May 31, 2011

Piercing the Darkness

Last week at work I found myself photocopying newspaper clippings for a file. As I folded the newspaper (from a small town in rural MO), I spotted some gripping headlines like, "Local Pie Festival A Big Success." These types of stories make me grimace on behalf of the writer, who I assume has a measure of talent but has been relegated to covering the annual pie festival and other similar nonevents. As with any profession, there are times when writing can feel so...pointless.

While my writing has never felt as trivial as a pie festival, there are times when I have thought, "What is the point in this? Am I actually doing any good in reporting on this issue? Will it make a difference? Am I ultimately just being a vehicle for public relations?" That last question has definitely haunted me at times. For whatever reason, my journalistic bent hates to think I am just giving some schmo free publicity. I have not had many times in my writing career (long and illustrious as it has been) where my reporting has felt pointless, but many times I have wrestled with whether it was doing any good.

Lately, writing assignments have been barreling toward me at break-neck pace, and sometimes it feels like I am just churning story after story. This barely-controlled chaos can be exhilarating for a wee bit, and then it just gets stressful. But then, all of a sudden, the stories are all submitted, the to-do list is blank, and I no longer wake up in the middle of the night thinking about nut grafs. That is where I am this week (in preparation for TONS of writing next week. More on that later).

And you know what? Those stories that I wrote are being published! And you know what else? When I read those stories in print (because I still do because it's still exciting to see my name on a by-line), I am overwhelmed with a sense that these stories matter. Deeply. It's not that I matter, mind you. Anyone could have written these stories; someone just asked me to do it. But the stories must be told.

Many of the stories I that feel must be told relate to the devastation of this spring's tornadoes. These stories matter because they show real people who are really hurting and enduring unimaginable loss. And part of reporting on the destruction is also reporting on the strangers who are jumping in their trucks, attaching their disaster relief trailers, and moving in to these devastated areas to clear away debris, find survivors, bring supplies, and offer hope. Another recently published story is about someone who died. Someone from Alabaster, Alabama (ever heard of it?) who invested his life in the mission work of the Presbyterian Church in America. He was never famous, but his humor was legendary. He

And of the stories was a student profile for Covenant Magazine. It was a last-minute profile, and writing it was hard, both because of the deadline and because of the subject matter. It contained stories of abuse, betrayal, denial, adultery, and redemption, and it needed to be told.

About a week after the story was published, I saw the student whom I profiled at a graduation party. He told me he has been flooded with people thanking him for sharing his story. Some have affirmed how far he has come on his journey of healing. Others have admitted to having experienced similar abuses. Total strangers have reached out to him wanting to share their stories and add their voices to the chorus of victims who will no longer sit in silence. The student thanked me for writing the story.

As a Christian (of the Reformed persuasion), it is my firm belief that when God calls us to be His children, He not only calls us away from sin and death, but He calls us TO something. He equips us to fight the darkness of a sinful world (sometimes called being an "agent of redemption"). When my writing offers hope and legitimacy to people who feel imprisoned and ashamed, brings attention to the needs of those in distress, and recognizes people who selflessly love others, I feel as though I am being an agent of redemption. This kind of writing does more than strengthen my resume. It does more than make me feel like I still have a brain after a day of parenting a toddler. It pierces the darkness with the light of the Gospel.

Again, it's not because I am such an amazing writer. I was simply in the right place at the right time and had these stories tossed my way. But it is a humbling honor to see that by using the talents that have been given to me, I can be part of something so worthwhile.

That is why I write. 

May 25, 2011

Meet Louis...and Free to a Good Home

Admittedly, we did not need this in our lives. With all that is going on right now, a stray pup did not need to meander in to the neighbor's driveway Monday morning. But he did. Nash barked. Lindon responded, and, "Louis." 

He's the one on the right, who looks particularly pleased to be snuggled up on the couch. The one on the left is ambivalent about his new shadow.

We are making concerted efforts to find out if Louis has an owner who is looking for him. Judging by his sweet disposition and obedience to a few commands, it seems like someone was caring for him. But if no one claims him, we are happy to send him to a new, loving home that is not ours. 

Until then (or until our friends pick him up this afternoon to watch him for a few days), we are enjoying this adorably puppy. From what we can tell, he looks to be about 16 weeks old. He loves to run and play with Nash (which Nash sometimes enjoys and sometimes doesn't). No accidents in the house, no damaged furniture or toys, good disposition toward a small child, and minimal annoying barking when we put him in the crate. The one major downside is he hasn't learned that it's better to go potty in the back of the yard rather than right in front where everyone can step in it.

