Listen to Valerie Loveless interview me about both of my books, Safe House & Finding Hope, on Cedar Fort's Behind the Scenes Podcast!
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:
In honor of my 29th birthday, Cedar Fort and I are giving away copies of my books on Kindle between January 7th and 11th, 2020!
Don’t forget to enter the Goodreads Giveaway!
But, if you entered the Goodreads giveaway and didn’t win, you can check out:
Thank you for being a part of 2019, a great year. May 2020 be a year of reading, fun, and personal growth for you and yours.
You can also win, Finding Hope, and, Safe House, by joining the Storytellers in Zion Polar Bear Plunge Reading Challenge. Join the fun HERE!
Here are the rules:
#findinghopebyshannonsymonds #novel #cleanread #suspense
#romance #mysterythriller #safehousebyshannonsymonds #cedarfortauthor #giveaway #contest
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.
This is a photo of one of my most prized possessions, an actual widow’s mite from the time of Christ. It is tiny, light and even surrounded by silver, unassuming. It represents one of my favorite New Testament stories, The Widow’s Mite, and some of the guiding principals I live by.
Let me share what I learned from the story of The Widow’s Mite with you and tell you what duct tape, tithing, and faith have to do with each other, and why you are enough.
I am not a widow. But I learned what it means to be without when I found myself alone with 5 children. I had the privilege of a family to go to for help, but that didn’t change the bleak future before me. I had lost it all, a new home, a stable income, and a marriage. And yet, while losing it all, I learned about faith, tithing, and my worth in the Savior’s eyes.
But first, because you may have never read the story of The Widow’s Mite, here is The Church Of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints version on the Mormon Channel as told by children. Nobody tells a story better than these adorable kids.
“41 ¶ And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.
43 And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this apoor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:
The widow gave everything she had, a mite. Has there ever been a moment when you paid your tithing and all you had left over was your faith in the Lord?
Back to the picture of me, sitting on the side of the road with 5 kids in a van. I had nothing and was dependent on the mercy of family. I wasn’t sure anyone had the capacity to help me with the challenges I was facing, except… I did the only thing I had left. I folded my arms, prayed.
There are some things that are learned best by practicing them, even before we believe. Faith is one of those things. Trials give us opportunities to practice faith and build a strong testimony of the love of our Savior. I have no doubt, the widow who gave her all walked by faith.
Our Heavenly Father gives us everything we have and made us everything we are. He only asks us to pay a tithe in return. Tithing is a commandment and a blessing to each of us best learned by the act of paying it, like the widow, even when it is all we have.
“Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.
“And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts.
“And all nations shall call you blessed.” (Mal. 3:10–12.)
I would like to say that I responded to all my trials with grace and dignity, but I would be lying. I learned faith and the power of tithing through trial and error, my errors. Or, as I like to refer to it, the big “smackdown,” that comes from my own failings. The Lord doesn’t need to punish me, I do just fine on my own. As the years have passed, through his blessings, I have learned the benefit of obedience to the commandment of tithing. My faith grew as I stumbled along. I am sure I will stumble again, but I know who to look to when I fall.
Several years later, I stood in the kitchen of my old house by the sea with my mother. Because I had been without, I was joyful in the “shabby chic” old house. Usually, Mom was calm, but on this day, she was not. She and my father had just retired and were about to leave on a mission. Their new retirement income terrified her. I wasn’t used to seeing Mom worry. I remember trying to comfort her.
Me: Mom! Everything is going to be okay! You pay your tithing. You’re going on a mission. The Lord will bless you!
Mom: What do you know?! You have duct tape on your refrigerator door and a bungee cord holds your oven closed!
Me: If the Lord feels I need a new refrigerator, he will get me one! He knows I can’t cook!
Mom: Louder crying.
Truth? I am safer outside a kitchen. However, the next day my cousin, Kristi, called me. She had purchased a new home and didn’t like the almost new stainless steel side-by-side refrigerator with all the bells and whistles. If I could drive a few hours, it was mine, along with several other pieces of furniture.
Me: Mom! The Lord sent me a refrigerator – for you!
Am I ever afraid? Do I worry? Absolutely. But I am less afraid now than I have ever been. I have learned to walk by faith. If I lose everything again, I will cry and it will be hard, but in my heart, I will have faith that it will be for my good.
As survivors, we often live waiting for the next bad thing to happen. We know from experience that bad things happen to good people. But we don’t have to do it all alone. We can have nothing one day and the windows of Heaven can open and bless us the next day. The Savior wants to walk beside us. We are never, ever alone.
Within a few months, I had all new appliances in my kitchen. I was blessed as a direct message of Love and peace to my mother. We laugh to this day. All I have to say is, “Remember the duct taped fridge,” and we smile. Miracles happen. I have no doubt the Savior blessed the widow who gave her mite.
There is another lesson to be learned from The Widow’s Mite. David Butler and Emily Belle Freeman say it best in their weekly show, “Don’t Miss This.” The widow’s offering was enough and so are your offerings. On those days when you watch others who have more and feel you have nothing to offer the Savior, remember, of all the offerings He immortalized the widow’s mite. It was enough and so are you.
What does the story of The Widow’s Mite mean to you?
Why are we asked to give tithes to the Savior when he could clearly take care of things without our help?
