Mary’s Story – The Pain of Childlessness

Desires of a Barren Woman By Emily Hurd

Mary’s Story – The Pain of ChildlessnessA lifetime longing for life in one’s belly
is not a joyful life.
The most wonderful love can’t fill this void
no matter how hard he may try.
For what sin am I punished,
That I may never enjoy,
clinging to my breast, a blonde haired baby boy?
To know the love of a sweet child,
and the feeling of being whole-
These are the things I’ve always wanted to know.

Mary sat at her dressing table and brushed her hair carefully as she had most nights of her 57 years. She smiled as she looked in the mirror; and, she liked what she saw. She was wearing the nightgown that Joe had given her on their 2nd honeymoon five years ago.

Joe was out walking Gilbert and Sullivan, their adopted mutts. He didn’t know it yet, but when he got home, he was going to get “lucky.”

As she brushed, the mirror carried her back over the years as it often did. But the memories weren’t painful anymore. They were just the building blocks that made her life so special now.

She and Joe had grown up in devoutly Catholic homes just a few blocks apart. They had both gone to the same parochial school; then she had gone to the girl’s high school and Joe had gone to the boy’s high school. They were dear friends all through high school. Their lives were good in those days.

During college, they had dated more seriously and began to plan a future together. They were both going to work for two or three years to build up their nest egg and then start their family. Both wanted lots of kids because that was how they had grown up – big families, with lots of friends around all the time.

Theirs was the first wedding among their college circles; and there were lots more over the next few years. Weddings were always fun and offered such hope for the future for all of them.

Mary kept working after they started trying to have a baby in earnest.

Before long their married friends were expecting their first children. Mary and Joe were excited for them.

Then some of those couples started having their second child. Mary was still excited but a little anxiety started to creep in.

Family dinners were beginning to have the stigma of Aunt Mary and Uncle Joe. She truly loved and enjoyed their nieces and nephews but loving them didn’t fill the growing dread of her being unable to have her own child.

After a few more years, Mary convinced Joe that they should at least get a medical evaluation to see if there was a reason they could not conceive. They did several times; and the results were always the same: no apparent medical or physical reason on the part of the male or female that would prohibit or inhibit conception.

The root of bitterness

Mary found it easier to send regrets to invitations from other couples than it was to feel the pain in her heart as she sat and listened to them chatter on about their children. Oh, they tried to be kind, but it was natural for them to talk about what meant most to them: their children.

Mary and Joe were both advancing with their jobs. Joe was in sales with a well-established regional company and Mary was in human resources with an national company. Money wasn’t an issue but Mary read somewhere that stress could be an issue in conception. She was able to get a 12-month leave of absence to try to relieve the work-related stress.

Unfortunately, she was reminded every time they tried that she had to get pregnant in 12 months; then 11 months; and so on; or she would have to return to work without any a baby to come home to.

It hurt a lot when she was reminded each month that she was not yet pregnant. She took to her bed with a bigger burden of pain than her regular monthly discomfort.

They tried all the infertility treatments that church doctrine allowed with no success. There was a lot of embarrassment and a lot of dignity and money spent in these attempts.

Joe traveled a lot in his job and Mary began to look forward to the nights he would be away. She could be free to cry or scream or curse at all the unfairness they were suffering.

It was getting to the point that seeing a pregnant woman or a woman with her children in the mall would cause her to clinch her jaw and taste the bile rising in her throat.

Drinking and drugs were so repulsive to her that she wasn’t tempted to use them to mask her pain.

Instead, she would take to her bed, curl into a fetal position, and clutch the pain within her as if her womb was aching for the baby it would never carry.

She could get through the weekdays because work was a sufficient distraction. Nights and weekends were awful.

Mary didn’t know who to blame.

Some nights she blamed herself; other nights she blamed Joe. The most painful nights were the ones when she blamed God; her guilt was overwhelming.

Confession didn’t help. The priest would tell her to remain true to God and do the appropriate penance but nothing would ever really take the pain away.

She finally decided that she was never going to bear a child; but that didn’t ease the pain of the loss she felt continuously.

Joe suggested adoption but she had no desire whatsoever to adopt. She wanted a baby to form in her own body, to birth it, and then watch it grow up; something like all their brothers and sisters were enjoying.

They started another round of weddings with nieces and nephews; and another round of pain at the prospects of the newlyweds against the impossibilities in her own life.

Over time, she had lost all desire for Joe and he had reluctantly moved to the bedroom down the hall. She obeyed the church edict in her spousal duties; but the church couldn’t make her enjoy it.

The day came when she told Joe that she had taken a promotion with her company that would require her to move to the home office in the mid-west. She didn’t want Joe to move with her.

Joe was dismayed and explained that he understood her lack of desire for him but he didn’t understand why she wanted a separation. He committed his love to her and reminded her that he had promised twenty years before to stand by her “for better and for worse.”

If she needed to move, he wouldn’t stand in her way, but as far as he was concerned, they were still married.

His commitment to her actually made her feel more guilty, but she didn’t let on. They’d both done a lot of acting over the years, especially Mary.

They explained the separation on her job and the demands of his career; and family and friends accepted it with appropriate sympathy for both Mary and Joe.

Making Changes

Mary got settled in her new apartment and plunged into her new job. She felt a little more peace due to the excitement of making a change. Days were busy but the nights were still filled with more of the same pain and longing.

She still felt the same despair when she saw women with their children. There was a park across from her apartment and most evenings she cried as she sat on her balcony listening to the children laughing and playing in the park; knowing that she would never hear the laughter of her own child.

Professionals had told her years before that she needed medication for her anxiety but she had always refused. She didn’t like having to take pills just to live her life.

There was a church a few blocks from her apartment and she decided to go to Mass one Saturday after she had been there a few months.

She looked forward to the mass and she went early so she could have confession and take the sacraments. The priest listened as she described her anger and pain. Then he said something very strange.

He absolved her and told her that an appropriate penance would be for her to look into Hannah’s Sisters. She could find a brochure in a rack in the narthex.

Mary learned that Hannah’s Sisters was a group for women who were living through emotional pain regardless of the source of the pain.

The original group was for barren women and was named for Hannah, the barren woman who made a vow to give her child to God if he would give her a son. God honored her request and her son, Samuel, lived to become a great prophet and high priest for Israel. You can read Hannah’s story here.

The brochure had contact information. When Mary awoke the next morning after another night of tossing and turning, she decided to call the woman.

She called that evening and they made an appointment to meet for coffee the next day.

Margaret, the Hannah’s Sisters leader, was waiting for Mary. They got their coffee and found a place where they could talk undisturbed.

After exchanging pleasantries, Mary asked her about the group.

Margaret explained that there were only three members at the present time.

Mary asked, “Why are there so few members? Surely there are more women hurting around here than that.”

”Of course, there are,” Margaret replied, “but we don’t keep them around for long.”

“What do you mean!”

“Mary, we’re not a social club. Women don’t use us to provide an on-going social function like so many self-help groups. We want to help women overcome their pain, and when they do that, they can make the appropriate decisions to be reconciled with their families and friends.”

“I’m not sure I understand,” Mary said doubtfully.

“Mary, if there were a way that you could be free of your emotional pain in just a few weeks, would you be interested in knowing more about that?”

“Of course,” Mary answered, “but I doubt that’s possible after what I’ve gone through.”

“Mary, we care a whole lot more about where you want to go than about where you’ve been. In fact, we will never ask you about the source of your pain. If you want to learn about a simple and effective way to be free from your pain, whatever is causing it, come by the parish hall tomorrow night at seven o’clock and we’ll explain everything to you.”

The next evening, Mary joined Margaret and three other women on couches in a small room off the parish hall.

After introductions, Margaret explained that every week they review the three Life Principles and share their progress. She explained that they never talk about their problems because dwelling on past hurts always makes the hurt worse.

Most emotional pain is caused by rumination. In many cases, the original cause of the pain occurred far in the past. And if the pain is ongoing and there is no solution to the problem, then ruminating on it can cause more anxiety with inevitably leads to stress, depression and even physical pain.

She explained that the life principles they teach offer an easy way, that anyone can use, to deal with the negative thoughts that cause so much emotional pain.

“You asked yesterday, ‘why so few members?’”, Mary reminded her. “We’ve had over two hundred members over the years; but as they become successful in applying these principles in their lives, they don’t need us any more. So currently, we only have three members; four, if you want to join us.”

