Deeper Questions: Milestones & Turning Points
What is your greatest weakness?
I’ve suffered from acute perfectionitis for as long as I can remember. Symptoms of acute perfectionitis include subscribing to the idea that, in order to matter or be accepted, everything you do must be perfect. This idea is completely delusional because, by very definition, perfection is a perceived state no human being can actually achieve; therefore, patients will exhibit unnatural levels of self-control and feel strained by life. Patients with acute perfectionitis may find themselves refusing to share relevant—nay, needed—information from family and friends about their lives because of the fear that family and friends will abandon them when confronted with an imperfect, sometimes even messy, reality. Manifestation of the disease may involve patients rebuffing or flat-out refusing help from caring friends and family because perfect people are always capable of successfully overcoming any of life’s many challenges. This will likely result in the patient feeling alienated and isolated from the rest of human kind: Perfection is a lonely state. Sufferers of acute perfectionitis try to be everything to everyone; they are known for being people-pleasers. Causing disappointment to others is never an option for patients of this unrelenting, exhausting disease: this means that they will choose to live up to others’ expectations of them even if doing so directly contradicts their own desires or dreams. They are the ones who always seem to be going “above and beyond.” Sufferers of acute perfectionitis are generally happy individuals, at least on the surface, but may feel that no one really knows them since perfection is, by definition, a perceived state no human being can actually achieve.
What is your greatest strength?
The greatest thing anyone can do is to keep their heart vulnerable enough to really love others. I don’t do many things well, but I genuinely, and deeply, love. To those whom I truly love, I am intensely devoted and truly care about their welfare and happiness. Loving others makes me loyal, slow to anger and quick to forgive. Truly loving someone makes me a good listener, and perceptive. The bottom line here is that I put the happiness and well-being of the object of my love—whether that be familial, romantic, friends or my daughters—-above my own well-being.
Is there something you always dreamed of doing, but never did?
You see, I am a girl, through and through. As such, I had elaborate dreams in which there was a church with people sitting in the pews. A man stood at the front of the church, waiting for me, and a father held my hand as we walked down the aisle. My mother and sister sat in the pew. Candles, pink and white roses decorated the church. I dreamed of seeing love reflected in the eyes of someone who had taken my heart. Marriage was more than a fairytale, though: it was proof that I was loved, proof that I was accepted, proof that all my flaws weren’t enough to keep him away. I dreamed of my soon-to-be-husband cupping the side of my face with a level of gentleness and tenderness I had never known. Ultimately, like all little girls who envision their wedding, I was dreaming of more than a ring on my finger. I was dreaming of being emotionally supported and, okay, adored. I wanted to be the sought-after, protected princess. I wanted to be assured that I wasn’t alone, I wanted that safe place to fall, the sure knowledge that someone loved me enough to choose me, for the rest of his life. What can I say, I’m a writer—I have a vivid imagination. 🙂
What have you feared that has kept you from achieving the dream?
I have acute perfectionitis. Remember? Doesn’t that answer this question? 🙂
I’d rather not love than be abandoned. I’d rather be alone for all time than be with someone who doesn’t really want to be with me. I’ve always been rather scared to death of trusting someone with all my scars and all my fears and all my flaws only to have that person use those things against me when reality popped the fairytale. I’ve always been deathly afraid of allowing someone into the corridors of my heart only to have that person decide to leave; in my world, that would be tantamount to his saying, I wasn’t worthy of him or that I was too [insert adjective of choice here]. I like to be safe. I can’t volunteer for any more pain, however much of a coward that might make me. I’ve had just about all the pain I can handle. Also, I’m scared to death of words. They are weapons people use when pained or angered. I tend to believe what others say when angered more than I believe what they say when calm. I think to myself, “They wouldn’t say that at all if a part of them didn’t really believe it” and so words like ‘broken’ or [insert negative adjective of choice here] don’t just slide off me, they haunt me.
Do you have a talent or a special gift you have not used?
That is a good question.
I don’t think so.
