Choose Faith or Choose Fear

It’s a cold, cold night. The winter storm is coming. Tomorrow is supposed to be -35 degrees. I am warm inside the house. I let my dogs out for 5 minutes and then bring them back inside. They whimper because the ice is frigid. It hurts their paws.

The storm is coming.

I could worry about everything. Will my car start? Will I make it through the snow and ice? What about the storms at work? What if someone else gets Covid? What will we do? What about this? What about that?

What if…What if…What if…

2022 is not starting out well. We are stuck in a bad, bad approaching storm. Think about the economy, think about Covid, think about the supply chain shortages, think about this, think about that…..think about all the bad stuff on the news…….get all filled up with anxiety and fear. Get all angry and frustrated and all worked up.

Or…..

choose to stay calm. Choose faith. Not the crazy blinding stupid faith that totally ignores the potential dangers. No the kind of faith that informs the serenity prayer.

Lord, help us to accept the things we cannot change and give us the courage to know the difference between what we can and what we cannot do.

I went to Galilee when I was 21. It was a study abroad for a summer. We took a rickety old metal bus up to the Golan Heights for the day and then on the way back, we stopped at an outside cafe. We got the wild notion to swim in the Sea with our clothes on. I still remember the joy of that moment swimming in the Sea with friends.

It really wasn’t that big, the Sea of Galilee. You could see the other side….much like a big Missouri lake. I wondered then what the disciples were so afraid of when the storms tossed their boat around and the waves threatened to come over the sides. Why did they panic? Jesus was asleep in the boat and they came to him and asked him to save them. Now, I realize that they probably didn’t know how to swim. That would be scary for sure.

Anyway, he got up and told them to have faith and then he calmed the waters to ease their minds.

We’re all kinda stuck in a Galilee boat and we don’t know what to do and we’re worried that this dang disease is gonna drown us. But remember what JFK said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Fear causes anxiety and procrastination and arguing and in-fighting and endless stupid drama which only serves to compound our problems. It causes the blame game and finger pointing. People stop fixing things and looking for solutions. Instead, they just throw shade and throw each other under the bus in an attempt to save their own hide. Every man for himself like we’re on the Titanic and there’s only one lifeboat left.

Admit it. You’ve done this. I’ve done it too. But this time…

Relax. Stay calm. Stay the course.

We’ll get out of this.

The man who wrote the song Amazing Grace was once in a storm too off the coast of England. He tied himself to the boat and he asked for mercy. He came through the storm and gave up his profession of slave trading. He went on to become a prolific preacher and hymn writer and we still sing his songs to this day.

It’s getting colder and colder outside. I could sit here and worry myself to death about the endless possibilities of what could go wrong. Or I could sit here and write something encouraging.

I choose to write.

2 Writing Publishing Opportunities

There is a new climate change-focused website that is publishing prose and poetry. It is called XR Creative and can be found at https://www.xrcreative.org. I got a message from the Joplin Writers’ Guild about the new site so I submitted a story called Golden Child about a young boy during the climate crisis. If you want to submit prose or poetry, they are accepting entries. Check it out! Great stories and great opportunity to get published and share your ideas.

Also, I submitted 2 stories to Chicken Soup for the Soul. Remember these fantastic books in the 90s? I had several of them and I still have the Mother edition today. Love these books. I wrote a story about Christmas and one about dogs. The submission deadline for most of the Chicken Soup books is around March or May 2022. The website is super easy to use. Check it out at http://www.chickensoup.com/story-submissions/submit-your-story.

The Fates of 2 Unwanted Sons

Her son was dying from thirst. They had wandered far in the desert with meager food and water that had been tossed to her by her former lover with scorn. Her lover didn’t want her anymore nor did he want their child. This must have broken her heart or maybe it had been broken long, long before by the open animosity of her lover’s other woman.

The woman was very hostile to her and her child.

She was thirsty as well. She waited to die. She hoped she would die before her son did but it did not happen that way.

When his young body gave way from the heat of the blazing sun, she did her best to shade him by dragging and carrying his body to a bush. It did not provide much shade or relief but it was all she had.

