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Guest Blog

Today I am visiting at the blog of my Aussie friend Dorothy Adamek. I met Dorothy last September at ACFW. We shared a meal together and found kindred spirits! Here’s our little cyber chat for the day:

Chat with Dorothy — Ink Dots!

New favorite review—Sandra Ardoin totally gets it!

Check this one out from Anne Reed Love:

Anne Reed Love’s Book Report on The Pelican Bride

And SAHMRambles, Brandi:

Brandi’s review of Pelican Bride

And Brittany Reads Fiction:

And Rachael Koppendrayer

young woman adjusting stockings by the windowThe following post is Part Two of an article I wrote for Angie Arndt of http://seriouslywrite.blogspot.com. Angie is posting the first half of the article at the above link, so if you haven’t read it yet, you might want to hop over there for the introductory section, then come back here for the rest. This comes in celebration of the release of my brand new historical romance, The Pelican Bride!

 

I’ve learned my own rhythm of composition. I know when I need a large quantity of time alone in my “writing cave”—and I’ve learned to unashamedly, firmly, but kindly insist on being left alone. I’ll call a substitute for my kids’ Bible study class so I can stay home and focus. I’ll take a day or two off from work (not too often though!) or say no to a Saturday babysitting request.

On days when I know there are going to be constant interruptions—like a three-day off-campus conference with my choir students—I take along research reading material and my iPad for notes, so that when I have a few minutes to myself I can occupy myself with something that doesn’t take as much concentration as composition or editing. And I save monotonous tasks (like updating my website or transferring addresses into a newsletter list) for broken-up tracts of time.

One thing I’ve learned the hard way: if I don’t discipline myself, the work doesn’t get done. Bottom line, if you want to write a book, nobody is going to do it for you. I, for example, have to say no to Sudoku. I have to occasionally turn off my favorite writers’ email loop. I have to limit TV time to an hour before bedtime.

And, as a Christian writer, I must be careful of priorities—or I cannot expect God to honor my desire to write for his glory. Priority number one is devotional and prayer time. Every single day. Priority number two is protecting my relationship with my husband. He gets the best of me, not the leftovers. After that, I listen to the Holy Spirit, as I said earlier. Sometimes the teaching job comes next, sometimes it’s my kids and grandkids, sometimes church responsibilities, sometimes the fiction writing.

A common question I get is How do you do all that and not go nuts? Well, holding those things loosely is one thing keeping me sane. Letting any one of those titles—writer, teacher, musician, wife, mother—define me, take over my life, would be seriously unhealthy. I’ve seen people become filled with pride to the point that they fall apart when the gift is removed.

Another suggestion (besides the obvious thing of staying in church fellowship) for keeping it real is to foster close relationships with other Christian writers who can keep you accountable—both to the work of writing and to maintaining spiritual health. Besides my husband and my sisters and mom, I have two or three very close friends/prayer partners whom I would be lost without.

I hope I haven’t set myself up as an expert in time management. I struggle daily to fit in all that seems important—and still write potentially life-changing stories. All I know is that my life to this point has been one wild, surprising ride. Jesus has been in it with me from the beginning, and I cannot wait to see what he has next. I would love to hear others share things they have learned in the course of balancing this high-wire of life. What say you?

Brady’s Song

TunnelToTower

2012-2013 Show Choir Mobile – Tunnel to Tower Run

There was this kid I met through Show Choir Mobile.

Nearly two years ago, we—the Mobile County high school choral directors—held auditions for a show designed to showcase the music and dance of Michael Jackson. I don’t know how many kids showed up at Theodore High School that day, but I’d guess thirty-five or forty, and as you might suppose, the balance was overwhelmingly female. To put it bluntly, we needed to keep as many boys as possible.

Most of the kids knew the music fairly well, but when Angie Dussouy, the dance instructor from Davidson High School, taught the whole group a rigorous five-minute routine, the sheep separated from the goats. I have a priceless video documenting skinned knees, copious sweat, ruddy faces, and laughter. The urban kids fared the best, but let’s just say the pale-faced country boys from Theodore and Semmes didn’t have quite the groove we were looking for.

