Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Ghost No More, my review

This is my journey back from fear and hopelessness, and how I went from feeling like a ghost, to realizing my voice and value.

I once hated my past. It had broken and twisted me, but now I appreciate all the beauty and redemption God has brought from each broken area.

Those words are from the introduction to CeeCee James' powerful memoir, Ghost No More, in which she details her life as an only child not valued by the parents who manipulate, abuse, and hold her hostage to their whims because of their insane selfishness and brokenness.

CeeCee's mother loves animals and values friends' company but isolates and torments her own daughter. Seemingly jealous of any attention her daughter receives from the people in their lives, even relatives, she compels her daughter to jump through hoop after emotional hoop in order to be rewarded with some attention from her, mostly negative. Usually she confines her daughter to a room or space out of her way, viciously uses the denial of food as punishment, and only welcomes the caresses of a little girl desperate for acknowledgement and love when she finds herself too ill to cope. The contrast between the mother's habitual neglect and CeeCee tender care of her ill mother is painful.

CeeCee's dad and mom are an unhealthy combination. Their own distrust of and disdain for each other fuels the mistreatment of their only child. Early on we read of the bizarre incident of the Easter candy, and how CeeCee's dad punishes her for sneaking it. Later we must witness her mother's response to a complaint by hitting her daughter across the jaw with a wooden spoon. As with many other cases of child abuse, the "discipline" that CeeCee's parents choose for her is always extreme and harsh without any loving effort to correct behavior. More heartbreaking still is the fact that often there is no behavior to correct, only an imaginary offence that seems concocted as an excuse for doing harm.

Despite the lack of love and respect in her life, CeeCee has a powerful awareness of God's presence. However, because she is consistently fed the idea of her worthlessness, her first prayers are for God to make her "a good girl".

"Please God, let me start over...I will be good this time. I will be a good girl."

This is always a horrific effect of child abuse: the child feels they are somehow to blame for how they are treated. They are punished merely for being human, and they suffer because of their parents' inhumanity.

When the mother finally leaves the father, she tells CeeCee it is her fault that she stayed with him so long. She also childishly tells CeeCee not to talk to her friends and demeans her little girl anytime others praise her or even acknowledge her. Or she ridicules her simply for breathing funny. The mother places inhumane pressure on CeeCee to not "shame" her, the definition of such shaming defined entirely by the woman's utter self-absorption. She smothers her pet kittens and emotionally starves her daughter, leaving others to offer her the phantom of a mother's care.

Each slapping and spanking is gut-wrenchingly painful in its cruelty, as is the mortification that CeeCee suffers as she grows older. Each fleeting, small kindness is painful, too, because the reader learns to recognize the patterns of eventual abandonment.

When people enter CeeCee's life with some understanding of what her familial life is like, recognizing her mother's nature despite the false persona she chooses to present, the reader feels relieved that CeeCee has encountered kindness. When CeeCee spends time in nature away from her mother, a weight is lifted momentarily, but as she grows older, the outdoors becomes just another form of isolation enforced by her mother.

There is a term, "throw-away children" that describes not what the children are but how their parents and others treat them and what misfortune finds them because of the lack of parental concern for their welfare. CeeCee suffers abuse not only at her mother's hands but also at the hands of others, particularly her grandfather. When her mother discovers it, her response is a self-centered one, and she only addresses her daughter's psychological scars when forced to do so by Child Protection Services.

Unfortunately, in all this CeeCee cannot turn to her father, because their relationship, reestablished in her teenage years, is made awkward by distance and the memory of past intimidation and neglect. But when she visits him during summer and holiday vacations there's at least more peace, more care and more food.

There are more glimmers of hope in this memoir as CeeCee is shielded from her mother and aided and encouraged by neighbors, her friend Sandy's family, and the school librarian who recognizes her gift with words. CeeCee also experiences unusual consolation in prayer, an embracing and calming warmth, during desperate moments when she fears for her mother's health or fearfully prays for protection from her mother.