She wandered then, not far from him but in desperation seeking food or water or anything that could help. Hopeless, defeated and close to death herself, she must have given up eventually and returned to him and watched over him. She must have waited for the end. She must have cried or cried out in frustration at some point or perhaps she just waited in futility and utter despair.

An angel of mercy came to her then. Told her to return to the place she had been thrown out of….thrown out not once, but twice. He told her to go back to the place where she was abused.

After she was kicked out again, a fountain of water sprung up in the desert. Her son survived. So did she.

His name was Ishmael. He became the father of Islam with numerous untold descendants too many to count.

Her name was Hagar, the handmaid, and this was the original handmaid’s tale.


His mother and brother conspired against him. They plotted together and stole his birthright. His mother never seemed to like him the way she loved his brother. He wondered if it was his appearance. Perhaps she thought he was ugly and that deterred her from giving him the love he desired.

His father allowed his birthright to be taken. His father was weak and did what the others wanted to keep the peace. He betrayed his son too. The son parted ways with his family and all those that raised him.

He founded Petra in the desert.

He became the father of antiquity, supposedly his line of descendants would dominate the Mediterranean as Greeks and Romans.

And yet, his mother never truly loved him. How could she do the things she had done to Esau?

How could it be written of a God that loved all ………”Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated.”

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Locket

By J. Speer

Photo by Bruno Castelli on Pexels.com

(This story was written for a dystopian writing challenge. The short story had to be 600 to 2,000 words and involve a silver heart locket.)

Part One


It wasn’t supposed to happen like this…


That was the last thought entering Dawn’s mind as her shocked eyes pulled away from the rearview mirror. In the reflection, she could see the slow pool of blood flowing out from her sister’s abdomen. Liz was crumpled in an unmoving heap on the ground 15 yards behind her. That was as far as Liz had gotten before the robots fired lasers at her fleeing the vehicle.


LIz was dead for certain. Dawn knew this already in her shattered heart. The shadows of drones flew overhead targeting her renegade F390 truck.


Her eyes darted to the glove compartment briefly and then drew back to the gathering robot border patrol guards. Dawn thought of the only weapon she had, an ancient Colt 1911 that had belonged to her father before he was euthanized by the People’s Republic in 2064. This was 17 years prior to this moment….her Dad euthanized at 50 to fertilize soil for the republic crops……euthanized by state mandate like all the other 50 year olds that surrendered their bodies for the greater good. State survival…it was necessary.


The laser sights flickered briefly to show the robots were on to her movements, armed and deadly. Dawn swallowed harshly.


A brief text appeared before her.


“You know what to do.” scrolled the incoming message left to right above her briefly on the digital windshield.
There was another pause as she considered the weight of the silver heart locket on her heaving chest.


“You know what to do.” the message repeated only this time it was followed by a slight command strong enough to stop her beating heart.


“Remember your family back here in Teyhanna.”


A solitary tear fell down Dawn’s right cheek as she continued to stare at the border crossing now filled with reinforcing robotic sentries. No more messages appeared.


Dawn reached quickly for the heart-shaped locket with her left hand. The laser lights flickered again. Four robots forcefully came forward.


“Halt!” They ordered. “You are in violation of ordinance 517.”


She thumbed open the tiny clasp on the locket. Her eyes were glued to the robots coming forward now, fast approaching the vehicle.


She felt the small pill fall into her cupped hand. She remembered what the cartel man had told her. You can’t allow yourself to be captured. If you do fall into their hands, you will wish you were dead anyway. They’ll never let you go. Slavery…prison….fertilizer….worse. You know what to do.


The robots slammed their fists into the hood of her car. Dawn closed her eyes and brought the little pill to her mouth. Then, she swallowed it down. Cyanide. He had said it was cyanide. It will be quick he had said as he had handed her the lockets and walked away from her little brother’s graveside in Teyhanna, the brother that was executed by the same cartel. He had gotten in over his head with the wrong sort of people.


Minutes later, robots yanked open the locked driver side door of the truck. Dawn’s limp, lifeless body fell in a crumpled up heap onto the dry, parched desert ground. When her head hit the ground, her soulless eyes stared towards her sister. A sort-of bluish foam pooled out from Dawn’s breathless lips.

