Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sometimes, There are no Words

This is the title of a photograph I took of my grandchildren, Elijah and Layla, in 2011. I entered it in a photo contest with Smithsonian Magazine and I just found out they chose it as the photo of the day over two years ago! Oh well. Now I know! 

This isn't the photo of the day, but a more recent picture that I also enjoy. To me, it shows so much emotion--happiness, love, joy. It was taken on a warm spring day when we were at the park. Eli Lou would hold onto one handle of the bike and Layla held the other as they pushed it up the hill, then Layla raced back down with Eli chasing after her. Then once again, he helped his sister push her bicycle up the hill. My grandchildren, growing up fast and still showing loving kindness toward each other. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

In Memory of Daniel Lee Safrit: Bullying and the Lack of Compassion

Daniel Lee Safrit, May 18, 2002-September 27, 2013
(All photos provided by and property of Scott Safrit. Do not use without permission.) 

As a journalist, I sometimes hear stories that touch me so deeply that I have to take a step back, breathe deep, remind myself that there are still good people in the world, that there is still hope. When I first heard the story of Daniel Safrit I felt as if I was punched in the chest, straight to the heart, so hard I could not breathe. It was days before I could regain my sense of hope. It was too much to comprehend, too much to understand that a sweet, loving, 11-year-old child could be bullied and harassed so terribly that he would hang himself in the closet of his room...but it happened. 

May Peace be with you, Daniel Safrit

Daniel Lee Safrit was born on May 18, 2002. He was the middle child with an older brother and younger sister. Daniel's parents are divorced and when Daniel's father, Scottie, remarried, Daniel gained an older stepsister. Daniel enjoyed spending time with his brother and sisters. According to his father he was "a funny, loving child who wouldn't wish harm on anyone, even his tormentors. He never met a person he would consider a stranger. He was loved by everyone who knew him."

Daniel was the small one in his family and became involved in gymnastics because he was good at that sport. The boys at school called him gay, presumably because of the gymnastics...and that was one of the nicer words they used. 

Daniel Safrit was relentlessly bullied in school, a place where children should feel safe and protected, a school that had rules and regulations to prevent bullying--rules that were not followed--Daniel Safrit was tortured by his fellow classmates to such extremes that he no longer wanted to live.

In my 34 years as a professional writer I wrote many tributes to great people and the words seemed to flow from my fingertips to the keyboard, but I have struggled over this piece for weeks. What can I say that could possibly explain why a young, intelligent, handsome young man would choose to take his own life after 11 short years? 

I was bullied as a child, and as an adult, and I know many people with similar experiences, people who understand the pain, but I would never say that I "know" what Daniel was "going through," that I know the emotional pain that Daniel suffered, a pain so great that he would rather die than continue attending his school because, in spite of the tremendous support he received from his family, no one but Daniel could ever understand. It was his pain, his suffering.

Daniel Lee Safrit, May 18, 2002-September 27, 2013
(All photos provided by and property of Scott Safrit. Do not use without permission.) 

And yet, there were so many people who could have supported Daniel and his family, so many people who failed Daniel, and I hope every one of those teachers, counselors and school administrators think of Daniel every day for the rest of their lives, not because I would ever wish the suffering that his parents are experiencing on anyone, but because they need to remember what happened as they are still in positions of authority, still in positions where they could and should prevent the same pain and suffering from happening to other children. 

Daniel's parents never failed him. They did everything they could to save their child. The school failed Daniel. The children who bullied Daniel failed him because they failed to show compassion to a fellow human being and their parents failed Daniel and their own children because they failed to teach their children compassion, or to recognize that their children were incapable of feeling compassion.

Yes, I am placing blame. As Elie Wiesel explained, "We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented."

I do not believe in revenge, but exposing the truth of a situation is not revenge, and we all know that some situations are so horrendous, so awful, that if we allow ourselves to forget about them we risk the possibility that the situations will be repeated. Remember: Daniel was not the only child at Erwin Middle School who committed suicide due to bullying.   

In my home, we live by the Golden Rule, to do unto others as you would have others do unto you. The ethic of reciprocity, also known in reverse as the Silver Rule--one should not treat others in ways one would not like to be treated. This concept can be found in religious and social codes of morality as early as 551 B.C. It is the backbone of a civilized society. So, why has it disappeared in American schools? What has happened to compassion in children? How could one child relentlessly bully another to such extremes that he would want to end his life? 

I have cried so many tears for Daniel that sometimes I think my my own heart will stop beating. The pain of knowing, of hearing, of writing about his story is unbearable, and yet I know I cannot begin to comprehend the suffering and pain that his family is experiencing as they try to make sense of what is left of their lives without Daniel.

Compassion: com·pas·sion kəmˈpaSHən/ noun
1. sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.

According to Daniel's father, Daniel believed that if he died the children who bullied him day after day would realize the seriousness of their behavior and change. Unfortunately, research has shown this is not true.