He does like to make himself at home, and the first time he hopped up on the couch as if he owned it, I was shocked. Now, I just kick him off, and he contentedly plops down by my feet.

Louis was supposed to be having some "rest time," but someone else wanted to play peek-a-boo with him. 

I took a break from writing this afternoon to check on the dogs. This is what I found. Yes, he likes to make himself at home.

To reiterate, we do not plan on keeping this dog. But when there is an animal in need, Lindon and I just seem to respond by compulsion (Hello - we are the nuts who rescued a baby squirrel. Unintentional pun). So for now, we have Louis joining our family. 

Would you like him to join yours??

May 17, 2011

Another New Adventure

An addendum to my last post...

In addition to us getting a trailer, I decided to add some spice to life by commuting to work on bike. Last week I succeeded two days, and while the logistics of packing my work clothes and lunch and navigating the less-than-bike-friendly traffic of Clayton and trying to not get too sweaty for work felt a little daunting at first (remember, "fearless" Fowler is an ironic title), I am getting the hang of it. And I think I'm getting faster, too. My goal has been to bike commute 66.67% of the time, a goal I might not meet this week on account of getting hammered by the nasty cold that plagued my other family members late last week. But assuming I survive to next week, I will be back to bike commuting 66.67% of the time.

May 13, 2011

New Family Adventures

Last Friday, Levi and I made a really important decision. We decided to get one of these:

After months of looking, we snagged this cute bike trailer from a seller on Craigslist. I liked the sturdy construction, minimum wear, and color. Levi liked that the seller had a gravel driveway.

Initially, Levi really liked the trailer. After I cleaned it up on Friday afternoon, I pulled him around in it like it was a rickshaw. He thought that was great fun. And when Lindon got home from work, he took Levi on a brief test run with the trailer hitched to his bike. Levi was thrilled. 

But then we added a component that mitigated his joy. The helmet. Levi's is the blue one with aliens on it, but let the record show that all three of us wear helmets.

The problem was not simply that Levi hates wearing things on his head. The helmet could have overcome this obstacle alone, given it lights up when tapped. But the helmet was too big for Levi, so when he sat in the trailer, the helmet slipped over his eyes and could never be pushed back enough for him to see. Below is how we would like the helmet to fit, and how we hope it does fit one day (soon). Levi only agreed to sit for this photo because I did not hook the helmet, thus forcing it to sit lower on his little head.

 I think Levi would prefer if he could travel with the helmet next to him on the seat, as a companion. Not an option, my dear.

Saturday we made our maiden voyage as a family, with Lindon towing Levi, and me bringing up the rear. It was quite fun. Levi enjoyed it more once we got going, and he especially enjoyed when we got to Starbucks and let him take off the helmet. He also enjoys helping Lindon work on the bikes.

And he likes drinking from our water bottles.

Guess who isn't so thrilled with our new family activity?

May 6, 2011

In case you were wondering...

Someone actually does research and list the most beloved and reviled baby names.

The list of most popular names is here.

The most hated names are here.

What surprised me as I read the list of hated names was how often I thought, "Yeah, I DO hate that name."

Do you have names you just flat out hate? My mom had a name in mind for me that she liked, but she knew someone with that name who looked like a pig. So the name got dropped. Do you have any names like that in your book?

Ways to Support the Tornado Cleanup

As I have been contacting churches in Alabama and the Tennessee Valley for byFaith and reporting on the damage and needs, my heart has been moved to assist. What I would really love to do would be to take 4-5 days off from everything and go work. Whenever there is some kind of a disaster, I always want to help.

But this time I can't.

So, if you're like me and want to help but can't make it down there, here are some ways to assist.

You can donate through Mission to North America here.

Riverwood Church in Tuscaloosa also has a website set up for donations, volunteer registration, and updates on needs. In addition to accepting straight up donations, they are also selling T-shirts. Donate or buy a shirt here.

And if you want something in return for your donation, especially if that thing is really cute, you can always purchase an Alabama chalkboard. These chalkboards are so stinking adorable that I would want one even if all the proceeds didn't go to help those who lost their homes in the tornadoes.

Of course, there are lots of other organizations and agencies accepting donations and helping with the cleanup and rebuilding. I just wanted to highlight a few that have come to my attention. Keep praying for the families who lost their homes and the loved ones. And pray that workers would keep coming, keep rebuilding, and keep offering kindness and hope to those storm-ravaged areas.