Choose Kindness

For the first hour of any given day, my mind is not awake.  My wish to ease into the day, to be up before my kids and get dressed and have breakfast alone, is ungranted.  It’s almost laughable.  In the midst of hurrying and scurrying to get three kids and myself dressed and fed in a little over an hour before the school bus comes, I usually grumble at the slightest provocation.  As a mother, I feel like I go through my days with a sense of irritation just below the surface.

As the day goes on, I silently lose my patience at the slow driver in front of me or for getting too many red lights.  I’m going to be late again.  Of course, someone needing to use the bathroom right as we’re stepping out of the house or me frantically searching for my keys or phone as, again, we need to leave, doesn’t help.

I look at my shirt that says “Kindness Is Always in Style.”  How easy is it to wear it on clothing, but how do I wear my kindness toward others?  Kindness isn’t something we just put up to look good and then cast off at the end of the day and put in the laundry (or cast off whenever it’s inconvenient for us).  At least it shouldn’t be.  Kindness is more that something we parade around and show off to the world.

It should be easy to be kind, right?  Holding the door, saying hi, please, and thank you, and offering a smile to a stranger might be the only light in someone’s otherwise bleak day.  It’s true that you never know how you might affect someone else.  You could very well be their sunshine, if only for a moment.

If I’m being completely honest, however, I believe that it’s easier to be kind toward a stranger than those closest to me.  Then there are those days when I walk right past people and stare at the floor, wishing I was the only person I could be around.  Heck, I even make myself miserable on those days!

When I was younger, if I felt someone had wronged me, I wanted vindication.  I wanted to be right and to make sure they knew it.  I’ll never forget a big turning point for me in regards to this way of thinking.  When I was 29, I was in attendance at a lecture at the natural history museum in Cleveland, and the presenter was basically trying to prove that there was no God.  I remember thinking, “What does this have to do with science?”  As I listened to him, I silently fumed.  When question time came, no one in the audience seemed to be bothered like I was by the presenter’s topic.  I muttered to my husband and father-in-law, “I’m waiting for someone to knock him down a peg or two.”

Then realization hit me like a ton of bricks upside the head.  I was knocked down a peg or two!  I realized that I was more concerned with being right than being kind or having a concern for this man.  Regardless of his beliefs, they were his.  He wasn’t being disrespectful in how he presented them, so what was my problem?  My problem was that what he was professing didn’t agree with what I believed to be true.

So, I understand now that there’s a thin line between genuine concern for another and wanting to be right.  It’s not a kindness at all if my falsely-laced concern is just me looking for gossip or a reason to feel better about myself.

noactofkindness

Another lesson I’ll never forget is a sermon our previous pastor gave on kindness, probably four or five years ago.  He repeated the phrase “Never underestimate the value of kindness” three times, shortly and deliberately at the end of his talk.  Those words have stuck with me and molded themselves onto my heart like a brand.

There’s a definite shortage of kindness in the world.  Whenever we come into this time of year of holidays, most of us gather with family and friends, over-indulge in food, alcohol, and presents, having spent too much money and exhausted ourselves in every way possible by the New Year.  As a mother, I try to teach my kids the value of kindness by thinking about those who don’t have much and what giving means: that it’s more important to give than to receive, with no expectation of anything in return.  When the TV, radio, and the Internet are abuzz with ads for every type of must-have toy or that year’s latest tech, it’s really hard to drill that lesson into the mind of a young person…or even an older person.

A small group I’m in at church that’s been meeting every Monday afternoon for nearly six years to do various book studies that relate to the Christian faith has been doing a study on Advent.  It’s made me think about what I can do in small way to live out my faith better and in a more like-manner of Jesus.  Kindness is one of the fruits of the spirit.  I can make an effort to be kinder.

But it’s not usually my first inclination to act in kindness when I feel slighted.  This is the true test of a person’s patience.  I was part of a Sunday morning group that met regularly at church for some time.  There was a single guy in his thirties who joined us, but after a few times, he wrote an email to the group, in which he said he was moving away and wanted to find a different group, one with people who had problems.  He was looking to work with people who suffered.  I got the jist of what he meant – people who suffered outwardly, who lacked resources or money.  He didn’t feel right in our vanilla suburban setting.

I was offended by what he said, for I thought, “Just because we aren’t suffering financially doesn’t mean we don’t have problems.”  Many people suffer silently.  While I could have gone off about such a thing, I held back.  I knew better than to come at him with claws out.  Hadn’t he spent several weeks in Sunday school with the same group as me?  So, I held my tongue and wrote an email, explaining that I was sorry to hear he was leaving, but that I understood.  I gently pointed out that I suffer inwardly a lot because my oldest son has autism.  I explained that just because a problem isn’t noticeable, that doesn’t mean it’s not there.  He wrote back, apologizing for the way he’d worded things, saying that it hadn’t been his intent to offend.  He got what I was saying and agreed, even opening up about his background some.  Because he had once been down and out and had been helped by others who had the means, he now felt the desire to pay it forward.  We split ways, mutually in understanding.  That was the result of choosing kindness.

With these examples in mind, I hope I can remember to choose kindness this Advent and beyond.  I hope you’ll join me.