MJRehearsal

Early Michael Jackson rehearsal – Brady rocking the back row

But we needed boys. Boys who could sing.

And Brady Hoffman, a tenth-grader from Mary G. Montgomery High School could sing. He was well over six feet tall, with shoulders like a linebacker, size 14 shoes (both apparently left-footed), Nordic blue eyes and blond hair—and a well-trained baritone with massive range.

Meeting after the audition to set the choir roster, we directors all looked at each other. “Maybe we can put Brady on the back row and nobody will notice he can’t dance,” somebody said hopefully. But Angie laughed. “Come on, I can teach anybody to dance.”

Thriller2

Rehearsing Thriller – Brady in turquoise on the back

As it turned out, she apparently can. All twenty-five kids we chose for the choir threw themselves heart and soul into polishing the music and learning those signature liquid, spine-jolting MJ moves. Brady worked harder than anybody, often spending his break times practicing those complex dance combinations, learning to control his big, awkward adolescent body—until by the night of the opening performance he was, if not front-row quality, at least not a major distraction.

Word got around quickly how spectacular the show was, and the choir was invited to perform for several community events. By the end of the 2012-2013 season, Brady blended in seamlessly, and had become an integral part of a truly heart-knit, multicultural group of gifted teenagers. And he had gained enough confidence to become a leader in the 2013-2014 choir.

MJPubShot

MJ Tribute Publicity Shot – Brady far left in red hat

HealTheWorld

Singing “Heal the World” – Brady in red, center front

One of my favorite memories is the day he sheepishly brought me his red silk shirt, one of the costumes for the Michael Jackson show, with the under-arm seam torn apart. When we’d ordered the shirts, the biggest size available was extra-large—still about two sizes too small for Brady’s huge shoulders. So we ordered two shirts for him, and I took them home, cut them up and pieced them back together as one shirt, praying the seams would hold together under the stress of all that energetic choreography. I only had to sew it back together that one time, which is pretty miraculous.

SmokinWeed

Rehearsal for Dance Through the Decades – Brady (in yellow) pretends to smoke weed in a 70’s disco

FrontRow

Finally Front Row

AllTheGold

“All the Gold In California” solo – in 80’s attire

I came to love Brady for his relentless optimism. Like most innately musical kids, he sang twenty-four hours a day—undoubtedly even in his sleep. He hated for anybody around him to be sad or lonely. He would seek out anybody sitting alone and bring them into the group, or just strike up a teasing conversation. For any stressful or potentially negative situation (such as being late for rehearsal), he found an appropriate—or inappropriate, as the case may be—song for the occasion. If he was feeling emotional, he would start praise-and-worship sing-alongs, drawing other kids in and settling nerves. All that over-the-top energy could be exhausting—or even frequently annoying—but you couldn’t be irritated with him for long without laughing at his nonsense and appreciating his sincere devotion to God.

So when all this young, boundless joy and potential is wiped off the earth in the blink of an eye, the natural question is why. If I were God, I would have left him here to have a long, fruitful life. I would have sent an angel to shove aside the car that killed him. I would have allowed one of those miraculous interventions that sometimes happen, so that Brady could walk through life with a powerful testimony of God’s goodness. I would spare his parents the ache of missing an only son and his young friends their bewildered sorrow.

CrackerBarrelAllState

All-State Choral Festival 2013 – Brady thoroughly enjoying Cracker Barrel with his choir-boy (and girl) buddies.

But I am not all-wise, all-knowing, all-powerful. I cannot see the fruit that will come from a memorial service where more than fifty individuals committed themselves to Brady’s Savior and Lord. I can’t imagine the impact that short life will have in ten public high schools spread across a sprawling south Alabama county. I can’t predict how the very loss of that beautiful, contagious faith-walk will exponentially multiply in spiritual life, as a seed, dead and planted in the ground, becomes a harvest to feed nations.

Is it possible to hate the action of an unseen God because it hurts me personally, yet acknowledge its ultimate goodness?

