Gaining Hope in Difficult Days

In our home, we have this approach to bad days: go to bed early.  Our thought is, “the earlier we go to bed the sooner the day will be over, getting us to tomorrow, a brand-new day with brand-new beginnings.”

Lynn Anderson was onto something when she sang, “I never promised you a rose garden.”  Bad days are as much a part of life as the good ones.  Thankfully, however, the good ones do overall outweigh the bad.  But sometimes the bad are more than bad.  They’re horrific.  And those are the seasons a simple turning-in-for-the-night won’t fix.  We wake up to the nightmare we long to escape.

……….Read The Rest of The Story at JaynePatton.com

Today I Took A Walk

Today I took a walk.

I’ve taken this walk countless times in my mind, but today I physically took the steps down the road. It’s an emotional journey. A journey I’ve traveled for 29 years today.

Some years are more difficult than others. This year falls on the more difficult end.

The walk came to me as a thought, but I dismissed it, as my to-do list automatically started rolling like end-credits in a movie.

  • Work on the PowerPoint for presentation.
  • Scan documents on the desk.
  • Go through mail.
  • Reply to text messages.
  • Start a load of laundry.
  • Send email.
  • Finish writing chapter for book.

I had too many things to do for a walk. But the thought came to me again. Instead of a to-do list, I got a little real with myself.

I don’t want to go for that walk today. I don’t want to revisit it today. I just don’t think I can.

Still the thought lingered. So I put on my tennis shoes.

Taking Ruby seemed like a good idea. The weather is so beautiful and I never just take her for a walk. I could take this walk and spend some time with my dog. But no. I began to understand this thought to go for a walk was more than a thought. It was a prompting. And the Lord was calling me to go alone.

I got in my car and drove to the road I needed to walk.

The road I needed to walk today.

It’s not like I never pass this way. I drive this road several times a week on our way to soccer practice and baseball practice and games. But today, my mind was in a different place, not hurried by the schedule, not distracted with conversation. I was completely present, willing to face my memories, my pain, my disappointments, my grief, as I physically put my body where the Lord challenged to take me today.

The comfort of the sun shining, the gentleness of the soft breeze, the sweetness of the bobwhite’s chirp accompanied my steps. My pace was slow; my spirit was strong as my thoughts went back to April 27, 1988.

It’s been a lifetime, but the memories are so vivid.

God called me to write a book. Seems like a bigger deal than simply being called to go for a walk. But there’s a critical component to both. Obedience.

Because the Lord called me to write this story of overcoming life’s darkest moments, I’ve needed to learn details I never knew from the accident. The accident that happened on the very road I walked today.

Those details. They are specifics I’ve learned from interviews over the last few months. The scene was playing out in my mind walking step-by-step this morning.

Jon and I—nine and seven years old, riding on a motorcycle, coming home from visiting friends, behind a truck, on a dirt road, unable to see from the cloud of dust. Swerving to the left and the right, and the left, and the right and the last swerve to the left lane we hit an oncoming truck. Gas leaking. A fire igniting. Tragedy transforming our innocent world.

I walked that road today. That road where my brother died. That road where I laid burning on fire. I walked that road today.

Yes, I physically walked that road today, but I have walked that road every single day of my life since April 27, 1988. I have walked that road every single day of my life for the last 29 years. I’ve looked at this scarred body every single day and remembered that day, every, single, day. No escaping the memories. The memories go with me wherever I go. The tragedy is etched throughout every piece of my existence.

Which is why I’ve reflected on a question we’ve all considered. If we could go back and change just one thing in life, what would it be?

If I could just have one, just one do-over, I would go back to April 27, 1988 and make one decision differently. I would choose against going to a friend’s. I would push and persist, as my personality naturally did and does, for us to instead play at home. One decision. One decision would mean I would have my brother alive to meet my husband and my children. He wouldn’t just be a photograph on my dresser whose name I share in stories. One decision. One decision would mean I would not have experienced a life-threatening injury, enduring indescribable pain, countless surgeries and challenging recoveries.

