Review of Off Script: A Monkey & Me Novel by Liv Bartlet

offscriptSummary: “I kissed Edward Wolverton once. It was everything it was supposed to be—and then some… maybe I’ll kiss him again.” TV Producer Bea Douglas’s last confession to her former business partner and ex-best friend wasn’t meant to tempt the fates. She’s eager to escape the hypocrisy of the television industry and years of hiding her faith for the convenience of other people. Edward Wolverton may be hot, smart, and funny—but he’s also two steps out of rehab with a self-proclaimed allergy to Christianity. But after a club night turns violent, Bea loses her sense of self while Eddie teeters on the edge of relapse. Their connection to each other is the only certainty. To be together, each will have to let go of past pain and have faith in a love that never fades. Off Script is an uncommon story of the power of love and resilience to bring people together in a society that does its best to tear them apart.

Note: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Off Script is the second in the Monkey & Me series by Liv Bartlet. I had the pleasure of reading the first novel, Production Values, last year. You can read my review here. I highly suggest you read the first book to receive the full benefit of the second book’s story, although Off Script can certainly be read independently and thoroughly enjoyed.

Off Script is a literary breath of fresh air in the indie author world. I read plenty of books by self-published authors, and like its forerunner, this second book in the series is smart, sassy, funny, has heart, and makes you actually think, all the while entertaining you. It’s rare to find a book that has all those qualities.

I am a writer, an author, and an avid reader. The more I read and write, the more persnickety I get. Liv Bartlet knows her stuff. Not only does she have excellent insight into the workings of the making of television shows and movies, but she understands human interactions with a depth that few writers can convey so believably in their dialogue.

Bea Douglas has spent years in the world of Hollywood and the like. She thrives on her work. She’s the sort of woman who needs to be doing something to feel useful. When she’s not producing a show or running PR, she’s a volunteer nurse. She’s sassy, witty, and quick. She shows a tough exterior to a world where she has to be tough for the sake of keeping her head above the water.

But behind all that glamor is a broken soul who longs for more. She wants to be a mother. She is in love with heart-throb actor Eddie Wolverton, who is the male lead in her TV show Void. She is also a woman a faith, a Mormon, who believes, against the conventions of society, in waiting until marriage to have sex.

Before you turn away at this point because of the mention of religion, let me just say that this book does not preach or try to throw religious dogma in the reader’s face. I admire Bea for sticking to her convictions in a world where many would snub her. Bea’s faith is a real part of her character, just as Eddie’s aversion to religion is a necessary and believable part of his character. As Bea loves Eddie, so he loves her. Their religious differences are one of the obstacles they must overcome to be together. People face these kinds of obstacles every day in relationships. Bea is open-minded and non-judgmental of those who are different, and Eddie loves Bea more for her conviction of knowing what she wants. This is admirable. They complement each other the way bacon and chocolate together works. They may seem strange at first glance, but look deeper, and you find that the complexities and layers are rich and meld together beautifully.

Eddie is a recovering alcoholic. Bea doesn’t drink, even though she spends time around crowds who do. This is yet another road block for their relationship, but no one just falls in love, and boom, it’s happily ever after. Even though Eddie has his vice of alcohol and his ex, Siena, he is a likeable guy. Having written a couple of male characters in my books who suffer from alcoholism and seeing it in my own extended family, I know the stumbling block it is. Alcoholics are not bad people. They are often quite charming and outgoing, but their outward smiles and living it up during the good times are a cover for the desperation of turning to the bottle.

Bea is trying to figure out her life after the partnership of Monkey & Me was destroyed when her best friend, Kat, decided to pursue her own dreams in the industry. She figures it’s finally time to walk away from the Hollywood life and settle down into her dream of a family life. When things turn disastrous for her at a club one night, she is left hollow and broken. She reaches out to Eddie. Although Eddie is very much in love with Bea, he has his own problems and is perhaps not the best support for Bea to lean on.

What ensues is a balancing act of Bea and Eddie each working independently and together to overcome their obstacles. Love is the starting point, but is it enough to break through their weakness and make them stronger as one? Bea is clear: she wants marriage if Eddie wants sex. She also wants a baby and is pregnant with another man’s child (it’s not what you think).

I appreciate Liv’s honesty with these characters. She doesn’t dance around the hard topics: like faith, family life, marriage, rape, drugs, alcohol, and more. In the messiness, a masterpiece painting is created.

I recently heard someone say that when God is creating a lovely tapestry, if you turn it around and look at the back, you will see all the messy threads, the pieces that had to go together to create this work of art. We often don’t understand why life plays out as it does, but trusting in God, as Bea tries to do, is better than trusting in ourselves alone.

Full disclosure: I am a Christian, so Liv’s story resonated with me. I understand Bea’s struggle with her faith. I also believe that anyone can read this story and enjoy its message of love being stronger than our weakness.

This is a beautifully rendered women’s fiction story.

5 of out 5 stars

Favorite quote: “Friendzone isn’t a terrible place to be. No drama, plenty of food, and someone who cares.”

