Hi! I thought I'd share this neat little video with you this week. Kid President always makes me happy, and this video hit me especially hard.
This week, I'm sharing the lesson I learned from a young man with Tourette Syndrome at a weekend Scout campout. My son, Trooper, was off playing in nature with the other young boys when I walked up to the food area. Chad, a teen Eagle Scout, was complaining about the problems he had encountered in school, public and private alike, due to his autism and Tourette Syndrome ticks. One school he talked about is a well-known Christian school in the area, and I found myself growing more and more angry as he shared the way he had been mistreated by students and faculty. He was ostracized, belittled, and officially reprimanded for his struggles. Some went so far as to insist they pray the demon out of him.
This teen suffers almost constantly from sensory issues and the pain and inconvenience of Tourette's ticks, but more than that, he suffers from exclusion. As I listened to his story, my heart went out to him. Imagine a life where you don't fit in anywhere.
It was easy to feel angry for him, to mourn what he and others like him experience, and to worry just a little that my own son will experience similar rejection even if his differences aren't nearly as severe.
But later that evening, as the stress of smaller children and the fatigue of a long day caught up with him, Chad's Tourette's went live in all its inglorious vulgarity. Most Tourettes is marked by physical ticks or verbal grunts, but Chad is a rare soul whose condition manifests in the sudden and uncontrollable urge to speak obscene words and phrases, from the common 'bad word', to sexual and racial slurs that are generally considered unacceptable by even those who favor colorful language. Suddenly, I found myself more concerned about my own offense and keeping the small children away than I was about Chad's painful experience.
It only took a moment for me to realize that I was just like everyone else.
Not that I shouldn't have been aware of what the kids were hearing, but in the moment, my convenience (how will I explain these words to my child?) mattered more to me than the physical and emotional pain this young man was experiencing. My line might have been drawn farther away from 'normal' than most, but it was still there.
In the middle of it all, one of the Scout leaders, a grandmotherly sort, consoled Chad and helped him when his hand slammed dangerously hard into the concrete floor. She didn't seem to notice the horrible words that spat out of his mouth. She didn't question her commitment to him or his value as a person. She loved him like her own son, offered her full acceptance, and helped him through a difficult time. Wow. Could I ever see into the heart of a person like that? Accept the truly unacceptable?
I was humbled. Inspired. Scared.
And all of that eventually led me to a new and peculiar sense of freedom. I still cringe at the idea of sitting in church or any other public place with a Chad in high stress—I haven't gotten over that hang up, yet—but I find freedom in confronting my shortcoming and recognizing it as an area where I need to grow. I'm more aware of when my own child's behaviors embarrass me, when the truth is that I'm more concerned about what people will think than about his scary or painful experience. I'm actively working to consider whether the boundaries I put between myself and others are healthy, or merely my reaction to their 'unacceptability'. I'm headed toward unconditional love.
P.S. No, of course Chad isn't his real name.
This week, some long-time friends, the McDougles, share their first-hand experience living in China during the Wuhan virus and fleeing the country. Please take advantage of what their perspective has to teach us.
Hangzhou, China. February 3, 2020. Eleven days after the government started to quarantine the city of Wuhan, about 500 miles away.
Fear had seeped into our city, settling over everything like a heavy blanket. The city was almost silent, much quieter than a city of 11 million should be. The streets were practically empty of cars and people; many public bus lines were shut down, and those that were running only came by once an hour. Almost everyone wore a facemask outside of their apartment. And the fact that people are able to avoid getting too close to anyone else is a testament in itself of the deserted feel of this once teeming metropolis.
It was Monday around lunch time that I received news that would disrupt our day and the next few weeks/months of our lives. I was working as an English teacher at a Chinese university, and as part of the pay, they provided an apartment on campus in which my family and I lived. It was still the winter holiday (like Christmas break), so there weren’t many people living on campus. By that time, only those who were currently living on campus could enter the campus gates; anyone who wasn’t already on campus could not return without written permission. If we left campus, we had to register where we had been upon re-entry. In order to enter any grocery stores, we had to have our temperature taken.
