Monday, September 23, 2013

The Pros and Cons of Teen Marriage - Guest Post

Julia Asel Thomas is our guest blogger today.  She is the author of a new book, Loving the Missing Link, a chronicle of a young girl from a small town, which is part of the WOW blog tour.  Like her character, Julia is also a small town girl.  

Small towns are interesting and wonderful places.  Unlike the big cities, in a small town everyone knows everyone.  There are certain expectations and certain "ways" of doing things.

In small towns, many teenagers can't wait to get away.  Often, they resort to running away from what they see as an oppressive life to marry.  Once in the "real" world, though, things change.

Julia writes today about teen marriage - a topic of some concern in both small towns and big cities.  I believe you will find her words filled with wisdom.


Let me start by saying that I would never advise two teenagers to get married. It is a risky business starting out together with so few resources and so little experience. However, for all of you who have already tied the knot and for your families, who are understandably worried, I would like to take an honest look at teen marriage including both the positive and the negative aspects. 

Pro: You’re young! 

As a young married couple, it is easy to enjoy the simple things in life. Many of the things you can afford to do are things you are probably physically suited to do. You can enjoy taking a long walk in the rain, going to concerts in the park, or taking a cross-country road trip in your beat-up old car. When you are older, the rain might seem more of an inconvenience than a treat. As you get older, you will probably prefer going to concerts where you could get a more comfortable seat. And, as a more mature adult, you are more likely to be too busy for a long road trip. Flying is just so much easier. But, as a young couple, the world is new and you are not afraid to enjoy it. 

Con: You’re young. 

Being young can also be a downside of teen marriage. You may feel that you have a deeply committed relationship with your spouse, and you actually might, but older couples are likely to belittle your relationship because of your age. As a teen, you have fewer legal rights within the system. Plus, you haven’t explored the world enough to know exactly what you want out of life. 

Pro: Everything is fresh and new for you. 

As a teen couple, you can find pleasure in things that seem old hat to others. In Loving the Missing Link, the two main characters, Cheryl and Jerry, have a marvelous adventure just test driving a car. They get so excited about Jerry’s getting a promotion that they start jumping on their cheap bed until it breaks. That’s not the kind of reaction most people would have as they get older. 

Con: You lack experience and resources. 

While there are young people who have had more experience in life than others, most people who get married young have trouble making wise decisions about their financial affairs, about when to have children, and even about the place they call home. In my book, Cheryl and Jerry struggle with homelessness for a short time because they don’t have the resources to just check into a hotel when their home is lost in a natural disaster. When you are a teen couple, it is hard to plan for emergencies when it takes everything you have just to make ends meet. 

Pro: You grow up together. 

As a teen couple, you will teach each other many things if you are positive and stay together long enough. If one of you is better at social situations and the other is better at budgeting, you are both young enough to learn those lessons from each other if you are willing to work at it. One of the most important things to take away from Loving the Missing Link is that your spouse can help you become the person you were meant to be. 

Con: Your personalities are not fully formed. 

Teenagers have to grow up during their teen marriage. Your personality will alter as you mature. If you get married as a teenager, you are taking a gamble that you will still enjoy each other’s company once you really know who you are. 

Con: Many teen marriages fail quickly. 

According to a 2008 New York Times article, teen marriages were two to three times more likely to end in divorce than marriages that were entered into after the age of 25. I’m sure the numbers are not much different today. The problem is even more evident when the teens get married because of a pregnancy. There are just too many issues and responsibilities for two teenagers to have much of a chance to stay married. 

Pro: Some teen marriages last and last. 

In Loving the Missing Link, Cheryl and Jerry have problems but do not split. Would they have broken up if the story had continued? That is hard to say. One thing I can tell you is that I married my husband when I was 18 and he was 19, and we have been together over 37 years. So, it’s not impossible. 

I guess what I am saying is, if you haven’t already gotten married as a teen, think hard about what you are about to do. But, if you have already gotten married, don’t despair. Your fate is not sealed nor your future set in stone. You can make a teen marriage work if you are committed to it and willing to suffer some hard knocks along the way. Marriage is always a gamble. No matter what age you are, you have to be willing to accept that risk and take it as a challenge to make your marriage the best it can possibly be. 

Author Bio: Julia Asel Thomas writes stories with vivid descriptions, authentic dialogue and revealing narration. Her debut book, Loving the Missing Link, presents the engrossing and moving story of a young, small town girl who grows up, lives and loves while trying to find a balance between despair and hope. 

Like the protagonist in Loving the Missing Link, Julia Asel Thomas knows small town life. However, Julia’s experiences were quite different than Cheryl’s. Julia is the middle child of seven children and the daughter of a church organist and a business manager. Growing up in the small town of Hamilton, Missouri, Julia’s family enjoyed a reputation as a bright and interesting family. Julia thrived on the quiet and carefree life she lived in that gentle place. 

