Thursday, October 30, 2014


I recently had the privilege of reading a new friend's book prior to its launch.

The author is Brooke Lynn and her book is Raised by Strangers.

With her book Brooke shares a compelling testimony of triumph over extreme adversity and suffering.
She shares her faith.
She shares the lessons she's learned.
She shares her heart and her passion for helping others.

If you read her story, I assure you that you'll be moved and inspired.
And, like me, you'll be amazed at God's mercy and redemption in her life.

In the opening of her guest post, Brooke is quite generous with her words describing me.
I could have written all the same words about her. I invited her to write a guest post for my blog
because she has an important ministry with this book and I want to help her in any way I can.
Although the details of our stories are very different, I relate to her wounds and her transformation.

The toughest wounds to recover from are the ones that injure our souls;
the ones you don't see unless you take the time to pause and listen, care and understand.
The sweetest liberation is the freedom that comes directly from God and
His power to turn the tables on abuse, heal us, and equip us to touch the lives of others.

I know from my own experience that Brooke has poured her heart and soul into this book.
I hope you'll consider reading it!

~The following are words from Brooke Lynn~

I am honored and thankful to guest post on Shari’s blog. After reading her writings, this is truth; Shari is simply beautiful. She writes in an innovative style reaching others with a raw, transparent, vulnerable intensity, touching the spirit and soul with truth and power. God uses her to help heal and change lives. She empowers others to keep moving forward, pressing into God with faith and focus. It’s inspiring and encouraging to see where she has been and what she has been through; and to now witness her new life in Christ.

When we share truth, messages of hope, and outcomes from our journeys, people observe faith unfolding and realize they too have that same access to our loving God. With God, there are no boundaries. “With God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

Shari’s words are straight from her heart. She has persevered and pursues the perfect will of God, regardless of obstacles, dysfunction, and a long road of pain and healing. She has pressed past fear and allows her light to shine bright for all men to see. 

The experiences from my own past allow me to relate to Shari in many ways. I too have traveled a long road of dysfunction, pain, healing, and seeking God. Therapy, prayer, and keeping journals have been successful tools in helping me heal. I believe it’s therapeutic, refreshing, and emotionally satisfying to release our inner thoughts and turn them into visible words that hold wisdom, revelation and healing.

Some are taught to ignore their thoughts and feelings, disregarding them as meaningless or useless. This is nonsense. Our souls consist of our minds, will and emotions. God has made us in His image with these qualities. Instead of ignoring our souls, we need to embrace who we are and surrender ourselves to God. He will renew our minds, create in us a pure heart, teach us to guard our hearts, and heal us in His time. He provides wisdom, courage, peace, and strength beyond our understanding. He will direct our every step, holding our hand or carrying us through. God moves us to where He wants us to be.

People who endure trials, struggles, defeat, and trauma do not all get back up after the fall.  Some fear further failure, defeat or demise; which sends them into the mode of self-preservation. This can cause a victim mentality, defensive attitude, or worse; a stagnant life with refusal to move forward and accomplish goals and dreams because of fear. It is heartbreaking that many people today reside in this place. They accept their circumstances as the end result, lose hope in God, and give up on themselves.

This is NOT what God wants, nor the attitude He wants us to have. 

I have written a book entitled Raised by Strangers. This book is being released October 31, 2014. I personally invite you to read my true life story; it has taken much courage and faith to share. 

When I was just five years old, I was kidnapped and forced to live a life burdened with cruel and bizarre physical and emotional abuse.  My will to survive, inspired by an invisible hope, helped me fight the demons and stay alive as I endured haunting experiences.  

This book chronicles my true life story full of forbidden secrets, driven by darkness and deception.  First birthed into a marriage of teenage parents and their destructive relationship, I was later kidnapped, given away, and ultimately raised by strangers who tortured me. Through this gripping story, I share ways I have learned to overcome my horrendous past and rise above the ugliness of humanity with faith and forgiveness. This book is raw with reality and will help you find courage and strength for healing. I believe reading my journey will inspire you to also face your fears, forgive offenses, and live a life of freedom. 

Raised by Strangers

Please visit me at:  

Friday, October 24, 2014

Resisting the Lies

I saw this on Facebook today...

At first, I laughed.
Then I shared the cartoon on my own page.
Then I thought about different friends who I know have had "work" done.
And I felt the need to explain my deeper thoughts on the subject.
First of all, allow me to confess that I am just a tiny bit envious of your "good work." I want to look as great as you do. I'm not feeling morally superior to you when I make the comment, "She's had work" like the aging leaves in this cartoon. I'm actually saying it to myself (or to John or to a friend) because I'm not feeling good about the aging process happening in MY mirror, and a part of me wants to have "work" done, too. 
I do not think less of anyone who has cosmetic surgery. I'm not against any of us wanting to look our best, including me. Heck, I'm as vain as the next woman. I'm not exactly welcoming the changes in my face these days. But I'm also not chomping at the bit to undergo cosmetic procedures. I've never injected Botox or a filler, nor have I let a surgical instrument near my face. But I have used a plethora of creams, and I regularly push the skin on my lower face up with my fingers, fantasizing about the years of gravity I could get rid of with a Lifestyle Lift.

My husband thinks I look fine and doesn't want me to surgically alter my appearance. Aging doesn't bother him. He insists that as long as we're healthy, age is just a number. He doesn't love the idea of elective surgery for the simple reason that, although complications may be rare, there's always risk. He would rather not risk losing me just to get rid of the evidence that I am old enough to be a grandma.

I'll never forget the time I looked down into my magnifying makeup mirror and said agonizingly, "I have a grandma face."

And John said, "You ARE a grandma." In addition to assuring me I look great, he says things like: "Get over yourself. Everybody has to age. People who obsess over aging get weird." But I know that if I seriously wanted to have a procedure, he'd probably not try to stop me.

