Tuesday, November 7, 2017

A Walk to Remember

In October 1995, more than 20 years ago, I journeyed on the Walk to Emmaus, a Christian retreat that is power-packed with 72 hours of food, fun, reflection, food, “true stories”, skits, glue, food, laughter, crying, food, and great friends. Did I mention the food?

This post isn’t about the Walk. Well, not really. It’s about me. No, seriously! It’s about me. More so, about who I used to be before I learned I had ADHD. And no, this isn't a post about ADHD, either. But I know that because I have ADHD, I was/am vulnerable to what I'm about to tell you. And I’m really surprised I am able to expose this part of my soul to you…

All through my early years and into my teens, I hated who I was. I had zero respect for myself, and I could find almost no redeeming qualities. All I knew was—I was a big nobody, and no one truly cared about me, save my parents, who were supposed to care. I had no confidence in myself, and I had no expectations that I would ever amount to anything. I felt like an ugly person who was not likable. And I also felt like the friends I had only let me hang out with them because of pity. In my head and heart, I was rejected. So, I ignored the pain and accepted it as my “normal”, and lived my miserable life. In order to cope with the pain, I became very plastic and surface level. I hid behind my religion, and behind my fa├žade, and refused to come out from behind my fortress.

Thinking about it all these years later, I don’t know why I was so hard on myself. I have never been able to find a genesis of my self-loathing. All I know is that I had absolutely no self-esteem, and I carried it with me into my adult years. Like a first-year acting student, I walked through life trying to say all the right things, and not bump into the furniture. I hid my true feelings in my sarcastic sense of humor, and prayed that no one would try to discover the real me. Because if they did, they would reject me, and it would be too painful. Sadly, this was what I carried into my marriage, and my dear wife suffered for many years from my plastic, surface level relationship.

Why am I telling you this? I’m not entirely sure, but there must be a reason. It took me decades to appreciate who I was, and decades for me to fall in love with myself. It wasn’t an “ah ha!” moment. It was a long, slow process for me to recover from my feelings of rejection and self-hatred. And the beginning of my healing occurred at Camp Butman, on the Walk to Emmaus.

One of the really cool parts of the Walk involves letters. Friends and family are asked to send a
personal note letting the individual on the Walk know how much they appreciate them.

Recently, we moved from Texas to New Mexico, and my wife has been going through old boxes and trying to get everything unpacked. She opened one very old box and discovered my stash of Emmaus letters and handed them to me, asking if I wanted to keep them. Curious about them, I placed them on my desk and planned to glance at them when I got a chance. They sat there for several days. In truth, I was ignoring them. They brought back memories of how much I hated myself when I was much younger.

I very clearly remember the day I sat down with my letters. They gave us about an hour to read them. And they warned us that we might shed a tear or two. I was not prepared for what happened to me. I looked at my stack of letters and notes, and counted more than 30 of them. I carefully opened one and read it. It was from someone I didn’t even know, but someone who knew who I was. They mentioned how they admired my sense of humor, and my casual demeanor, and my smile, and always thought I’d be fun to hang out with.

My hands began to tremble, and my heart faltered. I set that letter aside, because it must be a joke. No one wanted to hang out with me. They never did, and never would. I was a nobody. I read the next letter. It said pretty much the same thing. My breaths were cut short, and my mind was on fire. Then I read one from a friend, who I’d known my whole life, and he expressed his appreciation for me and said he always valued me as a person, and kindly thought of me as a son. That did it…the crack in the dam broke, and my mind and emotions were out of control. I began to weep. Not simply wet-eyed tears, but full-blown lamentation, all of my brokenness pouring out of me. I managed to open another letter and saw the same thing. Some kind soul sent me a note that they always enjoyed being around me, and they hoped I was having a great day. And then I completely lost it.

Our group leader was watching me, and he was very concerned. He softly approached me, “hey, are you okay?” But, I couldn’t respond. I was crying with such vitality that I couldn’t even nod. I simply buried my head into his shoulder and let the poison in my soul flush out. For more than an hour I sat and cried, and the group even went to lunch and left me sitting there (at my insistence). I simply couldn’t function. I was truly broken, and I couldn’t get control. Never before had I experienced so much love and appreciation, and when it came to me, I was simply overwhelmed. I had no idea that people liked me. And I had no idea why.

