Only Light Can Drive Out Darkness ~ MLK

MLK Photo.jpg

Today we celebrate a man who dedicated his life to making the world a better and more loving place. His mission was to fight for the oppressed and in doing so, he showed the world keys to bringing forth change. He understood how to creatively use his anger to make change in a loving way. “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.” He understood and demonstrated the power of love. “I have decided to love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” He watched as society hated through their actions as people retaliated over and over. It was clear to Martin Luther King, Jr that hate created more hate. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” We must put aside our differences and work together to achieve peace. “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

When bad things happen to good people, we naturally become angry and want justice. Trust that God will take care of the details. We don’t need to retaliate and hate. God will take care everything in time. Our job is to create peace. “Never succumb to bitterness.” The road of bitterness will destroy us if we allow it. “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

It is difficult to accept an injustice that has happened. When bad things have happened, we can’t change that fact, but we can work towards a better tomorrow. If we remain bitter, we remain part of the problem of hate creating more hate. “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” We must keep our eyes on the eternal perspective and work towards a better tomorrow.

We can all make steps to make the world a better place. The first and most important step lies within our own hearts as we chose to love, rather than to hate. As we collectively love, the world will shift for the better. “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

Love is patient, love is kind. It always trusts, always perseveres. Love never fails.                   1 Corinthians 13:4, 7-8

Encouraging Quotes for the New Year

New Year 2018.jpg

As we count down to the New Year, we get to reflect and prepare for what’s ahead. For all the bad news that seemed to dominate our collective experience of 2017, there are countless stories from the year that remind us of the good in people. These stories give us hope for a bright future and bond us together as a community.

I hope that my story will help people who are struggling to make sense of suffering in the world. The book, Through the Fire will be released soon. The editing is complete, the page design is complete, and now we are working on the cover. I can’t wait to share the cover with everyone! I’m working with the talented artist Phil Roberts, who is creating beautiful artwork for the cover.

I’m grateful to everyone who reads, throughthefire.blog and especially to everyone who has followed, shared, and commented. Visitors have come from all over the world! It’s fascinating to me that I can write in my little home in the US and then have these words travel across the globe. There are readers from the following places: Greece, Canada, South Korea, Ireland, India, UK, Bosnia, Australia, Philippines, New Zealand, China, Spain, Columbia, Chile, Singapore, Turkey, Nigeria, Greenland, Trinidad, Kuwait, Sweden, Japan, Nepal, Kenya, Malaysia, Russia, Oman, Zambia, Taiwan, Ukraine, Germany, and South Africa! Thank you all for reading! It has been a privilege to share my story with all of you and to read the stories of those who have messaged to me. I am truly humbled as I read your stories and witness your strength, bravery and courage as you choose to live lives of love. The world is seeming much smaller as I see that across the globe, we all have similar struggles and joys in life.  Regardless of our geographical location, socioeconomic status, race, religion, political affiliations, or gender, we are all faced with the same dilemma, how will we face the struggles in life and how will we face our achievements?

As we look forward to 2018, we might be a little hesitant to set new goals, especially if we  want to achieve the same goal that we had as a resolution last year and maybe even the year before and the year before that. If we didn’t meet our goals last year, we begin the new year with a feeling of discouragement. ‘If I couldn’t accomplish my goal last year, how am I going to do it this year?’ First, we have to change our thinking. In order to succeed, we must first believe that we can!

To achieve our goals, we need accountability, determination, encouragement, and perseverance – we can never give up.  Here are some of my favorite quotes for encouragement on not giving up.

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” Winston Churchill

“I never lose. I either win or learn.” Nelson Mandela

“Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. Time will pass anyway.” Earl Nightingale

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Thomas Edison referring to the light bulb

“To conquer frustration, one must remain intensely focused on the outcome, not the obstacles.” T.F. Hodge

Let us not become wearing of doing good for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” Confucius

The question is not if we will have struggles and hardships, but rather “how” will we meet them? When we fall, will we rise? Will we continue to persevere and walk through the struggle? #throughthefire

If you haven’t already, please check out my Instagram and Facebook which can be found on the sidebar of this blog. Thank you!

I wish you all the best for 2018! Happy New Year!

Do everything in love. 1 Corinthians 16:14

 

 

Merry Christmas!

whos-down-in-whoville

Early Christmas morning, while everyone is still sleeping is one of my favorite times. It is so peaceful after all of the hustle and bustle leading up to Christmas. After a month of planning and preparation, everything is perfect. Of course it’s not really “perfect”, but it’s what we created out of love and this makes us happy. It truly is in the giving that we receive. There is such a joy that comes from giving gifts and seeing the joy that it gives another person. Christmas is love in action!

Christmas also gives us a time to pause and reflect on the important things around us – a time when we can look back on the year that has passed and prepare for the year ahead.

I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

“I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all year.” Charles Dickens

Scientific Research Demonstrates How Gratitude Cultivates Happiness

Sunflower

Happy Thanksgiving! This is the time of year that we pause from our busy lives and think about what we are thankful for. Research has shown that gratitude cultivates happiness. Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack.

Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami have conducted extensive and fascinating research on gratitude.

In one study, they divided the research participants into three groups. One group wrote about what they were grateful for daily. The second group wrote about what irritated them daily and the third group wrote about daily events with no emphasis on them being positive or negative. Over time, it showed that those who exercised gratitude felt better about their lives, they exercised more and had fewer doctor’s appointments than the other two groups.

I found this study interesting because clearly all people in each group experienced things they are grateful for and things that irritate them. We all have good and bad in our lives every day. This study shows that it doesn’t really matter how much good or bad happens in your life, but rather what you focus on and express that manifests the degree of happiness in life.

Another leading researcher, Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman, a psychologist from the University of Pennsylvania tested the impact of various positive psychology interventions on 411 people, compared with a control group who wrote about general experiences from childhood, like a diary or journal. The group of participants which showed the greatest impact when looking at happiness scores, wrote and personally delivered a letter of gratitude to someone in their life who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness. Upon delivering the letter, participants exhibited a significant increase in happiness scores and these benefits typically lasted for over a month!

Other studies have shown that gratitude can improve relationships. Couples who regularly express what they are grateful for to their partner, demonstrated an increase in happiness as a couple.

Cultivating what we are thankful for changes us. These thoughts have powerful effects on our lives. What we think about is so important and determines our level of happiness. It has been proven scientifically that having gratitude will exponentially increase our happiness. The bible is also consistent with this research and repeatedly tells us not to worry, to be thankful and to guard our thoughts.

“Whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think on these things.” Philippians 4:8

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

I think a key in the previous verse is the peace “which transcends all understanding” In my kidnapping experience when having a near heaven experience, the reality of what I was experiencing was the polar opposite of what an onlooker might assume. This transcends all of our understanding, based on what we “know.” If you have a loved one who is terminally ill and suffering, this is only temporary, they are going “through the fire” and there is something beautiful on the other side!

“Trust the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to him and he will make your path straight.” Proverbs 3: 5-6

It’s natural to focus on the negative when we are going through a difficult time, but in order to get through the fire with happiness, we have to do what might not feel natural. We have to guard our thoughts- as negative thoughts enter, have a positive statement ready to replace that negative thought. For example, if you are thinking that you aren’t good enough, as soon as you notice that thought, think the opposite of that. “I am enough.”

As research and the bible both consistently show us, we must find something to be grateful for. Based on the previous research, here are some tips for cultivating happiness in your life.

  1. Write a thank you note. Research showed this to be the most effective activity to achieve and sustain happiness.
  2. Thank someone mentally. If you don’t have the opportunity to write a note or tell the person, just thinking about them and why you’re thankful can create happiness.
  3. Start a gratitude journal and every day write down what you’re thankful for.
  4. Count blessings as you go through your day. Make mental notes of the many blessings in your life.
  5. Pray “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

*For encouraging thoughts, follow my Instagram and Facebook page which can be found on the sidebar of my blog!