A less flattering "bathroom mirror" shot.

The main reason I'm trying to resist
making surgical improvements to my aging face is simply this:
Our culture is feeding us a lie.
And I want to rebel against it!

We're being bombarded with the message that looking our age as we grow older is something to be rejected; something unattractive or disease-like. Our culture values only youth and perfection. There's something so hideous about even the most beautiful of us (super models and other gorgeous celebrities) needing to be airbrushed or made even thinner and more chiseled for a magazine cover. It's artificial and perpetuates more lies. It makes our young girls feel inadequate even in their youthful prime.

I wish our culture valued inner beauty more than outer beauty. Sadly, it does not. But I have a choice in what I value. I'm going to be a role model and example to the young women in my life (my nieces, my granddaughter) either way. And what do I want for them? I want them to resist being objectified by the false messages coming at them constantly. I want them to know their value is in who they are and not what they look like.

When my nieces Karlie and Lexi were little, I told them so many times that it was more important to be pretty on the inside than pretty on the outside. And as I grow older, I have the opportunity to live out those words.

With Lexi and Karlie

I think about my role in their self-images almost every time I critique my own appearance in the mirror.
If I can't accept myself growing older, how can I have credibility when I urge them not to buy into the lies?

With Ashley
I greatly admire female celebrities who are embracing their aging faces rather than trying to create an illusion of youthfulness. I guess what it boils down to for me is that there is nothing I value more than someone being real. And trying to look ten or twenty years younger than we are is artificial. I also love that someone like Jamie Lee Curtis values being real above being admired for her "ageless" beauty. She doesn't want to perpetuate a false image that makes other women feel "less than." And I love that about her.

Integrity matters more to me than any other trait. But I recognize a struggle within myself for integrity when it comes to my vanity. I don't like the bags under my eyes or the puckers around my mouth. And I believe I'm going to continue battling the temptation to "fix" my aging problem. But I'm hoping that I will continue to rebel against the temptation to buy into the lie that I need to be fixed. And one day I hope to stop critiquing my face so harshly in the mirror.

It's a blessing and not a curse to grow old.

No matter how much surgery one has or how much money one spends, the reality is still this:
External beauty fades.


“There is nothing more beautiful than someone who goes out of their way to make life beautiful for others.”
― Mandy Hale

Now, that's the kind of beauty I want to aspire to. And that's the kind of beauty we can all achieve.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Story Behind My Blog

Why am I telling you the story behind my blog? you may be asking...

One of my assignments in the Intentional Blogging Challenge is to write the story behind my blog; why I started one and what I hope to accomplish with it. It's taken me a few days to tackle this one because I have to go back to a stressful time to answer these questions.

There was a lot of drama going on in my life when I created this blog in 2007. Some of the drama was public. Some of the drama was extremely private.

I wrote a book in 2009 about growing up in a cultish church and how I broke free to live the life I'm living today. In 2007, I didn't know that I would soon write and publish a book about that journey. To be an author one day was a dream of mine, or maybe I should say a fantasy. I'm not sure I ever really imagined I could -- or would -- make it a reality, but I felt compelled to write about my life. And I had several friends who were blogging. A blog seemed like a natural outlet for me.

By 2007, I had been "free" of my former church for over four years. But I use the word "free" loosely. I had left physically. And I was in a wonderful new church environment. But I still carried a lot of baggage spiritually and emotionally. One of the things I was still wrestling with in 2007 was what I believed doctrinally. I was raised with some unusual teachings. The one I had always struggled with most was "perfection." I was raised believing I had to "reach perfection" to "make it" to heaven. And I mean sinless perfection equal to the life of Jesus Christ.

Yes, that's a heavy spiritual load to grow up under. What that teaching meant to me was that I would never go to heaven. In my heart, I couldn't imagine how I could ever possibly be perfect. 

When I left the church I was raised in, I was searching for real truth. I wanted to believe the gospel that other Christians believed; that my salvation was 100% accomplished through faith in Jesus and not by my own works or achievements. But I had been told all my life that Christians who believed that were just looking for an easy way. So, not wanting to be deceived, I struggled to believe the true gospel because it seemed too good to be true. I did not want to simply exchange one set of beliefs for another without being convinced in my heart of what and why I believed.

Along with much reading and studying, listening to sermons, talking to my pastor and asking God to open my eyes, I blogged about my search for truth. I blogged about being taught perfection. In fact perfection was the subject of my very first blog post. I also blogged about some of the ways I felt I had been let down and betrayed by the religious "body" I had been raised in.

I knew some of my old friends read my blog to see what I was saying. There was a lot of controversy back then, and some of it was online. That was the public struggle. My blog was one way I was trying to reach out. I wanted to be heard. But more than that, I wanted to be understood. I'm not sure my blog ever accomplished that with old friends.

The extremely private struggle I was in back in 2007 was my husband's CLL diagnosis. (CLL stands for chronic lymphocytic leukemia.) He was symptomatic at diagnosis and his prognosis wasn't grim, but it wasn't optimistic either. At that time, the median survival from diagnosis was eight years. He was 53 and very young for his age. You can probably imagine how hard that hit me. We had only been married three years. And he was the answer to all my prayers as a husband. I was utterly devastated. And I couldn't talk about this very big, scary threat to our "happily ever after" because he wasn't ready to share it openly. Even though I am not a private person and I cope by sharing, I had to respect his desire for privacy.

I immersed myself in CLL reading and learning. I felt so helpless. The only thing I knew to do was soak up all the knowledge I could so that I might at least help him make informed decisions about treatment. I cried a lot. And I stayed home a lot because I don't have a poker face. I don't do pretend. Not even a little bit. I was fighting tears any time someone asked an ordinary question like, "So, how's life treating you?" And without explaining my emotional state, I would have only caused friends to wonder what in the world was going on.

