Friday, May 16, 2014

The Desires of Our Hearts

I love it when I God catches me by surprise and speaks something randomly into my heart. Not audibly, of course. It's that still small voice we believers recognize as the Holy Spirit prompting our thoughts. This happened to me yesterday as I shared the cliff notes to my past and all that God has done for me in the last decade.

I was explaining to someone how I felt in an abusive marriage. I didn't have any hope of an emotionally fulfilling relationship. I was just trying to make it the best it could be and count my blessings instead of focusing on my hardships. I think I was pretty successful at that, since I endured 27 years of abuse. But when I'd feel very low and discouraged, I would remind myself that God was equipping me through suffering to help someone else "down the road."

I was so aware that those who have suffered themselves have the most to offer to another hurting person. I can go back in my mind, to spots in different homes, and visualize where I cried and thought of Romans 8:28 and sincerely told the Lord, "If the only good thing that comes from all this is that I can help someone else later on because I really understand, that will be enough for me." And I truly meant it from my heart.

As I was expressing that to someone yesterday, it was like someone whispered inside my head, "And He will give you the desires of your heart (which I recognized as Scripture). I gave you the desire of your heart." I couldn't remember the entire passage. But I had the feeling at that moment that He was telling me this was a desire that was aligned with His will for me. Not that I was being rewarded for being "good." Just that I was in His will to desire someone else's good through my suffering and everything that was happening now was tied to that desire.

This morning I looked up the passage in Psalm 37:3-5 and read the fuller context...

Trust in the LORD and do good; Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, and He will do it.…

When I read it, I saw myself during those years. I did not have that Scripture in mind as I prayed that way. But, in essence, I see now that I was dwelling in the land and cultivating faithfulness to the Lord. I was committing my way to Him and I was trusting Him even though I so often felt "slayed" by my circumstances.

I can't say that every desire of my heart has been in accordance with God's will or even pleasing to Him, for that matter. But the desires that have been aligned with His Word, I have received.

When I was saying that to God all those many years ago, I never had the slightest idea that I would do more than help a few friends get through difficult circumstances. But God has redeemed my suffering in much greater ways than I even hoped for. God gave me the ability to write and He's given me opportunities to share my testimony with others. He brought me to a community where I've been able to use my influence and abilities to raise awareness and money for the fight against domestic violence. I've been blessed with so many opportunities to connect with others through shared experiences, trials and triumphs.

So many times our desires are for ourselves rather than for others. And God does not promise to grant all our selfish desires. But I believe He longs to grant the desire of our hearts when the desires of our hearts are aligned with His plan and His love for humanity.

I felt compelled to blog about this. If you are going through hard times right now and struggling to imagine how God will bring anything good out of what you're suffering, hold onto the promise of Romans 8:28.

He will do it.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Thoughts on Books and Moms...

In the last week or so, I have found my thoughts going in the direction of a possible third book. Even though my audience of readers is small and probably always will be small, I love writing. It's not about "selling" books. It never will be. It's about the writing and it's about the readers. My reward is the feedback from readers and the money/awareness I've been able to raise for our Women's Resource Center.

Helping other women and friends to overcome the wounds of domestic abuse and domestic violence in whatever way I can; that is a huge "payoff" for the years I struggled. I must also confess that sharing my own journey has been far more liberating and healing than I expected it to be. So much emotion (some of it I didn't even realize I still carried) was purged as I wrote and rewrote THROUGH MY EYES. I can read it now without any tears. But that in itself was a journey.

There are two subjects my mind keeps wandering toward when I think about another writing project. One is our CLL journey. My husband has "battled" chronic lymphocytic leukemia for seven years now. His mom was diagnosed less than a year after his diagnosis. My dad also had CLL. But all three of these CLLers have had a different CLL journey. My dad was asymptomatic from diagnosis to his recent passing. He is one of "those patients" who lived many years without needing treatment and died with CLL instead of from CLL. He was diagnosed in or around 1997 and died this March from end stage Parkinson's disease. He was diagnosed with both at or around the same time. His CLL diagnosis came out of a routine physical. And I remember being told he had "the good cancer." That's another blog post or book. But in Dad's case, it turned out to be true. He never had anything but an escalating white count. He never got sick. He never had enlarged nodes. He never needed treatment. But in the last 17-18 years of his life, he had other serious medical issues that included triple bypass and Parkinson's. CLL turned out to be the least of his concerns.

