The Healing Powers of Hope

Why do we have books?

We have books to learn, right?

It definitely depends on the book.

My Story

Scriptures aside, for many years the only books I ever cracked open were nonfiction books.  Still, the category of nonfiction is broad and can include many different types of books.  The books I used to read on a regular basis were considered Self Help.  For the first 14 years of my married life I immersed myself in reading about Organizing, Family, Parenting, Marriage, Home Improvement, etc.  However, included in the nonfiction category are also books that present facts about subjects, like real people, places, and events. Biographies, autobiographies, newspaper and magazine articles, personal and persuasive essays, histories, and textbooks are considered nonfiction writing.

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It was in 2008 where I had my first taste of fiction books.  I realized how these books offered me a way of ‘escaping’ my reality for a short time.  Up until that time, I used television and movies to facilitate my ‘escape.’  So for the last 4 years {again Scriptures aside} I have read 110 books.  Out of the 110 only 4 were nonfiction.  You might say I have made up for lost time, huh?  Let me remind you, several were read by way of audio book format. {You can read more about how I do that here.}  Audio books have made even the most menacing tasks tolerable and sometimes actually enjoyable.

Enough with the history…

Her Story

Instagram photo I took

I shared with you last month how I ordered Stephanie Nielson’s book Heaven Is Here I received this book on June 28th.  I began reading the book on July 24th.  You see, even though Stephanie is my hero…even though I wanted to find out more about what happened in her tragic accident…this book, her book, is a true account of her life.  There would be no escaping reality by reading her book.  Sure, it’s not my reality, yet it is of someone I highly admire and look up to.

I feel it important to relay to you I have never met Stephanie Nielson.  I did not read her blog NieNie Dialogues before her tragic plane crash. {note: she had 200,000 faithful & devoted readers before the accident}  I was introduced to Stephanie and her family when the news hit about her and Christian’s {Stephanie’s husband} accident.  A good friend of mine {thank you Emily} told me about what happened. {I’m not a news watcher.}  My friend thought I might be interested because Stephanie is a blogger and a member of our Church {not our local congregation.}  Not only that, her blog readers were instrumental in saying prayers and raising money to help the Nielsons.

Since the Nielson’s accident I have read her blog, watched her videos and listened to a radio show {interview with Stephanie & Christian} about what happened.  I really don’t want to sound like a broken record and go on and on about how inspiring she has been for me.  The point I’m trying to make here is this 1) Nonfiction hasn’t been my thing lately 2) I knew it would be difficult to read the details of someone I admire share her experience of being burned over 80% of her body.  Thus the reason it took me a while to actually open the book and begin reading.

Once I began reading I thought to myself, “Shan, why did you wait?”  It shouldn’t have surprised me how easy it is to read Stephanie’s story.  There is a reason she has 5 & a half million visitors a day {mentioned in their interview recorded a couple of years after the accident.}  She is a good writer.

The first section of her book/memoir is called Part One and is 11 chapters.  These chapters are about Stephanie’s life before the accident.  More importantly, the strong bonds of the family she came from and the one she has created with Christian.  As I read Part One I learned more about her personality.  There were many instances where I saw, in a way, a younger version of myself.  She talked about how she had short hair and didn’t care if boys don’t like her because her hair was short.  She wanted them to like her for who she is on the inside, not just on the outside.  Plus, like me, she is a hopeless romantic.  This was a surprise.  Just as reading about her and Christian’s courtship was a pleasant surprise in the book.  Their love story is like a fairy tale.  And it definitely does not end after they are married.  They are very much deeply in love, even today.

It was chapters 7-11 that affected me in a way I never saw coming.  These chapters are the Nielson’s happily ever after.  It is the story of how their family came to be.  It is stunningly beautiful.  Their family life is also like a fairy tale to me.

My Story

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In walked the comparison monster. {insert creepy music}  I began to compare my family life now, the one my husband & I have created together to the Nielson’s family life.

I know.  I know.  Comparison is not good.  Besides, a wise person once said, “Never compare someone’s middle with your beginning.”  In this case it would be the opposite.  Never compare someone’s beginning with your middle.

Please don’t get me wrong, I am extremely happy for the Nielsons.  I’m not jealous.  I just wish our family now is a fairy tale family like theirs.

“What?!” you might exclaim.  “The name of your blog is Family Brings Joy.  Doesn’t this mean your family is perfect and happy all the time?”

I wish I could say a resounding “YES!” to that question, but I can’t.  Life doesn’t work that way.

