Swim Team


Hands poised, hips aligned

The heat of the noon sun on his shoulders

The shrill whistle blows and

He flies

Weightless over the water

Aqua coolness

The cold shock ignored

Feet furiously kicking

His arms take turns with fluid movements

His face turns for needed oxygen

Then back to the water

The water is another world; one of his own

Because, for a moment

There is nothing else

No bullies

No confusing homework

No grownups with their endless expectations

There is only him and the water

He is a part of it as it is a part of him

Surfacing, he looks at me, his biggest fan

And smiles that toothy grin

The Soil in My Hands


The Soil in My Hands

I hold the soil in my hands

Dampened earth, black as night

Its coarseness scours my fingertips

Like so many words of regret

I hold the soil in my hands

The darkened days of yesteryear

When a smile of a lover was all you needed

To make you feel invincible

I hold the soil in my hands

This Southern soil, stubborn and unyielding

Much like Southern women

I’ve known before and hold dear always

I hold the soil in my hands

It’s a part of me, knit in my DNA

My toes connect with the earth

My sharecropper great-granddaddy worked but never owned

I hold the soil in my hands

The bitterness and stones cold as bones

Twigs and life interrupted

The winter sky is a witness

I hold the soil in my hands

It soaks up the sunlight; a thief stealing joy

Once, part of someone’s memory

That has been long forgotten

I hold the soil in my hands

Scooping up pieces of mortality

Futility, anger, grief, love

For these are a part of the soul

I hold the soil in my hands

Letting it fall through my fingers

Like sand in an hourglass

Too quickly forgotten

I hold the soil in my hands

Finally realizing the fragility of it all

I place it back where it belongs

In my garden of yesterday

Want to Publish With Chicken Soup for the Soul? Here’s Some Advice!

Ever wonder how Chicken Soup for the Soul finds all their stories? I know! Read here for advice on submitting and publishing with them.chicken soup TD


A Letter to Me at 17: A Back to the Future Sort of Thing


Did you ever see Back to the Future? I’m specifically thinking of Back to the Future 2, where Marty and Doc have to race both backward and forward in time, avoiding whiplash, to fix a bunch of crap they messed up the LAST time they went back in time. But then, Doc and Marty and (the new) Jennifer make everything okay again and spend the rest of their lives trying to forget how terrible 40 looks.

Meanwhile, I’m just wondering when the food rehydrator is happening. Where’s my tiny pizza?

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about that movie since we marathoned them on New Year’s Eve, and specifically what I might say to my 17-year-old self. You know, what sage advice I might give to myself and such. So here goes:

Dear Tina,

This is your 43-year-old self from the future–ure—ure. DO NOT PANIC. I just want to clear up a few misunderstandings and give you some awesome advice, so for Pete’s sake PUT DOWN THE TACO and come here for a second.

Did you just roll your eyes at me, young lady?

I know there are some concerns you have and I want to address them right now.

First of all, you will go to college–eventually.  I know you love your bass clarinet, but you will not be a high school band director, partially because you suck at music theory and, frankly, you are in no way ready to be a college student, and partially because … you aren’t THAT good. Sorry, that’s just the way it is. You know how you love writing and reading books? Just save yourself a bunch of money and time and major in English already. That’s right. You LOVE being an English teacher–and it turns out, you love writing. So the college thing will happen, It will just take about three times as long as you expected, like almost everything you do, because you always take the scenic route no matter what. This never changes.

This one might hurt a little but bear with me. That guy you think is IT? He’s not it. One day you’re gonna look back at that whole thing and say, “Wow. Dodged a bullet.” Incidentally, that Lee guy? Take another look his way. There’s a reason why you like his leather jacket and mullet. He’s a keeper. Even if he didn’t take you to the prom, you leave with him. Kind of forever.

I know one of the things that worries you is that once high school is over: you will never see your friends again. I can lay this one to rest, because you are still besties with Joy and Amy and Mac — and you get to see them on a regular basis. In fact, you all plan to raise some hell in the nursing home together one day. And there’s this whole future thing called the internet that links all the computers in the world together so you can talk to them, and all your old and new buddies almost whenever you want. WOAH. Kind of like on “Lawnmower Man” but less sinister. And everyone has a tiny phone in their pocket that is 100 times faster than the computers at school–hold on– you are not ready for that. Don’t want to blow your mind!