Like what you’ve read?  Want to read more?  Consider downloading the e-book or ordering a paper copy of my original book, Hannah’s Rainbow, available on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful

With Cyber Monday tomorrow, I’m putting my book on discount.  You can download the e-book for only $0.99 (original price $2.99) all week!  Looking for a Christmas gift for a lover of books?  Why not consider ordering a paperback copy of my book for them?


Please note: This blog will be updated monthly on the 27th.

Blessings in Disguise – What Raising a Child with Autism Has Taught Me

 

“’Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops

What if Your healing comes through tears

What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near

What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise”

These words speak to me.  They aren’t mine, but they are powerful.  If you aren’t familiar with Laura Story’s song, “Blessings,” I encourage you to check it out.  It’s a beautiful testimony to how God can bring good out of tragedy in life.

I wrote a blog post a couple of weeks ago called You Don’t Know What Goes on Behind Closed Doors – Raising a Child with Autism.  If you haven’t yet read that post, I suggest you do so, as this post is a follow up from that one.

By now, you know I’m a mom of a son who has autism.  If you’re also a special needs parent, you know the extra challenges involved.  There are things that parents of typically-developing children don’t have to think about often, like extra therapies, taking longer with homework, struggling to dress your child, dealing with meltdowns, and trying to figure out what they want when their communication is limited.

Having other parents who understand the struggles I face has been vital to my journey as a special needs parent.  I’ve been a part of a support group for the past four years, and about three years ago, at one of our meetings, talk of faith and God came up.  While this is a secular group at meets in a library, faith plays in important part in many of these parents’ journeys.

faith

Questions arise: Did God really think I could handle this?  Why does my child have to suffer from _____?  Will my child ever get better?  Where is God in all this?

It felt like God was prodding me to lead a study on this topic.  I found a great resource called Unlocking the Treasure – A Bible Study for Moms Entrusted with Special-Needs Children, by Bev Roozebloom.  It was almost too easy how everything fell into place.  I talked to the right people at my church and secured a meeting room and time.  I got a group of about ten women to sign up and meet every other week for six sessions.  The resource was easy to find, and everyone agreed that it was perfect for our needs as a group.

That Bible study was very meaningful for those women and for me as the facilitator.  Every so often, I run into one of the moms who participated, and she shares with me that she still remembers it and how much it helped her.

Many of us have heard the phrase “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”   This simply isn’t true.  There are times when we are overwhelmed and cannot possibly handle everything on our plates.  That’s when we need others.  God works through others to carry us through hard times.  So, where is God in the day-to-day challenges of raising a special needs child?  Right here, working through other people who are blessings in our lives.  If we feel alone, that’s simply not true.  There are others out there who understand and who can and want to help.

While there are no easy answers for why some children suffer from certain disabilities, I do believe that God works through them to bring good from the bad.  If my son didn’t have autism, I don’t think I would have the awareness I do about all the people out there who struggle because of developmental delays and such.  I do not think I would be as open-minded, patient, or compassionate of a person toward others, in general, who may have any sort of disability, especially the “invisible” ones.

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

I love this quote because it speaks to the essence that we’re all different.  We all have different abilities and talents, so let’s remember that just because someone has autism or some other sort of special need, that doesn’t mean they aren’t just as important and worthy of love as anyone.

To learn to be a better person by being more accepting and loving is a blessing, so at the end of the day, I can find some peace.  I can see that elusive silver-lining in the storm clouds that sometimes fly in during the journey of being a special needs parent.

I encourage you to find those blessings, too.  They are there.

Like what you’ve read?  Want to read more of my stuff?  Please follow this blog!

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

You Don’t Know What Goes on Behind Closed Doors – Raising a Child with Autism

Many of you won’t know what it’s like, but there are many of you out there who understand what it entails to raise a child with autism or any sort of special need.  For me, it’s the most challenging part of my life that I face every day.  My oldest son just turned seven years old, and he was diagnosed with moderate-severe autism just before the age of three.

The first thing we noticed was a speech delay.  By age two, he was hardly speaking, but he was a happy kid.  We started speech therapy and got him in Help Me Grow.  From there, he began preschool in the public school system in a 50:50 peer model:special needs program.  He was on an IEP and was receiving services at school: speech, occupational, and physical therapy.  We were also taking him to private therapies.

We tried one year of preschool at an ABA-based (applied behavioral analysis) school, but it wasn’t the right fit for him.  Unfortunately, that was when we started seeing a big decline in his learning.  He was actually regressing.  Things he’d known for the last couple of years, like his ABCs and numbers, were no longer of interest to him, or he simply lost the ability to recognize them.

We returned to the public school system for kindergarten and had a much better experience.  He’s in the intensive needs classroom with just a few other boys, a teacher, and two aides.  In first grade, he continues to be in the same setting, luckily with the same teacher and aides.

But these are all facts.  Facts are easy to share.  What’s hard is the emotional journey that we travel as a family every day, knowing that this is lifelong.  This isn’t something that will just go away like a cold or the flu.

luke_toothless_smileThere are a few well-meaning people who tell me, “You never know, he might grow out of it.”  While this may be possible, as there are cases where autistic children suddenly make huge progress at later ages, the hard truth is that most don’t.  I’m not being a pessimist here, but rather a realist.

