Beliefs, Values & Lessons
What is the meaning of life?
If you’ve ever been high in an airplane, you know the weird feeling of looking out that tiny window at the ground, the building, and the people still on the ground. You know the feeling of marveling at how much they resemble Monopoly board game pieces and, if you’re me, you sit in that airplane thinking about how much of a race the people driving those itty bitty cars seem to be in. You think to yourself, ”The world down there isn’t nearly as massive as they think it is. Just look! They’re all so small. What are they all hustling around for?” The answer to that question is different for everyone—–each human life is a storybook, complete with its own villains, heroes, backstory and climaxes. That’s because each person is unique, no two sets of fingerprints are exactly the same, no set of DNA just alike. Each of us think just a little bit differently and spend our lives chasing different things, different dreams. Still, though, there are some commonalities, a thread that ties us all together. No matter who we are or how strong or independent we are, no matter what else in life we claim to need, if we strip back all the layers in our souls, the truth is that we all want to be loved. We wanted to be accepted, we want to be understood. We want to be appreciated and acknowledged—-which are side effects of being truly loved. And the greatest way to be loved is to love. Ultimately, all the good things we hope for, all the aspirations we truly dream of, way down deep in our souls, can be achieved by making a conscious effort to give of ourselves to others. When we give, our hearts learn to value the needs and ultimate happiness of other human beings and that teaches us that we aren’t the center of the universe. When we truly give out of an honestly unselfish desire to see someone else’s life uplifted in even a small way, we ultimately learn that the greatest thing we can hope to achieve is the relationships we choose to cultivate among others. No one is going to remember how much money I did or did not have. No one is going to remember how many books I did or did not write. No one will even know my name fifty years from now…. except, perhaps, if I’m looking, my children’s children and they will only know if I spend my life giving to those I truly love. The true meaning of life lies in the relationships, friendships, we make with others. Once we understand that, truly understand it, then all the other things are placed in their rightful, trivial positions. The pursuit of the almighty dollar becomes ridiculous. The pursuit of a title—-any title— becomes secondary. Spending life in the office starts to seem a little more intolerable. When we change our lives so that what is number one is our family and friends, and the strangers we choose to reach out to, happiness and peace and fulfillment are byproducts.
What is one real mystery of life?
The totality of the way becoming a parent changes you. Not only does it change your body, it changes the very fabric of your soul. It alters the lens through which you see life. Suddenly, seemingly inexplicably, you see the beauty of things you’ve spent your life overlooking, like the feel of the grass or the fact that, even though you’ve grown up, the clouds are still forming shapes. And you are suddenly consumed with the desire to make this little person, whom you don’t even really know yet, happy: it is a desire stronger than the need for food, sleep or a nightlife. Instead of feeling begrudged, though, you are unspeakably grateful for this little person who has flipped your world, and your heart, upside down.
List your deepest values.
1. God is real. Plain and simple, unequivocally, the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob exist. Let’s talk about Abraham for a minute. Frankly, I highly doubt I would have had the strength or the faith that that man did. Out of all the amazing people in the Bible, Abraham stands out as one of the most faithful in my mind. Perhaps that is why God promised him that his descendants would be too many to count. As a Christian, I can confidently claim to be one of Abraham’s descendants. I don’t know about you, but that gives me comfort. It’s like I can say, ”My great-great-great (and thousands of those!) grandfather was an honorable, blessed, faithful and wonderful person.” What’s even better than having that sort of lineage is being able to say, ”When I am hurting, God wraps His arms around me and draws me close, and He never scoffs at my tears.” I’ve been told before that religion of any kind is a crutch. But being a Christian isn’t saying, ”Look at me! Look at how strong I am!” Actually it’s saying the exact opposite—–it’s saying, ”I need help every day of my life. Sometimes I need help because I have been so badly hurt and I need a comfort no one else on earth can provide. Sometimes I need help because I have wronged someone in a terrible way and I don’t know how to make it right.” Being a Christian is about understanding just how frail and weak I am, but instead of seeing that as a huge flaw, seeing it in the light of grace.
2. Family matters. They know you the best, they’ve seen you at your worst, and even if, like dominoes, the entire network crashes, ultimately, they never go away. Even if I never lay eyes on another one of my family members, I will always have a little bit of Johnson in me, and a little bit of Moody. Even if I never see any of them ever again, the fact of the matter is my parents are still my parents, for good or for bad. You can’t erase the heritage you have, no matter how hard you try. And the more you fight it, the lonelier you will become.
3. Every, single day is beautiful and it does me no good to ruin an otherwise perfectly beautiful day by being angry or pessimistic. I may not be able to change the environment. People will hurt me, I can’t stop them. Foreign things, like cancer, may decide to start growing in my body again at any time, and no amount of healthy eating, or exercise, or MRI scans will prevent it. No matter how many books I write, no matter how heartfelt my words, children are still raped and sold and degraded every second of every day. No matter how hard I try to ignore it, or pretend otherwise, the truth is that I still have a ways to go before I can claim to be “healed” from all the side effects being raped as a child causes. I can’t change any of that. But I can control my reaction to those events. I can choose to let them simmer under the surface until they explode, or I can choose to let them be a vehicle for advocacy and optimism. I can choose to let the bad show me just how beautiful the good is.