I know it is. Because that’s what it means to be made in God’s image. To be human is to experience and relish all kinds of music—the exultant, the comic, the quiet, the angry, the patriotic, the blood-pumping rhythmic. We are made to be filled by God’s Spirit, and when we submit to and fully embrace his Son, as Brady Hoffman did, there is indeed fullness of joy—such that even in death, lives are changed for good.

Brady’s song. A song that celebrates, even in grief. A song that unites and invites. That’s a song worth singing.

robinLeeI cyber-chatted with my friend Robin Lee Hatcher this weekend about her new novel, A Promise KeptThought my readers might be interested in our conversation. Grab a cup of your favorite hot beverage (chai tea latte for me) and join us!

An interview with Robin Lee Hatcher,

Author of A Promise Kept

When Robin Lee Hatcher’s marriage ended in divorce, she was devastated. “I’d been so convinced God had promised me that He would save our marriage,” the author says, but she quickly learned that sometimes God answers prayer in the most unexpected ways. In the following years, God used the pain of what appeared to be a failed marriage to draw her closer to Him. In A Promise Kept (Thomas Nelson/January 7, 2014/ISBN: 978-1401687656/$15.99) Hatcher draws on that personal pain to craft a story about a woman married to an alcoholic, a woman who has to learn the value and importance of surrendering everything to the Lord.

 

A Promise Kept coverQ: Can you tell us a little bit about A Promise Kept and specifically how your own life inspired this story?

A Promise Kept opens as Allison Kavanagh arrives at the house her aunt Emma bequeathed to her — a log home in the mountains. Her marriage of more than twenty years has ended in divorce because of her husband’s alcoholism. She was so certain God had promised to save her marriage, but obviously she was wrong. Now she is moving from Boise to Kings Meadow to start life afresh and find a way to heal from her heartbreak.

Like Allison, my marriage ended in divorce because of my husband’s alcoholism. I was devastated because I’d been so convinced God had promised me He would save our marriage. I had believed His promise through many difficult times, but it hadn’t come to pass. I knew God didn’t lie. Therefore, I must have misunderstood.

But God had many things to teach me in the following years, including that He answers prayers in totally unexpected ways and in His own time, not mine. One of those unexpected ways was realized when my husband and I were remarried more than five years later. God used the divorce to save our marriage!

Q: How does your husband feel about you using aspects of your lives in a novel and speaking openly about it in interviews?

Thanks so much for asking this question. In order to honor my husband, I made certain from the very beginning that he was on-board for me to write about and talk about our marriage — which would mean talking about him and his battles with addiction. His response was, “If my story can help someone else, use it.”

Q: How much of your main character’s situation is based on your own and will readers see a portrait of the author in your heroine?

While my characters are never me — I allow them to be individuals and allow their lives to unfold in their own way — there are always pieces of me in them. Allison’s life is not the same as mine. I didn’t retreat to a mountain cabin nor have an aunt whose journals helped me discover truths I needed to know, nor did I withdraw from God during the depths of my grief as Allison does. But every lesson God teaches me eventually makes its way into one of my stories. That was certainly true of A Promise Kept.

Q: What would you say to someone who feels like God has abandoned him or her or forgotten His promise?

Hold onto Him no matter what. We only see such a tiny scrap of reality. God sees the whole picture. He knows you intimately, and He loves you extravagantly. He hasn’t abandoned you.

Faith isn’t about feelings. We cannot trust our feelings. The Bible warns us that the heart is deceptive. If you are feeling abandoned, get into God’s word and do a study on His character. When you know His character, you will cease to fear that He might leave you alone in your trials.

Q: What is the most important thing God taught you during your own period of refinement?

Not the most important but certainly the most surprising was when I realized I had reached the place where I could thank God for my marriage to an alcoholic and mean it. Because of what happened in my marriage, my faith was deepened and strengthened. I learned to hold onto the foot of the cross so tightly that I could feel the splinters in the palms of my hands. No matter what comes, I’m holding onto the Lord, from where my help comes.