Also, I know that Mom and Dad get on your nerves big time and that you can’t wait to move out of Springdale and be on your own. That will happen soon enough, but do me a favor. Spend a little extra time with Dad. In fact, spend a lot of extra time with Dad. Ask him questions about when he was a kid, and make him show you his military pictures. Tell him you think he’s a great father and a great man. Give him a hug. Tell him how much he means to you and how much you appreciate his working so hard. Memorize the lines in his hands and the color of his eyes. You don’t have to memorize his laugh, though. Because one day you will hear it in your son’s voice.

Give your mom a break too. Accept that you won’t ever understand one another but that understanding is separate from love. Just love her.

I also know that you have some pretty serious fears about motherhood. You think that you never want to be one, or that if you are you will be horrible and it will all end with an orange jumpsuit and a mugshot on the 5:00 news. Here’s the thing: you will be a mama (perhaps sooner than you think) and you will love it. So when you get back from that trip to Disneyland, and you can’t keep down a burrito to save your life and it hits you like a Chuck Norris punch that you haven’t purchased any Tampax in a reallllly long time? Just breathe. It’s all going to be ok.Being a mama is heart-wrenching and terrifying, almost on a daily basis, but it’s also wonderfully beautiful at the same time. You will screw up, but not in any fundamental 5:00 news kind of way. You’ll screw up in a human kind of way that everyone else does, but it somehow balances out in that you have put enough love into them they will forgive you. And your kids? You couldn’t imagine how great they are, even in your wildest dreams.

And they are very talented, especially in music, and at least two of them are music majors. The youngest one, the boy? Jury’s still out on what he’s gonna do with his talent. No matter what it is, you can bet it will be great.

Your very wildest dreams.

Tears in a Bottle and the Counting of Tossings


Psalm 56:8 ESV
You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?

I take comfort in the fact that my Lord puts my tears his bottle. He saves them; he gives my pain value. Like rainwater held for a later time, when the drought comes, the time when I do not shed tears and I’ve forgotten the salty touch of them on my tongue and the sadness in my very marrow, he shows me my tears that I might see that yes, He cared. Yes, He remembered. He took notice. He made it a priority to rectify my pain.
At a later time, I will look at the rainwater tears and know that my God held me up, steadfast when I thought my legs would fail. But they did not.

I take comfort in the fact that He takes count of my tossings–when I can’t sleep at night for worrying about things that I have little power over. He notices when the pillow bunches hot from my crying. He cares when my blanket is wound around my legs like a rope. He believes in me when my eyes cannot close to the stirrings of worry in my heart. He is Abba, Daddy. He touches my forehead and tells me to rest now. That He is in control.

The Gate


I’ll walk you to the gate, I said

And took his hand in mine

You’ll have to go on without me

I can’t come along this time

I’ll go as far as I can go

And kiss you on the cheek

It’s so much nicer in that place

The peace is what you seek

He turned and smiled before he went

I knew he was okay

I whispered that I’d be there soon

as he quietly shut the gate

Remember Us: For Inge

Each year, fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors remain. Even fewer are those like Inge Auerbacher who still travel all over the world to speak and inform of her experience as a young girl in the camps.


Remember us, they whisper

We boarded the trains obediently

To a place that your worst nightmares

Cannot comprehend

Remember us, they whisper

In the freezing dawn of morning

When the blackened smoke of ashes

Settled in yesterday’s wind

 Remember us, they whisper

Our children torn from our arms

The sick ones they shot in front of us

The chilling sound of a mother’s scream

Remember us, they whisper

Our bodies kicked in shallow graves

Strangers on strangers like lovers

Lovers with no choice

Remember us, they whisper

A number tattooed on our arms

The cold a presence in our bones

The starvation in the eyes of our children

Remember us, they whisper

The crying ever present

What sin had we committed

By our love for Yahweh

Remember us, they whisper

Let not our deaths be in vain

When the siren call of power

Seems impossible to ignore

Remember us, they whisper

When the story seems too fantastic

And the pictures seem too distant

In your grandfather’s war

dinner with Inge

Inge and a group of us having dinner together when she visited us in Texas. She’s loving the blooming onion.

Interested in having Inge come speak to your group? You will not be disappointed.