Right now our family dynamic is somewhat tumultuous:

Much Younger Me

I have always dreamed and fantasized of what it would be like when I had my own teenaged Daughter.  It was going to be awesome.  We would have so much fun together all the time.  We would be close.

I hate it when people would tell me how awful it is raising teenagers.  {Especially when my kids were colic babies}  I was determined to prove them wrong.  How could they be so negative?  Don’t they know we young parents don’t want to hear things are going to get bad with our kids.  We don’t want to hear about how they will want to ‘break away’ from the family to express their individuality and all that nonsense.  When we are in the thick of things, we want hope for the future.  Because each stage of our parenthood has a degree of difficulty.  We weren’t given a manual when they were born.  We learn as we go.  Most of the time we do what was modeled in our own families as we were growing up.  Anyway, turns out raising a teenaged Daughter hasn’t resulted in the way I dreamed it would.  And honestly, people telling me that her behavior is normal {hate that word} or not out of the ordinary does not help how I feel.

Raising a Son has been like learning a foreign language.  He’s almost 14 and very smart.  It amazes me all the trivia he has stored in his mind.  However, he lacks optimism and zeal for life.  I’m trying to put a positive spin on him being obstinate, oppositional and defiant.  He gives me the most gray hairs and knots in my muscles.

My youngest Daughter {9} works diligently at trying to make me happy.  Bless her heart.  Because of the older two, I accept her willingness to obey and her cheerful optimism about life.  I do it gladly and somewhat greedily knowing there might come a day that it will end {I still hope not.}  Her smiles and love notes are some times the only things that get me through the day.

My husband has a very demanding career where he puts in a lot of hours.  In addition, he puts in a lot of hours serving as Bishop of our local Church congregation.  One of his hobbies is running.  He currently is training for his 3rd marathon.  Are you seeing where 1+1+1= very little time with the family & I?

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Now put all these people together, including me with all my imperfectness, in the same room.  It is not your fairy tale family.  There is a lot of arguing among the siblings.  The volume of the voices are at a level I do not like.  It does not matter what I do, it doesn’t seem to help.  As parents, my husband & I get emotionally drained refereeing.  I’ve worked diligently at teaching my children values.  I’m not sure you would believe that if you were around them very long.  I’m too tired to share all the ways we have tried to make a change.  Just trust me, there are MANY.

I started thinking, “surely there has been a time in our family where we were happy.”  Sure enough there is and it was when my kids were younger.  I remember my Son running to me, giving me a tight squeeze in the middle of the day and saying, “I love you, Mommy.”  I remember giggles and play-dates with friends.  I remember fun family reunions and vacations.

But, I wish we could still be happy while the kids are older.  Isn’t it possible?

Then comes the light bulb moment…more like a reminder.  We all have trials.  Every family has trials.  Every person has trials.  They are all different.

 

Her Story

Let’s go back to Stephanie.  I have not finished reading her book.  I’m at chapter 18 now.  It is Part Two where she explains what happened in the plane crash and horrendous aftermath.

I wrote the following on my personal Facebook page on July 26th:

I’m stopped at Chapter 15 for tonight. I can’t read anymore. It’s so heart wrenching. I hope I’ll be able to fall asleep after crying. I’m so grateful to know Stephanie’s progress since their accident. Oh my goodness what she went through…

Stephanie’s honesty about her days upon waking from her medical induced coma is difficult for me to read.  It makes me incredibly sad.  My heart feels for her.  This trial she endured {and continues to endure} is something I can not comprehend.  It is difficult to read her words without crying and sometimes sobbing.  This is why I can only read a little at a time right now.

My Story

Look at what I learned about myself while reading only half of this book?

Is it possible that my unhappy family right now, this huge trial for me {I know this might seem like a big stretch} could be likened to the Nielson’s tragic accident?  I mean no offense to anyone, especially not to the Nielsons.  I have not suffered the same physical agonizing pain as they have from being burned on 40-80% of my body.  I definitely don’t want to belittle what they have gone through.  {Don’t worry, I’m not asking for monetary support of any kind. Prayers are always helpful, though.} On the other hand, I have deep emotional ‘burns.’  I believe our Family can be together forever, beyond this life.  Family is very important to me. {Hopefully that is evident in this blog.}  It is agony to not feel unified in our family.  {Stephanie & Christian’s families played a crucial role in their recovery.}  Many times, being the Mother, I feel it is my fault.  This starts the cruel shame wheel that plays, “You’re a failure.” on repeat.  I then go over and over in my mind what I could have done to prevent this.  It’s sometimes easier to think it’s something I have done, so I can feel I have control and be able to make a positive change.  I can control me, not them.  Maybe I’ve been escaping too much to my fiction books and need to dust off those nonfiction ones again?

