What’s Stronger Than a Tormentor

set it free

And I got this love in me.
But it’s not just mine to keep.
Like treasure that’s buried deep.
I come alive when I set it free.
—Judah & the Lion, Love in Me

My daughters and I have been volunteering at a cat shelter for several months now. I knew it would be painful to fall in love with cats we couldn’t take home with us. I knew it would be painful to not be able to rescue them all. But I felt certain that the joy of this experience would outweigh the pain.

I knew this, yet something caught me off guard.

It was an email message from the shelter director to all the volunteers about an obtrusive chain that would be added immediately to the already padlocked cages. Apparently someone was caught in the act of tormenting an animal. The helpless victim was Bob the cat—five-year-old Bob who is already severely depressed because his owner had to give him up. Bob who meows a lot but loves to be free from his cage so he can explore.

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The director’s email went on to list other cruel acts occurring over the past year in this small cat shelter housed in a local Petsmart. I tried to keep reading the email message, but when I got to the part about someone trying to pry a kitten out of the small opening at the bottom of the cage, I could not read anymore.

To be honest, I broke down.

I covered my face in my hands and cried. It may seem ridiculous to some, but my heart for animals is huge. My hope for the world in which my children and future grandchildren will live in is even bigger.

But not then.

Not in that moment.

Suddenly, things looked especially bleak.

[Read more…]

With Unsteady Hands, I Offer You This Invitation

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“Hold, hold on, hold onto me
‘Cause I’m a little unsteady
A little unsteady.”

X Ambassadors

*Name has been changed for privacy reasons

When it feels too dark to rise, but you gotta get up anyway.

When certain songs make you cry, but you gotta be strong.

When you’re lost and can’t seem to find your way.

When you’re expected to speak but can’t find the words.

When you’re supposed to know what’s next, but you haven’t a clue.

When you try to fall back on what you know, and even that feels unfamiliar.

When you have no idea what the future holds, but people keep asking.

What do you do?

Where do you go from there?

These are the first words of prose I’ve written in seventeen days. They are incomplete. I know. But something important happened since I last wrote to you. And when I think about who I am writing to, I don’t worry so much about what is incomplete. I know you will fill in the blanks and together—together—we will make sense of things.

As I mentioned above, I have not written for seventeen days. This is uncommon for me. Unheard of, really. And a little disconcerting. I’d planned on taking a few days to rest my weary brain after I submitted my third book to my publisher on March 1st. But a few days of respite quickly turned into a week. And even after a week, I couldn’t make sense of the scribbles in my little notebooks that normally become complete sentences and lovely paragraphs in no time.

It felt confusing and scary to not be able to do what comes naturally to me.

I was reminded of how I felt after surgery when I was expected to get up and walk for the first time. My legs didn’t feel like they remembered what to do. They felt weak, uncertain, and unstable.

“Hold on to me,” my nurse instructed. I was afraid I was going to fall, but I held on. I held on with dear life. I begged my legs not to fail me as I stepped away from the security of the bed.

[Read more…]

Your Most Important Role, In Case Someone Forgets

soul changerYou give me life
Life, my dear
You give me strength to beat the odds
And overcome my fears
You make me feel like I belong under the sun.”
—Citizen Cope

It was still early in our relationship when my then-boyfriend (who is now my husband) asked me to accompany him on a two-hour drive to go to a job interview.

Why would a smart, confident guy with so many positive attributes want me to go with him to his job interview? I wondered skeptically.

In my delay to respond, Scott must have sensed the need to explain. What he said shocked me. “I believe in myself more when you’re with me. You remind me of all that I am.”

Really?

I racked my brain wondering what I’d done to evoke this type of strength within him. I immediately thought of the few times we’d studied together and how, as a budding teacher, I always tried to be positive and encouraging. At one point, Scott admitted a few things he was nervous about, including his biggest worry—that he’d have trouble getting a job after college. I simply reminded him of the glowing accolades said about him by former professors, employers, and coaches.

“You will have more than one job offer. Trust me,” I’d say confidently, knowing the voice of doubt could be loud in times of uncertainty—even for the strongest people.

I ended up taking that two-hour drive with Scott. I can’t even remember if he got the job; I only remember the look of gratitude on his face when he dropped me off, saying he would have been way more nervous if he’d gone alone. All I’d done was simply remind him of what he already knew—the good stuff we tend to forget about ourselves in times of doubt, stress, uncertainty, and fear.