Research conducted at the University of Chicago using MRIs conducted on the brains of bullies show that aggressive children enjoy inflicting pain on others. Anyone who has been bullied or abused knows that these research results are not restricted to children. Adult bullies are proud of the harm they cause others. They brag about it proudly as if they've accomplished some great achievement.

Children do the same, and this attracts other children to join their bully gang, children who want to appear to be tough, but in truth they are weaker than the child who refuses to join in the bullying and stands alone. They are afraid that if they stand up to the bully or leave the bully's gang that the bully will turn on them, which may be true, but if more people stood together against bullies and their actions the bully would not achieve that sense of satisfaction and would stop.

Daniel Lee Safrit, May 18, 2002-September 27, 2013
(All photos provided by and property of Scott Safrit. Do not use without permission.) 

According to a press release from the University of Chicago, "Scans of the aggressive youth's brains showed that an area that is associated with rewards was highlighted when the youth watched a video clip of someone inflicting pain on another person. Youth without the unusually aggressive behavior did not have that response, the study showed." Therefore, when the bully tells his or her friends that the other person is "crazy" or "there's something wrong with that person," which is one of the favorite claims of bullies, the truth is it is the bully who has the problem, and the bully who needs help.

Again, unfortunately, the attention is focused on the person who is the victim because repeated bullying causes depression leading to thoughts of suicide. If, in our society, we focused our efforts on treating the bullies and teaching them compassion, if we studied their behavior and attempted to retrain their brains instead of focusing on the victim, there would be far less bullies and far less victims. According to the Center for Disease Control, suicide is the third leading cause of death in American youth.

The bullies would not receive the pleasure they crave. They would not see the victim suffer. The victim would not fall into depression and we would not be attending funerals of innocent, kind-hearted boys like Daniel Safrit, a boy who did not feel pleasure from harming anyone or anything. Daniel was stronger than the bullies in his school could only dream of because he refused to change, refused to join their bully gangs, refused to be like them. Daniel decided he would rather take his own life than become a cruel, heartless, compassion-less bully, and so he did.

Memories Never Die 

Daniel's father said there are three images he cannot erase from his mind. "The main one is walking in that bedroom and seeing Daniel lying lifeless on the floor," Safrit said in a recent interview. "The second image is seeing him taken out of our house that night in a body bag. The third image is from his funeral, seeing my son lying in his casket as if he was sleeping." Daniel does look like a sleeping angel in the photos that show him lying in his coffin and I feel certain he's an angel now, watching over his family and other children. 

Daniel Lee Safrit, May 18, 2002-September 27, 2013
(All photos provided by and property of Scott Safrit. Do not use without permission.)

"These are things I will never get out of my head," Scottie Safrit continued, "and in a way, I don't want to let them leave my thoughts because it's a daily reminder to me of what I want to accomplish for Daniel. People say that in time it will get easier. In a way, I don't want it to get easier. I want it to feel just as important to me 200 days from now as it did the day it happened."

A Series of Suicides at Erwin Middle School, and a School Shockingly Proud of Their Response

According to Thu Anh Le, who investigated the situation at Daniel's school for an article on Decoded Parenting, Daniel was one of several students at Erwin Middle School in Rowan County, North Carolina to commit suicide due to bullying in the past few years. The mother of an additional child who attends Erwin Middle School is suing the school because her son was assaulted at a school-sponsored camp.

It may seem as if Erwin Middle School has a problem with bullies, but I believe the teachers and administrators are equally, if not more responsible for the situation because they failed to protect the children. Yes, I do believe our schools are responsible for the protection of our children. If they are not responsible for the safety of our children then our government should not require children to attend school because they are legally requiring parents to send their children into an unsafe environment. It's basic logic. If a government requires large groups of children to remain in one place for extended periods of time, it is that government's responsibility to protect those children from harm. If the teachers and administrators of the school are incapable of protecting the children, they shouldn't be working at that school.

According to Scottie Safrit, Erwin Middle School released a statement shortly after Daniel's death claiming they were proud of how the school handled Daniel's situation. "We talked to so many people about Daniel's situation before his death," Scottie Safrit said. "The schools do not want to deal with these situations. They tell you it's the child's responsibility, to make the child "toughen up."

Daniel Lee Safrit, May 18, 2002-September 27, 2013
(All photos provided by and property of Scott Safrit. Do not use without permission.) 

When the school administrators stopped denying they had a problem with bullies, they claimed they couldn't afford to work on the issue because it cost as much as $2000 just to put a camera on a school bus. Scottie Safrit pointed out that the school seemed to have unlimited access to funds when it came to buying new uniforms for the football team.

September 27, 2013

Daniel was beyond bullied by this point, he was tortured. He was cutting himself--a common response in bullying situations. His parents took him to counseling sessions and he seemed to be feeling better.

Then, just before Daniel killed himself, Scottie received a call from the school. He was told that Daniel complained about being bullied and mentioned that he had a dream that he was hanging in his bedroom closet. One of the school's counselors told Scottie, "We can't protect every child." The other school counselor told Daniel's parents that the school didn't have a problem with bullies, that Daniel was clearly having problems at home.

Daniel's parents decided to remove him from school. They were going to home-school Daniel along with his sister who was also having problems with bullies. Daniel told his mother he wanted to give the school one more chance, one more week to see if they had the bullying situation under control.

Then Daniel's mother came home and found Daniel hanging in his bedroom closet. He had hung himself with a necktie. His older brother cut him down and carefully laid him down on the bedroom floor.

Daniel Lee Safrit's Legacy

According to Scottie Safrit, "After Daniel's suicide, when we met with the school superintendent, we were told that every employee in the school system would receive training on how to deal with bullies within 72 hours. We later learned only the school principals received the training. Instead they came up with a 'Task Force.' I feel as if I've been lied to many times. So many people are bashing the school system right now and I understand why, but I want to try to force them to make changes. I think it's what Daniel would want." Scottie Safrit was not told what the school's task force is trying to accomplish. Whatever it is, it is too late to help Daniel.

According to Thu Anh Le's article for Decoded Parenting, Daniel's birth mother and other members of the community also established a task force. The task force leader is Elizabeth Bailey, another parent who also lives in the community. The group includes Eric Trail, an Educational Consultant and Motivational Speaker. The remaining members are another parent and a child therapist.

The task force wishes to remain separate from the school system, which sounds like a wise move considering the school system appears to reward indifference in its staff. The task force seeks to establish volunteer watchdog groups in the community, tracking reports of bullying and following up with the school board to ensure they act on bullying reports. They are also requesting cooperation from the school, asking that teachers and volunteers monitor the hallways and that teachers stand in the doorways of their classrooms to assist in monitoring the halls between classes. They will also attempt to make sure there is a volunteer on all school buses so bus drivers are not responsible for monitoring children and can focus on driving.

For Daniel...

Scottie Safrit is also doing all that he can to become active in the community and raise awareness of bullying for the sake of his son, Daniel. He has surprised himself by making numerous appearances speaking out about what happened to his son.

"Every chance I get I try to get out and talk about this," Safrit said. "Before this happened to Daniel my knees would knock together if I thought of talking in public. I think Daniel is giving me the power to speak to these people. This is about Daniel. He’s giving me strength."

Daniel Lee Safrit, May 18, 2002-September 27, 2013
(All photos provided by and property of Scott Safrit. Do not use without permission.) 

Safrit is also trying to work within the system. "Have you ever heard the saying it takes a village to raise a child?" he asked. "Until the community stands together and says we won’t take this anymore, we won’t stand for this anymore, this school system will never change. Until we start criminally charging the parents involved, they will do nothing to stop their children. No matter what the situation is, the school must get the parents involved the first time, when the first report of bullying is made at the school. I tried to stress this to the school, but they wouldn't listen. I still to this day have no idea who the children were who bullied Daniel. The school never told us, and as far as we know, they never notified the parents of the children. 

"It’s been a rough road," Safrit continued. "Some days I take it minute by minute, but I made Daniel a promise and I will spend my last day and last breath trying to do it. If it’s just one child that gets saved, it’s worth it. There should never be a child, any child, that feels they have to end their life because they are bullied. There’s no sense to it."
Daniel's father established the Daniel L. Safrit P.R.A.I.S.E. Foundation. The mission of the foundation is to fund safety issues in the school system such as video cameras on all buses and educational training. "The foundation will also help families in need when a child passes away. The foundation is in its beginning stages and relies on donations to fund its goals. 

The website has information that is important to helping parents understand the issue of bullying, but according to Scottie Safrit, the primary goal of the foundation is to help fund those changes necessary to make the schools safer. "Correcting safety issues in schools has a financial price tag, unfortunately," Safrit said. "The price we paid was losing Daniel."   

1. Using strength, influence, or words to intimidate, typically in an attempt to force another person to do what the bully wants. Synonyms: persecute, oppress, tyrannize, browbeat, harass, torment, intimidate, strong-arm, dominate, coerce, pressure, compel, force, goad, badger, prod, bulldoze. 

Additional Resources:

Monday, December 16, 2013


(Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.) 

"Faith sees the invisible, believes the unbelievable, and receives the impossible." --Corrie Ten Boom

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Power of Words

Photo by Darla Sue Dollman

Words that move gently through our thoughts and linger for contemplation 
are whispered 
like the flutter of a butterfly's wings.
Words expressed like the roar of a bear 
leave pain and scars.

The power of your words are in your method of expression.

 --Darla Sue Dollman

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veteran's Day Post: A Great Man and the Family who Loves Him

American War Cemetery Henri-Chapelle in Hombourg, Belgium. 
Photo provided by Simon Voogt.