Every time I looked at my husband during those early months, I silently told God, "I can't lose him," while my eyes filled with tears. I knew God's will might not be the same as mine and I was so scared. But I also knew God didn't have to give John to me in the first place. I was still blessed. No matter what the future held, I was grateful I had the blessing of being John's wife. And I pushed through all the fear to reclaim Romans 8:28. Even in this, I believed God was working all things for our good. Even if I couldn't possibly understand how that could be true.

Many of my early blog posts focused on whatever I was reading. The first book I read after John was diagnosed was Prayer: Does it Make any Difference? by Philip Yancey.

You might be able to speculate on why I was drawn to a book like that. I was struggling with prayer and whether or not my prayers would have any bearing on what John's future held. You see, my mom was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer at the age of 48. I was 27. Many prayers were offered on her behalf. Even prayer with fasting. Seven months later, two weeks after her 49th birthday, she died. God did not add years to her life even though we begged Him; even though everyone around me assured me God was going to heal her.

John lost his only child, his eighteen-year-old daughter, to a fatal asthma attack in 2003. We would have welcomed a miracle to keep her with us during that 48-hour hospital vigil. We were all praying. But it wasn't God's will. We had to accept an outcome we didn't pray for.

I have had to accept God's will when it didn't line up with mine on many occasions. And I was truly wrestling with prayer; whether or not it would make our outcome any different. I didn't want to put myself through the anguish.

The majority of my blog readers had no idea what I was going through as I wrote about prayer. I would not be given John's blessing to write about CLL until 2009. But writing helped me to focus on spiritual growth and gave me an emotional outlet in spite of having to keep some of my deepest fears internalized or cloaked in ambiguity.

My original purpose in blogging was simply to keep a public journal; to process and share thoughts on spiritual growth and daily living; to connect with others in meaningful ways and to perhaps make someone else feel less alone in their struggles. I'm sure I have faced nothing in life that someone else out there cannot relate to. I've received as much encouragement as I've offered.

My blog's purpose has evolved over the last seven years to include many functions. I now blog about CLL and the successful clinical trial my husband and his mom have participated in since 2010. (She was diagnosed in 2008.) I've blogged about my writing journey as I completed and published two books on overcoming past abuse. And I've written more than a few posts on the subject of abuse and how I have healed from those wounds. I've written on a wide range of experiences, opinions and emotions. I've blogged on gratitude and food and joy. One goal I will never have for my blog is to stick to one specific theme or subject. My goal isn't to attract the masses or make money.

Although I may write on a variety of subjects, the reason I write is always the same. Writing is a valuable exercise for me even if nobody cares to read what I share. But I always write in the hope of connecting with a reader and making a difference with my words. I love authors who reveal their struggles and fears and mistakes as well as their successes and triumphs. When an author shares about their own brokenness and relational issues, I feel less alone in mine. And that's what inspires my writing.

I like feeling less alone and more like just another member of the human race.
And I always hope my writing will do that for someone else.
Maybe even you.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

3 Simple Things Anyone Can Do for a Victim of Abuse

Though invisible to our eyes as onlookers, the internal/emotional wounds of abuse penetrate deeply, injuring the soul of a victim rather than their visible physical body.

In our communities, whether we realize it or not, we play a role in either empowering victims or keeping them trapped in abusive relationships. This is especially true of our religious communities. Much of the damage and harm we inflict on victims is done through ignorance. With no more than an ignorant question, well-meaning people often over-simplify and dismiss the plight of a victim and/or their long road to healing.

All good and decent people should care about injustice. For those of us who profess Christianity, we must not deceive ourselves that we are truly following Christ if we are not committed to opposing injustice. The opposite of love is not hate; it's apathy. If we can be aware of injustice and not be moved with compassion to relieve avoidable suffering, where is the evidence of our faith?

I'd like to offer a list of three simple things we all can do to help a victim feel less alone.

1)  Don't ask: "Why do you stay?" or "Why does she stay?"

We must stop putting victims under a microscope of shame. When we look at victims in disbelief and ask why they stay, more likely than not, victims feel judged by the question. A victim feels she has to justify herself and defend her choices to you (or the outside world when abuse is discussed by the media). It leaves her feeling embarrassment and shame. At best, the question over-simplifies her complicated situation. Instead, you might consider asking a question that will communicate concern and compassion. For instance: "What are your fears if you leave?" or "What are the challenges you face in trying to leave?"

2)  Read the book Mending the Soul: Understanding and Healing Abuse by Dr. Steven R. Tracy.

This is a book I can't recommend highly enough to anyone who wants to increase their understanding and knowledge of the wounds of abuse. Dr. Tracy is a professor of theology and ethics. His wife, Celestia, is a family therapist and abuse survivor. If you can only commit to reading one book on this subject, I would urge you to read this one.

I doubt any of us would ever want to create additional hurt and damage for any victim. But we fail to realize that lack of understanding and compassion does hurt and damage victims.

3)  Consciously reject an attitude of moral superiority.

While the question in some circles is "Why does she stay?" -- in our religious communities, a victim is often not permitted to leave without scrutiny.

I remember having lunch with a group of friends a few years ago. The subject of marriage was on the table. Each of my friends explained how they had told their grown children before getting married that divorce was not an option. "No matter how hard it gets, you stay and work on it."

These were not uncaring, self-righteous women. They were committed Christians who placed a high value on the vows of marriage, as do I. But as they discussed the hard times in their marriages, they were valuing their commitment and determination to work through problems with success. They had remained married to their one and only husbands for many years. And because they had not experienced an abusive relationship, their strong statements made me feel judged as someone whose life included divorce and remarriage.

I couldn't imagine that they would have encouraged their own daughters to submit to the abuse I endured for 27 years. But in this conversation, I felt like the failure at the table. I knew without a doubt they were not intending to judge me or my circumstances. But that's exactly my point. Unintentionally, their words implied anyone whose marriage ended in divorce must not have held the same convictions they held. And unintentionally, their comments implied a moral superiority to me or anyone who had been divorced.

