Bethany wrote a song, guys! To accompany Book 5—”Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti.” Come listen and wear a sweater (because it gave me chills)

I hardly know how to write this post because nothing like this has happened before. I’m on the floor (because I was floored, literally) to receive an email from Bethany Cousins, a reader who’s become a friend (a side benefit I never realized that comes with writing: new friends!). She, with her husband (i.e. NuminousBand), wrote a beautiful song to go with Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti: “I Found My Life.”

I’m floored (and this floor needs mopping, but I can’t focus on that right now) because this song is so amazing: the melody, the key shifts, the words all so perfectly fit the book. I pictured Mahrree singing it, and I sobbed. Seriously, I sobbed. Listen to it, right here: (lyrics are below)

“I Found My Life”

V1
Darkness covered our steps
The woods were calling us deep into the night
What once meant danger has now turned
Into the safest place to hide

PC1
The impossible came to be before my weary eyes

C
When I found my life
Over the mountains, beyond the trees
My heart found a home
When I stepped out into the valley

V2
I cannot begin to count the years
That I have searched for something more
A life spent fighting for the truth
And now I’m hiding from the world

PC2
But I’m already forgetting what I left behind

C
When I found my life
Over the mountains, beyond the trees
My heart found a home
When I stepped out into the valley

B
Here is peace, here is mercy
Long-awaited happy ending
Promises of something better
This is what it feels like to come home

How could I ever wish for
Anything more than this
It’s everything the Creator intended
This is what it feels like to know
We are a family
We always have been

C
I found my life
Over the mountains, beyond the trees
My heart found a home
When I stepped out into the valley

Like Versa Thorne (books 6 and 7), I believe in “never letting them see my tears.” But I couldn’t hide them when I listened to this song.

I’m also floored (thank goodness my son just swept it) because I feel like I just became part of something actually magical. Someone was actually inspired by something I wrote, and they created a song for it?! An original melody is a precious gift—an exceedingly rare commodity–and for me, an impossibility. I can never come up with something original, so I’m always astonished when someone else can.

So to have the Cousins take this unique and beautiful melody, and apply it toward something I wrote, to so succinctly condense five massive books into one pure song . . . that’s gotta qualify as magic, doesn’t it?

(I also stink at poetry, as my students will testify to, so to see this story turned to poetry is another piece of magic.)

I’m so honored, and so tickled, and so needing to mop this floor, if ever I can pull myself off of it again.

Thanks, Bethany (and hubby), for “I Found My Life.” Amazing.

(And if this series is ever made into movies, I’ll insist this song gets played in the credits.)

3 ways in which parents are like God (and 3 ways we aren’t–yet)

I’ve always known that parenthood is how God teaches us to be like Him, but now that I’ve been at it for 25 years, I feel like I’m finally understanding some of those aspects. For example:

1) God WANTS to hear from us. Wherever, whenever. I know this, because currently our family is spread over the country. Five of my nine children are at home, one’s serving an LDS mission, and three are away at college. My husband also works out of state, so connecting with everyone doesn’t always happen. But on some Mondays (the day my missionary son can email home) I find that I’ve chatted, emailed, skyped, texted, or messaged everyone in my family. Those are successful days when I feel as if everyone’s still connected.

BUT, how I am not like God is that by the evening, I AM DONE! My kids will tell you that there comes a point when I loudly announce, “I do NOT want to TALK or even SEE any more children! I NEED QUIET TIME!”

Invariably this occurs after these children have already been read and prayed away to bed, and they sneak into my room while I’m trying to work on my computer to annoy me with something irrelevant. After my explosion, and they retreat to their rooms, sure enough, that’s when one of my away-children will  pop up to chat online, or my husband will skype about something.

You should see the look I give my poor husband when he skypes at those moments. “Ah,” he’ll say, “one of those pecked-to-death-by-ducks days. I’ll make this brief—”

Sometimes (ok, often) I lose it.

But God never runs out of patience, or wants time to Himself, because He doesn’t deal with time. (That still boggles my mind.) He’s got all the non-existent time in the world, and there’s never a queue for those waiting on Him.

I know this, because I’ve prayed at all hours of the day and night, and have never heard celestial bellows of, “I Have Had It With These Children—Today, I Am Done!”

Nope, He’s never going to do that.

2) When you truly love God, you just want to be with Him. I know this, because when I have been patient and kind with my kids (something I pray for every single day—“PLEASE help me be patient and kind!”) they actually want to be with me.

This occurred to me on Sunday as my youngest children squished me on the pew at church. My preschooler is getting too heavy to be on my lap, but since he’s the last, I tolerate it even as my legs lose feeling. My nine-year-old tries to lean on me at the same time because she’s too big for my lap, and my thirteen-year-old will lean on the other side because I’m convenient for when he falls asleep five minutes into the service.

And so I sit, squashed and growing numb.

For a naturally claustrophobic person, this has taken a few years to get used to, but I discovered some time ago that if my kids didn’t like me—or even tolerate me—they’d be sitting much further away. On days like that I think, “I may be doing something right.”

Or I’m just convenient, but I’ll take that.