The message I received came from a coworker, who had heard through the grapevine, that our university campus would soon be on lock-down: no one would be allowed on or off campus starting the follow day until everything with the virus improved. After confirming this with university officials, our family had to make a quick decision. Already our city was feeling the stress of the virus. With the virus still too new, and with too many unknowns, including how long we would be on lock-down, I made the decision to leave the country. With everyone locked away in their homes and nobody wanting to see anyone else, it seemed we could provide little help and encouragement to our Chinese friends with our actual physical presence.
Decision made, my wife and I quickly looked online to see what countries nearby would still welcome us, as many were starting to deny entry to anyone who had come from China. If we returned to the States, not only would it be rather expensive (around $5000 for our family of 4), we would have to be under a 14-day quarantine. With limited options, I reached out to a friend in Thailand to see if he could find us housing since Thailand was still welcoming visitors from China. He quickly contacted the local church, and they agreed that we could stay for a few days in an apartment they had on the church property.
After receiving this good news and gaining special permission to leave our campus on the first day of the lock-down, we purchased tickets to Thailand the following day. My wife and I told our two boys, ages 11 and 13, to pack for warm weather and to be sure to take anything small that they would be sad to never see again (just in case- because you never know). That night we finished packing: clothes, technology, a few games, and the boys’ schoolbooks (because we homeschool- and school must go on no matter what!). At seven the next morning, less than 24 hours after first hearing the news, we left, taking with us two suitcases and four backpacks.
Right now, we have been in Thailand for a little over a week. We read the news daily about how the virus is progressing, wondering if we will ever get to go back to our home and friends in China. Being here has given me some time to think, and I began to feel like we were some form of refugees: fleeing from a country with a deadly virus, leaving our home with limited belongings, and not knowing exactly what we will do or how long we can stay.
The reality of the situation is that, unlike refugees, we have many options. I still have a job that continues to pay me (I will be teaching my university classes on an online platform). We could return to the USA with money from our savings if we so desired. Not only that, we have been received with open arms into a country and by a church, despite that fact that we have come from the current ‘danger zone’ of China and were practically unknown by the local Christians. On top of all that, I am writing this blog post while drinking a four-dollar cup of coffee in a fancy shopping mall in Bangkok while typing on my laptop.
Refugees do exist today around the world. People are literally fleeing for their lives in the middle of the night with no suitcase and no clear destination, other than the border of the next country. There is no guarantee that the family members with whom they began the journey will live long enough to reach the next destination. And upon arrival in a new place, they have no way to know if they will be accepted, allowed to stay, or forced to return.
While reading our story, if you felt grateful that my family has had a place to run to and people to welcome us, I want to encourage you to find ways to welcome real refugees. If you have never read the remarkable stories of true refugees, please do so. If your church has no ministry for refugees, please ask for this to change.
Reject the fear and lies people want to sell and actively love everyone. Remember, whatever you do to one of the least of people, you do to Jesus. And if Jesus called us to love our enemies, how can we not also show love to families who are desperately in need of a safe place to stay. For how can we claim to love God, whom we have not seen, without loving those around us who we can see?
My friends, thank you for sharing your story with us. I so appreciate your hearts and your willingness to share them with us despite your own difficult situation,
Welcome, and thanks for taking the time to stop in.
This week, my post will probably be weird and offensive to some. We may not agree, but hear me out, and feel free to pity me in my misguided theology.