I consider my life lesson to be this: Nothing, absolutely nothing, enters my life that isn’t caused or allowed by God, filtered through His loving hands, for the purpose of making me more like Jesus.

Salvation happens in an instant when we trust in Christ. But sanctification is a lifelong journey. We travel it one day at a time, and the refining process is always part of it. None of us wants to step into that fire so the dross can be burned away. We don’t want to be pruned with those spiritual clippers. But it is for our eternal good that we submit to it.

In the end, I want to be like Jesus more than I want to avoid the discomfort of the refinement process.

Q: Is there anything in particular that your heroine, Allison, clings to that helps remind her of God’s promises?

In Allison’s case, the end of her marriage caused her to let go of the cross rather than cling tighter. So her journey had to be one that brought her back to that place of trust. What she learns in her aunt’s journals helps her begin and continue on that journey, as do the friends she makes.

Q: An important question raised in A Promise Kept is, “Am I surrendering everything to the Lord?” What is the significance of this question and how do you determine the answer?

One thing I’ve learned through the years is that I make a very poor substitute for the Holy Spirit. When I try to control situations or people rather than trust in God, it never turns out for the best. It is human nature to try to hold things back from God, whether we don’t fully trust Him or whether we think He might just be too busy to notice. Human, but not wise.

Years ago, God called me to write another book about alcoholism in a Christian home (Beyond the Shadows). I thought it was because He wanted me to offer hope to those who were sitting in the pews, trying to look like they were holding it all together, while at the same time they were dying on the inside because of the addictions of loved ones. I wanted them to know they weren’t alone. God has, indeed, used the book in such a way. I know because I’ve received many letters saying so. But writing that book also taught me, the author, a whole new level of submission to the Lord. Who am I to answer back to God and ask Him why He made me this way or why He made my life this way?

Q: When things don’t work out the way we want them to, it’s easy to blame God. What would you say to someone wrestling with these feelings, and how can we avoid the bitterness that sometimes accompanies them?

Learn the importance of forgiveness. When God helped me learn to forgive as an act of will, it changed me to my core. It has kept me free of bitterness, despite the trials and disappointments. I count myself blessed.

Blaming God for things not working out the way we want is a fruitless action. And it means we still believe that life is about us. Me and my happiness. You and your happiness. But it isn’t. Not in the way we think, anyway.

About ten or so years ago, I was standing in my office, weeping over my husband and our marriage. Big crocodile tears that splattered loudly when they hit the floor mat. I asked God, “Why?” What I meant was, “Why me?” And after a long period of time, I felt God speak to my heart, “Why not you, beloved?” It quieted me, stopped me cold. Yes, why not me? Did I think I was so special that I could avoid what Christ told me would be true? Jesus said, “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

Q: God never seems to answer our prayers the way we expect or even in the timing we wish for. What advice do you have for people who are in the waiting period?

Waiting is hard, especially for those of us in the Western world. We want and expect immediate gratification. Dinner from the microwave. A mug of coffee in seconds from a single serve K-cup. Buy something on the Internet with a credit card and get it delivered tomorrow. Sometimes we treat the almighty, holy God of the Universe as if He were our personal Santa Claus that we give our wish list to and expect Him to fulfill it immediately. And even if our wish list is full of good things that God wants to give us, His timing can remain a mystery to us.

But God has a beautiful promise for those who learn how to wait on Him.

Yet those who wait for the LORD

Will gain new strength;

They will mount up with wings like eagles,

They will run and not get tired,

They will walk and not become weary.

~ Isaiah 40:31, NASB95

Q: Allison moves into the cabin she inherited from her self-reliant aunt Emma and uncovers a side of the woman she didn’t know existed. Is this wise woman inspired by someone in your real life?

No, Aunt Emma is a character straight from my imagination. But whenever I think of older women of faith, whenever I need to be reminded how I should live, I always think first of my mother. She went home to be with the Lord at the age of 96, and she is who I would first emulate as a Christian woman.

