Listen to Valerie Loveless interview me about both of my books, Safe House & Finding Hope, on Cedar Fort's Behind the Scenes Podcast!
Today the World Health Organization declared the “novel” Coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. This is one novel I hope you never have to read.
When we originally heard about it, we noticed that the shelves were empty of toilet paper and had a wonderful chuckle. Then our family welcomed a new baby. Suddenly, germs seemed a bit more serious. One of us has CKD or Chronic Kidney Disease, and others in our tight-knit family have weaknesses that make us worry.
We realized the problems surrounding the virus were bigger than we thought when my daughter went to a big box store to buy toilet paper. Ironically, after 3 stores she ended up snatching one of the last cases off a pallet in a Walmart and in a game of chicken with another shopper.
We all cope in our own way. My kids cope with humor. I don’t know who created this meme, but it’s priceless. I hope the creator doesn’t mind sharing.
For the first time in my memory, on a recent workday, I went to a big box store to get some things for the new baby. Our small town Costco was packed, on a day it should have been empty. Carts were full of toilet paper, water, and interestingly, televisions.
At first I smiled, then I noticed the people pushing the carts were the same age as my parents, who are ordering their groceries delivered for the first time in their life. And I wondered, would we lose one of these family faces? Even one would be too many. The drinking water is safe and our bathrooms are stocked, but still we seem to all be nervous. It has become a small world, indeed.
And so we have cancelled the world. Meetings are online, school is online, stadiums are empty, and so are my friends restaurants. We are all going to be impacted, either through our health, finances, or loss of loved ones. It is a forced slow down and as you can see, everyone who can has stocked up.
My hope is that you get more time at home around the dinner table, more time with good books, and more time to write and collect your thoughts. I also hope that you look around and realize that time with loved ones is priceless, that person matters, and cherish each other just a little bit more. And most of all, I pray you and your loved one’s stay well.
“I am mindful of you always in my prayers, continually praying unto God the Father in the name of his Holy Child, Jesus, that he, through his infinite goodness and grace, will keep you through the endurance of faith on his name to the end.” Moroni 8:3
Stay tuned for the first few chapters of my next book. We will be sitting by the fire, walking by the ocean alone, and writing a book about a small beach town, Grace’s daughter, her hilarious friend, and the kids and families of Oceanside High.
Have you ever wearied the Lord in prayer and wondered when he would answer your prayer, or if he would answer? Have those answers come in unexpected ways? I know I have. I have wanted more time for family and writing. I think I have my answer and it will mean more time to write.
I love to write stories about characters that have deep needs, face insurmountable odds, are tried during the storms of life, face destruction, and still find their happy ending. I write about unexpected heroes and heroines, who after the storm is over, realize the hand of God was at work the entire time. And the events they thought would annihilate them were actually the best thing that ever happened to them.
Why do I love to write stories about people who face impossible odds? Because that is the ongoing story in my life, and I would bet a few of you have been caught in the rain before. But I believe in miracles and I believe in happy endings, so here we go! New job and more writing.
Today, I found one more survivor. This afternoon, the sun was out, and I worked in the garden. I weeded and pulled out the plants that hadn’t made it through the wild coastal winter months. We have had snow, fierce winds, and record rainfalls. I opened the gate to put my tools away in the backyard and look what I found. While everything else turned brown and withered, this beautiful little plant flowered through the dark winter months on the north side of the house. It blossomed against all odds, just like the heroines of my stories.
A few weeks ago, I was asked to speak on Hope in church, while I was praying and working on making more space for family and writing. It was a great opportunity to explore one of my favorite words-hope.
More on hope later-for now, here is one of my favorite quotes:
Eve Marx of the Seaside Signal not only featured my newest novel, Finding Hope, she investigated trafficking in our small town and researched what it might look like in yours. Do you wonder if your kids are at risk? Do you want to know what to look for?
Do you want to learn to recognize trafficking? Have you ever thought about volunteering from your own home town?
Take Operation Underground Railroad’s Free Online Volunteer Training to learn to recognize signs of trafficking.
I asked Kimber King, author of "The Trouble With Fairy Godmothers," why she was committed to writing clean novels and she said, "I believe that books should inspire people to becoming better versions of themselves, and to..."
Watch "Brother's Keeper" ~a powerful book trailer by Christa Jaussi
Sharing this book is a sincere pleasure. I don't know anyone who hasn't been touched by suicide in their lives. The joyful holidays can lead some of us to compare ourselves to others or to feel alone, pressured. This holiday, I hope Christa Jaussi's book reminds you that connection and loves ones are priceless, and that you matter. Every
Thursday I feature an author committed to writing clean or inspirational books. Each time, I am moved by the quality of authors and the importance of their work. This book, Brother's Keeper-a fictional novel based on author's experience of losing brother to suicide-, by Christa Jaussi has important content for our times. We are losing too many of our young people. Although it is fiction, it can start conversations and open dialogues with family members about suicide.