With his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbor,
but by knowledge the righteous are delivered. ~Proverbs 11:9
Many Christian authors and study groups on marriage tend to create a false expectation for the reader or participant that a woman's efforts to be a godly wife will result in a godly marriage. This is not true for the woman who is married to an abusive man. Her efforts will result in being further exploited and degraded. When an abusive marriage ends, it does not mean the victim didn't try as hard as you did or was any less committed. Truth be known, she probably tried much harder than you have ever had to, and her reward was more contempt and abuse.

Abuse is rampant in society and you never know who you may be unintentionally judging or influencing with your casual words. Our lack of insight, understanding and compassion may have a profound effect on a victim's life and self-image. We may also destructively influence a victim's perception of God and His view of her with our lack of wisdom.

For years after marrying John, I had nightmares that I was still trapped in my abusive marriage. In my dreams, the emotional abuse I was enduring felt intolerable. But the heaviest, most suffocating element of every dream was the weight of how I perceived God. In every dream, I felt trapped in the sense that I so wanted to escape the abuse, but God was making me stay. The perception of His expectations had been deeply branded into my subconscious mind by my spiritual leaders.

I'm thankful I now know there is forgiveness for divorce and that God does not intend abused women to carry the guilt and shame for sins committed against them. I wish more religious leaders would wake up to this realization.

Additional information on this subject: Making a Difference

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Performance Anxiety

Nature or Nurture? 

I couldn't begin to tell you if it's my DNA or my formative years and environment, but I have always had severe performance anxiety. From the time I was playing piano as a little girl to speaking in front of an audience today (or last night), I am afraid to make mistakes.

I asked for piano lessons when I was only five years old. So there must have been a time when I played because I wanted to. I was an accomplished concert pianist at a young age (preteen). I had a natural, God-given ability to play. I remember my dad saying that my piano teacher was shocked when he told her I only practiced for 45 minutes a day. What's funny is those 45 minutes seemed like forever to me when I had to do that before I could go play outside with my friends.

I can't begin to number the times my dad asked me to play spontaneous recitals in our home for friends. It seemed like every time someone came over, I was asked to play. I don't remember ever really wanting to perform. But I did. And what I got from those performances was knowing my parents were proud of me and my talent. But it always frustrated me that everyone would beg me to play for them, and then right after I started playing, they all just talked and laughed. It was like nobody was really paying attention. I thought it was kind of rude. It hurt my feelings. And it made me feel self-conscious. I remember playing some difficult classical pieces like Chopin or Debussy while simultaneously wondering inside my head why anybody would make such a fuss about hearing me play when they weren't even going to listen anyway.

When I got married and left home, I stopped playing. There was no one to push me to practice daily and I was lazy. I hadn't married someone with either an appreciation for music or the desire for me to shine (the first time). And I hadn't played because I loved the piano in a long time. My reward for playing was that I made someone proud of me. I played only to perform. And I didn't like performing.

I've told many a friend, "I would much rather cook a fabulous meal for you and sit down to the table together and enjoy it than perform a piece of music any day of the week." I guess that means I'm not technically a true musician, even though I had an ability to play the piano. John says musicians play for the same reasons I write; they have to. And he would know. He is one. (I guess that officially makes me a writer.)


Every time I gave a recital or played at church in those early years, I was so nervous about making a mistake that it robbed me of the potential enjoyment of simply making music. I dreaded performing because of my fear of messing up. And it could be even a small mess-up that no one else noticed but me. That didn't matter. I could not feel pleased with my performance unless it was perfect. And nobody is perfect.

I grew up in a church that taught me I had to reach perfection to meet God's expectations of me and to receive eternal life. The cross saved us from past sins. But it was our starting point in earning His "well done" -- and heaven -- as an achievement. Oh, that last sentence is mine. It wasn't said in those exact words. But what I was taught was absolutely and totally performance based. And that IS what the perfection doctrine implies; the cross isn't what ultimately saves you. You save yourself by being His equal.

Perfectionism not only robbed me of the enjoyment of doing something I was good at, it took away my hope of meeting God's expectations. I'm sure perfectionism wrecked a lot of other facets of my life that I may not even be able to put my finger on.

What is required?

Last night I gave a speech at the WRC's Annual Candlelight Vigil. I was asked months ago and I accepted the invitation; not because I want to speak or even like to speak publicly, but because I know I have the ability to do so and I have a testimony of overcoming domestic abuse. I am motivated by a desire to give back and to help others. That's the only reason I agreed to do it.

As I said last night, I can't explain -- even to myself -- why the outcome for some is tragedy and the outcome for someone like me is triumph. I can only be thankful for the completely different life I am living today and the husband who loves and values me. What I do know is that with the gift of surviving and overcoming comes responsibility.

To whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48).

Heavy Days 

My intense preparation began two weeks ago, as the day began to loom just ahead. The first week, I wrote and wrote and wrote. The second week, I refined and read and timed myself. The last two days, I tried to rehearse the speech as many times as I could. For the past two weeks I've been tense and on edge. I'm sure part of the tension came from immersing myself in the subject of domestic abuse and violence. I lived it for many years and I can't focus on the topic without reliving some of my own experiences. All my reading and writing and much of my thinking for two full weeks was centered on abuse and the apathy of a largely uninformed society where victims are scrutinized more than abusers.

There were many emotionally heavy days of writing and rewriting this speech. I was affected. Even John noticed that I wasn't myself.

I felt like I was having to wade chest high in murky, dark water for days on end. But what was stressing me out even more was performance anxiety.