I stood for some time today at the place known as the scene of the accident. My mind was clear. I felt such peace and stillness. There were no words in my heart or my mind to speak, no prayers, or requests, pleas or questions. I began to think about the brief time I was alone on that road 29 years before. The driver of the truck used a blanket to smother the fire on my burning body then ran to call 911. Jon was gone. I didn’t know it then, but standing there alone today in that place I thought I’ve been alone here before.

Memories can be a source of much hurt and sorrow. Quite naturally, we want to avoid what hurts. We aim to box it up, set it in an area of our heart for pre-planned, scheduled moments to revisit. Some give much effort to that approach. Had it not been for the burn injury’s physical reminder, maybe I would have done the same. But that wasn’t an option. And what I’ve learned because of it is: there is strength in remembering. There is hope in remembering.

Lamentations 3:20-24 NLT
I will never forget this awful time,
    as I grieve over my loss.
Yet I still dare to hope
    when I remember this:
The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
    His mercies never cease.
Great is His faithfulness;
    His mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
    therefore, I will hope in Him!”

On my walk back to my car, I looked at the fence posts and the telephone posts and thought how so much stays the same as so many things change. I looked at the field where the helicopter landed to take me to the hospital. I looked at the cattle, picturing the scenes of spring calves in the pasture as the events unfolded that day.

As I walked alone back to the car, I instantly had a vision of people walking behind me. The man who took the first step to save my life and put out the fire. His brother who ran out to help. The man who stopped and held my hand while help arrived. The officer who worked the accident, and carried the memories for decades following. I had a vision of them there with me, walking behind me.

Walking back to the car, I could feel my doctors, my nurses, my physical therapists. I could feel my friends and my mentors. I could feel my nursing school class, my educators and the amazing NICU team I get to work with today. I could feel the presence of countless people who have walked into my life because of the journey on that road. And there I began to cry. As I walked I could feel in this group of people the Lord brought to me through this tragedy and in that group I could feel Brandon, Brooklyn, Jaron, Caden & Gavin.

I can’t help but believe that our journey that day, led to this journey today. I can’t help but believe that the tragedy which changed the trajectory of my life, was setting the scene for God to introduce His greatest miracles to my life. My heart, my mind and my spirit are inclined to believe that the source of my greatest pain is also the source of my greatest joy. I don’t see them separated. I see them connected, one leading to the other. It’s what God does. He brings good things out of the worst situations.

It’s why I can’t see the word tragedy without thinking triumph. It may take a lifetime, but know God is working during that time. Sometimes it’s a big job and it takes a lot of work. But He’s a big God. Maybe we can’t see what He’s doing, but He is doing. He is working. He’s working all things to the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

It’s why I remember. There is strength in remembering, even if we feel weak. It’s okay to cry. In fact, I believe our tears are important to God, because the Word tells us He bottles our tears (Psalm 56:8). There is hope in remembering. I have a glorious hope, not just hope, but a glorious hope of seeing Jon again. And I pray the days I live bring honor to the life he lived and to his memory I’ll carry forever.

It’s why today I took a walk.

 

Choose this link to see a video of our story

 

Happiness Doesn’t Happen

Do you ever wonder what it takes to just be happy?  Some days it can feel like such a struggle.

My friend Jenn Baxter asked me to write a guest post for her site, and it’s a topic I felt led to cover when sharing my story with her readers.  I hope you follow the story to her site to read the article and look around to see how Jenn is touching lives through her journey and online home.

Thank you for allowing me to share with you and for being a part of our online family here!
❤ Heather

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Heather, what more could make you happy?

It was a desperate question my mom asked as we sat on my bed looking in to a closet full of clothes, shoes and accessories.  “Not stuff, Mom.  Stuff can’t bring happiness.

I was only sixteen, but I had already concluded that trips to the mall, a brand new car and hosting parties with friends couldn’t fill the emptiness inside.  The void was far too vast for material, superficial things.  Happiness was a state I was battling to attain.

