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J. M. Butler Posts

Review: Every Day in May

The first place winner for Breathtaking was @Amberkbryant Every Day in May.  If you’d like to check out her story, you can read it for free right here:  Every Day in May.

This competition featured a number of strong writers with some fantastic stories. I know that I passed many a pleasant hour reading these adventures and tales of characters in settings of all stripes. The judges certainly had their work cut out for them, but I think it’s clear what sets this story apart from a stiff competition. For the review, I will try to avoid giving away any spoilers. On the analysis, which will be posted on my website, all bets are off.

Every Day in May is written as a series of letters from a young woman to a prince who is imprisoned in a tower. The country is in turmoil, and a revolution is in the works. Everyone has a role to play, but what is Merryn, our protagonist, doing? She is writing letters to the prince to give him vital information. You see, Prince Theo must make a choice. All his life, he has been sheltered, hidden beneath his tyrant father’s shadow. And, under normal circumstances, this poor young prince would probably be deemed a casualty of war. But Merryn risks her own life, slipping to his chambers each night to leave a letter.

The rules of this exchange are simple. She will answer one question, and, though Merryn sometimes cheats a little by helping to direct young Theo in the direction he needs to go, a relationship develops. The story is told entirely in the letters that Merryn writes back to Theo with only a couple exceptions.

Yet even so, a rich narrative develops with stories of Merryn’s past, Theo’s father, the reasons for the revolution, and a gradual revelation of the key players. It even has an element of fun to it as you the reader must guess what questions Theo is asking. Sometimes those questions are the ones that you yourself would ask. Other times, Theo’s personality and obstinacy is revealed as he asks questions that make you wonder what he’s thinking.

A clear personality emerges from Merryn. She is kind, mothering, and brave, despite her own fears. It’s unclear what all she is risking initially, but the twist at the end reveals just how much she has done and is doing to give the prince a chance. You can’t help but like her. Her articulation is quite clear, and sometimes she seems over mature for her age. Yet at the same time, given what she has endured and her education, it isn’t that surprising. I ultimately felt that it added to her character and gave us insight into what else she had endured.

Theo’s personality as well as his character is more shrouded. Merryn’s tone and the responses she gives offer the most clues about who he is. Yet that actually makes it feel more believable to me. I’ll get into this more in the analysis. But Theo himself works well as a more shrouded character. A clear perspective on him emerges from the narrative, but the fun is in playing with the person it’s coming from. Merryn is something of an optimist as well as an idealist. She wants to believe in him. She wants him to have this chance. So we are seeing this character through her eyes, though we are actually more in Theo’s perspective.

Not to give anything away, but not all goes according to plan. In fact, it gets quite tense. Amber makes the most of the medium, using it to build up suspense and play on the uncertainty. The epilogue ties everything up nicely, though you should note that there’s a timeline before the actual epilogue. So don’t skip over it just because you think it’s a bunch of dates.

The story is a fast read. You can probably finish it up in a couple of hours. And when you’re done, you’ll have a satisfied feeling that you read a good story with compelling characters and a sweet but sincere voice. Check it out, and enjoy. And if you’d like to know a little more about Amber, turn to the section and check out this interview!

Left Behind Review

Earlier this week, I caught part of a TV show called Cutthroat Kitchen, a cooking competition show. In one episode, the contestants had to prepare spaghetti and meatballs.  One contestant prepared this elaborate three tomato pasta sauce with aromatic spices and savory seasoning. She pureed it and then, when she went to pour it out, she knocked it off the counter. Everything spilled on the floor and into the trash can. Nothing could be salvaged. The clock was counting down. She didn’t have time to make another batch, but then she realized that she had the drippings left in the pan. So she grabbed some water and balsamic vinegar, poured it in the pan, and attempted to make a substitute. She passed it off to the judge as a sauce reduction, though there was hardly enough to even color the noodles. According to the judge, it barely had the hint of sauce, let alone actual sauce.

That is what Left Behind is. Any elements of Christianity, story telling, disaster, and so on are no more than hints. Promises that are never delivered and that actually leave you feeling nauseated.

Even here Nicholas Cage looks somewhat annoyed with this movie.
Even here Nicholas Cage looks somewhat annoyed with this movie.

I hardly even know where to begin on this movie. Left Behind is a reboot of the Left Behind series, and I guess the best way to analyze this is just to dig right in.

First, let’s start with biases. I am a Christian. I’m from the heartland. I am familiar with the Bible as well as various eschatological theories and perspectives. This movie was an enormous disappointment. I had not viewed any of the previews or trailers for this movie. But even so, I found the movie bland, disappointing, and mind numbing. I actually left the theater with a headache. This review may be a little scrambled as I am not entirely sure how to organize it, so I hope you’ll bear with me.

Premises You Must Accept if You’re Going to Enjoy This Movie

Um…I really don’t know where to start on this one. I struggled to find anything good and noteworthy in this movie. If you enjoyed this film and have a perspective to share, please do. As it stands, I think the people who will most enjoy this will be the ones who fill in the blanks with the knowledge that they have and are just excited to see a bigger budget of a story they enjoyed or those who love to watch bad movies.

Characters….

So, characters are normally the best elements of a story for me. Mediocre stories can be saved by great characters or at least memorable characters. Critical flaws can be covered up with a character who is so real you are drawn in. Firefly, for instance, is one of my favorite series. Even if the stories hadn’t been well constructed, I would have still enjoyed the series because I loved Mal, River, Zoe, Shepherd, and all the rest. But in Left Behind, there is not one developed or memorable character.

“Oh, Mother, how I hate you! Even though millions of other people are Christians and it’s never established why someone who comes across so sweet and harmless could be despised so fully, I really hate your guts and never once wish that you were with me again when everyone else disappears. You are somehow worse than Hitler.”

The only things that we know about the characters are what we are told. No one is developed. Lea Thompson plays Irene Steele, one of the most clearly depicted Christian characters who has a name and something of a back story. (Though really, the back story is only in comparison to the other characters here.) She does the best with what she has, but we never hear her share her faith. Supposedly, she’s a new Christian who converted within the last year and is a bit of a wacko. Of course, in the one exchange where we hear her talking to her daughter, the only thing that she asks is that her daughter hear her out and that she wants her daughter to be ready. However, the discussion includes nothing about what the daughter should be ready for, why this matters so much to the mother, or even why she chose to convert. Most of the time, later in life conversions are related to some change within that individual’s life. Like a close brush with death or the loss of a close family member or something like that. So what happened? Also why was her daughter so hateful toward her about it? Neither the mother nor the daughter really seemed like unreasonable people, and so the animosity that the daughter had for her mother was quite strange.

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Even though he’s not a main character, Martin Klebba is one of the more engaging characters who, though not the most likeable character in the world, still manages to act and engage.

The movie itself is divided primarily between Nicholas Cage as Rayford Steele, Chad Michael Murray as Buck Williams, and Cassi Thomson as Chloe Steele. All of the characters could easily be summed up as a stereotype. And none of them added anything. You could have substituted out just about any of them without losing anything. The most memorable individual in the film was Martin Klebba who played an agitated and manipulative character, Melvin Weir, who really didn’t get enough screen time.

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Nicholas Cage when he read the script of this movie.

Please don’t expect any character development or growth to come out of this. There isn’t even a Nicholas Cage freak out in this movie, though there’s a couple points when it would have been perfect. The pacing of the movie is only appropriate for a deeper emotional drama that looks into the dynamics of a family that is struggling with these new changes, namely the mother’s conversion and the father’s decision to pursue an affair. But that’s not all that this film is supposed to be about. For being a suspenseful nail biter where the audience is kept wondering what’s happening, none of that suspense or tension build up really occurs. It’s like an annoying acquaintance trying to scare you. You see him creeping toward you with the mask on, you wave at him, but he still keeps acting as if he’s somehow going to take you by surprise. It’s really rather sad.