When Julia was in high school, she earned a scholarship for a trip to Cali, Colombia as a foreign exchange student. The experience, although it only lasted a few brief months, had a profound influence on the rest of her life. After her time abroad, Julia realized in a very real way that, although customs may differ from culture to culture, the substance of human emotions is constant. We all need love. We all need to feel secure. We all have happy moments and sad moments. Back from Colombia, Julia become ever more interested in capturing these human emotions through music and writing. 

After high school, Julia took a break before going on to college. During this time, she married her husband, Will. Will joined the Air Force, and Julia accompanied him to bases around the country, taking college classes in each town where they resided. Their two children were born in Las Vegas, Nevada, while Will was stationed at Nellis Air Force Base. Married in 1976, Julia and Will are thrilled to celebrate each new anniversary and look forward to staying together for life. 

Julia began writing fiction at the age of ten, when her 5th grade teacher gave her the assignment to write about “My Worst Day.” Julia took the opportunity to concoct every possible disaster a young child could face during the course of a normal day. The teacher loved her work and asked her to read it to the class. From then on, Julia wanted nothing more than to be a writer. 

In 2007, Julia began earning her living by writing articles, press releases and website content for a number of clients. As she settled into a routine of working every day on her writing, the old urge to write fiction resurfaced. In 2012, Julia started with a story she had written in 1985 and continued it to create the story in Loving the Missing Link

After Julia’s husband, Will retired from the Air Force, they moved back to Missouri and now live in Kansas City, Missouri. 

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Beyond Belief - Review

I don't often review books, mainly because I think people should read books and decide whether they are relevant to them rather than taking the word of someone else.  However, I am making an exception with Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religions, an anthology of stories by women from a wide and diverse range of religious communities. 

I learned of this book through Women on Writing, who are sponsoring the Beyond Belief Blog Tour.

The first thing that hit me was the use of the word extreme.  What, I thought, was an "extreme" religion?  As an interfaith minister, I had some ideas, but like most judgements, they were my own personal feelings.  So, I delved into the introduction to the book written by the editors, Susan Tive and Cami Ostman.  

Susan and Cami tell the readers in their introduction about how "women living life inside extreme religions have much in common despite their differences of practice and belief."   They go on discuss how the most common question their contributors asked was, "What's your working definition of extreme?"  Their response was, to me, wonderful.  "It's true that the word extreme is an extreme word!  For some of our atheist friends, any religion that espouses a belief in any kind of supreme being is extreme. Yet for those who live inside orthodoxy or fundamentalism, what they live is not extreme to them at all: it is quite normal and sensible." 

Therefore, they agreed to allow the writers who connected with the word extreme to define it themselves.  This allowed contributions from women of all faiths and spiritual practices.  

The stories in this book are all written as first person narratives.  The writers pull you into the drama, the emotion, the hopelessness and hope-full-ness of their lives as they explain events that drastically changed their image of themselves and their connection to Spirit.

I thank Cami and Susan for giving me the opportunity to review Beyond Belief.  I echo their sentiment that, with an open heart and open mind, we can all find connections within the stories of these courageous women.

About the Editors -

Cami Ostman is an author, editor, life coach and a licensed marriage and family therapist with publications in her field. She blogs at and on the blogger team. She has appeared in several publications, including O, The Oprah Magazine, Fitness Magazine, Adventures Northwest, the Mudgee Guardian in Australia, and La Prensa in Chile. Cami is a runner and a dog lover who lives in Bellingham, Washington. 

As a writer, editor and researcher Susan Tive has worked on a variety of academic articles exploring psychology, feminism and religion. Susan’s interest in these subjects led her to become an editor for several non-fiction titles including Faith and Feminism and Rachel’s Bag. Her new anthology Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religions will be published in April 2013 by Seal Press. 

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Creative Arts Programs in Schools: Guest Post

Today, I am pleased to have as a guest blogger, Elaine Drennon Little, who is taking part in a Women on Writing (WOW) Blog Tour.  Elaine is a writer and educator.  She writes as passionately as she teaches.  Her new book, A Southern Place, tells the story of a young woman and her search for connections and her fight for life.

But, Elaine isn't writing about her book, exactly.  Instead, she is sharing her thoughts on Creative Arts Programs in Schools as an educator, as well as a writer.

Welcome, Elaine!

The Arts Education Network has the following sentence at the top of their website: Learning and participation in music, dance, theater, and the visual arts are vital to the development of our children and our communities. This topic is paramount to me as an educator, but also as a student of the arts. 