Mary nodded and Margaret went on to explain the three principles.

Three Life Principles

Life Principle 1 – Whenever a thought enters your mind that makes you angry, sad, or bitter, you simply say to yourself out loud, “I will not think about that.” When the thought comes back, and it will, you say it again, “I will not think about that.”

“If you prefer, which I do, you can say “I take this thought captive,” because that phrase comes right out of the Bible.

Each time we dismiss a thought, the thought is compelled to go away because that’s the way we are made. We own our thoughts and we do not have to think about anything that hurts us.

Margaret explained that this idea had been around for thousands of years. “We simply do not have to let negative thoughts control our lives,” she said.

She explained that each time we “take a painful thought captive,” we create a little bit of peaceful space in our emotions. As you take more negative thoughts captive, you create more peaceful space.

“The reason this works so well is Life Principle 2.”

Life Principle 2 – When you consistently practice the first principle, negative thoughts will pop up less and less often until you really don’t think about them at all.

She explained that we all have a part of our mind, called the subconscious, which has the role of helping us be happy and content. If our subconscious thinks that we are happy thinking about negative things and getting all worked up all the time, it will keep feeding us those negative thoughts so we can be happy.

But if our subconscious hears us saying “I take this thought captive” consistently, it concludes over time that we don’t really want to think about those things and it will stop sending those negative thoughts to us. It’s like our subconscious blocks those negative thoughts automatically.

Doing this consistently replaces your habits of anger, sadness, or bitterness with a new habit of peace.

Life Principle 3 – Use your habit of peace to make the best decisions for you and your future. She explained that this is true freedom: the freedom to do what we need to do when we need to do it to become the best that we can be.

When we’re not spending all our time thinking about painful things, we have peace. We can use this peaceful time to think about ways to get along better with others, to do the right things, and to reconcile with our loved ones.

Margaret said that she’s sure these principles work because she has shared them with women for over 20 years. She said they all have learned to break their habits of anger, bitterness, victimhood, or whatever and create new habits of peace.

Margaret handed Mary a card. The card had the Three Life Principles on one side and blocks for each day of the week on the back. She explained, “Every time a negative thought pops into your mind, I want you to say out loud to yourself, ‘I will not think about that’ or ‘I take this thought captive.’” If you’re someplace where it would be weird speaking out loud, put your hand over your mouth like you’re covering a cough and say softly, ‘I take this thought captive.’

“Then put a check card in the block every time you dismiss one of your negative thoughts. Each week when we meet, we review how each of you is doing. I predict by the end of four or five weeks, you will be making very few check marks on the card because the Life Principle 2 will be taking effect in your life. The question now is, ‘Will you do this?’”

Mary must have looked a little skeptical because Margaret suggested,”Mary, I suspect that you have a negative thought right now telling you that this stupid idea will never work for you. This is a good place to start taking it captive.”

Each of the women shared her results of taking their thoughts captive for the previous week. Each had fewer negative thoughts that the week before. One girl, who was in her seventh week said this was her second week with no negative thoughts at all.

Still skeptical, Mary said to herself several times driving home and that evening, “I take this thought captive.” Each time, the thought went away briefly.

When the painful thoughts of childlessness barged in like they did every night, Mary took them captive out loud. She was amazed when each thought went away. They came back, like Margaret said they would and she took them captive again. After doing this several more times over the next half hour, Mary dropped off to sleep; the first time in years she had done so without crying.

The weeks passed quickly. Mary made good progress and she was excited as the number of negative thoughts diminished daily.

Mary found she had time to think about Joe and about the fact that she would never have children.

She called Joe one week and asked if she could come home that weekend; she had something to tell him. Joe was definitely puzzled; but he readily agreed to pick her up at the airport on Friday.

After freshening up at their house, Joe took her to her favorite restaurant and they enjoyed a very nice meal. Over dessert and coffee, she explained to Joe what she had been doing at Hannah’s Sisters.

She told Joe that she was at peace with the fact that she would never be a mother. And she then asked Joe to forgive her for all the pain she had caused him over the years. With tears in his eyes, Joe forgave her and asked her to come back home to him.

Her heart was full as Joe paid the check and they walked to the car. For the first time in years, she was actually enjoying being with her husband; and her heart was doubly full that God had given her a faithful husband who had continued to love her in spite of the trouble she had given him.

Out of habit, Joe started down the hall to his room until Mary touched his arm and said, “Joe, will you sleep in our room tonight?”

It took a few weeks to ease out of her position at headquarters and for a spot to open back in the office where in their home town; but the company made it happen for her.

She used that time to talk with Margaret about making Hannah’s Sisters a formal, legal organization that could expand into a number of locations where its alumni were living. Almost without exception, the women who had learned to live without pain were eager to share the Three Life Principles with other women.

She heard the front door open and Gilbert and Sullivan scampered across the living room and kitchen to their beds in the mud room. She heard Joe start down the hall. Joe may be lucky tonight, but Mary dimmed the lights thinking about how lucky and truly blessed she was – she was free of pain after hurting for years and she was helping other women find their freedom, too.

The end.

This fictional story introduces a principle that has been around for thousands of years. In addition to the Bible, philosophers like Confucius, Marcus Aurelius, Shakespeare, and others have written or spoken about our wonderful capacity to train ourselves not to ruminate on negative thoughts and to minimize the effects of emotional or physical pain in our lives. The danger of ruminating on emotional pain is, in addition to more pain, stress, depression, anxiety, emotional issues, and worse.

Children as well as adults can easily understand the simple Three Life Principles. The principles work for many negative emotions that result from almost any negative thinking.

 This concept is explained fully in an online eCourse called Finding Personal Peace The course leads you through these life principles and also covers topics like making good decisions, and dealing with serious stuff like death, illness, abuse, and addiction.

The eCourse leads one through a process of turning the habits of negative emotions into the habits of peace and freedom. You can read other short stories on life issues by searching the category, Short Stories, at the right. You can start with the course today and begin to find more personal peace in your life immediately.

All the best.

Copyright 2014 Birmingham, Al USA. All rights reserved.


Roberta’s Story – Saving Children Ten at a Time

Roberta’s Story – Saving Children Ten at a TimeRuth Stratton looked up at a soft knock at her door. Ruth had been principal of Barnard Middle School for five years. She had about 400 students and her school was one of two feeder schools for Central High School in their Midwestern town.

Standing in the door was Lisa Perkins, her guidance counselor, with a short stack of file folders in her hands. This did not generally mean good news, so Ruth held up a finger asking for a minute; cleared the top of her desk; and then asked Lisa to take a seat.

Knowing that both women were busy, Lisa got straight to the point.

“Over the past few days, I’ve been reviewing some of the students I see on a regular basis and I’ve found something that is really unusual,” Lisa began.

“What’s wrong?” interrupted Ruth, expecting the worst.

“Oh, there’s nothing wrong! In fact, I think something is happening that’s very good and I wanted you to see what I’ve found.”

Lisa slid three student folders across the desk and asked Ruth to take a look at them. Ruth scanned them and commented that it looks like three students are doing very well.

“That’s true,” said Lisa, “but up until last year all three were regular visitors in my office. I like to look at old cases to follow up on the students and these three were just some of the ones that popped out. It’s just not typical to see students moving so quickly from bad behavior to much improved behavior.”

Ruth looked back at the folders and noted, “These children are all in CPS (Child Protective Services).”

“That’s right. We have a total of 17 students right now that are in CPS. These three are doing very well and the rest are performing pretty much as we expect from CPS students. That made me curious.”

“Take a look at the responsible party. They are all under the care of a Roberta Stern. That, in itself, is unusual with a single woman acting as the foster parent. But it gets more interesting.”

“And if you look at the history, you’ll see that most of the unacceptable behavior came when the students were in a prior foster home; and the desirable behavior began about the time that Ms. Stern became their guardian.

“I did a system-wide computer search for students at that address. I found three in the elementary school and four more in the high school. When I call the counselors at both schools, I found the same patterns: troubled behavior moving to good behavior coincident with the child being moved into Ms. Stern’s care.”

Ruth thought about this for a minute. “This has gotten my curiosity piqued. I’m thinking that we don’t spend enough time looking at students who are performing well both socially and academically. See if you can get us an appointment with Ms. Stern. I’d like to know what she’s doing to help these children.”