Christa Jaussi lost her brother to suicide in 2005...
I will never forget the moment I realized that everything I believed about my sweet life was wrong and that I needed to leave behind my marriage, my adorable little home, and essentially everything I was or thought I was. I stood in a therapist’s office on the phone. I was calling my mother to ask her to watch my children overnight so I could go home for the last time and pack to leave my innocence and shattered hopes. The conversation went something like this…
“Hi Mom. Can you keep the girls one more night?”
“How long is this going to take, Shannon? I have a lot of things to do.”
“An eternity, mom.”
The line was silent. She knew where I was. She knew what I meant.
At that moment in time, more than anything on earth, all I needed was someone to hold me and tell me we would be okay. That we might be homeless and helpless, but that they would be there for us and that our Heavenly Father, the Savior, and the Holy Ghost would never, ever, leave our side. But that isn’t what happened.
Heaven will forever bless my family. Even though my parents had their hands full, they made room for us. And may God forever bless the members of my mother’s church, who knew me as a young woman, and never doubted me or my decisions.
But, may Heaven forgive the people at church who said the darndest things.
I wish I could say that my experience of having people at church make unbelievable statements is rare. It isn’t. Survivors of domestic abuse, infidelity, spousal addiction, and those of us who struggle to keep difficult marriages together, and all the other things life throws at us, have heard it all.
Have you ever said something to someone at church and regretted it? I know I have. Do you wonder what to say to your fellow church members who are struggling with challenges like mine? Or do you wonder why people care so much about what other people say? Shouldn’t we just buck up, get over it, and do what is right?
Five months into my divorce, I rented a house and began attending church in a new town. They had all seen the single mother and her five small children move in. From the moment I crossed the threshold at the neighborhood church, people said the darndest things. Here is a short list:
“Have you ever been to church before?”
“I heard you’re divorced. There are two sides to every story.”
“I think people should try harder.”
“You should go home and put your marriage together as God intended.”
And, “Why did you marry him? There are always signs. You should have known.”
Gradually I stopped talking to people. Eventually, I would randomly go to my mother’s church. At one point, I stopped talking to anyone at all except a kind neighbor and my family. Then, to avoid a complete mental breakdown, I began hiring a sitter so I could run once a day because my therapist said it would help.
My sweet father held a garage sale so he could buy me very expensive Nike running shoes and the best in Nike running gear for the over one hundred degree summer temperatures. One of the local clergy said a prayer in a meeting, and in the prayer blessed that I would stop running through town in shorts (honestly. I would have laughed if I wasn’t so concerned for the clergy’s mental health).
I am tough. In fact, I have pretty thick skin. The topper will not be repeated here. Suffice it to say, I left the church and didn’t return for more than a year.
I wish I could say I was alone. Recently, I have spoken to several women who are struggling with the things family, friends, and church members are saying to them at their most vulnerable moments.
I had come to church, bruised, beaten, broken to fill my soul and find connection and sisterhood. I had found something I would learn later was, “Victim Blaming.”
We have all done it. We have seen a couple in our little church get divorced. It rocks us. We look at them and wonder what happened. We think things like, if it happened to them, could it happen to me? They seemed so perfect.
Then, out of fear, we look for ways we are different. We think and actually say things to each other like, “It happened to them because he drinks. We don’t drink so it can’t happen to us. I would have left him too, the poor Alcoholic.” or worse, “Of course he cheated on her. Have you seen how she treats him or keeps house?”
We are engaging in typical victim blaming. It is more obvious, when we examine situations containing abuse. It is easier to see when people say things like, “She was sexually assaulted because of how she dressed.” She was sexually assaulted because the perpetrator made the choice to assault her. Only one person is responsible. The person who hurt her.
Victim blaming is how we make sense of our world. If random abuse can happen to people due to other’s random agency or choices, then we might get hurt. But, if we can find the reason it happened to “someone else” we can exclude ourselves from harm. We look for the difference between us and them, because it is like looking for Dumbo’s magic feather.
As survivors, we are already looking for a way it is our fault. It is our fault because we are loud, fat, or made bad choices. Just like others, who victim blame, we are desperately seeking a way to make sense of the senseless.
Here is what Elise Lopez, a researcher said in DomesticViolence.org’s article, Why We Blame Victims for Domestic Violence:
“Why do some people jump to blame the victim? At its core,…victim-blaming is about self-preservation.