I was one of those nerdy kids who was always the last chosen for sports teams; I often feigned illness on “field day.” However, my chorus classes were the one place that I could truly feel like a rock star. My friends, mostly nerds like me, were all blown away when at fifteen, I was asked to come “sit in” with a band, a group of older “unbelievably cool” guys who could have sat beside me for a year and never known my name. But they were musicians; they saw how the teacher moved me from one section to another to help people learn their parts, then switched me to accompanist when she need to conduct. By age sixteen I was playing for money every weekend—my lone artistic outlet in my small high school gave me my first chance to see what I could do and who I could be. 

As a teacher, I felt it was an honor and privilege to help guide and instruct young people. Every year we’d hear war stories of how football, soccer, track---whatever sport was in season—saved this kid or that one from the streets and turned them into the great citizens of tomorrow. I’d grit my teeth and bear it because I had to; it was the athletes that drew the crowds, made the papers, gave our school bragging rights, but I knew the other stories. I knew kids who got up every morning and got themselves to school when no coach was filling their heads with dreams of glory days. 

In every school in the country, there are smart, talented kids who keep coming to school only for that one hour of band, chorus, visual art, drama, musical theatre—whatever creative outlet gives them a reason to live.  In my little AA division (less than 1000 students) alone, every graduating class featured college-bound students in all these areas, many with partial to full-ride scholarships. I retired from teaching two years ago, but my Facebook page is highly active with former students pursuing the arts in colleges, grad schools, indie bands, equity theatre groups, and (prideful drumroll here) now working as teachers and mentors of the arts for the coming generation. 

Arts in the schools is a project that never stops giving. Aside from my artsy, tree-hugging rant, the research has been done and the results are conclusive. Middle and high school students involved in the creative arts score higher on academic tests; they are also less likely to have registered emotional problems. Unlike many individual athletic endeavors, the arts provide creative outlets that can be actively followed for a lifetime. Several years ago the Georgia Institute of Technology, a world-class academic institution, became concerned about the climbing suicide rate in their numbers of high-functioning scientific scholars. One of the many actions that they hoped would combat this was to add two a cappella choirs with a highly acclaimed director to their offerings. Guess how many subsequent episodes have occurred among these brainiac singers—that’s right—NONE! Brain research has shown that when a body is actively engaged in difficult musical pursuit, blood pressure lowers and the stress level is sufficiently lowered as well. 

Both visual and theatre arts are often a part of institutional treatment for severe emotional disorders. I like to believe that, by making such offerings a part of the school curriculum, we are helping to prevent disorders before they happen. A child who finds his/her passion in a particular art form can use this as a coping mechanism for anxiety and stress forever

There is, of course, another important plus to arts in the schools: Another Jackson Pollack, Leonard Bernstein, or Chita Rivera may exist but never rise to fruition if those talents are not cultivated. Bringing fine arts into the public school system makes the fostering of artistry accessible to all, not just those in affluent communities or able to afford private lessons. In the true spirit of the American dream, the next “household name” artist should come from Anywhere, USA. With fine arts in all schools, this can really happen.

Today, arts programs are most often the first to be terminated when budget issues become outstanding. I’m starting to worry about those college arts majors I mentioned earlier: Where will they go? What will they do? More importantly than this, I worry about the generations of children, pushed to live for test scores with no creative outlet to keep them centered and self-fulfilled. 

The often-heard adage “music has charms to calm the savage breast” is often misquoted, using “beast” in place of “breast.” When thinking of the plight of arts in the schools, I can see how such a mistake could have started.  Music calms the soul and lowers the blood pressure. Art forms in general give us all a creative outlet that calms and nurtures us without drugs, psychoanalysis, or other expensive therapies.  Arts in the schools are slowly being taken away, leaving us with angry, anxious, unsettled students and teachers trying to find their way in an unstable environment.

If we don’t find a way to remedy this, soon, we could be looking at a few beasts… I know that educational funds are lacking in all areas, and it would take many pages more to address these deficits and their possible solutions. However, cutting arts funding hurts all and helps none. The arts reach out to all students, across the board, awarding the opportunity for input (from all) to the greater good (of all.) 

“Just do it,” advises Nike, but without funding, the “athletes” of the arts will not be allowed to “do their thing” along with their classmates.

What should these singers, dancers, actors, painters, dreamers-of-dreams “just do?”
About the Author:
Adopted at birth, Elaine lived her first twenty years on her parents’ agricultural farm in rural southern Georgia.  She was a public school music teacher for twenty-seven years, and continued to dabble with sideline interests in spite of her paid profession.  Playing in her first band at age fourteen, she seemed to almost always be involved in at least one band or another.  Elaine’s writing began in high school, publishing in local newspapers, then educational journals, then later in online fiction journals.  In 2008 she enrolled in the MFA program at Spalding University in Louisville, where upon graduation finished her second novel manuscript. Recently retiring after eleven years as a high school chorus and drama director, Elaine now lives in north Georgia with her husband, an ever-growing library of used books, and many adopted animals.

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A Southern Place is available as a print and e-book at Amazon.