I haven’t exactly figured out why yet but it seems as though people are a fan of lists.  In fact, there’s a book I bought that I keep meaning to fill out that basically wants my life history in the form of lists.  Lists of what I like, what I don’t like,  a list of my favorite recipes, a list of my favorite flowers, pretty much anything you can think of… it asks for in list format.  I thought it would be fun.   Turns out, it’s actually rather difficult to narrow things down to a list of, say, ten.  In fact, it’s kind of hard to narrow things down even to a list of, say, twenty.  But, it got me thinking.

Let’s assume you met someone and you had to give this someone a snapshot that accurately described YOU.  Well,  when my girls were born,  I developed a totally irrational fear that I was going to die before they got old enough to really remember me.  Statistics and psychology state that most of us don’t have a clear memory of childhood until we reached the age of about eight.  I really, really wanted to make sure that she would remember me, and remember that I deeply love her.  So I’ve written her letters nearly every month since she was born, as I have also done for the same reason for Alight.  What if my worst fear came true?  What if I don’t make it to their adulthood?   What do I hope that they ultimately gather from all the letters?  That I love them, yes, but I also would want them to have a clear picture of who I am…. I would want them to feel as though they knew who their mother had been.  What specific traits or beliefs would I want them to know I hold dear?

Since 10 is a well accepted answer and since it tends to be what the book that got me really thinking about all this asks for,  I decided to try and capture ten beliefs that really encapsulates me. Unfortunately, I couldn’t  narrow it down to 10, so I stuck with 11.   Like I said, this is no easy task and I’m sure it’s rather incomplete.  But I do believe that, if I were asked to re-create a similar list next year or in twenty years, these 11 beliefs would still make it onto the Very Important Beliefs List.

This is what I came up with.  They’re numbered,  just to be numbered,  but they aren’t in any particular order, per se.

(1)  God is real.     Pure and simple, He is.  I used to try and use reason to explain His existence and then I realized you can’t.  God is a personal God, one that wants a unique relationship with me and with everyone else.  For that reason,  what makes me know unequivocally that He’s real is going to be different from what makes you know unequivocally that He exists.  The proof is in our lives.  For me,  I know He held my hand as a child.  I know I  have heard His voice.  I’ve had specific prayers answered, and I have felt Him close.  I’m not a Bible scholar, I can’t quote a scripture for every life event.  But I know that the Bible is divinely inspired by one God who sent His son to die on a cross so that I might one day see Him in person.  God IS real.

(2)   Hope exists.   Have you ever had a season in which the entire world might as well have been gray?   You walked outside and, well, nothing felt good.  Not the breeze.  Not the sunshine.  Well, I have.  And, one day, my daughter asked me what leaves really felt like.  I’d seen leaves every day for a crazy number of years and I didn’t know how to answer her question.  So, we went out and got a leaf.  And we examined that leaf like it contained the secrets to the world.  It kind of did.  I noticed that some leafs had spots on them.  Who’d have thought?  We called them “sick leaves” and we pretended to make them better.  We were sorry for the leaves with spots.  We noticed that some leaves are torn.  And then there are some that are brilliantly colored,  a green that Crayola has yet to capture.  It made me realize LIFE  is all around me.  Suddenly, I wanted to know more.  I started paying attention when I went outside.  I realized I’d always thought we had to rush in when it rained, but didn’t really know why I did that.  So we started dancing in the rain.  Rain became beautiful.  I noticed when I went on trips that every time a mountain came in view,  my heart quieted and felt  rested.  I started seeking mountains out.  And then I realized that not only is life happening in nature but it happens every day too.  I don’t know who I’m going to meet tomorrow.  Fairy tales exist because there’s a sense of anticipation, a sense of wonder.  I started treating each day as though it were a page in one of my books and I was the heroine.  My heroines actively look for kind people, they actively seek out adventure, they believe in magic.  I didn’t—but I wanted to.  So I tried.  And I ultimately found out that it was in the trying that I found hope and all my efforts were rewarded nearly every day.  Every time something bad happened, I stated trying to see if I could balance it out with something good.  And I could.  A day was never 100% bad things—there was something good in each and every day.  All I had to do was look for it.  And so I came to believe that, while it’s quiet, hope always exists, even if you FEEL rather hopeless.

(3)  Children are perfect gems.  Children are magic.  There is something in them that just…. for the love of heaven, children can take an ordinary day and turn it into a fairy tale.  I love the way they see things as new…. my daughters often hear a word and ask me what it means and it reminds me that there is a whole universe they don’t know about.  Each day is about discovering something.  My oldest loves to dig in dirt and unearth worms. I don’t know why.  My youngest loves to climb on things that I just know are going to topple over on top of her one of these days.  Again, I don’t know why.  They have an enthusiasm for life that is contagious and they teach me how to have fun,  how to respect human beings and how to trust.  The greatest jewels that have ever been draped around my neck are the arms of my children.  Teaching them delights me, playing with them awes me and watching them grow humbles me.  They motivate and enlighten me; they give me purpose and they make me believe.  They are perfect gems .

