Struggles are Part of the Journey

Butterfly 2

A man found a cocoon of a butterfly. One day a small opening appeared. He sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body through that little hole. Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could, and it could go no further.

So the man decided to help the butterfly. He took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon.

The butterfly then emerged easily. But it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings.

The man continued to watch the butterfly because he expected that, at any moment, the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would contract in time.

Neither happened! In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It never was able to fly.

What the man, in his kindness and haste, did not understand was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening were Life’s way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon.

Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our lives. Remember nature needs no help, just no interference. There are processes of life, things we all go through. The struggles are a part of our journey and are preparing us for what awaits. They are preparing us to fly.
-unknown

#throughthefire

Walk a Mile in His Moccasins

Walk a mile

This week, I had the opportunity to attend CABA which is an autism conference for my work. My favorite part of the conference was listening to talks from amazing women who are mothers of children with autism. These woman were at the forefront of fighting for services for their children. They gave up successful careers to take care of their families. The most heartbreaking part of their stories wasn’t the fact that they gave up their careers, have dealt with daily tantrum behavior, aren’t able to go out to eat and vacation like the rest of us, the lack of sleep, or even what it feels like to have therapists in their home daily. The most heartbreaking part of their stories is when they share the reaction from the community. The hurtful quotes that people have said to them and the lack of support shown by neighbors, friends, and family was shocking. Despite these difficult situations, these woman have great lives and love their families. One of the moms shared this poem and I wanted to share it with you.

The poem Walk a Mile in His Moccasins was written by Mary T. Lathrap in 1895. The original title was Judge Softly. Here is the original poem.

Pray, don’t find fault with the man that limps, Or stumbles along the road. Unless you have worn the moccasins he wears, Or stumbled beneath the same load.

There may be tears in his soles that hurt Though hidden away from view. The burden he bears placed on your back May cause you to stumble and fall, too.

Don’t sneer at the man who is down today Unless you have felt the same blow That caused his fall or felt the shame That only the fallen know.

You may be strong, but still the blows That were his, unknown to you in the same way, May cause you to stagger and fall, too.

Don’t be too harsh with the man that sins. Or pelt him with words, or stone, or disdain. Unless you are sure you have no sins of your own, And it’s only wisdom and love that your heart contains.

For you know if the tempter’s voice Should whisper as soft to you, As it did to him when he went astray, It might cause you to falter, too.

Just walk a mile in his moccasins Before you abuse, criticize and accuse. If just for one hour, you could find a way To see through his eyes, instead of your own muse.

I believe  you’d be surprised to see That you’ve been blind and narrow minded, even unkind. There are people on reservations and in the ghettos Who have so little hope, and too much worry on their minds.

Brother, there but for the grace of God go you and I. Just for a moment, slip into his mind and traditions And see the world through his spirit and eyes Before you cast a stone or falsely judge his conditions.

Remember to walk a mile in his moccasins And remember the lessons of humanity taught to you by your elders. We will be known forever by the tracks we leave In other people’s lives, our kindnesses and generosity.

Take the time to walk a mile in his moccasins.

 

 

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

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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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