The battle began nine years earlier, when my world tragically changed on a country dirt road.

……….Read The Rest of The Story at LiveAFastLife.com

Healing Words in the Emptiness of Tragedy

I’m deeply grateful for the open doors to share our story and the hope and healing I pray readers receive through it. Over the last couple of months I’ve been given the honor of being a guest on a few different sites. I’m looking forward to sharing them with you.

Here is one of them—a piece I wrote for Susan Greenwood’s site, Not of Myself. I met Susan attending a speaker/writer conference last year. I hope you hop on over to her site to read the article and peak around to see all the wonderful contributions Susan is making through her online home.

Thank you for allowing me to share with you and for being a part of our online family here!  ❤ Heather

“Don’t talk to Schultz like that,” my bossy three-year old self snapped at my six foot four inch three hundred pound father after he scolded our beagle dog for causing a near fall.  Granted, when tall people fall, they have a long way to go, which understandably, could have been bad.  But Dad’s response seemed completely unjust to me and I didn’t have any hesitation expressing it.

While that very early encounter of expressing myself so naturally may appear as a simple scenario in needing to correct a child, it was actually much more.  The minor incident was an indication of how well I connected with my feelings and how effective I was in being able to communicate them.  This was a critical component in the days that lie ahead.

……….Read The Rest of The Story at NotofMyself.com

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Guest Post: Murder Couldn’t Kill God’s Love

*a special post from special guest Teresa Nichols*

February is known as the month of love so I wanted to share our story about God’s love.

God tells us over and over the importance of love, that no matter what we do for others, or in the name of God, if we do it without love in our hearts then it is nothing, He even gives a complete description of what Love is in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.

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Teresa ~ a beautiful strong woman of God

Then He tells us His greatest commandment is to love Him, then to love one another.

Yet sometimes things happen that we don’t understand in this life and we want to shake our finger at God and say, “How can You say You love us?

I can’t, in any way, say I understand the ways of God. Why some live and some do not. But I can tell you I believe what John 10:10 tells us, that the enemy is the one who steals, kills and destroys. God tries to teach us how important it is to love one another, but no matter how much we feel we love others, it is nothing close to the magnitude of God’s love for each and every one of us.

I know this first hand—by the way God has shown His love for me through our tragedy. God began showing me His love through miracles and blessings that He poured out on our family as we regained our strength to stand again.

On March 28th of 2011 we made a move to Tulsa, Oklahoma from our small hometown in Iowa with our youngest son Ethan who was twenty, and his friend Casey, twenty-one at the time. Our little town had been quickly loosing businesses and unemployment was very high. My husband Scott left his job of thirty-two years so we could all have a new start in life. Our twenty-six-year-old daughter Leanne was already in Tulsa finishing her second year at Rhema Bible College.  We had prayed and asked God about making this move and He answered in a way that left no room for any doubt that we were to move.  This would be just one of the ways God showed us His love. 100_2233

Life was good. Within a month we all had jobs and were having a wonderful time. Along with jobs we had found the best places to play Frisbee golf, some favorite eating places, and a church home. We had all pretty much settled into our routines.

A short time later Ethan met an eighteen-year-old young woman named Carissa. We were all sure she would one day be his wife.

Their days consisted of Ethan working and Carissa’s studies in Music Composition at ORU. Their evenings and weekends were filled with exploration throughout the town’s parks. dscn3110

On September 18th 2011, six short months after moving to Tulsa, Ethan and Carissa went for a jog at Hicks Park. As the sun was setting, they were surrounded by two men with a gun. They were robbed and forced to their knees.   Then, they were both shot in the head.

Nothing could have prepared us. Our world stopped and we felt as if our hearts would stop too. There was even a time I wished mine would because with every beat came unimaginable pain. Nothing could stop it. The loss of a child is unbearable in its own, but to lose them in such a violent-senseless way made it so much worse. Even though we knew they were with God the very moment they left this world, it still couldn’t stop our pain.