(4) Laughter heals.  This is a cliche saying we’ve all heard multiple times — but it’s true.  Sometimes I find it hard to laugh and then someone says something that’s funny and makes me give in to genuine laughter and  it makes me feel so good I want to cry, and am overwhelmed with gratitude.  Laughter refreshes us, puts a band-aid over wounds that are deep.  It might not heal them indefinitely,  the band-aids might get wet and come unglued but laughter provides us with a respite that is absolutely a critical ingredient to a healthy life.  If it’s forced, it won’t work.  If it’s at the expense of another person, it won’t work.  But, when it’s genuine, when it’s real, laughter really is the best medicine for sadness.

(5) Every one has a gift.  Period.   Not just the lucky ones.  Not just the ones born outside the grip of poverty.  Not just those safeguarded from abuse.  EVERYONE has a God-given talent.  I feel very passionate about this and could probably write an entire blog dedicated to its subject.  I believe that our talents were meant to act as tools, tools to help us through storms and tools by which we can magnify God and be a light.  When bills and familial problems don’t overshadow our talents,  we become heart-happy.  Talents give us confidence;  they’re a natural resource hidden within each of us.  I feel so strongly about this that I created an entire program to teach to school children.  The program started with me asking the kids what they’re talent was.  Most of them replied they did not know, a statistic I found very sad.  We have to discover what our talent is so that we can nourish it and be true to it.  When we give ourselves permission to do exactly that, the results can be beyond our wildest imaginings.  I like to think of talents as seeds planted within us.  If we water the seeds and attend to them, then we get an amazing, plentiful, successful harvest that’s ripe with emotional health and even financial stability.  We weren’t just tossed onto the planet with no help: not only do we have God on our side but He entrusted to us something that can grow and nourish our souls.  Talents can be the ladder by which those in poverty and abuse climb out.  Talents can be stepping stool for sheltered and spoiled grown-ups to mature into responsible and compassionate adults.  Grown-ups think they have to grow-up,  put aside “childish” dreams;  grown-ups believe dreams should be limited to financial successful or marriage or children.  Adults, on the other hand,  know that God dreams bigger than any breathing human and, therefore, dreams themselves cannot be caged but must be chased, no matter how impossible.

(6) Family matters.  My mother only had one rule while we were growing up.  My sister and I would not fight, not under any circumstances.  Every time we would, she would remind us that we were each other’s best friend.  Everyone else would come and go, but we were always going to be sisters and that that was not something we were ever allowed to take lightly.  She was right.  Today, my sister is one of the best people, one of the most sacrificial, one of the most hard-working women I know.  She can laugh like it’s going out of style, but she’s also responsible and has a stronger work ethic than nearly anyone I’ve ever met.  She’s a butterfly—you can’t cage her because she always flies higher than you think she will.  I have often said that I really want to be her one day.  She’s confident, she’s successful, she’s full of life and she cares.  Family is the unit that can hold you together,  they are the eyes that see when you’re blinded by love, money or any other distraction.  They see your flaws and love you anyway.  They are the glue that keeps you grounded.  Good ones lift you up and support you while bad ones forever traumatize you, more than anyone else has the ability to do so.  They share your history and your memories and, because of that,  they are instrumental in making you the person you are.  Without them, you’re more of an island than you should be.  You were born into the family you were for a purpose, a reason and, whether that was a good thing or not… family matters.

(7) All that glitters is not gold.  When I was a child,  I used to think that one side of my family was pretty close to perfect.  They were stable.  They went to church on Sundays.  They seemed to like kids, and their kids seemed to behave.  They had money which meant that they were successful.  They were strong.  I kind of wanted to be like them.  Until I grew up, and learned that they are incapable of handling trauma.  Even when they are bluntly told that they have inflicted enormous amounts of real and lasting pain onto members of their own family—they are unwilling to acknowledge and change it.  They don’t accept responsibility and, in short, most of their “success” is a facade.  They glitter, but they don’t shine.  Sometimes, I do the same.  I will smile when I’d rather be crying.  I will tell you I’m okay even when my world is falling apart.  In my mind, it’s how I stay strong, it’s how I maintain control and eventually heal.  But, to others, it can seem as though I’m not “real.”  This pains me deeply and is something I’m continually working on.  It’s part of why I have am such an open book with the blog.  I’m trying to learn how to show who I really am, and trust that that’s enough.  You can chase dreams that aren’t yours.  And you can catch them, too.  But, when you do,  you find it’s not what you thought it would be.  It’s not what you thought it would be because it wasn’t your dream, it was a dream you were living for someone else.  Taking the time to look past the sparkle of new opportunities, of people, of events to see what lies beneath isn’t stalling,  it’s time well spent.  Life is not a race,  there’s no deadline on happiness.  Slowing down, appreciating the seemingly ugly, seemingly boring people, places and less-than-thrilling opportunities often results in spectacular finales.  All that glitters is not gold.

(8)  We are relational creatures who long to be understood and accepted anyway.  The need to be perfect is an illness.  It’s a disease that can totally corrupt perfectly wonderful and magical things.  It is hard to be around perfect people and, furthermore,  it denies us what we really want.  We were created to need others.  We were created to be relational.  Our deepest desire is to be loved for who we are.  In order to be loved, we must first be understood and accepted.  In order to be understood and accepted, we must be willing to share that which we think we cannot share, we must be willing to fall and humbly ask for assistance,  we must be willing to admit our weaknesses.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve held my tongue, or refused to give an honest opinion, because I was afraid of disagreeing with someone.  But did you know that not very many people want to be right all the time….. not really.  Really, what they want is to get to know you.  Really, what they want is a relationship or a friendship but if we don’t open ourselves up, if we don’t risk rejection every once in awhile, then the people we most love and care about are denied something precious:  a glimpse in our hearts and minds.  Yes, they might reject us anyway but we open ourselves up not only for their benefits but also because, every time we do,  we find out more about ourselves, we (slowly) learn to accept the parts of ourselves we thought we had to hide;  we grow.  And then… if we continue to be brave and reach out, we find someone who truly understands what we say, what we believe and who we are…. and loves us anyway.  When that happens, fireworks glow, butterflies dance, magic sparkles and peace cometh.

(9)  In a fight, nobody wins.  Silence can win over enemies.  When I was in school,  there was this girl.  We’ll call her Priscilla. Priscilla hated me.  I don’t know why.  But she made my life miserable.  Luckily, we did not share any classes together, only rode the same bus.  Every afternoon, while I was waiting in line for the bus, she would walk up to me, pinch me so hard it left marks and tell me to go to the back of the line.  I always obeyed.  I never said anything. Then, one day, the bus driver told me to tell the principal.  I did.  I have no idea what took place after that, all I know is that Priscilla stopped bothering me.  She didn’t talk to me, but she started leaving me alone.  At the end of the school year,  when we got our yearbooks, she asked me if I would let her sign mine.  In my head, I thought: “Dear God, no way” but I silently handed it over, sure she was going to X out my face or something.  When she gave it back, she’d written instead:  “You’re a pretty cool chick.  Priscilla.”  My world turned gold.  All I had ever done was smile at her and give in to her.  Technically, I wasn’t “silent” here.  When the bus driver told me to tell the principal, I did it.  But I never engaged in verbal or physical combat with her.  Another example.  There was a girl who lived not far from us one year.  She was … not right.  She told us that she was going to burn a cross in our yard.   She was violent and she was mean and she was loud.  We ignored her, best we could.  Years later, my sister and I were in the grocery store with our great-aunt when we saw this girl again.  We were terrified.  In fact, we tried to hide behind my great-aunt, but the girl saw us.  Instead of snickering or laughing, she seemed glad to see us.  She said hi.  My sister and I were stumped.  When we fight, we say things we don’t mean but once something is said, it can’t be taken back.   When we fight, we do things that we otherwise wouldn’t do.   When we fight, we always have regrets.  I’ve never had a single argument or fight in which I walked away feeling victorious, even when I was clearly in the right.  Fighting only wounds, it does not resolve anything.  When we disagree, of course, we should say so.  But not until we can do so quietly and calmly and with great care, tact and respect.

10)  Strangers are friends–and sometimes angels in disguise.  Viewing the world as your enemy is only going to leave you bitter and resentful and because no one is perfect, they’ll continue to give you reasons to be bitter and resentful.  It’s a very sad and painful and lonely way in which to live.  I try to get in my car every day with the reminder that the person I meet at the gas station just might be an angel.  Or maybe a book agent.  Or maybe a wounded girl who needs help.  Or maybe Prince Charming.  It could happen.  I believe in fairy tales, magic and also strangers.  I have plenty of true stories that could help make you a believer  too, stories like the homeless guy I met at a gas station that transformed my life and who also disappeared without rhyme or reason.  Stories like the people I’ve met from blogging and writing books who have helped me understand that I really, truly have never been alone and that I can be understood.  Stories like the guy who saw my mother walking down the street shortly after my brother died and, without knowing who she was, put a hand on her shoulder as he passed her and told her  “it’s going to be okay,” before disappearing around a corner.  Strangers weren’t sent here to hurt us, they’re here to bring light into our lives, light and hope.  They are friends.

11)  Words are powerful.  No action is stronger than words.  Words are a tool by which we can gain understanding.  Words are weapons that can inflict wounds from which we never fully recover.  Words can transform lives.  “I love you,”  “You are saved,”  “I’m sorry,”  “You’re pregnant” … words are the bridge between dreams and reality, but can also be the fire that burns the bridge.  Once spoken, they can never be taken back.  Once heard, they are never forgotten.  They shape our self-esteem, they lift us up or tear us down.  They heal, or kill.  Words are powerful so use them cautiously.

Together, these beliefs give a fairly good picture of who I am, and why I am that person.  They have defined my life and influenced the decisions I make and the life I lead.  And, ultimately, I hope that my daughters remember that, despite my past, I believe in and actively search for the good in others and in the world at large.  I don’ t ever forget my past because scars, by their very definition, never go away.  But they do fade, leaving room for hope, faith and joy.