An Example of the Acting

It’s quite incredible how poor the acting is in this film. Most of the time, I prefer to give the actors the benefit of the doubt. In this case, I had only doubt about whether anyone cared about this film. One of the best examples I can think of is how the parents, particularly the mothers, reacted when their children were taken in the rapture. There’s some screaming and crying, but for the most part, they’re remarkably composed. You can clearly tell that they’re acting. In fact, there’s not a single wet eye. Not a single tear. No smeared make up. Relatively little screaming.

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“I’m devastated that my brother has vanished into thin air. Can’t you tell how much this tears me apart?”

Tell me…if you were holding your child in your arms and that child vanished, leaving behind nothing but her clothes, wouldn’t you be screaming and sobbing? I’ve seen mothers who have lost their children, and…you know what…they were hysterical. There was screaming, weeping, barely discernible words, shrieking, and more. The agony that those mothers endured, the terror, the fear of what had happened to their beloved children still tears at my heart when I remember them. Not one of the parents or caretakers of these children demonstrated anything close to that. And putting fake tears in someone’s eyes really isn’t that hard. The absence of tears and the relative blandness of the performances are painfully noticeable. The actors clearly don’t care, so why should the audience?

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Can you believe they met less than an hour ago? Maybe the fact that he’s a celebrated investigative journalist makes this all flow more naturally…

Chloe should be in absolute agony over what all has happened. Yet throughout the entire film, she remains fairly composed, only showing the most marginal of emotional engagement. When her character is flirting with Chad Michael Murray, it’s probably some of the most engaging moments of the film. There’s a definite chemistry between the two. They’re both trying, and they have facial expressions, body language, and everything! Looking back on it, it’s one of the best points in the movie, even though the two connect way too fast with Chad Michael Murray kissing Cassi Thomson on the cheek before he leaves for his flight, even though they only just met. They act like they’ve been dating for awhile.

Plot Holes and Audience Engagement

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“Seriously…I could have been a developed or nuanced character, but all that really matters is that I’m the ‘other’ woman, complete with sexy stewardess attire and super sexy high heels. All that you should really take away from this is that I will definitely be left behind.”

Once again, it’s hard to know where to start on this. A number of things are entirely unexplained, and even with my knowledge of the Bible, the Left Behind series, and eschatology in general, I can’t figure out what they were going for. For instance, apparently everyone in charge of ground control with the exception of one operator as well as whoever is in charge of satellites and so forth were all Christians because suddenly there’s no one handling these operations. Characters who were never established as Christians apparently are Christians and are taken in the rapture, and even though supposedly some of these Christians are radically obnoxious individuals who are always trying to force it down people’s throats, no one except Nicholas Cage (and an hour and a half into the movie I might add) even starts to consider that this might be the rapture.

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“Hm…well…I never…tsk, tsk, tsk.”

In fact, there really isn’t enough time to go over all the plot holes. Disaster movies with cars trying to outrun earthquakes and tornadoes time and time again are more believable than this. Perhaps the most entertaining part of the movie was actually the three old women sitting behind us. For those of you who are familiar with the Pepper Pots from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, these three old women were a real treat. They had come to watch the movie after church and were planning to go out to a tea shop or some other such place. But throughout the movie, they clicked their tongues, exclaimed in surprise, and provided fantastic commentary every so often. My favorite was the little old lady in the blue and lavender flower print dress and the little black hat. Halfway through the movie, she leaned over to her friend and whispered, “I fell asleep, dearie. Has the plot come yet?” I thoroughly enjoyed those three ladies, and since they didn’t do it through the whole movie, their antics helped make it more palatable.

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“I have good reasons for being an atheist, and you’ll never hear a well developed perspective against me. In fact, my original point that God is not compassionate or caring seems to be proved simply by the fact that so many people have died today, families have been ripped apart, and the world seems to be in chaos.”

But back to the engagement with the movie, the story is entirely unbelievable. It struck me as odd that within seconds of the rapture occurring, the entire city shifts into chaos. I realize that looting thugs and chaos are necessary in any disaster movie, but once again let’s go back to all the Christians and children who disappeared. Even in a less than charitable look on religion, one could argue that the rapture, if it took Christians and all children (though who knows what age that cutoff is), would take about half of the world’s population. So that would mean that those thugs and villains would have family members who were all snatched up as well. But apparently the first thought on most of their minds is to grab televisions, gift bags, and clothing. In fact, in that sequence, you’ll see almost hilarious overacting as the extras play tug of war with plasma screen TVs and escape with prom dresses. Hey the end of the world might be coming, but at least they’ll watch it in style in front of the finest television screen.

I need to stop on the plot holes and inconsistencies because there really isn’t time. Suffice it to say, if you pay attention, you will see issues everywhere from the little details relating to consistency of time to the big details like “why was there a need for a slow motion explosion and running shot?”

Christianity

This movie has been marketed as a Christian film. Now what Christian film means is entirely up for interpretation. In fact, I’d actually like to dig into that later in a separate piece. In general, a Christian film seems to be one that deals with Christian themes, though even that is debatable, and it may be as simple as a film which Christians developed. But in any substantive sense, this movie is not Christian. The fruit of this tree is bad, even for bad movie standards, and any association with Christianity and spirituality is little more than the faintest hint.

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“What do you mean I’m the most emotionally engaged character in the entire film?”

At one point in the film, a random character who seems to be full of conspiracy theories suggests that perhaps the rapture (which incidentally is never named or if it is, I never caught it) was actually an alien abduction. For all the development of God we’re given, this might as well be the case. In fact, God is given about as much attention as any of the other conspiracy theories that in the know viewers will know is not the case at all.

Questions central to Christianity are asked by the atheists and agnostics. Good questions that should be asked. One of the best is how a compassionate God can allow suffering and tragedy. Early in the film, Chad Michael Murray, while chatting with Cassi Thomson, recounts the story of a woman who survived a tsunami with her infant though she lost her other three children. She immediately fell to the ground and praised God for saving her, but she refused to leave the village and was then killed that night in a mudslide. Chad Michael Murray uses this point to explain why he does not believe in a compassionate God. No one ever responds to him, unless you count the clearly crazy airport lady who simply says “it’s a fallen world that’s no longer perfect.” There’s no response to the obvious questions that even that statement raises. And don’t get me wrong the question of how a compassionate God who supposedly loves His creation can allow such things to happen is vital. What shocks me though is that there isn’t even an attempt to engage in this discussion. Not one!

At another point, a passenger on the plane suggests that they pray. Martin Klebba’s character at once jumps up and demands to know “whose God?” It’s a valid question that actually is more poignant now that I think back on it. What God is being represented in Left Behind? The easy assumption is that it’s the God of the Bible, since we do see the Bible and all. But God is never really portrayed, developed, or revealed in anyway. This God character could be practically any god.

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“I bet you won’t guess that I’m actually emotionally distraught and terrified that my father and a man whom I apparently have great chemistry with as well as dozens of other people may be about to crash into a fiery inferno. I think I’ll just keep this expression and slight modification of it throughout the rest of the film. It’s worked so far!”

Even more shockingly, Jesus is not mentioned at all. At least not that I recall. John 3:16, (the reference alone, not the full verse) appears on a watch in what is supposed to be a dramatic moment. In fact, God is portrayed in such a way that is actually quite cold and distant. The aliens in Independence Day and War of the Worlds are more engaged than God is in this story. The taking of the children and infants in the rapture is not portrayed in such a way that suggests mercy. It feels like they’ve been stolen. Now, many Christians will defend this as the pastor mentions that they were taken to be saved from the coming hardships and persecution. But that is barely touched upon. And it’s not even clear why the children and infants are taken nor is it made clear that only the Christians are taken. If you don’t know anything about Christian eschatology, you’re going to be extremely confused by this film because nothing is explained.