I am humbled and deeply thankful for all of the people who follow my blog and support this project. I’m thankful that Through the Fire is being published and will be released in early 2018. I’m thankful for our Heavenly Father who can take even the darkest of stories and turn them into a story which heals and brings hope to others!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Emmons, RA, et al. “Counting Blessings Verses Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Feb2003): Vol.84, No. 2, pp 377-89

Lambert NM, et al. “Expressing Gratitude to a Partner Leads to More Relationship Maintenance Behavior.” Emotion (Feb 2011): Vol 11, No 1, pp 52-60

Seligman MEP, et al. “Empirical Validation of Interventions.” American Psychologist (July-Aug 2005): Vol. 60, No. 1, pp. 410-21.

 

 

My Dad’s Response to my Kidnapping

Dad

My dad was the family provider and protector. When I was kidnapped and he wasn’t able to protect me, this was very difficult for my dad and he went to extreme measures to assure my future safety.

The kidnapping experience didn’t only affect me, it affected my entire family and many friends in different ways. I didn’t realize how people were affected until many years later and I am still learning different ways that people were affected to this day.

From the perspective of a 12 year-old, I didn’t understand how difficult this time in life was for my parents. Now that I’m a parent myself, I can only imagine how devastating the kidnapping and the aftermath of the kidnapping must have been for them. I recently learned how my dad was affected.

My dad lived a healthy, happy life until the age of 70, when he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS). He was strong and took amazing care of his body. Not many 70 year old can do 200 push-ups, but he could. When the disease progressed to where he needed more help, he moved to live around the corner from me so I could help take care of him. For a man that was so independent, it was extremely difficult for him to ask for help, but he had no choice.

He had Bulbar ALS, which begins in the throat area. One of the first skills that he lost was the ability to verbally speak. Thankfully, he had the ability to write so he carried a little note pad in his pocket and wrote down everything he wanted to say.

During the 3 years of silence, I saw my dad’s heart change. He tried to fight the disease every step of the way. He ate well, took supplements and exercised like an Olympian. As the disease continued to progress, he became angry and asked, “Why me?” He continued to fight, but despite his best efforts, his body withered away. I watched as he struggled to accept his fate. He teetered between sadness and anger for a long time. He was forced to let go of all of his hopes and dreams that he had for his life.

ALS doesn’t affect the mind at all. My dad’s thoughts remained clear until the day he died. ALS is a difficult disease to live with. There is one gift that ALS offers and that is quiet time to ponder. ALS allows the person to put their affairs in order and clean up any relationships or any other work they need to.

We hadn’t talked about the kidnapping for years; however as he was faced with his own death, he wanted to discuss this topic. My dad was always a protector. When he grew up, he was the oldest son with six siblings. He fought bullies for his brothers and sisters and took on the role of the protector of goodness. When his daughter was hurt by evil, my dad felt helpless and became very angry with God. His view of God changed. He thought, God is either a good God that isn’t strong enough to help us when we need Him, or He is a bad God that is strong, but chooses not to help us. Either way, who needs God if good people have to go through terrible situations?

My dad had carried this burden for so long. I shared with my dad for the first time about the near heaven experience. God did not leave me alone in this dark situation. He was right there comforting me. I’m so grateful and feel closer to God after seeing how loving He truly is. I explained to my dad all that I learned from this experience and how I felt confident that we all had purpose in life.