It took me weeks to read through all of my letters. Not because there were so many, but because I didn’t have the strength to continually pour myself out like that. Eventually, I read through them all, and placed them in a paper bag, and put them in a box. They have been untouched until today.

It was quite a memory for me to read through the letters. Sadly, many of the people who wrote them are no longer with us. Some of the letters were funny. Joe Kelley wrote one, in which he claimed he was driving down the road in a moving van and had to cut it short. He sent a couple of letters, in fact. Most were very short. But all of them were written with love. Heck, some of them are not signed, and I have no idea who they are. Some of them are from people I’ve never met. And they changed my life. That was the day my healing began. It was a very long road for me, too.

Today, I can say—I really like who I am, and I don’t mind looking at myself in the mirror and seeing that middle-aged man looking back at me. I’m at peace with who I am, and I’m proud of the things I’ve accomplished. As Indiana Jones once said, “It ain’t the years, it’s the mileage.”

So, if you were one of those who sent a letter to me at the Walk to Emmaus, I want to thank you. You had a hand in my healing, and I’m truly grateful.

So, let me make some use of this vulnerability. Take time to let someone know that you appreciate them, and you like them. Such actions can really change a person, and it might make all the difference to them. Let people know you care. Because it truly matters.

And because I mentioned ADHD, I will mention this: All these years later, I know I was suffering the effects of ADHD, and these types of doubts and anxieties are common with ADHDers. But, I didn't know that back in the old days. Now it makes sense to me. For more information about ADHD you can follow my Facebook hashtag: #ADHDOverheard.

De Colores!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Oy...I Missed the Rapture. Again.

Over a very long September weekend in 1988, I anxiously awaited the highly probable return of Christ, based on 88 very solid reasons He would return. The Christian evangelical community waited with eager anticipation as Edgar C. Whisenant's predicted dates (somewhere along the weekend of September 11-13) drew close. We were so convinced Christ would return that TBN even began to interrupt regular broadcasting to provide special instructions on preparing for the rapture. 

On September 11, we all awoke and waited. Several people I knew quit their jobs. Many gave their pets away to people who would not be joining them (at least until 7 years later). One man sold his business for dirt cheap and gave the money away to charities. We went to sleep slightly disappointed, but knew we still had the 12th and 13th, so no big deal. 

When the 12th came, people were calling home to say goodbye to their families (who would likely join them 7 years later). I admit, it was hard to sleep on the night of the 12th. But, we awoke to the 13th with great vigor! Today was the day! 

And that was 29 years ago. 

And those of us who didn't reject our faith learned a very valuable lesson. "No man knows the time." Eventually, I researched the topic of the rapture on my own and discovered that, although incredibly popular, it was not even sound theology. 

So, what happened to the self-acclaimed prophet, Whisenant? He revised his prediction, realizing he made a small, but critical error, and made a second prediction in '89, and then '93, and then '94, and so forth until people finally quit following him when his '97 prediction went belly up. Since then, myriads of predictions have occurred. 

Remeber Y2K? 
Remeber the Mayan calendar debacle? 
Remeber this last weekend. 

And my heart really hurts for those who pinned so much hope on the prediction from the stars, the "birth", and the eclipses. I would say to you, please don't become disillusioned. And believe me when I say, "I've been there." It's really hard to go back to work when you made such an effort to cry out to people to repent, for the time is nigh. As hard as it was, brush it off, learn from the mistake, and drive on. Refocus living your life on a day to day basis with Christ, and trust that HE knows what's really going on.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Thirteen Reasons You Should Read This

“Are you okay?”

How often do you hear those words? Have you ever heard someone say, “No. You know what? I’m not okay.” Our standard response when someone asks, regardless of whether or not it’s true, is, “I’m okay.”

Jay Asher wrote a book. It was later turned into a Netflix series, Thirteen Reasons Why. I just finished watching the story, and I have to say I’m unsettled. I’ve heard so many people talk about both the show and the book, and they usually say things like, “I refuse to watch it because it glamorizes suicide,” or, “I refuse to watch another teenage drama that glorifies high school crap.” And then I hear people talk about it who watched it all the way to the very last scene, and they usually have a different take on it. For me, my reaction was nausea, and—no, that was my reaction. Nausea. I literally felt sick at my stomach.