This step in my evolution can be at least partly credited to learning about Hinduism and the old quote 'There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle' (often attributed to Einstein). While I haven't become a Hindu, chewing on their worldview has inspired me to see the world in a new light. Hinduism teaches that God and nature are one and the same. I've read that in India, people don't keep up yards and such because 'God does not require routine maintenance' (Working Across Cultures, by John Hooker). Don't worry, I will continue to do what's needed to placate my HOA, lol, and I'm not a pantheist. But the concept got me thinking about how God and the physical realm interact, how everything is a miracle or nothing is, and ideas started to mix around. They have, at least for now, come to a rest looking something like this:
Science tells us that the world continues to expand, right? It started somewhere and it's still growing. I don't have references for you, but you can Google it. Now, in the Bible, right there at the beginning, you can read 'In the beginning God created…', but a better translation would be 'When God began to create…' or 'When God began creating…'. You can Google that, too. The point is that, childhood songs aside, even a Christian doesn't need to believe that God created and then severed his nature from the physical world, with only the occasional miracle to show he's still hanging around in some distant heaven. If God created everything, if he's still creating everything, he's still deeply involved. He may not be the world, but it continues as a result of his influence and power. It is inextricably linked to him. He's not afraid of growth and change, and we shouldn't be either. If he didn't create the world, well, the universe is still expanding and evolving, and so should we.
So, how does this change of viewpoint constitute a post in My Evolution? It sounds pretty abstract, doesn't it? But it has changed the way I live in a couple of ways, and here's how. First, because I believe everything around and in me is a miracle, choices that I might have considered secular now have spiritual meaning for me. Because if God made nature, is still working in nature, then nature isn't merely secular. Everything has a spiritual aspect. The way I eat affects me spiritually as well as physically. The way I treat people isn't only social, it's spiritual. The way I consume and throw away isn't merely practical, it's spiritual. I'm not going to become a zero-waste, hermit fruitarian anytime soon, but the way I think about routine actions has changed, and therefore so have my routine actions. I have developed a new respect. I've no doubt that I will continue to explore these ideas and change the way I live accordingly, because the second part of this stage is the conviction that believers in God should be the first to embrace change and adaptation. God created the world with the ability to adapt (is actively helping it along, I suspect), and humans aren't an exception.
That was strangely exhausting and difficult to write. I think I'm ready to go back to less complicated, more lighthearted posts, but I still have at least one more troubling revelation to present. Next time, I'll write about a lesson I learned from a young man with Tourette Syndrome.
Growth to you all,
I'll start this post with the question I ask myself about some thing or another pretty much every day, thanks to the influence of The Minimalists.
Does it add value?
It's an important question to ask about every object, activity, and relationship in life, don't you think? But it's not one I had thought much about before starting to follow The Minimalists. While I might not agree with them on everything (is there anyone I completely agree with?), their values and way of putting things have helped me improve myself and my life. Best of all, they have an abundance of free resources, so you don't have to invest any money to gain value and decide if you want to take it farther.
Their message to 'Love People, Use Things' is more in keeping with Jesus' way than many of the religious messages I've heard in my life, though I warn you that they don't always keep their podcasts 'clean'. On the bright side, they have started putting a warning at the beginning of some episodes, a little girl saying, "This podcast has bad words." Cracks me up. I haven't listened to their complete backlog or anything, but I can say that I've never heard an episode that was super trashy or filled with bad language. Usually it's just a word here or there. Anyway, between The Minimalists and Celebrate Recovery, I have made huge strides in my ability to chose the truly important over the needs and wants of everyone around me, including my own. If that's not enough to get you to their website, the podcast has a super catchy intro song that helps me make better choices when I'm at the grocery and that _____(fill in the blank) looks so good…. I would write the words here but I'm pretty sure that would be a copyright infringement, so if you're curious, you'll have to check it out.
At theminimalists.com you can find a free Values Worksheet to help you define your values and where to start focusing your energy. How cool is that? Knowing where to start is usually the hardest part. There are numerous useful books, which they ask you to either give away when you're finished or buy digitally so you don't accumulate more stuff. There's a free pocket-guide type book to help you decide on which purchases are truly important to you and which aren't. There's a calendar to help you play the Minimalism Game, which is a fantastic way to get started on de-cluttering your home! That's only the half of it. It's totally worth checking out. They say, "Live meaningful lives with less." Funny how it's easier to have more meaning with less stuff.
But how many times can you write about how to get rid of stuff? Probably not too many. So The Minimalists don't stop there. They have talks about many aspects of life, about how to simplify those aspects, and how to cope with the resulting change. I could write many paragraphs about ways they've impacted my life, and in fact I did, but then I decided to delete them because your time is precious and you can see for yourself just by looking at their list of podcasts. Just put them on some time while you're in the car or cleaning house and give a listen. You could be on the path of increased meaning and less white noise.