As CeeCee develops into a young woman, we walk with her as she faces her demons. Part of that entails confronting her grandfather and refusing to let him harm her again. How she copes with the continuing abuse, derision and neglect of her mother, although not surprising, is heartbreaking. It is only after she is removed from that woman's poisoning influence and meets a young man who loves Jesus and loves her that she eventually stops harming herself and begins slowly healing while learning to value and love herself.

I am always amazed by the power of the human spirit when I read such testimonies as that of CeeCee James in Ghost No More. I am always awed by how God can sustain and bolster us in the bleakest and most disordered circumstances and environments, environments alien to His love and mercy. Love does not suppress our pain. It does not erase it. It does not blind us to its causes. But it can renew and strengthen us while bringing something achingly beautiful and startling clear from our experience, and by doing so gives us something enlightening to share with others who know little hope and hardly any comfort in confronting their own history or present circumstances. I think this is what CeeCee James has done with Ghost No More.

That is invaluable. That is realizing your voice and value.

May God bless her for it.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Rare Family Meals and A Cooking Brother

When my siblings and I gathered in San Antonio more than three years ago, I had the opportunity to eat some breaded trout my brother Nate had pan-fried. It was so delicious that I moved past my comfort zone of poaching or baking, and I tried to replicate it in my own kitchen. My experiment didn't turn out nearly as well.

When I got home in April from visiting my brother's family in the UK, I told my husband all about the dishes Nate had conjured up for my friend Holly and me, how he had spoiled us rotten. I can still recall the aroma and taste of the huge bowl of shrimp fried rice, the golden potatoes and bright onions, the stir-fried vegetables, and the banana bread. Ah, that banana bread! It had cranberries and walnuts and I'm pretty sure a fair amount of liquor, too. Every morning I went to carve myself a thick slice off the fragrant, moist loaf. I didn't need anything else for breakfast, though of course I couldn't say no to Natie's hash browns and sausage.

The first night at my brother's house, I helped Nate prepare supper, showering chunks of salt and spices that I have since forgotten onto the skin of some lovely little fish. Later that week we went to Borough Market in London, and Nate dashed around gleefully, collecting several of the bountiful culinary delicacies we encountered there. Another night he introduced me to prawns. I've never seen such ugly little buggers before. I tried my best to allow the least amount of skin from my fingers to touch them as I attempted to peel apart their hideous, whiskered bodies. The others laughed at me and shook their heads at my hesitation in clawing for culinary heaven. Then they caved and helped me peel a couple creatures, so they wouldn't have to watch the unattractive contortions of my face while enjoying a fine meal. Nate didn't have the prawns. He asked us how they were. When Holly and I began to gush, he laughingly halted us with, "Not you! I know you'll just tell me they're good. Her!" And he swiveled his pointed finger from us to Natalie who confessed, "They're a little dry but still very good." Nate cried, "Ah!"

Great chefs are always seeking perfection, I guess.

When I told Matthew about all the dishes Natie created, I may have been a bit heavy-handed in my hints that men can cook, too, and love it. Though Matthew gobbles up cooking competition shows, he has no passion for attempting their products, and I have always wondered, why watch them then? I love neither the reality cooking shows nor the reality of cooking, so we are a forlorn pair, eating steamed broccoli, canned beans, grilled chicken, and spaghetti more than is decent. However, gallant as my man is and eager to pacify my pleas (or demands) for him to cook sometimes, he did promise to prepare a few of Nate's recipes if I procured them.

His delectable food isn't all I remember about my time with Nate, but not being an accomplished and merry chef myself, I appreciate that gift in others, especially my big sisters and brother. They all claim to have learned at Mom's side growing up. I wonder how they learned, and I didn't. Where the heck did I, the baby of the family, wonder off to when the cooking started? A weird child, I probably spent those minutes telling myself and my stuffed animals stories in the bathroom mirror. At least I have taught myself to bake tolerably well as an adult, but one cannot survive on cake and scones alone. I wish I could! Instead, I think I'll ask my big brother for some recipes.