If I’m being frank, progress hasn’t been what I had hoped for when we first began this journey, but I’ve learned to celebrate every tiny victory.  My son loves swimming, for example, and he has shown remarkable improvement in lessons lately.  He has begun to swim on his own, which is huge.

But there is the admission that every parent is afraid to make to themselves: their child isn’t progressing like their peers.  It’s hard, really hard, to see your child struggling where other children seem to have it so easy.  When the child’s younger siblings bypass them in speaking, writing, drawing, reading, and so on, the gap continues to widen as time passes.

There are days when we barely seem to be keeping our heads above the water.  Usually autistic children have other diagnoses, and such is the case for my son.  Earlier this year, it was confirmed that he also has ADHD.  So, he has sensory meltdowns caused by autism and hyperactivity as well.  Trying to find a medication to help with the ADHD hasn’t been easy, for the side effects are often unpredictable in autistic kids.  He’s had more meltdowns when on stimulants, making the lessening of the hyperactivity not worth it.  So, here’s the question: Do I want to deal with a kid who does impulsive things, like unrolling a whole roll of paper towels or opening a jar of applesauce and spreading it all over the floor, or do I want to manage a kid who is melting down every fifteen minutes and trying to find a way to make him calm?

To others on the outside, I may seem to “have it all together.”  Whatever that means.  Let me assure you that this is an illusion.  I don’t know how I manage to keep my house as clean as I do, take care of two other kids, run errands, cook dinner, etc.

There are many days when my patience is at an end and I have just had enough.  I cry in my closet, angry that I can’t be a better mother or frustrated that MY kid has to suffer where others don’t.  I want to rant and rail at God, that it’s just not fair!  Why did You think I could do this?  I feel like the least equipped mother in the world sometimes, especially when I know that punishing an autistic/ADHD child for behaviors that he cannot help is not going to help anyone.

Some people tell me that I let him get away with things I shouldn’t.  Some tell me that he knows better, that he’s testing me.  There are times I believe this, and while there are cases when this thinking can be correct, it often isn’t.  Trying to discern when it is and when it’s not correct isn’t always easy.

For example, let me be clear that a sensory-induced meltdown is not a tantrum.  They may both result in the child crying, screaming, kicking, and flailing around on the floor, but a tantrum is the result of a kid not getting something they want.  A meltdown is caused by sensory-overload (like loud noises, bright lights, uncomfortable fabric, certain food textures, odd smells, etc.), and it may be that we don’t even know the cause!  We’ve all put on a scratchy sweater that we just had to take off.  We’ve all felt our heads spin from being too tired when walking around in an over-crowded store.  Imagine feeling overwhelmed ALL THE TIME.  This is an autistic person’s reality.  Then imagine someone punishing you for freaking out over feeling overwhelmed.

What I can tell you is that in the midst of wondering what good can come from of this, I have found that I am a more compassionate person, a more aware person, because my child has autism.  I understand that everyone deals with something at some time during their lives, whether it be depression or loss of the ability to walk.  Everyone is fighting some sort of battle, and it’s often behind closed doors.  Start talking to anyone, and you soon discover that person has a loved one who’s dying from cancer, that they’re in financial ruin, that they’re going through a messy divorce, or that their grown child has just been drafted overseas.

I also have come to believe that having a support system is crucial to going on this journey.  There are the teachers and therapists who work with my son who have been a godsend, but there are also people in my life who help me get through every day.  It’s often other special needs parents who “get it.”  Sometimes, we just want to commiserate with someone who understands.  We’re not looking for advice or the latest research article on special diets, genes that have just been discovered, or on whether or not to vaccinate.  We’re not looking for someone to come along and give us all the answers.  We just want to say “This sucks right now.”  We need to cry or rant or just be in silence.  I had another mom agree with me once and say “This is our reality, cleaning up poop.”  Yes, that was true, and it was reassuring to hear it from someone who understood.

And sometimes we need to remember to be thankful.  There are victories.  The small things DO matter.  At the end of the day, this child is still mine, and I love him.  No diagnosis can change that.

Like what you’ve read?  Want to read more of my stuff?  Please follow this blog!

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

My Wonky Writing Procedure… Or Lack Thereof

After a week off, we now resume our regular programming…

How many of you remember the dreaded research papers you had to write in high school?  Raise your hand.  Better off, don’t raise your hand.  That’s too reminiscent of being back in school.  But anyway, I’ll tell you this: if I never have to write another research paper in my life, I won’t complain.

What I hated the most about the process was how formal and rigid it was.  When I was in school, the Internet was still pretty new, so we, the unfortunate victims, spent hours in libraries using dusty reference books that served better as paper weights and taking notes from pages with tiny print.  We had to write on 3×5 notecards in pencil.  We needed to come up with an outline, and this was to be done the proper way with the numbers, letters, Roman numerals, and I don’t even know what.  The rough draft was written in pencil, and yes, written by hand.  The final draft was then typed up.  I used my mom’s electric typewriter, as we didn’t have a computer with that now-antique Windows 95 on it.