And frankly, if you’re going to do a story about the end times using Christianity as your base, Jesus is one of the most vital components. The end times are all leading up to the end of the world when Jesus Christ returns! Other key components include the plagues, tribulations, the antichrist, and far more. But none of this shows up in the story.

Most of the time in disaster movies the first few minutes are spent building up what’s going on in the world. You know…establishing the setting. Take World War Z for example. In the opening sequences, a series of shots establishes that something strange is happening in nature. They use news reports and bulletins to establish a feel for the world and some context. Into the Storm uses the opening shots to show a strange tornado occurrence with later events depicting the increasing oddity of this particular storm cell. Left Behind starts off with a very strange woman who comes across as a creeper. She references a verse from the Bible saying that there are “wars and rumors of wars.” Here’s the problem…there hasn’t been a period in history where that hasn’t been the case, so what is it about this time that has her convinced that things have changed?

            This world is vague and empty, white and bland. Christian movies as a whole can be quite badly put together and badly acted, but at least I often feel that the people involved cared. Here, there was no investment in the process, no passion in the creation, and not even the faintest attempt at integrity. Much of the time, it feels like the movie wants to be deep and surprise the audience, but it never provides enough information for those who don’t know anything about the subject to even begin  to unravel what’s happening and it doesn’t provide a twist for those who are intimately familiar with the content. In fact, at the end, it fades to black and then reveals a Bible verse, Mark 13:32…of all verses…it’s not that the verse is the worst choice. I suppose they could have referenced Jeremiah 17:2 or Numbers 11:9. At least Mark 13:32 is connected to the end times. However, that verse only references what did happen, and provides no hook for continuing forward or wanting to see the next film. Revelations is filled with many more enticing and gripping verses that would have been more appropriate.

Anti Christian Bias from Reviewers and Critics

Before I went to see this film, I heard from a number of friends that critics were panning this movie because it was Christian. That they hated it simply because of the subject matter. In fact, I was even urged to go see it so that I could support it and tell the film makers to keep making movies like this because “the world needs more!” I actually didn’t go to see the reviews first because I wanted to see the movie with as much of an open mind as I could.

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“Now I’m terrified! Can’t you tell? I look picture perfect, and it’s impossible to tell from my expression whether something good or bad has happened. There might be an alien invasion. It might be God. It might be a bad movie.”

Let me tell you this. Whether an anti Christian bias exists is irrelevant for this movie because the movie is so bad that even Christians will have a hard time defending it. From a quality standpoint, it is amateurish, clunky, and poorly developed. I have nothing against slower movies. I love a good atmospheric character study, but those types of movies let you know individuals. They don’t just present stereotypes. To say that the reaction is just an anti Christian bias is to be blind to the numerous issues with this film.

I know that a number of well meaning Christians have tried to support this movie and even give it positive reviews without having seen the movie. I beg you: do not review or support this movie until you go to see it. There’s an ethical issue there first of all that I can barely believe has to be addressed. But second, this is serious egg on the face for Christians. While the budget is bigger for this film and the overall quality in terms of resolution and camera steadiness is a step up, the movie as a whole is embarrassingly bad.

After seeing the review, I stopped by Rotten Tomato and a couple of other sites to see how people who liked it were reviewing it. Shockingly, most of the positive reviews were exceptionally general and sounded as if they had been bought from a PR firm. They said things like “greatest blockbuster of the year” or they went on and on about how clearly the rapture is presented and how this will serve as a warning. Listen, in all seriousness, the only warning that your non Christian friends are going to take away from this (absent a miracle from God) is that they should never agree to go see a Christian movie with you again, ever.

Make sure that you see this movie before you recommend it. Recommending any movie without seeing it and without being upfront about that is bad to begin with as well as irresponsible. But recommending this movie is particularly bad because of its quality and its message. Care for a real life example of how bad this is? One of my friends has been struggling with her faith. After she saw this movie, she said that she found the arguments presented by the atheists to be more persuasive, and she is questioning her faith. That’s the kind of movie this is.

Potential Discussion Questions and Possible Teaching Moments

            So if you decide that you still want to go and see this film and use it as a conversation starter here’s some possible ideas. The purpose of these questions is to get everyone thinking, regardless of where he or she stands in faith or outside of it.

1)      What is a Christian movie? What separates it from others? (And seriously, the lack of quality should not be one of the things that separates a Christian movie from all the others.)

2)      Why does a supposedly righteous and compassionate God allow pain and suffering to exist? Bonus points if you discuss why people today suffer even though they did not participate in the original sin (i.e. the eating of the fruit).

3)      Is suffering a good thing? How can it be discussed if it is without resorting to cheap platitudes or without becoming cynical and bitter if it isn’t?

4)      Should Christians support bad Christian movies just because they’re Christian?

5)      Does the presentation style affect the meaning of the message, and if so, how?

6)      What should be the foremost point in telling a good story in a Christian film? The story or the point? Why? And if the point, how do you avoid turning it into a legalistic sermon that annoys non Christians?

7)      How can you tell a Christian from a non Christian? Would it be apparent that you are or are not? Does it matter? Why or why not?

8)      Would the world really go insane and enter mass chaos if all the Christians vanished? Why? Other religious individuals and even atheists and agnostics are not all horrific people who have no moral compass. Most people do live their lives based around some central core of ideals.

9)      How would you respond to an atheist like Chloe? Chloe articulates some very strong positions among atheists and agnostics. Cheap trick answers wouldn’t satisfy a person like her. So how would you answer her questions and engage her in conversation?

10)  Could people who genuinely believed that they were saved be left behind?

11)  And if you’re really feeling brave, what does the Bible ACTUALLY have to say about the end times and the rapture? What comes from Scripture and what comes from church tradition? And is it problematic that the majority of the so called knowledge surrounding the rapture does not actually come from the Bible but from Jesuit priests a couple centuries ago?

12)  What are other perspectives on end times? A significant number of Christians do not actually accept that the rapture is biblical because of the history and the full context of the verses used to support it. What do you think? If you find yourself feeling particularly defensive and frightened by the concept that the rapture is not as biblically supported as you thought, why? Are you placing your trust in the rapture?

13)  Every generation of Christians has believed that they are the generation who will see Christ’s return. The Apostle Paul even had to tell Christians to go about living their lives! So are we really in the end times? Why do you think so? The most commonly cited verses used to justify this are general enough that they could be true of any point in history? So why now? What’s different?

Additionally there are two moments that might be considered teachable or effective moments. The first occurs when Chloe encounters her pastor in the church. He like all the non Christians was left behind, and he has to face the fact that he never really believed himself. Chloe confronts him on this and demands to know why she should believe when he himself never did. That little scene alone is a poignant question that many should ask themselves.

Jordin Sparks, at the very end, sings the song “I Wish We’d All Been Ready.” The structure of that scene and the image of the survivors standing in front of the flaming plane could be considered a teaching moment. It certainly leaves something of an impression and is rather haunting. But it would need to be set up better than this movie set it up. Though in fairness, the thrill I felt might have been more related to the fact that the movie was over rather than that it was good.

Personally, I think even those moments are somewhat weak, but I’m trying to be charitable.

One Possible Explanation

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“Surely you can feel the depth of my pain…”

This movie truly boggles my mind, both in how bad it is and how the people involved could actually think it would be any good. I discovered an article in the Blaze in which the film makers stated they saw this as being the first movie in a series of movies where this first one would set up the characters. This was just the introduction, folks. The really good stuff is yet to come….This entire movie was basically a preview…A one hour and fifty minute preview.