[Read more…]

A Question That Reaches Through Fears & Cages

homeless cat

“Courage. Kindness. Friendship. Character. These are the qualities that define us as human beings, and propel us, on occasion, to greatness.” -R.J. Palacio, Wonder

For the past two weeks, my younger daughter and I have been reading the book Wonder. Although my third grader is fully capable of reading it to herself, I asked her if I could read it aloud. I’m learning to give my soul what it needs, and holding a book in my hands beneath a heavy quilt next to my girl is what I need right now. I’m two weeks away from my book deadline and my soul is weary. Book writing brings emotions to the surface … mortality to the forefront … doubt to its loudest … and exhaustion to its peak. But knowing I’ll be curling up with my girl and this book at the end of an intense day of writing has carried me through.

August, the main character in Wonder, was born with a facial deformity. He is going to middle school for the first time and is faced with many obstacles. Sometimes I am unable to read August’s painful admissions about being the object of people’s curiosities and hurtful comments. That’s when I pass the book over to Avery. She takes over without missing a beat and after a few minutes, asks, “Are you okay, Mom?” I wipe away my tears and tell her it hurts my heart to see people—especially children—being mistreated, alienated, and excluded. She nods as if she understands completely and then we talk about what we just read. I can’t remember this happening with any other book she’s read, so I go with it, even if it’s time to turn off the lights.

One conversation that stood out was when August’s teacher, Mr. Browne, asked the students to name some really important things. After many great student guesses, he reveals what he believes is the most important thing of all:

“Who we are,” he said, underlining each word as he said it. “Who we are! Us! Right? What kind of people are we? What kind of person are you? Isn’t that the most important thing of all? Isn’t that the kind of question we should be asking ourselves all the time? ‘What kind of person am I?’ Learning who you are is what your are here to do.”
-R.J. Palacio, Wonder

I turned to Avery and asked, “What kind of person are you?”

[Read more…]

Day Openers to Breathe More, Stress Less, & Carry You Through

“Hope that you spend your days
And they all add up.
And when that sun goes down
Hope you raise your cup.”
 -One Republic, I Lived

Last weekend my 12-year-old daughter prepared a special birthday gift for one of her best friends. As a generous gift giver from an early age, it did not surprise me that Natalie put great thought into gathering her friend’s favorite things. Having outgrown the tendency to re-gift gently used items from around the house, the basket was filled with items Natalie purchased with her hard-earned babysitting money. What did surprise me about this gift were the envelopes tucked inside. My younger daughter discovered them while admiring the gift before her sister left for the party.

“Wow! This is so thoughtful,” I told my older daughter when she discovered her little sister and me bent over the gift basket. Natalie quickly gathered the envelopes up. I sensed she didn’t want us to make a fuss over this special touch, but I had to ask, “What’s inside the envelopes?”

“Just inspirational messages,” she said as she hugged the basket to her chest and headed to the door. “They’re just words to help my friend through situations that might come up.”

day openers HFM

day openers HFM

day openers HFM

Just words to carry her through.

There was nothing just about that.

Although I could not know for sure, I felt certain those envelopes would outlive the Eos lip balm. They would be more coveted than the warm PJ pants. They would be remembered long after the party was over. At the age of 12, this child got it—she got the point. I live each day of my life desperately wanting to get it too.

But so often I fall short—especially during chaotic, busy times like holidays. I get caught up in what’s on the outside—the tasks, the preparation, and how it looks. I forget what’s underneath—the memories, the connections, and how it feels. In light of personal health struggles and worldly tragedies, I don’t want to miss the point this holiday season.

Perhaps you don’t either.

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The Glass Jar Every Human Being Needs to Hold

the jar of love #HFM“If I don’t say this now I will surely break
As I’m leaving the one I want to take.” –The Fray

“Is there a chance something could happen?” she asked. “You know … with the surgery.”

I knew what my eight-year-old daughter was asking. Although it had just dawned on her that something could go terribly wrong, the thought had plagued me for weeks.

“Well, it’s possible, but not likely. People have surgery all the time and they come out just fine—actually, they come out better than before. I think that is how it will be with me. But we can pray.”

And so we bowed our heads my child let her fears and hopes be known.

I decided to keep my greatest fear to myself—the one where surgery sabotaged my plan of doling out daily bits of love, wisdom, and guidance as my children grow.

If I could bottle up my love I would. I thought to myself.

And then I remembered—there was a way to bottle up my love. I’d shown a group of 31 fifth graders how to do just that a few months ago.

[Read more…]

The Loss of Life Beneath Your Skin & How to Revive It

making tea HFM“We push and pull
And I fall down sometimes
And I’m not letting go
You hold the other line
‘Cause there is a light
In your eyes, in your eyes.”
–Mat Kearney

A few months ago my newly turned 12-year-old daughter got into making iced tea.