Compare these reactions to how some people respond to seeing a photo of an overweight person, says Lopez. “People think, ‘If I were overweight, I’d go to the gym every day and I would lose that weight.’ They don’t think about how hard that would be,” she says. …They think if somebody is being abused, they probably did something to incite it.” In essence, if people can find a reason why abuse is the victim’s fault, then abuse is something that can not only be controlled but prevented. And, in turn, it won’t happen to them.”
So, what do you say to people whose lives are falling apart?
Speak honestly, from the heart. You don’t understand. You can’t, unless you have lived their life. Only one person understands, the Savior. Avoid judgment. Try to be a judgement free and shame free friend. Leave the judgment to the Savior.
Things to say to domestic violence or sexual assault survivors:
- I am glad you survived.
- It isn’t your fault.
- Whatever decision you make, I will support you. I know you know what is best for you.
- I may not know how you feel, but I am here to (list anything you are willing to offer including time, provide service, be a friend, always be by their side).
- Listen (No words necessary).
We all have friends who are making serious decisions or engaged in heartbreaking challenges. LDS Living’s article, The LDS Divorce Experience talks about members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. They share statistics which show prior to divorce nine percent of those surveyed were less active and eight percent were not attending church. After, six percent occasionally went, eight percent had a short period away (that was me), six percent stopped going, and then two percent increased their activity.
Interestingly, even though I was too tender to deal with the looks, the words, the strange things people said, I personally felt an increase of the spirit. Although, I was wrestling with who I was and how I wanted to live; I prayed more, read my scriptures more, and felt the sweet peace of the Savior’s love for me in miracle after miracle. I admire the two percent who increased their activity and developed the ability to seek what they needed to connect and heal. Maybe, because I write, words mattered too much to me.
During the years I was putting my life back together, I develop compassion for people who struggle. I gradually got my feet back underneath me. I was not only running for sanity; I was running towards the Savior. I experienced the mightiest miracles during my darkest times.
While I was still inactive, I was blessed to have the rare opportunity to meet with an Apostle in my church, President James E. Faust. President Faust spent an hour asking me about my experience as a sister in the church during my trials. At the end of the meeting, he very gently asked me why I was inactive. I shared the things that had been said and transpired. He was straightforward and honest in his opinion. he was compassionate and caring.
He said the darndest thing. “Why aren’t you active?” Four little words said with love and compassion, a listening ear, and an honest response.
That was it. I went back.
People say the darndest things. Things like, “I love you,” or “I don’t care what you choose, I will be here for you.”
“The reality is, the depth of our relationships is correlated to the time in which we’re willing to spend together. It’s marked by our honesty and vulnerability with one another, by the things we have in common, and in our service to one another.” MultiplyGoodness.com
It was my privilege to be a guest on Valerie Loveless's podcast! Valerie is an author and a world changer. Learn ways to support survivors, tips for keeping teens safe, and why I love Oregon's services for survivors. Hear about Safe House, and my next novel with the same characters and setting, FINDING HOPE.
In Matthew 26: 6-13, we read about the loving ministry of a woman towards the Savior. She anoints his feet with precious and expensive oil in the last days of his life. The disciples are upset that she is using the precious oil on him, instead of selling it to feed the poor. But he is grateful for her ministering and promises that when people speak of this moment, she will be remembered, and she is.
I am not surprised that it is a woman who ministers and serves the Savior in the last days of his life. I may be partial, but I believe sisters in the gospel have the capacity for great love. And yet, I and others, sometimes miss promptings to serve. I can see myself reacting as the disciples did, judging the woman for her kindness and suggesting we should sell the valuable oil. In my frugality and judgment, I would have missed the point of the loving act of kindness, a perfect example of how the Savior wants us to treat each other.
How often do we hold on to our pennies and minutes, counting them, and miss opportunities to give them away by ministering to others?
In Mark, Chapter 14, the Savior takes Peter, James, and John to the Garden of Gethsemane where he tells them, in verse 34, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch.” Then alone he goes into the garden for what we often call, “His Gethsemane,” On this night, we are told by,
“Thankfully, Jesus Christ courageously fulfilled this sacrifice in ancient Jerusalem. There in the quiet isolation of the Garden of Gethsemane, He knelt among the gnarled olive trees, and in some incredible way that none of us can fully comprehend, the Savior took upon Himself the sins of the world. Even though His life was pure and free of sin, He paid the ultimate penalty for sin—yours, mine, and everyone who has ever lived. His mental, emotional, and spiritual anguish were so great they caused Him to bleed from every pore… And yet Jesus suffered willingly so that we might all have the opportunity to be washed clean… Without the Atonement of the Lord, none of these blessings would be available to us, and we could not become worthy and prepared to return to dwell in the presence of God.”
We don’t really know what happened in the garden, other than a few words in the New Testament, which included an angel ministering to the Savior, because the disciples, who waited by the gate, fell asleep. He faced the greatest challenge of his mortal existence in absolute solitude. During this time, He cried out using a tender term:
“Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.”