My husband's CLL journey has been a different kind. We had a real scare when he failed chemotherapy in 2009/10. His has not been the most aggressive kind of CLL, but it has been nothing like my dad's CLL. If you've read my blog or been my friend, you know John's journey. And I have documented it here on my blog if you want to know more. I won't go down that road in this blog post. But he has been in a nice remission and enjoying good health for four years now on Idelalisib. He was in an early clinical trial and a little pill taken morning and night has controlled his CLL beautifully. It's amazing that this little pill has been able to do for him what chemotherapy could not -- and without all the side effects and toxicity to his body.

My mother-in-law is somewhere in between my dad and my husband as far as her CLL progression. She entered an Idelalisib (formerly known as CAL-101) trial as an older patient having never received treatment for her CLL. John's trial was for patients who had failed or relapsed treatment. They offer new trial drugs to the patients who are in the worst situation first. Marian looked fine, but her platelets were steadily falling and she was becoming anemic. She had a few enlarged nodes as well. But they weren't visible. When her platelets dropped below 100, we started to discuss treatment options because to wait for her to be in a dangerous condition would be foolish. Especially at her age. John was doing so well on CAL-101, she felt that choosing the clinical trial was almost a no-brainer. And it turned out to be a good choice. She is also doing beautifully and still dancing at 81.

Which brings me to the other book that is dancing in my head right now. Tomorrow is Mother's Day and my thoughts this week have been drifting constantly to my mom, obviously, but also the other Mothers in my life. My mom died in 1987, just two weeks after her 49th birthday. I was 28. It's tragic to lose your mom that prematurely. Tragic in so many ways. I will always hate that she didn't get to meet the majority of her grandchildren. Tragic that they missed out on having their Grandma Jane in their lives. She has the most gorgeous (inside and out) granddaughters, whom she would absolutely ADORE and be so proud of! She didn't get to know a single one of them. She had just three grandsons when she died; Danny, Jared and Justin. And they were all just kids. She now has ten grandchildren and six great grandchildren. The family reunion we will have in heaven will be so wonderful. I often find myself thinking about the things I want to tell my mom when I see her again. And I could write a book about those things alone.

However, my thoughts this week have also been focused on two other mothers I have in my life; Marian and Rebecca. John's mom has loved me like one of her own from the first time we met. She is an absolutely lovely person and such an "easy" mother-in-law. Without her, I wouldn't have John. And I'm so grateful for her "middle son." But I'm also thankful for her. Nobody could ever replace my mom in my life. I would have loved to grow into a more mature relationship with my own mother over the last 27 years. But having a mother-in-law who is both a friend and a nurturing mother figure fills a gap in my life that wasn't filled from 1987 to 2003. I was motherless. But because of my surrogate mom, I don't feel motherless anymore. In some ways, I have become more of a typical daughter in that I feel free to argue a point even when I'm wrong and sometimes that "me do it my way" little girl comes out if I imagine I'm doing something differently from the way she would choose to do it. But even that is such a gift. I'm able to be completely myself with Marian. And there is no fear whatsoever of rejection or disapproving consequences. How many daughters-in-law can say that about their mothers-in-law???

My daughter-in-law Rebecca is the other mom in my life who has occupied so many of my thoughts this week. My son hit the jackpot when he married Rebecca. And so did his kids. I am so thankful my son has a spouse and best friend in one person. I'm thankful she has that in him as well. They complement and bring out the best in each other in so many ways. It's wonderful to watch their relationship and their family grow (from the sidelines, as a mother). I feel so blessed to be here to see their happiness and, even more than that, to see them serve God and pursue His calling in their lives as a unit. They are raising sweet, compassionate kids. I see those little hearts developing into caring individuals; each in their own ways. They are all so unique and special. And I thank God all the time for the gift of Rebecca in their lives and in mine. It's a pretty amazing blessing to watch your grandchildren enjoying the world's best mom as their own. And I know this is something not all mothers-in-law can say about their daughters-in-law.