At the end of it all, we turned the bulk of it in.  Of course, along the way, there were deadlines for each step of the process.  It was like pulling an absessed tooth.writing

Not only was there a process, but the whole thing was laid out in a certain way, the quotes cited correctly, and the works cited at the end.  Who remembers when this was called a bibliography?  It was never okay to use “I” when writing a formal paper.

Much of this process has faded into the past like the Grunge look and slap bracelets, being twenty years ago for me, but I still cringe when I think about writing research papers.  When it comes to creative writing, I am of the mindset that while there should be some guidelines for how to write a book, it makes about as much sense to force people to all follow the same rules as it does for everyone to wear the same size shoes.  We have different sized feet.  We have different methods that work for us when we write.

There are many writers who sit down and plan out (outline in depth) their novels before they even take up the pen…or, more likely, tap away at the keyboard.  They write up every character in excruciating detail.  They cannot write until they know every scene in that novel.

For me, this process would be hell.  Plain and utter torture.  Talk about tooth-pulling again.

I always know my beginning and my ending.  I do draft a basic outline and character profiles, but I am not afraid to waver from the path.  It’s fun and exciting to me to see how I will get to my destination.  My characters usually seem to direct a large portion of the story for me, so forcing them into a mould that doesn’t fit them is just plain idiotic.

I often have scenes play out in my head of a dialogue exchange between two characters.  When I start writing a scene like this, I just write.  The conversation between character A and character B flows naturally, as if I were listening to real chitchat.

For me, to just sit down and start writing is how I operate.  I may not write the story in order, but it comes together in the end.  The way I figure, the first draft is going to go through many edits before it’s published, anyway.  Getting the story down is my first priority, and then I go back and clean it up a lot.  With the help of others, the finished product is ready.

I’ve had enough experience over the years to know that my ability to tell a story is good.  My writing is far from perfect, but by doing it a little every day (even if it’s just for ten minutes), I stick to my goals.  Because writing is so important to me, I use a few minutes here or there to compose a half a page or even just a couple of lines.

So, I guess what I’m saying is that if you’re new to writing, don’t be discouraged, feeling that you must follow some sort of formula, set of rules, or incant some magic words.  Many other writers and authors I’ve spoken with operate in the same zany manner that I do.  I don’t know if we’re in the majority, but we do what we do because we love it, not because we wish to suffer writing another research paper.

Like what you’ve read?  Want to read more of my stuff?  Please follow this blog!

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

The Value of Fan Fiction

My story has over a million reads and over six thousand reviews.  Wow.  Impressive, right?

 

Notice that I said “story” and not “book.”

 

That’s because what I’m referring to here isn’t an original story written by me that’s been published as a book.  Rather, what I’m talking about is a work of fan fiction.  Yes, I wrote this novel-length fan fic that I’ve been kind of bragging about, but the characters and the world aren’t mine.  They belong to the imaginative, wonderful J.K. Rowling.

 

I’ve dabbled and dove deep into the world of fan fiction on and off for twenty years.  I started writing it back in 1995 at the age of 15, before sites like fanfiction.net even existed and when the internet was still very much in its infancy.  My parents didn’t even have a computer, so I was basically writing the stuff for myself, re-imagining ways that the characters I loved would behave in different scenarios than had happened in their canon world.  For me at age 15, this was Disney’s Aladdin.

 

Before I continue, for the uninformed, which I don’t think is many, fan fiction is writing fiction using someone else’s characters.  The possibilities are endless.  You may choose to write them in a different world or do a crossover with characters from another universe (meaning story/movie/book).  You may have two characters fall in love who never did so in canon.  There are really no rules for fan fiction.

 

Why am I writing about fan fiction now?  Because, for me, it’s been a vital part of my writing history, and I don’t believe I would have gotten where I am today as a writer of original works of fiction without it.

 

Because of fan fiction, I also met many friends online and got to make connections with other writers, even if what they wrote was fan fiction.  Not only did I write my own stories, but I spent hours and hours reading the works of others and leaving my thoughts and even beta-reading for a few people.

 

Writing fan fiction was usually easy for me.  Using someone else’s characters and world they’ve already crafted is, of course, more simple than having to come up with everything from scratch for something original.  I was already in love with these characters, so I felt like I knew them inside and out and loved the endless possibilities that fan fiction posed.

 

I was one of the first to join the fanfiction.net community when it opened its doors in 2001.  To this day, I have an account there under the internet pen name of “Sindie.”  It’s funny the fame that my most popular fic (The Moment It Began) got, because to these readers, I was “Sindie,” a faceless writer of Harry Potter fan fiction.  I never expected anything I wrote to gain that much popularity, but what it did tell me was that I was capable of writing something novel-length that most of my readers would enjoy.

 

For any writer, I think, while we first write for our own pleasure, it’s also a wonderful thing to be able to share our stories with others.  Just knowing that there are people out there who read something by me and that they actually liked it is all the more rewarding and compels me to write further.

 

writingWhile I’ll be forever thankful for my history in fan fiction, I must admit that it held me back from writing original fiction for a long time.  The very thought of writing something original was downright daunting for many years, despite I first had the idea for what would become my first original story back in 2006.  In March 2015, I finally began to seriously work on my story instead of writing fan fiction.  Now, I wouldn’t turn back.  I’ve self-published it on Amazon after a year and a half of writing, editing, sharing it with friends, and editing more.  I’m now working on two more original stories.