It’s the same with our Heavenly Father. When we truly know Him and understand His nature, we want to be closer to Him. We read the scriptures more, we pray more, we include Him more in our daily mental conversations. We do all we can to feel closer to Him, and He in turn draws closer to us.

We discover He’s an ally, a friend, a confidante, and while sometimes He needs to chasten us because He loves us, His arms are outstretched still, waiting for us to come back into them.

Image result for painting of jesus with man on bench(I love this painting, “Lost and Found,” by Greg Olsen.)

As a mother, I’m not always successful in this. There are times when my children have done something so heinous (i.e. ruined an appliance/electronic device/toilet) that I have to step away in fury, or my child might be permanently wounded; not physically, but emotionally.

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To be fair, this child had permission to destroy the light fixture . . .

018

. . . only because she wouldn’t let go of the hammer, and I feared for the rest of the house.

There have been moments when I’ve wanted to throw a flood at an “evil” child and wash it far away, but then I remember that God had been warning and pleading with and trying to save His truly evil children before The Flood for 120 years while Noah labored on the ark.

But after 120 seconds, sometimes I’m ready to call down hail-fire and brimstone. (See why I’m always praying to be “patient and kind”?)

3) Heavenly Father wants to be our Father. Before I get into this, allow me backtrack—children need parents. I think this should be obvious, but almost daily I read philosophies that try to downplay the importance of parents, claiming they can be replaced by exceptional schools (I haven’t found any truly exceptional yet), well-structured day-care centers which can care for your child from before breakfast to after dinner, and a socialistic state which “serves” to alleviate the burdens of parenthood, so that adults can do what really matters—work for the betterment of the state.

Parenting, in some socialist theories, is a purely physical function, with those functions ending as soon as the child is delivered.

This isn’t how God sees parenthood. In fact, the title this all-powerful Creator of Heaven and Earth has chosen for himself is Heavenly Father. I’ve referred to Him here frequently as God which, while accurate, I think downplays His role in our lives. “God” is often seen as a distant figure, full of power and anger, ready to trick and punish His subjects in Zeus-like ways. The gods love to mess with us puny mortals.

The problem is, much of the world regards the Supreme Being of the cosmos this way. But that’s not a true image. Rather, it’s one Satan tries to promote in his effort to keeps us as far away from our Father as he can.

Our Father is an all-loving, ever-patient, ever-tender Father—to all of us. No matter our race, religion, political background, or any other potentially divisive measure, He wants to parent us, as a Perfect Parent would: solely concerned about our well-being.

Our Heavenly Father has no other agenda, no other pressing concerns, other than our eternal happiness. There’s nothing He wants more than to bring us home again with our souls intact from this life-long test we told Him we wanted to take.

Think about the best dad you know—maybe yours, maybe a friend’s. (Interestingly, a lot of people’s perceptions of God are based upon their relationships with their own fathers.) What made that dad so great? His every thought was for his kids, wasn’t it?

Just like our Heavenly Father.

But we puny mortals usually aren’t as wholly devoted to parenthood. Certainly not me, unfortunately. Sure, I’m concerned about my kids, put aside my own plans to help them with theirs, and often forsake sleep, food, and sanity to help them when they’re troubled.

But even as I type this morning, I’m interrupted by my daughter getting ready for school, my son splashing in his bath, my other son  failing again to wake up . . . and here I sit typing. (Notice how I said they’re interrupting me—how I come first, instead of them?) I’m not 24-hours-a-day focused on my children.

“Helicopter parenting,” on the other hand, is not God-like parenting, either, because it’s not done out of concern for children, but out of anxiety of what society may think of us as parents.

While wholly attentive, Heavenly Father is not a helicopter parent. He allows us to make mistakes, to skin our knees, even to punch our siblings, because He knows this life is a test, and no one ever learns from a test if they’re not allowed to actually take it. He allows us to fail so that we can begin to improve.

However, I admit there are times I probably should be more attentive than I am, so that the above-mentioned ruined appliances/devices/toilets don’t get ruined.

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Or so that this, for example, doesn’t happen.

That’s not a problem Heavenly Father faces. A nearly-ruined earth, maybe, but nothing that His Son cannot heal. No, Heavenly Father is far more focused and far more in the details of our lives than we’ll ever understand while in mortality.

Only when we get to the other side and review our existence will we see how often He nudged a situation for us, or diverted a disaster, or steadied us, much like we steady our own children as they learn to ride a bike. Rarely do they know, in their excitement that first time without training wheels, how closely we’re running behind them and straightening their bikes until they can do it themselves.

Likewise, we’ll be surprised to see how often our Heavenly Dad’s hand was touching our lives to make sure we stayed on course.

People occasionally ask me why I have so many kids, and I give my usual, flippant answer of “My husband and I really don’t know. What keeps causing this? Can you explain it to me? Draw diagrams?”

But once another answer came to my mind, when my Heavenly Father was gently nudging me to not be so trivial.

The answer was, So that I can learn to be more like my Heavenly Parents.