Just not the prawns.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Charlie Chaplin, Meet the Love of My Life

This is the story of when Matthew and I first met in person. I dug it out from the archives to share with you in honor of our wedding anniversary this week.

Yesterday, I was watching my husband's face as he listened to our good friend. She was telling us lively tales about couples she knew, and his smile in response was broad. Of course, a true smile, as opposed to just a contrivance of the features, ignites the eyes, has magic. My husband's smile is a million watts; it could illuminate the city of Phoenix in a blackout. It could exert a superhuman power to influence people if he unleashed it fully. I am mesmerized by his handsome face when he smiles, and I wonder sometimes if he can see my blatant admiration and therefore wonders why I don't act upon it more often.

Seeing his smile yesterday made me desirous to share a story of the September evening we met in person eleven years ago. I brought Charlie Chaplin along for the occasion, and Matthew smiled.

Maybe it was because we had only spoken on the phone for a few short months with a few thousand miles between us. Or maybe it was because he had implied during one of those friendly conversations that he was unimpressed with the picture I had sent to him, my very own Mr. Darcy (she's tolerable, I suppose...but not handsome enough to tempt me), but I sure as heck wasn't going to show up to our first face-to-face meeting alone.

My sister Annie had orchestrated our meeting by asking Matthew within moments of seeing him for the first time, "Do you like brunettes?", meaning me. Having introduced us via old-fashioned telephone network, she was coming along to officially introduce in person, of course. In fact, a legion of curious friends, family, and people I did not know were coming on my blind date - a chance to go out for Mexican food in a Tex-Mex town, enjoy margaritas and watch the spectacle of two young people getting to know each other at no risk to themselves.

I needed additional support, though. Dumb support. I needed Charlie Chaplin, that talented, lighthearted fellow. So I took him with me. I didn't ask; I just cut him out of a magazine, dressed as that lovable tramp, folded him up and carried him out to my sister's car where he lay on my lap during the drive downtown to San Antonio's River Walk. When we exited the vehicle, my sister cast me an incredulous look.

"Don't bring that," she said and pointed in disapproval.

I hesitated, but nope. Though 20, I would be a child. I needed my talisman. So we walked into the restaurant, Mi Tierra across from Merchant Square, with Chaplin all wrinkled and sweaty in my hands.

Through the double doors, and there he was by the bakery cases. Matthew who I knew by voice and by a dark picture of him in ball cap, standing by a grill with a barbecue utensil, smiling. Matthew, the Catholic to my Protestant, the Hispanic to my whatever-the-heck-I-am, the young professional to my bum writer.

He had on the worst long black shorts. He was very casual actually. Chaplin was more dressed up than he. I, on the other hand, had something to prove after the picture I'd sent of myself - hair mussed, holding my pet rabbit, and my cousin behind me with red glaring eyes and a wicked smile. My folks jumped to the conclusion that I had sent that ugly picture of myself to sabotage all hope of a relationship with a normal guy. Honestly, I don't know if I did or not. I had certainly said as many stupid things as possible to sabotage it. But whether I had subconsciously done myself in or not, I had my pride, and I was not going to be found lacking in the flesh. That night I was going for the make-him-weep-and-apologize-for-implying-you're-ratty look. With my short printed summer dress, dewy face and basket-weave heeled sandals, I hoped I had succeeded. If Matthew's million-watt smile was the indication, I had - though I could discern no signs of remorse for earlier implications. We stepped toward each other.

I don't remember what was said in those first moments. At least not until I shifted Chaplin from one hand to the other in order to shake his hand.

"What's this?' said Matthew.

I regretted my company then, but I held it out and said nervously but with chin pointed, "A talisman."