Part Two


One week prior, Dawn was heading out the hatch door of her apartment flat in Drose. She was going to be late for work if she didn’t hurry. She activated her truck from her watch and noticed an emergency alert intercept from her older sister, Liz. Liz – the wise and strategic one who had married into wealth and fortune despite her upbringing…..despite the days of their youth trudging illegally across the desert wasteland between Drose and Teyhanna to reach the promised land. Days without food and barely any water…..days they survived by each holding tight to the hands of their father who kept the little girls safe, alive, and kept them going.


Drose, or rather The People’s Republic of Drose established in 2036 after the nuclear wars and eventual climate change desertification of 3/4 of the Earth’s top soil, depletion of the fresh water sources, and final death, destruction, plague, and general famine of the Great Eradication of 2041 through 2043. It took 3 years for nearly 7 billion people to be wiped off the planet.


Gone.


Drose had survived and so had the badlands of Teyhanna, south of Drose through the searing hot desert. Anything goes in Teyhanna…so they say. It was the wild, wild west of drugs, prostitution, murder, mayhem, black market deals and so on. Teyhanna fueled the abundance of Drose. Drose, for its part, drove the decisions of the overlords of Teyhanna.


Drose, The People’s Republic of Drose, on the otherhand was a model of thinly veiled democracy underlined by totalitarian extremism. There were no families, so to speak, in Drose….not according to the state. Bioparents birthed children who were sent immediately to boarding schools of advanced technology, science, and medicine. Rules were strictly enforced. Slavery and debtor prisons were re-introduced. From the age of 10, all were expected to work together for the greater good of survival and all were expected to help the crop cultivation and soil/water conservation through all means necessary…ALL means necessary.


It was a harsh reality but one much better than life in Teyhanna. Dawn knew this, so she grew up to service the plant industry cultivating seeds in labwork. She was a hard worker…like her father. LIz, on the other hand, due to beauty and charm…caught the attention of one of the higher class. She was not completely like Dawn, a proletariat citizen.
Dawn checked the message. Liz seemed upset which was rarely her outright nature, given that she was quite guarded emotionally.


“John has……I’m sorry to say this, Dawn……John has passed away.” There was a pause on the line. “Mom…she wants us to come home, to come back to Teyhanna for the funeral and to see the family. The funeral is Wednesday.” Another pause on the line followed.


“He was executed by gunshot. Bullet to the head. I’ve decided to go….to go back. I know it’s dangerous. I know this already. I’m going anyways. It’s been years. We need to be there for Mom and the others.”
Liz sighed. “Dawn, I want you to come with me. I need you to come with me.”

Part Three


She could see them from the graveside, the men in black. Everyone was dressed in black at the funeral but they stood out from the rest, these men that had murdered her brother. They had pulled up their entourage of vehicles 100 yards away from the little service among the crowded tombstones of the clustered graveyard. The preacher gave a brief sermon. Others cried tears of hardship and loss feeling the injustice of a life taken violently and too soon.
But Dawn watched the men quietly.


They eventually approached. They offered their condolences to the grieving mother and family. Dawn and Liz looked cautiously at each other as the leader of the group motioned them to follow him to a more distant spot to converse. Knowing this was Teyhanna, knowing the way of life here…..they reluctantly followed. The others from the family were leaving group by group back to their little homes and little lives in the barren, crowded wasteland slums of Teyhanna.
“My condolences to you for the loss of your brother,” he offered in feigned respect. “We had concerns regarding this situation…your brother’s allegiance and fealty to our….operations.”


Dawn felt a rising anger inside herself that she knew not to expose. Without missing a step, the two women fell in line with the overlord’s assistant. He walked a ways in silence and then turned abruptly.


“Our needs have not been met yet,” he said deliberately, cocking his head to one side. “When you return to Drose, you will be required to carry something onward for us….a gift for the magistrate….a package. Do you understand?”
The women said nothing.


“Consider your brother’s debt to the organization cleared when and if you cross the border successfully,” he stated.
He continued to walk and they followed.


“This package will come to you,” he said in a low voice as he motioned to one of his bodyguards holding an assault rifle near the vehicles.


Then he smiled. “You will deliver. Your family here will be counting on you. Understood?”