Because yes, there is a Heavenly Mother, too, but my theory is that She’s dealing with the children not yet born, or who have already died and gone back, so Heavenly Father is dealing with those of us on “away missions” while She focuses on those “back home.” Even Heavenly Parents have a division of labor.

I also have a lot of children because I’m a very slow learner (no, we figured out how they’re conceived a few years ago—glad we got that cleared up). Each child has taught me a different aspect of how my Heavenly Father wishes me to be, and I’m needing lots of years of practice to start getting close to His vision for me.

But, fortunately, I have Perfect Examples to follow.

Mahrree often felt as if she were looking into the eyes of the Creator Himself as Gleace listened earnestly to Peto’s description of kickball, offered advice to Deck on selecting cattle to start his herd, chuckled at Jaytsy’s explanation of her mother’s first attempt to garden, and laughed at hearing how Perrin became a cat owner. He paid full attention to each of them, as if no one else existed, and what they had to say was the most important thing ever.

Mahrree knew there were some people who envisioned the Creator as a great and terrible Being, full of impatient vengeance for the fallibility of His creations.

But Mahrree had always pictured someone else: a perfect Father who wanted to make sure His children knew they were loved and cared about. ~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti

High Polish Tatra mountains

America’s the land of revolutions; let’s start another one!

There are revolutions happening all around us in America, but we don’t always recognize them. But once we do, we realize we can be part of them.

If we dare.

Most of these revolutions arise from breaking with the status quo of our ancestors. And not just talking about change, but actually being part of it. Too often we spout niceties about being original and different, but in reality we’re terrified to not follow the crowd. Too frequently we want to be in on the latest trend, say the right thing in whatever is deemed politically correct for the day, and to be counted among the winners.

And that last reason—to be among the winners—is why people are afraid to be different.

For example, while so many people are personally opposed to both of the major political candidates running for president, they’ll vote for one of them anyway because that’s how it’s always been.

But that doesn’t have to be. We can begin to change the system, this year.

I know that’s scary talk, and I heard someone comment that this isn’t the time for a revolution, but revolutions are happening all the time. Every day people are rejecting what corporations and governments, and what tradition and the status quo, have been dictating should be.

This has always been the way change begins—not with large organizations or ensconced traditions, but with individuals. Margaret Mead famously said,

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Citizens have always taken it upon themselves to instigate change. Back in 1776 Thomas Paine published “Common Sense,” advocating that the colonies separate themselves from Britain. An individual—not a corporation or organization—gave other citizens the idea to break with the current tradition and be brave enough to begin the Revolutionary War.

Not that all acts by individuals will lead to such dramatic events (and there were certainly many more factors contributing to the war). But people have been going contrary to the prevailing winds for a long time. Eleanor Roosevelt once said,

“Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one.”

What this means, as Hugh Nibley has written, is that we need to “Be different. Then you can make a contribution. Otherwise, you just echo something; you’re just a reflection.”

Emil Neufeldt 002

Emil Neufeldt

Many years ago, the Nazi party tried to make my great-grandfather into a reflection. Emil Neufeldt, who lived in the Prussian region of Germany during WWII, was a wealthy inventor and engineer, with great influence in the sugar industry. The Nazis knew someone with his stature and money would be beneficial to their cause, so in the 1930s they sent one of their best to recruit him.

My great-grandfather wanted nothing to do with the Nazis, but knew that openly opposing them could cause him trouble. So he came up with an idea. Known to be able to hold his alcohol, Emil drank the Nazi recruiter under the table. Then he marched to the local Nazi headquarters and demanded they drag their recruiter home. He told them in no uncertain terms they should never dare again try to make him one of their own.

Did Emil Neufeldt stop World War II? No.

Did he stop the Nazis? No.

Did he secure safety for his family and household, and not be bothered by embarrassed and humiliated fascists again? Yes, he did.

He made a difference in his small part of the world, and eighty years later his great-granddaughter proudly remembers his example of not following the dubious safety of authority. (Even though it involved alcohol.)

My mother also told me of a Catholic priest in their area who, in the early years of WWII, preached openly about the atrocities of the Nazis, and publicly questioned where all the Jews were going.

He vanished shortly after, never to be heard from again. Did he change the world then? Stop the Nazis? Discover and reveal what was happening to the disappearing Jews?

No.

He likely met their same fate in some concentration camp. But his bravery is remembered, right here, today. His words and worries and defiance was repeated, many times over by others just as daring, and eventually the war ended and the horrible truth was revealed.

We don’t remember mere reflections. We remember innovators. We remember those who changed the world, for better and for worse.

We remember contrarians. The word coined by Richard and Linda Eyre means”to go against the prevailing wisdom, to contradict what the majority seems to be thinking or doing. [A] ‘contrarian’ . . . describe[s] someone who thinks for himself and who is not swayed by trends or popularity or styles or the direction of the crowd.”

This is happening, all around us. Contrarianism frequently means rejecting foolish traditions of the past.

For example, when I was a teenager in the 1980s rampant consumerism was the tradition. You were openly judged based upon what you wore, what you have, and how big your house was. (Anyone remember Yuppies or “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”?) The era of McMansions was also born, then: gargantuan houses which no one could fill, and later, no one could afford.