I fear making mistakes. And making mistakes in front of an audience is worse. It does not matter if I'm playing the piano or talking; I expect myself to do it perfectly, or be a disappointment. And I recognize that this way of thinking is a reflection of my former mistaken understanding of God. As a younger person, because I did not believe I could be perfect, I viewed myself as a continual disappointment to Him. Being in an abusive marriage for 27 years certainly didn't help me with that. I was disposable on practically a daily basis for being flawed.

The thing is, I know that no one does anything perfectly and no one expects perfection of me ... except me. But that doesn't relieve the anxiety.

It would not have mattered to me if my audience consisted of 20 people or 200 people. I'm not afraid or even intimidated by public speaking. If I didn't have performance anxiety, I think I could thoroughly enjoy it because I love to talk, and on this subject, at least, I have plenty to say. I didn't need to picture anyone in their underwear to relax about speaking. I could only have relaxed if I could have been assured I would not make any mistakes.

The anxiety was fear that I would not perform well (ahem, perfectly).

My self-imposed expectations are impossible to meet. 

I clearly met the expectations of others. But I certainly did not give a perfect speech. I was nervous. My voice broke more than once. And then I kind of hit my stride and was in the moment of what I was doing. In those moments -- when I stopped worrying about doing it perfectly and simply shared what I had written with the emotion I genuinely felt -- I became comfortable on the stage. And I was okay with being imperfect.
Why is it so hard for me to remember that REAL is better than PERFECT?

Dee, the one who asked me to give the speech, thanked me for being "amazing" more than once. I received a standing ovation and texts that assured me I had done an excellent job. One person told me that I was both amazing and professional, and had "captivated" the audience.  She said she was proud of me and was sure God was proud of me too. (Soothing words to someone who seeks affirmation continually.)

I believe all of those responses were genuine. No one cared that I wasn't perfect, or that I stumbled over my words a few times, or that I did not commit 5,000 words to memory and had to look down at my notes. They cared that I was honest, raw and real. And I can do that with my eyes closed and one hand tied behind my back. That's what comes natural.

So the next time I'm having performance anxiety, perhaps what I need to be reminded of most
is simply this:

Nobody expects me to be perfect.

That's my past, not my present.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Finding My Voice...

Today our writing assignment in the 21-day challenge was to email five friends or family members and ask them to describe me and/or my writing in three words or phrases. Once I receive their responses, I'm to write something that embodies what they have said about me. This exercise is intended to help us find our voices as writers. (I'm not sure I need help with that.)

So far, I have received four responses and I'm hoping I will receive two more while I'm still writing this blog post. I'm not sure if I should identify these friends by name. So I'll just list them in the order I received their responses.

Here are the first three:

Friend #1


Friend #2


Friend #3 gave me paragraphs, bless her beautiful heart!
Let's see... where do I begin!?
She is a dynamic woman, fully engaged in life, lovingly reaching out to others, be it a friend or stranger. She has an ENORMOUS heart of compassion, always striving to understand and respond in truth and love.
She has strong convictions regarding her personal beliefs, never compromising her principles, even if that means she may experience pain or hurt.
She is the most honestly open friend I know, with an amazing ability to write and speak with such clarity.  Her writings reflect her keen awareness of others and a desire to understand all perspectives, validate the reader and come full circle to a solid, fully articulated conclusion.
Shari is a beautiful woman, a loving friend and a true blessing in my life!

Friend #4

1. Vulnerable/Transparent/Honest
2. Introspective 
3. Intelligent 
How do I write about the sentiments of others and/or their descriptions of me? I feel self-conscious posting the third friend's comments because she was SO generous in her description of me. It almost leaves me speechless. (Well, I said almost.)
I certainly don't feel beautiful or amazing. But I'm glad someone thinks I am. (Thanks, dear friend!) 
The other adjectives? 
Yes, I must say I do see myself as vulnerable, introspective, honest, open, loving, aware of others, pursuing understanding, validating, uncompromising in some strongly held convictions, compassionate, engaged, raw, transparent, passionate. I think I'm as intelligent as the next person, but not exceptionally so.
I hope I am an empowering friend to those around me. I strive to be.
Touching? I know I have touched a few hearts along the way. 
I would probably add ADVOCATE.
And I would have to add a few less flattering adjectives to be balanced!

First of all, I'm addicted ...
(to Facebook)

I'm bossy sometimes. I have been called pushy and abrasive, though not recently. And when I reflect on the people who called me that, I know it probably wasn't completely fair or honest. But I still care about being perceived that way and try to remember that my directness can be misunderstood if I'm not self-aware and cautious with my words and tone.
I've noticed that sometimes I'm opinionated and even argumentative over silly things. And every time I catch myself in that mode (usually with John), I remember my grandma calling me Contrary Shari when I was a little girl. Maybe she was right.
I'm emotional, which is neither good nor bad. It just depends on the day and the circumstances whether it's a strength or a weakness. I could say the same thing about my sensitivity. I love my sensitivity when I'm being sensitive to other people. I don't like it so much when I get my own feelings hurt easily.
I'm still waiting for one more friend or family member to respond. So if you feel like telling me what your three adjectives or descriptive phrases would be for me or my writing, feel free to jump right in. You can post in the comments. And don't feel like you have to be all flattering. My skin has gotten a tiny bit thicker in recent years. Here's your opportunity to tell me what you think!
You have the option to do it anonymously too!
Ready, set, go!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Challenge, Discipline and Promotion

I have been participating in an online writer's challenge this week. It has consumed a lot of my time. I've been writing new blog posts and improving the overall appearance of my blog. But I have also been trying to "give back" to the writing community. I've received great feedback on my efforts and I want to reciprocate that kindness as much as I can. I love connecting with other people, both in person and online.

Yesterday's challenge was to write an "about" or "introduction" page. I previously had a small blip of a profile and nothing else. (It's still there at the top left.) I didn't try to say a lot about myself. That is actually the hardest kind of writing for me. Writing as a form of sharing comes naturally. Writing to describe or promote myself does not.

