Out-Poured

 

When darkness claims the day,
And sadness won’t go away,
When God seems so far,
And clouds cover every star,
When doubt and fear close in,
And you feel you just can’t win,
When friends are lost,
And you don’t know the cost,

That’s when faith can grow,
And God’s light will show.
It’s sometimes the harder path,
Where we feel the world’s wrath,
So much suffering and pain,
Wondering what there is to gain,
That teaches us what matters,
Even when our spirit is in tatters.
There is no price for love,
Heaven-sent from above.
Keep your feet on the ground,
And strength will abound,
But hold fast to the Lord
And His mercy out-poured.

I wrote this for all those who are going through hard times, especially feeling alone and/or sad at Christmas. Remember Who loves you! I pray for you always. 

Review of The Austrian: A War Criminal’s Story (Book 1) by Ellie Midwood

theautrianThe title of this book alone is a hook, at least for me.  World War II is, after all, one of the most important events in recent history, filled with some of the greatest atrocities ever committed against our fellow humans.

It’s easy to root for those who were persecuted and the Allies who ended the war, but what about the Axis powers?  They were people, too.

After the fall of the Nazi Reich, many of the former leaders were brought to trial and convicted of war crimes.  What would be going through a war criminal’s head?  Regret for what he’d done to others, regret for getting caught?  Anger and hatred toward those judging him?  Fear that the end of his own life was coming?  Or something more?

The Austrian: A War Criminal’s Story explores such questions with vivid, often heartbreaking detail, so much so that I sympathized with the man who this story is about.  In the end, he is still just a man who has known love and hate, happiness and sadness, good times and bad times.

Ellie Midwood’s well researched, well crafted World War II novel follows the life of Ernst Kaltenbrunner, a high-ranking SS official from Austria. While based on a real historical figure of this name, the character of Ernst is fictionalized. The story swaps effortlessly back and forth between the novel’s current day of 1946 of his imprisonment while he awaits trial for his war crimes and his past–from his boyhood and first love with a Jewish girl to how he would up serving in the Nazi party.

The novel opens with Ernst in Nuremburg Prison on the day of his execution.  We know his life is at the end, so this might seem like a strange place to start, but how did this man wind up in the gallows?  

Ernst comes from a family where he’s the oldest son, so the expectation is that he will follow in his father’s footsteps of becoming a lawyer, marrying, and having a family of his own.  Ernst is also a big, strong boy for his age, and his father encourages him to beat up those who deserve it.  As a young man, Ernst stands up for those who the bullies pick on at school, including Dalia, who is a little older than him and Jewish.

He even has to act as the head of his household when his father is drafted during World War I.  He seems to grow up before his time, even proposing to Dalia when he’s not old enough to marry.  Dalia, however, knows they could never be together because of their backgrounds.  The young Ernst doesn’t understand this, as both of their fathers are lawyers, and if Dalia and he love each other, what’s the problem?

Feeling bitter and heartbroken, Ernst leaves Dalia.  He begins attending secret political meetings with his father, where people get together who oppose the current government.  He meets a young woman named Melita afterward and begins hanging out with some college students, and from there, Ernst’s connections to the “right people” grow.

As he gets older, he moves up in the ranks of the Austrian SS.  He’s a mixture of a man who stands up for the underdog and who can easily beat someone to a pulp, sensitive and aggressive.  Before he knows it, he’s the damned leader, all the while wondering how he got into this position.

The story continues in the second book, including how Ernst falls in love with a woman who is the only beckon of hope he has as he awaits his end in prison.  I look forward to reading the rest of his story.

Ellie Midwood is an expert of World War II history, and it shows in his book. The historical facts check out, yet flow flawlessly with the fictionalized story of Ernst.

Her writing is lovely and at times heart-wrenching. Ernst is a good man who got caught up in the wrong world. His one true love is what gives him hope during his last days in prison, where he is left wondering if he did right by his life.

For anyone who is a fan of historical fiction and a complicated romance, I recommend this novel. It’s top-notch!

5 of out 5 stars!

Purchase The Austrian (Book 1) here.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday, including book reviews.

My new novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for only $2.99 here.

My first novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful,  is available for $3.99 here.

Facing Loss and Embracing New Possibilities

Loss.  It’s a word we don’t want to hear, let alone experience.  Yet we all experience it.  We all know loss, not just of it.  Some of us have known it on a first name basis for too many years.  If we’re lucky, some of us know it only as an acquaintance for brief periods throughout life.

When I say “loss,” what comes to mind?  Losing a loved one to death?  Divorce or a tough breakup?  Loss of a job, a friendship, a dream?  Or maybe just all the socks that lost their mates in the laundry?  Sorry, I had to throw a random joke in.  This is a tough subject matter.

Chances are, if you’re lived long enough like me, you know loss intimately enough to define it, to know the emptiness it leaves in its wake, to know healing is hard, to know that moving forward after a great loss can seem insurmountable in the moment of grieving.

I was in a Bible study once where the question was asked: What do you think the saddest word in the English language is?

My answer?  Hopelessness.

