivity

My 11-year old daughter flopped down on the couch, frowning, eyes downcast. I was reading (see also: how to avoid household chores) so I nudged her with my elbow.

“What’s up, shorty?”

She was wearing running shorts, having just completed a 3-mile run with her older brother. My girl was a born athlete, lean and lithe. Still, she jabbed her lean little thigh and groaned.

“I’m fat. Look at my fat move!” She jabbed her thigh again.

“Of course it moves,” I said. “It’s flesh, not bark.”

She was visibly distraught, however, and young girls—or perhaps all girls—are incapable of distinguishing the nuances of the word “fat.” Fat is what our brains are made of. Fat keeps us alive and gives us that bewitching wiggle when we walk. Fat even makes salads worth eating. But I understand that fat can leave some of us distraught. The good news is that as we get older, it shifts in the dead of night to places we can’t see, like the back of our arms.

However, I needed to put an immediate stop to this ridiculous cycle of declaring your body to be your mortal enemy. It was time for a truth bomb. Or a story.

Frankly, I’m better at stories.

“Have I ever told the story of the time my butt joined the pantheon of minor gods in a faraway country?”

She wiped her nose, dabbed her eyes and sat up a little straighter. “What?”

Nestling my book against my built-in bookshelf, also known as a tummy roll, because who needs Ikea once Mother Nature realizes you’re over forty?, I began the absolutely true tale.

“Long, long ago, your mother traveled to a distant land to teach English in a small village. 26 hours by plane, two hours by jeep, and a long walk through rice fields and roadside temples. The people there had rarely seen a white woman, let alone one with flaming red hair and a Dallas Cowboys jersey. Their religion was unknown to me and we barely shared two words in a common language.

Nonetheless, I was led to a tiny hut where a class of kindergarten-aged children sat cross-legged, anxiously awaiting their new teacher’s arrival. The windows of the class were holes cut into the walls, and the teacher’s lounge consisted of a closet with a sink, a toilet and a giant lizard who made his home in the bowl.

I began the lesson plan, working on counting and a few simple words. If these kids learned English as a second language, they’d have a chance to escape poverty by finding work at one of the many resort hotels along the beaches of the area. English lessons were a big deal.

And, apparently, so was my rump.

When it was time to line up and walk to another hut for lunch, the children whispered to each other behind cupped hands, their little eyes casting furtive glances between their friends and me. Something was amiss.

Suddenly one boy was pushed to the head of the line. I’m not sure if he won or lost the argument.

I turned to lead them and felt a finger push in at the center of my rump-cheek. Whipping around, I caught this boy, index finger extended, obviously having just poked me in the rear.

His eyes were wide as he looked at his finger in disbelief.

The entire class was silent, spellbound by the experiment.

Surely it was a prank. I scowled at the boy and turned back around…and then he used his finger to push in at dead center of that cheek, again.

I turned back around, angry now to be the object of the joke, and then I realized: They weren’t making fun of my rump.

They were in awe of it.

They’d never seen a rump so…plentiful, we’ll say, a cornucopia of Western abundance, as if the gods were sending a message to the people of the humble village: Nothing was impossible for the dreamers among them.

In fact, I believe my rear end came close to being deified while there. The children would dance in their seats as they drew pictures of it. Their little faces lit up whenever one of them had a chance to stand next to me, or it, I should say.

In that culture, they knew the truth: fat is not a four-letter word. Sometimes it is an impressive achievement. And truly, to them, my rump was an omen of good fortune, like the birth of a white bull.

After I left, I wondered what the teachers in the future would think, seeing drawings of enormous fluffy rumps and rays of light streaming from all sides. Future generations would hear the legend of the American Rump of Splendor, the White Moon of the West that eclipsed the sun.

And maybe that’s not such a bad thing, I told my daughter. Maybe the one thing we’d change about ourselves becomes the set piece in a really good story, the one thing that makes us beloved to someone else.

Or a whole village.

So, don’t write the narrative for your body, not just yet. Someone else will enter the story who has a completely different version.

“And you know what?” I asked my daughter. “I like their story so much better.”

One More Day

NOTE: Since this past week has brought so much heartache and uncertainty, and because this is Memorial Day weekend, when we celebrate those who have sacrificed for our freedom, I wanted to re-post an article I wrote that first appeared in In Touch magazine. As a mom, I found it very hard to explain the concept of eternity and heaven to my kids. But God found a way, as He always does, although in my case He is often forced to take the scenic route. Here’s a little glimpse into what I believe heaven will be like. May you find comfort in it.


“He’s not there anymore, kids. That’s just his body. One day we’ll see him again, and he’ll be healthy and strong.”

My children stared at the frail frame lying in the coffin. Their grandfather, Papa Craig, had died of Lou Gehrig’s Disease. James, my 9 year old son, looked at me and nodded. He believed my words, and so did his sisters, seven-year-old Elise and five-year-old Lauren—but did they understand them? Could children this young really grasp the idea of heaven, the hope that one day Papa Craig would run to them, whole and healthy, and there would be no more sorrow? How could I help little children to understand heaven when I still had questions about it? Although I make my living as a writer, words completely failed me at that moment. I felt I had failed my children, too.

We returned home from the funeral and life resumed, as it always does, frantic and furious, one season racing into the next, my days a blur of deadlines and carpools. Only sometimes, when I slept with my windows open and my bed was lit by a thousand stars beyond my reach, only then would I contemplate heaven and its mysteries. Only then would I return to the heartache of believing in a heaven I could not fully describe to my children.

“What’s wrong with Grendel, mommy?” little Lauren asked. I glanced up from my computer to see our fifteen year old Bearded Collie stagger and fall as he tried to get to the back door. He had never done this before. My stomach tightened and I bit my lip. I always knew Grendel would not be with us forever but I had dreaded this moment. I had adopted Grendel when he was a puppy and I was still single. It was Grendel who had picked out a husband for me at a party: Grendel had spied Mitch and jumped into his lap, refusing all evening to budge. I knew Mitch had to be special if my dog was so crazy over him.

After Mitch and I married and began our family, my son would dress Grendel up as a Darth Vader and grab a Light Saber, both of them playing for hours before coming inside to steal cookies while I typed. When my girls came along, Grendel was often invited to tea parties, although my girls claimed he had no manners, eating too quickly and belching after cucumber sandwiches.

We weren’t ready to lose Grendel yet, not so soon after Papa Craig’s death. “I’m sorry,” our vet Dr. Jan said over the phone. I had called, trying not to cry, detailing Grendel’s symptoms. “Because of his age, and the symptoms you describe, the news isn’t good. It sounds like Grendel has had a spinal embolism. It’s an event he will not be able to recover from.” Before I hung up, I made an appointment for that afternoon to bring Grendel in for euthanasia.

Once again, I found myself explaining heaven to my children, and explaining that death was not the real end for any of us, including God’s creatures. “Please, God,” I prayed silently, “I don’t have the words they need. Please show them what heaven is. Help my children to understand.”

We drove to the vet’s, Grendel in my lap to feel the breeze on last time on his face. When we arrived at the clinic, Mitch lifted Grendel out of the van and onto the ground. Sobbing, we all held hands and thanked God for giving us so many years with this incredible, and incredibly silly dog that we loved so much. Then as my husband carried Grendel up the stairs into the clinic, my children began wailing.

“Just one more day, Daddy! Please! Give us one more day with Grendel!” I could barely breathe I was crying so hard. The children grew so distraught that after Mitch carried Grendel inside, he turned and took the kids home.

“We started this adventure together, buddy,” I whispered to Grendel, “and now it’s just us again. Wait for me on the other side, ok?”

Dr. Jan, had the room ready for us: dim lights, a quilt on the floor so I could lie down with Grendel as they gave him the injection, his “deceased pet” paperwork already printed. Dr. Jan came in and knelt down to look at Grendel, ruffling his furry head, and then she gasped. Apparently I had missed a symptom–the irises of his eyes seemed to shake side to side just the littlest bit as she studied them.

“We’re not putting him down today! This isn’t an embolism, Ginger—it’s an ear infection!”

A severe middle ear infection had caused Grendel to become dizzy and lose his coordination. Dr. Jan gave him a huge injection of steroids and antibiotics as I called my husband, choking out the news. Grendel began an immediate, dramatic recovery. I will never forget seeing my husband drive up the hill to the clinic, and seeing my kids throw open the van doors, screaming and cheering as they raced toward the clinic—and Grendel bounding out to meet them, grinning ear to ear under all that hair.

God did what I could not: He spoke in language that my children understood, the language of love between a child and a dog.

God made heaven real to them, to us all, in that moment. Earth is when we weep for the pain of death, barely able to stand our hearts breaking, and heaven is that moment when the doors are thrown open and we run, whole and healthy, screaming and laughing, wild with joy, racing straight for each other’s arms.

This weekend, and every morning that God gives you, too, one more day, remember that the best is yet to come.

“Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14, EST translation)

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.”

“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

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.”

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

Preorder now for the best price at: