Thursday, March 19, 2015

Come as you are

    So many people won't start running or join a health club until they lose weight or get in better shape. Just like people feel they have to be a better person before they come to church or even to pray to God. For years, I felt the same way; that I didn't deserve God's love or forgiveness. I thought that I needed to get my act together first, but it is the opposite. God welcomes us all into a relationship with him, just as we are. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Change begins...

NONE of the steps to true and lasting improvement is pointing fingers or placing blame. Change begins by acknowledging the positives while taking steps to adjust what needs to 
change together, as a team.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

At times the rain fell so hard...

    My faith journey started out the same as anyone else being raised Catholic. I was baptized; I had my reconciliation, my first communion and my confirmation. My spiritual  foundation consisted of attending CCD, which was what religious education was called back in the 70's, and memorizing prayers and the Ten Commandments. I attended Church on the main holidays and sometimes in between, and I prayed to God at holiday meals and sometimes before bed. I felt that I was doing my part to check off  the box, religion expectation, of living a good life. I believed at the time that what I was doing was enough, but then the hard times started coming. At times the rain fell so hard, I could no longer see a blue sky in my future. 
  In the late 1980's, a friend and co-worker at a Girls Group Home we worked at invited me to attend Willow Creek Community Church with her. I think that she invited me because we had seen some horrible experiences in the lives of some of these young girls, and we had discussed how to come to terms with it. Little did she know that she was throwing me a lifeline. I immediately loved Willow, attending and buying Cassette tapes of the worship and messages. I attended some classes and bought a book called "With God all things are possible". I still have that book although the pages are falling out from so much use. The rainbows still did not appear in my life, but I could see specks of blue behind the clouds now. This path of praying for God to guide me and to help me continued for the next 28 years. Since I wanted my girls to have their own faith and a sense of belonging, I returned back to the Catholic Church to raise them in a faith that I understood and that I could check off the steps they needed to do, for me to raise them to be a good person. There were many valleys  and mountains during those years as I married, had three daughters, got divorced and started a new relationship. I continued to search book after book to help me in my life, to show me the right and true path for me. When life was going well, my prayers subsided, and I would get lost in living life here on earth, but when times got hard I would cry out for God to help me. After yet another very low valley in my life, I felt compelled to return to church. I am still lost and lonely at times, but I am slowly creating a new life.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Riding Waves by Susan Marie Schulhof February 15, 2015

Thanks for reading my words. I hope they touched you in some way. Follow me on this blog or on my Facebook Author page for more thoughts about life and for the release date of Growing Flowers.

Susan Marie Schulhof is the proud mother of three adult daughters and lives in the Chicago area. Riding Waves is her first novel, and she is currently writing her second one called Growing Flowers. She graduated from Northern Illinois University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and has worked for Bright Horizons Family Solutions since 2001. She published the non-fiction book Fun4Babies in 2013, writes an inspirational blog called Sharing My Truths ( and is on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram. She is an active presence at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois.


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Riding Waves by Susan Marie Schulhof February 14, 2015