What are the elements of a real friendship?
Trust is the foundation for any relationship, be it romantic or otherwise. If you do not have trust, then, frankly, you do not have a relationship of any kind.
How do you feel about abortion?
My desire not to fight with people almost led me to leave this question off of the Internet. I am not going to engage in hateful dialogue, period, because no matter what your opinion on this issue or any other may be, I value you as a human being and your right to have an opinion. That being said, every life is precious. And to abort a life for any reason is a horrific, bold move that goes against everything I personally value. My goal in life is to give others as much of myself, of my time, of my resources, as I possibly can because I believe that the meaning of life is really to connect with others. As such, it would haunt me, the “what ifs” and ultimate loss of life, to know a baby had been aborted. Of course there are circumstances, terrible ones, that would cause me to emphasize with a mother. There are instances where perhaps a woman shouldn’t raise a child herself. All of that being said, ultimately hope is always a day away. When something unexpected happens, there is always fear of the unknown. Fear of change. Fear of failure. Fear of memories. Fear of lots of things. But if you don’t plow your way through all that fear, how can hope come at all?
Do you believe the media has too much influence?
Only if you let it.
My girls and I watch a movie, or a show, about an hour or an hour and a half prior to bedtime. If you are vigilant with what you watch and aware that your subconscious is being influenced every minute you choose to engage with the media through television, the Internet, or whatever it may be, then the media can be a wonderful tool to educate and entertain. In and of itself, the media is not evil or bad. The bad comes when we allow it to control our lives.
What quality do you consider most important in making a marriage work?
Seeing as I am unmarried, I probably am in no way qualified to answer this question. Undoubtedly, I could learn a lot from other folks’ answers! Still, as I said earlier, ultimately, the key ingredient to any relationship is trust. If I trust you, I will be more open with you. If I trust you, I can relax with you. If I trust you, I feel safe with you. If I trust you, I’m going to also like you. You cannot have a relationship without trust. Period.
What advice do you have on parenting?
Get to know your children. Really, really know them. Play with them. Talk to them. Take it seriously when they say they are tired, or when they tell you they are scared. Give them the freedom and the permission to be children….. walls can be repainted, but this day in their life cannot be regained. In my book, Broken, Taya recounts the day her father tried to teach her to ride a bicycle. He deliberately let her fall and scrape her knee, then refused to help her back up, saying that she would need to learn how to fall. But Taya said, ”I didn’t learn anything about not quitting that day. I didn’t learn anything about riding a bike. What I learned was that my dad would let me fall.” I don’t want to teach my children that. While they of course have to learn how to fly on their own, I’m pretty sure life does a good job of teaching that lesson all by itself. My goal as a parent is to be the one person those two girls know without doubt is always, always on their side. Knowing that I love them is more important than teaching a five year old to ride a bike without training wheels. Let them jump off the couch, read that book two hundred thousand times. Because, in the end, the relationship you create with your children leaves a greater, and more important, legacy than anything else you do.
What is your religious preference? What are the basic principles of your religion?
This is the Statement of Faith that my group of 3rd and 4th graders were required to memorize in Stars this year. It sums everything up nicely, so I’m going to use it to answer this question.
I believe the Bible is God’s Word and His plan for me. There is one true God. God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are one. Jesus is God’s son. Everyone has sinned. I can be a Christian because Jesus died for me. I obey and remember Jesus when I take Communion and am baptized in water. Baptism in the Holy Spirit is God’s gift to me. When I am baptized in the Holy Spirit, I will speak in tongues. With God’s help, I can become more like Jesus. God uses the church to do His work. God uses spiritual leaders to help me grow. God heals. Jesus is coming soon. For 1000 years, Jesus will lead a time of peace on Earth. Those who do not follow Jesus will be separated from God forever. Those who do follow Jesus will live with Him forever.
For the adult version that we recite which gives me goose bumps every time I say it aloud:
I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into Hell. The third day, He rose again from the dead. He ascended into Heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. From thence, He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost. I believe in the holy Catholic church, I believe in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.
Have you changed your religion during your lifetime?
What does God mean to you?
You know, God is the only father I have ever really known. When I was little, it was always God I turned to. As I became older, Jesus became my friend, the one that always understood. But, when I was really hurting, God is the one I still turn too. Truly, the Lion and the Lamb: strong, but gentle. Powerful, but gracious. Ultimately, He is the only one who has never let me down.
Are there some beliefs you have had but have given up? Why?
I was pretty sure I was going to be a child psychologist. It was a precious, dear dream I held in the private reserves of my heart. I was on the way to accomplishing that dream when I became pregnant and life just sort of got sidetracked. Nothing else seemed important but that baby. More than halfway to the goal, I gave the dream up, knowing that I couldn’t bear to be in a classroom all day with a baby at home. Getting to know that baby, and assuring that baby would never forget her mother loved her, was a higher priority than completing the higher level degree.
What are some of your favorite religious verses?
Isaiah 41:13: ”For I am the Lord your God, who takes hold of your right hand, saying, ‘Do not fear, I am with you.’”
Proverbs 3:24: ”When you lie down, you will not be afraid. When you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.”
Matthew 5:4 ”Blessed are those who mourn, they will be comforted.”
Isaiah 40;31: ”But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength: they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not grow faint.”
If you could ask one question of God, what would it be?
Instinctively, my first response was, ”Why?” But, I don’t really know that I’d care for the answer. I’ve spent much of my life trying to answer that question, and, you know, in truth, knowing why wouldn’t change anything. It still happened. So I don’t think that would be my question. If I only had one to ask, I think it would be something more along the lines of, ”Can I stay with you?”
Do you pray? Why?
I pray because prayers are answered but, even more than that, I pray so that I can feel close to God.
Do you believe in angels?
I’ve seen at least one man I’ve almost certain was an angel. I’ve also seen what I’m pretty confident were demons. So, yes, I do.
Do you believe in miracles?
I would not be alive if miracles did not exist.
What is a soul?
A soul is what’s beneath all the layers. Time and things like pain create all kinds of walls in our hearts. We have walls to protect our walls. We smile because we’re expected to smile. We ask, ”how are you?” because it’s the thing to do upon seeing a friend. We do things out of complicated motives and reasons. The environment shapes us. But, underneath it all, is our soul. Our soul is what we truly believe, and feel, when the lights are out and there is no one but us. Our soul is our innermost private thoughts and ideas—-it isn’t afraid of rejection, it isn’t afraid of anything, it’s just the words that make up our beliefs. We can let others into our souls—-but I don’t think most of us ever truly do.
Who is the wisest person you’ve ever met?
Joey was a homeless man. But he was very, very happy. And Joey was spending his life making homemade, simple bracelets that he gave away for free to anyone who would make a promise to help 3 homeless people at some point and in some way in their lives. Joey was spending his homeless way giving to others. Joey showed me what happiness is supposed to look like and showed me that circumstances did not control joy. I could choose to be joyful and happy, regardless of my circumstance.
Why do we experience pain?
So that we can grow closer to God and so that we can understand and appreciate what beauty is. If we never suffered, how would we recognize true joy? Joy is the understanding that suffering is absent from that moment in time. If we never experienced pain, how would we even know what happiness was? We would be like zombies, walking around smiling all the time, but not really feeling it. When I am joyful, I feel it all the way to my toes. It feels like a rush of freedom has come over me and I just want to shout it out to the world, I want everyone around me to feel what I feel because it is so beautiful and wonderful. It feels that intense because I know what it is like to have my heart wearied and shuttered with clouds of agony.
Although sometimes I ache for the innocence that was torn, I’m not angry over the loss and I’m not bitter. I don’t hate anyone, even my father, and don’t wish for any ill toward anyone. I don’t care about justice or revenge because, ultimately, being concerned with those things impedes my joy. We experience pain, but we get through it, which teaches us that we are braver and stronger than we thought we were. We experience pain, but it adds depth to our lives, turns an ordinary story into 3D, so that we feel the ups and downs.
What brings happiness?
For the human race?
Ultimately, happiness is a result of the friendships and relationships we cultivate and the peace that comes with knowing God. Happiness is a result of giving to others.
For me personally, happiness is being surrounded by the innocence of children. Happiness is teaching. Happiness is the written word—whether it be written by me or by others. I can’t tell you how many times I have thanked God for William Faulkner, or the other brilliant authors I admire. I’m not the least bit embarrassed or ashamed to admit that I re-read the books I write for joy because stories move me. They stir my heart and they make me joyful.
What is the most important gift we can give another human being?
When we open up enough to share our secrets and our flaws, yes, we are making ourselves vulnerable but we are also opening the door to trust. We are telling that person that we trust them enough to show them our unedited, scarred selves. Doing this encourages that person to do the same with us and that creates a relationship that has the capacity to alter lives. My life has been changed by strangers who took one extra moment to see me. My life has been changed by people close to me who made sure I understood I was a priority. Truly, we are relational creatures: we were made to interact on real and honest levels. When we do that, we find fulfillment, peace, love, acceptance and happiness.
Are you afraid to die?
I used to be very afraid of dying—-not because of what comes after but because I was afraid my girls would not remember me and would therefore never really know how much their mother loved them. Now that they are at the age of remembering, however, the fear of death has subsided. Do you know that I don’t know what it is like to go one full year without intense pain? It’s hard enough to find a single day without pain. I don’t know what I would do in a place as pain-free and awe-inspiring as heaven. I am rather certain I would feel as though I were in a dream. Being catapulted into a place of unquestionable peace and comfort and warmth makes me happy. Mark Twain once said, ”The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”