But what’s the movement now? Tiny houses. Brilliantly constructed, carefully planned, and usually financially prudent, tiny homes are becoming the answer for many people who can’t afford even to rent.

So who started this trend? A man named Jay Shafer, along with Greg Johnson, Shay Salomon, and Nigel Valdez began the Small House Society back in 2002.  Not a corporation, not an organization, but a “small group of thoughtful, committed citizens” are striving to make housing affordable for everyone.

The government certainly isn’t behind this change. They’re still calling for us to spend, spend, spend in order to improve the economy. Remember a few years back when the feds sent us cash hoping to “stimulate” financial growth? There was no lasting benefits.

In the 1980s and 90s, the tradition to show you have “arrived” was to own a designer handbag. Now, companies like Coach are struggling, along with many department stores and malls, because consumerism was discovered to not be all that it was hyped to be.

The funny thing is, if you’re unhappy, buying stuff won’t fix that. The rising generations, already stuck with debt, logically and contrarily don’t feel like generating more just for a random symbol of status their mothers and grandmothers erroneously thought was so important.

Nowadays, there’s a quiet revolution toward minimalism; people deliberately getting rid of stuff, downsizing their homes, possessions, and priorities. Many websites and books can teach you how to toss all that weighs you down, to organize what you have left, and live a more peaceful, tranquil, simple life.

Again, these are led by individuals who, contrarian-like, have rejected the status quo and have discovered something much more satisfying. And it’s happening all around us.

When I was a child in the 1970s, I first heard about vegetarians, and the idea to avoid eating meat both alarmed and intrigued me. But vegetarians were hippies! Free-loving weirdos and tree huggers! What a non-traditional folk! (And a lot of folks over sixty still regard vegetarians this way, so be warned when you bring it up.) Never mind that there have always been those who have eschewed meat: veganism was only for those on the fringe.

But no longer. While advertisements try to push us toward more meat and protein and dairy products, consumption has declined in the past years. The burger places for which people in the 1960s-1980s developed such affinities are finding themselves struggling against a growing number of restaurants offering healthy alternatives. The web is awash in thousands of vegetarian sites, and what was once on the fringes of contrariness is now mainstream.

Again, no corporation or governmental entity has led the movement for healthier eating. (Sorry, Mrs. Obama.) People have decided, after being inspired by other thoughtful individuals such as T. Colin Campbell and “The China Study”, to eat healthier. Subsequent weight loss and markedly improved health are more powerful inducements than any kind of advertisement.

Need further proof of how we’re rejecting what a generation ago believed was so important? If you’re a millennial, you won’t know that starting in the 1970s we were involved in the cola wars, and those extended until the 1990s. Battles in advertisements between Coke and Pepsi were fought viciously to win our loyalty. This explains why your grandmother may refuse to eat at a certain restaurant because they don’t serve diet Pepsi. She’s still a victim of that bloodless battle to win her devotion. Never mind that soda is as unhealthy and addictive as sugared hummingbird water; cola was king.

1985 ad, when we believed one soda might be “better” for us than another.

Mercifully, people have come to realize that they needn’t define themselves by what foods and beverages they’re loyal to.

In fact, I’ve heard of many in my generation and older are stunned to hear their descendants may drink only water, and never want to eat at McDonald’s. No, this isn’t some kind of treachery; it’s individuals thinking for themselves, looking past the hype and realizing there’s nothing of substance to back it up. 

Along those lines, it may also shock and surprise you that there are families who do not want to ever visit Disneyland. Although the masses and advertising claim it to be the “happiest place on earth,” standing in lines and paying for exorbitant entrance prices, food, and swag doesn’t make everyone happy. You may be startled to know that some contrarians’ children will never walk on that hallowed ground, because they and their parents prefer the solitude, quiet, and low entrance fees of national parks.

Contrarians also show up in education, and have been for many years. Common Core and the associated scripts and texts which pander to it, are driving many families to homeschooling which, three decades ago, was a fringe alternative but is now almost trendy and fast becoming the new tradition.

And if you were around in the 1980s, you  might remember a crass movie called “Revenge of the Nerds.” Now, geek culture is the culture, contrary to what anyone would have believed 30 years ago.

Our attitudes of what is “acceptable” and how things “should” be are changing all the time.

Why can’t our attitudes then also change about how we elect a president?

Most Americans still feel obligated to side with either the Republicans or Democrats, even if they feel neither represents them.  And the arguments they use are old and tired: “Because of the electoral college, only a Republican or Democrat will win.”

Or, a vote for anyone else besides Republican or Democrats means, “Your vote will be wasted.”

Rephrased it’s, “Being different will mean you’ll be left out.”

Doesn’t that hearken back to every fear we had as kids? Not being part of the “in” group?

Too many of us adults still harbor those worries, desperate to be part of “the group” so that we matter. In my limited observations, it’s those middle aged and older who are most worried about being obedient to the brand of Republican or Democrat they were brought up with. They still think (hope?) all Republicans are like Reagan and all Democrats are like the Roosevelts.