Whoever wrote that study agreed with me.  Now maybe you have another word, but I’d suspect that hopelessness would be in your top ten most depressing words.  Hopelessness and loss are often intertwined like a tight braid, held in place by an elastic of grief, anger, sadness, and denial.

Then where is acceptance, which can lead to hope?

My earliest memories of loss aren’t deep: a goldfish being flushed down the toilet, our outdoor pet bunny escaping and running away, attending wakes and funerals of people I didn’t really know.

For me, the loss of my innocence at an early age, something precious ripped from me, was the type of loss that affected me the most at the time.  When I was eight years old, two boys in my neighborhood, barely older than me, sexually molested me.  They had access to pornography.  It wasn’t sex, but it was bad enough.  I knew enough to know that “stuff down there” could cause pregnancy and AIDS, which had just come out as the latest big disease scare.  For months, I thought I was going to die of AIDS and prayed several times a day to God: “Please don’t let me have AIDS.”  Luckily, I told my parents what happened, and they went to the police.  I stayed away from those boys, but it never went to court.  No one was held accountable.  Maybe worse than thinking I had AIDS was that it seemed like everyone at school knew my secret.  Those boys told other kids.  I remember feeling dirty and violated for years after the incident as I walked the halls, sometimes being asked, “Were you raped?”  As a child, I couldn’t pinpoint terms like “dirty” and “violated” to describe the uncomfortable feeling of a slimy snake creeping inside me when people stared and asked rude questions, but I know now that was what I was feeling.

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But I survived because of the kids who were my friends and because of my family.  I had parents who loved me.  I had a few good friends who stuck by my side, and as the years passed, the news of it died.  Understanding more about “stuff down there,” I knew I wouldn’t die of AIDS.  I stayed away from those boys as much as possible.

My next experience with a huge loss came when I was 15 and lost both of my grandmas within two weeks of each other.  My dad’s mom had been battling cancer for over a year, and she lived in Kentucky, so I rarely saw her and wasn’t that close to her.  While my dad and brother attended her funeral, my mom and I stayed home to be with her mom, who was in the hospital.  We received the news no one wants to hear–the cancer had metastasized to her lungs (from a sarcoma on her leg the previous year), and there was nothing to be done.  Even chemo would only give her a small chance.  She was already 81 years old and didn’t want to go through that.  Despite being given two to six months, she passed a mere two weeks later.  She was at our house, so she died surrounded by family and didn’t suffer for long.

I had always known my life with my dear grandma.  We visited her every Sunday after church.  She had that warm voice that greeted us and those rosy cheeks and that beautiful smile.  She always had candy in her purse and cookies on top of her fridge.  She had her quirks from living through the Great Depression of watering down her shampoo, of saving a hundred plastic bags, and of using the smallest amount of batter left to make a quarter-sized pancake an eighth inch thick.  She burned her pizza that tasted like cardboard, but her pork chops were marvelous.  She spent every Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter with us.  She went on numerous vacations with my family.  She was special.

pablo (2)So how could I, at 15, understand what it meant to face life without one of the most important people?  While she was still in the hospital, I wrote a letter to her, where I told her brave she was, how much I loved and admired her, and asked her to send me a sign upon reaching Heaven.  She passed on a dreary early April day.  The rain continued until the day of her funeral four days later.  After we came home from an emotionally draining day, my mom called me to look out the window with her.  Stretched across the clearing sky was a beautiful rainbow!  I knew this was her sign to me!  Just as soon as my mom and I saw Grandma’s rainbow, it faded.  I had no doubts.  I found comfort in that rainbow.  Even though I would miss her dearly, time had helped heal the immediate stabbing loss.  A scar remains on my heart, but my grandma and her rainbow would go on to create something miraculous.

I wrote her life story in a fictionalized account and published it a year ago.  She has been my inspiration to write more books, to embrace what I call my heart’s song, my raison d’etre.  Not only died my grandma give me hope and the possibility to write, but my daughter is named after her.  Emma was a surprise child, not planned but welcomed and blessed!

Out of loss came immense possibility that became reality.

As the years went on, I would know the loss of a relationship with a boy who I once was in love with, but I would then meet the wonderful man who would become my husband and the father to my children, who I’ve been married to for 14 years.

We enjoyed several years of marriage where it was just the two of us.  We got to know each other more intimately.  We travelled to Italy, Hawaii, the Caribbean.  We focused on our careers.  We got a house together and made it our own.

The next step seemed obvious: children.  I was in my late twenties.  Everyone around me seemed to be getting pregnant, so I knew I was at that life stage when it was time.  My husband, Erik, and I were ready…as ready as we could be.

pablo (3)Little did I know how hard our journey to conceive would become.  Every month would come and go the same: hope that this would be the month we got lucky, only to flee with more tears and heartache at an empty womb.  This trend would continue for the next two and a half years.  My husband and I went through testing.  They could find nothing wrong.  We tried artificial insemination three times…nothing.  We were told fertility drugs would only increase the chances slightly, so we held off.  As 2008 drew to a close, we were on the verge of trying in vitro.  Drained beyond panic and exhaustion at this point, I suggested we held off for six months and just tried to relax and enjoy life again.  We had put so much pressure on ourselves to conceive that I was just done.  With it being Christmas, my favorite time of year, I didn’t want to deny myself drinking some wine and the general fun of the festivities.  