Today is Veteran's Day in the United States. This is always an important day to me, reminding me of the sacrifices my ancestors made for me and my family. Like many American families, I have quite a few relatives and ancestors who served our country in the military, including my son-in-law, his sister, my brother-in-law, my many military friends, and my Uncle Hubert. The sacrifices they made, and continue to make, are always on my mind. I am proud to be an American, and I enjoy my freedom. I know it is their sacrifices that make my freedom a possibility. 

American War Cemetery Henri-Chapelle in Hombourg, Belgium. 
Photo provided by Simon Voogt.

Is it possible to feel compassion and love for someone you have never met? I believe it is possible, especially when that person has made the ultimate sacrifice for you--their life. My Uncle Hubert died in World War II. He sacrificed his life for me, for his family, for complete strangers. He died to protect the freedom of others. 

A few days ago, I received an email from a caretaker at the American War Cemetery Henri-Chappelle in Hombourg, Belgium. His job, he explained, is to care for the graves of four soldiers and keep their information updated on the internet pages established to honor these soldiers. He came across a post I made on a genealogy website years ago. A stranger left virtual flowers on an internet page that had the name of my uncle. I asked for information about my uncle. I wanted to know where he was buried. The caretaker wasn't sure if I had found my uncle's grave site yet and wanted to reassure me that his grave was well cared for. 

I stared at the message, then I started to cry. I feel great love and compassion for this man I never met, this young man who, at the age of 20, died in a foreign country and is buried so far away from those who knew and loved him. Then suddenly, in a random act of compassion and kindness, I was contacted by another man writing to reassure me that my uncle's grave is cared for, and that his sacrifice is not forgotten. In fact, he is honored each year in Belgium by strangers who thank him for sacrificing his life to protect them.  

Hubert Enlists

My uncle was the oldest child in my father's family. He attended Woodward High School and worked briefly at Willy's Overland Motors. He enlisted as soon as he was old enough. The Great Depression had recently come to an end in the United States, so he would have lived through the Depression with his parents and eight siblings. Like many young men his age, enlisting was a way to help support his family, as well as help protect the safety and freedom of his family.

I think of him often. If he had lived, what would he be like? Would he talk about the war? Would he suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder like another one of my favorite war heroes, actor Audie Murphy? Would he have a family, with many children like his parents, and so many grandchildren that he sometimes forgot their names, but not their faces or the love he felt for them? I wish that I had met him. To me, he will always be a great man, a man who sacrificed his life for his parents, his eight siblings, their spouses and children and grandchildren--family he never knew existed, but will never forget what he did for them.  

Uncle Hubert left Ohio for training. He received his military training at Fort Meade in Maryland. He was in the 2nd Infantry Division 23rd Infantry Regiment. Forgive me if I write this incorrectly. From what I can tell, his regiment fought on D-Day at Normandy Beach, and he remarkably survived. He was then sent to Belgium. The first ceremony for American troops held on German soil took place in November of 1944 to honor the 23rd Infantry. Major General W.M. Robertson, Divisional Commander, presented decorations for heroism to officers and men of the regiment. 

On December 12, the regiment moved 30 miles north to the vicinity of Sourbrodt, Belgium. My Uncle Hubert died on December 18, 1944. He is buried in Plot E, Row 8, Grave 33. So many numbers, but to me, he was never a number. 

Hubert was 20 years old when he died, younger than my own children, almost one third my age. He made the ultimate sacrifice for us, for a family he never knew existed. My father was just a child when his oldest brother died. My father still remembers when his mother received the notice that her oldest son, her first child, had died. He remembered watching his mother faint and fall to the floor.    

The Caretaker's Message

The caretaker who wrote to me told me he lives near the cemetery. He assured me that my uncle's grave is visited each year by people in his community, members of the royal family, veterans and politicians who make speeches thanking the soldiers for their efforts to stop Hitler's forces. I wrote back and told him I shared his message with my family, with my father, Uncle Hubert's youngest brother. I told this man, this stranger who had given me so much in that short message, that there were no words that could fully express the gratitude I felt for his kindness. 

Then I shared with him my thoughts about my Uncle Humbert. So young, and yet, so brave. He will always be my hero.

Friday, August 30, 2013

"On Death" by Kahlil Gibran

Photo by Darla Sue Dollman

"On Death"
by Kahlil Gibran

You would know the secret of death.
But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?
The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day
cannot unveil the mystery of light.
If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, 
open your heart wide unto the body of life. 
For life and death are one, 
even as the river and the sea are one. 

In the depth of your hopes and desires 
lies your silent knowledge of the beyond; 
And like the seeds dreaming beneath the snow 
your heart dreams of spring. 
Trust the dreams, 
for in them is hidden the gate to eternity. 
Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd 
when he stands before the king whose hand 
is to be laid upon him in honour. 
Is the shepherd not joyful beneath his trembling,
that he shall wear the mark of the king? 
Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling? 

