It is 1 AM and I had to write and tell you, I just typed the last two words I plan to type on my next novel. The End. What lovely words they are! Not only is the story written, but it has been read and re-read.
This morning early, I finished reading my book out loud. I momentarily panicked when I realized several corrections hadn’t been saved, but then I decided it was an opportunity to do it all again, and better.
I could spend every second, or forever, fixing one more thing, trying one more time to make something, anything, just a little better. Perhaps, I will decide later, I should have worked longer or smarter, but for now. Finished.
Because it is better to take the leap of faith than to never leap at all.
My wish? This story becomes another opportunity to serve and give to
FINDING HOPE by Shannon Symonds
Hope Experience Flanagan had to get out of the Rat’s trailer tonight. It made more sense to wait until her 18th birthday, or until the cold Oregon Coast weather warmed, but everything told her the Rat was dangerous and she was out of time.
“Come on Hope! I just want you to watch a movie with me.” the Rat begged from the other side of her locked bedroom door.
“I’m not coming out until Mom’s home!”
“See how nice I am! Your Mom hasn’t been home for weeks and I let you stay with me.”
“Just let me finish my homework,” she said nicely, trying to hide her frustration.
The flimsy bedroom door in the timeworn 1967 Rancho trailer shook angrily. Poised to move, Hope held her breath until it stopped. “You promise?” he yelled.
Finally, she heard the Rat shuffle down the little hall. Five foot one Richard Culligan, ironically known as ‘Rich’ to his friends, and Rat to her, was her mother’s latest partner in a steady stream of companions. Hope hated them all.
The lacey ice on the windows of the Rat’s ancient trailer was as much on the inside in winter as on the outside. The trailer hadn’t moved for more years than Hope had been alive. It was parked in the Yeti Trailer Haven among other molding heaps of aluminum hidden by forest, vines, and foliage which obliterated their existence. Hope thought it was the best part of the coast. Magic green that erased every sign of man if you gave it long enough.
She sat on an old sleeping bag on a bare mattress, headphones in, music playing, when hailstones began pelting the aluminum walls. Gradually the torrent picked up. Larger and larger hailstones assaulted the windows so loudly it broke through her music and then it stopped.
Everything else she owned was packed in her old orange backpack including a Ziploc bag with a picture of her missing mother. Quietly, she pulled back the red rug, moved a loose floorboard, and dropped her pack into the black hole. Then, Hope slid down through the same hole and out from under Rich Culligan’s trailer forever.
Grace James had a smile painted on her face, but her nylons had gradually fallen until she was sure the crotch was at her bony knees and below the hem of her skirt. She had been wearing two hour high heels for four hours and her feet begged for mercy. She stood tall, at the end of her thirties with her long blond hair sprayed into submission on stage next to her boss in the old Victorian Church, now the Bay City Performing Arts Center.
Grace’s boss Eunice had the microphone. Her gray bob looked purple in the spotlight. She took off her bedazzled cat eye glasses, and said to the audience, “Next I want to introduce our senior advocate, Grace James.”
Hailstones started pelting the large stained glass windows in the ancient hall.
Every head turned to look at the row of 20-foot windows lining both sides of the room as a cascade threatened to break through the glass. The echo was deafening and then ended almost as quickly as it started.
“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.
Sherry Dew, in her book, “Worth the Wrestle,” put it best when she said:
“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.
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.
And the journey continues…
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.
We all have stress in our lives. We don’t have to be trauma survivors to feel overwhelmed.
The world is full of quick and easy ways to soothe ourselves when we feel like life has not only run us over, but it has backed up and parked on us. The question is, what do we choose?
Do you open the freezer and say hello to Ben and Jerry’s Ice-cream like it is a long lost love, or do you call a friend and go for a walk?
High-cost methods may not be expensive, but usually, they have costly consequences. For example, when you smoke you might gain quick relief from stress, but the long-term outcome is costly.
Low-cost methods may or may not give you immediate relief but they don’t cost a lot and they lead to long-term positive outcomes. For example, it only costs time to take a brisk walk but it is a great coping mechanism. It gives you time to process or a place to escape thinking for a minute, as well as improved health. The only financial cost is a good pair of shoes and permission from your doctor.
I took some time to practice one of my favorite low-cost methods of coping with stress. I rode my old rusty beach cruiser (Coastie talk for a one-speed bicycle with a basket on the front) on a 12-mile trail and listened to some great tunes. A garage sale bike and the beach! The best!
Here is a little live movie on my favorite subject, how to heal. I hope you listen and remember, there is nothing wrong with Ben and Jerry’s as long as you share it with a friend like me!
What is your favorite way to serve at Christmas? How many secret Santa/Angel missions have you pulled off? This year our church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, invites you to do MORE! Learn more about the “Light Up The World Campaign” Here.
We had the gift of being near enough to Leavenworth Washington to finally stop and see the Christmas lights in the beautiful Bavarian town. I wondered why so many of us love the lights at Christmas. And then I remembered, Heavenly Father used light, a single star to announce the birth of his precious son.
This Christmas be the light. Light up the world the way the Savior did, with personal service to others. How will you light up the world? Please comment with ideas. I need them!