Now consider this: how often has the “in” group made poor choices which affected thousands and even millions? Begin by listing obvious dictators, and count which societies are still doing well under them.

Think about all the examples I’ve just shown you about individuals making a difference, influencing others around them to be contrarians. Why can’t we extend this bravery and independent thought to overturn an antiquated and manipulative system for something that really works?

Now is the time for each of us to individually say, “I will no longer support this.” Revolutions don’t have to be bloody, angry things. In fact, nearly all of the examples of positive change I listed above have been thoughtful movements.

“As we watch the directions that society is taking we see the folly, and in our most lucid moments, we don’t want to follow the trends, we want to depart from them — to think more clearly and chart our course on light and truth rather than on the herd instinct that seems to dictate what most people do.” ~Richard and Linda Eyre [emphasis added]

Too often we believe that there are only two options: the established way, and the wrong way. But rhetorically speaking, this is a logical fallacy. If you’ve ever worked for a boss who claims it’s only his way or the highway, you know how miserable that situation can be, and it usually signals a business is in big trouble.

Refusing to see other possibilities is what traps us. There are ALWAYS more options—to any situation, problem, or ideal.

Change never comes from the establishment or a corporation. It always arises from insightful, thoughtful, brave individuals who refuse to believe “there’s no other way.”

My neighbor recently demonstrated this by showing just how few Americans really support the Republican and Democratic parties.

#iamsomeone (And, importantly, Dallin Crump’s just an individual who wants to illustrate a point; he receives no funding or sponsorships. He’s just a “someone,” a “thoughtful citizen,” trying to change America. The fact that millions of people have also viewed and shared this suggests he’s not alone).

It’s up to us to stop being afraid of being different, to embrace contrarianism, to stand up against the tide and slow it down, even if only for a little a bit.

incite change

“I have spent many years of my life in opposition, and I rather like the role.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt

I haven’t voted for either party in twenty years. At times, I’ve even written in candidates who I felt would be excellent leaders. I don’t feel my votes were wasted; I feel my conscience was satisfied.

We ourselves might not experience rewards from our subtle civil disobedience by not voting for either the Republican or Democratic candidate, but our children or grandchildren may.

It’s not necessarily for us that we stand up at this election, or at any other time, to defy the status quo. It’s for those who follow.

Generations from now, may we be remembered as the Thomas Paines, the Emil Neufeldts, and the Catholic Priests who did something more than meekly follow the noisiest crowd. We should be–must be–remembered as those who lent a hand in turning the country around.

“It’s rare,” Gleace told them, “that anyone in the world comes up with new ideas, or pokes at old notions to discover if what everyone believes is actually true. But you,” he smiled slyly at Perrin and Mahrree, “you poked all the time. And that’s how you got here.”

“Our poking caused trouble,” Mahrree pointed out.

“Ah, but the very best kind!” Gleace declared. “The kind that makes people question everything they know. People need to be poked every now and then.”

~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti

Are you going to let the latest tragedy make you harder, or softer?

It’s happened yet again. Another horrific event/accident/terrorism incident, and in the comments of the articles and in social media we see blaming of the victim: If only they’d watched their child better, or If only they hadn’t been at that place at that time, or If only they’d been more careful, less stupid.

If only they’d been better. Like me.

I’ll admit these thoughts have occasionally hurtled through my brain when I’ve read about the latest tragedies, trying to think frantically how I would have avoided it, how I wouldn’t have let such a horrific thing happen to those I love, or to myself.

As if my placing blame on the victim will somehow ensure I’m never such a victim.

But that’s not how it works.

Everyone—even, and especially, the most innocent—can be a victim.

It’s high time we stop piling inappropriate guilt on to those who desperately need our empathy and help.

Admit it—we’ve all done things that we’ve been eternally relieved had no lasting consequences. Perhaps it’s involved our children. I’ll admit that I’ve accidentally left a child at a store/gas station, had a non-swimming child fall into a pool, and also into a lake. (In my case, this was all the same child, and I know the angels have been running full speed to ensure she’s made it to age 17.)

We’ve all had moments of distraction when driving, and nearly caused—or perhaps did cause—an accident. (I’ve been the victim of that.)

We’ve all had moments of pain and distress or anger where we’ve said something inappropriate, or set off a series of events we regret, perhaps for the rest of our lives. (I won’t go into details of when I did that. Let’s just say there’s a list.)

It’s because we’re human, and while the Savior’s statement of “He that is without sin, let him first cast a stone” was meant to humble the Pharisees who wanted to condemn an adulterous woman, I also see this phrase as a comforting reminder: We all screw up. None of us are without sin.

However, that’s not what scares us the most about tragedies. What scares us to our core is that even those utterly innocent of any wrong-doing can suffer in horrific ways.

What shocks us is that we can be very good people, and still have very bad things happen to us. No matter how much we try to blame and shame that, it doesn’t change the truth: all of us can become a victim.

For example, it’s easy to blame lung cancer patients for their misery. “Smoking causes cancer,” is something we all know. But did you know that 10-15% of all lung cancer occurs in people who have never smoked?

Sometimes, bad things just happen.