The only talent I have is writing, and I have done that extensively during practically every day of my life. I’m a pretty good teacher, but I utilize that gift as well. I’m a terrible singer, but I do that anyway. My drawing abilities are mediocre at best—-I haven’t done much drawing, but I have utilized it for the books. I’m fairly competent at speaking in public, but I do that, too. So, I’m going to answer ‘no’ to this one.
What is the nicest thing you have ever done for someone else?
I have no idea, although part of me wants to say mentoring. I volunteered time to help several children, one on one, and I like to believe that that impacted their fragmented lives. I like to believe they remember a girl who liked playing with them and who believed in them.
What was the most important decision you ever had to make?
To tell my mom about my dad, and childhood. It tore me apart. I couldn’t sleep one night because my baby girl was about to be born at the same time my father was going to be released from prison back into our lives. I was at war between my desire to truly protect my daughter and the desire to protect my mom and sister from the truth. Without question, it was the hardest decision I have ever made. But it was also the single most advantageous and right things I’ve done.
Where have you always wanted to go but never have?
The only places I have ever dreamed of going are France and Pine Mountain, GA. I have been to both locations. I’d love to go back to Loire Valley, France and Pine Mountain, GA one day. I’d love to visit Colorado again too.
What dreams have you had in your life that came true?
Being a mother.
Being a teacher.
Being a writer.
Describe any spiritual experiences you have had.
I was a teenager, in the middle of writing a book about the Holocaust. One night, upon going to bed, I couldn’t sleep for images of the stories I’d both written and read violently playing in my head. I opened my eyes and could see figures surrounding my bed. They were dressed in black, with hoods, and they were laughing at me. I couldn’t make out any faces, only that they were dressed in black. I have never, ever been so scared. I prayed, asked that they go away. They did not. Then I prayed, asking Him to hold my hand. He did, but it didn’t help the fear. So I started imagining that I was putting on His armor. That didn’t work, either. So I rolled over to the other side. Instantly, they were there, in front of me again, still laughing. I felt trapped. I stood it as long as I could, then I managed to jump up out of bed and open the adjacent bathroom door. The light that flooded into the room helped and I was eventually able to go to sleep. But the experience stayed with me for a very long time. No one will ever be able to tell me I didn’t see demons that night.
In college, I had the opportunity to go to a synagogue. The Hebrew language really affected me. Hearing the congregation recite prayers in Hebrew was beautiful. The warmth of the synagogue made me feel a presence I knew belonged to God. Someone close to me questioned my attendance at synagogue and I began to worry about whether or not I was “betraying” Jesus by attending synagogue. A soloist there talked to me and I remember saying, “I’m a Christian and I deeply love Jesus but…” and trailing. With kind eyes and a gentle smile, he said, “But you feel the light here too.” And I did. God was in that place and it has continued to a be a sort of refuge when I am truly hurting. When I told my pastor about it not too long ago, he watched my eyes light up and said, “I think Hebrew is your prayer language.”
There was just something very powerful about worshiping the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob with people not-too-distant descendants of Auschwitz victims and survivors. I am, from the depths of my heart, convinced that God is in that place just as surely as He is in my evangelical church. Those who seek will find.
When I prayed for my mother to keep her faith even though my brother had just died, she did. That was a direct answer to a prayer. When I was just a little girl undergoing terrible things, He held my hand, which convinced me I was not alone. That was the first time I really trusted in His presence, and it taught me to rely on Him.
When in your life were you hurt the most?