Buy Off Script: A Monkey & Me Novel on Amazon

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No Regrets in Life

You’ve heard it said before: have no regrets.

You’ve probably also found yourself alone with your maddening thoughts, maddening both as in crazy and provoking anger. Your lovely mind has this magical ability to conjure out of nowhere every past fault, failure, and fracture. But such thoughts do have a hiding place. They lurk in the deepest recesses of your mind. You know, those places you put memories you wish you could forget.

But you don’t. Or can’t. Or maybe the masochistic face of you doesn’t want to.

Misery loves company, after all.

I can remember getting ready for work when I was in my 20s. Ah, such was the decade where I was caught between responsible adult and kid. My husband was already at work. I had the house to myself and a tendency to not want to get up in mornings. I hated mornings. While mornings and I still aren’t buds, we can tolerate each other now, but I digress.

I was often tired and cranky while getting ready for work because I stayed up too late. I guess you could say I regretted staying up late come morning–ha! But seriously, because of my already compromised state of mind, I would find myself ruminating on certain people in my life, both past and present, who I felt had let me down. I’d grow increasingly mad, to the point sometimes that I wondered why I had wasted precious hours, days, and years of my life with some of these fine folks. I’d have regrets for even knowing them, for letting them get to me, and for letting they still live rent-free in my mind.

Although it wasn’t really rent-free. I wasted countless energy and time over past hurts, over regrets, over things that couldn’t be changed.

I could go further–regrets over things I didn’t do, should have said, or a path I took. Could have. Should have. Would have.

Now, I’m not going to lie and say that I never go to those ugly places, those closets filled with boxes labeled “regret.”

If anything now, I regret having regrets–ha!

pablo (22)I’m not entirely sure how, or when, or even why, but somewhere along the road of my 30s, I came to understand a deeper truth: I can’t change the past or my circumstances, but I can change how I look at them.

I have no control over other people or what goes on in the world. The forces of nature are beyond me. The thoughts and actions of other individuals are the result of their free will.

At the end of the day or my life, the only thing I should have to regret, if anything, is my outlook on life. I have a choice every day to make: be bitter or be content. Contentment, I believe, goes beyond momentary happiness. Feelings are as fleeting as leaves blowing by on a windy day. To have inner peace, a resolve to keep going, to say I’m going to stand and not fall, that is true contentment.

Instead of looking at a failed relationship as a waste of your time and being angry at the other person and yourself, look at it as an opportunity to learn something. I believe everyone who comes in and out of your life can teach you something, even if it’s what not to do.

These are the words I etch on my heart and stamp on my brain. I hope they go deeper and imprint on my soul, that eternal part that is who I really am. I hope, at the end of the day and my life, that I have no regrets because of choosing to rise above.

There is no new wisdom in these words, but just a simple reminder I think we all need from time to time. Friend, if you’re filled with regrets, make a choice right now to let those ugly boxes of junk go. Fill your mental storage with memories boxes of love.

It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Nothing worthwhile is easy, I believe.

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

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

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



Do you love Christmas enough to celebrate it year round?

A good and dear friend of mine has a blog entitled Yuletide Blessings, which aims to do so. Discussions and blog posts are about traditions, recipes, crafts, books, and more. Please visit the link below to read her review of a Christmas-themed novel and view the website further. My thoughts on Christmas books are also below:

I tend to read Richard Paul Evans’s annual Christmas novels. He has been pretty regular about putting one out every year for several years now. While I have read other novels centered about this time of year, his dominate my reading repertoire. I would have to say that most of his books and other Christmas novels I’ve read rely more on the timeline of Christmas. The decorations are up, the baking is happening, the shopping is going on, the parties are in full-swing, but that is the extent of the holiday backdrop. As for Christmas as a setting, the only real story I’ve read (and many times, mind you) that follows this is Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Maybe it’s because that story has survived the test of time and has become a staple in holiday history and meaning, but that whole story revolves around the deeper meaning of Christmas and keeping it in our hearts year round, so much so that it changes a man’s life. Few stories have that effect, I feel.

Visit Yuletide Blessings

Pay It Forward…A Reminder

‘Tis the season…

To be jolly?

To go into debt?

To give.

Because God first gave to us His son, Jesus.

In the midst of the craziness of shopping, stressing, overspending, and stressing some more, it’s easy to lose sight of what matters.  Whether you’re Christian or not, whatever reason you celebrate Christmas–whether religious, secular, or both–I believe that this season can bring out the very best in people.

Goodwill toward men, indeed.

I went into this holiday season trying to not overspend on gifts.  Having three young kids, it’s easy to fall into the trap of buying them things they just don’t need, especially when they’re inundated with commercials for the latest hot toys.  What five-year-old doesn’t tell their mom at least once an hour, “I want that, Mom?”

It’s a trap.


No joke.

I kid you not.

Kid.  Ha, I was talking about kids and wanting stuff.  Anyway, pardon my bad sense of humor.  I digress…

I fell into the same money pit this year by spending too much on my family, and I was torn between wanting to give, give, give and wanting to take some of the things back.  In the end, a mom’s desire to see her kids’ excitement on Christmas morning when it came time to open the gifts won out.