So, you see, I am doubly blessed even though I am without my own natural mother. And I could write a BOOK of my deepest thoughts, emotions and observations to and about each of them -- or one book dedicated to all three. And I just might do it. When my second book on abuse was finished, my editor wrote to me that maybe my next book could be a joyful one -- like the joys of a happy marriage. I don't know how many readers there would be for a whole book filled with my gushing about John and our life together! Of course, there will always be a bit of that in any book I write. ;) But a whole book might be overkill and might have to come with a barf bag. LOL.

I didn't enjoy Mother's Day for at least five years after my mom died. I couldn't look at any Mother's Day card in any store without tears streaming down my face. The loss of a mother is so terribly deep. And I always feel so grateful for friends who have had their moms throughout their lives. I have a friend who is with her 94 year old mother right now, hearing her mom say that the trip they're on is the best of her life. It put a huge smile on my face for both of them. I got to hear words like that from my mother-in-law after our recent ten day cruise together. We had a lot of fun together and sharing a cabin was a breeze. She even made coffee for me every morning. And I stopped by the sports bar and grabbed a glass of wine for her to sip while getting ready for dinner a time or two. We made memories to last the rest of our lives. And I hope to one day do something similar with Rebecca.

I'm thankful that Mother's Day is not a painful day for me anymore. I can remember my mom with smiles and happy tears. And I'll think about all the things I want to tell her until I see her again. I'll always wish we could have had more time. And I'll always grieve the loss of her holding my grandbabies and watching my son, nieces and nephews grow into the beautiful human beings each of them are. But I am focused on my many blessings more than my losses. And I know we are not parted forever.

I love you, Mom. I love you so much. I have so much to tell you when I see you that I might just have to write a book before I get there.

Happy Mother's Day.
Hug your moms. Hug them tight.


Saturday, April 26, 2014

Free Books May 5

PLEASE HELP ME SPREAD THE WORD! 

I have decided to celebrate my birthday by offering FREE Kindle downloads of BOTH my books for 24 HOURS on MAY 5. Midnight to midnight.

I have also lowered the Kindle price of both books to $4.99 (and issued a permanent free download to anyone who purchases the print version from Amazon). 


IF any reader wants to make a donation to our local Women's Resource Center after reading one or both of my books, I would be HAPPY AND GRATEFUL to accept donations in any amount. 


Make checks out to WRC (Women's Resource Center) and send to: 

Shari Howerton 
John Howerton Honda 
252 Auto Plaza Drive 
Beckley, WV 25801

Your donation is tax deductible and your book is free. 


Click Here for Kindle Downloads of Breaking the Chains and Through My Eyes.

If you feel so inclined, I would also be most grateful for your review on amazon.com after reading!
Thanks!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Honesty and Healing

"Honesty has a way of humbling us.... As I've been honest about the bruised and broken parts of myself, the openness has become a doorway for God's healing." ~ Jonathan Merritt

I read the above quote this morning on someone else's blog and it reminded me of how much I've missed my own. Over the last couple of years, I have become more and more actively engaged with Facebook and less engaged with my blog. I used to write often here about my deep thoughts and emotions. I processed many a struggle here. I blogged about books I was reading and the thoughts and questions those books provoked. I've blogged about health issues (my blog has become a worldwide resource for Morton's Neuroma sufferers and I get dozens of hits on those posts every day). I've shared treatment updates and blogged about my role as caregiver since my husband (in 2007) and mother-in-law (in 2008) were both diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL). I've used my blog as a place to pay tribute to people I've loved and express heartache over people I've lost. On a lighter side, I've reviewed restaurants and shared recipes. This blog has been a public journal at times.