Q: You have an important group of women who have influenced your life. Tell us the most valuable aspect of these friendships.

One of the greatest gifts God has given me was to introduce me to the group of Christian writers who gather together each summer to “plot, play, and pray.” The first year we met, most of us were complete strangers. I shudder when I remember I almost declined the invitation, uncertain if I would fit in with people I didn’t know. But God knit together something unique that first year, and the bonds have only continued to deepen over time.

The most valuable aspect is that these women love and trust the Lord with their whole hearts, and because of that we can trust one another with our deepest secrets and our true selves. When I was in such anguish over the death of my marriage, there were days I couldn’t even form a cohesive prayer in my thoughts. But I knew these friends were praying for me, and that gave me strength to keep moving forward.

Over the years, every single one of us has suffered some kind of hardship or pain. The death of a mother or father or spouse. Cancer of a loved one. Personal health issues and broken bones. Addictions of a loved one. Loss of a job. Financial struggles. Loss of eyesight. What a difference it has made to know we can turn to one another and not have to pretend to be strong or act like we have all the answers.

Q: In your letter to readers, which appears at the end of A Promise Kept, you talk about how your divorce felt like a failure. How did God turn that failure around in your life?

When we were first married, my husband and I promised until death do us part. We meant it. So it felt like failure when God told me to “let go” of him after nearly a year of separation, even though I was acting in obedience. What I couldn’t see or understand at first was that God needed to get my husband off by himself so the two of them could work on his life without me being there as a safety net, as the strong one. I believe my husband would have died if we continued on the way we had been, but I didn’t see it that way at the time. I had to stand back and let God be God.

Q: Alcoholism played a large part in your marriage and eventually your divorce. What gave you the strength to continue to pray for your spouse even when no answer seemed to come?

Strength comes from believing deep down in my soul that God is in control and that He wants the best for both me and my husband. I don’t always know what that “best” is, but He does.

Q: There are many women in our audience who are married to someone who has struggled with addiction, and though they have prayed for them, the answers have not yet come. As Christians, we know that divorce is a last resort, but is that ever possibly the answer to prayer? How did you come to that painful decision?

Divorce is a very painful choice. I don’t care what the reason. It is painful and shouldn’t be entered into lightly. It is especially painful for Christians who are trying to walk in faith and please God. It would be a mistake for anyone to look at me and my situation and say, “If it was OK for her, maybe this is what God wants for me too.” That said, I do not believe divorce is always a sin. And if it is sin, it isn’t an unforgiveable one. The only unforgiveable sin is blaspheming the Holy Spirit.

Could divorce ever be an answer to prayer? I can’t answer that with any certainty. I don’t even know that it was God’s answer to my prayers. But He allowed divorce to happen and then used it, first to save my husband’s life and second to help him embrace a life of sobriety.

When I instigated “tough love,” my husband walked out the door, which started our separation. But I still believed God would save our marriage, so for me, the separation had one purpose: to reconcile us. But my husband got worse instead of better, and the day came when God told me to let go of him. It was a terrible, devastating moment. I didn’t understand it. I didn’t want to do it. There were some Christians who counseled me one way and some who counseled another. All I could do was obey and trust the Lord as best I could.

Q: A Promise Kept is such a personal story; what do you hope each reader takes away from it?

I hope readers will be encouraged to keep walking forward. I hope, if they are in a troubled marriage, that they will seek God with their whole hearts and not act out of selfishness but out of obedience. I hope reading A Promise Kept will deepen their faith in a God who answers prayers, in His own way and His own time.

Robin Lee Hatcher will be hosting a Facebook party on Thursday, February 6, 2014 at 8:00 PM EST to chat with readers about A Promise Kept, give away copies of the book and reveal the grand prize winner of a social media giveaway. More details will be available on her Facebook page.

 For more information about Hatcher and her books, visit her online home at www.robinleehatcher.com, become a fan on Facebook (robinleehatcher) or follow her on Twitter (@robinleehatcher). 