“It’s simple really. Just deliver the item. If however, you face….opposition…,” his voice trailed. “We will need you to wear these.” He gave the women each a silver plated locket. “There will be no compromising of the course of action. Come, follow me further and we will discuss in more detail.” He motioned once again to his men.


Liz and Dawn continued to listen quite carefully as was to be expected in a violent, notoriously black market place like Teyhanna. A few days later, the package arrived at their mother’s house. Shortly afterwards, the two said their goodbyes and made their way with the package to the border of Drose. Both women had a deeply unsettling feeling of fear but they did exactly as they were told.


They just didn’t anticipate what would soon occur. The package was hidden carefully in the truck undercarriage. But it was not secret enough to avoid exposure to the vehicle imaging scans of those silent, deadly drones overhead.

The Little Turkey and The King Cobra

by J. Speer

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There was a little barn, alive with activity, in southern India. In the shade of this delapidated, old, red barn, 10 or 12 little chicks gathered near their hen mothers. They were beautiful, little fluff balls of yellow and black and deep brown. They chirped constantly. The mother hens gathered them here and there around the free range barnyard throughout the day as they all pecked for food, drank cool water from the farmer’s bucket, and sat around gossiping about the other barnyard animals.


In the barn, the grey mule stood sullenly. He was an old miserly sort of fellow with a rather sharp tongue. He harrumphed loudly and cleared his throat. His name was Inesh.


In the stall beside him lay a few goats named Pranjal, Sanat, and Vedant. They were a gaggle of goofballs. Their antics were quite known around the barnyard and legendary.


Then there were the 2 horses with their new spring pony. The farmer’s daughter loved the black pony and called her Bhavna.


No other animal of note was really associated with the barnyard other than a few dogs and the rather ordinary and plain looking turkey. She was an odd old lady often left out of the usual hen gossip circle.


The turkey had managed to escape the farmer’s axe through the years but not the sharp tongues of the other barnyard occupants. As a result, she tended to keep quite to herself, mild-mannered and soft-spoken. Her presence caused very little real annoyance but she was different and different, as we all know, is not always tolerated.


The little brown turkey was named Binita. She had no partner and so had accepted her childless fate through the years. She doted on the little chicks instead, offering them kindness and smiles from time to time as she clucked and fretted alone around the barnyard generally mumbling to herself and doing the daily activities that a turkey will do.


It was a beautiful Spring day and so it came with much surprise, that a dangerous King Cobra was slithering quietly along the side of the old red barn towards the little baby chicks. The gossipy old hens had gathered in the northeast side of the yard and so, the king cobra noted with secret chagrin that he would have to cross the yard for a slight moment or two out in the open exposed to attack and kill the baby chicks.


His hunger for the taste of little chicks compelled him forward nevertheless. His shiny black charcoal reptile scales glistened in the sun as he paused momentarily to survey the barnyard scene. The dark scarlet tongue darted in and out rapidly from his mouth. He dared not rise up yet. Clearly, his path to his prey was blocked by the mother hens but also before that, by a rather, odd-looking and quite pathetic old turkey.


“No bother,” he thought to himself. He would quickly pass by the turkey, surmissing that she would run in fear as they all did. He checked the air once more with his tongue before rapidly crossing from the barn wall diagonally through the yard. He salivated considering his prey, the plump fluffball baby chicks.


Binita was pecking for a worm in the yard. She was distracted and not paying much attention until she nearly stepped right into the path of the violent and cruel King Cobra. Her leg froze in midair as she suddenly realized with great fear who the new intruder to the farm might be. She shrunk back instinctively, ruffling her brown feather wings rapidly and squaked to sound an alarm to the other barnyard animals.


The exposed King Cobra raised up high in the air and flared out his neck and face. He hissed sharply to frighten away the old bothersome turkey. Meanwhile the alarm had been sounded and suddenly the whole barnyard was shook with panic.


The gossipy mother hens ran for their lives abandoning their young in great fear of the giant, deadly snake. They huddled into the hay of the other barnyard corner trying to wedge themselves as close to the fence as possible. The old grey mule brayed and harrumphed loudly, stomping his feet to try to attract the attention of the farmer and his family. The goats leaped up from their usual munching and bahhed as well in unison. Nearby dogs barked. Even the horses paced back and forth, hiding their beautiful black pony behind them. They were all frightened and terrified for their lives…..all except the clueless and sweet little fluffball chicks chirping unprotected and unaware so innocent in the yard.