P.S. The blue words mean you can click on them and be taken to the website. For example, clicking here with take you to The Minimalists' book list. If you think I'm dorky for explaining that, well, you don't know my other readers. Lol.
Welcome! Today, I'm continuing the 'My Evolution' series with a program that has broadened my mind and brought peace to my home in a way I never could have foreseen two years ago. If you or someone you're close to have experienced serious trauma—abuse, neglect, abandonment, medical trauma, etcetera—this information could help you understand sometimes perplexing behavior, and even help. In fact, if you know someone who exhibits strange, negative behaviors, there's a high chance that he or she experienced some kind of severe trauma and you just don't know it. If this really doesn't speak to you, please forgive me and wait until next week. I promise, I'll talk about something that applies to a wider audience. As in, everybody.
I was introduced to Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) when I went to adoption training a couple of years ago. Up to that time, my husband and I had come to the conclusion that the difficulties we had with our son were due to his syndrome, and nothing we could really change. After all, we were responsible, consistent, loving parents, so it couldn't be our fault! Well, it was and it wasn't. It was because there were many, many changes we could make to bring healing to our little boy, and it wasn't because there was no way we could have known what to do without being exposed to the right sources. And then we were exposed to the right source, TBRI, and it became our responsibility to follow through. So, I've written a bit about TBRI below. Whether you care for children or not, if you have any curiosity about the brain and mental health, you will probably find it interesting.
1. TBRI is research-based. It's completely scientific and secular. And at the same time, I've yet to see a parenting model that adheres more closely to the way Jesus lived and taught.
2. TBRI teaches how to empower children (or anyone, including ourselves) so they can be as able as possible to make the right choices. From simple things like hydration and snacks every two hours, to using words and breathing techniques, empowering is the foundation.
3. TBRI gives specific, doable training on how to make connections with others in a way that will facilitate healthy internal brain connections, which leads to increased self-control, better decision making, and healthy relationships. Often, the strategies are simple things like eye-contact and physical touch, but there are also games and ways of speaking that might amaze you with their effectiveness.
4. TBRI is proactive in correcting. Did you know that when you tell someone not to do something, nothing happens in the person's brain? The synapses don't fire because the brain works with movement, with action, not with inaction. And so, TBRI shows us how to correct wrong behavior through practicing the right behavior. And I mean literally practicing it, as in through acting it out or playing with puppets during playtime, or, when a behavior needs immediate correction, having a 're-do' to run the through the situation in a positive way instead of the initial negative way. For example, when Trooper gets sassy with me, instead of taking away screen time or starting a rant about how rude he is and how he should show respect, blah, blah, blah, I can say, "Ouch! Wanna try that again with respect?" And he can take a breath and start again, and I can give him a hug and we can live at peace. And I get re-dos, too! When I snap or get impatient, I can have a re-do instead of letting my mood spiral down into that old black well of negativity. If there is a situation in my life that makes me anxious, or that I regularly screw up, I can role play it in advance to make positive muscle memory and patterns in my brain so that I can do well, rather than letting my anxiety or past failings play over and over again in my mind's eye, which will almost certainly lead to continued anxiety and failing.
5. TBRI has helped me understand why we feel and act the way we do, and how we can change it. I have begun to internalize the idea that all behavior expresses a need, even if the need isn't always what it seems to be. By 'chasing the why', as we say, we can get to the cause of the problem. TBRI is a training for parents and caregivers, but can be applied to everyone in your life. There are amazing video courses available, as well as books. The Connected Child by Dr. Karen Purvis and Dr. David Cross was written specifically for parents and caregivers of traumatized children. The Whole-Brain Child by Dr. Daniel Siegel is for any parent who wants to have children with healthy brains. Even if you don't have children, they're worth checking out. TBRI, and all the learning that has come with it, has affected my worldview in profound ways. Most importantly, we have peace in our home.