Why? Because I watched this very uncomfortable show and managed to fight the tempting urge to dismiss it and gritted my teeth long enough to get through it. It’s a story about a teenage girl who experienced bullying at school, the subsequent embarrassment and feelings of isolation, and eventually despair. Her pain spiked when she was assaulted by a fellow classmate, but finalized when the people she turned to for help didn’t hear what she was trying to tell them. She came from an ordinary home, with ordinary parents who loved her and supported her. Sure, they had their life struggles, but their daughter was a priority for them. Hannah made good decisions about boys and drugs. She didn’t sleep around. Only once did I notice her consuming alcohol, and that was in response to the pain of not fitting in and the desire to do so. She didn’t sneak around and get into trouble. She was a good kid. But, once she became the target of some boys at school (and their girlfriends), she fell into despair and ended her life.

Sure, there are elements in the TV show that are overly dramatized and likely exaggerated, but I think this story accurately reflects what our teens face in school. Every day. Without end. Within the social structure of an average school, you will find just about every type of kid represented in this story. The “cool kids” are desperate to remain cool, so they have their own form of bullying. The nerds are relentlessly harassed, both physically and emotionally. And everything in between. Girls face judgement from girls. Boys face judgment from boys. And they all judge each other. There are few, if any, safe places where teens can go for help or safety.

Recently, I attended a service for a fifteen-year-old boy who shot himself in the head after watching Thirteen Reasons Why. I seriously doubt the show caused him to commit suicide. No, pain caused him to commit suicide. In his life, whatever pain he was experiencing was so overwhelming that he felt he had no other options. When someone is depressed, his or her brain becomes unhealthy, and doesn’t process serotonin properly, which alters how a person reacts to crisis and pain. It’s as if that person has tunnel vision. No! It’s more like that person is looking through a straw. They can only see one solution, and they truly believe they are making the only choice possible. Killing themselves will end the pain. And everyone will be better off without them.

I know. I know! This doesn’t make sense to you, whose brain is processing serotonin properly. But to many people in pain, suicide is like a bell that rings with perfect clarity.

Let me make this a little more personal. I have a fourteen year old at home. You think I haven’t had this on my mind all week? I’ve had little else. I don’t know the circumstances in the other boy’s life which caused him to see suicide as his only option. And I wish I did. He sent a text message to his sister saying goodbye in the last seconds before his killed himself. She found him at home just a few minutes later. They don’t know why. They never saw it coming.

Hannah was a smart, fun, and pretty girl who smiled and laughed, and rarely allowed her pain to show. In fact, no one saw it coming. NO ONE! Only after Hannah revealed her reasons, the thirteen reasons, did the pieces come together. And in hindsight, it was painfully obvious. But only if you have all the pieces laid out before you. Each smaller piece didn’t tell enough of the story to see what was happening in her head.

Parents, your children are watching this show. I don’t mean to alarm you but—wait! Yes, I do mean to alarm you. WAKE UP! Your kids are watching this show. And we all know that the young are incredible at recording information, and the absolute worst at interpreting it. They very well may watch this show and relate to the pain Hannah was experiencing, and feel somewhat empowered by her courage to kill herself. Because they are looking through a straw and can’t see the big picture.
Okay, you’ve heard me. Now what? Well, I recommend you watch the show. All the episodes. Watch them by yourself first. And then invite your teen to watch it with you. And then talk to them about it. Have the suicide talk. You can do this!

Don’t accept the “I’m fine,” robot response. Hannah mentions how she stormed out of the school counselor’s office and paused just out of sight, praying that he would come after her, but he didn’t. And with that final element of disappointment, she followed through with slitting her wrists.
Seriously. You can do this. You can talk to your kids about suicide. They won’t enjoy it. Neither will you. But you might be surprised by what you talk about once you get the ball rolling.

One final thought about Thirteen Reasons Why, the Netflix series: I was praying the show would end, and the entire staff would come back on and do an anti-suicide talk, and recommend seeking help, but it didn’t happen. The show ended and went straight to the credits. This is a hard fail, Netflix. And it’s unacceptable.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Amish Firefighter and Laura Hilton

What a great idea for a story!
Check out Laura Hilton's novel, The Amish Firefighter...

Can they overcome their past?