Ethan had always known God and was baptized as a young boy. But as this beautiful woman of God came into his life he had grown to be a Man of God. They had built their relationship around God first, praying together before they had even spent time together face-to-face. They both had such a trust and love in God. Even when I would try to warn him to be careful he would look me in the eyes and say, “I have God what do I have to be afraid of?

At first there was just the heartache and sadness but then came the “WHYS” and there were so very many.

As my mind darted from one thought to another in sort of a random-scrambled way trying to make some sense of things, it seemed every thought was attached to a WHY.  Those whys were quickly followed by condemnation, guilt, and “IF ONLYS.

IF ONLY, we would have not gone to a movie that night. IF ONLY they hadn’t gone to that park. IF ONLY we hadn’t moved to Tulsa.

And it was the same for Scott.

It was the question about moving to Tulsa that God opened my eyes to first. One day as this why came to me again God reminded me, “Teresa, you prayed- I gave you a clear answer. Do you doubt Me now? How can you condemn yourself when the answer was so clear that you were to go?” With that I began to realize that Satan was using all the whys to pull us down, to try and fill us with guilt. But with that one truth I also realized God had already made sure we could not have guilt for that, He had covered us.

I knew I had to take authority over Satan and hold tight to God’s truth. For me the scripture Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.”

When Satan would try to push the whys into my thoughts I would tell him to be gone in the name of Jesus Christ. I also knew I needed to stop asking why all together and just let it go. Once I stopped asking “why,” God slowly started giving me answers. They did not come all at once but steadily, as my heart needed them.

One day I was having an exceptionally emotional day, I longed to hold my baby boy and nothing seemed to help me get past that longing. I finally decided to go have lunch with Scott. Although we tried, comforting each other was really impossible. It just does not work when both you and your spouse are hurting so bad. Yes we knew we needed to be together, but you cannot pull someone out of the ditch that you are stuck in too. You can only hold them tight when they need it. But God will slowly ease you out, giving you time to heal before pulling you up a little farther. This kind of deep loss does not disappear. It has to go through stages.

On this day I really needed my husband to hold me, even if it was just for a few minutes. But as I left from lunch to drive back home I could feel the longing coming back strong.

I decided I did not want to go home to sit in the house alone so I stopped at a clothing store and decided to just look around a bit. I found a shirt I wanted to try on so I went into the dressing room to see if it would fit. When I came out of the room to look in the big mirror a woman came out of the adjacent dressing room with the same exact shirt on. We laughed a bit, then wound up in conversation, and I eventually shared about Ethan.

I could see the sadness in her eyes but there was something else too. As we walked out the door to the parking lot she asked if she could share something with me. She told me she was a prayer warrior and that she was getting ready to go next door to get a coffee, but God asked her to go try on some clothes. She tried at first to say she really didn’t need anything but she could feel Him telling her to go. She told me that she had been praying for me and our family since she saw the story on the news.

That obedient prayer warrior gave me confirmation that God was there with me. He knew I needed that particular encounter with this stranger to help give me strength to get through that rough day. What an amazing and wonderful God we have! 100_2498

This was not the only time God made sure I knew He was with me. There were many different ways and so many blessings as we went through the weeks. But it took me awhile to realize the biggest blessing He gave me.  It was not something that I noticed right away but it became clearer to me as we went through counseling. Through our counselor I learned that no two people ever go through the healing process at the same pace. I had to let Scott heal for himself and not try to push him to where I was or vice-versa. 100_2500

This is where I first realized I had no anger. Scott, Carissa’s parents, and many other people around me were very angry. I understood why they were angry but I couldn’t understand why I was NOT angry.

You see I, like many of you mothers out there, I am like a mother bear. You might come around and see me playing gently with my cubs, but the moment anyone threatens my kids in any way I become a furious fighting animal with claws out and teeth bared to protect them. It doesn’t matter how big or mean you may be, I would take you on in a second just to keep them safe. But I felt NO anger. Believe me I searched for it, but it was not there. Even at the preliminary hearing where I looked at the two murderers in the face for the first time there was not any anger.