It was my misfortune that on the other side of Chaplin was an advertisement for southern whiskey. Jack Daniels to be precise. It was this that Matthew saw first, and he and his friend Nathan began to tease me.

"So you bring a picture of whiskey to our first date? I guess you like your alcohol."

I flipped it over.

"No, Chaplin. I love Charlie Chaplin."

"Oh, sure," he said with that smile. I was too flummoxed to appreciate it.

We soon made it into the bar to wait for our table. I lost track of Chaplin after that. I don't know where he went or what he did. Maybe I shoved him into the depths of my purse with just the Jack Daniels for consolation, but I no longer worried about him. Nor did I need him except perhaps to distract one of my sister's coworkers who turned to me and said genially, "If things don't work out with this, maybe you could meet my son. You two would hit it off."

Matthew was right there across from me. I glanced at him and back at her and mumbled a polite response.

When we finally sat down to dinner, I made sure, very gracefully of course, that Matthew settled on my left, my best side. It would have been very unfortunate if he'd taken a seat on my right; you can see how crooked my nose and mouth are on that side, and I try to surprise people with my flaws little by little, so there's a better chance of acceptance. I remember worrying about my profile, and also worrying about whether I was pronouncing the entrees right from the menu of "authentic" Mexican food. I didn't know then that, although his pronunciation was good, Matthew didn't actually speak Spanish at all. Ah, well. I got splashed with the light of his bright smile every time I got nervous over my words, so all in all, my embarrassment was worth it.

When the evening wound down, and we strolled slowly out of the restaurant, our tongues momentarily tied, Matthew guided me over to sit on a bench beneath the gloam of a tree. Shielded from the flourescent glare of the street lights, he asked me out on a date for that Thursday night, just the two of us. I didn't say no. Perhaps I had a premonition that all was going "to work out with this".

It was less than a year later that I met him before the altar and was greeted by that smile I love so well, at its most brilliant. The photographer caught the moment and gave me my favorite wedding photo. In that picture and in moments shared between us, Matthew's smile is destined to make me feel like a day-dreamy schoolgirl for years to come. Nothing's better than that.

Not even Charlie Chaplin.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

England Anthology: Everywhere Home, and the Westminsters

Westminster Abbey
Wandering around the eclectic foodie's paradise of Borough Market (at which I consumed the most heavenly doughnut) in London with my friend Holly and brother Nate, I was impressed by a magnificent church across the street to my left. I asked the gentleman at the nearest stall, "What building is that over there?"

"A church."

"Yes, but what church?"

"I don't know."

I was saddened by his indifference to and ignorance of such a gorgeous edifice. What was in fact Southwark Cathedral deserved to be referred to by name. I walked over to it shortly afterward and gazed on it from just outside its gate, reading the welcome posted on the bulletin there. The Anglican cathedral was by the River Thames, and I could see an enormous ship docked in the distance. It begged for some artist to sketch it in charcoal.

The whole of England, from what I could tell in my short visit, was home to hundreds of magnificent churches, and each one had for me a powerful magnetic pull. I never grew weary of seeing or being in them. Each was home. Though I confess that I had the ungracious thought once or twice, This used to belong to Catholics, I was soon corrected: No, these all belong to Christ.

And that was why I loved them.

Visiting the Tower of London on Thursday, we had the good fortune to sit within St. Peter-ad-Vincula's Church and hear the history of some of the executed prisoners buried beneath its floors and how they were all given a Christian burial by Queen Victoria. The Yeoman Warder, who lives at the Tower, explained his own good fortune in having the use of that church for the baptism and weddings of his children. I did not take any pictures, because it was forbidden, but it had quite a beautiful organ in it, a simple altar, a raised tomb in its midst, and a tricky step just outside the door before one ascended the narrow stairs. It was less ornate than expected. The Norman St. John's Chapel within the White Tower, over 1000 years old, held greater attraction for me. Though simpler still, its stone glowed like solid sunshine; its rudimentary pews invited; and its bold arches inspired.

Holly, a true friend, accompanied me without complaint or protest to Mass at Westminster Cathedral on Sunday morning even though she isn't Catholic. Within that church far more intricate than any I had worshipped in, the feeling of being home was more complete, for Mass is the same wherever you go in the world. Every parish reads the same readings all over the world on any given Sunday. The Our Father is prayed by all. The "peace be with you" is always proffered to our fellow Christians. We always have communion. Even if half the Mass is in Latin or all in a foreign language, you feel that you are a part of an enormous, culturally rich, global family.

The Byzantine-inspired Westminster Cathedral

On the way in to Mass, a gentleman tried to forestall me.
"Stop!" he cried, waving a pamphlet, perhaps one that had a few points against Catholicism. "Just give me a moment to speak with you. Jesus saved me!"
I smiled, shook my head and walked on, but I wanted to reply, "Doesn't He save us all?"

After Mass as Holly and I wandered around the various chapels, she said, "I've never been in a church where so much was going on before."
The cathedral was lined with chapels to either side of the sanctuary: the Blessed Sacrament chapel to its left with its sign begging quiet for those praying, a chapel of St. George, one of St. Paul, another for Divine Mercy. There were also lines of people waiting to enter the ornate, traditional confessionals before the next Mass. An enormous baptismal font with a statue of John the Baptist near the front of the church greeted those who entered.
Holly loved the architecture. I, too admired the structural elements, lighting and colors. The crucifix reminded me of the San Damiano one before which St. Francis of Assisi prayed when he heard Christ tell him to rebuild his church. The altar was ethereal, and the architecture in general surprised me, for I was sure that such a relatively new church, built in the 1800s, would not compare to that other Westminster, much older. In fact, I had never heard of the Catholic Cathedral before my parish priest told me about it.
I may never know how the interiors of the two compare, for when Holly and I went to Westminster Abbey later that day, it was closed to tourists. I was more pleased than disappointed, despite not being able to see the names and tombs of the many famous English buried within. It was Sunday, and the Abbey belonged to those who worship, those for whom it was home.
 And we could at least take pictures.
Holly, always the artist, poses beautifully. Perfecto!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

My Super Bright Children

Parents brag about their kids, and if they exaggerate a bit....well, who can blame them? It's human nature to be competitive even in child-rearing. I'm reminded of a scene in a Ginger Rogers movie, Bachelor Mother, where two mothers meet in a park and start comparing their six-month-old babies weight, strength, and development. It eventually gets to the point where Ginger Rogers' character, fed up with the other woman's smug claims, declares that her adopted son can talk and has been talking for some time. She asks her fiancĂ© (played by David Nivens) to back her up at which point he asserts that not only does the baby talk, but he can recite a lengthy poem without missing a beat. All credibility lost, she later mutters at him, " need to make it ridiculous!"

My dad has always proudly sung the praises of his children. To this day he still speaks of how the principal and the algebra/computer teacher of our small town's junior high both cried the day I graduated from ninth grade, because I was to be the last of Dad and Mom's kids to come through the school. I didn't see it. We'll just have to take Dad's word for it.

I try to avoid bragging about my kids too much precisely because I know everybody else is doing it. Continually. And I hate to add to the comparisons lest my kids put others to shame. Still, Facebook has created a new parental medium for exaggerated and edited claims of kids' angelic, hyper-intelligent, ultra-talented natures. After reading all the magnificent boasts in its status updates for months, I felt it was time to give my kids their due now that the school year is officially over, and the report cards are in.

Berto and Ana, my oldest, both made the Governing Board honor roll this year, for the third and second time, respectively. All three of my little students - Berto, Ana and Ella - have made straight A's all year and every year in school. Not only that, but their teachers constantly tell me how well-behaved, caring, helpful and respectful they are (which is a very welcome thing, because sometimes I really wonder after spending a long weekend with them). On top of that, they are all incredibly talented athletes. Why, soccer scouts from as far away as England, South America, Korea and Portugal have come to see Berto and Ana play! All of them agree that Berto is the best up-and-coming goalie/forward in the world, and Ana is one heck of a defender against whom not even Messi, Neymar and Suarez could prevail. I would expect my sports superheroes to become professional athletes if it weren't for the fact that I believe Berto will be a busy project manager at 13 and a CEO at 18. Ana is very likely to find a cure for a dozen deadly diseases by 25, 30 tops while writing multiple best-selling thrillers on the side. Gabriella has all the charm, energy and cleverness to become the first female president of the United States, smoothly talking our nation into allowing her to run long before she reaches the minimum age. In addition, she will be a new kind of style icon in office - one that promotes brightly-colored leggings, cowboy boots and Batman as going with everything.

Danny? Why, he's the handsomest, most adorable five-year-old on this planet who can write his name forwards and backwards, recite Hamlet and Macbeth from memory without pause, has beat his mother at board games since he was two, and when he graduates from middle school, the whole teaching and office staff will be reduced to tears as they bid farewell to the last of my extraordinary kids.

Well, there. I've said my piece. It finally came out. I tried to avoid this bragging for as long as I could before I burst with motherly pride, and I hereby testify that at least half - no, two-thirds - of what I said is true or likely to be true in the future.

However, if you're skeptical or want some balance to this boastful perspective, you can read my latest humor post at about surviving a summer with my incredible children who behave so much better for others than they do for me, causing so much mischief at home precisely because they are brilliant and resourceful:  Bungle in the Jungle.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Little Touch of God

Many people have talked about the sunsets here in Phoenix. My general practitioner, who has lived in or traveled to many different places, told me once that she has never seen any to rival them, not even in Hawaii. I was surprised, but later I read an article in the local newspaper that validated that statement as it attempted to explain the regular, beautiful phenomenon. Is it the mountains? The particulates in the atmosphere? The kinds of clouds we have here? The smog? I admit that many a time I have driven west in the evening and have myself wondered at the sunset, admired the dynamic strands of color spreading out from the orb resting on the shoulder of South Mountain.

One evening this past week I had the opportunity to witness a 10-year sunset. I was watching my kids play with neighbors in the front yard, but my restless eye was also wandering to a hummingbird nest in the lower branches of our giant eucalyptus tree. Though I am madly in love with that hummingbird mama, watching her through binoculars several times a day and worrying when she's away, I was soon distracted from her astonishingly still form by the western sky.

I got up and kept saying to the kids as I walked around and stared, "Look at that beautiful sunset! Can you believe that sunset? It's amazing."

But apparently they could believe it, for they paid it little mind, glancing up for only a second when I spoke. I didn't understand their nonchalance. The sun had erupted brilliantly and its flames magnified each moment. The colors didn't appear to diminish as night approached. It lingered for ten years as I watched in awe, suspended in time.

And something my parish priest said about sacraments came back to me as I felt the unusually cool wind of May on my skin and faced a majestic sky. As an example about the difference between big "S" sacraments and sacraments with a little "s", he said he might go fishing early in the morning with a friend on a lake, and as the sun rose over the lake, he could be so affected by the beauty of it that it would be for him a profound moment with God, a sacrament with a little "s". For his buddy, however, it could be just another sunrise on just another morning as he waited impatiently for a bite on his line.

That ten-year sunset was for me a sacrament. It pulled me into its mystery on an unimpressive, dusty neighborhood street amid the noise of children at play. I thanked God for the chance to experience it, just as I had thanked God for a cool, breezy May in Phoenix, and just as I had thanked him profusely several times for the hummingbird nest in our tree.

Phoenix is rich in spectacular sunsets, just as our lives are rich in little sacraments, if we are present enough to be aware of and grateful for them.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

My renewed determination to fight for Light

The Christophers, a group that encourages people to use their God-given talents to make a difference, has a saying: It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.