Abigail Stutzman’s life is about to change – whether she wants it to or not. Her mamm is getting remarried to a widower with a large family. Abigail is sent to live with her aenti and onkle in Jamesport because she and her new step-brother had dated and their parents anticipate problems. (Her step-brother is needed on the farm.) Abigail launches a full-scale plan to return home to her family—and Mark—when she finds herself in over her head…and heart. When Abigail and her new “wrong crowd” get into significant trouble, her punishment includes helping a collection of crazy old maids with housekeeping. In the midst of her atonement, Abigail uncovers family secrets that run deep, and realizes she’s not the only one with a pain-filled past. Abigail must decide if she’ll continue her messed-up legacy or embrace a new beginning with the man who’s stolen her heart.

Sam Miller has trouble of his own. When Sam and his close friend Ezra Weiss are in a drug/alcohol-related car accident in Pennsylvania, Ezra is killed. Though Sam survives, he is deeply affected by the tragedy and vows to help other victims. Now a new Christian, Sam is a volunteer firefighter and a college student working to earn his EMT and paramedic license. But Sam has a past. When it comes time to confess his crimes, he finds that the truth may set him free—but it might also land him in some uncomfortably hot water. Will Sam and Abigail be able to find a future together?

But wait! There's so much more to this story! Here's another glimpse...

But now, just a week after her arrival in Jamesport, Missouri, Abigail finds herself at the scene of a barn fire. An intentional barn fire. And all fingers are pointed at her. She's desperate to prove her innocence and protect her reputation, but nobody's making that easy to do. And God certainly doesn't seem willing to help.

Sam Miller is in the process of turning over a new leaf. When local barn fires escalate, everyone suspects arson. And since the Miller family are among the victims, no one is more determined to see the perpetrators brought to justice than Sam.
A Kindled Flame Neither One Could Have Anticipated....
When their paths first cross, at the site of a barn burning, the emotional intensity rivals the warmth of the flames. Soon, they must decide whether this fire is one they should feed or extinguish. And they'll discover that the truth can prove more dangerous than a blazing inferno.

Right? You've got to read this one!

Not only is she an amazing author, she is also an amazing woman. Check out this tiny glimpse of her life...

Q. If you could have dinner with one person from today or history (except Jesus) who would it be? Why? 
A. My mom. I’d like to ask her questions about things I don’t remember and ask her advice about things. I really miss her.
(This answer gave me a lump in my throat. So many people will identify with it.)

Q. What is your favorite Bible verse?
A. I have so many favorite Bible verses, it is hard to pick just one. But for today, the one that is coming to my mind is “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10 (NIV)

Q. What do you enjoy most about writing?  
A. Almost everything. I love the creating process, getting to know new friends (in my mind) and learning their story.

Q. What can your readers expect from you next? 
A. The Amish Firefighter is releasing in May and it will be followed by three more Amish books.
(Talk about good news! Laura has some amazing things on the horizon!)

Q. What can readers who enjoy your book do to help make it successful? 
A. Review on your favorite online retail sites, tell your friends, libraries, and book clubs, and others about it. Word of mouth is the best way to support an author.

Just reading her bio should make you want to read her books...

Award winning author, Laura Hilton, her husband, Steve, and their five children make their home in Arkansas. She is a pastor’s wife, a stay-at-home mom and home-schools. Laura is also a breast cancer survivor.

Her publishing credits include three books in the Amish of Seymour series from Whitaker House: Patchwork Dreams, A Harvest of Hearts (winner of the 2012 Clash of the Titles Award in two categories), and Promised to Another. The Amish of Webster County series, Healing Love (finalist for the 2013 Christian Retail Awards). Surrendered Love and Awakened Love followed by her first Christmas novel, A White Christmas in Webster County, as well as the Amish of Jamesport series, The Snow Globe, The Postcard,  and The Birdhouse. Other credits include Swept Away from Abingdon Press’ Quilts of Love series. Laura is contracted for another three book Amish series set in the Jamesport area, with the first book, The Amish Firefighter releasing in May 2016, followed by two more Amish books and a Christmas story releasing in Fall 2016, Spring 2017 and Fall 2017 respectively.

She has self-published a Christmas novella, Christmas Mittens.

Laura is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and a professional book reviewer and blogs for Putting on the New and Seriously Write.

Twitter: @Laura_V_Hilton

Purchase her books:


Friday, April 15, 2016

German, or Something Similar

This was written by my daughter, Kaitie Elizabeth....It's very clever and I thought you might enjoy it. It's also a true story.
Kaitie, surrounded by a group of German tourists

German, or Something Similar

Once upon a time, there was a girl who was so socially awkward that she got herself stuck on a donkey. That girl was me. And that was the day that learned to speak German—at least, I think it was German.

 It all started on a European cruise that my family and I took. On this cruise, we stopped at Santorini, Greece. Santorini is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. With beautiful black beaches, spectacular scenery, ancient cities, and an active volcano, who wouldn’t have fun? But in order to see all these amazing things, you have to get to the top of the mountain village, and to get up there you can choose between cable cars or donkeys. My mom and brother wanted to take the cable cars, but my father and I wanted to have the traditional Greek experience. So, we opted for the donkeys. My mom was a little skeptical, being that she read every single horror story of people being tragically thrown off their donkeys down the mountainside and never seen again. But we assured her that we would be fine. I really should have seen this coming. This isn’t the first time I’ve gotten myself into an awkward situation, you know.

 Anyway, we stepped off the tender and the moment our feet touched the ground my mom says, “Oh look! There’s the donkey guy.” Thinking we were all on the same page, my dad and I rush through the sea of tourists and into the back alley where they were loading people onto the donkeys. 

Meanwhile, my mom has no idea that we'd left. She turned around, and in that split second we were gone! Vanished into thin air. My brother kept saying, “There’s no way that they would go get on the donkey without telling us first.” But we did. And after a while of searching, mother decided that we had gotten on the donkeys without telling her; she rushed to get on the cable cars.

 Back to my side of the story. We had already done our waiting in line, and a big Greek man picked me up and sat me on my donkey and off I went. These donkeys were trained. They knew exactly where to go. And there was no way to control them. They walked along a wide path all the way up the mountain. It was like a Disney ride. You could simply sit there and relax and take in the scenery. It was great. Except for about one minute into the ride, my donkey stopped walking. I sat there nervously trying to think of a solution. Nothing was coming to mind. So I just sat there awkwardly, rocking back and forth, sort of nudging my donkey with my feet, whispering threatening things into its ears, and petting it. Nothing. That stubborn donkey was not moving. Meanwhile, tons of other donkey riders passed by. Including my dad. They couldn’t help it. Like I said, the donkeys knew where to go. And they couldn’t be controlled. So, my dad was now way ahead of me, with no hope for return.

I’ve been sitting there for about five minutes now, and none of the workers noticed me. They were too busy lifting people up onto their donkeys. I continued to sit there mentally kicking myself. Then a group of about fifteen German tourists came along, and they were screaming something in German at the very top of their lungs, and their donkeys were moving. And I mean moving. Fast! So, I leaned down and quietly repeated whatever they were saying to my donkey. Nothing happened. I then nervously repeated it again, this time, a little louder. Still nothing. I was beginning to lose my patience. I then sat up, held on tight, and yelled that unknown German phrase as loud as I possibly could. And ZOOM!

My donkey started moving like it never had before, and it smashed into every single wall that stood next to us. And every pair of eyes in that area turned and stared at us, zipping up the mountain like mad men. Soon we ended up with the group of fifteen Germans, a woman wailing hysterically, and some person in the back who kept yelling, “HAW!” (and every time he would do that my donkey would ram as hard as he could straight into the wall that stood between me and a plunge down the mountainside). So, whenever my donkey got to close to the edge, I would have to scream in German again to get him to go the right direction. We were quite a sight, and this continued all the way up.

When I got to the top, a similar-looking Greek man picked me up off my donkey and sat me back down on the ground. I was relieved to be done. I said goodbye to my strange little group of fellow donkey riders and walked away to find my dad, who got dropped off at a completely different spot than me. Even after I found him, my troubles weren’t over. My father and I then spent an hour and a half searching all of Santorini for the cable cars. And my mom and brother did the same, only they were searching for the donkeys. After what seemed like ages, we all found each other and laughed about the whole ordeal.

So, next time that your mother says, “Hey, there’s the donkey man.” Maybe just take the cable cars instead.

The End