The Only Way to Fail is to do Nothing

No one wants to talk about, or even think about, failure.

Fear of failure is what keeps us from acting, from trying new things, from fulfilling our dreams.  Because there’s that little nagging voice in the back of our heads that whispers, “What if you fail?  If you don’t try it in the first place, you can’t fail.”

Lies, I say!

I used to subscribe to this way of thinking…for years, in fact.  I have always been writing, but I haven’t always written original stories like I do now.  I spent years and years living in the wonderful world of fan fiction, both reading and writing it.  I was comfortable playing with other people’s characters, but create my own?  Well, that was downright scary.

What a daunting task!

Even after I woke in the middle of one mid-October night in 2006 with a fictional name on my lips and an idea to write a story based on my late grandma’s life, I still didn’t fully embrace conquering my fears.  The momentum of excitement over the idea drove me for a few weeks.  I created a family tree with character names, read my grandma’s accounts of what it was like growing up in the early twentieth century, took notes, and even wrote two chapters.  Over the next two years, I turned out two more chapters.  In early 2009, I had four chapters and not much else.  

Of course, during this time, I was prolific with writing fan fiction.  That took center stage.  But write an original story?  I’d have the idea in the back of my mind and think about sitting down to write more, but I rarely actually opened the document.

I told several friends that my dream was to be a published author.  I had a couple of people who would ask how my story was going.  My answer: It’s not.

And as much as I wanted to be an author, I didn’t really think it would seriously happen.  Ever.

Then a funny thing happened in March of 2015.  I wasn’t writing much fan fiction any longer, my life filled with taking care of my kids.  I thought, “Why don’t I just try it?  I’ll commit myself to writing for fifteen minutes a day, every day, and see what happens.  Even if I never publish it or share it with anyone, at least I can say I wrote an original story.”

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Ten months later, I had my first draft.  A few months after that, I had a final draft and tried querying agents.  Scary, right?

It wasn’t scary at all, but rather liberating and amazing!  I couldn’t believe I’d done it, and I was now serious about writing more books, already in the process of writing two more manuscripts.  

I was prepared for rejection from agents, as I had read a lot about the process.  Few unknowns get their foot in the door.  That was okay with me, because the bigger accomplishment was writing and then editing the story!  I had looked my fear of failure in the eye and owned it.  It wouldn’t be a failure to me if no agent picked it up, because I had done something to be proud of.  I self-published the book, and now I’m living my dream.

The failure wasn’t in not traditionally publishing it.  Nor was it is not making a ton of money or having a load of people read it.  

Because I wrote it.  I tried, really made the effort.

The only way I would have failed would have been to not write the story AT ALL.

So you try something and decide it’s not for you, or you start something and give it your all and it doesn’t pan out.  Okay.  You did NOT fail.  You tried, really tried.  You didn’t let fear dictate your life.

I have come to firmly believe that the only way we fail is to do nothing.

Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

That’s in the same spirit as my belief about the only way to fail.

Be bold.  Be courageous.  Be triumphant.

Because life isn’t meant to be lived in a box.

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.

 

“Who Am I?” Asks Mom

Note: This blog post is aimed at moms with young kids and is a throwback to a post I wrote a year ago.  Being on vacation this past week, I wasn’t able to write a new post, but I think this one is worth re-sharing.

My alarm was set for seven o’clock.

But it’s my daughter crying in the next room that wakes me.  For the third time that night.  Only it’s no longer night.  A quick check of my phone shows it’s 6:45.  My husband has just left for work.  It’s only fifteen minutes, but it’s fifteen minutes of sleep I was denied.  My sleep is like gold to me; it’s that precious.

I’m being robbed.

As I struggle to sit up in bed, I inwardly curse the sunlight.  Sunlight means morning, and I’ve never been a morning person.  As I rush and fumble to make her bottle, I wonder if morning people were only created to make the struggle of another new day that much harder.

As I lift her out of her crib and pacify her cries, the squeals of my sons aren’t far behind.  

And so it goes nearly every morning – or some variation thereof (pick which kid you think wakes first tomorrow!) – as “Mommy” fights to get dressed without an audience and make her coffee before she needs to be piling the kiddos into the van or standing at the bus stop.

I’m a stay-at-home mom of seven years.  It was my choice, and I don’t regret a minute of it.

I’ve heard it said many times that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

I must have gone insane a LONG time ago.

So, I spend my days carting kids to camp or school.  I pay the bills, scrub toilets and wipe all around them as I clean the disgusting leftovers from raising boys who don’t aim well, pick up the groceries, and curse that I’m making a second and unplanned trip to Costco or Aldi that week because A) I either forget something the first time or B) my kids decided they suddenly loved Oreos more than Chips-Ahoy… and yep, we’re out.  Somewhere in there, if I can squeeze in a thirty minute workout on the elliptical at the Y and/or my weekly reward of a tall decaf nonfat latte from Starbucks, I find a simple and way-too-happy level of satisfaction.  By late afternoon, I’m fretting half of the time that I didn’t think ahead enough to pull something out of the freezer for dinner.  And the kids are hungry and cranky.  And so I am.  And tired.

Then there’s laundry.  Endless, forever and ever laundry.  Need I say more?

There are the lowest levels of motherhood that involve butt-wiping, changing out socks for ones without holes, and scraping something (I don’t know what) off the wall that’s probably been crusting there since Apollo 11.  There are silent tears and woe-is-me moments in the closet.

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There is the “I-need-to-take-a-shower-just-to-wash-my-damn-hair” and “I-really-need-to-shave-my-legs-so-can-I-please-take-a-short-bath?”

By the end of the day, my husband and I wonder how we do this.  All of this.  We hope for a good night’s sleep, for our minds to just shut down, and for more time with each other or just to ourselves tomorrow.  Because it didn’t happen today.

“Welcome to motherhood,” older moms (read: empty-nesters) tell me.

Yes, thank you for that, because it wasn’t already clear to me.  Unlike the glass doors to my back yard that are covered in tiny handprints.

But then there are those moments when I stop.  Just stop and marvel.  I watch my oldest son, who has autism, as he engages in a swim lesson and think, “My God, I love you.  I’m crazy about you.  I just love you.”

Or I am amazed at the stuff my four-year-old boy comes up with.  The questions he asks: “Mommy, if the Earth is round, why does the ground look flat?”

And I can never not smile when my baby girl laughs and smiles at me.  Even on the worst day, her happiness infects me.

This is motherhood.  The thing I signed up for: taking care of little people who drive me crazy but who I’m crazy for.

And yet… sometimes I ask: Who am I?  

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Sometimes I just feel like a servant who cleans up poop, feeds everyone else before her, worries about her kids endlessly, talks only about her kids with other moms, who… talk about their kids.

I am a mom, first and foremost.

But I am also me, Cynthia “Cyndi” Hilston.  

If you’re a mom, I suspect you know what I’m getting at.  You probably find yourself identifying with other moms as you all wonder: “Is my kid the worst behaved kid in the world?”  “What doctor do you take your kid to?”  “Are you happy with such-and-such school?  Do you feel like you have no time to yourself anymore?”  “When’s the last time you went on a date?”

So I asked other moms: Do you feel like you have an identity apart from being a mother?  Do you have something that you do that’s only for yourself?  How do others see you?

Because, although we’re moms, we’re more than that.

It reminds me of people, who, when asked their name, also say, “Hi, I’m Tom Smith, and I’m a mechanical engineer.”  As if their job title were their identity.

Or when someone has depression and others use that label to basically define them.  Or autism.  Or ADHD.  Take your pick.

People are more than their jobs.  People are more than their mental conditions.  People are also more than just parents.  

I believe we are more than the sum of our parts of our identity, but somewhere along the way of being moms, many of us feel like we’ve lost who we are as a whole person.

Being a mother is very fulfilling, but it’s also the most challenging, most draining “job” you’ll ever have.

We live vicariously through our children.  We cheer for them on the sidelines at soccer games.  We cry with them when they didn’t get the grade they wanted on the paper they worked extra hard on.  We laugh with them when they’re telling silly jokes that don’t really make sense.  We hurt for them when we watch, helpless, as they suffer with a lifelong learning disability, or even a short term illness, like a cold.

But we all know that we can’t really live our lives through others.  Yes, even our children.  

Because they are their own people.  One day, they will grow up and move on, although hopefully not out of our lives!  We want them to grow up to be independent, happy, healthy, successful – any number of good things.

But some of us are also fearful of feeling left behind.  Empty.  Forgotten.

Because… without our kids, what are we?  

When I posed my identity questions to other moms, the responses were overwhelming.  Mothers obviously had a lot to say on the subject.  Although not everyone felt like they had trouble with the “Who am I?” question, many moms admitted to feeling like they have no idea who they are without their kids.  It downright scares some.  Many stated that they feel awkward talking with other adults about anything other than their kids.  

Although it’s impossible to put people into perfectly separate groups, trends became apparent once moms started answering my questions.  Mothers who continued working, whether full time or part time, admitted to feeling like they still have an identity apart from being only a mom.  Having a place they go to daily for a few hours gives them adult interaction and fulfills something that many stay-at-home moms feel they lack.  Many moms who work full time, however, admitted to feeling guilty that they don’t get to spend enough time with their kids. So, even though a mother works, she still seems to identify first at a mom.  

Those who work part time feel it gives them the time with their kids and the time they need to feel like they are doing something for themselves and getting to talk with other adults.  Many of the stay-at-home moms who feel they’ve lost their identity beyond “mom” thought working part time might help them regain some of what they’ve lost.

To further complicate matters, some moms feel judged because they work or stay home with their kids.  It seems like an already frazzled, stressed mom just can’t win!  This topic is enough to generate into whole other blog, so I won’t further ponder this.  I will say this, however: It’s unfair to judge a mom for working and say that she’s selfish for not spending more time with her kids; it’s just as unfair to judge a mom for staying at home and say that she’s lazy, as if being a stay-at-home mom isn’t a job!  Um, excuse me?

But I digress — sorry.  

Working part time isn’t the only option for helping a mom keep her whole person.  Some moms take classes, volunteer in the PTA or in other school programs, go running, do independent sales jobs, and make sure to schedule time to spend with their friends and husbands/partners.

In the struggle to keep up with friends, many moms also stated that they don’t know what they would do if they didn’t have their fellow mom friends and neighbors.  Despite questioning their sanity, like I have on numerous occasions, most moms believe that having kids has given them purpose in life and that they like who they are more as a person now that they are mothers.

So, where do we find our balance?  Because that’s what it all seems to be about.  Balance.

We juggle schedules daily, trying to remember if it’s Meet the Teacher on Monday or Tuesday evening for William and if Wednesday was supposed to be Lexi’s ballet practice.  We drive from one event to another, driving ourselves slowly crazy, until it all boils over like a pot of over-cooked spaghetti noodles.

My suggestion would be to start simple.  If you really feel like you have absolutely no “you” time, take five or ten minutes a day.  It can be whenever, whether scheduled or not.  I sometimes like to do this right before bed, even though I’m tired.  I can just lie there and think about my day and where I can be thankful.  Read for ten minutes.  Write a simple journal entry.  It doesn’t have to be much, but it’s something that’s just for YOU.

As impossible as this may sound, try to schedule date nights (whether once a month, every other month, or every season), but try not to go more than three months without going out with your husband/partner on a date.  The biggest strain on a marriage is children.  It’s even more important to keep in touch with your significant other now that you’re parents.  If money is an issue, just go somewhere for an hour and take a walk.  Walk the mall if it’s winter.  Tell yourself that it’s just as important that you have that date night as it is taking your kid to the doctor.

Also make time (again, once a month to every three months) to hang out with your friends.  Even if it’s just movie night at one of your houses after the kids are in bed.  It’s something!  

Dates and getting together with friends don’t have to cost a ton of time and money.  We can always come up with a zillion excuses about why we can’t find the time or money, but the truth is, if something matters and is important, then you can make time for it.  Re-evaluate your weekly schedule.  If you’re constantly driving around, ask if your kids are too involved or if you’re too stressed out because you’re spreading yourself too thin.  It’s okay to say “no!”  Really, it is!  Sometimes I think a mom just needs to hear someone else tell her that it’s okay to actually say it.  So, I’m giving you permission to say “no.”  (Not that you needed my permission!)

Finally, if you’re not doing something for just you, find something.  Maybe you had a hobby that you let fall to the wayside after having kids?  Try it again.  Or discover something new.  Mine is writing.

I’m going to be trying a yoga class next month.  I also make sure to get a massage once per month.  There’s nothing selfish about taking care of yourself, because remember, if you don’t take care of you, you aren’t much help to anyone else, including your kids.

So, it’s hard.  There’s no denying that.  But the moms that said they feel like they still have an identity apart from being a mom have managed the balancing act in their lives.

However you manage to find that balance, keep it in mind, and when it starts to feel unbalanced, go back and rethink things.  You matter.  You are a mom, so you’re already amazing.  But you’re also you.  And that’s pretty amazing, too.

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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.

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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.

Character Friday – Meet Tristan Blake

My name is Tristan Blake, and I can’t believe I’m writing this down.  I may be a writer, but if you really want to know the intimate details of my sad life, I’m afraid you’ll have to look elsewhere.  Why?  That’s a long story.  First, I’ll just say that I’m 35 years old, quite tall, have sandy hair (sometimes on the long side and with a beard),  have striking blue eyes, and am told I’m muscular, although not overly-so.  Physical details seem harmless enough, but I suppose you want to know more.