My dad was still mad and wrote, “How could a good God allow such bad things to happen!” I believe that we all given free will to live our lives as we choose. He doesn’t stop us when we make bad choices. There are consequences to our actions and hopefully these consequences will have us choose better next time, but we aren’t stopped. Free will is something that everyone wants. Unfortunately, sometimes people take that free will and hurt others. I wish people would make better choices, but I’m not mad at God for it, because He didn’t cause the suffering. God steps in and comforts us during these difficult times and He is able to take terrible situations and turn them into beautiful situations. As horrible as my kidnapping experience was, there were many blessings sprinkled into this situation. I’m so thankful that I was able to experience a small sampling of heaven. Every time that I share my story and someone tells me how hearing this story helped them in some way, I am amazed and grateful that God can take a dark story and turn it around into a story of hope that improves the lives of others. So God didn’t cause the tragic event, but He can turn it into something beautiful. So I’m not mad at God for this suffering. Instead, I love him even more for comforting me, showering me with peace and love and showing me the importance of living a life of purpose within the suffering.

I could tell that my dad held on to resentment for the kidnapper. Just talking about the kidnapper, you could see the anger in my dad’s eyes. I explained to my dad that I had forgiven the kidnapper. My dad was shocked upon hearing this, “Huh!” I explained to him that hanging onto anger doesn’t hurt the person we’re angry at; it only hurts the one who is angry. I can’t change the fact that I was kidnapped. We can’t change the fact that my dad had ALS. But we are in control of our response to what happens to us. We talked about how resentment hurts the person who is resentful and not the person we are mad at. My dad had to ponder on this idea for a couple of days, but I could see his heart beginning to soften.

I thanked my dad for taking care of me. After I made it back home from the kidnapping, I described where the kidnapper took me and what his car looked like and what he looked like in great detail. I didn’t realize at the time, but my dad was taking meticulous notes and then set out to find and kill the kidnapper who had promised to come back and kill me if I talked. My dad was going to stop the kidnapper before he could come back and kill me. I’m grateful that the detectives found the kidnapper before my dad found him, because I wouldn’t want my dad to go to jail for murder. His willingness to kill for me was such a selfless act of love. Words can’t even describe how this feels to have him willing to give up his life for me. I thanked him for his support and love. Then I explained how happy I was that he wasn’t able to follow through with killing the kidnapper.

“Greater love has no one than this; to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13

I explained to my dad that if I had died when I was kidnapped, my soul would have been fine, but I would have been so sad about the way my loved ones responded to my death. I wouldn’t have wanted them to hold onto anger. This would have made them a secondary victim of that crime. I would have wanted them to live a happy, purposeful life, with love in their heart. The only way to achieve this is through forgiveness. It’s impossible to feel love and anger simultaneously.

Shortly before my dad passed away, we spent an entire day together, as he had doctors’ appointments and testing for hours. He was irritated all day and kept bringing up the topics of God, the kidnapping, having ALS, and suffering. He wasn’t able to speak as a result of the ALS, but he could write. He was writing so fast and with capital letters to represent raising his voice. When I finally drove my dad back home, he quickly waved which meant that he wanted me to leave. I told him that I would leave, but first I suggested that he spend the evening in prayer and then to listen. Know that God is good and that He only wants the best for us. Sit in silence and feel his love, ask Him for peace. Believe in the bigger plan. Look at life from the eternal perspective. He listened and then waved again for me to leave, so I went home.

The next day, I came back to my dad’s house. He was sitting in his chair and when he saw me, he quickly tried to get out of his chair. I was surprised to see his face. He looked so peaceful, so happy – not irritated like the previous day. I told him that he didn’t need to get up and encouraged him to stay seated. He shook his head no and insisted on getting up. At this stage of ALS, getting up was no easy task. I walked over to him and he reached into his pocket and took out a note he had pre-written and handed it to me. I took the note and looked down and it simply read, “Thank You!” I looked into his blue eyes which were full of water and intensely bright. He nodded his head yes and then gave me a huge, meaningful hug. He was so happy! My dad forgave God, forgave himself and let go of all the resentment he had been holding inside. Seven days later, my dad left this world to be with the Lord. His work here was done. I’m so happy that he found peace before he died.

Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

Praying for Peace for Las Vegas Survivors and Loved Ones…

Stormy ocean

It’s been over a week since the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas –the largest mass shooting in U.S. history. Hundreds of innocent people were victims of this heartbreaking tragedy.

Life goes on for those of us who weren’t at the concert. We are all busy with work and life, but for the people who were at the concert, life as they knew it, will never be the same. It’s difficult to process such tragedy and to find peace after witnessing such injustice. I think it’s natural for people, whether Christian or not, to look to God in adversity. Many life questions arise after such a horrific event. Is there a God? If there is a God, why does he allow suffering? Why do bad things happen to good people?

Most of the news stories reporting the Vegas massager have been devastating to watch. The stories that highlight the heroic events were hardly televised, but are so inspirational. There were people who covered their loved ones with their own bodies in order to save them. There were many accounts of those who had been shot that carried others to safety, despite their own injuries. There was a couple who loaded up the back of their truck with injured people and rushed them to the hospital. I admire the courage of these heroes!

I’d like to offer a heartfelt thank you to our first responders and law enforcement. Just imagine, as concert goers were frantically attempting to get away from the shooter, first responders were running towards the shooter, risking their own life to save the lives of strangers. We are lucky that we have brave men and women willing to put their lives on the line for us!

So back to the question, where was God in this evil event? I believe God does not create evil and suffering. The bible tells us that God works for the good of those who love him. Jesus said that we will have suffering. “I have told you these things so in me you shall have peace. You will have suffering in this world. But be courageous! I have conquered the world.” John 16:33. God doesn’t cause the suffering, but he is there to help us through. He uses people to bring good in the midst of tragic events. During this tragedy, He was inspiring and giving strength and bravery to the heroes who were selflessly risking their lives to help others. God sends us to make the world a better place.

Acts of love overshadow hate.

I hope that my story will help to bring peace to those who have been touched by this tragedy. As I wrote in a previous blog, the perspective of someone dying in a violent way is much different than we would imagine. When I had a near heaven experience, even though the circumstances of my physical body was bloody, bruised and alone, I was not experiencing pain and suffering at that time, but rather the most amazing calm, peace, and love that I have ever experienced. I believe that the perspective of the victims of this shooting was also quite different than we would first imagine.

Faith overshadows fear.

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18

I pray for peace and healing for the survivors and their loved ones. I pray that we will all have the strength to choose to love, rather than allow bitterness to overcome; that we will choose to live on earth as it is in heaven.

If God is good, why do we have so much suffering?

 

Thanksgiving beach.jpgA question that readers many times ask is, “If there is a God and if he is good, why is there child abuse, war, and violence?” I understand how difficult it is to see violence in the world; especially when innocent children are hurt. Having been one of these children who was hurt, I understand how people feel. I was fortunate that as I was going through this terrifying ordeal, that I witnessed many miracles, including a near heaven experience. My conclusion from these experiences is that God didn’t cause the pain, but He is with us and helps us during difficult times. We are all given free will and unfortunately the kidnapper used his free will to hurt me. God clearly helped me through the kidnapping and for that, I’m so thankful.

Someone wrote to me this week and said that she understands my need to believe in this imaginary God, but that, “it was only my strong spirit that got me through. A loving God would never allow such things.” I appreciate this reader’s message. This is a topic that people have struggled with since the beginning of time. Historians all agree that Jesus lived on earth. In 1980, award winning investigative reporter, Lee Strobel, utilized his skills to try to disprove the claims of Christianity. His wife was a new Christian and he wanted to scientifically prove that atheism is right and God was imaginary. To this investigator’s surprise, he proved to himself that Christianity is true. The book, and now movie, is called Case for Christ.

That being said, when innocent people get hurt, it’s hard to process. There are terrible things that happen to good people. Really painful. We can’t change what people have done in the past, but I love the teachings of Jesus because he shows us how to respond in ways that we can live with peace and happiness, despite what has happened in the past. He is always there to help us to get “Through the Fire.”

Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

Thanks for visiting my blog! You may want to visit my Instagram and Facebook which can be found in the sidebar of this blog site. Thanks for following and for sharing with others!