However, I am vowing to go about this insanity differently next year.  I want to donate or give to charity the same amount that I spend in gifts on my family.  That’s not an original idea, but I heard it somewhere, and it stuck with me.  I’m up for the challenge, and I’m not all talk. (Update: This was written in 2016. Now it’s 2017, and I am happy to say I lived up to this challenge of giving equally to charity what I spent on gifts.)

See, when I put my mind and heart to something, I can accomplish it.  Case in point: Almost two years ago, I sat down and said I was serious about writing an original story.  I would write at least fifteen minutes a day.  If I missed a day, okay, but I wouldn’t let more than two days pass without writing.  Ten months later, I had my first draft completed.  That was almost a year ago.  Now, I have the first draft of a second novel completed that’s currently being read and edited by a writers group at the library.  I have self-published my first novel after going through the arduous process of querying a hundred literary agents and getting many rejections, but I kept at it.  I am well into writing my third novel.  I have the first chapter written of my fourth and have an idea for a fifth. (2017 update: I have finished drafts of novels three and four.  I am well into my fifth.  I self-published novel number two.  I have ideas for six and seven.)

pablo (13)So, if I can write and be dedicated to it, I can be more generous next Christmas.  I can give more to those who really are in need and give less to my own family, who already has plenty of things.  We don’t need more stuff.

You might think, “Okay, that’s all well and good to make plans about what you’re going to do next year, but what are you doing about it right now?”

I do regularly give to charity.  I sponsor two children through Children International, but for me, that wasn’t enough this Christmas.  I became aware of a family in need.  The father had just lost his job, and having a kid to support, you can understand why I wanted to help out.  Also, this family is close to heart, so if there was something I could do to help them, it would be all the more important to me.

I didn’t have the means to personally give them much as far as money goes, so I organized a Go Fund Me campaign and rallied my friends and family for several days to give to this family.  It was a beautiful thing to see the response.  Many gave, and it’s not a matter of how much you give, but giving what you can.  In the end, I was so happy to be able to give them a sizable amount of money to help them pay their bills and put food on the table, and while I was a part of that, I cannot and do not take full credit.  So many people stepped up, and I love that.

Another friend told me about the local Elk’s Club wanting to give a large box of food and gifts to local families in need, and she thought of the family I was supporting.  Needless to say, I got in touch with the Elk’s Club, and they were so generous and kind to deliver such a box to this family. (2017 update: This family is doing well this Christmas, although her sister lost a child and doesn’t have the money to pay for much of a Christmas for her other kids because of funeral costs. Not only did the family I helped last year help this devastated family, but I was also moved to send them some gifts. There is always someone in need who you can bless.)

In the midst of all this, I have my own troubles, but to help others lifts the burden of my problems.  I firmly believe that reaching out and helping others is one of the best ways to help yourself.  Everyone benefits.  There is nothing lost, for, you see, love has no end.  It’s funny how the more love you give, the more love grows.  The more love you receive.

So, I did my little part in paying it forward.  I had no expectation of getting anything in return from those I helped, so you can imagine how moved I was to be on the receiving end of the generosity of others who felt they wished to help my family.  I never asked for it, nor expected it.

A Christmas card arrived from my church a couple of weeks ago with a hundred dollars in gift cards to a grocery store!  The card was simply signed “From your friends at church.”  I have recently expressed my heartache to some friends at church about the struggles my autistic son and my family are going through, so I can only guess that someone did this kind deed because of that.  I cannot be sure.

As if that weren’t enough, on Christmas Eve, my husband and I dressed to play Mary and Joseph and were waiting in a classroom for our entrance into the sanctuary when a friend approached me and handed me an envelope.  “It’s not really a Christmas gift,” she said, “but a couple of us from our ChristCare group (a Bible study group of sorts) wanted to help you out.”  I smiled, thanked her, and tucked the envelope in my purse.  Hours later, after the service was over, the kids were in bed, and the presents were under the tree, I opened the envelope to find three hundred dollars inside and a note that said, “For your son’s therapies.”  Tears streamed down my face for the second time this Christmas season because of the kindness of others.

So, as another year winds down, I am thankful.  It started around Thanksgiving with the extra intention of choosing kindness.  As Christmas came upon us, I made the extra effort to pay it forward in terms of generosity, just one form of kindness.  And it certainly came back around to touch me.

If you don’t believe that what goes around comes around, maybe you’ll think my story is just that–a nice little story.  To me and many others, it’s more.  Much more.  May we all go into the New Year with a sense of wanting to reach outside ourselves, and you’ll see.  It will come back to you.

Merry Christmas!

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday, including book reviews, which will resume in January 2018!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 of out 5 stars!

Purchase The Austrian (Book 1) here.

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

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

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

Facing Loss and Embracing New Possibilities

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

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

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

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

My answer?  Hopelessness.

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

Then where is acceptance, which can lead to hope?

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

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

pablo (1)

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.

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Saying Goodbye to Toxic Friendships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

pablo (14)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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