I grew up unwanted by my family, being born much later than the rest of my siblings.  Being told you’re “a mistake,” especially by your alcoholic father, doesn’t exactly do much for a guy.  I was out of that house as soon as I finished high school and began working in construction, just trying to get by.  During all those dark years growing up, I always had my imagination.  I wrote stories at a young age and had been working on a novel when I met my future wife, Julie.  I couldn’t believe my turn of luck when I got an agent and a publishing deal.  On top of that, when I proposed to Julie, she said yes!

You’d think this was the start of a happy life, but that happiness was short-lived.  While we were doing well financially when others were broken (the Depression had just started), Julie and I suffered.  I can’t say more.  We were broken, and Julie gave up in every sense.  I turned to drinking and to escaping with my writing instead of supporting my wife.  This probably isn’t making any sense, but I told you I didn’t want to write my pathetic plight of a life down.

As if this weren’t bad enough, Julie…she died.  I can’t even write it down; the pain is too great.

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I would remain living in my self-induced cell for years.  I couldn’t bear to change anything, but neither could I have her looking at me, so I blackened out her eyes in all her photographs.  I also killed all the plants outside, wishing to live among dead things…rocks.  Really, I was dead.  I was delirious in my isolation.  I did manage to write and publish one more novel.

Then she moved next door in late 1942…Lorna Ashford.  A tornado threw us into the cellar of my house a few months later.  For some crazy reason, maybe because I’d gone too long without human communication, I felt drawn to Lorna.  But grief and guilt also consumed me.  I began in earnest to clean up her yard after the tornado.  I fixed her roof.  I later offered to fix her car.  I mowed her lawn.  Despite everything in me telling me to stay away, that I would only hurt her, I couldn’t stop myself.

I grew to love her.  We spent the whole summer together.  She had come to confide in me too much, to believe that I was the source of her comfort and healing from her suffering from losing her parents.

I am not a source of comfort, but how can I tell her that?  I love her, but I am not good for her.  What happens in our story?

I may be a writer, but that’s one story I can’t write the end to.  It’s not up to me.

Tristan is the second main character and love interest of protagonist Lorna Ashford in my unpublished novel, Lorna versus Laura. 

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I will post a new character bio every Friday!

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

Character Friday – Meet Arianna Banks

Every Friday, I will feature a character from one of my books, both published and unpublished.  The character will be presented as if he/she is writing about themselves in a journal entry.

My name is Arianna Banks.  I was born July 23, 1992 in Cleveland, Ohio.  Most of my life, I haven’t stuck with anything long.  I was the kid who grew up an only child, whose parents gave her pretty much anything she wanted.  I tried ballet, tap, sports, martial arts, art classes, horseback riding, you name it, but none of those ever lasted for more than a season.  The same was true with my friends.  I don’t know if it was just bad luck, but every year in school, I had a different best friend.  I was lucky if I kept one for a couple of years.  We’d get in a fight about something, although now that I’m grown up, I forget what most of the fights were about.  I remember thinking my friends were just jealous of me because my parents had a nice enough house, and I had tons of toys and all the latest gadgets.  Most of my “friends” were interested in coming over for what I had as far as things went, but truth be told, I wasn’t that nice of a person.

At school, I became more and more of a loner the older I got.  By middle school, I was one of the losers of the school.  My stuff didn’t seem to matter anymore.  I was bitter and cut myself off from others, but that was when I began writing.  I kept journals, writing my feelings down every moment.  I neglected my homework and my grades in favor of writing my own stories and poetry.  I never thought any of it was any good.  It was dark and angsty.

My parents encouraged me to make friends, but I stopped trying.  I had one friend in high school — Lori Miller.  She was in marching band with me, the only extracurricular I’d stuck with.  I didn’t enjoy playing the clarinet, except that it was the one thing my mom insisted I keep doing because she had also played the clarinet when she was growing up.  She told me time and again that music had been her life — that playing the clarinet in band had gained her lots of great friends, and they’d bonded and joked together while in marching band.  Lori and I were always the last and second last chairs.  We dyed our hair black, dressed in black, and wore thick dark eyeliner.  I guess we were Goth or Emo or something.

When I finally graduated, I enrolled in the community college.  I had no clue what I wanted to do.  I worked at various fast food restaurants and chain stores.  I changed my major every semester.  After four years of what should’ve taken two years, I got my associate’s degree.  Lori and I had lost touch in this time, as she’d gone off to college after high school and hadn’t looked back.  Being Facebook friends hardly seemed to matter.