Being violated as a child molded me into the adult I am. I remember the panic that choked my breath. I remember the mind-numbing fear. I remember being afraid to pee, thinking that blood would come out instead of urine. Worse, though, I remember what it was like when I was planning my wedding (the real one, not the make-believe one). I had seating charts where everyone would sit at the reception tables. I planned everything, right down to the songs that would be played. I’d started work on writing my own vows. But then… then, when I was envisioning the event, I came to the part where I would walk down the aisle. The doors to the sanctuary opened and there I stood… alone. No dad on my arm. A new sword of pain shot through me. I can’t tell you the number of weeks that passed in which I struggled, almost desperately, to think of someone meaningful to walk me down the aisle. My mother, of course. Or I could walk alone. But… you know that scene in the movie, Steel Magnolias, where Shelby is about to get married and her father can’t hear anymore since he shot the birds out of the tree and Shelby says, “It’s time, Daddy”? There is something so sweet and precious about a father walking his daughter down the aisle and the fact that that wouldn’t happen at my wedding shot one more hole in my fairytale. The point is, yes, it’s in the past. But it seems that, every so often, something comes up that reminds me of what I don’t have. And that reminds me of why I don’t have it. And then the pain comes back, rushing in waves over the carefully built walls of my heart. Just like when you toss a rock into the water, ripples form, abuse, too, creates ripples in the life of the violated child. It doesn’t magically end when the immediate danger is over. First, the numbness has to wear off. You see, I survived by numbing myself to the pain to the point where I even told my mom as an adolescent: “I don’t think I feel things like most people.” Happiness, sadness, excitement…. they all felt like masks I wore. That’s how numbed I was. That doesn’t thaw until the danger has been removed from you for so long that you start to trust it’s gone for good. After the numbness wears off, then you start to feel the effects of a traumatized childhood. You start to remember and really, really grieve. That is not a one-night crying fest; it can take months before you stop crying for all you lost. And the funny thing is, you still don’t know what all you lost. Instead, you keep living your life, getting engaged and things like that, until one night, the man you love tries to touch you and you are suddenly sucked into a time machine and find yourself shaking, fighting for what feels like your life. You emerge shook to the core, forced to acknowledge you can’t react like a normal woman to intimacy and you have to deliberately and consciously learn overnight what is supposed to come slowly and naturally. Or when you finally muster up the courage to tell family members you believed loved you and face skepticism or ridicule or even mock acceptance and then you realize the truth has cost you not only your father but an entire extended family on both sides. When I say that what has hurt me the most was being violated as a child, I’m talking about more than the event itself. I’m talking about the full deal, all the ripples that no one ever thinks about.
So… yes… that would be when I was the most.
But I have dealt with my fair share of normal pain. Heartbreak, instability, betrayal, all those things, too.
Have you ever been the victim of a “con artist”?
Yes. My father.
What act or person has been a source of great inspiration in your life?
My mother taught me how to be giving, how to value dignity instead of justice and how to cling to faith when hope is but a dream.
Describe the funniest, silliest or most embarrassing moment of your adult life.
Well, the first thing that pops into my mind is when my sister and I broke the gas machine at the convenience store.
See, this is what happened.
We go to the store together and decide to be rather clever. I go in and pay for $90 worth of gas on only one pump, knowing full well that my car would only have $50. My sister is in front of the gas tank so she fills up. Once her car is full, the plan is for her to get in the car and pull up, get out, hold the gas pump while I pull my car up and fill it with gas. Clever, right? Well, once her car is full, I am supposed to take the hose out of her tank so she can drive forward. She gets in the car and drives off, however, before I take the hose out of the tank. When she drives forward, it rips the entire hose off the actual tank. We are holding the hose that has been disconnected from the tank! We stare at each other, too stunned and horrified to laugh. Embarrassed, she goes inside to tell the attendant while I get out the pocket book, sure we are going to owe, like, a thousand dollars. Then I start marveling at technology because, as soon as the hose ripped off the tank, the flow of gas miraculously stopped (thank you, emergency shut off). Fortunately, we learned that the hose just kind of pops back into place and nobody sued us and we were able to get the other tank filled with gas. We did not, however, return to that gas station ever again.
Describe the happiest event in your adult life.
The day my daughters were born.
What do you regret most?
There have been times when not being open have cost me very important and precious things—–relationships I cared very much about. Truly, nothing you give will ever be enough if you don’t also learn to receive.
Were you ever destitute?