 

 

A Promise Kept cover

I would like to introduce my readers to a new book by my dear friend Robin Lee Hatcher. The only reason I haven’t read it yet is because it will release in a couple of days! Robin has been one of the most influential authors of my life, both personally and professionally. She has mentored and taught me (often without being aware) and many, many other Christian writers—and she has produced some truly groundbreaking novels in the Christian fiction marketplace. I’ll never forget reading The Forgiving Hour, early in my own publishing career. (Go. Get. That. Book.)

After, that is, you’ve read this new one! Personally, I can’t wait! And tomorrow I will post an interview with Robin about A Promise Kept.

A promise from God is a promise kept

Robin Lee Hatcher draws on her own personal pain to illustrate God’s goodness.

When Robin Lee Hatcher’s marriage ended in divorce, she was devastated.I’d been so convinced God had promised me that He would save our marriage,” the author says, but she quickly learned that sometimes God answers prayer in the most unexpected ways. In the following years, God used the pain of what appeared to be a failed marriage to draw her closer to Him. In A Promise Kept (Thomas Nelson/January 7, 2014/ISBN: 978-1401687656/$15.99) Hatcher draws on that personal pain to craft a story about a woman married to an alcoholic, a woman who has to learn the value and importance of surrendering everything to the Lord.

 

 

Despite the similarities to her own life, Hatcher notes, “Allison’s life is not the same as mine. I didn’t retreat to a mountain cabin nor have an aunt whose journals helped me discover truths I needed to know, nor did I withdraw from God during the depths of my grief as Allison does. But every lesson God teaches me eventually makes its way into one of my stories. That was certainly true of A Promise Kept.”

 

 

In A Promise Kept, Allison finds herself divorced despite her long-held belief that God would save her marriage. She’s left asking, “What became of God’s promise?” Tony Kavanagh had been Allison’s dream-come-true. They were in love within days, engaged within weeks, then married and pregnant within a year. Her cup bubbled over with joy . . . but years later, that joy had been extinguished by unexpected trials.

 

 

The day Allison issued her husband an ultimatum to get and stay sober or leave, she thought it might save their marriage. She never expected he would actually choose to walk out the door. She was certain God had promised to heal; it was clear she’d misunderstood. Now, living in the quiet mountain cabin she inherited from her single, self-reliant great aunt Emma, Allison must come to terms with her grief and figure out how to adapt to small-town life. But when she finds a wedding dress and a collection of journals in Emma’s attic, a portrait of her aunt emerges that takes Allison completely by surprise: a portrait of a heartbroken woman surprisingly like herself.

 

 

As Allison reads the incredible story of Emma’s life in the 1920s and 1930s, she is forced to ask a difficult question: Has she really surrendered every piece of her life to the Lord?

 

 

Drawing from her own heart-wrenching story of redemption and eventual reconciliation with her husband, A Promise Kept is Hatcher’s emotionally charged thanksgiving to a God who keeps His promises. “I hope readers will be encouraged to keep walking forward,” Hatcher says. “I hope, if they are in a troubled marriage, that they will seek God with their whole hearts and not act out of selfishness but out of obedience. I hope reading A Promise Kept will deepen their faith in a God who answers prayers, in His own way and His own time.”

 

Robin Lee Hatcher will be hosting a Facebook party on Thursday, February 6, 2014 at 8:00 PM EST to chat with readers about A Promise Kept, give away copies of the book and reveal the grand prize winner of a social media giveaway. More details will be available on her Facebook page.

 

Advance Praise

 

“A beautiful, heart-touching story of God’s amazing grace, and how He can restore and make new that which was lost.”

 

~  Francine Rivers, New York Times bestselling author

 

 

“Hatcher’s beautifully crafted tale alternates between the past and the present. Allison and Emma are incredibly relatable characters, and readers are able to examine their own lives through the mirror of the novel’s events. Filled with family and faith, the author’s phrasing is exquisite and a treat to savor.”