Nevertheless, as much as I did not want to complete this initial task and didn't think it absolutely necessary, I didn't want to fail at the assignment. So I went to work on my new page. I struggled to get started. I spent a good deal of time revising. And I had to make myself stick with it. But now that it's done, I am so glad I tackled this. Today I have a separate introduction page that tells new readers who I am and why I blog. But more important than that, it always feels good to meet a challenge head on.

This challenge is like going back to an honors class in college. We are being challenged to produce writing whether we feel like writing and completing assignments or not. And we are asking others to critique our work (this was an awkward part of my previous honors classes). Unlike a college course, we won't be graded and there will be no penalties for failing to do our homework. But writing is a discipline. And there is more to be gained from this challenge than improving one's blog. Discipline is an art that can be applied to any area of our lives. But practice is required.

Today's assignment was to clarify our blog's focus by responding to three questions. What is our subject matter/what are we writing about? What is our theme or specific area of focus? And what do we want to accomplish?

Some bloggers are focused on a specific subject and audience. I'm not. So, once again, I wondered if I even needed to do this exercise. And then I just did it.

I'm learning about myself as I contrast my goals with the goals of other bloggers. I realize I don't really care all that much about attracting huge numbers of readers. I have no interest in monetizing my blog or generating income with it. I have no desire to use gimmicks to attract anyone. When I write, I am hoping to connect with someone. That's all.

I like to encourage and relate to others on many levels. On a deeper level, I want other wounded souls to feel less alone. But on a lighter note, I enjoy writing glowing reviews of restaurants. Yes, I love food. But that's not the sole motivation. I love to promote anything or anyone I love.

I have written about CLL and some of my own lesser health challenges because I want to provide other patients and caregivers with emotional support, encouragement, and the information I was desperate to find at diagnosis. I try to emphasize how important it is for all of us to be our own healthcare advocate, or at least designate someone close to us for this role if we can't be our own.

In all areas of my writing, my goal is to encourage, inspire and offer hope. And every now and then, I may challenge you or even promote you. I'll express gratitude and hope you catch it from me. But I will never try to turn my blog into a promotion of myself or a business or remake it just to have big stat numbers. I would much rather have a few readers who are truly engaged by what I write. I feel the same way about my books.

So this is what I came up with for today's assignment:

What is my blog about?

Candid sharing about life's journey -- both spiritual and ordinary.

What is my area of focus?
To relate to others and form connections through shared experience and lessons learned.

What do I hope to accomplish?
To uplift and inspire gratitude: to provoke deeper thought on a variety of issues; to help others heal from emotional wounds and feel less alone.
Oh yeah, and to occasionally promote a great restaurant!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Getting Fresh in West Virginia

I have been meaning to write about this restaurant for about a year. And since I'm getting back in touch with my blog, I thought this would be the perfect time.

The Dish Café is a unique dining establishment for our area. I'm sure when most people think of food in West Virginia, you think about country cooking and maybe barbeque. I'm not sure what I thought -- or if I did think about it -- before moving here. But one of the nice surprises about moving to this area has been the abundance of delicious food options. And it's not all meat and three. But The Dish was the first (and only so far) of its kind.

The restaurant's décor is welcoming and relaxed. You will likely see at least a couple of the six owners (Rosy Corley, Beverly Hall, Mark and Michelle Rotellini, Devin and Tammy Billeter) on any given visit. They're greeting guests, in the kitchen cooking, tending bar, even serving. The atmosphere is down-to-earth. And I love the quality of their food. I also love to sit in the lounge because the bar is so pretty.

Every Tuesday night is Taco Tuesday and specials are displayed on Facebook. There are different lunch and dinner specials every day in addition to their regular menu items.

My favorite lunch special is the Turkey Asparagus Melt, grilled on their freshly baked bread.

The Dish opened after we moved to WV and the concept sounded so unlike anything we had tried here. It reminded us of the kind of restaurant you would find in a much larger, metropolitan area or a sophisticated city (not suggesting Daniels is unsophisticated). They serve whole, fresh food. Many of their menu items are also organic. They bake their own bread. They use family recipes. They even make some of their drinks with organic spirits. I love their fresh muddled cucumber fresca and cucumber martini. Both are made with organic vodka. Recently I also tried my first Moscow Mule at The Dish and it's now on my list of favorites.

One of my favorite lunch items is the Black Bean Veggie Burger with fresh avocado, salsa queso and chipotle aioli. It's served on a fresh, warm pita with a side item. I love being able to order something so delicious and yet equally healthy.

John loves the quality and flavor of their Honey BBQ chicken wings. I love them too. They also have spicy BBQ, parmesan garlic, sesame ginger, Cajun, Dante's Fire, and sriracha orange wings. I have yet to try them all but I have plans for the future.

We love the fried pickles with homemade ranch dressing. And I have been completely impressed with their fresh baked pretzels and pimento cheese. I have never really liked pimento cheese. But this pimento cheese is unlike any I have ever tasted. It's a family recipe and made in house. I crave it stuffed into a baked potato every now and then.

When I mention only certain appetizers, I feel like I'm leaving out the others because they're all good. We've enjoyed the lettuce wraps and the crab stuffed portabella mushroom (above) is, yes, simply "the best I've ever tasted." (You may remember that phrase from my last review.)

Their salads are made with fresh, locally grown field greens. They make their own homemade salad dressings. Their soups are homemade and delicious. They serve wild-caught fresh salmon. And their flatbread pizzas are wonderful. My favorite is the Roquefort Society Bread with melted Roquefort cheese, fresh rosemary, sliced red grapes and a drizzle of local honey. It's a perfect sweet and savory combination on a made from scratch, organic flour and agave nectar flatbread crust.

I eat lunch at The Dish often with friends. But they offer many great dinner specials. Pictured here are the steak and lobster, and the grilled Mahi Mahi with mango salsa.