Here’s the problem: the characters weren’t interesting, and there’s no incentive to return to theaters to see what becomes of

"My agony and emotional turmoil is eating me up inside..."
“My agony and emotional turmoil is eating me up inside…”

them. No hints were given except for vague generalities about it being the beginning of the end. But what does that look like? What does that mean?  This movie should have first established the reason that the characters were in the end times, what that meant, and what was happening to support the belief that this was the end times. In fact, it should have also established the characters beyond the cardboard caricatures. We didn’t need all those scenes of Cassi Thomson walking, contemplating suicide, and staring vaguely into the distance.

Here’s the other problem: what kind of a Christian would put this story together and claim that it has anything redemptive? Why ask the hard questions and then never even attempt to answer them. This movie is more persuasive as a case for deism or an absent God. Left Behind misses the entire point of such a story. In fact, it misses the entire point of any story. Stoney Lake Entertainment is an offshoot of Cloud Ten Production, I believe, which was involved with the original Left Behind. And while the original Left Behind was nothing spectacular, it at least had some attempt at heart, explanation, and passion. In my opinion, this movie was made for one reason: making money.

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“We’ve always been honest about wanting to take your money.”

In fact, this is why I feel that the movie is so incredibly offensive. There’s a place for bad movies. Not every movie out there has to be Citizen Kane, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, or the Ten Commandments. But the thing about most enjoyable bad movies and popcorn flicks is that they know that they’re bad movies. They don’t pretend that they want to say something profound. They don’t act as if they hold some deep secret. Oftentimes, their actors play over the top characters who are more fun to laugh at than relate to or they depict mass carnage in increasingly unbelievable circumstances. Transformers 4, in my opinion, was nothing short of a cash grab and was actually a fairly poor movie, but it didn’t pretend that it was going to be anything deep. It delivered what it promised. So bad they’re good movies are generally upfront about what they’re offering. Left Behind promised something spectacular. A bigger budget and more revolutionary version of the original Left Behind movie that would leave the audience in suspense as the tableau of the end times unfolded. But what it was was a lazy account of a possibly adulterous man who is also a bad father trying to land a plane in difficult circumstances.

So if you’re considering taking your youth group to this film or

"Did you people seriously make Into the Storm seem like an Oscar worthy drama?"
“Did you people seriously make Into the Storm seem like an Oscar worthy drama?”

a group of friends or hope to take your non Christian friends to it to start a good conversation, I recommend skipping it unless you know what you’re getting into. You can make good conversations come up from this, but you’re probably going to have to spend just as much time explaining why Christians make such crappy movies and why God doesn’t care.

 

Seriously, Into the Storm had more hell like images and developed characters than Left Behind!
Seriously, Into the Storm had more hell like images and developed characters than Left Behind!

Of course, if the people in reality were as dull and simple as the ones in this movie, it’s little wonder that God wouldn’t care. I know I didn’t.

 

The Premise of Obsession

What is obsession, and is it good or bad? So often, obsession is seen as a bad thing, typically associated with individuals who don’t know when to let go or how to balance life with everything else. Oftentimes, it’s associated too with stalkers, criminals, master criminals, and drug addicts.

A dear friend of mine was just told that she was obsessive, and that is, in fact, what made me start to ponder the concept. (Her horrific obsession? Posting more than what someone thought was a reasonable number of links and posts on Facebook in a day. Yeah…considering she only put out about a dozen or so throughout the course of the day and none of them were ads or spam, I have to wonder whether the complainer actually spent much time on Facebook. I have some friends who literally spam my feed with more than 50 posts in a day.)

Obsession seems to be connected to passion. A number of incredible artists and people who have made such differences in the world could be qualified as obsessed. For this, I’d like to limit it to artists, actors, authors, and other creative individuals.

So let’s start with someone that just about everyone would agree was phenomenal. Leonardo da Vinci. He painted fewer than 30 known paintings, but with all of his drawings and sketches that have survived, he completed thousands. I’m guessing that that number does not actually include all the sketches and doodles that he did on the side, in the dust, or on his table and walls. One of his most famous paintings and one of the most well known paintings of all time, the Mona Lisa, underwent numerous renditions. From analyses of the paintings, experts now believe that he repainted the Mona Lisa over a dozen times, trying to get it just right. From articles on the Daily Mall to biographies that detail this incredible man’s life, most would agree that da Vinci was incredible, and he certainly was obsessed with his art.

A more modern example of a woman who took obsession to an extreme to hone her craft is Anne Hathaway. In preparation for the role of Fantine in Les Miserables, she lost 25 pounds, and anyone who has seen that woman knows that she did not have 25 pounds to lose. In addition to that, she had her long hair cut during the filming, to help to convey the emotion and trauma of what Fantine went through. It’s hard to watch that particular scene without experiencing the drama and the emotion. A lot of people were actually concerned that she had taken preparation for the role too far, but Anne Hathaway took the role so seriously that she did not even allow concerns over her own health and well being get in the way of performing it to the best of her ability. Had she done it in moderation and balanced it all equally, I doubt that the scene would have been quite as moving.

Another example of one of my favorites is J.R.R. Tolkien with his series, The Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings took him more than twelve years to complete, perhaps longer, depending on where you start the clock. He toiled long and hard over the series, crafting his races, characters, languages, and scenes. You can’t pick up that series without realizing that it was a labor of love and a passion for storytelling that brought it all together.

These are only a few. I could talk about so many others who have sacrificed, honed, and challenged themselves, sacrificing health and so much more to push themselves to the limit of their craft and art. Obsession can lead to bad results if the object of the obsession is bad or flawed. Serial killers, stalkers, and the like are bad examples of obsession, but they are not the only one. Here’s one thing that I have noticed though. People who are obsessed tend to get results in the areas that they pursue. Harold Brown once said, “It’s the addicts that stay with it. They’re not necessarily the most talented, they’re just the ones that can’t get it out of their systems.”

Now maybe I’m just trying to make myself feel better. After all, I know that I obsess over writing. I write between 10,000 and 15,000 words every day, working on various stories, novels, articles, and legal pieces. Only a fraction of it has ever been published, primarily because I don’t think it’s good enough and because it needs “just one more edit.” Or maybe it’s because I worry for my friend. She is passionate and vivacious, even when she feels isolated and unsure about her place in the world. Yet her obsession is with justice, raising awareness, and storytelling. I think that her ability to be obsessive is actually one of her strengths. Not in her Facebook posts so much as in the honing of her craft and the perpetual pursuit of characters that are true to real people and who are drawn from the corners of society that most of the world would rather ignore.

People often say that balance and moderation are the key to life. However, here’s something interesting about balance. Balance does not necessarily mean equal as so many people seem to think. When I make soup, balancing the broth requires adding spices, but I don’t put in equal amounts of salt and pepper. I put in a little more of the one over the other. So perhaps one can be obsessed while living life in appropriate balance when you consider the craft, the goal, and the desired impact. So here’s to obsession, friends.

Why Some Folks Say You Shouldn’t Do the Ice Bucket Challenge

I actually wasn’t sure whether I was going to do the Ice Bucket Challenge. But then I started hearing some of the criticisms and all about why this was such a bad idea. The top ones were 1) it’s just narcissistic self righteousness 2) this won’t cure ALS 3) most people won’t do anything beyond this to help find a cure for ALS 4) everyone else is doing it 5) ALS Association supports embryonic stem cell research.