I get pretty deep on Facebook (deeper than some are comfortable with there). As recently as a couple of nights ago, my sweet husband shook his head at one of the conversations on my timeline and said, "I just can't believe you guys have this dialog on a public forum." And I explained to him that the conversation he was referring to wasn't exactly public. It was limited to my friends. And then we both laughed. Ahem ... my 880 friends. But, the truth is, I'm more comfortable than ever with revealing myself to others. I'm much more likely to carry self-disclosure to an extreme than to struggle with erecting walls of self-protection. And even though I go into deep waters at times on Facebook, it's just not the same. I miss blogging.

I didn't have the emotional energy to blog while I was writing my last book. Almost all of my reflection and emotional processing went into what is now 250 pages of my heart and soul; a book I'm proud of and so thankful God helped me find the courage to write. I don't know if there will be a third book one day. I didn't know there would be a second until I felt inspired to start writing. And I didn't write either out of a quest for my own healing. I genuinely wanted to help others. But God knew that my writing would propel me to the next level of my own personal growth. And, in retrospect, I clearly see the role writing has played in my overcoming.

Obviously, being open and honest has been cathartic and empowering. But possibly even more important than that, I have faced my worst fears in writing about the pain in my life; the fear of rejection and disapproval. And while overcoming these two fears is an ongoing challenge, I believe I am winning the battle. I am not allowing those fears to paralyze me anymore.

I realized very recently that I have outgrown my previous desperate need to be loved by everyone. Through a private process (inside my own head and heart) of coming to terms with a specific situation, I have discovered (to my own surprise) that I no longer crave love or friendship that is dependent upon my conformity to other people's expectations of me. I haven't stopped loving anybody. I've just stopped needing them to love me back.

I have arrived at this conclusion: If you reject me as I am or because of who I am (including my passion for sharing my heart and convictions), I will still love you, but I can accept your rejection without feeling my heart is being ripped out. Even though a specific struggle has prompted these thoughts, I'm not saying this to any one person in particular. It's an epiphany of self-discovery. It's broad and general. It's about liberation and the breaking of more chains. And it feels amazing. I know God has had me on a path to this place for a long time.

I've very recently had the blessing of some renewed friendships on Facebook. And because the second book is so fresh, there has been fresh reflection on the past and on the experiences that I have written about. A few times, after I have posted something that could be deemed "controversial," I've had the thought hit my mind, "Ah-oh, maybe I shouldn't have shared that.... What if I lose those friends or family members because they disapprove of me all over again?" And each time, I've felt a check. A voice (perhaps the Holy Spirit) has whispered back to me, "Have you come this far only to retreat back into fear?"

My intent is never to hurt people. I believe that friends who know my heart know this about me. And I am so grateful for those friends. If I had to pinpoint one thing about John and his love for me that means the most, it would be that he knows my heart and never judges my motives as malicious or hurtful -- even when I am at my worst. I'm not saying my heart is completely pure or that I don't have stuff in my heart that needs to go. But I don't have malice or bitterness in my heart toward anyone. And the most healing words that have come to me through John over the last decade have been, "I know your heart."

I've always longed for someone to know my heart. My heart has been misunderstood and misjudged by so many throughout my life. And because of that I've gone through much of my life feeling like I have to prove myself worthy, earn value in people's lives by pleasing and performing well. But once you get a true taste of love that is selfless and not contingent upon your stellar performance, it changes you. It liberates you. It's God's love. And the more we are able to show this kind of redeeming love to each other, the more empowered we will be to spread the Gospel effectively to unbelievers.

"By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." ~ John13:35

As Jonathan Merritt writes, (A Thread Called Grace):

In order to release my secrets, I must uncurl my white-knuckled fingers from deep desires:

My desire to be perfect. My desire to be liked. My desire to be in control. My desire to be successful.

Without releasing these desires, shame will keep my secrets locked up and convince me they can never be disclosed. It forces me to forge masks for myself and hide under them. Whether one faces an eating disorder, a marriage failure, insecurities and inadequacies, or just something done that they don't feel free enough to share with others, shame can trap us in the mire of our secrets and steal from us the gift of openness with those we love.