Also during college, I began hanging out with Brad.  He’d worked at the movie theater with me.  His parents were disgustingly rich, but he didn’t care about that.  Most of the time, he didn’t even have a job.  He’d worked at the theater to get free movies, but that had lasted all of a summer.  I’m not sure what I saw in Brad except that he actually talked to me.  He told me he found me interesting, that I wasn’t like other girls.  Whatever that meant.  We didn’t really date in the usual sense.  He hardly took me out anywhere, but we hung around his house and sometimes mine.  And yeah, we had sex.  Whenever Brad called, I came.  Maybe it was finally feeling useful, like I belonged to someone and had a purpose.  It was stupid, but I was caught up in that messy relationship for two years.

I should mention that I kept writing all through high school and college, but I never shared it with my parents or Brad or anyone.

I finally got it in my head to go to beauty school.  It was one option I hadn’t tried yet, and my fascination with hair color and alternative beauty (think body piercings) made me want to give it a shot.  I began working at the receptionist desk at a salon and spa and got into beauty school.  Things seemed to be going fine.  I was interested in beauty school enough to stick with it for a few months.

But then my parents died in a plane crash while flying to Europe to celebrate their anniversary.  It was for their twenty-fifth, but they didn’t go until a year later due to my dad’s crazy travel schedule for his job.  He was a national salesman for the construction industry.  If they’d gone last year, none of this would’ve happened, right?  They’d still be alive.  The shock of it all took me over the edge.  I was already pretty used to being alone, so what was the loss of two of the people who loved me the most?  I got more piercings and dyed my hair bright red.  (My hair hadn’t been its natural color of a drab brown in years.) I moved in with my nana.  I was in denial, afraid to confront the pain.

I should take a moment to mention my dear, awesome nana.  I can’t believe I haven’t yet!  Anyway, she was always close to our little family when I was growing up.  She’s a spitfire.  She seems younger than she is, and she’s health-conscious, sharp, but sweet and totally devoted.  So, rather than live on my own, she invited me to live with her.  Although I wouldn’t have had a problem living on my own due the compensation received from the airline and the inheritance left to me, I affected her offer.  Deep down, I was tired of being so alone.

A month after their deaths, their loss finally hit me full force.  I broke down in front of Nana.  She told me about her own mother, Lorna Blake, and how she’d also lost her parents.  I guess my great-grandma had lived in isolation with a severe cause of depression for years until she’d met and married my great-grandpa.  I knew I didn’t want to be like that.

I had some choices to make.  I knew I’d always been a disappointment to my parents because I couldn’t settle on anything.  On a whim, I quit my job and beauty school.  It wasn’t what I really wanted.  Losing my parents, I knew how life was short.  I needed my life to start having some meaning instead of just wandering from job to job or friend to friend.  I left Brad, finally fed up with his crap.  I’d become a shell, doing whatever he wished.  I wasn’t really living.  That needed to change.

Nana tried to warn me that I was making too many changes too quickly, but I wouldn’t hear of it. One good thing during this time was my friendship with Kelly from the salon.  She turned out to be the real deal.  Somehow, she’d seen something worthwhile in me, and we became steadfast friends.

Another crazy, spontaneous change: I called a number I’d found in the McDonald’s parking lot on a fence about a job opportunity.  That’s how I found out about a company called Affection for the Afflicted.  They were a telemarketing company that claimed to raise money to help those in Africa who were suffering.  Finally, a purpose, I thought!  This seemed like an amazing opportunity, so I took the job and began training.

Turns out I was very good at telemarketing.  The more calls I made in a certain amount of time and the more money I raised for the charity, the bigger my paycheck was.  I had money rolling in in buckets.  Money wasn’t the problem.

I also met Marc Arnold at work.  Unlike Brad, he was very different.  He was blonde-haired and blue-eyed, trendy, and was into theatre.  He sought me out right away, claiming to be fascinated by me.  He was outgoing, brutally honest, and deep.  But as much as I wanted to be open with Marc, my self-consciousness held me back.  We were like oil and water more often than not, but imagine this: The water is dyed blue, and the oil is dyed red.  When you shake up the container holding them, they do mix (sort of) for a while. They create beautiful patterns, complementing each other.

All this while, my writing slowly came alive in the uncertainty of my career choice and romance (or lack of it).  I was trying to build my future, but the question was: What was I building it on? What role, if any, did Marc play in that? Was my job really the answer to my need to find fulfillment?

And in the midst of all this, Brad wasn’t gone yet.

Like my great-grandfather who was a writer and an author, I felt the tug to put the pen to the page, that incessant discomfort and thrill that pulled at my heartstrings.

Where does my story go? I’m a writer.  I should know these things, but one thing any writer will tell you is that their characters dictate the story more than the writer. What does that mean for me?

Arianna is the protagonist of my unpublished and current work-in-progress story, Arianna. 

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I will post a new character bio every Friday!

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