As a child, yes. There were multiple times where we did not have the money for even a hotel room so we would sleep in the car. Once, we went to a KOA campground, paid for 2 nights and stayed for about a month in a tent, because we did not have the money to go elsewhere. I remember hotel rooms more than I remember any one bedroom.
At this point in your life, which of your accomplishments are you the proudest?
Other than being a mother, it’s my books. See, writing isn’t just a hobby for me. It’s not just a job, either. I truly, truly believe I survived without turning to drugs, sex or alcohol because of my characters. I acted out favorite scenes in my head over and over well into my teenage years to help myself go to sleep at night. There was a series called The Baby Sitter’s Club. They were about these seven girls and how they started a baby-sitting club. People called Claudia (she was the only one with her own phone)’s house three times a week and arranged for one of the seven girls to baby-sit their kids for them. These books took me away. Once, I had this Bible teacher I thought I was destined to marry. He wore Mickey Mouse ties every day, and he was so kind. He told me I was a fabulous reader (I read out loud almost daily). Well, when we left Memphis, I had lent him a book of mine to read, not knowing that we would be leaving town that very night. When we got settled, I wrote him a letter on the premise of getting my book back (I did not care about the book). The letter basically told him I was in love with him. I didn’t use those words exactly but I might as well have. I put perfume on it and I mailed it on pink paper. As soon as the mailman whisked it away, mortification hit me in the gut. I was so embarrassed. Well, while it was in transit to Memphis, I started reading Stacey’s Big Crush. In that book, Stacey pretty much does everything but declare her ever-dying love for this teacher of hers. She writes him love poems. She sends him love letters. She asks him to dance with her. She is pretty sure he’s going to ask her to marry him. And, while I read that book, I laughed so hard I had to bury my head in pillows. My cheeks changed colors: first, they were red from mortification for poor Stacey. I kept moaning, “Ohhhhh, Staaaaacey.” Then my cheeks turned purple because I was laughing so hard. My point is that these books really lit a fire in me. They inspired me to start the Mickey series. I had written a few stories before that but they had been sporadic. The Mickey series was different. The inspiration came from the baby-sitters: it would be a book about friends and their different adventures. After I wrote the first Mickey book, I never stopped writing. So, in a very real way, the Baby-Sitters Club kickstarted my writing and showed me how wonderful and marvelous and beautiful books can be.
Writing, in turn, helped save my life.
That is not an exaggeration. My characters morphed into my best friends. I thought about them all the time. I envisioned their lives. I wrote when I was in school. I wrote when I was in the car. I wrote when we were at restaurants, eating. Writing gave me a way to express how sad I was and, when I was happy, it gave me a way to express that, too. Writing was my safe haven, the one thing I could do well. I used to curl up in the bed and stare at the wall, pretending that one of my characters was beside me, talking to me. I pretended characters like Landon hugged me. Characters were real. I could see them. And I “heard” them. I remember one night when something new happened, something awful, afterward I laid on the bed, crying and I got through that night by pretending a character was there, holding me. I often practiced my autograph, imagining that one day, I would be behind a table and people would come up to me and ask me to sign a book I’d written and they had purchased. The first time I saw one of my books in print, I got chills down my spine. It was so beautiful and I couldn’t stop thinking about how, one day, many years from then, I would flip the pages of that book and they would smell like “old books.” I was proud that day of me and of my characters, too, for hanging in there and never caring what anyone else thought or said. Today, I can walk into a downtown bookstore and find them on the shelf. Not so long ago, a girl came into a room where I would be speaking with the sole purpose of finding me. She and I had never met… but she knew who I was and the two of us connected on a level usually reserved for close friends. My books have helped heal wounds I can’t describe. And they have touched others’ lives now too. God dreams so much bigger than me…. and I am so thankful for that, and grateful He gave me the dream in the first place. You can read one of my favorite times with me and my characters here.
If you knew it was impossible to fail, what would you set out to accomplish?
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were younger?
That I could be safe.