One of my favorites on the menu all the time is the Cajun shrimp over creamy polenta with a spicy cream sauce. I could eat the spicy cream sauce all by itself with a spoon.

But you're going to have to save room for dessert. Whether it's the Avocado Brownie (trust me) or the Peanut Butter Pie or (our favorite) the Gluten Free Blondie with ice cream and homemade butterscotch sauce, you can't go wrong.

Here's a picture of our good friend, Mike Geiser, devouring the blondie. We ordered it to share because Mike can't eat gluten. We then ordered one of our own. And if we have dessert, it's the only dessert we ever order. It's amazing.

We enjoy The Dish for the fresh ingredients, the locally grown options, and the delicious creations that they put so much thought into serving. We also love the people, from the owners to the servers.

Tammy and Devin

There's something so inviting about a locally owned restaurant. I eat at chain restaurants too. But when I go to The Dish, my food is prepared by people who have come to know us and who make it obvious they appreciate our business. We have sure come to appreciate all of our friends at The Dish and always look forward to catching up, as well as eating great food!

It's been about a year since I had the privilege of appearing in one of their television commercials (simply because I happened to be having lunch there that day). I love this commercial because my reaction to my food was genuine. I don't get to make an appearance in commercials other than John Howerton Honda, so this was a special opportunity.

We love our friends at The Dish as much as we love their food!

If you live locally and haven't tried it, you need to!
And if you don't live locally, it's worth the drive!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


I've gotten a lot of feedback on my ‪#‎HerBlackEyeIsOURBlackEye‬ pictures from last night. Reactions have ranged from shock and horror to fear to "I hate that photo of you" to complete misunderstandings about the reason I shared them. But most of the reactions have been supportive and encouraging.

Regardless of the reactions being positive or negative, though, the "black eye" photos have achieved the goal of making people ... "stop, take notice and ask questions. And be uncomfortable. Domestic violence isn't pretty, it's hideous on the inside and outside." (Thanks, Dee!)

I'd like to explain for those who haven't read my previous blog post.

John and I were invited to participate in an upcoming Social Media Campaign to bring awareness to ending domestic violence in our community. This is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. And this Saturday night our local Women's Resource Center in Beckley will be holding its 24th Annual Candlelight Vigil.

We will remember those who have lost their lives to domestic violence this year. And we will commit ourselves to new efforts to put an end to the violence.

John and I were HONORED to be asked to participate in the video being produced right now for this campaign. That's why I was made up with a "fake black eye" last night -- for the video. It will premiere at The Vigil Saturday evening. And after that you may see it shared on Facebook.

With my friend, Dee Sizemore
My friend Dee Sizemore is the Public Relations/Fundraising Development Coordinator for
The Women's Resource Center in Beckley, WV.

Dee and I met at a charity event shortly after John and I relocated to this area. We knew immediately that we would become great friends and, more importantly, that God had a purpose in our crossing paths that night.

Last night as we shot still photos and video for the campaign, it took a lot of effort for me to speak or even look into the camera without smiling. I'm always smiling. My smile is who I am. And I never lose sight of how blessed I am to have so much to smile about. On so many levels, my life could be very different today. And that is just one of the reasons I am so passionate about this issue. I'm grateful. And I want to make a difference for someone else.

I want to do everything within my power to back up this campaign and help end the violence. This is a serious problem and victims are everywhere.

Victims often suffer in silence and isolation.

My pictures were not intended to bring attention to me. They were and are intended to focus attention on DOMESTIC VIOLENCE; reminding people of the victims who are struggling to survive and/or overcome their wounds. The emotional wounds of abuse take much longer to heal than the physical wounds. The soul is damaged long after the bruises fade away.

I wish we could produce a visual to illustrate what abuse does to someone on the inside.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Join Us in Taking a Stand Against Domestic Violence

There's a lot of emotion in these pictures for me. I hope they stir emotion in you too.

Before I scare anyone, this is makeup. But I hope you had a strong emotional reaction to seeing these pictures because bruises are not pretend for many victims of domestic violence.

I love this picture at the top because the downcast expression conveys what I used to feel so often; despair and hopelessness.

As many of you know, I endured a lot of abuse in my first marriage. From the age of 16 until the age of 43, I was emotionally and verbally abused almost continuously. Sometimes there was also physical violence. There would be physical intimidation including being knocked to the floor and being hit in the face with an open hand. But the emotional abuse was so much worse and left nothing visible. Those wounds were to my soul.

I never suffered injuries requiring medical attention and I never looked like these pictures. But the violence I did experience was always intimidating and at times frightening. The first time -- at 16 -- was really scary. That first time was the only time my abuser drew his clenched fist back as if he was just about to punch me in the face (while he held me against the wall). He did this to me because I wasn't looking at him while he was lecturing me. He was a whole foot taller than me and more than twice my weight. I had never seen rage like that in anyone. But I would see it many times over the next 27 years.

Once something like that happens -- and it only has to happen once -- you are not sure when it's coming again. My abuser had a hair-trigger temper. It didn't take a lot to set him off. And many times he was just looking for a fight even without an offense. When all you want is to avoid conflict and someone delights in taunting and antagonizing you, it wears you out emotionally. And sometimes you just lose it. I know I did.

The reason for my black eye tonight (and John's below) is the social media campaign we were invited to be a part of. I can't wait to see the finished video. It will premiere Saturday evening, October 11, at The 24th Annual Women's Resource Center Candlelight Vigil in Beckley, WV. The public is invited and it is free of charge. I am the keynote speaker.

Tonight, as a team, John and I (each with our black eyes) looked into a camera and said the words:
"Her black eye is OUR black eye."

Before washing my face, I took some additional pictures with my phone. I felt such a connection with other abused women through this experience and these pictures. I wasn't in any hurry to wash the makeup off. But John seemed visibly relieved when I did. I told him I was going to use one of these photos for my profile picture on Facebook for the rest of October. He looked pained.

