I actually prayed out loud, a name came to mind and the phone rang. One of those rare friends, the kind you meet and feel like you’ve known a hundred years, was calling – Haley Miller of HisNames.org and Captures Photography. She said, “I’ve been thinking about you. How can I help you?” I felt like Angels were in the room singing.
Haley was there for me when I launched Safe House. I was so happy to see her!
Today we went to a little known local spot. I had the privilege of watching Haley, a talented photographic artist, create the cover art for my next novel, “Finding Hope.” She asked about the characters, the story, the feelings, and went to work. I can’t wait to reveal the cover.
Finding Hope is a clean stand-alone novel which takes place in the same beloved town as Safe House with everyone’s favorite characters, Grace and Officer Joe Hart. Maybe this time Grace will find love.
17-year-old Hope Experience Flanagan thought she was escaping danger when she walked away from the Yeti Haven Trailer Park and the Rat. But, the world is a dangerous place, unless you have Grace and a little help from friends. Grace James and Officer Hart work together to help Hope find her mother and a place to call her own before she becomes easy prey for traffickers and finds herself in deep water.
So I leave you with this thought, Can Grace find Hope, while Hart saves Grace?
Comment below if you want to know the location of the shoot and maybe, just maybe, I will share one of my favorite local (and often missed) beaches on the Oregon Coast.
In honor of my favorite holiday, July 4th, and Safe House’s first birthday on July 11, I am donating 100% of my ebook profits to Operation Underground Railroad and reducing the cost of my ebook to $0.99 for the ENTIRE month of July.
Cedar Fort is supporting the cause and donating 1 signed copy of Safe House to Operation Underground Railroad for their aftercare programs, auctions, or to give away for every 50 ebooks sold during the month of July.
July 4th is my favorite holiday! Since 1921, our family has gathered on the Seaside, Oregon Beach and lit a massive bonfire, made s’mores, and celebrated Independence Day together. So, of course, I want the same for everyone in America, including victims of human trafficking!
Comment below or on my blog, FaceBook page, Instagram, or Twitter, with the word Freedom and I will enter you into a Facebook Live drawing from a jar! One of my beautiful family members will help me on the 4th of July.
Remember, the fight for freedom is far from over. Somewhere out there are children who need us to care. Learn more at OurRescue.org.
And watch for the first annual Seaside, Oregon family fun run on the historic prom on August 18th. I will be there and we will be running to raise funds for Operation Underground Railroad, as well as our local Seaside Sunset Empire Parks & Recreation- providing safe programs for kids!
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28
If you have a pulse, it is highly likely that you have experienced challenges, loss, and even trauma at some point between the day you left the womb and now. If you haven’t there is a high likelihood that you are in a coma.
Howard W. Hunter, an international religious leader once explained, “There must be opposition in all things,” but why? Why, when most of us work diligently to do good things do we encounter barriers and how can they possibly be for our own good?
Many years ago I faced a challenge in a lifetime illness. At age 12, I was diagnosed with an inherited autoimmune disease, likely triggered by stress. The doctor explained that a simple daily medication would help me get through life. What he didn’t explain was the disease would cause weight gain, loss of energy, depression, hair loss, problems with my skin and nails. Those may not be big things to you, but to a young woman, they were massive. All I knew was that I struggled with symptoms no one else had. I didn’t understand why.
Later in life, the additional stress of being a survivor and a move back to my beloved coast triggered a downward spiral in my health. I began my wrestling match with a myriad of symptoms, which included gaining 40 pounds in a very few months while eating fewer and fewer calories and exercising more and more.
I began my wrestle. I had an invisible challenge like so many of us do. I recently became friends with a group of wonderful woman. We support each other’s effort to write and publish. As time passed we began to talk more honestly. Then one day, one of us confessed our lives weren’t perfect. We realized none of our lives were perfect, but they were also perfectly beautiful.
Guess what? No one has a perfect life. Some of us have serious struggles but spend our days caring for others, often with a smile on our face. If you think you are the only person who struggles with diet, addiction, or other invisible challenges you are not alone.
“Are you willing to engage in the wrestle? In an ongoing spiritual wrestle? If we want to grow spiritually, the Lord expects us to ask questions and seek answers.
We live in a sound-bite world where “tweets,” “likes,” “posts,” and “shares” have become the way we keep informed and share ideas. We are accustomed to expecting instant answers. But the most compelling questions in our lives rarely have quick, easy, Google answers. That is because receiving revelation and gaining knowledge, particularly divine knowledge, takes time.
It takes a wrestle.”
Nothing is ever a straight path. My life so far has been a series of hills with hidden valleys containing some pretty hefty challenges. The difference is, I know now, I am not alone. I am entitled to drop to my knees and get the answers I would never have come to on my own. And in my wrestle with survivorship, health, healing, family, love, finances, jobs, and the weeds in my garden I will be building muscle, spiritual and personal muscles.
I am not done wrestling and I don’t ever expect to be done. What I am done doing, is looking for an easy answer. I hope to continue to build my spiritual and physical muscles daily. The face you see in the video above is a full fifty or more pounds lighter, and healthier than before the struggle began. I wouldn’t trade the journey, the knowledge, my new friends, or my time on my knees for anything, even sugar and diet coke. I hope I can keep it up! But if I fail, I will wrestle some more.
Just remember, my answers will not be your answers. I am an author and feel compelled to write my feelings, what I learn, and ideas. The direction you choose and the mountains you climb are all yours. The good news is, you don’t have to go it alone.
So when all else fails, drop to your knees and wrestle.
My change journey. I believe after all these years, I have finally found my area of expertise, rising after failure. Actually, I am no expert on change or life. I am just a struggling author who has searched for ways to climb the rugged terrain of life and reach just a little higher every day, or at least be willing to fall flat on my face as I try. Somedays I rise, and other days I eat dirt and contemplate the universe. Right now, I am pondering change.
2010 Before the journey
Here are some of the things I have learned on the way:
This spring I picked a small change, and yet a change I have never been able to conquer. I decided to give up refined sugar for at least one month and hopefully eat about 32 tons less a year for my lifetime.
Because change is so emotionally charged and can be so difficult, businesses everywhere practice something called change management. Simple but useful ways to roll out change which can work surprisingly well in the business of family and self-improvement.
Tips and tricks for managing change in your life (And the way I stumbled through mine!):
1. Clearly define your reasons for making a change. Make a list of why this change is important to you. A sense of urgency or importance can motivate us to follow through. For example, finding out you have high blood pressure or are close to a disease like diabetes can become your motivation for that diet you have always wanted to go on, but couldn’t quite walk past gelato.
In my life, I have had many motivators for change. Sometimes my motivations come from a sincere desire to improve myself and other times they come at me like a freight train and run me over, like finding out your husbands company is closing and you are going to have to change the way you pay your bills. Wherever the need comes from, what you chose to change and the direction you take is up to you.
2. Plan your strategy. Map out your change. You can either take it in big bites or little baby steps. Put in in writing and hang it somewhere you can revisit and rework it as you progress. If you are like me and use your phone or computer more than paper, make a note or calendar invites to remind you of the path you have chosen.
Be sure to include rewards in your plan. For example, if you decide you want to go back to school, plan a reward of a movie out with friends after you complete your enrollment forms. Then plan a weekend away after you pass your first finals. When I returned to school, with 5 kids at home, my finals reward was a night at the laundry mat to get caught up and I loved it.
3. Start by changing your environment. If you have decided it is time to diet, start by cleaning the ice-cream out of the freezer. Toss any temptation with vigor and remove barriers to your success. If you have decided to stop a major habit like smoking, but find hanging out with your friends leads to smoking with them, consider adding friends to your circle who don’t smoke.
In a positive way add what you need to your environment. Shop for healthy foods and buy those cute workout outfits you have always wanted. Big changes may require big reminders all around you. Small changes can start with baby steps. If you have clothes in 15 sizes and have successfully completed a diet, gift your clothes to someone in need and spend time rewarding yourself with a clean closet where workout clothes are always ready to go.
4. Build consensus. Sometimes together is better. Explain to your family and friends why this change is so important to you. Let your close friends in on your sense of urgency and ask them for support. Tell them specific ways they can help. For example, instead of saying to your husband, “Don’t buy Ice-cream.” Tell him ways he can support you like, “Let’s find all the healthy restaurants in town,” and, “Let’s take a healthy cooking class together.” Try to get buy-in.
This is a great time to investigate groups, classes, education, or anything that will help keep you focused and give you support. When I decided to spend the first month of my life without refined sugar, I joined a cleanse group. Not only were they knowledgeable, but they were fun! Our leader gave us information while we laughed at our struggles and supported each other. We even used acupuncture in a group and it was a hit! I will miss the group when it is over.
Ask for help. For example, if you have decided you want to start working out by walking every morning, enlist friends. It is a lot easier and safer to walk in the early morning hours in a group than it is to walk alone. And, if you know your friend is waiting for you on the corner, you are more likely to walk even when the weather is bad.
5. Remember balance. If you are planning to take something away, be sure to replace it with something healthy. For example, if you decide to give up midnight snacking, create a midnight bath and book routine to take the place of your friend chocolate.
7. Sustain and evaluate your change. Give yourself permission to care for yourself. When you choose to grow and improve, your children and hopefully your extended family will grow and learn by watching and supporting you. Any positive change can be good for others and is not time wasted. Map out ways to integrate your new found strengths into your daily life for the long haul. If you have lost weight, plan ways to sustain your new healthy lifestyle. If you have given up a bad habit, plan good habits to take their place.
If you fail, no problem! Revisit the need and make a new game plan. Sometimes we make a change, and we decide to change back. I remember in my twenties thinking I wanted to be on my own, but when I brought my first tiny baby home, I wanted my mother (At least for a few days).
8. Accept defeat as a learning experience. You are always better for having tried. I promise you have learned something. We all fail. I have lost count of the number of times I have failed. We had a standing family joke when I was growing up, “We will start that diet…Monday!” Diets may be an easy lift for you and feel insurmountable to others.
I remember my abject terror when I first approached a college campus, and I remember feeling like a failure when I had to step out of classes to care for my family. Life is ups and downs, but hopefully, the rolling hills will gradually raise you to where you want to be. And if not, my guess is your view during the journey will be spectacular. I personally feel the place I stand right now is just a pause on the journey. My struggles and hard work, coupled with my higher power has brought me to this place, and the view is spectacular.
Change is a risk. I hope your risk has great returns.
Storms roll into the Pacific Northwest Coast and change the beach, the trees, our world in minutes. I don’t know about you, but I love to watch a good storm. The power of the wind and water change rolling dunes to flat sand or new cliffs. Trees are tested, dead branches are torn from trunks, deep roots hold while others give way.
Today I ran the beach after the storm. Everything was wiped clean. Logs had been washed into the dunes and it was a new and different kind of beautiful.
Storms of all shapes and sizes roll through our lives, test our roots and strengthen us as we wrestle with the wind. Storms can change us in minutes. I think they can leave us a new kind of beautiful, molded by experience.
Isn’t it interesting that the creator of this world didn’t create manicured lawns with perfect white picket fences? He created majestic mountains, raging oceans, cascading waterfalls, frozen tundras, and storms. His creation is a work in progress. Storms still change it daily.
How many times have I stood looking in a mirror for an imperfection, a new wrinkle, a misplaced curl, signs of my storms? How many hours have I wasted angry at the storm?
Today, I worked on embracing all my imperfections as visible signs of the storms in my life. I believe in goals and choosing the direction of my journey, but I also believe in having compassion for myself.
I may have been broken by storms, shaped into someone new, changed forever, but I like what I have become. I am a testimony of endurance. One more day, I choose to lean into the wind and journey on.
Thank you to everyone who nominated Safe House for a Whitney Award! Wondering what a Whitney Award is? Look HERE. And yes- it is for my book! I am so relieved you can’t see my dance of joy! What a gift it is to have you all in my life. I love every person I have met on this journey including Cedar Fort staff, the critics, the other authors, bookstore family, and bloggers.
Okay, there is another Safe House, which came out later by everyone’s favorite author, but she is nominated too! Wouldn’t it be fun to actually make it to the finals and sit together? I would lean over and say, “Hey, nice title,” real smooth and casual like I wasn’t jumping out of my skin to be at the Whitney Awards by Traci Abramson. Then I would say, “So, I hear we share a shelf at Deseret Book.” Do you think she would sign my copy of her book?
Well… a nomination is just the first step. It is such an honor to even be listed. To be in the same room as the people I read and respect would be like Christmas times ten!
This is the happiest photo I own. This is my face one second after finding Safe House in the Deseret Book Catalog. Trust me – you don’t want me to video my dance of joy!
This 2018 I thought I might actually make a video for you WITH my makeup on and NOT after running 3 miles! Still breathless!
I love visiting at book signings. I can promise you if you struggled with anything in 2017 you weren’t alone. I heard a few statistics this year. Don’t ask me to tell you where….but I heard half of all adults under 35 live with their parents, like my kids. I know 1 in 3 women and 1 in 7 men experience domestic abuse. I also know the statistic that says 1 in 3 women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime is only for those who report. I hear from more who never, ever told a soul.
But there is still reason to be happy in 2018. We have so much to be grateful for! This video includes my recipe for joy.
Hope. Don’t give up hope. You may feel alone or overwhelmed. You may or may not believe in a higher power or that God has a plan for you. If you’re not sure, just take a good look at me. I live in the middle of nowhere on the edge of the continent in an old money pit and you and I are chatting. I believe there is a God and a plan for you and me. Every day I look for something to be grateful for. I will often share my gratitude list online. In the process of hunting for reasons to be grateful, I have become keenly aware of the miracles that surround me.
Last year, I decided in December to find a way to volunteer and give to Operation Underground Railroad. At the same time, my sister became critically ill. I drove from Oregon to Utah to spend as much time as I could with her during her last moments. While there, someone from Operation Underground Railroad actually reached out to me and I was able to donate a book to a Utah event. We got to talking, and it turned out we had a friend from my small Seaside town in common. It becomes a small world when you start to recognize Heaven’s pattern.
Healing. After years of research, the C.D.C. announced at a national sexual assault conference and training I attended that we have “neuroplasticity” and the ability to heal. The best way to heal is to choose a list of healthy self-soothing activities and turn to them when we have anxiety, are overwhelmed by memories, or need comfort following a traumatic event. Anything that makes you feel better and is good for you works to rewire your brain to turn to healthy soothing methods in times of stress instead of addiction. For example, I take a short run regularly and write to soothe myself, find time to think and make sense of my world. For me, it’s run or turn to chocolate and peanut butter.
Helping. Reaching out and helping someone who may be struggling with something you understand or have experienced is a great way to heal if you are able to keep healthy boundaries. When you are ready, seek ways to volunteer, donate or just be kind to others in need. A pot of soup may be nothing to you and everything to someone else.
As a survivor, I never want anyone to feel as confused, lost, or absolutely overwhelmed as I did. I will always seek to make other survivors experiences better. The sooner someone is helped following trauma, homelessness, job loss, or other life crisis the sooner they will return to as normal a life as possible.
Giving to others can keep you really busy! Serving others reminds me daily how blessed I really am. You may be the one who needs to be served like I once was. Even in the worst times, there are ways to give back.
Over the years my little family of 8, now 8 plus spouses and 9 grandkids have lived in a little town called Seaside about a block from the Pacific Ocean. When the sun shines, family visits us, coming in and out like the tide. Then in winter snowy mountain passes keep visitors away.
I want to share some of our Seaside Christmas traditions with you. As a young mother, I wanted my kids to have great Christmas memories and so I chose a few traditions we have maintained over the years. These silly traditions are now part of the glue that brings us back together each year.
Christmas on the Coast
Christmas pajamas from the Elves:
Christmas pajamas from the elves is a tradition I borrowed from my belove Aunt Joann Sappenfield. On Christmas Eve the elves “magically” deliver new pajamas to the kids. They put them in their stockings. This is a brilliant tradition for two important reasons.
The kids get all excited about the most practical gift I buy them – Pajamas!
The kids look great in all the family movies and early morning pictures. When my son Joseph grew to 6 feet tall at age 10 he was sleeping in a onesie with the feet and arms cut off. Boy! I was so happy to see him in pajamas that fit Christmas morning.
Early in the morning on Christmas Eve I sneak downstairs and set up 4 or 5 little tables around the house. I decorate them all with bright Christmas colors. I make a batch of cinnamon rolls and keep them on the kitchen table.
One table has hot Wassil or my recipe for “Stephanie’s Cider,” in the crock pot with mugs.
My favorite table has my great aunts Chex mix by the gallon with paper cups.
There is a table with veggies and dip, cheese balls and summer sausage.
Then I mix in some small tables with homemade sugar cookies, peanut brittle, fudge, and other treats.
The gift to my kids is a whole day and a half without me telling them what to eat or when to eat. The gift to me is letting go. Paper everything and no dishes. The house is ready for friends to stop by and the kids all get their favorites.
1/2 Gallon Apple Cider
1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
3 sticks cinnamon
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon Allspice
dash of cinnamon
Simmer for 20 min – place in crock pot on warm with floating orange slices
On Christmas Eve we open the packages from Grandma Bev and Granpa Jeff, but not before we are grateful. Annually, we dress up in sheets, towels, and wings to act out the Nativity. I wish I could say I sewed amazing costumes, or that we sang in harmony, but this is a Seaside Christmas and we spend our money on wetsuits and kayaks – not costumes.
As the years passed, everyone settled into their roles. Now new generations join in and we have to get creative. A few years ago I heard one of the kids tell the missionaries who were celebrating with us, the only role left was a donkey. And so she rode him around with her doll as Baby Jesus.
The Symonds are a silly bunch, who laugh a lot when they are together. However, year after year, even the toughest of the Symonds can’t help but feel the spirit when we read the Nativity. Even if we wear old sheets and towels. It truly is the greatest story ever told and our testimony brings the brightest spirit to our paupers play.
After our first meager and difficult Christmas, when all the toys were brought by someone else, I realized what a great blessing it was to have Christmas at all. We began my favorite tradition. The toys and packages left on Christmas all say, “From Blessings.” Even though we let the kids believe in Santa, we could never take credit for a single gift under the tree or give the credit to Santa. We recognize where our blessings come from and in our house, Santa does too.
We are grateful
Before we open a single gift Christmas morning we have a prayer of gratitude.
I don’t want you to think we are perfect. We are most definitely not. Over the years some of our little family has had their own struggles. Some go to church and a few choose not to. But they have all told me they recognize their blessings. I am grateful we have kept this tradition. It may not seem like much, but it is my favorite. It is a sweet moment in the midst of holiday chaos.
The Christmas Elf
When we were a new family, we weren’t able to buy many gifts. This tradition began as a way to make the moment seem a little sweeter. One person wears the elf hat and passes out the packages one at a time in order of age, youngest to oldest. The bonus to this tradition is I can actually see what all 6 kids and their kids think of their gift and take a few pictures!
We don’t have a lot, and yet every year we manage to find a small way to serve. This year we are focused on the light the world campaign. I have shared a few giving traditions. But the best gifts, are given in secret. #lighttheworld
I am donating to Operation Underground Railroad because I heard Tim Ballard, the CEO speak and I knew he was a good man doing great things for children. And let’s face it, I believe i have proven I am a, “kid horder.” Six kids was not enough!
This Christmas give gifts with a deeper meaning. When you purchase from the O.U.R. catalog funds go to end sex trafficking and save children. Learn more HERE.