 

All this got me to thinking: Do other authors and writers create fan fiction or did they write it at one time?  Did they find value in it?  Did they think it helped them become better writers?  So I asked.

 

The vast majority of them said they love fan fiction and have written it.  They agreed with me that there is value in it for many reasons: improving their own writing, practice at coming up with original ideas (even if those involved someone else’s characters), making connections, getting useful feedback, and bolstering their confidence as writers.  And it’s just plain fun.

 

A few said they’d never written fan fiction, but they had read it and could see how writing it could be beneficial for the reasons listed above.

 

There was a small group who thought it a waste of time to dedicate so much to using other people’s characters, but this was a very small group.

 

There is a general consensus that some fan fiction is just downright awful, but the same could be said of original stories, too.

 

Overall, it would seem that many writers are of a mindset like mine when it comes to fan fiction.  That’s good to know, for it validates what I already believed: that fan fiction adds value to our experiences as writers in a number of ways, the best of which is probably the practice it gives us by just doing what we love.  Write.

Like what you’ve read?  Want to read more of my stuff?  Please follow this blog!

Also, check out my novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, now available for only 99 cents on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful

#writing #fanfiction

 

Seeking Contentment in Life

I am putting this up front as a disclaimer: I’m 36 years old and certainly don’t feel like “I’ve figured life out” yet. In fact, I think if we ever reach the point where we think we’ve figured “it” all out, that’s when we’re in trouble, for in that moment, we’ve stopped learning. We can always strive to do better; that whole journey versus the destination thing.
So, below are just a few thoughts I’ve come to the conclusion to over the years as to what leads to a content life, at least for me. I can only speak for myself, after all, and my journey. I just thought I’d share them with you.
(And trust me, I often don’t follow my own advice!)
1. Lower your expectations, both of yourself and of others.
Don’t beat yourself up because you didn’t accomplish everything you wanted to in a day. We often have unrealistic expectations of what we can accomplish in a day, but perhaps underestimate just how much we do, in fact, accomplish in a lifetime. Accomplishment is not measured by the huge successes that draw in everyone’s attention. It’s often the little moments that add up to meaning much more.
The expectations you hold of yourself you will often hold on others, but this is ridiculous to do when you really stop and think about it. Not everyone is like you. Everyone has their own unique talents and gifts to bring to the world. Not expecting much from others can, in turn, lead to some really pleasant surprises when someone does do something you weren’t expecting!
2. Let go of bitterness, anger, worry, or any type of negativity.
It will eat you alive if you let it. That’s the key: You are letting it. You are choosing to allow negativity to live rent free in your head. Worrying about something doesn’t change it. Choosing to focus on everything that’s going wrong forces you to miss many things that are going right.
3. Don’t live your life trying to please others or trying to get them to like you.
Simple fact: Not everyone will like you, and no matter how hard you try, you won’t please everyone. You can choose to surround yourself with people who will lift you up, instead of tear you down. The sooner you realize that you cannot please everyone, the better. Getting angry and holding onto it because you feel someone has wronged you does not allow you to move on. Be yourself, and if someone really loves you, they will love you for who you are, not who you pretend to be. Fake people have fake relationships.contentment
4. Don’t compare yourself to others.
This is the source of so much unhappiness. There is nothing to be gained from this and only so much to lose. Ask yourself what you’re doing with what you already have, instead of trying to acquire more.
5. Pray.
Have a relationship with a Higher Power. You don’t have to be religious, but I do believe that faith battles fear.
6. Create your own family with who you choose to be friends with.
If you’re blessed with a wonderful family, consider that a bonus, but not everyone has this. Your close friends can be your family you weren’t born into, if nothing else. You don’t get to choose your family, but do can choose your friends. Make them good ones.
7. Have an open mind in regards to those who are different from you.
Much animosity between people comes from not truly understanding the other party. Try to learn why they believe differently, and even if you can’t agree, realize that there is never a need for hatred. Wish them well on their way and in life. Choose to live your life by your standards and try not to judge someone who may choose to live differently. We don’t all find meaning in the same things, and I believe God has the power to use what’s given to each person in a unique way for the greater good.
8. Give people the benefit of the doubt.
Choose kindness whenever you can and keep your mouth shut. Criticize and nagging only tears down. You don’t know what’s going on in someone else’s life, and often those who shut others out the most are the ones who need a friend the most.
9. Forgive.
Do this for your benefit as much as for the other person.
10. Laugh and have a sense of humor.
Don’t take life too seriously, and never lose the child within you. Things don’t have to be perfect, but they can be wonderful.
11. Look at every opportunity as a chance to learn something.
Even the bad experiences can teach us something, even if it’s not to make the same mistake!
12. Love.
It speaks for itself. True love is unselfish, unconditional, and from God. Strive for that.