May 2015

   As I look around, I spot my family sitting together in the second row. They must have arrived early for my college graduation to have such great seats. I know that they all had to rearrange their schedules and get off work to be here for me and that means more to me than I could ever explain. Jake’s fiancĂ©e, Kristy, is here too. I am not sure when they are getting married, but they got engaged this summer. Jake and Kristy both got jobs after going to Layton Community College. Ava and Sara are fifteen now and enjoying high school. Ava is involved in the drama program, and Sara is on the soccer team. They are both taller and much more beautiful than I could even imagine them becoming. Everywhere we go people stare at them. They get more attention when they are together, but even alone people look. I never told them the details of my relationship with Dan, but we have had long discussions about drinking, drugs, sex and following your feelings. Maybe someday, I will share with them the truth, but for now, I just want to be a good example to them.   
    My mom always had problems with her back, but since it got worse from lifting patients at the hospital, she no longer works as a nurse. Then my dad got a promotion, at his job, so they seem okay without her salary. I am moving back home now, but hopefully I can get my own place soon. Maybe Emma and I will live together after she graduates next year. I always thought that it would be fun to live with friends before settling down to get married and have a family, although I use to think it would be with Ashley. I don’t miss Dan really, but I do miss Ashley all of the time. I still hope and pray that after more time has passed, we will be friends again. It was hard to hear her say that she will never forgive me for what I did to her brother although I am not sure what I exactly she thinks that I did to Dan. I begged her to talk to me about it, but she wouldn’t. It makes me sad, but I know that the only thing I am guilty of was letting it last as long as it did. I heard that she is graduating this year and moving back in with her parents, as well, while she looks for a job. I wonder if we will run into each other in South Haven since it is a fairly small town. Everyone kind of drifted apart after high school, and I spend most of my time with Emma, Jon and my family, but I did hear that she got back with her boyfriend even after he cheated on her. I am not sure if they are still together or where he lives though.
    I always knew that this day would come, but a couple of years ago I wondered if I would even be happy, but I am. I try to enjoy everything about life now, the good as well as the bad. The relationship with Dan taught me to listen to and trust myself. I still struggle with that because I don’t like to disappoint people, but I know that in order to truly love, I must include myself in those that I love.
     Coincidentally, Ethan ended up in my math class again the next quarter. He avoided me the first few weeks; then when I finally told him that I broke up with Dan, we talked a little bit.
   I never heard what Dan did after I broke up with him. We don’t really have the many of the same friends, and if our mutual acquaintances know, they didn’t tell me. I guess that it was bad that I broke up with him on Thanksgiving, but I had been trying to end things for months though. I would guess he didn’t go through with his old threat to try to kill himself since he looked at me with such hatred as he walked away from me that morning. Even during summer breaks, I avoided the dock and the pizza place and just hung out with my family, Emma and a couple friends from high school.
   Dan never came to any more parties at Patrick’s house or Jon’s at The University of Harrisburg. He also refused to talk to Jake after I broke up with him. I am not sure why, but I know that was hard on Jake, and he was angry with me for a while about it. I never told him either how Dan treated me, so he just thinks that I broke up with him so that I could date other guys at school. I did hear though that Dan has a new girlfriend, and I am truly happy for him. I hope that they have a better relationship than we had. I do forgive him, but that doesn’t mean that it was okay to treat me the way that he did.
    I am still trying to forgive myself for the part that I played in this relationship, but I can at least look back on our relationship and focus on the positive things that came from it. I grew up so much and learned about myself, as well as, learned what I want in a relationship. I dated a few guys in college, but no one that I wanted to get serious with. The last two and a half years, I focused on myself, on my friends and on my education. Emma is one of the biggest blessings of my relationship with Dan. We are truly best friends, and she knows all of my dark secrets.
   A few months after breaking up with Dan, I told her how I used to cut myself to numb the pain that I was feeling. She didn’t turn away from me in disgust and even said that she understood why I would do that. She admitted that is what she did with the drugs and drinking. Even though she is a year younger, she is very wise from all that she has been though. She still inspires me to become all that I am capable of being. I tried to stay positive, but for a while after Dan and I broke up, I would remember the past and get sad. She would talk me through it, just like I would talk her through memories of her own dark days. Even now if I fall back into old habits, I remember the words that she said to me once. She said, “Harper, life is hard sometimes. People don’t always treat you like you want or deserve to be treated, but you can’t hold it all in. Get rid of that negativity and think a new thought.”
   She says that I rewrote what she said to me and that her words weren’t quite as eloquent, but that is what I remember her saying that day. I understand now that was what I was doing at the beach the day that I was preparing myself to break up with Dan. This has become a practice, in addition to our Tai Chi, that Emma and I both do. We will go to the beach, or I will do it when I am just out running. I simply stretch my hands out to nature and tell myself to release all of the negativity that I am holding onto. It does seem to really help, and I can feel a flow of energy coursing out of my fingertips, releasing it to God. I still write in my journal, but Emma never used the one that I bought her. She says that writing is not her style. I think that Ava and Sara still keep their journals though.
   “Is your family here Harper?” the guy sitting next to me asks. I think that his name is Colin, but I don’t really know him.
   “Yes. Is yours?”
   “No. My mom is a doctor, and she couldn’t get off work. They are coming in tomorrow.”
   I say, “Oh,” back because I don’t know what else to say. I cannot imagine my parents not being here for me today.
   I realize that he probably thought they weren’t here because I keep looking around, but I am looking for Emma and Jon. I look around again and finally spot them a few rows behind my family and to the right. Emma has been dating Josh for a couple of years now, and she has one more year of college left. I am not sure what I will do not being able to see her every day. Jon graduated two years ago, but stayed at UH to get his Master’s Degree in Psychology. He will make a perfect Psychologist. He is caring and balanced and has also become one of my closest friends. I felt a little jealous when he started dating Marta last year, but they seem good together. I don’t see him as often as I used to, but he still calls me Angel, and I know that he would be there for me if I ever needed anything.
   I received my Bachelor’s degree in English with my certification to teach. Although I didn’t love going to high school, I do want to make a difference in other people’s lives. I did get a job helping in the learning lab at my old elementary school that starts this fall. Mrs. Ryan helped me find it, and I know that she was pivotal in me getting hired over all of the other people that applied for it. I think that I will love helping kids that struggle with reading and writing in school. I want to publish a book of my poems and maybe get my Master’s Degree in Creative Writing someday, but I am just taking life one day at a time for now.
   After the ceremony, I walk out where my family is talking to Jon and Emma. I give everyone hugs and thank them for coming. My dad has reservations at a Japanese steakhouse in town for my celebration since my graduation is in the afternoon.
     “Is Marta meeting us Jon?” I ask.
     “No. We broke up last week. She is sweet, but she just isn’t the girl for me. You know what I mean, Angel?” he says with a grin.
    I smile at him and nod. I know that there are no perfect endings in life, only different endings. I still wish that the world was perfect sometimes, but I am working on accepting the perfection of living in an imperfect world.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Riding Waves by Susan Marie Schulhof February 13, 2015