So, as part of the Ice Bucket Challenge, I’m going to actually address these points. For those of you who don’t know, ALS is a disease where your body becomes your own tomb. As the nerve cells stop working, you lose the ability to move. Day by day, you lose more and more strength. You cannot taste. In some cases, you cannot smell. And eventually, though your mind will remain sharp as ever, your body will simply stop responding. The only part of your body you will be able to move is your eyes. I’ve decided that as part of this challenge, I’ll actually be doing another blog post that goes into more detail on this point. But now let’s get into the more popular reasons why you shouldn’t be doing the Ice Bucket Challenge.

It’s Just Narcissism

There’s been a number of articles and blog posts spread around the web about how this is just the latest in a long line of social media based attempts at altruism that are nothing more than masks for narcissism. “Look at me! I’m doing something to help other people! I’m a good person!”

Okay, maybe it is. Matters of the heart are important, but I would actually say on something like this, “who cares?” Unlike in some social media campaigns which have no quantifiable results (though perhaps other unseen benefits), the Ice Bucket Challenge has raised millions of dollars. I have heard more and more people talking about ALS than ever before. ALS wasn’t that well known in popular culture despite how horrible it is.

Let God judge the heart. If good is coming from it, let the good come. The heart is a big deal, don’t get me wrong. But it’s our hearts in what we do that are at issue, not others. And actually, our own hearts are the only ones we can examine.

It Won’t Cure ALS

Oh….I didn’t realize that one of the requirements of participating in an awareness event or a charity or a fundraising event was the conclusion that it must succeed in curing the disease.

Sarcasm off. ALS is a serious disease for which there is, as of yet, no cure. Those who are diagnosed with it can only hope to perhaps delay the onset of the symptoms or extend their lives, but it is a death sentence. A long, slow, and painful death. But if our standard for raising awareness and researching diseases is the guarantee that the cure be found, then why are we researching cancer or a number of other diseases?

Research and fundraising are both necessary before the cure can typically be found. And so while it may not cure ALS yet, it may eventually lead to it. How else would the cure be found except by accident?

It Won’t Last; These People Won’t Do Anything Else

I did not realize that when one participated in an awareness movement or assisted with a charity or helped with a cause that it was a lifelong commitment. Hmmm…fascinating.

Sarcasm off. Once again, I find this to be a strange standard to require. I have participated in numerous causes. In some cases, I have continued to work with them, investing what I can in time, energy, and money. Others I only assisted with once or twice. Did that mean that the efforts I and others expended were somehow irrelevant? Not at all! It helped in that instance.

Now, if I were to look at this in the best possible light, these critics might actually be trying to encourage folks to participate further. Help out a family with ALS. Continue to make donations. Continue to raise awareness and so on.

There’s nothing wrong with that, and I would say that participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge could be the start for other participation later on down the road. Pouring a bucket of ice water on your head doesn’t mean that you won’t ever do anything else. Will most of the folks who participated in this do more to support those suffering from ALS or to support the research? I don’t know. Maybe not. But again, is continued participation the requirement? If you do decide to participate in this, then do seriously consider what you will do beyond this. If you can do more, then do more. And encourage others to do the same.

Lots of Other People Are Doing It; I Don’t Want To Be Like Everyone Else

A number of posts I’ve seen lately have decried others for “jumping on the band wagon” and “giving in to peer pressure.” Maybe some people are doing this just to fit in. But others may be choosing to participate because they actually want to do something to raise awareness and assist with this process.

The fact is that if you are a person who thinks for herself, then this is irrelevant. Whether everyone is doing it or no one is doing it. Otherwise, you really aren’t someone who thinks for yourself. You’re just someone who reacts against what everyone else is doing, and that is just as bad as being someone who jumps on the band wagon.

The Donations Are Going to Fund Embryonic Stem Cell Research

[As a side note, a lot of folks are doing both the challenge and donating to an organization to provide for the families, research, and so forth. In fact, that’s what I thought you were supposed to do at first. And most of the folks I know personally who are doing this are doing both.]

For individuals who are pro life, this is a more serious allegation, and it is probably one of the more serious charges against participation. I’m not going to get into all the specifics and analyses of embryonic stem cell research, but if this is your reason for not participating or telling others not to participate, you might want to reconsider.

First of all, while the ALS Association does potentially use embryonic stem cells (supposedly donated), you can request that the organization not use your funds in any way that uses embryonic stem cell research. You can’t do this on the website. The donation page does not allow for that qualification that I can see. But you can allegedly mail in your donation with a letter that makes that request, and they will honor it. I have not yet heard back from the association to confirm this officially.

Second of all, there are other organizations to which you can donate the money. (As a Christian, I strongly oppose the belief that just because an organization might do something with which my faith disagrees I am somehow released from doing anything.) One of these organizations that funds ALS research without using embryonic stem cell research is the John Paul II Research Institute.

If you’re concerned about the effectiveness of the funds, you can also consider helping out the families who are struggling through ALS. Just because there’s no cure for the disease doesn’t mean that the families don’t wrack up enormous expenses. The entire family suffers in this disease. It is emotionally, physically, and mentally agonizing. ALS Guardian Angels helps to provide for these families, provide grants, and so forth.

You can also look to see if there are any families within your community who are enduring through this disease or local charities that work with this. Nothing says that you have to give your donation to the ALS Association. You just have to get creative.

What Would You Have People Do Instead?

Some feel that folks should just donate the money and shut up. But that’s actually the incredible thing about the Ice Bucket Challenge. It went viral. On the news each day and on my Facebook newsfeed, I see more and more people doing the challenge and talking about ALS. Now, yes, some celebrities who have done this have not provided much information on ALS or that you should donate. But others have. More importantly, just making a donation would not have made this stand out at all. It would have just been like countless other organizations and good causes that all want your money. If you had heard that one of your favorite celebrities or friends had donated money to an organization to cure a disease, you might think that that person is a great individual, but it probably wouldn’t have caught your attention as much as that person dumping a bucket of ice on his head.

As of August 19, the Internet campaign has raised more than $15,000,000 And you want to know something else? I’m hearing people talk about ALS! Folks are actually looking it up. They’re discussing it. And that is incredible!

So What If I Don’t Like This Challenge?

Frankly, that’s on you. You don’t have to participate in it if you don’t want to. Worst case scenario, someone will show up and dump a bucket of ice water on you, but depending on your state, you might even be able to sue him for battery.

Maybe you’re just sick of seeing people dumping ice water on themselves. Fine. I can understand. But it will go away in time.

Consider also what else has been on your Facebook newsfeed. I’m going to guess lots of cats, funny photos, perhaps even the “pick 5 pictures that make you feel beautiful challenge” and others. At least people are trying to make a positive difference here.

Let me put this bluntly. If all you’re going to do is complain and not offer another solution, you are not part of the solution. You are part of the problem. You don’t have to do the Ice Bucket Challenge. It doesn’t make you a bad person if you don’t want to participate. Let me make that very clear. You have every right to say no and not feel guilty. You can make your donation in private, say a prayer for those suffering from this disease, and carry on with your life.

But the fact that you dislike the challenge does not mean that you should harass those who are participating in it. Calling them sheeple, stupid, and narcissistic when you’re just sitting on your backside doing nothing is certainly not any better.

My First Video Blog – Month of Fear

So for those of you who know me, this is a very big deal. I have long held a fear of cameras and filming. So much so that I have avoided some opportunities. Well, no more. This is one fear that’s going to be lambasted. As a head’s up, I know there’s a lot of roughness about it. This is a single take with just my laptop computer camera.

 

And here’s my reaction to watching that video, lol.

Review of Into the Storm

Into the Storm Poster
Movie Poster for Into the Storm

 Into the Storm was not a movie that I had high hopes for. After all, it’s a disaster movie, and disaster movies generally don’t have the best track record when it comes to story lines or characters. Special effects are typically the main reason that folks go. Look, you can see the White House get blown up! Or there goes a whole fleet of 747s! Or look at that! The tornado is on fire! Recently, disaster films have also had a tendency to be overly preachy and even dull.