Meeting with Roberta Stern

When the receptionist announced her 3:30 appointment, Ruth Stratton looked up to see Lisa Perkins in the doorway with a plain, but neatly dressed, woman who appeared to be in her early to mid-forties, whom she introduced as Roberta Stern.

“Ms. Stern,” Ruth welcomed her, “it’s so nice to see you. Won’t you both come in and have a seat.”

“It’s Roberta, if you don’t mind. When I hear Ms. Stern, I want to look around to see if my mother-in-law has come in.”

“Then, I’m Ruth and this is Lisa, who I expect you’ve already met. We appreciate your coming by today. We want to talk with you about your children.”

“Oh, please don’t tell me that one of them is in trouble,” Roberta, her face flooded with concern.

“No, no – quite the opposite. All your children are doing very well, both socially and academically. That’s why we asked you to come by. Your children don’t fit what we usually see with CPS children and we understand that your other children in both the elementary and high schools are all performing much the same.”

“You’re obviously doing something right. We’re just curious about your secret. If all students behaved as well as yours, Lisa wouldn’t have nearly the workload she has today.”

Roberta’s Story

“Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and Mr. Stern?”

“It’s just me. My husband, Sergeant James Stern, was lost in 2004 in Afghanistan to an IED. We had been married 12 years and he was career Army. But we were never able to have children.”

“We’re so sorry,” Lisa interjected.

“Thank you, I am too. But I guess losing him is why I’m here today.”

“We always wanted a family, my husband and I. We both grew up in large families; but I guess those genes stopped with us. After he died, my pastor asked me if I would consider taking foster children into my home.”

“After praying and with the promise of support from the church, I took two kids, a brother and sister, aged 17and 14 into my home. It was pretty hard because they both had some issues. We struggled greatly, but with a lot of prayer, the boy is now in the Army and doing well and the girl is in community college studying nursing.”

“But like I told my pastor and the CPS caseworker, I couldn’t do that again without having a plan. So here’s what I did.”

Roberta’s Plan

“Both my husband and I had learned that there is power in numbers in a large family. It’s much easier for seven or eight to love and support each other than it is for one to love and support one or two.”

“I also knew that there had to be some way to help these children get rid of the baggage they bring with them. It’s unspeakable how some of them have been neglected or abused. And the older they are, the more weight they carry.”

“Children basically want to be loved and to be secure. When that is torn away from them, they can build some terrible walls to protect themselves. Lisa, that’s why I expect you see so many CPS kids here on social issues. Kids’ walls keep getting tangled up with other kids and trouble starts.”

“So I did two things. First, I went to my pastor and told him that I would not be a foster parent for just one or two kids. But I would consider foster parenting a group home with eight to ten kids if I had the support of the church and the community.”

“Then I went to my husband’s Auntie Frances who had herself raised ten children without a husband around. I wanted to know her secret.”

Auntie Frances’ Story

“Auntie Francis told me that all she had learned came from her Granny Sims, who was a child of freed slaves, who heaven knows could themselves have some powerful baggage to carry around. She told me Three Secrets to Success in Life. I teach these secrets to every one of my kids today.”

Three Secrets

Secret 1 – Whenever a thought enters your mind that will cause you pain or tempt you to get into trouble, you say to yourself out loud, “I will not think about that.” When the thought comes back, and it will, you say it again, “I will not think about that.”

Auntie Frances said she didn’t know how this worked until she talked to her preacher about it. He told her that the Apostle Paul said in the Bible, “…we take these thoughts captive,” and that’s what we do when we refuse to think about something negative or tempting.

Later on, one of her children studied some philosophy and told her that Confucius, William Shakespeare, Martin Luther, and others had said pretty much the same thing for over two thousand years.

Secret 2 – When you consistently practice Secret 1, negative thoughts or temptations will come less and less until you really don’t think about them at all.

She told me that one of her grandchildren, who also lived by the secrets, told her how this part worked. She says that we have a part of our mind, called the subconscious, which has the job of helping us be happy and content. If our subconscious thinks that we are happy thinking about negative things and getting all worked up all the time, it will keep feeding us those negative thoughts so we can be happy.

But if our subconscious hears us saying “I will not think about that,” consistently, it will learn over time that we don’t want to think about those things and it will stop sending those negative  thoughts or temptations to us. It’s like our subconscious blocks those negative thoughts and temptations automatically.

Auntie Frances said that this made a lot of sense to her and she has four generations in her family practicing the secrets to prove it. She says they have learned to break the habit of stress and create the habit of peace.

Secret 3 – Use your habit of peace to make the best decisions for you and your family.

When we’re not spending all our time thinking about negative things, we have peace. We can use this peaceful time to think about ways to get along better with others, to do the right things, and to better ourselves for the future.

Roberta’s story continues

Roberta’s Story – Saving Children Ten at a Time“I’ll be honest”, she said, “I had some hard times dealing with losing my husband. I began to use the Three Secrets in my own life and I found peace for the first time since he died. I still missed him, but I wasn’t grieving over it to the point that it held me back.”

“About this time, the pastor came to me and told me the church owned a house with six bedrooms and a big lot. It was old, but it was serviceable. He had talked to the Board and he had talked to the neighbors near the house, and all had agreed that if the church would sponsor it, and I would serve as the foster mother, they would petition CPS to open a group home for kids.”

“Long story short, I prayed and agreed; the church petitioned CPS and they agreed; and the next summer, the next four foster kids, who are now in high school, came to live with me.”

Roberta explained that it took some structure to make all this happen; and she detailed how it evolved to what’s working so well today.

Every child has what she calls “settling in” time. This is the time when she teaches them the Three Secrets. She learned early on that you can’t really affect behavior before the demons are removed; and these foster kids are carrying some really big baggage demons on their little shoulders. Secrets 1 and 2 help them get rid of the baggage.

The only chore each child has from day one is doing their own laundry. Roberta had a large storage closet filled with good clothes she gets from the Salvation Army or the church clothing closet. Each child can pick three sets of clothing that they like. She decided on three sets because they would have to do their laundry every three days and that would give her time alone with the child while they do their laundry. The laundry time is when she can spend personal time with each child.

This is where she explained Secrets 1 and 2. Of course, secret 2 is automatic if they do Secret 1 consistently.

She tells them that she doesn’t want to know about their past. There really not too much they could do about that anyway. She would explain Secret 1 and encourage them to start dismissing their negative thoughts.

She uses following laundry sessions to inquire how Secret 1 is working and to encourage the children. That usually takes about the time it takes for the tub to fill; so they spent the rest of their laundry time talking about anything that becomes handy to talk about.

After a month, the habit of peace is beginning to take hold and the child is becoming “settled in.” Roberta then begins talking about Secret 3 – thinking about family and future. It isn’t too hard because the child is usually getting comfortable in the home by this time and with the baggage dropping off their backs.

Her laundry sessions are important. She leads age-specific conversations on a wide range of subjects including respect, privacy, personal space, shared responsibility, sexuality, dating, life choices, and marriage. She talks about finances, budgeting, planning, and taking responsibility.

Roberta picks an older child to be a “special” big brother or sister for the new child. This helps ease them into the family routines which are crucial in a big family.

The older children all share the cooking and marketing with Roberta’s help. She teaches all the children how to clean their rooms and to share in cleaning the house. They all work together to keep up the lawn and shrubs.

If a child starts balking about something, often a big sister or brother will talk with the child about the Secrets and encourage them to think of the importance of being part of the family and the importance of thinking about the future.

Roberta uses laundry time as private time with child. Here she can also teach each child to mend their clothing if it gets torn or loses a button. After laundry time, if they have outgrown a garment or are just tired of it, they can take the clean, repaired and folded garment back to the clothes pantry and select a replacement.

After supper comes study time and often older students will help the younger ones with their homework. The children learn to share their reports with their brothers and sisters and encouragement is the rule. They learn to use computers to research projects. Several have learned to make PowerPoint presentations which they share with the family.

Meal time is used to share events of the day and things coming up. Sometimes kids will bring up issues from school and often one kid would say to another, “Think about the secrets.” But they always listen carefully before they respond. That’s part of the respect they are learning.

Meal time is followed by game time. They don’t have TV or smart phones. They carry a limited-minutes cell phone in their backpacks for emergencies. Their CPS stipend is used to pay for the cell phones.

Every child is responsible for signing out on a whiteboard so everybody always knew where everybody is all the time. With ten kids, it’s easy to lose one.