You see I do not do anger well. It takes a bit of pushing to get me angry but when I do it is not good in any way. Then it is almost always followed but a tremendous let down, followed by tears and sadness. I know God knew I couldn’t handle anger so He took it from me. What a loving God! Because of this, forgiveness came easy for me and forgiveness must come in order to heal completely100_2938-2

This is just a small peek into of some of the ways God covered me throughout our time of loss. Even though my heart will always miss my baby boy my spirit leaps when I think of how God loves me. I wanted to share this with you so that you can see the love God has for each of us. He is always there reaching out to us. However, He is a polite and patient God. He will not push Himself upon us. We must invite Him in.

I ask you as we go through this month of love remember what God asks—love one another. There is no greater love than the love of our God.

A Little Thought From Heather:
The enemy has netted so many people out of their tragedies– they blame God and turn away instead of seeking Him for hope and healing. Teresa and Scott’s journey is an example of how hope and healing can unfold for those who choose to turn to God. A story that illustrates how much more powerful His love is than even the most unimaginable heartache. I am honored for Teresa’s willingness to share with us. I pray her words continue to strengthen our confidence and security in His mighty love.   Happy Valentine’s Day ❤ Heather

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Guest Post: Life Is Short

Guest Post: Life Is Short

*a special post from a special guest*

Life is short I want to live it well
One life, one story to tell ~
Live it Well” by Switchfoot

When my mother (who was also my BFF) passed away in 2013, I was let in on a little secret. The secret was what life is really about and how we should all be living it. The thing is, it wasn’t like this information was hidden from me. It was there all along… but I, like most of us, had been walking around with blinders on.

We’ve all seen the words “Life is short” on bumper stickers, inspirational posters and coffee mugs. We’ve heard the phrase “Live like there’s no tomorrow” and some of us (that listen to country music) have sung along with the lyrics to Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying.” But when it comes right down to it, how many of us actually take this sentiment to heart?

My mother thought she had plenty of time left to do things. Again, just like most of us do. But when she was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in March of 2013 and passed away just six months later in September 2013, she ran out of time.

She had wanted to live in a condo at the beach, drive a VW Beetle Convertible and do a bunch of other things that she always said she would do “later.” Except now later would never come.

It was after watching her go through this experience and then reading her journals after she passed and see her talk about, in her own handwriting, how she had let fear hold her back her whole life… that I knew my life had to be different.

Both for me and for her.

See, my mother and I were very much alike. And I could very easily see myself ending up in the same place – writing in my journal at 65 years old, about how I hadn’t really lived my life either.

But I didn’t let that thought discourage me and I didn’t let the grief of losing my mother and very best friend send me into a downward spiral.

Instead, I decided I was going to live my life. And I was going to live it well.

So, I set out to “clean up” my entire life. I fell in love with the idea of a tiny house and made plans to have a 160 square foot home built. It was something that before I would’ve only talked about and dreamt of doing, but in honor of my mom, I wasn’t going to just talk about it… I was going to do it.

To get ready for the big move, I downsized and got rid of about 80% of my belongings. It was amazingly freeing as I was able to let go of things that represented someone I used to be, someone I never became or someone that I thought I “should” be.

I let go of all the excess that was never really necessary in the first place and kept only the things that I really used, needed and loved. It made those items even more special and freed up my space and energy immensely.

But as I went through the process of downsizing, something else happened along the way. I started letting go of emotional clutter too. As I got rid of physical clutter, I let go of old guilt, shame and regret. I finally let myself feel pent-up grief for people and things I had lost, so I could truly move on. And I got more in touch with who I truly am than ever before.

It wasn’t a coincidence that all of these things were intertwining at the same time. God was having me do a major clean out and there was one other “room” to be cleaned. My body.

Right before my mother was diagnosed, I had been struggling with some severe health issues of my own. Basically, my body felt like it was falling apart – headaches, dizziness, heart palpitations, insomnia, fatigue, digestive issues, brain fog and more. I had been to every doctor under the sun and came up with nothing but dead ends (or prescriptions for unwanted antidepressants).life-is-short-quote

But in God’s perfect timing, as He was leading me through this process of pruning – both physically and emotionally – He brought the right people into my path that would eventually bring about healing.