I spend far too much time cursing the darkness. And feeling guilty that I have lived so simple and secure a life, full of love. I oscillate between thinking I should completely avoid the news and live in ignorance of evil - so that I can stop sinning in my anger against and my opinions of human beings - and believing that such ignorance would itself be a crime.

Yesterday I finally decided to read a section of the Sunday newspaper that covered women's and children's rights in Guatemala. Moving from one article to the next, my anger increased, for I was reading yet again an old story, only about a different country, of women and children being maltreated by men in the twisted confines of an utterly male-dominated society: denied education, essentially sold into marriages by poverty-stricken parents, abused both physically and sexually by boyfriends, husbands and fathers, dependent on their abusers because of their lack of means, frightened or wary to approach authorities that statistically do little or nothing to prosecute the males in their lives, betrayed by destitute mothers who are themselves so dependent on these "men" that they do not protect their children or report the crimes for fear of inevitable starvation.

In Guatemala girls marry and get pregnant young; thirteen is not uncommon. Education is seen as an unnecessary investment of their time when they are simply to be married off to often strange men who desire them for their physical selves - not their whole person. How there can be any hope for love or respect in such an arrangement of ignorance....well, I do not think there can be, which is perhaps why these girls often end up in misery, repeating the patterns of their mothers and grandmothers. Boys and girls are raised witnessing the poison of such a culture, and they would be fortunate indeed not to imbibe it, but how can they avoid it?

How many times have I read similar articles about other cultures all over the world, in Asia, Africa, the Middle East?

Every time I read such stories I struggle with my view on men in general. I struggle badly. But how it is that at this point in history there are still cultures and governments on this planet that do not protect women and children's rights with the full force of law confounds and angers me. Are the challenges of acquiring food in these countries so desperate that people's sexual, emotional and mental health, including education, are ignored? It must contribute. One Arizona university psychologist, interviewed for the stories, said it was not enough to blame the stereotypical Latin "machismo", either, for Guatemala suffered terribly for ten years with a civil war where men were acclimated to extreme violence and women were viewed as war prizes or as the objects of terror tactics.

Still I do not think that should fully explain the depravity. If mankind is essentially good, would he not crawl out of a hell hole, if slowly? Can the most basic unmet needs for food, water and shelter kill his soul?

But can I truly say anything when I live in a country where poor is not poor compared to the poverty that is suffered in third world countries, where laws exist - and more are introduced every year - that protect each individual's rights? Can I judge anything when my life has been so sheltered in the United States of America?

If more people like me worked more diligently to feed the poor in this world, I firmly believe the poor would have more time to worry about their emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs.

Here comes my struggle with guilt. I take my son to a pizza, games and bowling venue and think of all the children in the world who do not even have a full meal that day, let alone fun. I wish sometimes for a bigger house but then imagine all the families in India, Central America and Africa living in shanty towns or measly huts with no running water or electricity. I think of my desire for a few new summer clothes and then feel selfish in wanting pretty outfits when others have next to nothing to wear and no shoes for their feet. I just feel guilty period that others live in misery every day of their lives.

I am unbalanced, because I curse the darkness regularly, ruminating on its influence, but spend far too little time lighting candles.

There is always hope, and I did read of the women in Guatemala working to change the culture for themselves and others, pushing for education, freedom and for better laws and enforcement. Some of those women worked for government agencies, tracking statistics so that they can engender change, or heading schools, enticing families to keep their kids in for the free meals they give each day. Right now I have no doubt there are too few of those women, but there will not always be.

There will not always be.

Personally, as a woman I must stop feeling guilty and start acting, using my God-given abilities to bring about change in my small or not so small way. In speaking with my husband yesterday evening, he told me I should stop talking and find a charity that acts for women's and children's rights, and then I need to support their efforts. He is absolutely right, for if I continue to sit around just reading newspapers and feeling furious with my fellow human beings, I am only adding to the darkness and the despair.

I'd rather light some candles.