Roberta teaches the kids to keep a journal every day just as she keeps a journal on each child. She retrieved hers from her purse and held it up as an example. When Ruth asked if she could see it, Roberta declined, saying that all the journals were personal.

If kids start hanging with the wrong people or heading toward some other trouble, brothers or sisters would often try to deal with it kid-to-kid. If that doesn’t work, the concerned child would quietly tell Roberta and that became good laundry-time material.

Roberta isn’t too concerned about romances in the home because the kids really are more like brothers and sisters. They all learn how to dress, talk, and act modestly. Older kids are allowed to date, but the girls couldn’t go out with a boy until he had come over for a Sunday dinner. Roberta laughs at the thought of some of these dinner-table inspections. But the kids feel comfortable dating within the family policy.

She said her kids participate in sports and take music lessons. They attend each others games and recitals. They swap chores when one has a conflict. They have become a family in every sense of the word except genetics.

Over time, the family becomes a secure rock for each child. They know they are loved, respected, and accepted there; and they know that other people are pulling for them as well as depending on them.

They always have a big Sunday dinner. When the kids age-out of foster care at age eighteen, they are always welcome to come back for Sunday dinner. Roberta expects that before long, they’ll have to make this a pot-luck dinner because she could envision twenty or thirty people or more coming back to visit their family bringing their own families with them.

The church is planning to add a guest house on the property so kids coming back home to visit can have a place to stay.

Kids learn how to do minor repairs around the house, googling for instructions and borrowing tools from the church maintenance team. They learn how to plan the project and budget for materials.

They all, boys and girls alike, learn how to change the oil and rotate the tires on their car and van. They clean and wax the vehicles to keep them nice. They check the oil and keep a maintenance log.

Church and community members give the kids jobs. They learn how to set up accounts at the credit union and account for their money. They write resumes to apply for jobs.

Part of their CPS stipend goes into a vacation account and they all go to the beach or the mountains each summer. The kids plan the vacation.

Since Roberta doesn’t have to buy clothes so much, part of their stipend goes to them for spending money.

Roberta ended her story by saying, “It’s amazing what children can do for themselves and for each other once they get rid of the baggage they had been carrying around in their young minds.”

Ruth and Liz sat there totally amazed with what this woman was accomplishing with her Three Secrets; and the evidence was in the folders in their hands. They were almost speechless. Finally, Liz spoke up, “That is utterly amazing, what you’ve told us!”

Ruth agreed. “I would have said the same thing eight years ago. But I have seen the Three Secrets work in my ten kids; and I see them working in four generations of Auntie Frances’ family.”

She continued, “I’m convinced that any family or any individual can succeed in life if they can just unload the emotional baggage most people carry around. I’m just as convinced that people can only pretend to be happy if they can’t dump that baggage.”

“The Three Secrets are letting my kids be free to be everything they were meant to be and I’m just glad to be part of the experience.”

The end.

This fictional story introduces a principle that has been around for thousands of years. In addition to the Bible, philosophers like Confucius, Marcus Aurelius, Shakespeare, and others have written or spoken about our wonderful capacity to train ourselves not to ruminate on negative thoughts and to minimize the effects of emotional or physical pain in our lives. The danger of ruminating on emotional pain is, in addition to more pain, stress, depression, anxiety, emotional issues, and worse.

Your children can understand the simple principles of the Three Secrets. The Secrets work for many negative emotions that result from almost any negative thinking.

 This concept is explained fully in an online eCourse called Finding Personal Peace – The course leads one through these secrets and covers topics like making good decisions, and dealing with serious stuff like death, illness, abuse, and addiction.

The eCourse leads one through a process of turning a habit of sadness into a habit of peace. You can read other short stories on life issues by searching the category, Short Stories, at the right.

Copyright 2014 Birmingham, Al USA. All rights reserved.

Alicia’s Story – A Girl Deals with Timidity and Shyness

Alicia’s Story – A Girl Deals with Timidity and ShynessAlicia strode briskly into the law offices of Pettinger and Payne, one of the leading litigation firms in the city. As she gracefully crossed the waiting room, the receptionist noted that she was wearing an Armani wool pant suit, navy blue, and what appeared to be a Rovena Ruffle silk blouse, white.  She wore Prada black pumps and carried a Montblanc leather briefcase slung over her shoulder. Everything about her suggested confidence including the classic hair style that curled just under her jaw line and her understated makeup. Undoubtedly she was Mr. Pettinger’s 10:00 o’clock appointment who had appeared 10 minutes early.

Alicia introduced herself and was invited to take a seat; “Mr. Pettinger will be with you shortly.”

Alicia knew the impression she made. It was calculated but not arrogant. She intended to present herself as someone who knew who she was; what she was doing; and where she was going. Which was the truth.

Alicia was a graduate of an Ivy League law school having been admitted after scoring in the top 2% on her LSAT.

She was a summa cum laude graduate of a large Midwestern university majoring in psychology with a minor in English.

The woman waiting for her appointment could not have been more different from the 8-year-old Alica whom she thought of daily. The frequent flashbacks were nothing but simple reminders of how far she had traveled over the past 17 years – from a shy, timid mousey girl slipping, hopefully unnoticed, into any room to the attractive, proficient, professional young woman waiting for an important appointment.

Alicia had never figured out why she had been so timid. Perhaps it was hereditary. Her mother was a quiet, hardworking woman who had provided well for Alicia; and certainly had loved her unconditionally. She had often praised Alicia for excellent school work; but every encouragement was bracketed by a reminder: “But, we are simple people who work hard and we know our place.”

By that, Alicia had come to realize that her mother believed them to be a lower class and less privileged than other people; and that they should be content to assume that place in life without making waves.

Alicia had worn clean, well-mended clothes, often last year’s styles that her mother had found in a thrift store. She ate her lunches from a brown bag brought from home while her classmates selected their food from the lunch bar options at school.

Alicia could never remember being bullied other than the quiet, unrelenting pain of simply being not noticed.

She didn’t mind that so much. If she had had her way, she would have morphed into a desk so she wouldn’t be noticed at all.

She was a good, no, she was an excellent, student always knowing the answers; and always not raising her hand because she an uncontrollable reaction of blushing beet red whenever her name was called in the classroom.

She only had one friend, Valerie, who was only slightly less timid than Alicia. They spent time together, talked and shared freely, and maintained a steady wall of protection from the rest of the class; well, the rest of the world. They had been friends since first grade and planned to spend their lives as BFF’s, using the Facebook slang, with each other and nobody else.

At least that’s the way they planned it.

In 3rd grade, starved for things they could do together other than homework, they decided to join the Girls’ Club which had an after-school program; and which both their mothers had agreed that the cost was within their means.

There were maybe 30 girls who came to the club on a regular basis. Alicia and Valerie walked there after school and played, talked, and studied until around 5:30 when their mothers picked them up.

They didn’t really socialize with the other girls, even though there were invitations to join in group activities. They were content to spend time together and participate in 9-year-old life as observers, not participants.

That plan didn’t last forever.

In the summer before 5th grade, Valerie and her mother moved to another city, leaving Alicia alone, without a friend, for the first time in her life. Maybe, she reasoned, this was to be her station in life like her mother predicted.

Her loneliness didn’t go unnoticed.

Martha was a college student working at the Girls’ Club as a summer program intern. She was fun and planned great activities for the girls; all of which Alicia watched pleasantly from the corner chair that she claimed as her personal domain.

Martha let this ride for a few days. She always invited Alicia to join in the activities and always accepted Alicia’s quiet, “No, thank you.”

Well, for a few days she accepted it. Then one day, Martha started a group activity with the rest of the girls; waited until they all got started; and then pulled a chair just outside Alicia’s comfort zone.

“Hi,” Martha said. “Mind if we talk for a bit?”

“No,” Alicia responded hesitantly. Where was this going?

“I have a question for you, Alicia.”

“Have you noticed that I have a lot of confidence; that I seem to be well-organized; and that I am comfortable leading you girls in the activities here at girl’s club?”


“Well, would you believe that I have not always been this way?”

Interested, Alicia asked, “What do you mean?”

“Let me put it this way,” Martha began. “If I were to look at a picture of myself at about your age, I would see you.”

“When I was 11 years old, I was basically happy, I did well in school. I got along well with others because I didn’t assert myself into their world.”

“I was also very timid. I was embarrassed when I was singled out by a teacher even though I almost always knew the answer to her question. When someone spoke to me, I would invariably blush, took down at my shoes, and then speak my one or two-word response to their knees. I couldn’t look them in the eye; and I would never dare approach someone to speak to them first.”

“Are you still with me?” she asked; and Alicia nodded meekly.

Martha continued, “A question you may be asking yourself is ‘How can that be? How did she become a confident instructor here at Girls’ Club?’”

“No,” Alicia challenged, “Actually I’m thinking that any adult could learn how to lead a group of kids in doing things to avoid boredom. That’s not exactly high-level stuff.”

“Well, Alicia, would it surprise you to know that I was the captain of the debate team and a majorette in high school? Would it surprise you to know that I was elected class officer all four years in high school? Would it surprise you to know that I’m the leader of my study group in college?”

“So you’re saying that you went from being ‘me’ to being all those things?” Alicia asked.

“Yes!” Martha replied. She waited as if it was Alicia’s turn to talk, but Alicia didn’t respond.

Finally Martha asked, “If there were a way you could have the confidence to do all the things that interest you and meet the people that interest you, would you like to know more about that?”

Alicia sighed to acknowledge that she understood the question, collected her thoughts for a moment, and then agreed, “Yes, if all that were possible, I would like to know how I can do that.”

“Great!” Martha’s smile was warm and sincere. “I’m going to share with you Three Secrets that my aunt shared with me when I was your age. Those secrets changed my perspective on life. I’ll give you the first one today and then we’ll make an appointment to meet again every three or four days. Agreed?”

“I agree,” answered Alicia, still skeptical.

“Okay! Now I’ll give you the first secret today after I give you some background.”

“It’s not important why you’re shy and timid. I’m not going to ask you about anything at home except to ask you this. Are you afraid at home? Is anything happening outside of school or Girls’ Club that makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable? [Note: Alicia didn’t realize this at the time, but Martha was screening to see if there were issues like abuse or neglect in Alicia’s life. Had there been, other action would have been appropriate.]

“No,” Alicia answered, “Things are fine at home and things are fine at school so long as I can sit quietly and not be noticed by anyone.”

“Okay. Here’s Secret 1

“Whenever you walk into a new situation, do you think to yourself, ‘I’m not really meant to be here and I hope nobody notices me.’?”

“Yes,” replied Alicia, “I think that and I think that all these people are somehow better than me and I don’t belong here.”

“Well, Secret 1 is this:

Secret 1: Whenever a negative thought pops into you mind like that, you say to yourself, “I will not think about that.” Then you go ahead with what you’re doing. If the thought pops up again, say again, “I will not think about that.” You can say it softly, but you must say it out load to yourself.

“Alicia, you won’t notice any difference at first. But I promise you that if you apply Secret 1 consistently, it will make a difference. Will you do that?”

When Alicia said she could do that, Martha said, “Okay, today is Monday. Let’s have our next meeting on Thursday. I’ll be sitting right here at 10:00 o’ clock. I want you to walk up and tell me how it’s going with Secret 1. Agreed?”

They agreed to meet in three days.

Alicia sat there for a time and then saw some girls setting up a board game. She thought to herself, we might as well see how this works.

As she walked across the room, a thought popped into her mind telling her that she was going to be embarrassed and everybody would laugh at her. She immediately said out loud, “I’m not going to think about that.” The thought went away.

She was almost there and the thought popped up again. She discreetly put her hand over her mouth and said, “I’m not going to think about that.” The next words out of her mouth were, “Can I play?” and she sat down and quietly enjoyed the board game with three other girls.

Over the next three days, she applied Secret 1 at Girls’ Club, with a clerk at the corner store, and with a lady at the library. It worked every time: the negative thought went away. Sometimes she had to say it twice, but it always went away.

On Thursday, she saw Martha sitting in the chair at 10 o’clock and she started to walk over for her appointment. A thought popped up saying this is crazy. This will never work for you.” Alicia softly applied Secret 1 and walked over and sat down by Martha.

Remembering that Martha had told her that she had to initiate the conversation, she dismissed the negative thought by whispering Secret 1 into her hand and said to Martha, “I’ve applied Secret 1 several times every day this week, including just now as I walked over here, and it has worked every time. Sometimes I have to say “I’m not going to think about this” more than one time, but it has worked every time.

“That’s wonderful,” Martha said, “that’s exactly what I expected you would say. That’s exactly how Secret 1 works for me.”

Works for me, did you say? Do you mean that you still use Secret 1?”

“Oh, yes. I use it every time a negative thought pops into my mind; and it always works.”

“Wow, you must be doing this all the time,” Alicia asked.

“No,” Martha answered; “Secret 2 talks about that. Are you ready for Secret 2?”

Alicia was excited. “Yes, please!”

Secret 2 makes this idea very easy. It’s not something you have to do, like in Secret 1. Secret 2 is that you have a part of your mind called the subconscious mind. Among other things, your subconscious mind likes to help you be happy. If you like to think about negative things like, “I don’t belong here,” your subconscious mind will continue to give you negative thinks to think about.”

“But!” Martha said excitedly, “if your subconscious mind learns that you don’t want to think about negative things, it will automatically respond with Secret 1 for you, and it filters or blocks that negative thought away from your conscious mind.”

“After a time, say three or four weeks, your subconscious mind will be completely blocking that negative thought from you. Isn’t that great?”

Alicia was still a little skeptical. “Is this some sort of hypnosis or a cult thing like is on TV sometimes.”

“Oh no! It’s just the way every one of us is made. Many wise people have taught this principle.

For example, Confucius said, To be wronged is nothing unless you continue to remember it.” By that he meant that any pain or negative thought doesn’t mean anything unless you continue to think about it or dwell on it.

Julius Caesar said, As a rule, what is out of sight disturbs men’s minds more seriously than what they see.” He meant that people tend to be more disturbed and frustrated by something that happened in the past or something they only thought happened, rather than by what is happening now.

One more: St Paul said in the Bible, “We take captive every thought…” Simply put, if a thought bothers you or makes you feel bad, take it captive. That’s what you’re doing in Secret 1.

“So to answer your question, this is just the way humans are made. We can control what we choose to think about; and our subconscious helps us by learning what we want to think about and blocking out what we don’t want to think about.”

“So to conclude this meeting, Alicia, keep on applying Secret 1, and be looking for other places where you can apply it. Let’s meet again on Tuesday, okay?”

The weekend was pretty much the same. She applied Secret 1 whenever a negative thought popped into her mind.

On Tuesday, Alicia was able to report that the negative thoughts were still popping up but not as often as before. She was proud to share that she had volunteered to answer a question in Sunday School and how good that felt.

Martha was pleased and shared Secret 3 with Alicia.

Alicia had been wondering how she could make more friends, especially since Valerie had moved away. Martha told her that Secret 3 came from a man named Dale Carnegie in a book he wrote called “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

Carnegie had a lot of good points, but Martha explained that one of them was more important, in her opinion, to Alicia and her situation.

Dale Carnegie said that one of the ways to make friends was to “Be a good listener, Encourage people to talk about themselves.”

This was want Martha’s aunt had taught her as Secret 3.

People always like to talk about themselves. You can encourage them without prying by asking questions like “What do you like to do?” “Why do you think that is important?” and “What do you think about . . .” You could always keep the conversation moving by saying “That’s interesting. Please tell me more.”

Secret 3 is a bit harder to do but as you spend less and less time thinking about negative things, you’ll think more and more about how to be a good listener.

On her way home from Girls’ Club that day, Alicia saw Mrs. Wilson, a neighbor, working in her garden. She seldom spoke to Mrs. Wilson, but Secret 3 was fresh on her mind so she said, “Hi, Mrs. Wilson. Your flowers are beautiful. Why do you love flowers so much?”

Mrs. Wilson showed Alicia every flower in the garden and gave its history and significance to her. The spent a very pleasant half-hour together. Secret 3 appeared to work.

Martha and Alicia continued to meet every 3 or 4 days to get Alicia’s progress reports on applying Secret 1 and to let Alicia practice Secret 3 on Martha. Then they would talk about a wide variety of things.

By the end of the summer, Alicia felt quite comfortable around other people.

She shared the Three Secrets in a speech in her speech class.

In Middle School, she was voted friendliest girt.

In high school, her grades soared and she became a junior helper at Girls’ Club. She enjoyed seeking out the girls who were timid and shy and sharing the Three Secrets with them.

She gave the Youth Sermon in her church when she was a senior.

She even shared the Three Secrets with her mother and over a couple of years, her mother had found an interesting and challenging job and was progressing a career.

She dated several guys in high school and college, always having a good time; but she was too busy with life to get seriously involved.

Back to the present

Her interview with Mr. Pettinger went very well concluding with an offer for her to become a litigation associate with the firm. She accepted his offer with one condition.

“I owe everything I am to a young woman in Girls’ Club who took the time to share with a timid, shy, 10-year-old three important secrets. I am committed to passing those secrets on to other girls. I am asking the firm to allow me five hours a month to spend in a local girls club to help other girls. It’s important to me.

“Agreed,” Mr. Pettinger said as he stood and welcomed her to the firm.

The end.

This fictional story introduces a principle that has been around for thousands of years. In addition to the Bible, philosophers like Confucius, Marcus Aurelius, Shakespeare, and others have written or spoken about our wonderful capacity to train ourselves not to ruminate on negative thoughts and to minimize the effects of emotional or physical pain in our lives. The danger of ruminating on negative thoughts is, in addition to more pain, stress, depression, anxiety, emotional issues, and worse.

Your children can understand the simple principles of the Three Secrets. The Secrets work for many negative emotions that result from negative thinking.

 This concept is explained fully in an online eCourse called Finding Personal Peace – The course leads one through these secrets and covers topics like making good decisions, and dealing with serious stuff like death, illness, abuse, and addiction.

The eCourse leads one through a process of turning a habit of sadness into a habit of peace. You can read other short stories on life issues by searching the category, Short Stories, at the right.

Copyright 2014 Birmingham, Al USA. All rights reserved.

Mark’s Story

Mark's StoryA Short Story About a Boy Dealing with Separation

The bell rang and 22 4th graders jumped from their seats and rushed for the exits. Well, actually only 21 jumped and rushed. One of them, Mark, slid out of his desk, walked to his peg for his backpack, then slowly dropped down and sat on his feet in front of his cubby. It has not been a good week for Mark.

As he dug through his cubby looking for what he needed to take home, he heard a familiar voice by the door. It was his used-to-be best friend, Trey, laughing with Robby as they left the room. Trey had told Mark Monday that he didn’t want to be his best friend anymore. Tray said that it wasn’t fun to hang out with him like it used to be.

Then yesterday, Teacher had called his mother in for a conference to explain how Mark was distracted and how his grades were slipping. In fact, she’d told mom that it was getting so bad that he might not pass fourth grade. Mom did a lot of yelling last night, telling him it was all his fault and that he had to straighten up.

Mark followed the other kids out to the cross walk and waited for Miss Ruth to stop traffic. She smiled at him and winked, but he just didn’t feel like smiling back. He was so sad.

Miss Ruth lead all the kids across Fourth Avenue; then the group divided up with some going south toward town and the rest, including Mark, going north up the hill toward Dixon Heights, the neighborhood where Mark lived with his mom.

Mark hung back as the other kids laughed and ran along the sidewalk. It was only seven blocks home: six on Fourth Ave and a block left on Poplar. But he was in no hurry to get there today. Mom had grounded him for a week from TV and video games because of the teacher conference; and with Trey hanging out with Robby, he didn’t have anybody to walk or play with.

He had always walked home from school but up to third grade, his mom had always met him and walked with him. His dad had driven him to school until he left just after Christmas of third grade. Mom had had to go to work to pay the bills so she couldn’t walk with him anymore but she drove him to school in the mornings. Walking home alone okay with Mark, because he was responsible and the neighborhood was safe.

His mom had helped him with several safe houses including Mrs. Blake between Oak and Elm and the store on the corner of the Fourth and Pine. Mrs. Blake always spoke to him and sometimes invited him for cookies and milk on her porch. He hoped she wasn’t out today because he didn’t feel very friendly.

He had held onto his dream that his dad would come back for so long. But when he forgot Mark’s 9th birthday in July and forgot his fourth-grade Christmas, he knew Dad wasn’t coming back. The Christmas and no letters or phone calls had made it clear that he didn’t care about Mark any more.

So why shouldn’t he be sad?

He’d done something to make his dad leave; Trey didn’t want to be friends anymore; his teacher was mad at him; and his mother was freaking out. She’d yelled forever about having to work so hard to pay the bills; and about it being Mark’s fault she had to go to the conference. That would make anybody sad!

As he trudged alone up the hill, all kinds of thoughts filled his head. He’d made his dad mad; but how? Maybe he’d bugged him too much the summer before third grade about going to Disneyworld. Or maybe he’d asked him too many times if he could play baseball in the third-grade spring.

If Dad hadn’t left, everything would be fine; and it was Mark’s fault he left.

He turned left onto Poplar and hoped that Mr. Joe wasn’t out working in his garden. Mr. Joe was retired and lived in the corner house just beyond Mark’s house. They shared a driveway.

Mr. Joe was nice. He always smiled at Mark and let Mark play with his border collie, Mitzi. If they were outside, she would always come over to see Mark. Mark would scratch her ears and let her give him kisses while Mr. Joe asked him about school that day.

Today he didn’t feel like talking with Mr. Joe or even seeing Mitzi so he hoped they weren’t out.

Mark used his key at the back door because Mom didn’t want him unlocking the front door where somebody might see him from the street. He stuffed the key back into his backpack side pocket and tossed the backpack on the floor by the couch. He started toward the TV and then remembered that TV and video games were off limits for a week. What a bummer!

He didn’t have much homework; so he had a snack and then went out to field a tennis ball off the side of the garage. He had done this enough since last summer that his fielding was good enough to make the tryouts for Little League. He’d know his team in three weeks. Baseball was fun but it wasn’t fun enough to get him over being sad today.

He’s just fielded a hard bouncer and made a throw right into the first-baseman circle drawn on the garage wall when Mr. Joe and Mitzi drove into the driveway. It had been Mr. Joe’s idea to draw the first-base and second-base circles on the garage to practice his putouts more realistically.

“Hey, Mark,” Mr. Joe called as Mitzi bounded over with a kiss hanging out the side of her mouth.

Mark waved and sort of smiled which was about the best he could do today.

Mr. Joe noticed and said, “How about me hitting you some grounders? Mitzi will play outfield.”

That sounded good so Mark got the bat from his back porch and handed it to Mr. Joe.

Mark played Mr. Joe’s grounders for about 15 minutes and Mitzi chased the throws to the first-base circle always bringing the ball back to Mr. Joe. But no matter how much Mr. Joe praised his fielding, Mark just couldn’t get very excited.

“Mark, I need a Coke. Want one?”

Without waiting for an answer, Mr. Joe went into his house and came back with two cans of Coke and a water bowl for Mitzi.

Pointing to the steps of his back stoop, Mr. Joe said, “Sit down and tell me what’s going on.”

“Aw nothing” was about the best that Mark could do.

“Where’s your friend, Trey, today? I haven’t seen him this week.”

“We’re not friends anymore,” Mark had to say after stalling over a long sip of Coke.

“That sounds like something worth talking about. None of us has enough friends to waste any.”

So reluctantly Mark started talking about Trey’s saying that he wasn’t fun to be around anymore. And before he knew it, he got to the teacher conference and all the rest of his bad news. He almost cried, but he sucked it up because his dad had always said that men don’t cry.

“So why do you think that you’re so sad that it cost you a friend and you’re not doing well at school?”

This was where it got hard. But Mr. Joe had always asked about what Mark was thinking more than he just wanted to talk about stuff. Mark needed to talk to someone and Mr. Joe was sitting right there asking.

“I’m really sad because my dad left us last winter,” Mark began. “I don’t know why he left and I’ve been thinking a lot and I’ve decided that I must have done something wrong to make him leave.”

“Uh-huh,” was all Mr. Joe said.

Mark had more stuff he needed to say so he continued, “My teacher says I’m distracted, but I just can’t stop thinking about why Dad might have left. Maybe I bugged him too much to do things with me. Maybe I just wasn’t good enough a son to make him want to stay.”

“And I was so sad that Trey doesn’t want to hang out with me any more; and my teacher told Mom that I wasn’t applying myself; and my Mom told me how much I’m letting her down and she’s working so hard; and now I’m grounded; and I can’t do anything right,” Mark blurted out as the tears welled up. “I’m so unhappy, and it’s all my fault. I don’t know what to do!” And the tears burst out.

“I see,” Mr. Joe said softly as he pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and handed it to Mark. He waited patiently while Mark pulled himself back together.

When Mark calmed himself down, Mr. Joe began softly. “Well, Mark,” it sounds like you’ve got yourself a real conundrum here.”  Mark laughed softly. Mr. Joe liked to use new words sometimes but Mark had figured out that he did it to help Mark learn more vocabulary. He sometimes used one of the words in his reports at school.

“What does that mean, Mr. Joe?”

“Mark, a conundrum is a difficult problem or question. You’ve been trying to figure out what you did to make everybody unhappy, and that, in turn, is making you very sad, right?”

“Yeah, I guess that’s right,” Mark agreed.

“So are you asking me to help you find the answer, Mark?”

“Yes, sir, I guess I am,” was Mark’s honest response.

“Well, Mark, here’s what I’m thinking. The conundrum is that we don’t know why your dad left. Only he knows that. But from what you tell me, every time you think about it, it makes you sad. Have I got that much right?”

“Yes, sir,” Mark answered absentmindedly scratching Mitzi’s ears when she plopped down next to him on the stoop.

Mr. Joe continued, “And when you get sad, it makes you not so much fun to be around, right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And when you think about it a lot at school, it distracts you from your work so your grades are slipping and your mom gets called to a conference, right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And when your mom gets called to a conference and told that you might not pass 4th grade, it makes her unhappy and she grounds you to make you work harder, right?”

“Yes, sir,” Mark answered still not sure where Mr. Joe was going with all this because all he had done was repeat what Mark had said.

“Mark, I could tell you what a great boy you are. That would be true.”

“I could tell you that nothing you did made your dad leave, and that would also be true.”

“And, I could tell you that your grades are going to improve and that you and Trey will become friends again; but I don’t know whether that is true.”

“I don’t understand, Mr. Joe.”

“Mark, the problem today is not that your dad left. The problem is that you’re thinking about it so much; and when you think about it, it makes you sad because you can’t find an answer.”

Mark’s look showed Mr. Joe that he was still confused, so he continued.

“Mark, when did your dad leave?”

“In the winter of 3rd grade.”

“That’s over a year ago, right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Mark, when did Trey say it wasn’t fun to be your friend anymore?”


“I see. And you were sad on Monday because you were thinking about why your dad left, right?“

“Yes, sir.”

“So your dad left again on Monday, is that what you’re telling me?”

“No, sir. He left a long time ago.”

“So what happened Monday that made you sad?”

“Nothing happened Monday. I was trying to figure out why Dad left.”

“Mark, let me restate that. You were thinking about why your dad left, right?” He made the word thinking a little louder.

“Yes, sir. He didn’t leave again. He had already done that.” Mark was beginning to see a point here.

“So about your grades. You’ve been distracted at school for several weeks, right?”

“Yes. When I signed up for baseball tryouts, I started thinking that my Dad wouldn’t be there for any of my games and I wanted to know why he left. If I knew that, maybe I could get him to come back to watch me play baseball.”

“I see. So he didn’t leave again when you signed up for baseball, did he? He had done that a long time ago and you were just thinking about it again. Have I got that right?”

“Yes, sir that’s right.”

“And your mom is mad because your grades are slipping and she got called off work to go to school. That was not because your dad left again, but because you were distracted thinking about why your dad left and didn’t keep up with your work. Also right?”

“Yes, sir,” Mark responded still not quite sure where they were going.

Then Mr. Joe asked a curious question.

“Mark, if I could show give you an answer for being so sad, would you want that?”

“Yes, sir!” Mark said with more enthusiasm!

“First, can I tell you a story, Mark?” and he continued without waiting for an answer.

“A long time ago, before your Mom and Dad moved next door and before you were born – even before I got Mitzi – I was a very angry person. Some people in our church had hurt my family and I spent years being very angry with them. I would have shouting arguments with them all by myself driving to work or around town. My anger popped up all the time and it was hurting and embarrassing my wife and children. This continued for a long time – long after the people had done what they did to my family.”

“But they weren’t doing it again and again. I was just thinking about it again and again.”

“Then one day, another pastor gave a sermon that told me that I could ‘take my thoughts captive.’ That’s from the Bible.“

“That meant that whenever I had a thought that was going to make me angry, all I had to do was ‘take that thought captive,’ and I wouldn’t get angry.”

“I was getting angry because of my thoughts, not because the people were hurting us again.”

Mr. Joe went on to tell Mark that God made us with a special ability to let us choose what we want to think about. If a thought about something that hurts us, or makes us angry, or afraid, or sad, we can choose not to think about that thought. He explained that a special part of our mind, called our subconscious, has the purpose of helping us do what we like to do.

When our subconscious thinks that we like being sad, it finds thoughts that will help us be sad. When we say out loud, “I take that thought captive” or “I’m not going to think about that,” our subconscious learns how we respond when those thoughts pop up, and it begins to ‘take those thoughts captive’ automatically.

“So in just a short time, I wasn’t nearly as angry as I used to be and I’m still getting better by continuing to take my negative thoughts captive.”

“So what does this story mean for you, Mark?”

“Are you saying that it’s my thinking about Dad leaving that makes me sad all over again?”

“That’s exactly right, Mark. When you try to figure out why he left, you’re making yourself sad just like you were sad when he actually left; and it’s still not getting you the answers you want.”

“There’s another word I like Mark. It’s rumination; and that means thinking about or dwelling on something again and again.”

Mark said out loud, “Rumination. Hmmmm.”

“So if your question, ‘Why did Dad leave, is a conundrum; and you may never get an answer; then the best thing for you is to stop ruminating on it.”

“And the way I do that is to ‘take that thought captive,’ Mark exclaimed!

“Exactly, Mark, that’s a very astute observation you made,” Mr. Joe confirmed with a smile.

“Since you’ve been asking the question for a while, it’s become a habit. So it may take a little time to break that habit.”

“I’ve got a suggestion, Mark. Every time the question about your dad pops into your mind, you say softly to yourself, ‘I take that thought captive.’”

“I promise you the thought will go away every time you take it captive, even if for just a minute. But if it comes back, you take it captive again. Before long it will be coming back less and less often until one day it won’t pop up at all.”

“Here’s a game we can play.”

“Keep a slip of paper in your desk or in your pocket. Whenever you take the thought captive, make a little mark on the paper. Each day when you see Mitzi and me outside, just yell out the number of little marks you’ve made that day.”

“Mark, I can’t give you an answer to why your dad left. But I am giving you a tool you can use for most of the sad thoughts you will have your entire life.”

“By the start of baseball season, I don’t think you’ll be sad anymore. Do you want to try this, Mark?”

Mark agreed and promised to call out the numbers to Mr. Joe whenever he saw him.

The next day he called out, “Seventeen,” and got a smile from Mr. Joe.

The next day he reported, “Fifteen”

The numbers he called out got smaller and smaller and Mr. Joe’s encouragement got happier and louder as the days passed.

Mark didn’t tell Mr. Joe this until later: He figured out that every time his teacher told them to take out their math books, Mark would always think “I hate math.” He started taking that thought captive and before long, he didn’t dread math so much.

His mom told him one day that Teacher had called and told her that Mark’s grades were climbing back to where they had been. Mom was really pleased and made Mark’s favorite dessert for supper.

The day Little League teams were announced; Mark and Trey learned they would be on the same team this year.

As they walked down Mark’s driveway going to baseball practice, Mark saw Mr. Joe and Mitzi in the garden.

He yelled out “Zero, Mr. Joe! Zero! Thank you!”

Trey looked at him kind of funny; then they laughed and ran down the street to the park.

Note to parents:

 This fictional story introduces a principle that has been around for thousands of years. In addition to the Bible, philosophers like Confucius, Marcus Aurelius, Shakespeare, and others have written about our wonderful capacity to train ourselves not to ruminate on negative thoughts. The danger of rumination is stress, depression, anxiety, emotional issues, and worse.

Your children can understand the simple principle that “if I think a lot about something that makes me sad, I can take that thought captive.”

This concept is explained fully in an online eCourse called Finding Personal Peace –

 The eCourse leads one through a process of turning a habit of sadness into a habit of peace.

 The concept works for virtually every negative emotion that results from negative thinking.

This story is fiction and any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental.

To read other short stories on life issues for kids and teens, click here.

Copyright 2013 Birmingham, Al USA. All rights reserved.

Thanks for reading our blog today. I invite you to respond in several ways: (1) Comment in the space below if you agree or disagree with what I’ve said. A dialogue could be interesting for all; (2) Share the post with your friends using the buttons below; and (3) sign up to get an email with each new post. There’s a place to do that on the right. Then you won’t have to remember to look for our subsequent posts. Thanks again!


Blog Carnival – Finding Personal Peace for October 13, 2013

Blog Carnival – Finding Personal Peace for October 13, 2013Welcome to the October 13, 2013 edition of Finding Personal Peace containing 6 articles on a range of interesting topics. Thanks for visiting our Blog Carnival, Finding Personal Peace. Please review the subjects below and make note of any that interest you. At the bottom of the page, you will find a link that takes you to more information about each post. If you find a post you like, please make a comment to encourage them or even engage in a discussion with them.


  • Steven Chang presents What my kids taught me about winning


  • Jana presents Two Words That Stop Our Results From Manifesting
  • Chaki Kobayashi presents Lotus Flower

social anxiety

  • Tony Regan presents So Much To Say……But Anxiety Says No » Tony’s Reviews
  • Jon Rhodes presents Can I Be Hypnotised?
  • Tipsy presents 8 Ways To Take Control Of Your Day

To view the articles, Click here or click on Blog Carnival in the tabs at the top. You’ll want to check out these articles and share them in your circle of influence. We’ll be receiving submitted articles and posting them every Sunday. Please share with your friends. Thanks.

Blog Carnival – Finding Personal Peace for September 15, 2013

Blog Carnival – Finding Personal Peace for September 15, 2013Welcome to the September 15, 2013 edition of Finding Personal Peace containing 36 articles on a range of interesting topics.

Thanks for visiting our Blog Carnival, Finding Personal Peace. Please review the subjects below and make note of any that interest you. At the bottom of the page, you will find a link that takes you to more information about each post. If you find a post you like, please make a comment to encourage them or even engage in a discussion with them.


  • Kevin Giffin presents 8 Ways to Help Your Kids Deal With Bullies on the Bus


  • David Thompsonn presents How to Help Your Kids Deal With the Death of a Pet
  • Arianna Lee presents How to Make Sure Your Kid Has a Great Playdate
  • Carter White presents 24 Blogs with Easy to Make Nature Crafts for Kids
  • Layla Martinez presents 7 Tips for Getting Your Toddler to Take a Nap
  • Shelby Martin presents How to Communicate with Your Child’s Teacher
  • Denise Thompson presents Is Your Child Ready for Music Lessons?
  • Steve Jackson presents 30 Blogs Sharing Party Plans for Spooky Halloween Fun
  • Carter White presents Top 10 Reasons Siblings Fight and How to Stop Them
  • Lisa Jackson presents When Should You Let Your Daughter Wear Makeup
  • Regina Naberhaus presents Ways to Get Your Children to Pose Together in Photos
  • Jessica Clark presents Reasons Kids Benefit from Playing Team Sports

emotional issues

  • Jana presents 3 Daily Practices to Rewire Your Brain for Abundance
  • Shelby Martin presents 20 Blogs Explaining How to Have a Successful School Picture Day


  • Kevin Giffin presents 18 Blogs Helping You Be a Good Sports Parent
  • Teri Jones presents How to Avoid Common Problems When Grandma Provides Childcare
  • Lisa Williams presents 5 Tips for Nannies Hosting Their First Playdate
  • Olivia Lewiss presents 25 Blogs with Menu Planning Tips for Busy Moms
  • Sharon Moore presents Sensitive Topics Parents Should Ask About in the Interview
  • Dan Robinson presents 24 Blogs with Great Ideas for Fun Fall Activities for the Family


  • Erik Matlock presents The results are predictable


  • Jon Rhodes presents Lose Weight By Skipping Breakfast?
  • ebele presents Work or play?
  • Alaina Moore presents Au Pair » 21 Blogs with the Best Tips for Breaking a Sugar Addiction
  • Sydney Bell presents 10 iPhone Apps That Will Help You Draft Your Fantasy Football Team
  • Jessica Clark presents 10 Famous Quotes from Men Named Ken
  • Jessica Clark presents 10 Famous Artists Named Ken
  • Michelle Brown presents 18 Blogs Highlighting the Best Nail Art Designs for Fall
  • Sydney Bell presents 10 Voice Altering iPhone Apps
  • Kaitlyn Johnson presents How to Dress for Your Baby Bump
  • Laura Anderson presents A Conversation With Elizabeth Hawksworth on Overweight Nannies


  • Denise Thompson presents How to Talk to Your Children When You Get Divorced


  • Joshua Tilghman presents Stage 2 of Going Within: Meditation Beyond Concentration
  • Shelby Martin presents Easy Ways for Busy Moms to Take Care of Themselves
  • Jeff Moore presents Signs of Stress in Toddlers (and How to Deal With It)

To view the articles, Click here or click on Blog Carnival in the tabs at the top. You’ll want to check out these articles and share them in your circle of influence. We’ll be receiving submitted articles and posting them every Sunday. Please share with your friends. Thanks

Blog Carnival – Finding Personal Peace for September 1, 2013

Blog Carnival – Finding Personal Peace for September 1, 2013Welcome to the September 1, 2013 edition of Finding Personal Peace containing 27 articles on a range of interesting topics.

Thanks for visiting our Blog Carnival, Finding Personal Peace. Please review the subjects below and make note of any that interest you. At the bottom of the page, you will find a link that takes you to more information about each post. If you find a post you like, please make a comment to encourage them or even engage in a discussion with them.


  • Brittany Harris presents 10 Things to Think About Before Installing a Play Set
  • Jeff Moore presents 5 Food Ingredients to Avoid Giving Kids
  • Kaitlyn Johnson presents 9 Tips for Helping Your Kids Adjust to a New Baby
  • Kevin Giffin presents 20 Blogs Sharing Clever Ideas for First Day of School Pictures
  • Carter White presents 6 Ways to Turn Your Kids Into Avid Readers
  • Jessica Clark presents 18 of the Best Blogs for Helping Kids Find Their Passion
  • Regina Naberhaus presents Writing a Welcome Letter to Your Baby to Include in Your Baby Book
  • Tim Hall presents 25 Blogs with Fun Back-to-School Crafts for the Kids
  • Jessica Clark presents How to Foster Good Sportsmanship in Your Kids
  • David Thompsonn presents 21 Blogs with Inspirational Ways to Teach Your Kids to Pay it Forward


  • Charlie Wood presents Self-acceptance is the key to a happy life

emotional issues

  • Tony Regan presents Identity Theft…


  • Arianna Lee presents What to Do if You Get a Flat Tire with the Kids in the Car
  • Olivia Lewiss presents 18 of the Best Blogs with Makeup Tips for the Busy Mom
  • Denise Young presents 10 Foods That Are Easy to Make and Taste Better Homemade
  • John Williams presents 28 Blogs with Organizational Tips for a Stress-Free First Day of School
  • Lisa Williams presents 10 Things Nannies Should Never Wear to Work
  • Sydney Bell presents 7 Caffeine Substitutes for a Healthy Jump-Start
  • David Thompsonn presents 10 Peanut Free School Lunch Ideas
  • Cherry Liu presents 10 Rules for First Time Housesitters
  • Alaina Moore presents 18 Blogs Highlighting Back-to-School Fashion Trends for the Budget Conscious
  • Brittany Hall presents 7 Tough Questions Parents Should Ask Nannies
  • Daniel Long presents 15 Blogs with Relaxation Tips for Busy Moms | Hire a Nanny
  • Dan Robinson presents 10 iPhone Apps with the Best Translation Tools
  • Jim Wilson presents 6 Alternatives to a Traditional First Birthday Cake | Babysitters


  • Denise Thompson presents 6 Tips for Single Dads With Adolescent Daughters

social anxiety

  • Rosemary presents 5 Easy Steps to Overcome Fear | Loving Plan B

To view the articles, Click here or click on Blog Carnival in the tabs at the top. You’ll want to check out these articles and share them in your circle of influence. We’ll be receiving submitted articles and posting them every Sunday.