 

~ RT Book Reviews Top Pick

 

 

“Hatcher departs from her more recent historical novels for this contemporary exploration of the conundrum faced by believers when they accept God’s word but can’t see it being manifested in their lives. Seeking refuge from the pain of her recent divorce, Allison Kavanagh moves to the remote mountain cabin in Idaho, bequeathed to her by beloved Aunt Emma… With the help of family and newfound church community, Allison reconsiders the trajectory of her marriage, and gradually works through her spiritual and emotional turmoil. The mountain setting is as appealing an aspect of this upbeat, well-paced novel as Allison, Emma, and their family and friends.”

 

~ Publisher’s Weekly

 

“Award-winning Hatcher’s latest is a story of love, heartbreak, and redemption… Hatcher’s inspirational novel dramatizes the perception that even when it seems like you’re alone, you are always a part of a greater plan.”

 

~ Booklist 

 

About the author

 

 

robinLeeBest-selling novelist Robin Lee Hatcher is known for her heartwarming and emotionally charged stories of faith, courage, and love. She discovered her vocation after many years of reading everything she could put her hands on, including the backs of cereal boxes and ketchup bottles. Winner of the Christy, the RITA, the Carol, the Inspirational Reader’s Choice, and many other awards, Hatcher is also a recipient of the prestigious RWA Lifetime Achievement Award. She is the author of 70 novels and novellas with more than five million copies in print.

 

 

Hatcher’s own experience being married to an alcoholic led her down an unexpected path. Her divorce, though painful, strengthened her faith and gave God the opportunity to save not only her husband but her marriage as well. Their reconciliation became the answer to prayer Hatcher had been waiting for and it became part of the deeply personal story she wanted to share with her readers in A Promise Kept.

 

 

Hatcher enjoys being with her family, spending time in the beautiful Idaho outdoors, reading books that make her cry, and watching romantic movies. Her main hobby (when time allows) is knitting, and she has a special love for making prayer shawls. A mother and grandmother, Robin and her husband, Jerry, make their home on the outskirts of Boise, sharing it with Poppet, the high-maintenance Papillon and Princess Pinky, the DC (demon cat).

 

 

For more information about Hatcher and her books, visit her online home at www.robinleehatcher.com, become a fan on Facebook (robinleehatcher) or follow her on Twitter (@robinleehatcher). 

 

 

 

The Orange Chair

ImageTHERE’S an orange chair in my office across from my desk. It’s a reject from the theater backstage, with a worn cushion, one bent leg, and slightly scuzzy upholstery. It’s for visiting parents, broken-hearted children, and kids who just want to shoot the breeze for a few minutes. A lot goes on in that chair.

When I tell stories from my adventures in teaching high school music, inevitably somebody says “You should put that in a book.” Maybe one day I will. But I keep thinking, if I don’t write it now, while it’s fresh on my mind, while my heart is pierced and broken and bleeding, the stories will lack emotion…maybe even they’ll lack truth.

So here goes with this one.

There are a couple of girls in my choir—let’s call them Sibella and Joanie—who don’t get along. Who knows where the enmity started. They’re both seniors. Joanie is extremely bright, tall and beautiful, extroverted and quick to criticize (she’s always the smartest one in the room), a confident vocal soloist, drum major in the band and vice president of the choir—in short, one of those born leaders who often require a huge dose of humility in order to be effective. I’m not sure if her parents are married, but she has an involved and protective father and doting grandparents.

Sibella, though well-dressed and neat, is short and a little pudgy, dogged by the “Special Ed” label. She has a smart mouth, reacts loudly to perceived criticism, seems to enjoy stirring gossip. And some unidentified health problems kept her hospitalized for a good portion of the previous school year. Though she enjoys music and sings well, I was a little concerned about adding her to the advanced group. Chemistry is important. But I decided to give her a chance.

Just a few weeks into this school year, I had to be off campus several days in a row. Show choir tour was followed by an out-of-town writers’ conference, then I took some students to a choral conference at a nearby university. I left my sub, an accomplished musician, with plenty of rehearsal instructions and prayed for the best.