That Christmas was great.  Pictures from the time show a true smile on my face, surrounded by coworkers, friends, and family.  I stopped thinking so much about conceiving.

The New Year came.  I was late.  Of course, there had been a few months when I had been tricked before by this very thing.  Why did early pregnancy symptoms have to mirror the ones I got when it was that time of the month?  I knew the stabbing pain of loss from too many months of not conceiving, and I didn’t want to be tricked again.  Why get my hopes up?

But I couldn’t wait.  It was now five days past.  In the bathroom at work, I took a pregnancy test.  When two lines appeared instead of one, I thought for sure this was a dream.  You can imagine my elation!  Finally!

All those months of loss died upon receiving this amazing news.  My pregnancy would continue as healthy, and I gave birth to a 7 pound boy right on his due date of September 10, 2009.  Luke was a miracle baby, a baby so many friends and family, and my husband and I, had been praying for for years.  

As Luke grew, we knew we wanted to grow our family more.  The stresses of trying to conceive were no longer a problem because we knew we could do it.  Luke was now a toddler, a happy kid who was walking and beginning to talk.  A younger brother or sister would be great for him.  As we wanted our kids close in age (2-3 years apart), we decided the time was ripe.  On New Year’s Eve of 2010, I had a hunch I was pregnant and took a test.  It was positive!  The exciting thing was that this second baby would be due the same date as Luke’s birthday!  We attended a friend’s party that evening, and I declined the wine.  The other girls gave me knowing looks, two of whom were pregnant.  We all squealed quietly.  

On January 12, 2011, I miscarried.  Sure, it was early…only six weeks in, but the loss of my baby hit me like a train.  Loss of life is tragic, no matter how old.  A mother carries her child in her for the first nine months.  She and the child are literally a part of each other during that time.  I think I cried more that day than I ever had.  My prayers to save the child went unfulfilled.  I was devastated.  How could I possibly move on from this?

One thing I knew: I didn’t want to keep my loss to myself.  Having a miscarriage is understandably a very private thing for many people, but suffering alone is daunting.  I shared my experience with those around me, mostly other women from church and my friends.  What did I immediately notice?  How common miscarriages were.  How many people related and understood what I’d been through.  If it weren’t for these brave, strong women supporting me through this tough time, I wouldn’t have been able to heal.  Of course, a woman never can forget her lost child, but with the support of friends and the passage of time, healing can occur.

My doctor encouraged me to try to have another baby after allowing my body (and mind) to heal for a month.  Would you believe I got pregnant that first month?  After the hardship of trying to conceive with our first child, there was no pressure.  I had another healthy boy that November: Josh.

As my boys grew, life seemed to fall into a comfortable routine.  I continued to stay home with Luke and Josh.  The boys played together and were both generally happy kids.  As Luke got older, however, we noticed that he wasn’t developing socially and verbally like other kids his age.  We had already enrolled him in speech therapy soon after turning two, as he didn’t have many words.  Seeing little progress over several months with therapy and Help Me Grow intervening in our home, it was suggested that I take him to a developmental pediatrician.

Luke wasn’t even three years old when we got the diagnosis: moderate autism with a speech delay.  My husband and I sat there as the developmental pediatrician, a speech therapist, and a psychiatrist gave us the news.  We were inundated with information in the form of tons of papers of what we should be doing as far as intervention, plans to move forward, what the diagnosis meant, and so much more that I couldn’t process it all.  

I went home, determined to be proactive.  I enrolled Luke in occupational therapy (OT) for his fine motor delays.  Help Me Grow got us set up with the preschool in our city, and he would be receiving services there.  We would continue private speech.  I read through the information and tried to arm myself with knowledge, hoping that early intervention would make a difference.  My son was still so young, after all.  He had time to catch up with his peers.

Luke made progress, but it was slow.  He, to this day, speaks in single words or short phrases to express his wants and needs.  We paid a lady to come into our home to potty train him over a weekend, and it was successful…only to have that work undone a couple of years later when he regressed with no understandable reason why.  We haven’t been able to completely get back to where we were with toileting.

While usually a happy kid, Luke has been prone to meltdowns, especially when overloaded due to sensory processing issues.  Loud noises, crowded rooms, hunger, cold, heat, tiredness, and more can trigger a meltdown.  When he was smaller, it was easy enough to pick him up and put him in his room until he calmed down.  