The King Cobra knew all that stood between him and a marvelous, tastey lunch was that old foolish hen Binita. And so, he flared his neck and face as much as possible and hissed moving and swaying dangerously before the shuddering turkey.


But Binita did exactly what he did not expect. Everyone, in fact, was surprised by what Binita did next. As the mother hens shrunk back crying in fear and terror, little Binita ran straight across the barnyard to the innocent chicks. She opened her wings as if to shelter them, and quickly gathered them all together into the farthest corner of the barnyard away from the King Cobra. Then, she turned to face him with her wings spread wide to keep the chicks behind her.


This drew the fierce anger of the hissing King Cobra. He lowered once more to slither within inches of the terrified turkey Binita. She stepped back in fear, looked behind her at the baby chicks, gulped, and then turned to face the King Cobra head on.


The other barnyard animals were certain Binita would be a goner.


The King Cobra drew up again to full height and flared his face and neck. He hissed his last warning and then moved to strike Binita with his fierce fangs in a rapid attack. But she flew back out of reach of his fangs. Not only did she parry him, but she flew in just as fast to peck him hard on the head.


He shook his head and drew back in shock. Now, he was getting really angry. Once again, he watched the hen and attacked. She flew back to parry and then countered again with one harsh peck against his neck. Again and again, he attacked. Again and again, she managed to escape the attack just out of reach and then flew in to peck him harshly. With great annoyance, he flared his neck and face wider. The more he attacked, the more she pecked him hard on the head.


The battle was fierce and very deadly but Binita refused to move out of his way. She would not let him advance on the little baby chicks no matter what. They huddled behind her in a pack now, sensing something. The othe barnyard animals watched in shock and awe.


For two or three full minutes the poisonous snake and odd little turkey faced off. Finally, she pecked the King Cobra extremely hard on the head. He was frustrated beyond belief but could not get past her for anything. Eventually, he gave up. Defeated, he lowered.


She stood now in front of the baby chicks with her wings spread wide to shelter them. The deadly King Cobra, in shame and embarrassment as well as angry hunger, slowly lowered further and slithered back across the yard. He slithered back past all the silent barnyard animals, even the hiding mother hens, and then out into the green pasture lands. Within moments, he was gone.


Binita stood sheltering the baby chicks and breathing hard from her chest. The little chicks, innocent and unaware of the danger, chirped happily behind her. They bounced here and there. The barnyard finally came slowly back to life.

The old stodgey mule Inish bowed deeply in gratitude to the little brown turkey Binita. The three goats smiled happily and high fived each other with their hooves. They went back to munching lovely lumps of hay happily. The horses all nodded their heads in great admiration to Binita and even the gossipy mother hens clustered around the once-neglected turkey Binita, to hug her and thank her tremendously. They even lifted her onto their shoulders chirping and squaking with tremendous cheer.


Binita, for her part, never felt alone in the barnyard again. From that day forward, she would always be part of the barnyard family, though odd and a little quirky. Her deeds from that day would also become quite legendary. And the cute, little baby chicks grew up to love her as their own.

Capone’s Gold

By J. Speer

(This story was written for a summer writing contest on the theme of “summer vacation”. It had to be 1,500 words or less.)

It was summer of 1996. It was also Frontenac Homecoming, a weekend of wonder for little ones and a weekend of celebration, or rather, inebriation for adults. George thought of the carnival in that moment back at the outskirts of town. How he wished he and his friends could turn back. But a dare had been made to enter the old mine and a dare was a challenge kept.


The entrance had been found by Steve’s dad earlier in the Spring as he ventured out to the strip pits around Mulberry for some fishing. After school had gotten out in mid-May, Steve and his Dad had crossed by the mine entrance a few more times as they lazily enjoyed the beginning of summer break. Steve played travel team baseball and this was one of the few times in their family’s busy, hectic Spring baseball schedule that he could take a bit of a break.


The boys circled the abandoned entrance in the light of the moon. It appeared to be a deep shaft, a remnant of the pre-strip mining era of southeast Kansas in the early 1900s. Steve tested the wood around the entrance by kicking a board and it broke in half, rotted from the inside by years of weathering. The boys looked at each other hesitantly.


George had the brains enough to bring his father’s hunting headlamp on the excursion. There was four of them, standing with curiousity tinged with fear together near the entrance: Steve, George, Grayson, and Bill. Steve was the oldest and so dominated most discussions with confidence. George was the smart one. Grayson was the comedian and then there was Bill, the tag-along younger brother to Grayson.


“Is it safe to go in?” ventured Grayson hesitantly.


“Hell ya, it’s safe,” said Steve with a bit of bravado to hide his insecurities. He pushed back the rotted wood even further. George switched on the neon yellow glow of his headlamp. One. Two. Three clicks to the brightest beam. Then he placed it squarely on his forehead. The bright beam shone into the darkness beyond of the little mine entrance.


“Hasn’t been touched in years looks like,” confirmed Steve. There was nothing at the entrance just a deep hollow in the earth that disappeared into the beyond. There was a staleness to the air and a smell of old rocks and dirt. Steve stepped gingerly into the entrance, cracking the old wood and hoping he did not step on a rusty old nail. He didn’t relish the thought of a trip to the hospital for a tetanus shot. Nor did he want to think about a nail going through his beat up old sneakers.


The other boys one by one switched on their flashlights while looking around in the dark at the silent, thick woods and nearby water pits. Bugs of all kinds gravitated towards the lights and circled here and there in the dark evening around them. Bill swat at a chigger or mosquito on his bare leg.


Steve stepped further into the entrance, praying that his feet would not give way. He had a sinking nightmare image of falling into the deep earth and being buried never to be found again. He squelched the fear and pushed the bad thoughts from his mind.


“Come on in, it’s safe you chickens!” he motioned and the other boys promptly entered behind him. Bill was the last to enter but not out of effort, just that he was the runt of the litter so to speak and got pushed to the back. He was, however, bound and determined to show the other boys he was part of the group. He wanted to look brave.


“Dad said these mines are from the 1920s when Al Capone’s mafia ran Frontenac as a bootlegging operation,” Steve said with authority. “They used to distill liquor during the Prohibition here in these secret places….a place the cops would never look at. Pretty clever.”
“Al Capone used to come to Frontenac to hunt on his way down to Hot Springs for gambling. They said he’d eat at the little Italian restaurant nearby here. Chicago boss man in this little Kansas town….who knew?” Steve continued.


“They say..he buried his gold here too…..somewhere in this little Italian town.” Steve’s voice trailed off. Grayson and George looked around at the rock walls in curiousity while Bill just gulped peering into the dark. The boys began walking hunched over deeper and deeper into the shaft until the moonlit entrance nearly faded away. Steve led the way with his little headlamp. As they rounded a sharp corner and the entrance disappeared Steve stopped to look back at the others with a finger to his lips.


“We don’t want to disrupt anything or make any loud noises, ” he warned the others with a whisper. “You sure you wanna do this?” He pointed to the way back out. “Last chance.” The others said nothing. Steve half-hoped they would.


He turned to the cave ahead in search of Al Capone’s buried treasure. It was one heckuva a way to start the summer vacation of Steve’s 14th year…the year that he would forever remember as Bill’s last.

Her Name was Summer

By J. Speer

Youthful Summer turns to wistful Fall that leads to melancholic Winter.
All that is new ages…
Old eventually decays,
Only to rebirth in glorious Spring.

There was a girl.
Her name was Summer.
Hot like the dry blazing suns of August.
Eyes fiery, tinged with yellow flames of passion and cinnamon spice brown.
Brown like her sunkissed, silken skin.
Soft and sweet.
Lips juicy and red as a plump, ripe berry.

But it was her vivid nature,
the brilliant sway of her graceful hips,
the small curve of her waist,
the zestful way she danced with lovers in the twilight and neon glow
of the little salsa club on the south beach of the moonlit island.