"Shame keeps us from telling our own stories and prevents us from listening to others tell their stories," says Brené Brown. "We silence our voices and keep our secrets out of the fear of disconnection." In the end, shame steals the very thing it promises: meaningful, authentic connections with others. Pursuing a life of honesty means to reveal who I truly am and assert that my story too belongs at the table.

I had the privilege of being interviewed yesterday for an upcoming newspaper article about the next Women's Resource Center fundraiser (Fun and Fur Fashion Show). As I said in that interview and have stated in my book, I am thankful for my journey. I don't regret the past that has shaped me. My life has not always been easy. I've suffered and I've caused suffering. I've been defeated and I've triumphed. I'm humbled by the reality of what my life could have been today and what it is because of God's grace, mercy and redeeming love. 

I shared with the interviewer how I struggled, as I initially wrote Through My Eyes, with the shame-based fear of being thought of as pathetic or weak because I accepted abuse as my lot in life for so long. But today I am honored to attach my face and my story to the fight against domestic abuse and violence. I am not ashamed to identify with other victims or to claim the adversities I have forged through. And I will not retreat into fear or allow my voice to be silenced. 

I will continue to be brave; as brave as God helps me to be, and share my heart openly and honestly. 
Shamelessly.


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Amazed at God's Perfect Timing

I'm very excited! And I'm in awe of God's timing!

I do not write to make money. I know there is no financial reward for a self-published author. I write for several reasons. I write to connect with and (hopefully) help others. I write because I love to write. I write because it helps me to process things and grow. I write because I love to share my experiences, what I've learned from my experiences, and I love to touch other people's lives. I love to inspire and give hope. I love to hear that I've played even a tiny role in someone else's healing/recovery. But my motivation has nothing to do with money. Oh sure, we joke about how nice it would be if I wrote a best seller and John could retire forever from the car business. But it's a joke. I assure you, John did not marry me for my money or my potential to earn money. I am a financial liability. He knows I would much prefer to give away every single book than to take a dime from anybody. And he STILL invested money in producing my second book -- even after I didn't make any money* (see disclaimer below) on my first. I am blessed with a wonderfully supportive husband who encourages me to pursue my passion for writing and sharing my journey.

I started working on this book (Through My Eyes) in early summer 2012. Last May I just set it aside for a while. I knew it wasn't finished, but I didn't have time to work on it. We moved. We were out of town a lot. We had company coming over the summer. My son and daughter-in-law adopted a baby girl in July and I wanted to be available to help with my grandchildren. There was no time to work on revising and publishing a book. During that time, God helped me to do a little more growing and healing. He provided opportunities for that growth. And as most people know, opportunities for growth often involve struggle. I had some struggles that wound up being "additions" to the book. They made the book better. I came back to the book a couple of months ago with a renewed zeal. When I put the book aside last May, I wasn't sure I even wanted to go through with publishing it. But now I know it was just a matter of timing.

I did find time, in the last couple of months, to devote to revisions. And just a couple of weeks ago I realized it was done. I was ready to share my story. At that point, I did not even realize how much God was in the timing of finishing this book. You see, our local Women's Resource Center is planning a fundraising event that my husband John was invited to participate in on March 14. It's called Hunks in Heels. I know it sounds kind of goofy, but local businessmen in our area will be putting on high heels to sell tickets and raise funds for victims and witnesses of domestic violence. These victims and witnesses include kids who see (mostly) their moms being abused.

I urged John to accept this invitation. He knows how important this cause is to me and why. I spent 27 years in an abusive marriage and was the victim of violent rage on many occasions, as well as almost continual emotional and verbal abuse. I have a soft spot for a lot of charitable organizations, but I relate most strongly and intimately with this one. I also convinced a good friend, Doug Lilly, to participate in this event as well. And he has no idea how much it means to me that he said yes. If he reads my book, he will understand why.

But back to God's timing...