Below, I have added a video overview of TBRI from YouTube. As I mentioned, it focuses on children with a history of trauma, particularly fostered and adopted children, but it can be fully applied to anyone. People who are the product of a difficult pregnancy or birth, or who had early medical trauma, can have the same brain-wiring difficulties as children who were violently abused. It's crazy, but true.
Thanks for sticking with me. Until next week, peace and fulfillment to you and yours.
Happy New Year!
I hope it's off to a great start for all of you. How are your resolutions holding out? I've made some changes (not resolutions) in my life this year, but I can't say it really had anything to do with the headings on a calendar. And maybe I shouldn't even use the word 'change' so much as 'continued evolution'. All of us evolve throughout the course of our lives (at least, we should), but now and then we either reach a point where we can see the change that has occurred over time, or where the accumulation of ideas and experience demands a choice. Within the last couple of months, I've experienced both of these. I debated with myself about whether or not to share some of my influences, since this isn't exactly book related, and decided that I should. Writing books is one of the ways I give life to my thoughts and ideas; if you appreciate that, then you might appreciate the following series of posts. I originally intended to make it all one post, but it's too stinking long, so, I'll share one meaningful influence a week.
#1. I attribute the foundation of most of my growth to Celebrate Recovery, which I recommend any time I get the chance. The program helps me make sense of life and stay on track with my personal values, mostly by providing a safe and affirming place to express my feelings. I've come to realize that not only have I defeated anxiety in the sense that I don't let it rule me, but I have come to the point where I rarely feel it! I have also largely rooted out codependency and perfectionism. These victories result in an ever-growing sense of freedom, vitality, and purpose, and facilitate healthier relationships. Instead of feeling tossed around all the time, I mostly make conscious choices, and say 'no' as needed. We spend the first years of our lives being taught not to say no, and the rest of our lives trying to recover from the training. This liberty still hasn't quite carried over into the ability to consistently put writing before other tasks, but growth is a process, right?
Today, I'm especially glad for all the growth I've experienced through Celebrate Recovery because I got a couple of negative reviews during my latest book promotion. I'm a girl who used to feel defeated if I got less than 100% on an assignment in school. For real. If I really hated the class, I might be OK just settling for an 'A', but in general, less than 100% really dragged me down. And I preferred to have some kind of positive note added on the paper praising my work. It's hard to admit this, but it's the ugly truth.
So, back to reviews. I've been super lucky up to now, with even the occasional three star review being fairly positive, but today I saw that Alonca's Quest has a two star review.
Honestly, before reading it I assumed that the complaint would be about the ending, since I don't really like the ending either, but it was actually a complaint about the romance! Also, the story 'jumped around' I think the person said, meaning too many points of view. Even though the review isn't what I would call a bad, bad review, (meaning it doesn't say the writing is bad, the characters are shallow, the world building is stupid, that sort of thing), I still feel like I got pinched.
But here's where I get to the personal growth part. If I had gotten a two-star review a few years ago, even one like this, I would have been crushed. I would have harped on it for weeks, my confidence eroded and my anger turning from my writing mistakes to the reviewer and back again. I would have considered a rewrite with her complaint in mind. Now, I wish I could use emojis on the blog because I'd love to post the one that's holding its belly, laughing. The reality of a person criticizing romance in a book, lamenting how she's going to have to suffer through the last book to see how it ends, is way too funny. (It's less funny that someone returned all three books and got their money back and it was probably her, but that's another story.) The growth is that I don't feel compelled to make this stranger happy. It doesn't bother me that she expressed a negative opinion about my choices. I have no compulsion to defend my story to her or anyone who reads her review. But I promise it would have tormented me in the past. As in, sleepless nights and lack of appetite.
If there's anything that has positively influenced you in the past year, please feel free to email me or post it in the comments. I love to hear about ways the world is becoming awesomer!
This is my favorite holiday picture ever. Yes, that's really me and my family. No, I don't know what I was thinking.