However, I actually left the theater surprisingly pleased. Overall, I found it to be an enjoyable popcorn flick that I would gladly watch again and probably would add to my movie collection. But let’s get into the film.

Premises You Must Accept if You’re Going to Enjoy This Movie

Okay, every disaster film has at least one or two of these. But you need to be able to accept these premises if you’re going to enjoy it.

1)      Some people will act incredibly stupid and ignore commonsense.

Into the Storm Storm Coming
Can you believe we’ve been through multiple tornadoes in a single day?

2)      Everyone looks really quite fantastic after having been through a massive series of natural disasters. Seriously. Some of the survivors get a little bloodied up. Hair gets wet. Mud streaks the clothing. But everyone looked really quite good all the way through. Having been through storms involving a tornado, I can tell you I looked about a thousand times worse, and the tornado itself didn’t even touch down anywhere near me.

3)      People and their vehicles will get far closer to tornados than is humanly possible without getting sucked in unless it’s required by the plot.

4)      Multiple tornadoes, including an F5, all descend upon the same poor area.

5)      Deaths are entirely at the film’s whim. People who shouldn’t be alive sometimes make it through what must otherwise be a miraculous event whereas others were obviously wearing red shirts.

Fusion of Regular Footage and Found Footage

Into the Storm Tornado Ahead
Ahhh, the pleasures of communing with nature.

Most of the time, I don’t enjoy found footage films. The shaky cameras and wooden dialogue tend to annoy me even though they’re supposed to mimic reality. In this case, it didn’t bother me as much. The film itself is a fusion of the traditional narrative style married to the found footage as Donnie and Trey, two brothers, are putting together interviews for the high school graduation and the time capsule. The other found footage comes from a group of storm chasers who are hoping to not only track down a tornado but anchor down and enter into the tornado itself. Security cameras also help to fill in the blanks, but the story itself includes regular film shots so that we can actually see what’s going on.

The found footage in this case gives it a rawer feel without making it feel entirely home cooked or nauseating. It also gives the whole piece more of the feel of walking into people’s lives rather than the film being based around them.

The Characters

For me, one of the most important things in any story is the characters. In a number of reviews, folks have described them as wooden or forgettable. For whatever reason, I actually liked the characters. Will they stand the test of time and be some of the most beloved upon whom I fondly dwell? No. But I enjoyed them more than I enjoyed the characters in Twister, 2012, and other disaster films. In some cases, yes, the dialogue was quite wooden, and it just didn’t sound natural for the characters to even be having those conversations. One conversation that takes place in a church feels particularly stilted and obligatory (though there’s some interesting symbolism in the survivors fleeing into a church when a spiraling fire tornado attacks; that particular tornado struck me as a horrifying representation of a possibility for hell).

Fire Tornado
As if a tornado isn’t scary enough…

The weaknesses in the characters and in the story itself can generally be traced back to the screenwriting. At times, it felt as if the story and dialogue just needed to go through the editing process a few more times to really polish it up.

In general though, the characters felt believable enough to me. Donnie is somewhat shy and awkward, uncertain how to pursue his love interest, Kaitlyn. Kaitlyn suffers the most from no character development. She is clearly just there to serve the purpose of getting Donnie to a particular place and provide an emotional scene. Yet Alycia Carey who played her did not do a bad job with the character. All of the actors actually did quite well with what they were given to work with, and in some cases, that wasn’t much. There’s one scene in particular between Donnie and Kaitlyn when they think they’re nearing their end that is particularly good. The emotion conveyed through the eyes is quite believable. Donnie’s message to his father and brother particularly so.

Trey has gained a fair amount of criticism as well. But I actually liked his character quite a bit. He reminds me of a number of young boys I’ve met. A little on the snarky smart aleck side with his own agenda and yet still that little bit of sweetness. Granted, I might have been grinning because I kept thinking of other students I know who are like him. Plus the kid always had a knife on him, despite his father forbidding it. And it works well for an ongoing joke as well as a resolution to some of the problems.

Captain Ahab, I Mean Peter
Captain Ahab, I presume

The storm chasers aren’t enormously developed. In fact, they are probably the most clichéd of the characters with the exception of Allison. Peter is essentially a Captain Ahab out to get his white whale, the tornado. And the others are there to serve as cameramen and tornado fodder.

 

Allison
Quick! Into the school bus! School buses are well known for their ability to outrun tornadoes…of course, when that’s all you’ve got, what’re you gonna do?

Allison, played by Sarah Wayne Callies, does a nice job playing the research analyst who has had to give up time with her five year old daughter to work. She isn’t annoying, she doesn’t have a chip on her shoulder, and she has her work cut out for her. She carries herself with a quiet weariness that makes it feel as if she is a person who just happened to get caught in this documentary.

Into the Storm Touching Moment
This would be the perfect moment to tell your dad practically anything, and he probably couldn’t be too angry with you. Hopefully. Maybe. Well, maybe not. You know what. Let’s not ruin the moment.

Another character who feels like he just happened to get caught in the middle of his regular life for the documentary is Gary, Donnie and Trey’s father. He’s played by Richard Armitage whom you’ve probably seen in The Hobbit. In the beginning, Gary really doesn’t have much time to participate because he is busy preparing for the graduation. The emotional moments and development come later, and the character is odd in that he seems to possess skills that aren’t really explained. In fairness, the film doesn’t do much to establish any characters’ abilities with the exception of Donnie and Trey’s filming talents and the storm chasers’ abilities to track storms. Some of the stoicness involved with Gary just strikes me as the character’s personality rather than bad acting or even bad writing necessarily. Though I will address some of the odder points in a special section with my own particular resolution.

And last but not least….let’s talk about the rednecks. Oh yes. They’ve received some fantastic outrage and criticism for being so 2D. But…um…I can’t be offended because…yeah…I know guys like this. The rednecks definitely made me smile a bit. Particularly their end. Sure, it’s cheesy. But I thoroughly enjoyed it. Sometimes the reason that there are stereotypes is because those stereotypes are true.

Tell me you haven't met guys like this....
Tell me you haven’t met guys like this….

Not necessarily something you should aspire to, but if you’ve lived in this area, I’m sure you have met one or two people who fit into that redneck category.

For me, the characters in this movie were far and above more likeable and connectable than in Godzilla or Transformers 4: Age of Extinction or the other disaster films. In one scene involving a near trapped drowning, I knew there was no way that they were going to let those characters die. But it still got me on the edge of my seat as did the points when the tornado chased them. (Sometimes I did wonder whether the tornado was hunting them. I could swear these disasters get a scent of our main characters and then decide they want to finish them off, whatever the cost.)

Cliches

This film relies heavily on clichés. In fact, I was able to successfully predict just about everything, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment. Some of the clichés such as the black friend who vanishes as soon as the white friend he is supporting dies bothered me more than others. Cliches such as the last minute rescue and the overly strict dad with free spirited boys actually work for the story.

But more than that, the writers didn’t force some of the other clichés on there. Spoiler alert here, but I fully expected them to shoehorn in a romance between Gary and Allison. It was perfectly set up for that. Single father with two sons meets single mother with adorable little girl. How could it not turn out that way? In most other films, it would have. But not here. While there’s certainly chemistry between Allison and Gary for the limited time when that’s a possibility, nothing happens except for that connection. They then move on. It’s certainly a possibility that something might happen between them later, but it’s not rubbed in your face.