Or take the story of Michelle Williams, a pregnant mom riding in a car with her family, who was struck and killed, along with two of her children and her unborn baby, by a teenaged drunk driver. What did she do wrong to deserve that tragedy? Nothing.

That’s what really terrifies us: becoming an innocent victim.

And that’s where the real test begins: How do we react when we are innocent victims, or when we see others become victims?

This entire life is one long test: of our attitudes, our criticism, our compassion, our hearts. Every day, every moment, every event large or small, is designed to see what kind of person we’re becoming.

Sometimes, the tragedy strikes us personally. That’s the most heart-ripping moments of our lives. How we respond is the real test.

Michelle Williams, the expecting mom who died, left behind a husband and additional children. How Chris Williams responded to the deaths is nothing less than astonishing: He forgave, that very night, the teenager who killed his family. Interestingly, when Chris Williams was a teenager, a boy darted out in front of his car, and was killed by Chris. He knew what it felt like to be on the other side of the tragedy, helping to cause it. He forgave, because he needed and received forgiveness himself.

But more frequently, we’re bystanders to the tragedy, and with the internet, we’re afforded a gory front-row view to everything that happens in the world.

Perhaps here is the bigger challenge: how do we regard the suffering of others, especially when we’re presented with it every day?

It’s easy to grow cynical. “Oh, another shooting. Well, nothing good happens in a bar at 2 am anyway. Big surprise.”

It’s also easy to say, “They deserved that. What did that family think would happen to them, living in Syria?”

And it’s supremely easy to proclaim, “I’d never let my kids wander off, or be snatched out of my firm grip by a measly old alligator.”

Because it’s so much harder to accept that such a fate could hit us too. We like to cling to the idea that we’re special, we’re above pain. Nothing awful should–or would dare–happen to us.

But hardening ourselves to the suffering of others isn’t the answer. Becoming callous and finger-pointers, especially when we point at the victims, doesn’t save us; it condemns us.

I love these words from an ancient king named Benjamin, in 124 BC:

 “Succor those that stand in need of your succor . . . Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself this misery; therefore I will stay my hand . . . for his punishments are just—

“But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent . .  For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God . . .?”

Why don’t we show a charitable heart and attitude to those who suffer? Perhaps we’re afraid of becoming soft, of feeling too much for them, or of being dragged into their misery.

But I think feeling empathy for those who suffer, and even stepping up to help when we can, does far more for us than remaining callous. When we grieve with the victims, we process our own fears, and become more attuned to those around us. We become more Godlike. The ancient prophet Enoch saw God weeping over the children of the world. “Wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?”

I remember when the Sandy Hook elementary shootings occurred in 2012, where 20 children were gunned down. When I went to drop off my daughter to school, I saw many parents giving their kids extra hugs as they left, because none of us know when the last time may be the very last time.

That’s the attitude we need to take in the wake of every tragedy: Rather than blaming the victims (and yes, even in the Sandy Hook shooting I saw plenty of fingers pointing at the innocent) we instead need to cherish who and what we still have.

There are many theories and beliefs as to why bad things happen, but perhaps this is the easiest to grasp: To remind us to never take anything or anyone for granted.

With every scene of horror and terror, we can be reminded, daily, of how precious life is. How everyone deserves our love and attention, every day. How we can’t afford to hold on to pettiness, to self-righteousness, to old anger and wounds, because the purpose of this life isn’t to make us harder.

The purpose of this life is to make us soft. 

make us soft

“And you think being soft is a bad thing? Oh, no. Softness is vital. Softness is life. The Creator Himself is soft. No greater compliment could be given to you.”

~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti. Now available at Amazon and Smashwords and here

Are you sure you’re happy? 12 Traits of Happy People

Despite the world’s best efforts, it’s not impossible to be happy.

That was the premise I began with as I stared at another dismal news day. Instead of ranting here about what’s wrong in the world, as usual, I decided instead to spend a few days observing how people remain happy, especially when all around is misery. I’ve been surprised and intrigued by what I’ve noticed.
Here are the results of my very unscientific observations:

1) Happy people have not lived trouble-free lives. Contrary to what you may think, happy people frequently have waded through a great deal of grief. Illness, financial woes, death, homelessness, divorce: some of the happiest people have been handed some of the roughest ordeals. But they’ve learned to cope, to adapt, and to fiercely—insistently—find the joy in their trials. They choose to find joy. Probably because of this . . .

2)  Happy people are generous. They will give their time, their love, their talents, even their money to ease the burdens of others. They’ve discovered that one of the many ways happiness comes is by giving it to someone else.

3) Happy people live for others. They’re not focused on themselves, which they’ve discovered is the surest way to become miserable. The happiest people are those who volunteer their time, who take care of those who can’t give anything back to them, and who rarely think of themselves.

4) Happy people are humble. They don’t boast about their accomplishments, or who they know, or what they own. In fact, you’d be surprised by just how much they’ve done with their lives, if ever you were to find out, because they don’t advertise it.

5) Happy people rarely talk about themselves. In conversations, they’ll focus all of their attention on you. When they ask about your day, they really want to know. When you leave their presence, you’ll feel like the most important person in the world, and only later will you realize you heard very little about them.