We seek out new flavors at quaint little farmers’ markets and at fancy tea shops in the mall. My child holds the canister and asks questions of the vendor that I do not understand. She pays with her babysitting money.

I stand back and marvel at her maturity and her newfound passion.

She comes home with her wares and goes right to work. It’s quite a process, and she takes it very seriously. She makes a large pitcher and offers me a glass. My daughter knows I am trying to stop drinking diet soda once and for all. So whenever she makes a new flavor, she says, “I think you’ll like this one, Mama.”

She holds out that glass of deep orange liquid as if handing me a sunset made with her very own two hands.

I didn’t know why I felt like crying happy tears at such an offering until my friend shared something about her own life experience.
[Read more…]

If Life Could Begin Again, It Might Begin Like This

Popsicles #HFMJust living is not enough … one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.
-Hans Christian Andersen

Last week I shared my hopes and intentions for our children to have an All-Senses Summer. Yet something quite unexpected happened when I described the smells, tastes, and feelings I associated with my childhood summers—it inspired you to share yours. Like me, you have your own summer memories that conjure up feelings of joy … freedom … creativity … relaxation … comfort … and contentment.

But things might be different now.

Adult Summer may not produce such positive feelings.

For many, Adult Summer has its own challenges, bringing forth feelings of worry … guilt … comparison … impatience … frustration … and stress.

I have to work. I wish I had more time to play with my family.
I desperately need a moment of peace. I cannot breathe.
I am embarrassed to wear my bathing suit. I wish my insecurities didn’t hold me back.
We can’t afford a vacation right now. How will this be a memorable summer?
Will my kids regress over the summer? We cannot afford to lose what we gained.

As adults, it’s not like our responsibilities disappear in the summer. It’s not like we are suddenly free to do whatever we please. It’s not like we are released from the stresses and burdens of our everyday lives. But Summer. We are talking about Summer. If we cannot find new freedoms, forgotten smiles, and more breathing room in summer, when can we find them? [Read more…]

Turning a Moment of Shame Into an Anthem for Life

sidewalk 1“It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart,
But the welcome I receive at the restart.” -Mumford & Sons

* Dedicated to a beautiful gypsy warrior named Beth

I put my earphones in. I pushed ‘play’ on my new favorite band that recently opened for Mat Kearney. I set out to walk toward a little clarity, but it arrived much sooner than expected. Something that had been weighing on my heart all day suddenly became so clear. It was an answer to a question that had become my hourly prayer. With tear-filled eyes, I began typing a text message as fast as my little pointer finger could type.

A man walking his dog approached me from the other direction. I smiled warmly at them and said, “Good evening.” That’s when the man said, “Are you going to look at your phone the whole time you walk?”

All at once, shame washed over me. I was brought back to a painful time in my life when my phone was an extremity … when the ding of electronic notifications pulled me away from loving eyes and tender arms … when I took dangerous risks at stoplights and justified them with flimsy excuses. All at once, I felt like that distracted, overwhelmed woman who once came painfully close to losing everything that mattered most.

I almost kept walking. I almost lowered my face in shame. I almost berated myself. But I am not that person anymore.

And there was something that needed to be said, so I stopped walking.

[Read more…]

The One Question That Can Also Be an Answer

how can i helpThe summer of 2014 was a difficult period for me. We’d just moved to a new state and left behind friends who were like family. The deadline to submit the first draft of my second book was looming, and I found myself unable to write. During this time of uncertainty and upheaval, my sister Rebecca came to visit. I wanted to be the fun, adventurous host and show her our new city. I planned things for us to do, but when it came down to it, I simply could not hide my despair. One morning, when misplaced fishing nets from the Dollar Store nearly caused a breakdown, Rebecca gently touched my arm. “How can I help?”

My sister was not talking about the fishing nets.

I felt my eyes instantly well with tears, and then I let out a mammoth-sized exhale. Sweet, sweet relief. My sister saw my pain … she saw I was going through something … she wanted to ease my burden. All this—and I never had to say a word. She just knew.

Furthermore, there was something about that question that kept defensiveness, excuses, and the need to explain out of the conversation. How can I help? It was much less intrusive than, “What’s wrong?” It was much more supportive than, “What’s your problem?” With one single question, my sister acknowledged my struggle and offered to lighten my load. All this—and I never had to say a word. It was the kind of help I most needed in that moment.

Rebecca proceeded to throw out specific ways she could help. I did not take her up on the kind offers at that moment, but knowing I had options made me feel more hopeful about my current situation.

From that experience, my list of Soul-Building Words—words that lift … help … and heal—grew by one. Little did I know how that question—how can I help?—would become an answer for my child this spring. [Read more…]