It just so happens (and I do not believe in coincidence) that the timing of my book release (on healing from domestic abuse) and the planning of this event are coinciding. And today it occurred to me that I could use my book to help generate contributions by offering the book as a free gift to anyone who donated to the Women's Resource Center. My first thought was to make this offer to the first ten people who brought me a check for $25. And my next thought was, No...Extend this offer to everyone who wants to make a $25 donation. (God knows I don't care about the money. The only reason I let anyone pay me for the book is because I hate for John to take a loss on his investment in my writing. LOL.)

If all the time, effort and money I've spent can result in donations to an organization that helps other victims of abuse, that is even better than recovering our investment. It's an investment in lives and in the kingdom of heaven!

I love it when I see God's plan unfolding in my life. I have always believed John and I were brought to this area for a spiritual reason. Not just to sell Hondas. We have talked about it so many times. God brought us here to help advance His kingdom in this area. We didn't know what that would entail when we came. But I believe I'm seeing one of my God-ordained purposes here.

For every $25 donation to the Women's Resource Center I receive, I am giving away a book. I don't know how many donations this offer will result in. But I received my first $25 check tonight while having dinner at Bunkers. And I was so excited. More excited than if I had "sold" a book. Nothing would be more rewarding to me or make me happier than to give away boxes of books as a personal thank you for donations to this cause. And my sweet husband is completely on board.

Please help me help our local shelter. I hope I have so many people take me up on this offer that I have to spend hundreds of dollars printing books. If you are not local and have already sent me a check for a signed book, I intend to donate a portion of those proceeds as well after shipping costs.

Please know that I appreciate every reader. The only way I could be disappointed in the book's release is if nobody even cared to read it. I hope that if you know me (and especially if you love me), you will want to read my story. Not just to understand my journey, but, more importantly, because I believe it could help you understand and help someone else.

I haven't blogged much since moving to West Virginia. I've been too busy and preoccupied with other things. I have almost forgotten that I have a blog. But tonight I couldn't wait to share my excitement with all of you.

*I had to come back and add this. I did go "in the black" on Breaking the Chains. I did not lose money. But once I went "in the black," I stopped letting anybody pay me for a book because I really liked giving them away. The only time I accepted payment was when a friend absolutely refused to let me give it to them for nothing. If I had accepted payment for every book that is out there, I would have made a little money on the endeavor. But it was never about money and it still isn't. I will always enjoy giving books away more than selling them. John feels a little differently, but I think that's because this writing thing is my mission; not necessarily his.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

THROUGH MY EYES: Overcoming the Emotional Injury of an Abusive Relationship

It's done.

I have uploaded the Kindle file to Amazon and approved the physical proof copy. My book has been released and should be listed with online retailers soon. The Kindle book should be available for download by tonight. And I will post a link when the soft cover version is "live" on amazon.com.

As a self-published author, my book won't be on bookshelves. However, it can be ordered at any bookstore. It's available "print on demand" from Ingram/Lightning Source Publishing.

This has been quite a process. And now I'm looking forward to sharing another part of my journey with readers. I'm also looking forward to hearing from readers. Please don't hesitate to share your feedback with me.

I greatly appreciate those readers who have taken the time to review my first book on amazon.com. And I hope to see some reviews of my second book popping up as time goes by. You have no idea how much the feedback means to an unknown, self-published author such as myself. I don't have a publisher or literary agent promoting my work. And I don't have a clue how to promote my own work. Furthermore, I'm uncomfortable with self-promotion. So I simply write, publish and share through social media. Other than that, I'm hoping you'll tell someone about the book if you find it helpful. My greatest aspiration with both of my books is to encourage and inspire my readers. I would love to sell a lot of books. Every writer has a dream of having a book take off. And I'm no different. But that desire is secondary to the reward of knowing I've helped someone or made someone else feel less alone in their struggles.

I am so thankful for all the support and encouragement I've received throughout the writing process of both books. I'm also grateful to my husband John for not only encouraging me to write, but for being willing to invest financially in my passion for books; the ones I read and especially the ones I write. I couldn't do this without him.

I now begin the process of hoping to break even. But I already know, from previous experience, that I'm going to feel like I've won the lottery every time I hear from a reader who found inspiration or hope in my story.