As he’s grown, his meltdowns have gotten harder to control and more violent.  He kicks, hits, pulls hair, throws thing, and pulls pictures off walls.  We’ve had to remove the lamps and anything breakable from his bedroom.  He is on a medication to help with the meltdowns, and while they are less frequent, they can happen without provocation.  His mood can change like someone has flipped a switch.  As his mother, it breaks my heart to see him like this, to know he cannot express himself like he wants to.

pablo (4)My biggest struggle is facing the loss of the son who I thought I would have.  I will be honest.  I hate autism most days.  Look what it does to my son.  As moms, we have these too-perfect dreams of what our kids are going to be like.  Sure, we expect them to have some struggles and quirks, but a diagnosis like autism… Who expects that?  I often rant and rail at God at the unfairness of it all.  I have cried bitter, angry, dejected tears in the middle of the night or locked away in my closet because–let’s be honest–it’s not fair.  Even yelling at God is prayer, however.  Any communication with God is prayer.  Knowing that helps.  God can handle my anger.

Soon after the diagnosis, after a few weeks of trying to hold it together and be proactive, depression grabbed hold of me and pulled me down.  I took out my anger and hurt on those closest to me.  Sadly, from time to time, I have turned to this dark place because sometimes I just cannot take it.  I feel unqualified, underprepared, unable to raise a special needs child.  Did God really think I could handle this?  

I have been through plenty of times of loss in my life, but those losses have either resolved themselves or have found a way of healing.  This time, this loss is ongoing.  There’s no end in sight.  This is lifelong.

So what do I do?  How do I choose to face this epic loss and embrace a new possibility?  Hard truth: I embrace the loss of my picture-perfect dream and truly embrace the boy who is my son.  Because he is my son.  He is a person worthy of love and deserving of understanding.   No diagnosis changes a mother’s love for her child.

If it weren’t for Luke’s autism, I would not have met many other precious people in my life.  I have cried with other moms “who get it.”  I have hugged and been their source of encouragement, and they have returned the favor.  Other people have been strong for me when I couldn’t be.  My parents, my church, my friends…they are the true heroes here, not me.

And God.  I cannot understand why Luke has autism, but I believe God works good from the bad.  My heart and mind have been opened by raising a special needs child.  I believe I am more compassionate and understanding of others who have various diagnoses.  I believe we all will go through some sort of diagnosis at some point in life.  It’s all part of living.  God holds us and sustains us through, often by using other people in our lives to carry us when we cannot walk.

Whatever loss you’re facing in your life, I ask you to take some time to try to see a new possibility in it.  Every experience is a chance to grow, to learn something, to continue in hope.

That is a much better place to be than alone and suffering in your loss.  Loss is just as much a part of life as gain.  I believe there is much to be gained in loss–hope for tomorrow.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday, including book reviews.

My new novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for only $2.99 here.

My first novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful,  is available for $3.99 here.

 

Saying Goodbye to Toxic Friendships

We all do it.  We eat the chocolate cake because it just tastes so damn good.

And then some of us hate ourselves in the morning for the indulgence, and we wonder why (WHY?) we ate it in the first place, knowing it’s choke full of bad stuff–fat, sugar, calories.

Like that chocolate cake, we just can’t say no to some friendships.  Yes, even the bad ones.

At least the cake doesn’t talk back to us…unless we mean by the extra cushioning around our butts telling us, “Thanks for the calories, honey!”

But I digress.  Perhaps I’m being so goofy because the subject matter of this blog is really quite serious and not an easy thing to tackle.  Okay, big girl pants are on.  Here we go.

I’ve had my share of what I call toxic friendships, from the time I was a little girl, well into my adulthood.  As a kid, it’s common for friends to make fun of each other.  The pressure to be cool–to look cool, at least–is high.  When the opportunity presented itself, I could be just as mean as some of the girls who taunted me.  

In seventh grade, I had two friends who took me shopping at the mall to basically give me a makeover because my clothes weren’t cool enough.  The funny thing is, they didn’t want to actually spend any of their hard-earned allowance money on me.  No, I was supposed to do that.  So why the guise of them taking me on a shopping spree?  I wound up buying some tacky outfit that was bright and didn’t match, which was my style back then–much to their dismay.  And these girls were my closest friends at the time.  We still hung out, but looking back, I’d say the pettiness of that day was due more to our ages than true backstabbing.

I think it’s safe to say that kids can just be plain mean, even to their friends.  But adults?

Yes.

I had this notion as a child that when I grew up, everyone would be mature enough to treat each other with respect.  While I find that most people are kind, there are those who seem generally unhappy and pour their misery onto others.  When it’s a stranger I’m dealing with who is unpleasant, it can get to me, but I know we will go our separate ways and never have to cross paths again.

But when it’s someone who I consider a friend who treats me like a rug to wipe their shoes on, especially frequently, this is a big red flag that this is not a healthy relationship.  Let me be clear that abuse is not okay in any relationship, whether it be physical, mental, emotional, or whatever.  Sadly, many people will stay in bad relationships, including friendships, out of a sense of obligation or guilt.  They feel like they owe the other person something, often because the abuser holds something over the abusee’s head.

Chances are the abuser is unhappy because they have a poor image of themselves, but this doesn’t make is all right to hurt others.  Now, we will say and do hurtful things from time to time, but if this is done frequently, if the abuser apologizes and yet still continues to exhibit the same sorts or behaviors, or the abuser makes the abusee feel like it’s their fault, this type of relationship needs to end.