Contact Inge here: http://www.ingeauerbacher.com

Books by Inge: Photo courtesy of Inge’s website

Inges books

On Boundaries and Knowing My Place

I’ve never been good with boundaries

As a kid, if there was a fence, I’d climb it

If there was a wall, I’d scale it

If there was a space, I’d encroach upon it

If there was a line, I’d cross it

I guess you could say I don’t know my place.

I get so upset when we talk about slavery

As if it is nonexistent—a thing of the past

An embarrassing thing we should hide

Like the Confederate flag (Insert Dixieland here)

Or whispers of ancestors in the KKK (But that’s how he was raised)

Or pictures of segregated water fountains bleached in sepia (See kids, we learned our lesson!)

Slavery dwells among us

As real as terrorism or

Obamacare or


Slavery seeps into our very way of life … and we have allowed it

If you listen, you can hear the cries of the enslaved:

The little girl, only 12

She hasn’t had her first period but she knows men

She ran away from home to escape one kind of bondage

Which she has exchanged for another


The man who risked everything to get his family into this country

And feels desperation and betrayal

As he’s forced to labor sixteen hour days or

His family will be revealed by the very ones he trusted

It’s as American as…

Well…you know

Apple pie, the Super Bowl, Sam’s Club on free sample day

We must listen to the cries of the oppressed

If we do not wish for frogs in our homes

Or blood in our water

When will we stop pretending it doesn’t affect us?
When will we quit ignoring the disturbing stories on the news, as if it wasn’t as relevant as

Jay Leno’s monologue

The War on Terror


The girl on the missing poster

I guess I still don’t know my place.

On Settling and Other Myths

settling 3Concert

I used to worry I was settling

Somehow sacrificing what I could be for who I was

Solving the problem of yearning with inertia

Putting my dreams in the backseat

While I wiped runny noses and composed grocery lists

When time is forever and money is a dream


Sometimes I would feel the regret of choices made

Haphazardly, without really thinking about the consequences

Not really thinking much of anything except

How I was going to get that next can of formula

To feed your hungry bottomless stomach


The guilt of that feeling consumed me

What kind of mother questions motherhood

And its effect on a young woman’s life

As she holds a warm infant close to her breast

In the wee hours of the breaking day


But now I see more clearly the choices made

Not sacrifices at all, not wasted days

My vision is clear now

It’s amazing the clarity that comes  when you have had rest

Rest from the endless cycle of feeding, burping, bathing


I see the young woman you’ve become

As your life unfolds before you and you make choices of your own

Wait, I want to say



I see the young man you’re trying on—

Still deciding which way to go

Left or right, the decision is yours

And oh, it seems as if there’s plenty of time—hours folding upon hours like so many snowflakes

I see the hourglass, quietly reminding me this is not so


I see the husband sleeping next to me

His back raising and falling with dreams

Like the tide rushing in and flowing back

Foamy water that refreshes the weary


I see the home we’ve made, the five of us

The three souls that made us whole

Our little universe in an expansive but terminable piece of eternity


I have no regrets


It was not a sacrifice as I had first thought

But more like a perfect gift of God’s timing

In the small hours of this morning

When all I love is under one roof

On Not So Perfect Holidays in Less Than Perfect Families–and Thankfulness


I love being a professor. I’m still in awe that I actually get time off at the end of each semester. For the longest time, I worked in the medical field where getting Christmas off was never guaranteed.

At the beginning of Christmas break, I am fairly frothing at the mouth to be free of the office. Nothing but tail lights, baby! I have visions of country Christmases with homemade gingerbread house mansions, the family sitting around in the holiday glow of the fireplace, laughing together quietly while listening to Bing Crosby’s silken baritone as exquisite snowflakes brush the squeaky clean window pane in the background.

Here’s what REALLY happens.

The fam is lying around, slug-like, watching sappy Hallmark movies on marathon. It’s less about holiday spirit and more about laziness because nobody knows where the remote(s) is(are) and nobody is ambitious enough to look for it. My husband, The Engineer, bought a TV so complicated I have to use 5 remotes and a NASA launch code to just watch Pioneer Woman cooking shows, and frankly it makes me cranky. If he doesn’t want to simplify it (for Pete’s sake, I have a Master’s Degree in English–why can’t I find my way to My Five Wives without two hours of research?), then I’ll show him by NOT learning another mouth-watering recipe to try out on the family. OH YEAH. It’s ON. (I know this is petty and dumb. Work with me here.)