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Also, check out my novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, now available for only 99 cents on Amazon: https://read.amazon.com/kp/card?asin=B01KR99KQS&asin=B01KR99KQS&preview=inline&linkCode=kpe&ref_=cm_sw_r_kb_dp_GvVXxbR1DHMCD

#contentment #happiness #seeking #life

My Faith Story

“My faith is that my faith will return.” J.K. Rowling, well known author of the Harry Potter series, said this in a documentary several years ago, and it has always stuck with me.  I have come to believe that part of having faith is having doubts; or, in other words, that doubt is simply part of faith itself. True, unwavering faith is not something I have experienced in my relatively short life, and therefore, I cannot lay claim on understanding what it truly means to having such faith, if it exists at all. I remain skeptical that there is anyone walking this earth today who has never had a moment of doubt in their faith journey, with the notable (and obviously, at least to me) exception of Jesus Christ.

 

Let me state a disclaimer before I embark any further on my internal monologue put down in words here.  Like Baz Luhrmann says, “…my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience…” Of course, what I am about to share is not advice, but it is heavily based on “my own meandering experience.”  It is not my intention to tell you how to live your life or what to believe.  I am not an expert on theology, science, or anything else, although I have studied Biblical scripture in several settings, have learned some about other religions in a few classes, and have read many books and listened to lectures on science, especially physics.  I also majored in biology in college and have a B.S. in it and did eight years of research, so I do have a strong basis in science.  Everything I have to share is merely my thoughts from an accumulation of reading, sharing with others, and my experiences in life.  I simply ask that you please be respectful of my opinions, and I will do likewise toward you should you choose to share them.  Having an open mind is, I feel, vital to such discussions.

 

I am writing largely from stream of consciousness, hopefully over several days.  If this seems polished enough as you read it, it’s only because I went back and revised.  I want to start with something that’s weighing heavily on my mind right in this moment.  I just read about a girl who I only “know” online, and even then, I cannot truly say I know her.  We’ve never met or ever exchanged words.  I’ve watched several of her vlogs on YouTube, which, for those of you who may not be familiar with the vernacular of the Internet these days, means “video logs,” in which a person talks into the camera about what’s on his/her mind, much like journaling, only by speaking and sharing it with others.  She is an inspiration to me in many ways because she is an artist and has such a beautiful spirit, and I admire her courage for speaking to, essentially, the world about her condition.  I will not disclose her name, but she suffers from depression, largely due to an obsessive/compulsive disorder that gives her the urge to pull out her hair.  She has bald patches at times because of this and has had to shave her head several times.  What many people don’t seem to understand is that she has no control over this urge to pull her hair, so despite her creativity and charisma, she lives weeks of her life at a time in a pit of depression.  As with any mental condition, trying to explain it logically often falls short of the reality of the emotions and thoughts that are going through the mind of the person who is suffering.  I cannot know what she is going through, as I have never been through something like it, but I can try to imagine.  Of course, what she shows us online are just glimpses, so we, the viewers, can’t really grasp the minute-to-minute existence of feeling numb, unworthy, down, etc.  Now that you have some idea of her background, I will get back to my original point: She stated today that she is no longer a Christian.  I know she used to be a few years ago, and it is due to what she has gone through that her faith has apparently deserted her.  It breaks my heart that she has lost her faith, but I hope and pray she finds it again, that she knows, deep down, that it never really left.

faith

 

I know many people who have been diagnosed with depression, bipolar disorder, etc.  What does it say about our society when so many people have some sort of mental illness at some point in their life?  I have had three close friends in my life who have expressed a desire to commit suicide, despite the beauty and worth many others and I see in them. Millions of Americans suffer from insomnia, and I have battled this on and off for years.  To make matters worse, I have a dependency on sleeping pills that I struggle with.  To know that something is going to guarantee me sleep is a comfort, yet a vice.  I know I cannot depend on a pill every single night, but the temptation is always there, and I fight it.  So, I have some idea of what it is to have a vice or a weakness in my life.  We all have them.  For some, it’s alcohol.  For others, it’s food.  For others still, it’s sex.  We are unhappy and unsatisfied with life, so we try to fill it with things that will “make us happy,” but they don’t last.  We are over-worked and live lives too full of stress, and here’s the crux of the situation: We do much of it to ourselves… yet sometimes we want to lay blame elsewhere: with others, with the situations in our lives, or even with God.  I’ve blamed God before and been angry with him to the point where I’ve questioned if he even exists, so I do understand why the girl above had turned away from God.  For me, however, “my faith is that my faith will return.”  There has always been enough faith left inside me to bring me back to God: “the faith of a mustard seed.”  I say it again: I hope and pray it returns for the girl above as well.

 

Why, you might ask, would I have blamed God at some points during my life?  My life seems good, and it not only seems good, but it IS good.  I know I am blessed with a loving husband, beautiful children, wonderful friends, health, food on the table, clothes on my back, and a roof over my head.  I have never lived a rough life or truly struggled like half of the world’s population living in poverty.  I went through a period of two and a half years when we were trying to conceive our first child and couldn’t.  We went through all the tests, and no reason could be found.  Every month I would get my hopes up, only to have them dashed against  the rocks below, like jumping off a cliff, and I’d come crashing down, sobbing, not understanding why so many people around me were getting pregnant and I wasn’t.  It just didn’t seem fair, I’d cry!  What had I done to deserve this?  Surely, I must have done something terrible.  It felt like God was punishing me, and then I’d beg and plead with God, and when it seemed like he still wasn’t answering my prayers the way I wanted, I would start blaming him, saying if he really wanted, he would give me a child.  I would start to wonder what sort of horrible God would do such a thing to people, and then my mind would spiral down a dark path and begin thinking about all the bad in the world and come to the conclusion that either God doesn’t care or God doesn’t exist, for what kind of God would allow such suffering?