I have had a few friendships over the years where the friend was someone I was very close to.  We spent a lot of time together, much of that time good and fun.  I knew these people as well as myself–at least I thought I did.  I am not going to toot my own horn, but I believe I am a good friend, at least I try to be.  I offer my support, lend a listening ear, give hugs, and have given more when I felt it was needed.  

Sadly, not everyone returns what is given.  While it is better to give than to receive, I believe that a true friendship should be equal.  If one person is doing all the giving, that is draining.  There are times when I may need my friend’s support, and if time and time again it isn’t given, something is wrong.

I had a friend in my early twenties who I hung out with three to four days a week.  I would go running to her the moment she called, sometimes to the dismay of others in my life.  We would go out to eat or go to the bookstore, always buying books.  Unfortunately, I was the one who usually had the money, so I often spent it on her as well.  She once told me I was her source of entertainment, and that hurt.  This went on for a couple of years, and while we had great talks and there were plenty of good times, I knew this friendship wasn’t healthy.  I ended it shortly after getting married.

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I had another friend who often gave me the silent treatment, leaving me to wonder what I had apparently done to upset her.  When she finally would talk to me, I was always the one to blame, and to this day, I still don’t know why she thought I was the type of person who would cause her pain, on purpose or inadvertently.  She confessed in tears once that she was unhappy because the things she wanted out of life had been denied to her, yet all her friends had them–marriage and kids.  While this was heartbreaking and understandable, her misery projected onto me and others wasn’t right or fair.  That friendship also ended.

Another friend burned me on three occasions over about a year.  Until that point, our friendship was a good one, but life circumstances had us going in two different directions.  She would post things on Facebook that were clearly aimed at me, although she didn’t mention my name.  She knew I would see those posts, however.  For some reason, she was jealous of me, I think, and instead of being happy for me, she took out her displeasure on me.  There were times when I was going through a very tough spot with my autistic son, and she knew this.  Instead of being supportive, she attacked me, saying I had a huge support system and shouldn’t have complained of feeling alone.  Raise your hand if you know how it feels to be alone, even when surrounded by people!  

The sad thing is, I forgave her twice.  We talked through things twice.  I asked her not to play games with me again, but by the third time, it was too much.  It was obvious she wasn’t going to respect me enough to talk to me face-to-face.  Friends don’t play passive-aggressive games.  They talk through things.

When I discussed these toxic friendships with my therapist recently, she said that I had to just keep those doors closed, as much as it may hurt.  I told her that it felt like someone had died when each of those friendships ended, especially the most recent one.  She said, “You’re right.  It is sad when a friendship ends on bad terms, but you have to keep moving forward.”

She is right.  See, the thing is, I forgive these people, but I cannot forget the pain they’ve caused me.  I forgive them so I can move on.  I wish them well in their lives, but I cannot be a part of their lives.  Forgiving doesn’t mean I’m saying it was okay what they did, but it’s so I can heal and realize the blessings of the good people in my life.

Toxic friendships can ruin other relationships.  You can wind up devoting too much of your time, energy, resources, money, and heart on people who will just drain you and hurt you.  This takes away from the blessing of those who treat you well, who love you, who support you.

So if you have a toxic friendship, I urge you to weigh the options.  As hard as it might be, consider shutting that door, however that needs to happen.  Other doors will open.  You will breathe fresh air.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday, including book reviews.

My new novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for only $2.99 here.

My first novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful,  is available for $3.99 here.

Small Group Friendships

If the title of this blog reminds you of cliques from when you were in school, stop right there.  While I can feel that vibe, this is about the opposite.  This, my friends, is a blog not just about friendship but about small group friendships.

What do I mean by that?  My definition of small group friendship is based on a cluster of people who come together regularly because they have a common purpose, goal, or interest, and they continue to meet often over the course of several weeks, months, or years, getting to know each other more deeply than just by the initial thing that brought them together.  In time, these people become true friends, and while members of the group may get together one-on-one, the group as a whole gets along so well that they love spending time all together.  These groups can become accountability groups, groups that hold you up through hard times, groups that pray for or with you, groups that go out for a drink with you or a good time.  

I have a few of these groups, and I’m going to write about my experiences with them and how these groups of amazing individuals have enriched my life.  I hope you have at least one group like this in your life, and if you don’t, I encourage you to find or create one.

The first of such groups I am a part of is a group of women from church who have been meeting regularly since early 2011.  We get together most Mondays (with summers off) in a room at church and do different faith-based book or video studies together.  The discussion these studies generate often leads to pondering some deep life questions, to pulling at a few heartstrings, and to exploring our connection with God and each other.  These ladies have become like sisters to me.  While people have come and gone over the years, there is a core group.  We have hosted luncheons at our houses.  We have done outreach and small missions.  We have shared laughter and tears.  It’s the place that feels like coming home, you know?  It’s definitely a heart group more than a mind group, and that’s what we love about it.  We can be authentic, vulnerable, and open without feeling judged. Sometimes these ladies are like therapists to me! When we haven’t met in a while, I feel that gaping hole in my life. Going to this group feeds my soul.pablo (9)

