NOTE: Original post appeared in The Huffington Post (Click here) 

Picture"Shopkins" Photo credit: elasticcamel via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-SA
I am trying to keep my cool, but if she doesn't make a decision soon, I might just lose it! I am standing in the middle of a boutique toy store with my 7-year old daughter; We are buying a gift for one of her friend's birthday and she has just stumbled upon a jackpot of Shopkins -- a collectible series of miniature kitschy shopping toys with names like "Miss Mushy-Moo" (a mushroom) and "Beverley Heels Suzie" (shoes).

They have a whole television series on YouTube, and my daughter has just discovered the motherload of "Season 3" finds on our way to the checkout counter. She's holding two packages in her hands, seemingly identical but apparently what's inside is a total surprise (for my older friends, think collectible Baseball cards).  My daughter is frozen, trying to decide on whether to pick what's in her right hand or her left.  The 'not knowing' which Shopkins are inside is getting to her. She begs me to let her buy them both so she doesn't have to make a decision. I stand firm in my resolve that she must learn to let go of the control and to just "go with  the flow" of life and be happy with the surprises along the way. 

As she continues to grapple with this mounting decision -- I stand there and think about how this is such a problem for most of us. We all just want to know what the hell is inside! What are we bargaining for? What am I going to get for what I pay? Where will life take me if I decide to go down a certain path? Why can't we just know already how this will all turn out?

But that's just it....We can't. Life is so much about choosing between two options and then just being okay with what unfolds. This is faith. We all struggle with this one, don't we? No matter what religion we claim (or don't claim), faith is a part of our daily routines and lies deep within the inner walls of our subconscious. Having faith means you understand there is a deeper energy at work -- and regardless if you choose the right hand or the left, your course has already been marked because something deeper within you has already chosen the way.  This unnamed and unmarked beacon that guides and moves you is a bigger player than you, and there is nothing you can do to outsmart it so you just have to trust it, and go with it; you just have to have faith. 

In these moments, it's hard to relinquish the control, but the light always shines brighter when you do. Once we allow life to simply unfold is when we get to really discover what life is all about.  When we drop the daily struggle to choose between the right hand or the left, we are so much more open to the expansiveness that's waiting for us. Before we know it,  the Universe hands us a heaping helping of abundance that fills up both of our hands.

I can't seem to find the words to explain this to my 7-year old .... but I know this to be true as I navigate the journey through my 40's.  Knowing that there is a LIGHT that is the Captain of my ship makes the twists and turns along the way more enlightening, revealing, and remarkable. I no longer dwell on the things that didn't go my way. I see it more as a mere revealing of my particular path. That path IS my way... and it's the only way to go that will move me forward. Therefore, I have faith.


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Join a growing tribe of men/women who are actively pursuing ways to bring more meaning to their lives, more love & light to others, and become a meaningful member of a community that cares. I welcome you there. 

Join me for weekly Facebook live video streams, Random acts of kindness challenges, and deep conversation about moving through the busy-ness of live with more meaning and intention and awareness. Let's shine the LIGHT together! 


XOXO,
APRIL

 
 
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It struck me in the middle of the grocery store, standing in the produce aisle smacked between two buckets of choices — do I buy Watermelon with seeds, or without. Nowadays, why in the hell would anyone buy a seeded Watermelon?  Why waste time gnawing around the annoyance? Why work so hard when there is an easier way?
When I was growing up as a child, there was only one type of Watermelon — the kind that has seeds. Today, my kids only know of the seedless variety.

It seems everything today can be engineered, manufactured, and produced to make life easier; but does it really in the long run?
 

Standing there in the grocery store I thought about all bonus material I might be missing by always taking the easy road and buying the seedless watermelon. Then I considered what a disservice I was doing for my kids! I reached over and grabbed the biggest watermelon from the overflowing basket of the seeded variety. Today — I thought — we are going to learn to eat around the Watermelon seeds.