 

We were about to try in vitro fertilization as a last effort to conceive, and I was terrified.  The thought of having to inject myself every day with the hormones scared me, not to mention the cost of everything: thousands of dollars… and no guarantee it would work.  I finally told my husband that I wanted to stop trying so hard, to stop stressing so much over everything, and to give it six months before we tried in vitro.  On top of this was the looming knowledge that I would lose my job within the next year, possibly six months, because our lab had run out of funding, and in 2008-2009, the economy was at a really low point.

 

It was December of 2008, Christmas time, one of my favorite times of the year.  I let go of the stress and worry of trying to have a baby and enjoyed friends, family, and festivities.  Shortly after the New Year, I took a pregnancy test, and it was positive!  I will never forget the sheer joy I felt in those moments!  Finally, my prayers had been answered!  It was only when I stopped trying so hard and let go that God answered my prayers, and I believe he truly did.  So often, we want to have control of our lives, but this is foolish and is an illusion.  We really have very little control over what happens, but we do have control over our reactions to what happens.  When I “let go and let God,” that is when God intervened.  I’m sure he had been trying to tell me for months that I needed to stop trying to control the situation so much, but I wasn’t listening.  Not only was I pregnant, but it couldn’t have happened at a better time.  It turned out that I would be getting laid off in just about nine months, and as I always intended to stay home once I had children, everything with my job fell miraculously into place. (This is not the only time things seemed to “just fall into place” in my life, but I don’t need to prattle on and on.  You get the idea.  Needless to say, in retrospect, I have always seen God’s intentions for my life.  I couldn’t see his plan when I was focused too much on my problems.)

 

My first son is almost three years old now, and I have been blessed with a second son.  The second (actually third; see below) time was so effortless getting pregnant, it almost seemed impossibly easy.  I will mention that there was an unfortunate loss of a pregnancy in between my children.  I was, thankfully, very early in my pregnancy (five and a half weeks along) when I miscarried, and it was heart-wrenching and awful, but somehow, I didn’t blame God this time.  I cannot explain why it happened or why so many bad things happen, but I do believe that God is always there with us, always working for good from the bad.  When I lost my second baby, I turned to the church and toward God, and I was comforted beyond measure.  I found out I was not alone.  I realized how precious life is, how it can be taken at any time, and that to be given life at all is a gift.  My baby is with God and was called “home” sooner than most, but when I look at it in the context of “she” will not have to suffer through living life on this earth and instead got to go home to be with her Heavenly Father, that is a comfort to me.  I named her “Katrina Grace,” not knowing until afterward that it meant “Pure Grace.”  How appropriate.

 

When bad things happen, sometimes it’s easy to explain it as the result of the bad humans do toward each other.  When I find myself wondering why God would allow people to do such evil, I am reminded that we were all given free will.  If God had decided to create humans to do everything he wanted all the time, we would just be puppets.  How could he rejoice in his creation if we could not think or reason for ourselves?  The good that happens would not mean what it does without the bad.  As a parent, I know my children do not always obey me, but I love them just the same.  So it is with God: He loves us, even when we sin.  His love is so much higher and stronger than any human love.  Just as parents ultimately want their children to mature and be able to make their own choices, so does God.  The love is forever there, but if we are to embrace everything God wants for us, we need to grow and mature in our faith.

 

When the evil that happens is due to natural disasters, that is much harder to understand or explain, and here, I am at a loss.  This is where faith must take over, and I trust that God knows what he is doing.  I imagine I might understand one day when I’m in heaven, but that is not the point.  I do not think God causes bad things to happen to “make” people suffer, even though I have felt like I was being punished at times by God.  In the end, I was always realized that God was not the reason for my suffering, but that I had done much of it to myself (especially mentally, and mental suffering and physical suffering are closely linked; what affects the mind affects the body).

 

I feel compelled to share one more story about human suffering, one that I feel emphasizes my point: A young woman (only in her mid-twenties) who went to school and church with me growing up was diagnosed with cancer.  It spread throughout her body, and she went through numerous surgeries and treatments, only to die too soon.  Many people visited her while she was sick and were amazed by her courage and faith.  They told her how sorry they were to see her suffer and would cry for her.  They wanted to bring her comfort, but she was often the one who comforted them.  She would tell them, “Do not be sorry for me.  I know God is always with me.  Do not be sad for me.”  Her spirit was so beautiful (and still is!).  She touched the lives of many with her strength, despite what she went through.  God worked good from the bad.