The next group that comes to mind is also connected to church, although the dynamic has changed over the years. Back in 2008, a few other young married couples joined our church. (We are not so young now–haha!) Only one of the couples had a kid. Since then, we have all had kids. (The kids now outnumber us!) We began meeting for adult Sunday school, having formed a group for people our age. At the time, there was a need for a group like that. Circumstances have made it next to impossible to meet for Sunday school any longer, but we still do things socially about every other month. It’s often the case that the guys do their own thing and the girls theirs. As couples, we try to do something annually, but getting sitters is a challenge. The girls always go out for our birthdays, even if it’s just for ice cream. (And who needs an excuse to eat ice cream?) As moms of young kids, we often talk about our woes, worries, and joys of motherhood. We get it. I am grateful to have this group of other moms who are at the same life stage as me, and that despite the craziness of our lives, we have stayed friends.

While there are other groups in my life that are important (MOPs–Mothers of Preschoolers, a Thursday morning Bible study, a special needs parents group, etc.), I won’t go into all of them.  Some groups are still fairly new to me, so I don’t feel I’ve developed a deep connection with them yet, even though those groups serve their purposes and are wonderful in their own ways.  Some groups don’t meet often enough for me to really feel a huge connection.  Other groups have come and gone (another moms group I was in at church for years, a short-term special needs Bible study, a Saturday evening church group, etc.).  While I am a stay-at-home mom, I am still quite busy with running the house, cleaning, cooking, shopping, taking care of three kids, managing expenses, and more.  I am not just a weekly blogger, but I am an author and a writer.

Which brings me to the final group I would like to mention: my writers group.  Of my groups, this is the newest.  I’ve been attending a writers group at the local library for just a little over a year.  We meet every other Saturday afternoon for a few hours.  We read and critique each other’s stuff, chapter by chapter.  This might not sound like a lot of fun to some of you, especially if you don’t enjoy reading.  But writers are also readers.  We are like-minded people, and I have developed friendships with most of the people from the group.  Like my other groups, people have come and gone, but there is definitely a core.  The ladies from the group have recently started meeting for lunch.  I’m getting to know one of the girls who’s my age on a one-on-one basis as well.  This group is awesome, and as a writer, this group is immensely important to me.  These people who “get it” in terms of writing have helped me become a better writer.  It’s thanks to them that my whole second book was edited and able to be recently published in the fixed up format it’s in.  More than their writing and editing abilities, however, is the value of their friendship.  I love this group and wrote about the benefits of joining a writers group here.

So, there you have it.  I’ve shared examples of my small group friendships with you and why they are vital to enriching my life.  Are you part of at least one small group?  If not, I encourage you to find one.  Churches can provide a great source of support groups.  Libraries often have book clubs and other groups.  There are national groups like MOPs for moms.  

If you don’t have the time, ask yourself why and try to make the time.  I believe we make time for what matters.  Maybe you aren’t comfortable walking into a group of strangers.  Get a few of your good friends together and form a group.  Make it about something you share in common and make it a point to meet regularly.  Hold each other accountable to that.  We all have busy schedules and can come up with a million excuses for why we haven’t gotten together with our friends.  At the end of your life, you won’t be regretting that you didn’t work enough, keep your house clean enough, or make enough money.  But you might regret not spending enough quality time with people.  People matter.  Small group friendships are just one way to keep that bond going.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday and a book review the second Friday.

My new novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for only $2.99 here.

My first novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful,  is available for $3.99 here.

 

Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude

Ugh, do I have to wake up?

Waking up is vastly overrated.  The pillows, the blankets, the soft curve of the mattress against my body, these are calling my name, beckoning me like a lullaby.

But if I’m honest with myself, I’m lucky today.  I actually didn’t wake before my alarm on my phone.  My kids didn’t wake me up.

Hey, I can get dressed, wash my face, and brush my hair in five minutes of silence!

Small blessings…

If I sound sarcastic, I don’t mean to be.  There are those sunny people who would tell me to be happy for another sunrise, and while part of me wants to show them where they can shove their bright remarks, the better part of me knows they’re right.

Besides, you can’t hold too much against me right now.  I haven’t had my coffee yet.

So, it’s the start of another day.  In the hour or so before getting out of the house, I need to feed three young kids breakfast and get them dressed and ready for school (with the exception of my daughter, who is only one).  Oh, and I also need to feed myself somewhere in there.  You’d think this wouldn’t be so hard, but that’s a lie many young moms tell themselves to feel better.  Kids are disagreeable by nature, little people designed to push Mommy’s buttons.  I admit I am not the most patient person on the planet, but after several mishaps in less than an hour, sometimes I’m ready for the clock to read 8:00 PM and not 8:00 AM.

But I push through my little aggravations…usually.  I get the boys off to school, and it’s to the Y to work out.  Working out is a great stress-reliever, but you know what comes to mind about the Y for me?  There is an older gentleman who works at the Y I go to.  He’s a custodian.  It’s his job to clean toilets, to scrub floors, and to unclog drains.  Yet he always, always smiles at me (and everyone he passes) and says, “Hello, how you doing?”  He’s the type of guy you can’t help but smile back at and say hello, even on the tough days.