At the end of the day, this film wants to be a happy disaster film. It ends on a fairly high note with interviews being redone for the time capsule. Probably unrealistic given what they all endured, but still serving to remind the viewer to live each day like it might be your last because one day it will be. So cheesy at points, yes. Hokey at others, absolutely. Enjoyable overall, most definitely.

My Brilliant Theory About Why the Vice Principal Could Be The Way He Is

Gary
He also bears a striking resemblance to the assassin in Captain America….I’m sensing another theory!

            All right. Gary, the vice principal and one of the main characters in the movie, is a rather intriguing character. It’s not that he’s unbelievable. Such a character could certainly exist, but particular circumstances would need to exist to give rise to that character. In addition to being in excellent condition for a single father of two boys while also serving as a vice principal, he never freaks out and he always knows what to do. (In fact, in one scene, I could swear he was about to punch the tornado rather than let it drag off an innocent victim.)

In all fairness, not much is revealed about Gary’s background or his past or why he is the way that he is. All that we know for certain is that his wife died and he is raising his two sons alone. However, I have a theory. See, most of the time, when folks are this calm, they have been through exceptionally stressful circumstances before and perhaps even received training.

Now Richard Armitage played another character known as Lucas North in MI-5 or Spooks.

Lucas North who also looks like he might punch a tornado if it aggravated him sufficiently.

At the conclusion of Season 9, Lucas goes rogue and appears to commit suicide. Yet clearly, he did not.

 

 

Anomaly
Why yes, I do watch a fair amount of BBC. Why do you ask?

He either  fell through an anomaly (ala Primeval) or the Doctor (Doctor Who) picked him up and gave him a lift to small town Oklahoma

Tardis
This is my favorite theory by far! Yay for the Doctor!

where he married a nurse and adopted her two sons. His skills as a top notch MI-5 agent assisted in his getting as far as vice principal and later on helped him handle the myriad of emergencies that Into the Storm dragged up. It also explains the British accent that keeps fighting to get out of the American accent all the way through. And the fact is that Richard Armitage, while a very talented actor, just does better speaking normally. Some accents are easier to mimic than others, and an Oklahoma accent certainly isn’t one of them.

General Conclusions

I really enjoyed this film. It certainly has its weaknesses, but it also offered a fun ride.

I would definitely be running
I would definitely be running

It ended just when it needed to end, clocking in at just under an hour and a half. It’s nothing enormous and grand. It’s just a fun story that’s intended to entertain. And maybe convince you that tornadoes are dangerous. Just in case, you know, you had any doubts.

 

Happy Birthday, Dad

I have been planning to do a series of blog posts looking at the individuals who have influenced and encouraged my writing. The Tue-Rah series would actually be the primary focus, of course. And while I will certainly cover him once again when I reach that point in the Those to Whom I Am Grateful series, I would be remiss if I didn’t give a little preview right now.

My wonderful parents, Rob and Chele Butler on Motorcycle Sunday
My wonderful parents, Rob and Chele Butler on Motorcycle Sunday

Today is my father’s birthday. Yes, ring the bells, everyone. This is the day on which my father was welcomed into the world in a little hospital down in Texas on a warm summer’s morning.

Trying to recount what my father means to me and how much he has impacted me is almost impossible because the man has not ever pulled back from the unenviable task of being my father. And from a very young age, I found ways to test his patience and his resolve. Supposedly I had some sort of mental alarm that would trigger whenever he left the house, and I would treat my mother to siren like shrieks, bewailing his absence. (While I’m at it, it should also be noted that my mother’s patience is that of a saint!) And when he was home, I wanted nothing more than to follow him and know every detail of what he was doing. Supposedly I started talking at about 9 months and one of my early phrases was “what doin’?” I don’t ever recall him becoming angry with me for persisting with questions, and he never told me that I was too young to be asking the questions I asked.

One of the first things that stands out to me about my father is his faith and the way that he has always walked in line with that faith. One of my earliest memories of him was when I was about six years old. Mom and Dad were always telling us Bible stories. I remember the parable of the Good Samaritan and Daniel in the Lion’s Den best of all. On this particular day, we were in the old brown station wagon on our way to Richmond. The roads were slick with ice, and my sister and I entertained ourselves by drawing pictures on the windows (Dad didn’t want us to, which is why the game was fun; we had to see whether he would notice it). Then all at once, Dad pulled the car off to the side of the road.

A couple in an old blue pickup truck had pulled off along the embankment. A thin layer of snow already covered the roof and the hood. Hopping out of the station wagon, Dad went to see what the problem was. As it turned out, the couple had run out of gas. Dad didn’t hesitate. He invited them to get in the car with us. My little sister and I hopped into the back while my mother got out the spare blankets. The couple had been out in the cold for almost four hours.

When we reached the gas station, my dad purchased a large red container and filled it up with gas. The fumes made me want to gag, but there was no other way to get it back to the pickup truck. He and Mom both offered to take them out to a nicer restaurant or some place similar, but the couple insisted that they had to get back on the road. So Dad bought one of those stop and go pepperoni and sausage pizzas and an extra blanket. He then drove them back to the pickup truck and filled up their tank.

It was then that Dad noticed that the young man did not have any gloves though the young woman did. Even though it was cold and the snow started falling in thick clumps, my dad took off his black gloves, put them in the young man’s hands, and insisted he take them. The young man tried to pay him, but Dad refused.

After making sure they had everything they needed, Dad then got back in the station wagon and took us home. It was a long drive back, and the heating in the station wagon wasn’t that great. That was part of the reason that we had blankets and such in the car. But Dad didn’t complain. A few times I saw him warming his hands. My sister and I got back up in our seats, and we asked him, “Why did you give him your gloves when you knew you were going to be cold?”

Dad didn’t give us a long sermon. All he said was “it’s what Jesus would have done. It’s what I would have done for Jesus.” As a child, I accepted that. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized what a great thing my dad had done. See…at the time this happened, money was very tight. My dad was trying to run his own business from the house, and we had recently learned that my baby brother was autistic. Eating fast food wasn’t something we could afford. In fact, according to my journals, at the time, the only thing in the pantry at home was bread, peanut butter, and homemade jelly plus some pasta and raisins. But neither of my parents hesitated to be generous, and now more than twenty years later, I still remember that.

I could tell you many more stories. But I think I shall just end this post saying that I have been enormously blessed by my father as well as inspired by him. I thank God each day that he is my father, and I pray that this day will be particularly blessed for him as well as this year.

P.S. to anyone who is freaked out that I could remember so much from when I was just a little girl, don’t be. I kept very detailed journals, and I always kept my journal with me. 🙂

 

A Sad Conclusion to a Difficult Week

It has been a difficult week. I can’t go into all the details because of others’ privacy and family requests, but several individuals who meant quite a great deal to me and to my family passed away. Some in accidents. Some from cancer. The culmination in this week came on Thursday when I came down to discover my beloved little Attila was dead.

Three years ago, my husband and I purchased two orphan gerbils from different pet shops in celebration of our marriage and the start of our final year in law school. Attila was a slim blond gerbil with a white underbelly and large black eyes. He had a fierce disposition, and it took me almost two weeks to train him to come onto my hand without nipping me. At first, he dominated his adopted brother, Ghengis. We had to keep them separate for almost two months, trying to introduce them slowly. Playing with them. Holding them.

We split the large glass tank with chicken wire so that they could sniff each other and get used to one another’s scent. On weekends, we put them in a large tub with dried white sand to let them dig and play. By the end of the second month, the two were fast friends, though Attila was always the leader.

He was quite healthy as well. In fact, his strength proved to be a bit of a problem as he would often rearrange the tank in hazardous ways. He never showed any signs of illness, but on August 14, I found him on his side, motionless. As soon as I saw him, I knew he had passed. He was over three years old, and I had just cared for him the night before. I hope that it was quick and painless. His little body had already gone cold when James and I wrapped him up and took him out for burial.