So is there hope?

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Conclusion

Heaven Is Here‘s sub title is: An incredible story of hope, triumph, and everyday joy It is completely that.  Even though I haven’t finished her book yet, I know how this story in Stephanie’s chapter of life ‘ends.’  She is alive and well.  She just had their 5th child!  She is as beautiful as ever.  She is an inspiration…one of the most positive people I know.  Every time I see a photo she posts on Instagram I am grinning ear to ear for her.  If Stephanie can overcome being burned on 80% of her body.  I can overcome this trial in my life.  She gives me HOPE.

Last but not least, I HOPE after baring this burden, you will not give up on visiting this humble abode of a blog.  This is real life…I believe in families…I still believe families can bring Joy.

Disclaimer:  Once again, I have not been paid by anyone, including the Nielsons, to write this post.

Hope is powerful,

Comments

  1. Hi Shan. Read your post this morning and let it rest in my heart all day long. Know your mommy fear and guilt is normal yet also Satan’s most used weapon of choice for us moms. Trust that God loves your children more than you do. He desires the best for them more than we do. He wants them to make the best choices. He wants them to know Him. He wants us to trust Him to pick up where our parenting skills stop, fail, or lack altogether. Place your hope in the desire for them to know their Savior in a real and personal way. It is this, and only this, that will ever make any worldly or eternal difference in their lives. Love ya and praying for peace to trump any earthly fears that crop up each day that contradict His promises for you (and me!).

    May we trust our children to live fully through Christ alone- not requirements, expectations, or the law:

    “15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
    17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” Philippians 2:15-21

    • Monica, I very much appreciate you taking the time to ponder my predicament and respond by commenting on here.

      This was a very difficult post for me to write because I’m opening myself up in a drastic way. As my friend, you know personally this struggle because we have talked about it before.

      My faith is very sacred to me. I am not ashamed to proclaim my Christianity. I choose not to ‘flaunt’ {not sure that is the best word} or discuss religious matters in great detail on my blog. Family is the basic unit of society no matter a person’s beliefs. I want every person who visits Family Brings Joy to feel welcome here. Sometimes speaking of specific religious beliefs might make a person feel uncomfortable.

      With that said, I do want to say that we teach our children of Christ. There is a photo of Jesus in our Living Room and next to it is a framed copy of The Family Proclamation that states:

      “Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.”

      All of the above {and then some} are the values referenced in my post that we have been teaching our children. Unfortunately, there are always variables which interfere with making a family life happy. I do believe with faith, hope and a little bit of pixie dust…no just joking…with faith, hope and love we can always work through whatever obstacles come our way.

      Thank you for your prayers, friend. Love, Shan

      P.S.: Is it possible you wrote the wrong scripture verse? I looked up Philippians 2:15-21 in my King James Version of the Bible and it was very different from the one you typed above.

  2. Oops…yup Galatians not Philippians 🙂 I was so proud of ya for continuing to stay transparent and real on your blog. Hope you were encouraged knowing even when mommy-hood and family seems to be messy and not what we “expect” that someone bigger has got it covered. If only more of our culture and society would also see your awesome blog and the ever critical building block of the family and the impact it has on a person. Keep up all you continue to do to show the love of Christ to your kiddos and hubby. I hear you about “filtering” your blog posts, guess it was just the first thing that consumed my heart and thoughts about how to give you encouragement. Sometimes we just need to tell Satan to shut up. Let us enjoy loving our families without fear of the outcomes or circumstances based in the hope of Christ.
    Can’t wait to see all the back to school pics…especially the Vans. I think you should have bought a pair 😉
    Sending the virtual love (and extra pixie dust) right back at you!
    Monica

  3. Just FYI: I have read your blog more than I’ve read Stephanie Nielson’s; I’ve read hers exactly two times. While I agree that she is a very positive person, and I can’t imagine the strength it has taken to get through her trials, it’s just not “real” enough for me. I’ve watched her on Oprah, but I do not need to read her book (nor do I plan to read it) to know that family life can be “heavenly” and I know that her family is no more perfected than mine. I may not be as eloquent as others but I find great comfort in the fact that we aren’t expected to be perfect here in mortality. We are expected to “try a little harder to be a little better.” And, the beautiful thing about the Atonement is that each of us are given are own measuring stick as to what constitutes a little better.

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