Still continued...
November 2012

  I get up early so that I have time to think and organize my thoughts before I talk to Dan. Although it is almost wintertime, the beach is still one of my favorite places to think. It is a little windy as I walk to my favorite spot on the bluff overlooking the lake. As I look out at the horizon, the last year and a half with Dan replay in my mind. I want to focus on the good as I accept that I need to break up with him. I know that I have learned a lot about negativity and emotions this year. As I stare at the water, the waves are choppy on the lake because of the wind, and it makes me think of the waves in Florida and the poem that I wrote. I know that my poems are about more than just the words; they symbolize life and feelings.
   I realize that all of life is a little like riding the waves. I feel the wave. I am full of doubt. Should I keep going? Can I catch this wave and ride it in? Will I go under? Can I learn from this relationship? Can I forgive Dan as well as myself for all of the pain of this time together?
  I realize that there is no way to avoid the waves if I want to go in the water, just like I can’t avoid the pain of life if I want to really live. I need to find a way to ride the waves without going under. I think that running, doing Tai Chi and sitting at the beach can help me not to go under, as well as writing my feelings down in my journal and through my poems. My sisters are each getting a journal for Christmas from me to encourage them to write down their feelings. I want to be happy and live an honest life, and be a good example to them. Maybe Emma will get a journal for Christmas, as well.
    After thinking and looking at the waves, I feel much more calm, but I still feel so afraid. I am scared, and I know that it takes too much strength to handle this on my own. God’s love and grace wash over me as I fall down on my knees and whisper, “Help me Jesus.”
   As the tears flow down my cheeks, I open my hands and face my palms toward the water as I consciously choose to forgive Dan and to release all of these negative thoughts. I imagine the water coming in and taking all of the pain from me and carrying it out with the waves. After I share my deepest thoughts and fears with God, my heart feels lighter, and I know that God will be with me as I talk to Dan today.
   My sisters are still sleeping when I get home so I head to my room to unpack the rest of my stuff that I brought back from college. I sit on my bed and start to write a poem. I haven’t written one since Florida, so it feels good to be inspired. There is so much emotion bursting out of me that the words come quickly.

Releasing Pain
By Harper Elisabeth Johnson

It seeps out with the blood.
Is there a better way to
release the pain of my heart?
When did this start?
How can it stop?
I don’t want to do it.
I found a better way
I release it to the sky,
to the earth, to the ocean
where God can take it away.