So, what’s he got that a lot of us don’t?  Can I have your seeds of happiness and plant them inside of me, sir?  I don’t like being miserable…and yet, I do it to myself.  I choose to complain many, many times throughout every day about mostly trivial things: red lights, running late, being behind a slow driver, my son arguing with me, having to turn around and change a poopy diaper after just doing so…

Yet there are bigger things that lie just under the surface.  Am I a good mom?  Am I doing enough for my kids?  I don’t feel equipped to be the mom of an autistic son.  Who thought I could handle this?  What about my dreams, my ambitions, my identity?  I’m a writer.  Is my stuff any good?  Are people just humoring me by being nice?  Do people really want to be my friends?  Who could possibly love me?

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Wow.

Tough questions that stab at the heart.  Those are seeds of discontent, of lies, of hatred, of fear.  Plant those and they will choke out anything good, honest, loving, and hopeful.

I’m throwing out this obvious disclaimer before I go any further: I am not an expert on the topic I’m going to attempt to write about here–gratitude.  My guess is you probably struggle with feeling grateful most days as well.  It seems to be human nature to focus on the negatives.  So, let’s take this journey together.  Let’s foray into the muck of lies we tell ourselves (that we’re no good) and try to come out on the other end into something better (that we’re worthy).

I have done some book studies in a small group I’m in at church on this topic–gratitude.  Some people call it counting your blessings.  It’s not always easy, especially when emotions take hold and force us to take an ugly turn.  As I’ve gotten older (and maybe a bit wiser), I have heard that little voice in the back of my head more–yes, even when I’m super-hormonal and slightly crazy!

When things are spiraling out of control, I can often see it unraveling.  I know I am only going to make things worse for me and everyone else who has the unfortunate habit of crossing my path miserable.  Often, I am focusing on one bad thing and ignoring many good things.  There’s that one person who has let me down (or so I think), has pissed me off, or is just seeming to not live up to my expectations.  Ah, expectations.  Those nasty, petty things we want others to do, because, you know, we (read: I) know best.  Um, right…

Stop right there.  This is where we (yes, you and I) take a deep breath and think.  Yes, think.  Not react.  Think about what’s going right in life.  There are plenty of people who love me, who support me, who are there for me.  I am breathing, aren’t I?  I am alive.  Sometimes it’s raining, and I long for sunshine.  Sometimes it’s sunny, and I want a rainy day to cuddle inside and read a good book.  But every day is truly a blessing when you think about it.

If you’re like most Americans, you have a roof over your head, food on the table, and clothes on your back.  You don’t even have to think about these things, these bare necessities, but they are blessings.  Often, I find that when I am taking my blessings for granted, when I stop and think about it, I know I have been blessed to be a blessing to others.

That’s gratitude–being thankful for what you do have without expecting more.  A wise woman I know who has been through hell and back has a mantra: What are you doing with what you already got?

So, plant those seeds of the good stuff and water them often.  That’s how you start cultivating an attitude of gratitude.  You make the conscious effort (a choice, yes) to be grateful every day and count those blessings.  I started writing my blessings down, with the goal of reaching 1000.  I think I stopped somewhere in the 800s, but I got pretty far!  I didn’t write them all in one day…a few a day, sometimes with several weeks in between writing them down.  When you see those blessings written down, it can make them more concrete.

It takes a lot of practice and a constant, conscious effort to cultivate an attitude of gratitude.  Do it enough, and that little voice starts to speak with more authority.  You are more than the sum of your fears and little hates.  You are someone whose life has a purpose.  For me, I believe God sees the beauty in us even when we don’t see it in ourselves.

Those seeds can grow into something beautiful, something life-sustaining and worth sharing with others.  So, I invite you to think about it.  Plant some good seeds with me, make a choice, and watch them grow.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday and a book review the second Friday.

My new novel, Lorna versus Laura, is being released on Sept. 2 and is available for pre-order (only $2.99) here.

My first novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful,  is available for $3.99 here.

“As long as we can love each other, and remember the feeling of love we had, we can die without ever really going away. All the love you created is still there. All the memories are still there. You live on – in the hearts of everyone you have touched and nurtured while you were here.” -Tuesdays with Morrie

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My great aunt Alma and my grandma, Emma, circa 1931

Today, I am going to share something very special to me, something close to my heart.  Below is the true story that inspired my first novel, Hannah’s Rainbow:

When I was fifteen years old, my grandmother was terminally ill. Months earlier, she had had a sarcoma removed from her leg and had undergone radiation therapy. She was given a clean bill of health in February of that year (1995). Shortly thereafter, she went to the hospital because she had fluid in her lungs, and when they did a scan, they found a spot: the cancer had metastasized to her lungs in a matter of months. Although given two to six months to live, her time on Earth would be much shorter than that.

The day she was released from the hospital and placed under Hospice care, I wrote a letter to her, telling her all that she meant to me, how much I loved her, and how much I would miss her. I expressed my heartfelt admiration of her courage to face what lay ahead. And I asked her to send me a sign once she reached Heaven, not because I was afraid she wouldn’t go there, but because I needed the comfort.