It’s the truth, you know. Anytime life gets tough, we pull out our maps and find a different way, saying to ourselves, “Forget about going through the muck, I’m out of here”. We do this to ourselves, and we’re passing it down to another generation. As helicopter moms and paranoid dads, we are killing our kids' instincts for survival. We are simply buying their way around the seeds, sparing them any unnecessary hassles life might throw their way. We argue with their teachers over bad grades, we yank them out of schools when the going gets tough, and advise them to Google anything that stumps them. What happened to the days of adapting to different teaching styles, getting banged up on the playground, learning critical thinking skills — eating around the Watermelon seeds?

I, for one, am guilty. I’ve done all these things. I’ve over-achieved in my role of being involved, jumping in and solving problems, defending at all costs. And what have my kids learned as a result? They’ve learned how to eat a seedless watermelon — skirt the issues. Rely on others. Ask someone else for the answers.

At a very young age, I learned how to be an independent thinker. I was forced to eat my way around the watermelon seeds of life — and I am forever grateful for those opportunities and the lessons I learned. Today’s society has become too lazy, too defensive, too focused on perfection. My suggestion? Screw things up every once in a while!!! Who cares if you make a mistake? At least you tried… you took a step… you didn’t let fear freeze you into inaction. I think it’s time we all dig in, get dirty, and do the hard work again. It's in those moments that the LIGHT truly does shine for us.

Since that day in the grocery store, I’ve been buying seeded watermelons all summer long. We have enjoyed the sweetest, juiciest, ripest fruits as a result. Those seeds really do make the watermelon sweeter. Similarly, I think life is sweeter, too, when we eat around the seeds along the way.

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PictureNothing but Clear Skies ahead!
I wish I could take credit for this story because it’s just that good! Writers slave and wrangle for hours, days, months to come up with just the right words to impress upon our readers. So when someone just lays out some brilliance before us without even trying, our hearts break a little. But that’s exactly what happened today when my 9-year old son served me an Ace of a story.


There are days when raising children is a total beat-down; you’re left wondering if anything you say or the examples you set are even cracking the surface of their stubborn heads. You wonder if they are going to be Grumpy Gus's their entire life, not learning a lick of goodness from you. Of course, these days are outnumbered by the good ones, but man do they feel like a dark thunderstorm that just won’t go away.

But today, we had sunshine … literally! Driving in the car this morning, taking my son to a summer camp program, we mentioned how nice it was outside. We rolled down all the windows and turned up the music on the radio. We let the wind blow through our hair and the song rev up our spirits. We were jamming! And smiling! And soaking in the rays. We felt totally carefree and wrapped up in the magic of the summer days. My son grabbed my phone and pulled up the weather app to see if there was any rain in the forecast.  Siri reported it would be sunny all day long. Then, he searched for the town where my husband is on business this week — Bloomsburg, PA — to see if it would be sunny there. Yep! Sunny skies in PA today. Then, he checked the radar in Dallas, where all the rest of our family lives. He happily announced, “Meme will be swimming in her pool for sure! It’s going to be sunny and HOT!”  By now, he was really getting a kick out of finding all the places expecting sunshine so he continued with our favorite ski slopes: Beech Mountain, NC and Breckenridge, CO both reported sunny skies! Then he went coast to coast:  New York City — sunny…. Los Angeles — sunny!  His voice elevating and speeding up, he exclaimed, "Oh my gosh, it's even going to be sunny in Cupertino, Italy!"  We broke out into hysterics. All this talk of sunshine just spilled all kinds of LIGHT into my car. The sun has that effect, doesn't it? It can just heat you up with joy and giddiness, and we were feeling it. He began taking screen shots of each city’s weather report and then snapped his head toward me and with a wild look in his eye exclaimed, “Mom, you have a write a  LIGHTbeamers story about this. You have to share all this sunshine with your people!!"

Stop me cold.

I giggled that nervous little laugh — stalling him with my reaction while I processed the moment.
My gosh — he’s paying attention. He hears me when I say “Come on, smile!! — we gotta shine a light for others”.

