Thoughts from a Childhood Friend

Alina

When tragedy strikes, the aftereffects impact every family member, friend and the entire community. It’s like casting a stone into a pond. As the stone hits the water, a small wave ripples out touching everyone in its path.

After I was kidnapped, investigators, reporters and curious acquaintances bombarded my family with questions. My parents felt it would be best for my family to stay home for a while. My mom was a fourth grade teacher at Valentine Elementary school in San Marino. For a few weeks, both of my parents didn’t go to work and my brother and sisters and I didn’t go to school. After a few days, I became restless and wanted to hang out with a friend. I wanted to do something “normal.” My parents finally agreed to let my friend, Alina, come over to my house one evening. I will never forget how wonderful it was to just hang out, talk, laugh, eat, and play that night with my friend, Alina.

 

Alina has written an introduction to this blog for San Marino alumni. I wanted to share her letter here. Thanks my friend!

Introduction to Through the Fire, a blog by Katherine Stone

by Alina Hunt

Many of us may remember hearing the shocking news when we were in seventh grade — “San Marino girl kidnapped!” — only to realize that this “girl” was our friend and classmate, Katherine Stone! At the time, my family had recently moved to San Marino after having immigrated from Romania just three years earlier. Moving to California was an even a bigger adjustment for me than moving to New York first, and Chicago later, after escaping  from Communist Romania. Katherine, who lived two houses down from me, became my first “real” friend during a time in my life when friendships were particularly precious and rare. She and her family made me feel like I belonged and was special. No matter how bad of a day I would have in school, whether it was negotiating the rules of softball or feeling unfashionably dressed, Kathy was there for me, always positive and encouraging.

How strange and surreal it seemed to me then to hear that she of all people was kidnapped—something my family and I never imagined could happen in our new found “paradise.”

Decades later Kathy and I still reminisce about those days and I am still amazed by her immense wisdom, inner strength and humility in the face of the harrowing, near-death situation that she faced so bravely. The blog Through the Fire, inspired by her forthcoming book of the same title, recounts through anecdotes and pictures inspirational moments of Kathy’s journey through challenging times when she was ready to “give up” had it not been for her faith and perseverance, sparked by the life lessons she learned during her childhood ordeal. Bringing hope and encouragement to others going through tough times, Through the Fire is a refreshing and thoughtful reflection on things we have all faced or may encounter someday. Kathy’s blog is something substantive and inspiring to look forward to in one’s daily Facebook news feed, which can feel so negative or superficial at times. And it makes us all the more eager to delve into her book as soon as it’s released in early 2018!

 

 

Love is a Verb ~ Without Action, it’s Merely a Word

 

Butterfly Love.jpgHiking through the hills after being kidnapped, was probably the most difficult time in my life. Having severe injuries, a blood soaked dress, covered in bruises from beatings, and being emotionally and physically exhausted, each step took extreme effort. One thought that kept me going was that I knew that if I kept walking that I would soon run into caring people who would help me to make it back home. All I had to do was make it back to civilization. I was sure that the first person that saw me would pull over their car and help me. I just needed to find one person and I would be saved! This is what I thought; however I would soon discover that I was very wrong. I would soon experience a profound sense of disappointment as car after car passed me without stopping. By passers slowed their cars enough to get a good look at me with shock and then continued to drive on. Each time this happened, my heart sunk. I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t stop and help me. As I came to a residential area, and passed people as we walked on the sidewalk, I felt that these weren’t “bad” people, yet everyone avoided me, looked away or sped off quickly. As disappointing as it was to experience how the kidnapper could be so cruel and thoughtless, the fact that others wouldn’t help me may have been even more disappointing. They looked at me as if I was “trouble”. Maybe they thought I was a runaway, homeless, or mixed up with the wrong type of people. Maybe they were afraid that if they stopped to help that they may be accused of hurting me or maybe they thought that the person who did this to me would hurt them if they got involved. Maybe they felt it was none of their business, not their responsibility; someone else will help me. Maybe they were just busy.  Maybe they never really thought about helping other people before. We will never understand why the people who passed me that day didn’t stop and help. There’s nothing we can do now to change the past. I hope by sharing my story that I can bring awareness so that we, as a society, will become brave and caring individuals and help people who desperately need our assistance.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta devoted her life to showing love to people who were dying in the streets. She picked them up, brought them to a home where they could die with love, joy and the peace of Christ. Mother Teresa spoke of loving with actions, rather than words. One time, she was inviting to a conference about ending world hunger. When she arrived to the conference, right in front of the door where hundreds of people passed to go into the conference to discuss how they would end hunger within 15 years, she found a dying man. Mother Teresa didn’t attend the conference that day, instead she brought the dying man home. He soon died – he died of hunger. Everyone in the conference talked about ending hunger, and the man that they passed on their way in died.

I wonder if one reason we don’t help others is because we judge. Did the people who passed the dying man judge him and is this why they didn’t help him? Did they feel their work in the conference was more important than the man? We are all precious to God. The man in the streets, those who are wealthy, those with disabilities, those who are healthy, all shades of skin color, you, me, and everyone – He loves all of us.

“A new command I give you; Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

Jesus spent his time loving and doing good deeds. If we are trying to live like Jesus then we need to put our love in action also. Just as our Heavenly Father sent Jesus, He sent us to love one another.

“We show love by thoughtfulness, by kindness, by sharing joy, by sharing a smile… through the little things.” Mother Teresa

Love is a verb and has to be put into action to have real meaning. We have all seen vicious arguments on social media where people are trying to convince others with their words to do good works. While many of the intentions of those arguing may have started with a good hearted intentions, talking alone isn’t enough. Instead of talking, we need to take action. We need to become comfortable being inconvenienced; to go out of our way to help others.

With all of the problems in the world, it can be difficult to know where to help. Mother Teresa has beautifully offered advice for us-

“I never look at the masses as my responsibility. I only look at the individual. I can love only one person at a time. I can only feed one person at a time. Just one, one, one. You get closer to Christ by coming closer to each other. As Jesus said, “Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do to me.” So you begin….I begin. I pick up one person – maybe if I didn’t pick up that one person I wouldn’t have picked up 42,000. The whole work is only a drop in the ocean. But if I didn’t put the drop in, the ocean would be one drop less. Same thing for you, same thing in your family, same thing in your church where you go, just begin…. One, one, one.

At the end of our life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how may great things we have done. We will be judged by ‘I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was naked and you clothed me I was homeless and you took me in.’

Hungry not only for bread – but hungry for love.

Naked not only for clothing – but naked of human dignity and respect.

Homeless not only for want of a room of bricks – but homeless because of rejection.

This is Christ in distressing disguise.” Mother Teresa

Let’s be people who love with our actions – on earth as it is in heaven.

 

 

 

 

 

Through the Fire ~ The Master Refiner

 

CupAfter writing the story of my kidnapping experience, I considered the title for several months and nothing that I considered seemed quite right. The project of writing my story is something that I wrote off and on over the course of several years. One morning as I was preparing for work the title came to me. I usually spend a little quite time in the morning thinking about which clients I will see, what I need to bring with me for the day, and so on. I’m a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) and work with families that have children with autism. On this particular morning, I wasn’t thinking about my story and then I had a random thought, “Through the Fire.” Since I was thinking about work, I didn’t put this thought together with the book. I pushed this thought aside and continued to prepare for my day. Again, the random thought, “Through the Fire”, went through my mind. I questioned, “What does that mean?”  Then I had the thought, “The book title is Through the Fire.”

Over the next few months, I contemplated the idea of the title, “Through the Fire”. The more I thought about it, the more I saw the meaning behind the title. I feel I can’t take credit for the title, because it didn’t come from me. I’m just the messenger. As I read back the last line that I wrote, I understand that may sound very strange, but perhaps this is how we get help from the other side. What appears to be a random thought, may actually be help from above.

When I considered the title, Through the Fire, the first thing that came to mind was a blacksmith who works by heating pieces of iron or steel until the metal becomes soft so it can then be shaped into a work of art.

Next, I thought of the process of making pottery. I enjoy making ceramics as a hobby. When making ceramics, the firing process transforms soft clay to rock-hard objects that are beautiful.

Another example is how diamonds are formed as a result of extreme heat and pressure. This heat and pressure takes carbon and transforms it into glistening, priceless crystals.

Just as the metal, ceramics and diamonds are transformed through heat and pressure, so are we as we go through struggles, or difficult times. One of the best examples of this is Nick Vujicic. He was born with no arms or legs. He had many challenges to overcome to get where he is today and even contemplated suicide as a young boy. He is now a motivational speaker and shares hope, love and purpose. He has a beautiful heart and lives a Christ led life. When he was a child, he probably couldn’t imagine that one day he would be a motivational speaker, a husband to a gorgeous woman, inside and out, and a father. When we are in the middle of the fire, it’s hard to see beyond that point. Remember that your story isn’t over yet either. Nick has reached millions of people to share the hope there is in Christ. Life without limbs is the name of his life changing foundation.

Another life example is Bethany Hamilton. She was a very talented, professional surfer at the age of 13. She survived a shark attack; however lost her arm in this attack. She struggled initially and didn’t think she would surf again. She was brought hope through Christ and was able to work through the challenges (through the fire) and she is once again a world class surfer. She is also a motivational speaker who brings hope to people to overcome through Christ.

I don’t believe that Christ causes all of the suffering in the world; however I do believe that He is able to take any suffering or challenging time and transform it into something beautiful. He can transform the struggle into something that brings hope and healing to others. He is the master refiner. It’s difficult to believe when in the middle of struggles, but life can be even better than it was before the struggle.

There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens:

A time to be born and a time to die,

A time to plant and a time to uproot,

A time to kill and a time to heal,

A time to tear down and a time to build,

A time to mourn and a time to dance,

A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

A time to search and a time to give up,

A time to keep and a time to throw away,

A time to tear and a time to mend,

A time to be silent and a time to speak,

A time to love and a time to hate,

A time for war and a time for peace.

He has made all thing beautiful in its time.

Ecclesiastes 3

The title, Through the Fire, is a reminder that we are going through our struggles and when we get through, we will be stronger and our hearts will be changed by the master refiner with love and beauty. There is hope! Your story isn’t finished yet!

For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

When you crash through the doors of heaven, your loved ones will be anxiously waiting to ask, “Are you okay?”

Clouds

It takes a conscious effort to not allow the struggles and tragedies of life define us in a negative way. Resentment is like a cancer that can destroy our hearts. Pride, jealousy, envy, and judging others also eats away at our hearts. I think it’s helpful to always keep our eye on the eternal perspective. Ask yourself, “Will I want to hold on to this anger eternally?” The answer will always be no. After having a near heaven experience, I can say that you would not want to take any negativity with you. It’s too beautiful and perfect to be blemished with hatred – and there was no hatred in my experience.

Events that have happened to us are in the past and we have no power over the past. Since we can’t change the past, we have two choices. We can hold onto anger, or we can accept what happened. For me. One possible way to respond is that I could hate every person of the same race or religion of the kidnapper and everyone who reminds me of him. Without conscious effort, isn’t this what we do as a society? We judge groups of people because of the actions of a few. How many people hate all black people, hate all white people, or hate people of a different religion, political affiliation, profession, or sexual orientation? So I can hate or I can accept. Whichever road I choose will affect my heart and change who I am and who I will be eternally.

The truth is that the kidnapper never actually hurt me because my spirit remains untouched. We don’t know how or when or body will die, but we all have a shelf life. Our bodies are dying. In 200 years, everyone’s body that is on earth right now will be dust. When our bodies are dust, we will still exist and as we hate, we are hurting this part of ourselves that is eternal.

In life we mistakenly confuse who we are with what we have. Somehow we think our bodies, our houses, our cars, our education, our money, and other external aspects of our lives are who we are.

The truth is that all of these things that we think make up our identity are only temporary and we will one day be stripped of all of the external facades. We will be left with only what’s inside us, and that’s what really matters.

I’ve heard people say that growing old is cruel. Our youth and beauty fades. Our skin, hair, nails, bones, muscles all begin to change. Even our senses begin to fade such as eye sight, hearing, and taste. At first glance, this seems cruel… but maybe it’s really not. Perhaps this is an opportunity to learn and grow to prepare us for when we no longer have this physical body. To help us keep our eye on what is most important. An opportunity to look at, and focus on the part of us that is eternal. Growing old can teach us what is truly important, if we keep our eye on the eternal perspective.

When I had the near heaven experience, there was a clear distinction between all that is good- all that is based in love and all that is not good. Being in a space of pure love was the most amazing experience in my life. I look forward to the day that it will be my turn to return to this beautiful place! I know that I won’t bring anything with me but my heart and soul. This is the treasure at the end of our lives.  This is what matters, the part of us that is eternal. It’s our love, which we take with us.

If you were to hear the news that a loved one was in a car accident, what’s the first thing you would ask? “Are you okay?” You wouldn’t care about the car so much at this moment, the real treasure is who is inside the car.

If you were to hear someone’s home burned down, what’s the first thing you would ask? “Are you okay?” You wouldn’t care about the house, but you would care about the people inside the house.

I know that one day, my body will die. I don’t know if I will die peacefully or traumatically, but I do know that when I crash through the doors of heaven that I will be greeted by a loving community anxiously waiting to ask, “Are you okay?”

We want to still shine brightly inside at the end of our lives; without taking into account the external factors such as our body, house, car, bank account, and so on. Life can be hard and knock us down. We don’t have control of some of the events in our lives, but we are in control of our response. We don’t have to let pain and suffering destroy us. Love is the key. As we choose to forgive; as we choose to love, we don’t allow tragedy to define us. Our spirit can remain untouched. That should be our goal- to shine brightly from the inside out, despite our circumstances so that when we are greeted in heaven by our loving community, they will give a sigh of relief and then cheer. “She made it home! And she is okay!”

 “Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.” Gautama Buddha

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Forgiveness – The Road to Peace and Happiness

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One of the questions that I’m asked the most about being kidnapped is if I have forgiven the kidnapper. If I decided NOT to forgive him, I don’t think anyone would blame me. After all, he took me, held me against my will, tortured and attempted to kill me. Finally, he left me in the hills to die. For someone to take an innocent person against their will and hurt them –it’s just wrong!

When I returned home, this was a difficult time for my family. Everyone was happy that I was alive, but there were many other emotions that my family was faced with. Anger, resentment, sadness, fear… everyone was on edge. The kidnapper said he’d come back and kill me if I talked and now the story was all over the news. Would he come back and kill me? Would the police catch him? Would he be punished for his acts or would he continue hurting other innocent children? How could God allow this to happen?

It’s in these tragic moments, when emotions are raw – these are the times that the decisions we make on how to respond become forks in the road of our lives. Our responses to these tragic events determine the level of peace and happiness we will experience for the rest of our lives. (Unless another decision is later made)

It’s not easy! People who hurt innocent children don’t deserve to be forgiven! I’m sure we all agree to that! The problem with staying in that space and hanging on to that anger and resentment is that those emotions will destroy us. They will steal our peace and happiness, along with the peace and happiness of our loved ones. Anger doesn’t destroy who we’re mad it. Anger only destroys the one who is angry.

When I was being held by the kidnapper, I was a victim. I had no power and no control. That was a terrible feeling! If I remain angry and resentful, I remain a victim. If my loved ones remain angry and resentful, then they too become victims – casualties of this tragic event.

We can get past our tragedy. The terrible event can become a simple bump in the road of our life. Our futures are in our own hands and not in the hands of a person or situation that may have harmed us in the past. It takes work, but with perseverance our future is our own. We are free to create the future we want!

Previously, I wrote about how our thoughts determine the degree of suffering we will endure. Our thoughts will also determine the degree of peace and happiness we will experience.

I trust that God will take care of all the details in the end so I don’t need to worry about what will happen to the kidnapper. I don’t need to think about him. God will take care of it.

Forgiveness is not something that you do one time and then you’re done. It’s more of a constant attitude. It begins as a commitment to yourself. Once you choose to forgive, you may have to remind yourself to be loving, to not judge, to let it go over and over. The more you practice forgiveness, the easier it becomes.

When I had the opportunity to have a small sampling of heaven in a near heaven experience, even though my body was dying and in a violent situation, suddenly the terror disappeared and I was part of a completely peaceful and loving experience. There was no fear, no pain, no anger, no resentment – it was pure heaven! I want to live my life like that! Perhaps that’s what Jesus meant in the Lord’s Prayer when He prayed that we would live on earth as it is in heaven.

I would like to challenge you with today with a thought. Instead of focusing on the injustice and bad aspects of your tragedy or struggle in life, begin looking at the difficult situation as a gift – as a blessing. I know that sounds strange, right? How could I possible see my tragedy as a gift? For me, I have had the opportunity to see people’s lives change as I share my story. That’s a gift. When I was kidnapped, I should have died several times and the only explanation is that I experienced miracles. That’s a gift. If I had died, I would have remained in an amazing place! That would have been a gift. Don’t be a victim of the tragedy by hanging onto that anger and resentment. Use that energy to ignite a passion to make a difference in the world.

Let’s live our lives on earth as it is in heaven!

I hope you’ll check out my Instagram page this week. I added some great quotes from Nelson Mandela about forgiveness. (Find us on Instagram at Through the fire book)

Katherine

Throughthefire.blog

 

When slipping into a “Near Heaven” experience, this is what I wanted to share with my loved ones…

As terrifying as the experience of being kidnapped was, it was also one of the most profound experiences of my life. I will share more about the miracles that I experienced firsthand and the many lessons that I learned later. For now, I will say that I’m deeply grateful that God was with me during this entire ordeal. When I was kidnapped, I had what we call a near death experience. I prefer the term “near heaven experience” because it’s much more fitting. As I was slipping into this beautiful place, I remember thinking that my family would be devastated when then they found out how I died. If they only knew that I was okay, I was truly okay. If I had died, I would have remained in this amazingly wonderful place that is filled with love and peace that can’t be compared to anything in this life. Since I didn’t die, I was able to come back home to my loved ones. Either way, there was something wonderful on the other side of the pain. (Through the Fire) I feared that my loved ones would replay my violent death in their minds over and over. They would imagine how I must have felt and what I looked like at the time of death. They would picture me in pain, sad and alone… and they would have been so wrong.  What I was actually experiencing was nothing like what you might imagine based on what my physical body looked like. Initially, I was terrified and in excruciating pain… but then, like a bolt of lightning, the pain vanished and was replaced with super charged loving comfort. There was no more fear, no more pain, and I wasn’t alone. I was experiencing an unimaginable degree of peace, love, and joy, even though my physically body was failing. I wasn’t suffering any more. I actually felt better than I ever have in my entire life.  If my loved ones had a sense of where I truly was, they wouldn’t be sad for me at all. They would be happy because it is THAT amazing. If you have lost a loved one tragically, I can tell you that the experience for them is not at all what you might imagine. There’s something beautiful on the other side of the pain and suffering! Once through the fire there is no pain.

I remember thinking that I wished I could tell my family what my death was really like from my perspective and to let them know that I was in a really good place. Since I have been given the opportunity to live a little longer, I hope to be the voice for those who have passed. I believe that people who have died tragically would also want their loved ones to know that they are in an amazing place filled with love and joy. There is no pain and sadness and they are not alone. They would want their loved ones to think of happy memories they shared together. They wouldn’t want the tragedy to be replayed over and over in the minds of their loved ones. They would want them to live every day to the fullest with love and purpose.

Yes, we are fully confident that we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. 2 Corinthians 5:8

I hope that as I share my story, that I can help people who may be stuck “in the fire” to find peace and happiness. Please follow and share. If you have any questions or comments that you would like to share with me, visit my contact page and leave me a message. I would love to hear from you. Thanks!

Katherine

Throughthefire.blog

Our thoughts determine the degree of suffering we will endure…

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We are continually tapped into God. He never leaves us. We have access to strength and peace at all times, even in the middle of really difficult times. Our thoughts determine whether or not we will have access to peace or suffering.

I love hiking. As I write this, I’m sitting on top of a mountain. Its mid-July, 85 degrees which is extremely hot when you’re hiking straight up a mountain with the sun beating down on you. As I hiked up this mountain, I experimented with my thoughts. First, as I hiked, I thought of everything bad and dwelled on these bad aspects of the hike: It’s bloody hot, The hills are brown, the dirt is dusty, I can’t breathe, my heart is pounding, I’m so sweaty, this is a crazy thing to do, I should turn around, my legs are burning, I’m tired, this hill is so steep, I don’t think I can make it, I don’t have to do this, I hate this hike, and so on. After about 15 minutes, I was ready to turn around. It was awful. My body responded to my thoughts and I felt like I was dying.

Next, I stopped and drank a little water and then started the next phase of my experiment. I changed my thoughts. I connected to God. As I began to hike up the steep, hot hill, I changed my thoughts: Thank you Lord for this body that works, thank you for this beautiful mountain, thank you for the trees, the flowers, and the birds. I paused and let the beauty soak into my soul with a grateful heart. Thank you for strong legs that work, strong lungs, and a strong heart. I can do this, one step at a time, I’ve got this, Thank you for this beautiful day! As my thoughts changed, I felt a cool breeze blow on the back of my sweaty neck. Thank you Lord for this lovely breeze! Next thing I knew, I was at the top of the mountain. The experience was completely different based on my thoughts.

During the first phase of the hike, there were beautiful trees, flowers, birds, and a breeze; however I didn’t have access to enjoy the benefits of these aspects of the hike. These bits of beauty brought me peace when I focused on them. When I focused on my suffering, the degree of suffering that I endured multiplied.

When I was first kidnapped, my thoughts went wild with panic. I thought, “I can’t believe this is happening, what’s going to happen to me? Is he going to kill me? Is he going to rape me? Will I ever see my family again? Am I going to die?” My heart was pounding so hard that I could clearly hear the pounding in my ears. It felt as if my heart would actually pound out of my chest. At this time, I changed my thoughts: How will I get back home? As I lay on the floor of the car curled in a little ball, I began to memorize where we were going so I would know how to get back. We’re going straight, stopped once, and stopped twice, turning right, stopping once, turning left, etc. I replayed these directions over and over in my head and focused on making it back home.

As I changed my thoughts, I had access to calming my heart and my lungs. My mind calmed so that I was able to think clearly to strategize how to stay alive and ultimately make it back home.

The thoughts that we think every day, determine the degree of suffering we will endure and when we control our thoughts we have access to our creator – who provides peace, creativity, strength and joy.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think of such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Jesus – Philippians 4:8-9