I realize we’ve been home several days and there is NO decorations of any kind. I mean, we don’t have tiny cherubs anymore so it’s not essential or anything, but come on, we’re not Grinches or anything.

Me: “So, we gonna put up the tree today? It is December 15.”

Family: “Eh.” (No movement from the couches that look like they are memory foam but aren’t). It’s more of a sound than an actual work–it translates to something like “Nah. You can if you want but I’m really busy right now and…”

Me: “Nate, run out to the garage and bring the tree in.”

Nate: “What?” (His hearing is slightly compromised, partially from his noise-cancelling (or mom canceling) earphones and his classical horn music he blares over the speakers.

Me: (louder) “I said, will you run out to the garage and bring the tree in?”

Nate: (siiiiiiigggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhh). Dear Reader: If you don’t know what this sounds like, imagine how you would sigh if you received a speeding ticket or a certified letter from the IRS. Then crank it up about five notches.

“Okay…”he says,with the unbridled enthusiasm of a middle-aged, clinically depressed DMV employee who only works there because his mom said he needed to contribute.

Moving at the speed of glaciers melting, the men of the household reluctantly bring in the Tree That Time Forgot, which is decorated by a family that has experienced the suffocating closeness of forced holiday cheer, using ornaments that may have once been pretty but now look like Goodwill rejects. Bing Crosby? Hardly. More likely, it’s the wisdom of Family Guy–of course set on the most awkward episodes possible to watch in a family environment. But I can’t change it, can I? I mean, I’m no rocket scientist! Do you think I’m gonna ask Hubby to do it? No way. I’m speaking softly as possible so he doesn’t abandon the whole project and leave me there to sort out the paint-coordinated branches that are not guaranteed to actually fit in their appointed slots but are definitely guaranteed to give me a migraine headache. I know it isn’t real pine. I’m allergic to the puffs of dust falling off the branches.

Ever try to decorate a tree and wrap presents with a neurotic, paranoid German Shepard that is equally terrified and seduced by Santa gift wrap? Add in a grouchy, narcissistic chihuahua who finds laps where none exist and a stupid but adorable min-pin mix that loves looking out the window to bark at menacing kids on bikes.

Oh yeah. We’re festive now.

At the end of it I’m like, “Ok you guys! We’re gonna decorate this tree and we’re gonna like it, got it!” I sound like a coach chewing out the losing team in the locker room at half time.

As far as holiday baking goes, I might have pinned a bunch of elaborate gingerbread houses on Pinterest, but the only thing that has remotely translated to actual holiday food is some leftover candy canes I found crushed under a couch cushion and a HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!! card from my dentist, reminding me it’s been too long since my last cleaning. Note to self: pick up floss. Half out of guilt and half from The Ghost of Christmas Pressure, I half-heartedly bake some chocolate chip cookies from a tub that are just the perfect texture–burned on the outside and raw on the inside. Then I dare anyone to say anything. At this point, my inner Sybil has terrorized the family and everyone knows just to take a cookie and avoid eye contact.

I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. WE LOVE CHRISTMAS. I just sometimes fall into the trap of trying to create the Perfect Family Holiday Moment without the actual Perfect Family. None of us are perfect. We are all flawed, sometimes irritable, beautiful humans. And they are my humans. Don’t you say anything about them or I’ll be on you like rednecks at a Dollar General clearance sale. Don’t make me go there.

In the end, we had an awesome Christmas. Not perfect, by any means. Taking down the tree was almost as fun as putting it up but it’s done. I’ll spare you the details but leave you with this cliffhanger: extension cords and missing stockings. We know what it’s about: a tiny baby hosting Immanuel Himself, sent here by choice. An unmistakable sign of perfect love and sacrifice. God in man clothes–coming to take away the sins of the world. The rest? It’s just frosting.

And I have to remember at all times that none of this is promised to happen again. New Year’s Day, with tons of appetizers and messy kitchens and Back to the Future marathons  and loud games of UNO is never guaranteed. Next year, it’s very possible that both my girls will be moving away to begin their careers as they will have graduated. A year after that,  Mancub follows. The more talented your kids are, the more opportunities are presented, and the greater the likelihood that they will have to move far away to make these dreams happen. So for now, I’ll appreciate them in all their grouchy glory, and hope they do the same for me.

Happy New Year you all. Want a chocolate chip cookie?