For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind
and to melt into the sun? 
And what is it to cease breathing, 
but to free the breath from its restless tides, 

that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered? 
Only when you drink from the river of silence 
shall you indeed sing. 
And when you have reached the mountain top, 
then you shall begin to climb. 
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, 
then shall you truly dance. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Buffalo in northern Colorado. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

"If all the beasts were gone, men would die from a great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beasts also happens to the man. All things are connected."
 —Chief Seattle

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Inayat Khan quote

Photo by Darla Sue Dollman

"Every kind of power lies in this one thing which we call by the simple name: love. Charity, generosity, kindness, affection, endurance, tolerance, and patience -- all these words are different aspects of one; they are different names of only one thing: love. Whether it is said, 'God is love,' or whatever name is given to it, all the names are the names of God; and yet every form of love, every name for love, has its own peculiar scope, has a peculiarity of its own. Love as kindness is one thing, love as tolerance is another, love as generosity is another, love as patience another; and yet from beginning to end it is just love."--Inayat Khan

Monday, April 15, 2013

"People are starving for love, not knowing their heart is a magical kitchen. 
Open your heart. Open your magical kitchen 
and refuse to walk around the world begging for love. 
In your heart is all the love you need. 
Your heart can create any amount of love, not just for yourself, 
but for the whole world."--Don Miguel Ruiz

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

"There is no sadhana greater than Love, there is no law higher than Love, and there is no goal which is beyond Love, for Love in its divine state becomes infinite.

God and Love are identical, and one who has Divine Love has already got God."
--Meher Baba

Kissing prairie dogs in Loveland, Colorado. 
Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Love, Prayers, and Adam Sandler

Saying "I love you" is easy for some people, and others find the words challenging. Perhaps they should be challenging, because they should have a deeper meaning than other words we speak throughout the day.

My husband and I hold hands at night and pray together. I've found this to be a very effective relationship glue--it's hard to stay angry with someone when you're holding hands and praying for their safety and happiness each night.

You may be asking yourself what all of this has to do with actor, director, and comedian Adam Sandler. Funny thing is, I'm not a huge fan of his work. I like his movies, but his jokes are often vulgar and the characters in his films are often mean to each other. However, I have also noticed that most, if not all of his films have a much deeper meaning or message about family. While his films may appear to be mocking dysfunctional relationships, the plot generally comes together at the end with a larger overall message that being perfect is not as important as showing love.

I am watching an Adam Sandler movie called Just Go With It. It is on pause. The film has the usual Sandler trademark bathroom and sex jokes, but there is one scene in this film that really grabbed at my heart. In the film, Jennifer Aniston pretends to be Adam Sandler's ex-wife. Due to other circumstances in the plot, they also pretend to have a very comfortable, loving relationship in spite of their divorce. When Aniston runs into a former college friend, played by Nicole Kidman, at a Hawaiian resort, Kidman and her husband, played by musician Dave Matthews, ask Sandler and Aniston to join them for dinner. Kidman and Matthews make a spectacle of themselves with ridiculous shows of public affection (I'm not saying public affection is bad, but their behavior in the movie is exaggerated.) When Matthews leaves to make a phone call, my first thought is that he is being unfaithful. Why? Because their shows of affection do not seem honest or sincere.

When her husband has left the room, Nicole Kidman's character challenges Sandler and Aniston to look into each other's eyes and tell each other why they love each other, which they do. It is difficult at first because they are lying about being divorced, about having a past relationship that involves intimacy, but as they begin to speak to each other it is obvious to the audience that for the first time, these two characters are realizing, with every word spoken, that they truly love each other. (And I must say that at this point in the movie Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler give an outstanding performance!)

As I watched the film, it occurred to me how difficult it could be to stare into the eyes of another person and honestly speak from the heart, explaining why you have deep feelings of love, particularly if this is the first time you've shared these feelings. The point in the film seems to be that it is much easier to lie (which is why I suspect Matthews is having an affair, but I will not spoil the movie by telling you what comes next when I take the movie off pause).

Defining love can be a challenge. Sometimes we don't know why we are attracted to another person until we try to explain this attraction with words. However, verbally expressing our reasons for loving another person is not only an expression of love, but also of great kindness. People need to know that they are loved, and why. They need to feel special and important to those who love them.

I enjoyed watching the interaction between these two actors as they realized that while they were pretending to be divorced they have suddenly realized that they loved each other all along, and it was not until they attempted to verbally explain this love to one another that they realized how fulfilling that loving relationship could be between them. For the first time in the film, they are honest with each other, and their honesty shocks and surprises them both, but it is a good surprise, a healthy, important moment in their relationship.

I will say no more about the film, except to recommend it to viewers. However, I would also like to suggest that you attempt the challenge presented by Nicole Kidman's character in the film. Hold hands with someone you love, look them in the eyes and tell them why you love them. Yes, it can be difficult, or perhaps it will be easy for you, but it could possibly be the most intimate moment you've ever experienced, a wonderful and deeply rewarding experience.    

Thursday, March 14, 2013

"Your greatest joy and source of contentment will come from giving and receiving the emotion which you know as love. Of course each person's idea about love will be different, but there will still be the greatest feeling of contentment within each, and that will be their personal experience of love."--Blain Tomlinson, 'The Sanora Journal'

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Don't Forget to say "You're Important!"

My husband with his cat, who refuses to sleep at night unless he's lying in my husband's arm. 

My husband is training for a new job. He rises early in the morning and we watch one of our favorite television shows, then we walk our four dogs around 1 p.m. and he leaves for work at 2. He returns from work around midnight.

Today, while we were walking, I told him that I feed the dogs dinner then play with them at night and do a little writing, but sometimes I miss him so much when he's at work that I force myself to take a nap between 7 and 8 at night to make the time go faster, even when I'm not tired. 

He was shocked--not that I take a nap, but that I would miss him that much! I was shocked to discover he didn't know.

"Are you kidding?" I asked him. "The dogs start watching the door around 11:30, waiting for you to come home. The cat sits on the edge of the bed and stares at the door, then runs into the hallway when he hears your truck in the driveway. Sometimes, the cat will start howling when he hears your truck! We all miss you!" He laughed. He had no idea that his wife and little zoo of animals missed him.

As a writer, I tend to think of myself as an expert in communications. Obviously, there are areas in my life where my communication skills could use improvement. In this one aspect of life, one of the most important, my ability to express my love, I have failed to communicate to my husband just how important he is to me, and how much it means to me just to be around him. I will not continue to make that mistake.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

"From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: that we are here for the sake of each other--above all, for those upon whose smile and well-being our own happiness depends, and also for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day I realize how much my own outer and inner life is built upon labors of my fellow men, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as I have received." --Albert Einstein

Monday, February 25, 2013

Ten Fast, Easy Ways to Show Love to Your Child

Sometimes we make life too hard, convincing ourselves that we don't have time to do the things we want or need to in order to have a loving family environment. We are limited only by our own minds. Showing love to our children and grandchildren--and teaching them how to love through example--can be so simple. It just takes some creative thinking. Here are five simple ways to show love to your children or grandchildren.

1) Attend your child's sports events, plays, musical recitals, concerts. You may miss a few for work, or you may be pleasantly surprised when you ask your boss for an hour off to attend these important events. Either way, just seeing your smiling face in the crowd will be enough to fill your child's heart with love.

2) Read to your child. Let your child choose the book. Keep plenty of books in your house, too. They take up very little space, far less space than toys. Read to your child before bed, but don't limit yourself to bedtime. If your child seems bored or is spending too much time in front of the television, push the button, turn it off, and ask your child to fetch his or her favorite book. Again, you don't have to spend hours on this task. If it's a long book, read a chapter. If it's a short book, take a deep breath, relax, stop thinking about work and bills and the conflict of the day and focus on that special cuddly moment with your child.

3) Sing to your child. My granddaughter used to love the Happy Birthday song when she was two, so I sang it to her all the time. Even though she knew it wasn't her birthday, she loved the attention, the repetition of her name, and the joy that comes from filling a house with the sound of singing.

4) Listen to your child. When your child is speaking, do not continue stirring, writing, watching television. Do not say, "Wait a minute! This is the good part in the movie!" Pause the movie, hold the spoon still, put down your pen, turn and face your child and listen. Do not prod your child, finish his or her words, or tell your child to "hurry up." Give your full attention to what your child is trying to say.

5) Hide a love note under your child's pillow and don't tell him or her it is there. It doesn't matter if your child finds the note that night or two days later, it will still fill your child's heart with love.

6) Create a secret signal that means "I love you," a signal that only you and your child know and understand. If you have more than one child, create a different signal for each child, and use the signal often, as often as you can. Tug on your ear, scratch your head, scratch your nose, be silly, but show your love as often as possible. This one is particularly fun because it only takes a few seconds to show your love, less time than it takes to speak the words.

7) Play a game with your child. Board games are great fun and there are so many designed for little children. If you don't have a lot of money, ask your friends if they have old board games their children have outgrown, or check the local thrift store. Board games take a little more time, but your time will be focused on your child, and time and attention are great ways to say "I love you" without words.

8) Tell your child how wonderful you think he or she is, say it often, and say it for no apparent reason. Make it a random act of love. When your child is walking out the door for school, coming in from play, getting ready for bed, speak the words and make it clear. "I think you are wonderful." They are wonderful, loving words to hear.

9) Praise your child in public. This doesn't have to be excessive. Don't embarrass your child or make your child feel silly, but do compliment your child in front of friends and family so they feel special, recognized, loved and appreciated. Did your child do well in school? Play in a particularly hard game of sports? Clean his or her room without being told? Tell someone about it, and make sure your child is close enough to hear your praise.

10) Dance with your child. If a song comes on the radio or television, grab your child's hand, get up and dance! You don't have to look great, you can be silly, have fun, jump around the room, hold hands, or imitate each other, and for just a few minutes, as long as the song lasts, show your child your love by sharing a special moment of fun.

These are just a few easy suggestions. No one knows your child like you do. Use these suggestions to create your own quick and easy expressions of love. Fill their hearts and lives with love and create a tradition that will be carried on for years to come. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

"One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life: 
that word is love." 

Friday, February 22, 2013

"Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, 

while loving someone deeply gives you courage."

--Lao Tzu

Ten Ways to Show Love to Children

There is no such thing as "too much" when it comes to telling children how much they are loved, and there are plenty of ways to both show and tell children you love them. This list is intended to spark ideas for readers who can take these ideas and make individualized "I love you" messages for their children, building special moments and lasting memories. Think of this list as suggestions and build on these ideas to create your own "I love you" list. Remember to follow each idea with a hug! 

1)  This first idea has a few variations, but they all involve singing. Don't groan and roll your eyes. You don't need to be a rock star. Children love the sound of their parents' voices. They love to sing, and to listen to their parents sing to them. My daughter-in-law, Dani, has a special song she sings to my grandson. It is "You are my Sunshine," the same song I sang to my son when he was a baby, but Dani sings it in a special way just for Keller. It is Keller's song, and when he hears her singing "YOU are my sunshine, MY only sunshine," his face lights up with joy. Sing a song so it sounds as if it belongs only to your child. 

Sing a popular song to your child, but substitute your child's name for some of the words. "I love my Timothy, my baby Timothy. He is my Timothy both night and day." Substituting your child's name in a song may also help very young children learn their names through repetition. 
Singing can also be an educational tool. Try making up your own song. You don't have to be a professional, or expect to compose a masterpiece, but you should make it clear that you are speaking from the heart. Use a familiar tune, but add your own words. For instance, using the music from "You are my Sunshine," you could teach your child about the parts of the body by singing, "I love Eli's hair, and his big blue eyes, his happy smile and his cute nose. I love his ten toes, and his ten fingers, I love his belly where his food goes." As you sing the song, have your child point to the parts of his body.

2) Kiss the palm of your child's hand and tell her this is a kiss of love. Fold her fingers down and tell her it is a very special kiss and she should keep it safe and close for when she feels she needs extra love.

3) Draw a heart on a small piece of paper. Explain to your child that the heart is a symbol of your love, that it is a picture that means "I love you." Slide the heart inside his pillow case and tell him it will help him have nice dreams about how much he is loved.

4) Take photographs of your pets, spouse, and other family members. On the back of each picture write the name of the person. For instance, you might say, "Daddy loves you." Or, "Doggy loves you." Mail each photograph individually, at different times, to your child and allow her to open the envelope herself and find the picture, then read the words on the back to her.

5) When you tuck your child into bed, list all of the good things she did that day and follow each item on your list with, "Thank you so much, Layla! I love you!" Do not say a word about any problems or mistakes. Before your child falls to sleep, make certain that all of your last words are loving words. 

6) Buy a heart-shaped cookie cutter and use it to cut your child's sandwiches, then when you serve the heart- shaped lunch, remind your child that the heart is your way of saying "I love you." 

7) Tell your child the story of his or her birth. You may be surprised by how many details you remember, such as the song that was playing as you drove to the hospital, or the color of the shirt you wore. The first words Dad or Mom said when he or she first looked upon the baby, or the expression on Grandma's face when she held him in her arms. Make sure you include older siblings in the story, too. Remember that the emphasis is on love, so make certain you remind your child of all the love that was in the room. It's all in the wording. You can say, "We wrapped you in a blanket with love. We placed you in your car seat and strapped you in because we love you and want you to be safe, always." 

8) Write the words "We love you" on a card and explain what each word says. Tape the card to your child's bedroom door and every night before bed read the card out loud with your child followed by hugs for every member of the family. Creating the sign can also be a joint craft project by adding decorative sparkles together or coloring the sign with crayons.

9) Create an "I love you" scavenger hunt. Draw hearts on ten pieces of paper. Make a list of things you have given your child or items that are special to your child, such as a special teddy bear or blanket. Make sure they are easily within reach and tape a heart to each item. For each item, think up very simple clues that you can give to help your child guess the location of each item, such as, "you will find this where you lay down at night to sleep," then have her search for the item and bring it back to you. If there are older siblings, involve them in the game by having them help explain the clues to the younger child. Make sure you play the same game with each of the older children later! 
When all of the items are collected, remove the hearts and tell your child the hearts show how many times today that you thought about how much you love her, then help her place the hearts in her dresser to remind her every morning when she gets dressed that you think about her all day long. The list can be shortened to five for younger children with short attention spans.

10) Just before dinner, write a note that says "I love you" and teach each word to your child, then place the note beside his plate and tell him it is a reminder of your love. You can also write the child's name on the note to help him learn how to read his name. Keep a pad of paper and a pen in the kitchen. Whenever you prepare a meal for your child, write "I love you" on a piece of paper and place the paper beneath his drinking cup or beside his plate so he sees it every time he sits down to eat. Ask if he remembers what it says, then say it together and give him a hug.   