Ghengis did not cope well with the death. Ghengis was always quieter and more timid than Attila, though he was a little fighter in his own right. When we found him at the pet store, he was a little on the sickly side. According to the pet shop worker, he had been alone for a couple weeks, which really isn’t good for gerbils. Someone had bought up two of his brothers, but she didn’t have room for a third gerbil. (On a side note, if you are ever purchasing gerbils, please don’t ever just leave one behind. It can be so challenging to reintroduce them to other gerbils, and yet they are social creatures.) The worker might have been playing on my sympathies, but regardless, we took little Ghengis home. He was about half Attila’s side with dark brown fur on the top with a black undercoat and grey stomach. His black eyes were a bit softer than Attila’s, but he was just as smart.

He swiftly decided that he liked being snuggled. It only took a few days to convince him that sitting on a hand was an excellent way to receive sunflower seeds and yogurt chips, two of his favorites. For the first few weeks, he was quite intimidated by Attila, yet he often crept along the side of the chicken wire to curl up alongside him while Attila slept. Though at first Attila responded harshly on the other side of the wire, he soon stooped protesting.

Sadly, little Ghengis struggled with his stomach for most of his life. The scent glands gerbils have on their stomachs sometimes become enflamed, and they may even rupture. Over the past few months, Ghengis’s glands had become severely enflamed, bleeding and seeping. We took him to the vet to get the necessary medication. He took it well. Whenever he lay down to sleep, particularly when he was recovering from the fever, Attila curled up on top of him and kept him warm. It seemed like Ghengis was recovering. But two days before Attila died, Ghengis stopped eating.

I couldn’t tempt him with anything. Yogurt chips and sunflower seeds no longer drew his attention. Attila had never enjoyed special treats, but that had been the one guaranteed way to draw Ghengis out from the lower tunnels. When I found Attila in the tank, Ghengis sat in the corner next to him, hunched up, his little head bowed.

After we returned from buying Attila, Ghengis became even more withdrawn. He retreated into an empty oatmeal container and refused to come out for food or anything. Even when it was time to give him his medicine, I couldn’t retrieve him. He remained in hiding for a full day, and I allowed it. I knew he needed to grieve, and I knew from talking to other gerbil owners that the loss of a cage mate is particularly traumatizing. But when the following day rolled around, I knew he had to be treated.

When I at last coaxed Ghengis out, he could barely walk. He had been chewing on his paws and his stomach. He’d also scratched his eye. My heart dropped when I saw him. He seemed to have deteriorated overnight. Tears choking me, I called the vet at once and then prepared a small box. Deep down, I knew what this meant. James scooped him up, and we took him to the vet.

The vet told us what we already feared. Ghengis needed to be put down. Even though he had not eaten for only a few days, he had lost too much weight. That alone he might have returned from, but the biting and the stomach injuries were just too severe. I tried to hold Ghengis to comfort him, but he bit me five times. James tried to hold him then, but Ghengis bit him twice. (It really wasn’t as bad as it sounds. Ghengis wasn’t strong enough to do much more than slightly cut the skin.)

The vet held him and gave him the injection. Then he let me comfort Ghengis. All I could do was rub his head. But it was like I was saying goodbye to both Ghengis and Attila at once. It only took a couple minutes. And holding him to say goodbye, I felt myself starting to break.

Objectively, there’s no reason why this little bundle of fur should have been what broke me down. After all, I have watched others buried this week, received disappointing news that will have a far greater impact on mine and my family’s long term plans. Yet somehow…holding that tiny corpse made me weep more than anything else. I had been strong through everything else. Through writing the tributes, comforting the families, and reminiscing over old times as well as imagining the times never to be had. Maybe it’s because those points weren’t about me. There were other people there who needed to grieve and who were in far more pain. But when dealing with Ghengis and Attila, it was just my husband, myself, and the vet in a little sterile room.

Doctor Who and Second Chances

Today has been a busy day, filled with cleaning, reading, sorting, and more. The best part of the more was that James and I finally got to start Doctor Who Season 7 on Netflix. As far as Netflix goes, it’s hard to wait for them to get the series updated, but when they do, the wonderful thing is getting to do a mass marathon. After James and I have children, we probably won’t be able to do this. But for now, we’re enjoying it.

And so, as it has been months since we’ve seen a new Doctor Who episode and months spent avoiding all the spoilers, it has been such a treat to watch this season. The funny thing is that when Matt Smith first became the doctor, I did not like him that much. My heart was still with David Tennant. It wasn’t just the fact that he was a great actor with tremendous enthusiasm. The way that the Tenth Doctor ended made me so sad. His final words, in particular, almost guaranteed that I would be set against the new doctor, no matter how amazing he was. Add to that the fact that Matt Smith was quite distinct from David Tennant and the tone of the show changed along with his arrival, and I struggled.
James felt the same way. We were in our third year in law school when we got to see the first Matt Smith episode of Doctor Who. My immediate reaction was that it was not as good. It just didn’t feel right. The whole fairy tale theme felt off to me, and Amy Pond and Rory Williams, though having potential, just didn’t grab me he same way as some of the other companions did. In fact, that particular season of Doctor Who actually had more episodes than usual that I actively disliked.
Yet, for whatever the reason, I have this odd compulsion to finish things. Even television series I’m not that fond of. And then I have to watch at least the first couple episodes to see if I like it better the next time through (unless it’s just unbearable, which is what Attack on Titans was for me). So I watched all of Season 5. My husband and I agreed that it wasn’t as good as the previous ones, but…still, I had to give this epic series a second chance. So I did, and, not surprisingly, I liked it even more.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that Season 5 is perfect any more than the previous seasons were. And there are still a handful of episodes that I dislike. At the same time though, I have worked my way through the subsequent seasons, and now as I am watching Season 7 (and actually quite enjoying it), I am realizing how much I will miss Matt Smith as the doctor. In fact, right now, it’s just about time for Amy and Rory to say farewell, and I just realized how attached I am to them.
What’s incredible is the way that a character (just as much as an actor portraying a character) can grow on one. I never expected to get so emotionally wrapped up in these particular characters. Not every character can achieve this. And not every character will have that effect on every viewer. But when it does happen, it is something special. And I am happy to be along for the ride.

Mermaid Bride Completed

Two days ago, I completed the rough draft for Mermaid Bride. What was intended to just be a short story of no more than 8,000 words turned into a novella. It’s over 30,000 now, and I suspect that by the time I am done editing and revising it, it will be closer to 40,000 or 50,000.

It’s funny the way that that happens. It seems that once I get into a story, the story starts to unfold. The characters want to come out and play. The Banshee Queen was supposed to only be a minor character. The conflict between Ishana and Vishtan was supposed to be quite brief. In fact, I really wanted that focal point to be on Ishana and Uaso. They do remain at the core, of course. But Ishana’s choice and the struggle that she faces becomes so much more important in this.

The story itself is not so simple as it once was. In fact, it wound up going full circle in some respects. Ishana started off as a rather bland character for me to become a kind of character that I had never worked with before.

It was fun working in the Ethiopian and Syrian cultural flavors. It does bother me that a number of my readers thought I was just being creative in the descriptions when in fact I’ve drawn inspiration from another culture. So I will try to make that clearer throughout the revision.

Regardless, Mermaid Bride turned out to be far more of a joy to write than I anticipated. Even though it kept getting longer and longer, it expanded in ways that added to the story rather than dragging it down. The next project I will likely start after this is A Single Glance as part of the Celtic Princess Tour. We shall see if it takes off, but I’m thrilled to dig into it again.

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