I posted the new profile pic and added a caption almost immediately. But for a minute or two, there was just the image and no explanation. Even after I did add a caption, the reactions were (I must confess) exactly what I wanted. I was going for the shock value and I wanted Facebook friends to be afraid for me -- even if only for a second or two.

Someone who has never lived this way can't ever fully imagine what it feels like.
I don't have to imagine. I remember.

The man I'm married to today would never hurt me. Not physically or emotionally. He values me. He respects me. And he truly loves me. I'm blessed with a happy ending. And because I have been given much, I believe much is required of me. Speaking at an event, donating proceeds from my books, offering myself or my time, being made up for a social media campaign; these are all small ways I can help. How can you help end domestic violence? Surely there is something small that you can also do. I'm asking you to think about it. Then do something.
Please join us in taking a stand
against domestic violence.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Almost Heaven on a Sunday Night in West Virginia...

I think it's a pretty safe bet you've never met anyone who loves food more than I do. Just ask anyone who has ever eaten a meal with me. I've been teased by more than a few about how many times I've declared: "This is the best ______ I've ever tasted!" It's my official seal of approval. It means I'm in food heaven; one of my favorite places to be.

When we lived in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, we were regulars at The Parthenon Grille. The owners treated us like family. They ordered our favorite Riesling and put it on the menu so we'd always have it. We had a few favorite servers who took extra good care of us. They knew our preferences. And every time we walked in the doors, they made us feel special in addition to serving great food. So when we moved to WV, we hoped we would find "our new Parthenon."

There's no shortage of good food in WV. And we've had plenty of great meals. We're semi-regulars in a few different spots around town. But last March a new restaurant opened in Beckley that has won our hearts and palates. It's 304 Chophouse Classic Bar and Grill.

JP and Anita Hunter are the owners. Anita is the chef. A marvelous chef, I might add. JP is warm and personable; always making sure his guests are enjoying their meals, having a pleasant dining experience and feeling appreciated. Together, they are a dynamite duo.

There are a nice variety of selections on the menu and there are always interesting specials. Anita makes everything from scratch. I have been so impressed with her skill and creativity in the kitchen. She also manages to frequently deliver entrees to her guests' table personally. I don't know how she does that with all the meals she's preparing at any given time. She makes the absolute "best glazed carrots I've ever tasted." Seriously, they are a masterpiece of butter, brown sugar, garlic and thyme (I think I'm remembering the ingredients correctly.) Her homemade desserts are - oh my gosh - so amazing.
And you never know what she'll be baking.

Kirk is "our" server if he's there. I must say that we've received excellent service from any one of the servers at 304 Chophouse. But Kirk served us on our first visit and we liked him so much that we have always requested him. He takes excellent care of us and has a sense of humor. We enjoy being silly and John is always cracking jokes. No matter how good the food is, if you don't have a server that makes you feel comfortable and relaxed, your dining experience won't be a memorable one. And Kirk is one of the best. He's a new friend, not just a favorite server.

Another thing we are loving about 304 Chophouse is the live music on Sunday evenings. Whether on the Piney Creek Terrace or in the main dining room, we just love the smooth jazz and mellow blues of Major Bucks! I always request Al Green ("Let's Stay Together") and John looks forward to any of their Steely Dan covers. These two guys are really talented and John is usually singing along toward the end of our meal (rather loudly tonight). I asked Kirk if he heard John auditioning for the band.

Tonight we started with the Black and Bleu Sliders as an appetizer. These are the "best sliders I've ever eaten." No, really. I'm not just saying they're very good. I'm sure I've never said this before about sliders!

They are served on tasty little rolls with grilled onions, Anita's homemade bread and butter pickles and melted, creamy bleu cheese. Yum!

I asked for a dollop of mustard, ketchup and mayo on the side (I like to mix them together). And Anita is so attentive to detail, she had Kirk come back to the table and ask us if we wanted Hellman's mayo or Miracle Whip. I like real mayo but John's eyes lit up when Kirk mentioned Miracle Whip. So we got both. (Little things like this make me such a happy food camper.)

After our appetizer (which I could easily have made my main course), I had a Caesar Salad and John tried the vegetable and oyster bisque. The Caesar is always a favorite of mine. The bisque was equally delicious.

I haven't even mentioned how beautiful the restaurant is. The bar is gorgeous and we had fresh flowers just above our table...

We decided to be moderate (haha) and share a meal so we would have room for dessert. So this (to the left) is a half portion of Anita's crispy chicken with vodka sauce over pasta. It comes with a side. And although this might seem like a mismatched side with chicken and pasta, the spicy pinto beans topped with jalapeno corn bread were the perfect accompaniment as far as we were concerned. It provided a great variety of flavors, in case we hadn't had enough variety yet. I could have made a meal of the pinto beans and corn bread.

And finally ... dessert!
When I saw Chocolate Pecan Pie on the menu, I knew I would make room (not save room) for dessert tonight. I would have to have it topped with her homemade vanilla bean ice cream, of course. I've had several of Anita's desserts, but this is my favorite (so far).

Of course, I did use Splenda in my decaf to save a few expendable calories...

Almost heaven (West Virginia) means different things to different people. 304 Chop House is almost heaven to this girl.

Nothing makes me happier than a delectable meal with great music and good friends and -- most of all -- my wonderful, funny, handsome husband.

He knows just how to spoil me, you know. I tell him how much I love him countless times over one of these dining experiences. Sometimes my eyes even get misty. This is my bliss.

We are so glad JP and Anita decided to open this restaurant. And we look forward to many more good times spent right here in the future.

This isn't the greatest picture of the exterior since it got dark while we were enjoying our two hours inside. But the gorgeous is all on the inside anyway!  

Thank you, 304 Chophouse, for another great Sunday evening!