 

Changing direction here, I’m now going to address my faith in the context of a world full of many religions (including agnosticism and atheism).  I was born and raised Christian, and with the exception of one Jewish friend growing up, I didn’t know anyone who wasn’t Christian, practicing or not.  If your childhood was fairly average and sheltered like mine, you probably will understand what I mean when I say I thought “everyone was like my family and me”… or not too different.  I started to realize how naïve I had been once I was in high school and knew a few people who were nonbelievers.  In particular, I remember having strong disagreements, which bordered on arguments, with a couple of individuals about religion.  I was convinced that I was absolutely, positively right, and they were wrong, and they had to be shown the difference.  They had to believe what I believed!  Or else… what?

 

I came away more or less frustrated that I hadn’t changed anyone’s mind and eventually let the subject drop, not wanting it to come between my friendships, but always in the back of my mind was the nagging feeling that some of my friends didn’t believe in God and probably weren’t going to heaven (or so I believed at the time).

 

In twelfth grade English, we studied world literature, and that was my first real exposure to learning about world religions.  In college as well, I learned about other religions in a few classes, and since it has been a long time since then, many of the things I once knew are foggy, but the important thing is this: I learned to appreciate diversity and to respect others who are different from me.  I realized the error in my way of so harshly judging my friends who were different because they weren’t Christian, and more than anything, my approach had been all wrong.  No one is ever going to be convinced to change his/her viewpoint on anything because he/she felt forced.  Fear may drive people to comply, but would a person whose faith is based on fear truly feel very deeply or well about that faith?  That type of faith does more harm than good.  True faith builds up; it doesn’t tear down.  If someone chooses to believe something, it must be his/her choice, without it being forced upon that person.

 

Jesus clearly says that the greatest commandments are these: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22: 37-40)

 

If we are to truly love others, then that means without conditions attached and without judgment.  Of course, I realize that as humans, we judge constantly, but we must strive, as much as we can, to not judge.  Whenever I find myself thinking I don’t like such-and-such about another, especially a certain behavior, I stop and remember that I have more than likely been guilty of the same “crime” toward another.  We cannot escape our hypocrisy and our tendency to sin, but that is no reason not to try our best at loving others and God.

 

When it comes to those who are different, we ought to approach them with love.  When hearts and minds are open, interfaith dialogue can occur, and if I share my personal testimony of what I feel God and Jesus have meant to me in my life and it touches someone else, then that is a true witnessing of love and a sharing of my faith.  There is no expectation that someone else needs to change to “be like me.”  I am certainly not the poster child for a perfect example to follow.  Rather, for me and other Christians, that person is Jesus, and if someone is looking for someone to follow and realizes that Jesus fits that mold, then that is wonderful.

 

But what if he/she doesn’t want to follow Jesus?  What if he/she chooses to believe there is no God or to follow another religion?  That is where I trust God knows what he’s doing, and that’s part of faith.  I do not believe God condemns people to hell because they aren’t Christian.  Everything is possible with God and for God, so I will not say I know or understand how he always works.  If we believe God works for good, though, (and I do) then God will always find a way.  There are many good and virtuous people in the world who aren’t Christian, whether they follow another religion or don’t believe in God at all, and I think God wants everyone to be with him in eternity.  One thing that I come back to when wondering about all this is “What about those in the world who never even hear the message of Christ?  Don’t they deserve a shot?”  Yes, yes, they do, and I believe God gives it to them.  I don’t claim to know how, but I do know that judgment is God’s to give and not mine or anyone else’s.  It’s not for me to say who is “good enough” for heaven and who isn’t.

 

Sometimes we want “proof” of God’s existence or reassurance of life after death.  To me, it’s not a very comforting thought to believe that there is nothing after we die, that everything we go through in life means nothing beyond what we make of it.  To some, life is just this life and what we make of it.  Purpose is the result of humanity giving life purpose; nothing else is beyond this life, so it’s important to live life to the fullest.  There is some truth in this belief, in that we ought to cherish this life here and now and not get too wrapped up in focusing only on what is next, but I believe there is more than just us.  Science needs empirical evidence to prove something; or, more specifically, the data that support a hypothesis simply don’t falsify it.  For some (and I fall into this category at times), I demand proof.  My faith isn’t strong enough to go on belief alone at times, it seems.  I will share with you a true story about “proof” that heaven exists.

 

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.  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 someone on the phone that morning, saying he didn’t think she would live more than another 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, which was 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 my eyes were greeted with 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, 17 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, “In the Garden,” 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 expressly forbidden.

 

Much of the graveside service is 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 bedroom, where my grandma had spent part of her last day in bed, and looked out the window.  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.

 

So, there is my true story.  In the years that have followed, I have had my ups and downs.  I have had my faith tested, but in retrospect, I always have seen things so much more clearly than when I was in the midst of my troubles.  God always answered prayers, although not always in the way we want or expect.  Without prayer, I do not think I would have met my husband, had children, gotten a job right out of college, or been blessed with the amazing friends and family in my life.  Science, for all its discoveries that I find fascinating, cannot explain everything.  Science and religion each have their place, and I think one can enhance the other.  To me, exploring science is often a testimony of how awesome God truly is!

 

“I believe; help my unbelief!” These words of Mark 9:24 of a father crying out to Jesus to heal his son ring true for me over and over again.  Doubt may be part of faith, but God is good, all the time!

#faith