Through naturopathic medicine, exercise and meditation, we were able to finally begin repairing all the damage that advanced adrenal fatigue had done to my body over the past several years. Yes, my body had been feeling like it was falling apart, because it was. It had been pushed beyond its limits.

After a string of traumatic events that included the end of an almost 4-year abusive relationship, the death of both of my parents and an extremely stressful and toxic job, my adrenal function had been overworked and overused. But there was no “magic pill” that would make it all better.

The key to recovering from adrenal fatigue is lifestyle changes – eating healthier, using non-toxic products, practicing relaxation and mindfulness and cutting out stress. All pieces of the puzzle that fit in perfectly with what God was already doing in the other parts of my life.

So I started eating clean with no gluten, dairy or sugar and plenty of fresh vegetables and clean meats. I got rid of all of my personal and home care products that were laden with chemicals and replaced them with healthier alternatives.

And I began making my health and my life a priority. I started living NOW, going after my dreams and marking things off my bucket list.

Which, I believe, is how we all should be living all along. Why do we wait until we are at death’s door to make a change? Why do we walk through life telling ourselves we’ll start living “later”?

Why do we let ourselves get caught up with things that don’t matter like cell phones, iPads and celebrity gossip? Or fill up our bodies with unhealthy foods full of sugar and fat, while slathering our bodies with products that contain known carcinogens?

I decided I didn’t want to do any of those things any longer. I wanted to live a life that was stripped down and cleaned up, NOT to deprive myself… but to finally actually start living.

And you know what? I haven’t looked back once.

Remember, life is short. You’ve only got one life, one story to tell.

So, live it well.

Want tips on how to clean up your own life? Grab my FREE 5-part “Jump Start Guide” right here for tons of information on downsizing & de-cluttering, clean eating & non-toxic products, emotional health and “bucket list living”!

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Jenn Baxter is an accomplished writer in Charlotte, NC, who has been published in numerous print publications, as well as featured as a columnist on Beliefnet.com.  In 2015, she launched her website, Live a F.a.s.t. Life, based on her own experiences with clean living, emotional health and downsizing into a 160 sq. ft. tiny house, and released her first book, “Tiny Abundance: My Journey to a Simple, Yet Fabulously Abundant Life in 160 Square Feet,” which is available on her website and Amazon.com. She also helps others learn to clean up their homes, their bodies and their lives in her e-course collection, “De-Clutter, De-Tox, De-Stress.”

Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

A Little Thought from Heather:
Jenn & I were connected back in July as prayer partners for a writers/speakers conference we were attending.  God guides and directs every detail.  She has sharpened me through my writing and speaking endeavors, and her friendship has become a beautiful blessing to my life.  I pray you are encouraged and motivated in your New Year by her sharing her journey here.  All the best to you in your 2017, Heather ❤️
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The Burns That Revealed My Beauty

A highlight for 2016 was writing a guest post called “The Burns That Revealed My Beauty” for Lightmakers, a website featuring stories to connect, heal and inspire.  

Before the year was over, I wanted to share the piece with you.

Thank you for being a part of our online family.  

All the best to you & yours in 2017- 

As a child I used to stand in front of the full-length antique mirror in my room and study myself.  After much evaluation I would ask, “Mom, am I pretty?” Deep down I wanted her to answer with a simple, “yes,” but instead I always got, “Heather, beauty comes from the inside.”

I gathered my earliest opinions of beauty as many young girls do; from Miss America pageants, beautiful women showcasing game show prizes, and grocery store checkout line exposure to the covers of numerous magazines featuring flawless bodies.

Beauty was all surface, merely skin deep. This philosophy is typical of a child who only has the capacity to think concretely, to only know what can be seen, felt or touched. But beauty, I learned, is much more obscure. Beauty must be discovered.

……….Read The Rest of The Story at Lightmakers.org

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