There must be hundreds of ways to make a child feel unique, and loved. Try buying a journal and writing your ideas down along with a description of the special moment when you first shared your "I love you" idea with your child. You can review the journal through the years, and it will make a wonderful gift when your child is older with children of his or her own. 

Favorite Love Quotes from the Bible

When I read The Bible it seems as if I am always looking for meaning, for a way to connect the verse or story to my own life. I particularly enjoy stories and verses on love. The quotes below are some of my favorites.

Quoted from the New International Version of The Bible, these verses could leave you feeling dreamy about your current relationship or perhaps rethinking your approach, wondering if you could do more to make your relationships with family members stronger, more loving. They are often spoken in weddings, or printed in anniversary announcements, birth announcements, and even love letters. They also make nice reading when you're feeling lonely or sad.

 1 Corinthians 13:4-13  

The following quote is a favorite for weddings. It reads like poetry, and speaks to the heart in ways that few poets can because of its candid veracity when defining the complicated emotion of love. This complete selection is often used for celebrations, but it is also quoted at times in sections, generally using either verses 4-7 or 11-13.

"(4) Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. (5) It does not dishonor others. It is not self-seeking. It is not easily-angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. (6) Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. (7) It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (8) Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. (9) For we know in part and we prophesy in part, (10) but when completenes comes, what is in part disappears. (11) When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. (12) For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (13) And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." --1 Corinthians 13:4-13

 1 John 4:16-19    

This next quote is important for what it says about love and fear, two emotions that often seem to battle for our hearts. This is an explanation as to why love should win, because "there is no fear in love," and when we guide our actions by feelings of love, we are closer to God. 
"(16) And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. (17) This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on that day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. (18) There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (19) We love because He first loved us." --1 John 4:16-19

 Ruth 1:16-17  

The following is from the Book of Ruth, a flawless story about loyalty and love told in 85 short verses. When Ruth made a promise, she did so with all of her heart and soul. When it comes to relationships and committment, we can all learn from Ruth. These poetic words may appear to be speaking of the relationship between a man and a woman, but Ruth is speaking to her mother-in-law. Ruth's husband has died, and his brother and father have died, as well, leaving Naomi, Ruth's mother-in-law, Orpah, her sister-in-law, and Ruth to fend for themselves. They also lived in Moab, which was plagued with drought. Their situation was a desperate one. Naomi heard that conditions were better in Israel and suggested that the three women should travel there and try to make a better life for themselves in Bethlehem, the place of her birth. 

Travel was not easy for these three women who had little more than the clothes on their backs and Naomi felt guilt and remorse for asking her daughter-in-laws to join her on this journey. She told them to return to Moab to their families. The two women sobbed, begging her to change her mind, but Naomi had nothing to offer these two young women. She was aging and could no longer have sons. She had no money or land. Orpah and Ruth sobbed, begging her to change her mind, but Naomi was determined that she was making the right decision. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law and returned to Moab. 

Ruth, however, refused. She had grown to love her mother-in-law as her own mother. She was committed to her as family. Naomi was of a different religion. Ruth's family were pagans. They lived a very different life, but when Ruth agreed to marry Naomi's son, in her mind, she made a committment to join his family, to live as his family lived and love each and every member of his family as her own. Ruth also kissed Naomi, but instead of turning to leave, she made the following speech, committing herself in love, both to her mother-in-law and to the God of Israel. From that moment on, their souls, and their futures, were bound together forever. It is a beautiful statement of family love and devotion. 
"(16) But Ruth replied, "Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. (17) Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever severely, if even death separates you and me." --Ruth 1:16-17

Matthew 5:43-48
The following verses are words of advice quoted from Jesus as he explains the importance of loving everyone, even those who may cause us harm. In time, we all learn that hatred causes more harm to ourselves than it does to those we hate. In this section, Jesus is trying to explain that love can transform you, change you into a better person as you strive for perfection. No, we will never be perfect, we will never be God, but the harder we try to treat others with love and respect, to treat God's world, creations, people with the same love that He would show them, the closer we come to perfection. 

"You have heard it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." -Matthew 5:43-48

 John 3:16

This last section speaks of the love God has for His people, and His willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice to demonstrate this love. It is said that there is no pain greater than the loss of a child. According to The Bible, God sent his own son, Jesus, to earth and allowed his son to be sacrificed so that the sins of His people, His children on earth, could be forgiven. Jesus, innocent of the crimes he was accused of committing, willingly agreed to sacrifice his life for the good of all others, including his enemies. It was the ultimate act of love. 

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life." --John 3:16 

There are so many verses on love in The Bible that we often have many favorites. Please feel free to discuss your favorites in the comments section below, or discuss your feelings on the verses I have quoted above.