6) Happy people are respectful. They will not ridicule, mock, or deride you. They may gently tease, but are careful to never drag you down, like crabs in a bucket. They respect your decisions, even if you don’t respect theirs.

7) Happy people are content. They are satisfied with the choices they’ve made in their lives, so they have no issues with the choices you make in yours. They may make suggestions because they’re concerned about your happiness, but they’ll never force you to accept their way of doing things. They will let you live your life, your way.

8) Happy people smile. When you see happy people, you know it. By their eyes, which radiate joy, their smiles, which are genuine, and their body position, which is open and inviting. They have nothing to hide, nothing to guard, and everything to share.

9) Happy people are kind. To everyone and everything. They smile at children, give a weary parent a nod of approval, assist the elderly, and even pick up items that have fallen off of shelves at the store, because they want to make some employee’s day just that much easier. Happy people are those who gently shoo away bugs instead of squashing them, and who will politely ask the stray dog to not befoul their gardens.

10) Happy people are honest. About you, about themselves, about the world around them. They don’t deceive, and they don’t cover up the truth, especially about themselves. If they are at fault, or if they have caused harm, they will ask forgiveness and actively seek to make restitution.  Happy people take full responsibility for their behavior and consequences, because they don’t want to cause unhappiness in others.

11) Happy people don’t take offense. Even if it’s intended. They just let the words roll off their backs, like water off a duck, and generously decide that the potential offender has merely had a bad day. Happy people think the best of people in all circumstances, not the worst. In fact, it may be hard to convince a happy person that someone is truly bad. They just don’t want to believe it.

12) Happy people are at peace.  That doesn’t mean the world which they inhabit is peaceful. Indeed, some of the happiest people I’ve observed have been calm in the most chaotic of situations. But they are at peace with themselves, with their choices, with who they are becoming, and most importantly, they are at peace with God, whose peace surpasses all understanding.

A quote from President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “He created us to have joy,” on an orange watercolor background.

I see happy people everywhere, when I bother to look for them. Each of the items I’ve listed above I’ve noticed a happy person doing. (It was my dad who would politely ask dogs to leave our yard; he was the most peaceful man I’ve ever known. And yes, the dogs would leave, every time. He’d thank them, too.)

So how do we all become such happy people? I’m still working on that. It’s the old chicken-and-the-egg question, I suppose. But one thing I’ve noticed in myself is when I do my best to have these happy traits–if I “feel” it or not–my happiness level automatically increases.

This is what I’ve discovered:

happiness is a choice

Watch for them, the happy people. Tell me what other traits you observe in them, in yourself.

Notice when you feel joy. It may be more frequently than you realize.
Most importantly, share that joy with others. We all need more happy people in our world.

There’d always be pain, and always suffering, Perrin knew–

“And also always relief, and also always joy. That’s the trial of life, son, and it all works for our good. But it will always end in joy, Perrin.”
~Book 5,
Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti

Why in the world am I giving away my books for free?

As I’ve done with my other books, I’m offering Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti for free as a .pdf file on my website.

Book 5 FRONT COVER kindle

Click on the image above to access the .pdf file. Yeah, for free. Seriously. No strings attached. (I’m not that kind of a girl.)

No, this makes absolutely no financial sense whatsoever. It’s the second place I’m offering it for free (Smashwords has the download for free) and when Amazon notices, it too will make it for free (maybe in a week or so; I have no control over that).

So why in the world am I doing this?

Because it’s not about money. Nothing, really, should ever be about money.

It’s because in many ways I feel I was given this book, like a rough blueprint, along with a pile of supplies, and told to “Go for it.”

I’ll be the first to admit I’m a clumsy builder, but for the past few years I’ve been constructing a book series I’ve absolutely loved! Writing and rewriting has brought such immense joy, and I want to share it, with as many people as possible. I don’t want a few bucks to come in the way of someone accessing it, and while the paperbacks cost a bit, I literally do not make anything from them. The prices are set to the barest minimum I’m allowed to set them to. (Even I have to pay to get them!)

You see, years ago the phrase, “Freely given, freely shared,” came to me, and while I’ll average about 30-40 hours a week writing and editing and working on this series and website, I don’t feel right about profiting from them. The reasons why are explained in detail in Book 5, as you’ll see.

But because this blueprint and supplies were “Freely given” to me by our Creator, I feel He wants me to “freely share” them with you. Yes, I’ve put in a ton of labor, but I’ve been compensated in other ways, if not monetarily.

No, I’m not independently wealthy. Our income qualifies us for a variety of social services which we choose not to accept, because we can get by just fine since we’ve learned to temper our desires and we don’t chase after the trends of the world.

I feel deeply, earnestly, about the messages of these books, and Book 5 in particular, which I spent a year studying and researching before I attempted to start writing.

So share freely, enjoy, and get the word out: “There’s this slightly mad woman giving away her books. Snatch them up, quick, before she comes to her senses!” (No worry there; I’ve never come to my senses. I have no idea where they are, and they aren’t too worried about looking for me, either.)