Do you know that you are enough?
By lifting others, we all rise. People are always more important than problems. Problems can bring us together, or tear us apart. In this case, being vulnerable and authentic, sharing my heart work has brought me closer to family, friends, and a whole new community.
For my birthday, I want to give you a gift. The SAFE HOUSE kindle version is 0.99 cents for the month of January. Thanks to a very special editor and my critique group (who shall remain nameless until they approve the final copy!), I am editing away on the final draft of the next novel in my clean mystery-suspense series, set in the same coastal location, with the same beloved characters. While I work, I wanted to share the first story, set in the small town of Necanicum where the winds blow and the rain falls.
So enjoy the winter storms that roll in over the ocean or the snow that falls on your lawn. Snuggle up by the fire and READ! I know I will…when the edits are done.
Today, sleep eluded me, and I was up and on my knees talking to my Father in Heaven. Just like so many of us, I was feeling overwhelmed with my list of responsibilities. I felt I was failing. I listed the things I am thankful for and asked for a few massive miracles. On my list was, “Please give me more hours in this day.”
I am in the middle of editing my next novel, Finding Hope, and it is taking much longer than I thought it should. Editing is a long process for me. Errors don’t jump out at me, they hide. I have to hunt them down by reading my entire book out loud. I beg saints to be beta readers who correct a copy which I integrate into my master copy. And then, after another read through and a second, third, fourth, edit I can send it off to a professional editor.
At 4 this morning my brain woke me up to think about editing. I had a whole conversation with myself. It went something like this:
Me: You should just get up right now and edit until work and then through the next night. You could get it all done.
Also Me: Right….like that time you were writing in the night and woke up to find out you had typed a whole paragraph of a dream? Editing is not something a sleep-deprived person like you should be doing.
Me: I can push harder. Let’s see. Editing from 4:30 to 7:30, Workout 7:30, work 8:30 (looking really bad), Editing from 5:00 to Midnight. See, it can work.
Also Me: Why am I am so anxious. Why isn’t it done? Everyone else in the whole world, I mean every single person, could do this faster than me.
Satan: You’re not good enough. This is a waste of time. You should be spending time cleaning the house or with your family. You should just quit. Quit. Quit.
It was at that moment that I decided to roll onto my knees and give all my worries to my Heavenly Father.
One of my favorite spiritual leaders, Deiter F. Uchtdorf said,
“We must learn that in the Lord’s plan, our understanding comes “line upon line, precept upon precept.”6 In short, knowledge and understanding come at the price of patience.
Often the deep valleys of our present will be understood only by looking back on them from the mountains of our future experience. Often we can’t see the Lord’s hand in our lives until long after trials have passed. Often the most difficult times of our lives are essential building blocks that form the foundation of our character and pave the way to future opportunity, understanding, and happiness.”
This morning, I didn’t get my answer on my knees. All I could do was give my challenges up in prayer, say Amen, and get on with my day.
I work at a nonprofit that sits a few blocks from the ocean. Weekly, we have the gift of a wellness hour with free yoga. Today, however, was bright and sunny so I opted to take a walk. I put my headphones in, turned on a good book and walked to the beach.
Somewhere on the walk, I remembered I needed to call Deseret Book and update my platinum membership. Ironically, I am on a tight budget, but it felt important.
Because I was walking, (And I am a new age girl who can walk and text), I googled the customer service line and got on with an Operator.
Me: Hello? I think I need to renew my platinum membership so I get Bookshelf for less. I might have been charged more this month. Someone there called me last month, but I forgot to call back. My name is Shannon Symonds.
Operator: That was me! I called you last month. I remember because after we talked, I bought your book, Safe House, and read it. I have been wanting to tell you I loved it. It was good. I think it will help people.
Me: You just answered my prayer! I can’t tell you how much that means to me. I was pretty discouraged this morning and wondering if I was doing the right thing.
Operator: You are! Keep writing.
Me: Tears of gratitude for a Heavenly Father who answers prayers and for a sweet woman who listens to the spirit and blessed my life.
When it feels like you are overwhelmed, and your burden is too hard to carry, remember the operator. Call Heaven and ask for help. Maybe you will get the operator, maybe you will get a miracle, or maybe, if you are patient, you will find a mountaintop and look back to see the Lord was with you every step of the way, and the journey was for your own good.
Wait! Did I use too many commas, not enough? I should edit this again.
Do you ever wonder what happens behind the curtain? Are you ever curious about what it takes to publish mountains of quality family entertainment and education? I did, and so I flew to Utah for Cedar Fort’s Author Appreciation Dinner.
Not only did Cedar Fort feed us great food and entertain us with wonderful prizes, they gave us a peek behind the curtain and shared what goes on in the Cedar Fort house.
As an author who writes alone on the Oregon Coast, I had never been to the building or met the staff. It was great to see all the support we have.
I don’t know why, but whenever I called the office, I pictured a small office with books stacked in a closet. Boy, was I wrong! Cedar Fort is a talented team whose CEO, a second generation publisher, is putting into place new and exciting ideas to support clean, quality entertainment.
My sister Sara came as my date for the night. We sat with Nikki Zacharias Trionfo, author of “Shatter,” wonderful Cedar Fort family members and more. Table 8 rocked the house.