I will be donating a few of my signed personal copies of Safe House to Operation Underground Railroad for a Holiday Catalog giveaway. I am already donating a small portion of the proceeds from every single copy of Safe House sold to O.U.R. to end sex trafficking. Shop the Catalog and donate HERE.
Please! Send me ideas. Let’s light up this world!
Nominate your favorite #LightTheWorld participants to win good books!
Every year the LDS church encourages us to focus on Christ by lighting our world with good works. This year, authors at Cedar Fort and other presses would like to say thank you to those candles on the hill.
When you find a Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter post that lights your world (it does not need to be tagged as a #LightTheWorld post, but certain may be), please 1. Sharing the post or creating a public post highlighting your friend AND 2. Tagging the page Light The World with Books. You may also use the hashtag #LightTheWorldWithBooks. Both YOU, the nominator, and YOUR FRIEND, the nominee, will automatically be entered to win one of 48 books! For official rules and details on the prize books, visit nikkitrionfo.com.
*PLEASE NOTE: If the original post is private (as many on FB and especially IG are), to guarantee we at Light The World With Books see the post, you may also share the post on our Light the World with Books Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/LighttheWorldwithBooks/. A screenshot works; a share; a post that simply says who you are and who you nominated–any of that is fine. We don’t need to be technical; we just need to see you!
Official Rules on https://www.facebook.com/LighttheWorldwithBooks/
I will be working with my publisher to donate a portion of the profits from my book to Operation Underground Railroad.
I have had the privilege of meeting with hundreds of survivors of domestic and sexual abuse and listening to their stories. I hope to share my experience through fiction and motivate change through stories. Holiday Catalog HERE.
Remember! Opening a good book is like running towards the light! #lighttheworld #lighttheworldwithbooks
Elliott Christmas Day
Do you watch endless Hallmark Christmas movies and feel more people of Walmart? I do. Do you feel like everyone is in love but you? Do you wonder how everyone else does it as you sweep up more dog hair than the dog is wearing, and the cat knocks the tree over for the third time? Does your gingerbread house look like a gingerbread ghetto? Does everyone have their lights up before you? If so, you and I should be best friends!
Christmas, Bountiful Utah, the year is %$ AD or (Not telling because it will date me) After Divorce. My ex-husband had just bought all five children very loud musical instruments, toys that required batteries and assembly with no less than 1 million moving parts. My mother was taking video #nofilter and no way to disguise my sleepless life. I was dating someone new, but neither of us had a Christmas budget. All the packages were coming from my sweet mom and dad.
Imagine my kids’ joy when they opened their new coats, hats, gloves, and boots. Wrong! And we caught all the complaining on film. Even though it was one of the worst winters on record and snow was as high as my mother’s eaves, they were not thrilled. My 3 and 5-year-old sons had grown so much they couldn’t zip their leather bomber jackets, but still cried when I said it was time to give their old coats up.
We decided to put the new coats on, load the kids in our VW Van and go to see the lights on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. The kids were crying and I was the Queen of this particular pity party! I had been feeling sorry for myself all day.
As we drove to Temple square the radio reported that local homeless shelters were overflowing due to the extremely cold weather. There was a shortage of blankets and coats. Anyone having coats or blankets to donate should go to the shelter and drop them off as soon as possible. It was a crisis.
We just happened to be an exit away from one of the shelters. We pulled off the freeway through mountains of snow and chugged into an icy parking lot. The shelter looked like a refurbished grocery store with automatic sliding doors. People were in line behind the glass doors.
We parked and the kids began piling out of the van, while I gathered their old coats. My kids were crying and complaining. The boys were refusing to let go of their old jackets when the glass doors slid open and a man pushing a shopping cart came out.
The man’s clothes looked paper thin for the freezing winter weather. We all froze. Startled at the gaunt figure. The cart was full of layers of newspaper and I wondered if he was going to use them to pad his clothing.
“They’re full!” he called to us as he came closer. “But don’t worry, there is a Christmas dinner being served at the freeway underpass and I will find you a place to keep warm.” I was shocked. There he was with nothing in the world but a shopping cart full of paper and he was taking care of us!
“It’s ok.” I stammered. “We are just bringing coats to donate.”
He smiled and said, “Kids! Look! Coats!” The papers fell away and two small children in torn, dirty t-shirts emerged. My heart broke and all I could do was hold out the coat in my hand. Meanwhile, silently, my kids began throwing in the leather bomber jacket, all the other coats, their new gloves, and their new hats.
The kids in the cart will forever be burned into my memory and heart. Joyfully they celebrated as they put on the coats and hats. “Merry Christmas!” Their father called as he wheeled them over the icy ground towards the freeway. And suddenly I knew. I knew no matter how bad my life was, there was always something I could do for someone else.
There will always be someone in more need than me and some way for me to forget myself and see angels among us like this sweet man. This man, who had nothing, and yet was ready to take care of all of us.
I did stink! I had been indulging in self-pity when all around me were opportunities to love others. The Savior was born on Christmas day to a circumstance as humble as this man and yet we celebrate that birth and look to that small baby in a manger to save all of mankind.
Christmas. The first Christmas was never about getting. It was always about giving. The message that changed the world and caused the angels in Heaven to sing was one of love and hope for all mankind, even you and me. Even when we stink just a little.
Here is a Thanksgiving message from Elliott. He grew up to smile and can’t wait for Christmas Day.