Watch "Brother's Keeper" ~a powerful book trailer by Christa Jaussi
Sharing this book is a sincere pleasure. I don't know anyone who hasn't been touched by suicide in their lives. The joyful holidays can lead some of us to compare ourselves to others or to feel alone, pressured. This holiday, I hope Christa Jaussi's book reminds you that connection and loves ones are priceless, and that you matter. Every
Thursday I feature an author committed to writing clean or inspirational books. Each time, I am moved by the quality of authors and the importance of their work. This book, Brother's Keeper-a fictional novel based on author's experience of losing brother to suicide-, by Christa Jaussi has important content for our times. We are losing too many of our young people. Although it is fiction, it can start conversations and open dialogues with family members about suicide.
Christa Jaussi lost her brother to suicide in 2005...
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.
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.
42 And there came a certain apoor widow, and she threw in two bmites, which make a farthing.
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:
44 For all they did cast in of their aabundance; but she of her bwant did ccast in dall that she had, even all her living.”
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.
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?
Have you ever lost someone? Are you navigating life challenges and wonder how you will make it thought? Carried is the uplifting story loss, hope, and miracles. It is also the story of a woman who lives by faith.
I am enjoying Deseret Book’s audio version. Michelle shares a lifetime of faith, including marrying a musician.
It is my great privilege to be able to participate. I look forward to sending the winners signed books. What else would you like? If you could win anything from an author what would you ask for? Name it! Let’s celebrate Michelle Schmidt’s story and Mrs. Lady Wordsmiths quest for quality books.
“On October 19, 2016, Michelle Schmidt’s plane landed in Oregon, where she was meeting her daughter, Annie, for a camping trip. But Annie didn’t show up at the airport to pick up her mother as planned.
Thus began a season of searching and coming up short, of miracles and frustrations, of love poured out and faith tested, until Annie’s body was finally discovered more than three weeks later in the Columbia River Gorge, where she had fallen while hiking.
As Annie’s mother opens her heart to tell her story, her husband’s story (Jon Schmidt of The Piano Guys), and Annie’s story, she writes: “It is my hope that my journey of being tutored by God to trust Him more—not only through the loss of Annie but through some of my most vulnerable and personal past experiences—will be the means of bringing strength and hope to anyone suffering at this time.”
When the unthinkable happened, Michelle Schmidt made a choice: to trust in God. This remarkable book will give readers the courage and inspiration to make that same choice.”
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.
I was never a Mormon. Mormon was an ancient prophet in the Book of Mormon* who has been dead for many years. To top it off, someone once bought a handwritten manuscript of Mormon’s abridgment for 35 million dollars!** Trust me… I have not come close to making that kind of money as an author and no one wants to buy my messy original word doc for ten cents.
I have always been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Recently our Prophet announced we were no longer to be called or call ourselves, “Mormon,” or “LDS.” This was major news to the world. We were being “rebranded.”
This was not major news to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I had been hearing this for years! Here is a little history behind the shortened or slang term or name, “Mormon.”
In the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, according to Deseret News *** and everything I have been taught, “The church has had a complicated relationship with the term Mormon since its restoration in 1830. Church leaders long chafed at antagonists calling them Mormons and, early on, Mormonites, but in recent decades they have been more accepting of the nickname.”
Let me tell you what I think this means. In early history, there was an Extermination Order allowing people to legally kill “Mormons.” Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints were burned out of their homes, run out into the snow and driven across state lines, massacred, and generally misunderstood. “Mormon” was a slang term used in derision that we adopted ourselves and used.
However, I have speculated, as others have, that it created confusion around whether or not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints were Christians. We are.
Here are a few facts about me and some of my friends who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. We are not perfect. We are human. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I go to church in an effort to become more Christlike and grow. At church, I have been taught we can all return to live with our Heavenly Father, and I know from many church meetings, that we want everyone to be together as one big happy family again. We are taught to love everyone, no exceptions, unconditionally. We only ask the same in return. Love us as we are and let us work towards the next life as we choose. If you have questions just ask, and I will find someone who knows more than I do to answer them.
I personally don’t need rebranding. I do need people to stop calling me “Mormon.” He is a dead but respected prophet. I also need people to ask me questions, instead of guessing what I believe or telling me what they think I believe.
In all honesty, not much has changed in history, except we have stepped into the light, stopped hiding, and want you to know we hold firm to our belief in the Savior. I want my friends, co-workers, and neighbors to know I was never a Mormon, but I was always a Christian and member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
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
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!