Two weeks later, she came to our house. It was the week before Easter, and she was to spend the time with us, and her sister from California was to come in as well. On the night she arrived, she was still walking and talking. Although thin and weak, she was still herself for the most part. I remember her eating an orange in the family room as I talked to my best friend on the phone.

The next morning, she never got out of bed. The day was gloomy and overcast with thick clouds of early April showers. We thought it might just be the weather or the fact that she had been transported the night before. I overheard my dad speaking to his brother on the phone that morning, saying he didn’t think she would live more than 24 hours. In denial, I refused to believe such nonsense. All I had ever known was a life that had my grandma as part of it; to imagine otherwise was unthinkable!

The pastor from her church came that afternoon to visit, and while doing math homework in my bedroom, adjacent to the room she was in, I heard his voice through the walls, uttering the twenty-third Psalm: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for You are with me. Your rod and Your staff: they comfort me.”

She was asleep most of the day, and the couple of times I approached the darkened room where she lay so still on the bed, I think I was afraid. At the time, I didn’t understand why I was feeling that way, but I think now it was because I couldn’t reconcile the figure I saw in that bed with the figure I knew of her warm smile, cheery eyes, and rosy cheeks.

Some relatives came to visit in the mid-afternoon, and she seemed to brighten some, even laugh at a few jokes. My family was originally planning on attending a concert at the high school that evening, but due to my grandma’s condition, my parents remained home with her, and my brother and I attended by ourselves.

A couple of hours later when we returned home, it was dark and still raining slightly. We parked on the street because there were a couple of other cars in our driveway, and I felt my heart skip a beat as I rushed up the driveway and into the house, not wanting to believe the worst. The first sight that greeted me was my mom walking toward me, her face lined with tears, and she was shaking her head. I knew without having to ask. To this day, over 20 years later, the events of that entire day as are clear as if they happened yesterday.

Standing in the kitchen were my uncle, my dad, and the pastor. We held hands and formed a circle as the pastor said a prayer. I left the kitchen to go to the spot where Grandma had been, but she was already gone from the bed. I saw the men from the funeral home carrying her out, covered in a sheet.

She was truly gone. That night, I dreamt that my mom died, too. While my parents were away the next day taking care of everything, I was at home in the company of my best friend, and it continued to rain. I found it in me to laugh some, finding a pair of checkered pants that was so hideously out of style, but my grandma wore them, anyway. I pulled them over my own clothes and just laughed, mostly because my best friend could always make me laugh. We were visited by a cousin and her husband, who had brought over dinner, and the four of us laughed some more. There was something therapeutic in this, although it was also a brief escape from the reality of the situation.

The wake was two days later, followed the next day by the funeral. It rained in all the days between my grandma never leaving the bed and on the day of the funeral. My letter to my grandma was read at her funeral by the pastor. The Lord’s Prayer was sang by the co-pastors, a husband and wife team. My grandma’s favorite hymn, “The Lost Chord,” was played. As the family followed the casket down the aisle, I was a sobbing mess, and my brother, who was walking alongside me, put his arm around me. I remember briefly trying not to laugh, as we had this weird thing about never touching each other as teenagers, so hugs were forbidden.

Much of the graveside service was a blur, but we stood under a tent as the rain continued. A dinner was served, and then it was over. We were on our way home. That evening, the rain finally stopped. I was in my room when I heard my mom exclaim, “Cyndi, come here!”

I ran into the front window and looked outside. Stretched across the sky was a rainbow! I smiled and knew this was my grandma’s sign to me! There was no doubting that, and to explain this away as mere coincidence is an insult to her, her memory, and to our Lord of miracles. My mom and I turned away for just a moment, and when I looked back, it was gone. To catch such a brief moment in time when that rainbow appeared was not coincidence in the least. Only my mom and I saw that rainbow; it was meant for us.

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My grandparents, Howard and Emma Grundman, circa 1942

I had the idea for the story back in October 2006.  I woke in the middle of the night with the name “Hannah Rechthart” on my mind.  “Hannah” means ”favor” or “grace.”  “Rechthart” means “right heart.”  I started writing down character names and researching.  Many details from early in Hannah’s life were taken from an autobiography my grandma wrote in high school and another she and her younger sister, Ida (whom Irma is based on), wrote later in life about growing up, called “The Billhardts of Fuller Avenue.”  I also spoke extensively with my mom and had my own memories to work with for Hannah’s later years.

I composed four chapters between October 2006 and January 2009.  Then I had my first child and my second, and the story sat for years, until I started writing in earnest in March 2015.  It may have taken a decade to finally sit down and write it all out, but only by God’s grace and my grandma’s legacy was that inspiration possible.

It’s been over twenty years since my grandma passed away, but in writing this story, I hope I was able to convey with the love I’ve always had for her that she was a wonderful person.  

May you see many rainbows in your life, wherever you go.

The Letter I Wrote to Grandma:

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Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday and a book review the second Friday.

Also, check out my novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, available for $2.99 any other time on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful