Read My Book A Day’s review of, Finding Hope, on her fun Blog!
She’s hiding in her present.
With nothing but her guitar and a few belongings, Hope Flanagan escapes the abuse and negligence from her mother’s boyfriend. Hope’s lucky enough to find a warm exhaust vent in an alley of her coastal town and blessed with help from a coffee-shop employee who sees her desperate situation. But Hope is determined to stay under the radar from social services and the other homeless kids, who seem to go missing once they fall under the notice of the local homeless tough girl.
She’s hiding from her past.
Grace James works with the police to help survivors of abuse while desperately fighting to keep her own family safe from her vindictive ex-husband. News of her husband’s release from prison pushes her to accept help from the handsome and secretive Officer Joe Hart. But then her mother brings home a stray from her coffee shop, and Grace finds herself catapulting through her fears to do for Hope what she just might not be able to do for herself—find out who she really is to save her before it’s too late.You can find "Finding Hope" on Amazon:Paperback, OR Kindle, Kindle Unlimited
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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?
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?
This year my church released, Come Follow Me, a new study guide or resource for learning the gospel. Each week, as I read and study, I have been struck by how much of the New Testament holds little gems of hope and healing for survivors. For example...Are there times in your life when you have felt the Savior clear the way on your behalf? Is there something keeping you from healing? Is there something you would like cleared out of the way? Have you asked for help?
“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”
Not long ago I found myself crying alone on a bridge. As there are many bridges in Seaside, that isn’t as odd as it sounds. I still haven’t decided if I was crying because I was heartbroken, betrayed by my own people, or just plain furious. You see, writers make a grand joke of rejection. We are experts at querying agents and publishers and being told our stories are, “Not what we are looking for,” or “you don’t have a large enough following,” or even, “your work needs more work.” But this rejection was personal.
I was told by an editor that my work contained characters who were members of my religion, and no one buys books with characters of my religion. They just don’t sell. And so, they’d voted and wouldn’t take any more novels that weren’t secular or contained characters who were members of my church.
In a knee jerk reaction, I offered to obliterate my religion from my story and thankfully they declined. You see, they said, my followers already know what church I belong too, and it was too late to go back in the closet. So, I countered, I read Anne Frank’s Diary, Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and would have read 7 years in Tibet, except Brad Pitt starred in the Move, so I watched it 2 or 3 times. People read novels with religions in them. But, apparently, they don’t sell.
So, channeling Brene Brown, and in the spirit of authenticity and vulnerability, I am perhaps one of the few members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to be rejected by an unnamed publisher for writing about characters that belong to the aforementioned church.
Most authors would just counter, oh well! That’s rejection number 666. Then they would either take out their religion or keep submitting. But, not the very successful authors and members of my critique group. Sometime in the evening, wearing pajamas and reading our work to each other over Google Hangouts and chatting over Facebook Messenger, I confessed – rejected because some of my characters went to The Church.
Immediately, I got the best advice of my life, “Wait by the gate.”
I replied, “Wait by the gate?”
The reply was a quote from a song.
“They came to a place which was named, Gethsemane
And Jesus saith unto his disciples, sit ye here while I pray…”
In those few lines, I experienced greatness. You see, these lines came from a fellow author who also writes about characters in The Church who navigate the challenges of life, are regularly misunderstood for their beliefs, and yet cling to them. She waits by the gate, true to her beliefs, authentic, honest, hilarious, and a true friend. We write about what we know.
I decided to join her and wait by the gate. I will be true to my beliefs, to who I am and I will keep the strange little bishop who interferes with the love interest in my book and the funny lady who has never had a cup of coffee, but… well you’ll just have to read the book.
I don’t know what you believe in, but I hope whatever gate you choose to camp out at, you are faithful to it. I hope you are brave, honest and honorable about who you are and what you believe. If you write a book, I will read it.
As for me and my friend? We will be waiting by our gate, with laptops, good books, good friends, family, laughter, and tears of joy. Because it isn’t about how many books we sell (Okay, we keep score and compete a little) as much as it is telling a great story. Not the greatest story ever told, yet. But then, you’ll just have to read the book.