Friday afternoon in Indianapolis, I received a text message from Sibella: “Mrs. White, I’m sorry for what happened in your classroom today. I didn’t start it.” Uh-oh. Then, a few hours later I got a longer one from Joanie, accusing Sibella of aggravated aggression.

I was inclined to sympathize with Joanie, because I’ve known her longer, watched her struggle to control her sarcastic and sometimes abrasive temperament, seen the blooming of a brilliant and dynamic leader. But because I wasn’t there to witness the confrontation, I depended on administrators to handle the situation.

By the time I got back to class on the next Wednesday, the entire class had taken sides—as I had worried might happen—to the point that another girl picked a fight with Joanie and got both of them suspended. I took a deep breath, prayed for wisdom and decided to deal with one thing at a time.

To my surprise, Sibella didn’t seem to have been administratively disciplined beyond a talking-to. I called her into my office for a conference and expressed my disappointment and displeasure in her behavior. “I may have to get your schedule changed and put you in a class where you’ll be happier and more successful,” I said. She bridled and informed me if I did, I’d have to put Joanie out too.

“I don’t let teenagers tell me how to run my class,” I said firmly. “That will be my decision, not yours.”

Enraged, Sibella shouted, “I’m gon’ tell Mr. Davis,” and ran out of the classroom slamming the door.

The next day, Sibella’s mother and aunt showed up. I instantly understood the source of the defensive posturing, the “I’m a victim” aggression. Not all single mothers fit the mold, but this one was classic. You’re playing favorites. We don’t take disrespect from nobody. Be fair, or else.

Well, I’ve learned not to be bullied. I’ve worked successfully in this urban Title I school for six years. Both women left unsatisfied and angry (though the aunt seemed a little more open-minded and embarrassed by her sister’s belligerence), and I’m sure they bent the principal’s ear with how unreasonable Mrs. White was.

The next day, Sibella bopped into the choir room, plugged her cell phone charger into the wall (this generally doesn’t bother me, as long as the kids aren’t texting during rehearsal), and took her place in the soprano section. There was no sign of repentance. Joanie was still missing. I took a deep breath and began the rehearsal.

Sometime later we were rehearsing one of our Christmas pieces when Sibella jumped up and ran to answer her ringing cell phone. When I reprimanded her, she spat back, “You can’t talk to me like that.” Oh really? She grabbed her phone and ran out of the room shouting she was going to call her mother and tell Mr. Davis.

By now the rest of the choir was looking at me in dumbfounded disbelief. “That, my children,” I said, “is how not to be successful in life.” They all laughed and we went back to rehearsal.

Sibella stayed out of class for a couple of days, and I was too relieved to inquire as to her whereabouts. We were now going on three weeks of this nonsense, and my normally plant-level blood pressure was up in the stratosphere. The principal was out for some conference, the assistant administrators wouldn’t touch the Sibella-Joanie situation with a ten-foot pole, and I was operating on the fumes of grace.

Where in this, I wondered, is God working? How would he have me behave? Where do the vectors of discipline, forgiveness, truth and mercy converge? All I know to do is to walk in love as best I know how, in any given moment. Earlier in the semester, my friend Kim and I prayed over my office, anointing my desk and the orange chair with oil. So I know the Holy Spirit has been walking with me, providing what I would need.

Last week, Joanie finally comes back to school (presumably from an extended suspension for fighting) and asks to talk to me. She sits in that orange chair across from my desk and asks me to forgive her and help her. She confesses to losing her temper, and knows she’s blown my trust and her influence with younger kids.

There. That’s what I’m looking for: humility. I can work with that.

So we talk about recovering from mistakes and rectifying bad decisions. We talk about how prayer and filling with God’s Word are the armor required to navigate the minefields of high school and beyond. I do my best to encourage her not to give up, to hold fast against the adversary’s attempts to suck us into toxic bitterness and anger. I’m crying with emotion, and she’s smiling at my tenderness.

These words: You have impacted my life, and I’m grateful. They are a balm to my heart.

God is at work. He hears me. He sees me. He loves these children under my hand. There’s more to come, but for today this is enough.