This is The Hordes of Haran, getting close to the end of the first draft. I'm very excited about and proud of this book, and can't wait for you to read it! I think you'll agree that my writing has gotten much stronger over the course of this series, and that this book, already as long as Kergulen, is the most exciting and intense book in the series, but without losing the veins of humor and emotional connection you've come to expect. Now if only I had a genie to clean my house and stop me from volunteering for anything else, I'd get it to you in the next few months. As it is, I can't make any promises. Thanks so much for hanging in here with me. I know I'm already more than a year behind schedule. You're a great bunch of readers!
Wind Catcher: A Gripping Fantasy Thriller (A Chosen Novel Book 1)
First, let me say I almost passed this one up just because it had the words 'a gripping fantasy thriller' in the title. I thought that was weird. And as I read the book, I thought it weirder because I don't think it's gripping or a thriller. I'd lean more toward 'young adult paranormal'. That said, I liked the story very much. It's based on native American lore, which I love. I love Juliet's struggle to live in two worlds and the glimpses into her heritage. I love the believable conflict between her friends and her grandfather and her mother. The characters came alive for me and were a pleasure to follow even when they did dumb things (remember, I said young adult, and I love to complain about immature teens). Since reading this book, I've started sharing a plate with my son regularly. Juliet's grandfather introduced me to the idea of eating from one dish, and I loved it. (Not only is it more intimate, but who wants to wash plates if she doesn't have to?). We have magic, villains, and a quest of sorts, as well as what might become romance. I'm not saying there isn't any suspense, only that it hardly defines the story.
I don't remember being irritated by typos and the like, but I've read a lot of books since this one. Sorry if I'm wrong about that, but it apparently wasn't enough to keep me from thoroughly enjoying the story.
Language: Very mild if anything.
Sexual Content: None.
Violence: There's a murder, not super graphic, and some attempted murder. Not much more than you might find in the mildest of PG13.
Overall Message/Plot: Weird things are happening. Why? What can we do about it? I don't think the writers relied on plotting as much as they did on characters, which I love, but at the same time it wasn't weak. I left the story feeling both satisfied and interested to know where the rest of the story goes. Some questions are answered, but there's a lot more to be revealed in future installments.
Find it HERE.
The Midnight Sea (The Fourth Element Book 1)
I had a hard time deciding what to do with this book. The first 60% or so is told as an overview from the heroine's perspective, with breaks for scenes that illustrated something the author wanted us to know. I usually hate that kind of storytelling. And yet the first scene hooked me hard enough (kind of creeped me out) that I felt engaged regardless of the pace. I kept thinking I would put the book aside, but I really wanted to know what was going to happen!
Eventually the book did drop into a typical pace, and I was so engaged that I read the next one, and will read the third even though it's a grim tale without much in the way of levity. I had to take a break because of the intensity, but I really will go back. I need to know how it ends!
The Fourth Element Series has a strong historical fiction feel (think Ancient Persia, not England) but with magic woven throughout. If you don't like fantasy on the dark side, you may not enjoy this, but then again, I'm buying sequels even though I shy away from darker stories, so maybe you will.
Violence: Yes. This is a dark story and there's a lot more gore than I usually read. A lot of heartbreak and people you want to behead.
Sexual Content: Not exactly. It's mentioned and often it's violent and/or plain gross in nature (part of book 2 takes place in a brothel of young boys) but that really was common and acceptable in ancient times, and in the story it isn't glamorized. It makes you glad to live in the modern world where those kinds of things are at least illegal. Anyway, there's a bit of content like that (told you I needed to take a break from it) and although it's not graphic, it's disturbing. That's the idea, I think. There are other references as well, but again, I can't remember anything graphic. Still, it's an R rating in my opinion. Just like war movies often are just because of the story they're telling.
Foul language: Yes. I'd say it has a PG13 rating.
Overall Message/Plot: The book is about finding freedom for the oppressed and enslaved. It's about not believing everything you've been taught, but rather searching for truth. About understanding that your enemies might actually be your friends if you faced your own illusions.
Find it HERE.
Hello! Thanks for visiting my blog! Around here you'll find posts about my books and my family, as well as the occasional relevant book review.