Right before my eyes, in the span of about 5 minutes, he
deftly crafted a killer story with a keen eye and a sense of humor, and delivered it to me on a shiny, silver platter. All I could think about is how all this talk of LIGHT is impacting him (and undoubtedly my daughter, too). Just the thought of the sun beaming its golden rays down in other parts of the world made him smile and think happy thoughts.

So there it is my people. The biggest dose of sunshine I can deliver for you, all the way from California to Italy.
Even if it's stormy in your city, hang on, there are clear skies ahead!

It's a bright sunshiny day! 
APRIL

 
 
An experience with my son recently opened my eyes -- and his -- to the realities of so many people in our community.  Last week, after being dismissed early from school, I took him with me on my regularly scheduled route for Meals on Wheels.  On a particular stop, a lady's home I've been to many times, she did not come to the door. Her front door was wide open, her purse laying visible by her back glass-sliding door. I slid the unlocked door open and peeked my head inside. I called out her name repeatedly, yelling almost, to see if I could perhaps wake her from a deep sleep. Nothing. I reached for my cell phone and called her - maybe hearing the phone would wake her, assuming she was asleep. Nothing. By now, my son began asking lots of questions. Where could she be? Is she okay? Do you think she's just sleeping and not hearing us? Mom, do you think she's.... dead?  I looked my boy in the eye. Son, it is possible. These things do happen.  That experience -- though scary -- was real. I was thankful he was with me that day to experience it.  I want my kids to know what goes on in the real world while many of us are spending our free time this Summer playing at camps, swimming at the pool, socializing at BBQ's, and vacationing at the Beach.

PictureClick & Share
Many of my friends -- me included -- are making Summer Bucket Lists full of fun activities to explore the outdoors and discover new things about our community.  Otherwise, the reality is most of our brood would lock themselves inside all day on iPods, iPads, and gadgets. But in addition to these ideas of summer fun -- I want my kids to  use their free time to shine their Big Hearts - and learn about ways they can impact their community.  An idea of a Summer Bucket List of Big Hearts began to swirl in my head. What if I set aside one day each week to give the kids an experience of a different kind?  What if,  instead of heading to the pool that day, we did something kind and generous for someone else??  What if we spent one afternoon completing fun Random Acts of Kindness? What if we took an hour the next week to deliver flowers to a resident at a nursing home. And the following week, what if we knocked on someone's door to bring them a hot meal only to discover they might need of medical help??? (For the record, we later learned the lady on our Meals on Wheels route that day was not dead, but had been whisked away earlier in a rush to the doctor by her son. She was safe and okay. But having a person who knocks on their door everyday to deliver meals can -- in many ways -- be lifesaving).

So today, the first official day of Summer Break, I'm kicking off a Family Challenge -- the Big Hearted Summer Bucket List. I'd love it if you & your kids would join me! Let's all set aside one day a week (one hour!!) to do something nice and kind and generous and giving for someone else.  I've compiled a list of ideas to get you started. Feel free to add to it -- and share your ideas with the LIGHTbeamer Community on our Facebook page.   Think of the experiences this will not only give to others -- but to your kids!

BIG HEARTED SUMMER BUCKET LIST
*A WEEKLY FAMILY CHALLENGE*


Summer is all about fun in the Sun — but while you’re at it — show off your Big Heart!

Each week, set aside one day to complete a Task that benefits someone else!
You know — shine your LIGHT sort of thing!!
Grab your kids and go show them what it’s like to be a
LIGHTbeamer.

To get you started, here’s a list of ideas — or add your own!!
Post pics and Share ideas with us on our Facebook Page
Social Share using #LIGHTbeamers #Bucketlist #BigHearts


Deliver a route for Meals on Wheels.
They always need last-minute drivers! This is a super fun one to do with your kids.
The clients on the route LOVE it when children come to drop off meals.
And who knows, you might be a lifesaver!

Buy some fresh flowers (or pick them from your backyard!) and deliver to a Nursing Home resident.
 
Ask the staff who could use a little dose of sunshine that day, then drop in to say hello and brighten their day!

Sign up to work a shift at a local soup kitchen.

You & the kids work the line, smile, and share your spirit with others.
Remind the kids to look these people in the eye!!

Create a care package for a military unit stationed in Afghanistan or Iraq.
Homemade cards, hard candy, pictures of your family, a note with a prayer written especially for them.
All kinds of ideas — google some!

Spend 1-hour doing Random Acts of Kindness.
Buy the coffee for the person behind you; pass out $5 gift cards to people at the grocery store;
Pick a person at random at gas station and buy their gas;
Stand on a street corner/red light with your kids holding a sign that simply says, “SMILE!”.
Imagine how fun this can be!!

Volunteer at the Animal Shelter.
This will be a favorite with your kids. But be sure to set strict expectations before going in, otherwise you might come home with a new puppy!!

Bake some cookies for a neighbor.
Just for no good reason other than to say “Thank You for being a great neighbor”.

Sign up to run/walk a Charity 5K together.
Not only will you expose your kids to the awesome race atmosphere, your entry fee will go to a good cause!
PictureClick & Share!

For years to come, I'm not sure my son will remember the details about how he spent his summer days by the pool or playing Xbox. But I know he will never forget the day we stopped at the lady's house on our Meals on Wheels route.  Making memories is about creating experiences of the heart. Kids have the Biggest Hearts I know! Teach them to use them in a way that will shine a LIGHT and brighten the world.

This summer is going to be so awesome! Shine on!
APRIL

Like, Comment, and Share this post with others. Let's get everyone in on this Challenge.

 
 
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It's funny how when you're younger - like in college - you don't really look too far into the future to imagine all the trials and tribulations that are surely coming your way. Back in those days, you're so full of LIFE - ready to charge into the world and make your own way; no one really stops to think about the downside of 'growing up'.

When I was in college,  I didn't contemplate life's frailties. I didn't really think ahead to the fact that some couples would get divorced, some careers would fail, some friendships wouldn't last, or someone's daughter would get cancer... and die.  Nope, I never thought about that one.   Until it happened.

Star Nuckolls was the first child born to my college friends, Kari and Steve. I never met Star as I had moved away and had lost touch with so many people after graduation. I didn't know about this young, vibrant child moving about in the world shining her LIGHT wherever she went.  But that's how people describe Star -- as a shining light of energy. A child who never sat still. A child who lit up a room when she entered.

My husband and I had moved over 1000 miles away and keeping track of all my friends' accomplishments and successes usually came in the form of a phone call with a few close friends who'd quickly give me the recap of what's going on with everyone else back home.  Jenny moved to Dallas and is working as an engineer; Rob and Sherri just bought a new house - it's really big;  Karen and Joe just had their third child, she's still working full-time- can you believe it?

These are all great conversations until you get to this: Steve and Kari's daughter has Stage 4 cancer and it's not looking good. What?? I myself didn't have children yet so I could not fully grasp this scenario. My friend told me about a "blog"  Kari had started where she posted updates daily to keep everyone informed (mind you, this was waaaay before Blogs were even a thing). I went to the site to find out more and I didn't come out of my office for 3 hours.  I read every post.  Star's story did that to you -- she captivated you.


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Star was diagnosed with a type of childhood kidney cancer in 2004. Of all the childhood cancers to get, Star's kind was the most favorable -- the one with the highest survival rate. 90% of children with this type of cancer survive. Star did not.

I won't bog you down with details of Star's cancer treatment because no matter how you write it - it sucks. Of course there are beautiful stories of beautiful people who emerge all along the way (doctors, nurses, fellow patients, community) and all of that was certainly true in Star's case ... but in the end, a child dies and that's never a beautiful experience. But what did happen throughout Star's journey was a LIGHT that shined bright and brought people together. Star had an unusual way about her. She would go to anyone; she had no fear; she had no sense of prejudice. She simply loved everybody, and everybody loved her.  As a result, entire communities came out of nowhere to lend their support. 

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During Star's illness, friends and family sold purple stars for $15 to raise money for Star's medical fund. Before long, there were purple stars in flowerbeds, in lawns, in windows of businesses -- there were purple stars everywhere as a sign of solidarity and prayer. Within Steve and Kari's network of friends, people came together to learn about their needs, raise money, hold prayer vigils, and give support to the family. People -- strangers -- donated money to help offset the enormous costs of fighting cancer. Much of that money was never spent as Star's time expired before the funds could all be used. Today that money is in a  foundation in Star's name, which in turn helps  people in Star's community who are fighting their own cancer battles.  Kari also used some of the money to establish a Scholarship fund at our college for Greek students. The Greek community was another group that stepped up with donations, support, and prayer during Star's illness, and Kari's never forgotten their generosity.  Star's LIGHT even reached the politicians. The State Capitol in Texas delivered a proclamation in Star's name, and a flag was flown in Washington D.C.  in her honor.  Throughout it all, Kari continued with her daily posts about Star's routine, her attitude, her chemo regimen, Kari's own fears and concerns. Before it was all over, Kari's "blog-that-was-before-it's-time" had over 1-million hits, reaching every continent in the world. When I asked Kari why does she think this happened? how did this happen? She replied, "I do not know -- so many kids have cancer". 
This is just what Star did. She was full of life -- even in the midst of dying -- and that just transmitted somehow.   You can't explain how something like this happens. It just happens. You can't explain why children get cancer. They just do.

On the day of Star's funeral, it was cold, cloudy, and rainy outside. Following the service, the family had a graveside burial. Just as Star was being laid into the ground, a double rainbow appeared. It was such an unusual sight -- a rainbow in that weather!  Later, they learned the rainbows were caused by a phenomenon called a "Sun Pillar".  By definition, Sun Pillars are shafts of light extending from the sun or other bright light sources. They’re caused by ice crystals drifting in the Earth’s air.  Yes, Star's LIGHT was so bright it blazed through the sky as her spirit traveled upward. For Kari, this was a sign -- from Star -- from God -- that she was where she belonged. She was home.

It has been 10 years since Star Knuckolls died, but her legacy and LIGHT continues to shine. Star's younger sister, Saylor, was just 2-years old when Star died. Now she is 12 and has written and illustrated a children's book honoring her sister's story.  Star loved a lot of people, but she didn't love anyone more than she loved her sister, Saylor.  Her book is titled, My Shining Star.  Kari's own memoir will be released later this year. Kari will tell you she has come from the depths of hell and back. She's endured unimaginable heartbreak, divorce, depression, and fear.  The books were not something Kari ever planned on doing, but as the journey unfolded, it became clear Star's LIGHT was guiding her,  pushing her to move forward to share her story. 

10 years later, Kari says the puzzle pieces that were so distorted before are starting to come together. Time has given her perspective and clarity... and peace.  Kari says you have to have your eyes open to see the blessings in it all. God/Star speaks to her, but she says, "only if I'm quiet and listen for it" .  Kari's journey and Star's story have gone on to help so many others who are walking that same path. Mothers who are deep in despair; families who are torn apart by death; younger siblings who don't yet have the words to express their pain. Kari's words are weapons of healing for so many.  Kari says she wants other parents who've lost a child to have a story they can relate to, so they too can find their way out. "It's easy to check out, to succumb to the depression. It's painful to keep going. Living is a choice you have to make. They have to take it day by day; sometimes minute by minute. I'm hoping my book will help those parents who are grieving. I want them to know there are people who love them and who need them here! There is hope. Keep going. God will speak to you; He will do it in all sorts of ways. Listen for Him."

Looking back, Kari is so thankful that God trusted her to be Star's mom -- even if it was only for 4 years, 2 months and 25 days. Kari says she'd rather have had those 4 years than none at all.

Today  - February 7 -  marks the 10 year anniversary of Star's death. Kari says this is the first time since Star died that she will actually be able to 'breathe' on this day.  "I am grateful for the children's book, and for my book...  good things are happening! I feel like Star is looking down and is proud of me... proud that I was able to hear the message. I heard her and I heard God.... and now I can give others encouragement and hope. Everything is temporary and I know I'll see her again one day. Until then, Star gives me strength. I will draw upon that strength and give it to others".

Tonight, when you gaze out at the stars that shine so bright, I'm certain you will see a shining LIGHT.
Her name is Star.


The Kari Smith's memoir is titled "Stars That Can Laugh" which comes from "The Little Prince":
"In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing. When you look at the sky at night...you -only you- will have stars that can laugh."
 
 
PictureToday's Forecast: Gloom and Gloomier
It's never the most alluring notion to jump out of bed and make hay while there's sunshine... especially when there is no sunshine! Today, I woke up to your typical cold, foggy, gloomy day. I peered out the window only to see a thick haze stare back at me. The mountains that usually greet me with their glory were hidden by a blanket of greyness.  I was scheduled to attend a monthly women's Bible study -- a time I genuinely love and cherish -- but the call of the wild was telling me to do nothing except crawl back in bed. I also needed to finish a video script in which my deadline was looming so that, too, gave me the perfect reason to just stay in my pajamas and put on my UGGs. But something kept urging me to forge ahead with the plan.

As I showered and dressed, I kept staring out my bedroom window, wondering to myself what LIGHT could I possibly encounter on a day like this? I almost convinced myself to give in-- that LIGHT doesn't have to pour into our lives everyday like sunshine and lollipops!!  "What's the point? Just stay home and pull the covers over your head" I reasoned. How many times have I -- have you -- done this? Just let the weather or the mood dictate your experiences for the day? Have you ever wondered what you might be missing when you give in to the temptation of mediocrity? of laziness? of shutting yourself in?

Still, I went. I went to my study with my group of girlfriends who always make me laugh and think! Today we discussed how we are called to be promoters of the Good News yet how easily we remain silent at times. We discussed how much we can learn from our children in their unabashed ways in which they run, yell, laugh, scream, and cry at the most inopportune times while we cringe and think "Be Quiet!!!". Children have something to say and they often say it loudly. And most of the time, they are spewing the truth because Tact is not their virtue (yet! Please Lord, let this come....). Our group of women shared personal stories of struggle, laughter, and LIGHT -- which reminded me that we are all human... and a work in progress.... and in this together! We need each other!! We can't just stay home, stay in bed with the curtains drawn shutting out the darkness and cold. We must seek the LIGHT and share it with others so that we can be the Fuel someone else needs to get through the Fog.


PictureMy LIGHTbeamers!
We're not going to wake up every day with the LIGHT spilling out of our pores. There are days that seem heavy and dark and cold. On those days, ask yourself "where can I find the LIGHT" and force yourself to go in that direction. Think of it as a "Filling Station" -- When you are depleted or despondent, go where you know you will be fueled so that ticking the next things off your "to-do" list seem totally achievable.

I did that today -- and these women filled my tank. They are the reason I showed up; I knew they would provide just the perfect dose of reality and wit to warm my heart and light my LIGHT.  Afterwards, my day sailed along with much more meaning and vigor. I returned home to finish my script on time, have a lovely lunch with my husband, and take my kids for frozen yogurt after school. 

The Fog persisted all day and the cold hounded into the night but my insides beamed with love, friendship, inspiration and hope. The LIGHT was there all along, wasn't it? It's never really that far away.

Who are your LIGHTbeamers? Seek them out and hold them close. The Fog is always coming.


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The smile a frozen treat can bring on such a cold day still mystifies me.... but whatever!!
 

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    Hi, I'm April and I'm glad you're here. 

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