The way she laughed, deep and throaty,
wholeheartedly with feeling,
the way she moved to the Cuban beats,
in a small, strapped sundress that brushed the hot breeze,
beaded sandals tapping rhythm to the sound.

Yes, there was a time.
There was a place.
There was a Summer unlike any summer before.

But youth gave way to an older woman gazing wearily out the nursing home window.

There was a girl once.
Her name was Summer.
A Summer that blazed,
A Summer that dreamed,
A Summer that lived.

And she will return again someday…

To dance, to laugh, to sing,
And to sway in love to the tempo,
to the beat.

Summer.
Eternal Summer.
Hot, hot,
Beautiful and gorgeous Summer.

New Little Book

A story from this blog called The Firefly’s Secret is now up on Amazon and doing well. It is #10 on Amazon in baby and toddler nursery rhyme books.

The little story is on kindle unlimited and selling on kindle for 1.99.

From Riches to Rags and Back

There is something we humans love about a good rags to riches story such as Annie. We equally love the often comical and sometimes a bit tragic riches to rags story. Consider the popularity of such an award-winning show as Schitt’s Creek. Or, another personal favorite for riches to rags stories is the 1980s movie Trading Places starring Dan Akroyd as a rather pompous, over-indulgent, spoiled, and entitled middle manager of the stock trades. I love both Eddie Murphy as Valentine and also can really appreciate the naivete and complete comic despairing bewilderment of Dan Akroyd’s character in his unceremonious fall from grace. As Schitt’s Creek and Trading Places evolve, we see the protagonists go from casual contempt for others perceived to be below their status to eventually embracing true and loyal friendships they make with kind souls along the way that help them out. These other characters such as Jamie Lee Curtis’ hooker with a heart or Stevie the owner of the run-down motel and Roland, the town mayor of Schitt’s Creek, we come to love them because they show true compassion perhaps mixed with a bit of humor at the stumblings and foils of the protagonists as they learn to perilously navigate life without the riches and shallow relationships they had so earlier enjoyed.

For the past 7 years, my life was a riches to rags story.

I grew up privileged. My father was the Vice President for the local university and respected all over the community. My siblings and I were educated in private school. My little brother grew up to be an Engineer at Tesla. My little sister became an Engineer for the Environmental Protection Agency. My other sisters each became a Pharmaceutical Doctor at KU Med and an Information Systems Manager for a legal law firm in Kansas City. We were all overachievers.

I became a Human Resource Director for a large manufacturing plant with 300 employees. I had a Master’s in HR and was working towards an MBA as well as HR licensure. In the HR field, Director is the top. You can’t get any higher than that. At 35 years old, I was a middle manager and one of only a few females that had risen that far. I was a career woman and I thought I was top of the top. I was in line to become the President of the local HR chapter and rubbed elbows with many HR professionals at big conferences in Kansas City, Tulsa, and Dallas. At the regional HR conference in Dallas, they even referred to me as a “rock star.” I feigned humility but inside I was proud. I had big plans for the future. I was gonna go far, kid.

Or so I thought…..

I got canned.

Not just canned but more like dumpster fire canned.

Fired. F-I-R-E-D.

Not just fired in a polite way but in a harsh and pack everything and leave immediately way.

It was embarrassing.

I had been a white collar office worker all my adult life. I never had a bad performance appraisal prior. I had never ever experienced getting laid off or fired…..ever until then. It was quite a shock to my overachiever system to say the least. To add fuel to the bonfire of my personal shame, it happened with dubious circumstances.

I was fired for performance. 4 months prior a female lower level worker came to me 4 times about a circumstance in the company that was controversial. I tried to push it under the rug as advised but in the end, I checked into what she was saying. That employee quit the company that very day. 4 months later, I was fired too. I’d like to say that decision I made was a bad move on my part but in hindsight now, I realize I did the right ethical thing at the moment despite the negative consequences. I don’t regret it…….now anyway. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t regret it for years prior.

It stung….it felt like a public humiliation and injustice.

I can write this now looking back on it from a happier place and almost laugh at the comical despair of my unceremonious belly buster from the high dive of corporate business. In time, I learned some harsh lessons about who I could rely on. I applied in earnest for HR job after HR job, even begging some friends from the chapter I had been an officer to…….to no avail.