Book 5 IS HERE! Get it in e-book or paperback!

It’s HERE! Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti, Book 5 is now available as an e-book ($.99) and in paperback ($13.50) (soon to be as a paperback on Amazon, too).

You can also find it on Smashwords for FREE!  

(Why for free? When you read Chapter 13, I think you’ll understand. “Freely given, freely shared.” And where the heck is Medicetti? You’ll find out . . .)

book 5 published announcementThank you for your patience, and enjoy! (I’m gonna take a nap now . . .)

Book 5 teaser–Refuse to see the shining light

High Polish Tatra mountains

They will also refuse to acknowledge the darkness, even as they crash around blindly. 

The ancient Israelite prophet Isaiah wrote:

Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20)

I can’t bear to list all the ways the world is spinning in the dark right now (Obama’s recent declaration that all restrooms and locker rooms–even and especially in public schools–be “gender neutral” has me too nauseated to write about it).

However, even though our governments and our so-called leaders may be waaaay off the mark on many issues, we as individuals don’t need to follow. We each have our ability to think, to ponder, to declare that we will continue to see the light, that we will recognize the darkness, and that we will not–no matter how many times everyone tells us otherwise–we will NOT see that the sky is merely blue.

Take a good, hard look at it. Today, the tiny section I see out my window is blue, but when I get up and view the entire sky, in the distance there are huge clouds, billowing and approaching.

See the entire sky, and the entire world, for what it really is. Identify the light. Recognize the darkness, and don’t let anyone with power, or money, or charisma convince you that you see otherwise.

Three years ago I wrote about the strange habit we have of thinking that “the sky is blue.”

It isn’t.

My first book, The Forest at the Edge of the World makes the argument that while everyone thinks the sky is blue, that’s only an illusion. It’s actually black. (So quit telling your kids it’s blue.)

We have to be brave enough to take a good, hard look at the world, and to make a judgment about what we see. Oh, how we’re so afraid to do that! We’re so afraid of offending the world that cares nothing for us. In the meantime, we offend our Heavenly Father, who truly loves us.

We need to not be afraid to declare, “No, this is wrong. I will not agree, I will not give in, and I will not refuse to see the light.”

I won’t guarantee there won’t be repercussions for going against the world. You will be knocked down, likely not by some high government official, but probably by your social media “friends.” I’ve taken to hiding in my closet on a regular basis when I, once again, write up something that, as the comments and railings pour in, I regret . . . but only for a moment. Every time I think, “Oh, why did I put that out there? Look at the conflict it’s generating! I hate that!”

I hate fighting. I hate arguing. I hate thinking that people don’t like me. (I’m such a 7th grader sometimes.)

But I hate more seeing the good in the world being labeled as evil, the bitter replacing the sweet, the darkness trying to smother the light.

Here’s the great thing about our world right now: all of us can find a forum where we can stand up and declare where the light really is, and what the dark’s trying to do. Most of us won’t shine too brightly. I know I’ve personally got the illuminating power of a penlight on aging batteries, but that’s ok. I borrow strength from the many brave bloggers and writers and religious leaders of many faiths who boldly shine their brighter lights on the darkness.

And here’s the awesome thing: light, shining together, gets brighter together.

And here’s the even more awesome thing: it takes only one light to dispel absolute darkness.

Book 5 teaser–Good way to burst?

High Polish Tatra mountains

I’m ready to burst too! And I think it’s in a good way!

The paperback proof for Book 5: Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti will be in my hands by the end of the week, then it’s one more read and edit, some formatting for the ebook versions, and then PUBLISHED! My hope is to get it out before Memorial Day, if not sooner. I’ll keep you posted!

(In the meantime, I’m already working on fine-tuning Book 6. Yes, there are books 6, 7, and 8. All of them are drafted, and all of them will be out in the next three years. Oh dear, I’m so giddy that I feel a burst coming on! I better get a sponge. And by the way, sounds like Shem’s got an admirer in Book 5 . . .)

Book 5 Cover Reveal!

Book 5 Front Cover

Woo-hoo! One huge step down, about a dozen more to go until I can launch Book 5: Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti.

It WILL be out before May is over. I don’t yet dare set a date because then the Anxiety Gods see that number and take it as a challenge to thoroughly undo me before then.

But I’m deep into final edits and formatting which, because there are three completely different platforms for print and ebooks, with each taking about 10 hours for someone technically-disabled such as myself to properly format, means I need lots of chocolate chips to get me through and I’m trying to give up sugar right now. Yeah, I chose a bad time for that.

But it WILL get done!

In the meantime, thanks again to my oldest son for standing in for the cover, even though he and his siblings keep saying, “What did you do to him? It’s Teagan, but it’s not Teagan.”

“I know,” I tell them. “Because now he’s Peto.”

“Who?”

That’s when I remember they haven’t bothered to read the books. If it doesn’t have a Star Wars character on the cover (Happy May the Fourth everyone!) they won’t touch it.

(For my next book cover, I’ll put a Wookiee in the background so it’ll trick my family into reading it. Actually, a Wookiee would fit pretty good on this cover . . . I think I need to do a bit more photoshopping.)