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.
My oldest daughter, nicknamed E.R., lives in Farmington, Utah with her husband and 4 children. A few days ago, I called E.R., and she answered the call on Bluetooth in the family car. The call went something like this:
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.
Enter to win a signed copy of Safe House and read an excerpt from my next book! Go back to Necanicum and spend time with Grace James, Joe Hart, and all your favorite characters.
“Grace James, Sexual Assault Advocate and single mother is seeing signs of sex trafficking in the small coastal town of Necanicum, but what she doesn’t see is a way to do her job and protect her own family while Morgan, her ex-husband is out of prison. Will she and officer Joe Hart be able to stop the spreading evil before Hope Experience Flanagan, a homeless 17-year-old disappears forever or will Morgan take Grace’s life at the same time as he and his partner Vlad plan to take Hope to sea forever.”
“Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? …For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little… ”
Isaiah 28: 9-10
My Grandmother, my father, my aunts, my uncles, my cousins, and I all walked on this wall along the sea, and now my children’s children walk the same wall. Each one of us learned to walk the wall holding a grown-up’s hand until we all insisted on letting go. Step by step, starting with our first baby steps we learned and grew.
Seaside summer evenings were often spent walking as a family to the ice-cream shop. Twenty or more of us strung out along the promenade or Prom on the beach laughing, chasing children, holding our lover’s hands, pushing baby strollers, or watching our parents, aunts, and uncles smile and talk.
We learned about more than how to balance on a cement wall by the sea. We learned trusted loved ones had rules because they cared about us. We learned through quiet conversations on the mile-long walk to town for ice-cream. We learned by watching the grown-ups hold hands and treat each other with respect. The journey was so much more than a walk on the wall. We were building little people and a large family.
Life is a lot like our walks by the sea. It looks like you are doing dishes, going on a diet, teaching your children how to plant a garden, but you are actually doing something much deeper and wider, you are building love, trust, identity, connection, and a family.
A month ago, I committed to making some health changes. I was going on a cleanse. It absolutely made me giggle. For the first time in my life, I joined a group, bought some shakes, and began a sugar fast. All the laughter covered my terror. Remember, I am the girl on the prom wall. All our major childhood accomplishments were followed by dessert or sweet reward, and family gatherings always had food.
I set a goal. One month without refined sugar, caffeine (Diet coke which always led to needing Hot Tamales and a bucket of popcorn), as well as a TON of other foods like corn, honey, potatoes, and soy that I wouldn’t eat.
A few days ago, I finished the month! I was changed. Did I look different? Was I thinner and prettier? No. Was I changed? Absolutely. But the change was on the inside. I felt healthier. I had gained the strength that comes from setting out to accomplish something, anything, and finishing it. The sense of self-worth that comes from seeing something through, especially when it is difficult. I had endured with honor.
Just like the walk on the Prom, it looked simple, fun and easy but the results I hope will be much deeper than improved health today. Years down the road, I hope I look back and find I am grateful for the things I chose to change, the lessons I learned along the way, and the blessing of inner strength that comes from striving to be just a tiny bit better each day.
Every step we take is a choice. Even when we try to take random road trips through life, we are making a choice. But when we choose a direction and take one small step after another toward our goal we just might find we reach not only reach our destination, we have changed along the way.
Special thanks to Hilary and the group at Designing Health. I may stumble and I may fall, but I have a new network of friends headed the same direction. See you all at the Salad Bar!
“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.
Ready, Set, Write Podcast crew spotlighted Safe House today on their new show, “So You Think You Can Write!” I am so excited! I am a huge fan of this fun bunch. If you dream of being published they give great advice. It’s a hilarious way to laugh your way through the struggles of the first chapter and writing a great hook. Enjoy!
Look around our world and see how God feels about perfection. There are no two mountains in the world that are exactly the same. There isn’t a wave that washes onto the sand that is the same as another. Every human has his own face, hair, skin, heart, height, weight, and singularly individual soul. Every mother knows her child’s unique cry. This is His work and His glory and He is perfect.
As humans, we seek the rare, the unique, the unusual and call it treasure. One of a kind is desirable. Art which is symmetrical, balanced, perfect, with one red flower in the center or one tree in the middle of the painting is called static or in my opinion baren, without joy, bland, and boring. The most beautiful models in the world have something unique about their face, large lips, large eyes, or an odd nose.
Olympic athletes recently tried to make perfect time, perfect movements, and perfect scores. All worthy goals. The entire world held their breath as ice-skaters reached for perfection, ached when they fell, celebrated when they succeeded. Perfection is a worthy direction, but failure doesn’t mean we are lost.
In a recent talk by my favorite LDS speaker Jeffrey R. Holland titled, “Be Ye Therefore Perfect – Eventually,” he reminded us all that, “If we persevere, then somewhere in the eternities our refinement will be finished and complete.” He admonishes us to seek steady and healthy self-improvement without the self-loathing, eating disorders, general misery, and toxic perfectionism.
But what is perfection?
Today my grandson, seven-year-old Elliott gained a new scar on his forehead and a trip to the emergency room. His mother sent a group text and his uncle drove two hours to help, his father came home, his Nana made dinner, and his family all over the world sent love and looked at his new imperfection. In my world, the love that was shown Elliott was perfect.
Holland said of the Savior, “I testify that in this and every hour He is, with nail-scarred hands, extending to us that same grace, holding on to us and encouraging us, refusing to let us go until we are safely home in the embrace of Heavenly Parents. For such a perfect moment, I continue to strive, however clumsily. For such a perfect gift, I continue to give thanks, however inadequately. I do so in the very name of Perfection itself, of Him who has never been clumsy or inadequate but who loves all of us who are, even the Lord Jesus Christ….”