I think that was the hardest lesson to learn of all.

6 months I sat on unemployment for the first time in my adult life until I was thrown a horrendously bad temp job. Eventually, I ended up on the line.

What does it mean to be on the line?

I became a blue collar worker in the factory environment at starting pay of 9 bucks an hour. After all, I still had a large house mortgage and bills to pay and children to get through school. This job came to me through a friend of my sister. I still work there today. In September, I will celebrate 5 years of service.

It was not an easy transition. My hat goes off to blue collar workers. They have a much harder time than they get credit for. Over the years, I grew to respect them more and more. My hands became rough like the hands of a mechanic. My arms became tough from cuts from the glass I worked with. My biceps and triceps grew to double their previous size from hauling boxes of glass. I learned a craft, a valuable skill. I became for the first time in my adult life, a real essential part of the team and that is what I learned most of all from the blue collar workers….to work together as one team to get the job done whatever it takes and however hours we gotta work. I developed a real sense of pride in my work, my craftsmanship, my quality, my speed. I didn’t have to prove to anyone that my job was needed. The work was physically exhausting at times but very rewarding and I gained true friends.

It was not without it’s challenges at first. The line workers had heard about me before I arrived and were determined to not let me think I was better than them. I remember struggling with cutting glass the first day on the job and overhearing a worker who later became my friend, say with a cynical sneer, “Looks like boss hired a real genius with this one.” I went through a sorta school of hard knocks to earn my status there today. And it has become my favorite place of employment and I am deeply grateful for it today.

When you go from riches to rags, you learn who your friends are. Some of it will surprise you as it did me waiting on unemployment for old HR colleagues to throw me a lifeline.

One good friend was a woman named Sandra Main. She’s kinda the reason I got back into writing. Of course, I did it for practical reasons to pay bills and help my family stay afloat on a blue collar paycheck. But Sandra invited me to an entrepreneur meeting and she encouraged me to take up writing again to supplement my income.

As the years went by, due to the mercies of good bosses at the factory and a good supervisor, I stayed on through some seasonal layoffs. And as I continued to slog day in and day out through the carts of work with tenacity, I was rewarded with pay increases.

That fall from middle to bottom of the heap did not last too painfully long, thank goodness.

Today, I am glad to say I do quite well at the company. It is a good place to work.

I am grateful for the entire 7 year experience of riches to rags and back up again.

It taught me humility. It taught me reliance on faith. It taught me grit and determination. But more than that, it taught me about friendship with coworkers/family/good people in the community, marriage commitment through struggles, and I learned not to be such an overly arrogant, over-pompous, overindulgent, overconfident…..ass.

I really can’t describe it any other way.

I was a major donkey ass.

And yes, I’m smiling at that as I type cause it’s 100% true. I mean don’t get me wrong, I sure ain’t perfect but I’m way better than before. Geesh.

Learning to see other perspectives, I really got a good look at what I was before my fall from grace and honey, it was ridiculous (in a funny sort of way).

Just like Dan Akroyd in Trading Spaces or the Rose family in Schitt’s Creek, I think the whole experience was kinda a necessary lesson towards true authentication.

Looking back, I just laugh for the most part. Some days I do get a little down on this previously bad turn of fate but that feeling does not linger long. I’ve learned to forgive. I’ve learned to heal. I’ve stretched myself in ways I would have never ever done if the universe hadn’t held my feet to the fire.

Looking back, it was the best damn thing that could have ever happened to me.

Happy ending.

By Your Side

By J. Speer

There is a light that shines in you.

A glow more precious than gold

brighter than sunshine.

Just to be near you makes me smile

and fills my heart with comfort.

To place my hand in yours is peace.

To lay beside you is the best feeling in the world.

To be held in your arms is bliss.

When you are gone, there is an empty place on your pillow.

I wake up and turn towards your usual place only to find nothing

and the emptiness chills me inside a little.

I roll back over.

I look at the ceiling and exhale.

Turn to the other side.

Stare at the wall.

Try to fall asleep again.

I confess sometimes I sleep with the nightlight on,

because your light beside me is gone.

You’ll be back soon from your business trip.

I’ll wait for you.

Close my eyes.

Rest comes eventually.