Like many of you, I faced my Gethsemane or truly painful moments in life by myself. However, because of the sacrifice of Christ, I wasn’t really alone. I felt the sweet presence of the Holy Ghost and the Savior’s love. The Savior, who understands our experiences sent the comforter and waits for us to ask for Him, to seek Him out, and to have faith that he will be there for us, even if we can’t see or touch Him.
He Understands. “There is no physical pain, no spiritual wound, no anguish of soul or heartache … that the Savior did not experience first. … The Son of God perfectly knows and understands, for He has felt and borne our individual burdens.” (Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “Bear Up Their Burdens with Ease,” Ensign, May 2014, 90.) Apr. 2015
Sadly, so often in our world, we suffer alone. We are called to minister to each other, and yet when it is our moment of need, we are ashamed or embarrassed to ask for help. Even the Savior asked his friends to wait, watch, and be with Him, if only by the Gate.
Don’t keep others from being blessed. Allow them the blessings that come from ministering to you when you are in need. Reach out, share one another’s burdens, leave the world, and shame, behind. Rejoice in the Love the Savior asks us to have for each other.
The Savior didn’t say, “And when your house is clean, the baby stops crying, and thou art perfect, love one another.” He said, “As I have loved you, love one another” (John 13:34-35). He has been to Gethsemane for us. In remembrance of His suffering, let us do our best to not leave another soul to carry the burden of this life’s pain alone, while we sleep.
Take a deeper dive:
“Don’t Miss This!” Come Follow Me: Matthew 26; Mark 14; Luke 22; John 18 found on author Emily Belle Freeman’s wonderful website.
Behold the Lamb of God, Jeffrey R. Holland, April 2019 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
Meridian Magazine: Come Follow Me, Podcast 23 “Not as I will, but as thou…”
Imagine hiking all day on dirt roads in sandals with 12 best friends and then entering a busy town where mud is common and you will know what my feet looked like after the 24-mile Hood-to-Coast race walk I took several years ago.
Now imagine offering to give your entire team pedicures and you will have a tiny glimpse into the love the Savior showed when he offered to wash the Apostle’s feet in John 13. It was not a quick, easy, or totally about clean feet. It was about love, letting the Savior see us as we are, and washing away the dirt of this world.
During the Last Supper, when the Savior washed the Apostle’s feet, Peter responded as I would have. He recoiled from having the Savior, whom he loved, wash his dirty feet. Read John’s account below:
“1 Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.
2 And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him;
3 Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God;
4 He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.
5 After that he poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.
6 Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet?
7 Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.
8 Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.
9 Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.
10 Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all.”
This week, my church is studying a Come Follow Me lesson which includes John 13-17 in the New Testament. As I read the chapters, I remembered my dirt covered feet after the race and marveled at the Savior’s love for his brethren, the Apostles. I also wondered about the toxic things we regularly pick up our journey through life, all the dirt along the way, including unhealthy relationships, addictions, and choices. Would I allow the Savior to clean my feet, every whit, or would I hide in shame? Would I be willing to wash away the world, or would I ask him to leave behind a little chocolate addiction or worse?
When Peter hesitated to have the Savior wash his feet, the Savior told him, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.” Following which, Peter wanted to the Savior to wash all of him. Are you ready to go all in? Reading the New Testament reminds me to shift my focus from the things of this world to a higher plane. It helps me keep my focus on the Savior, service, and the importance of loving one another. It reminds me that true happiness is found when we go all in with the Savior.
During these same chapters, I also noticed the word love used over and over. Indeed, one of my editors would have made a quick note of an “echo” and asked me to remove all but 2 of the 40 mentions in the chapters. And yet, 2 of my favorite scriptures is found in John 13. they repeat the word love 4 times.
“34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”
When I was young, I was privileged to sing in the old Tabernacle, in Salt Lake City, during a Conference. We were taught brand new songs for the occasion. One of the new songs was, “As I have Loved You.” It continues to be one of my favorites to this day.
I really do believe love is the answer. Love as the Savior loved. The pure love of Christ, charity, service, and the willingness to take upon Himself all of our sins, or dirt. A love as sweet as I felt the first time I washed the tiny feet of my newborn daughter, after all, are we not all as helpless as a newborn without the atonement of the Savior.
This week, find a way to serve the people you love, as the Savior served others, selflessly and completely.
Take a Deeper Dive:
Watch the story of the Last Supper.
Listen to the insights Dave Butler and Emily Belle Freeman share about the Savior washing the Apostle’s feet.
What toxic habits or things have you held onto that maybe you are ready to ask the Savior to wash away?
How have you felt the Savior’s love in your life? How can you love as the Savior loved?