    After re-reading it, I pick up my phone and call Dan. When I say that we need to talk, he just says that he will be right over. I feel strong and sure with God by my side, but I am still scared that he will cry and try to convince me to stay together. The letter heading to his house tomorrow gives me more strength to tell him all that I feel. I hear his truck pull up. I take a deep breath and pray for help to be honest and kind and to be true to myself. Even though I no longer want to be with Dan, I still do not want to hurt him. I know that it is not good to hurt myself either though. He reaches to hug me when I open the door, but I stiffen in his arms.
   “Everyone is sleeping, so let’s talk out here.”
   “Listen Dan. I love you, but I can’t do this anymore.”
  “What are you talking about? Do what?”
   “Be together.”
   “Do you mean today or always?”
   “Always,” I say as I put my head down and begin to cry.
  “Harper, please.”
    I wipe the tears away and stand up tall as I say, “Please Dan, no. I want to break up.”
   “Why Harper? What did I do wrong? I can change.”
   I could lie and say that it is not his fault and that it is about me, but I want to be honest so I respond, “You have so much anger inside of you. I cannot be with someone who smashes car windows and beats up people for talking to me.” Not to mention how he treats me most of the time.
   I am surprised, but he doesn’t start crying like he did before. Instead, his face changes before my eyes. He looks at me with such anger and says, “I got everything that I wanted from you anyway,” and he walks away without looking back.
   I am momentarily stunned, but then I just walk back into the house. When I walk in the kitchen, my mom is making breakfast, and my sisters and Jake are already sitting at the table on their cell phones. No one asks me where I was or what I was doing as I sit down and say, “Good morning everyone.”
  The day just continues on. We look at home movies after Thanksgiving Dinner at my grandparent’s house. Jake leaves to go to Kristy’s house, but no one mentions Dan. As I look at the videos from last year, I look over at Ava and Sara and notice how much they have changed. I know that I have grown up so much since a year and a half ago as well, not just in my physical looks, but in my experiences and feelings too. I am no longer that little girl dreaming; I am the girl who wants to make her dreams come true. Even though I am sad, I have a lot to be grateful for on this Thanksgiving Day.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Riding Waves by Susan Marie Schulhof February 12, 2015

November 2012
   I am not sure if he will understand what I am trying to say, but after the talk with my father, I have realized that I can no longer be responsible for what Dan thinks or feels. My dad helped me understand that even if he tries to kill himself, as he threatened to do if I break up with him, it will not be my fault. My responsibilities are to be honest and kind. I am going to mail it to him today as soon as I finish packing so that it forces me to break up with him right away before he gets it in the mail. It has only been twelve weeks since I came to UH, but I feel like I am such a different person than when I came here. As I put the letter back into the envelope and seal it, my phone beeps.

Hey Harper. Jon and I didn’t head home yet. Want to get lunch at Fenney’s with us?

I send a text back.

Yes. Need to run an errand first. Meet you there in 15 min.

    That restaurant is perfect since I will walk past the post office on my way there, and it is only a mile away. I throw on my coat and grab the letter and my wallet and head out the door. I could take a bus, but walking will help me calm my nerves before I mail this. Most people have left campus already. A group of us had a small end of the quarter party at Jon’s house last night. Even though I had a final this morning, I had studied for it the whole day. Jon’s roommates had both gone home already so we actually cooked a nice meal and even had wine with dinner. Jon joked that he is trying to make us all classy. We still drank out of plastic cups, but it was nice just to eat, drink and talk around the kitchen table. It was more of a gathering than a party, I guess. When I walk into the restaurant, they are already at a table.
   “You look like you are freezing! We could have picked you up Harper?” Jon says.
   “I wanted to walk. I had to stop at the post office anyway.”
   Emma knows that I am sending Dan a letter, but Jon asks, “What are you mailing when we are going home today?”
   I pause for a minute, trying to decide if I want to get into this. I decide that I should probably get use to talking about it. If I am breaking up with Dan tonight or tomorrow, all of my friends at home will ask about it too.
   “I sent Dan a letter breaking up.”
   Before I can even finish, Jon says, “You are breaking up with him in a letter?”
   “No Jon, if you would let me finish. I am going to break up tonight or tomorrow, but I mailed the letter so that I can’t keep putting off talking to him. This will make me be strong and just do it before he gets the letter.”
   “Oh,” is all he says in response.
   We talk a little about college and going home while we eat, but no one mentions Dan again. When Emma gets up to go to the restroom, Jon looks at me and says, “You know Angel, you deserve someone to treat you a lot better than Dan does. I mean I like Dan and he is my friend, but you are special.”
    I know that I am blushing as I smile and say,    “Thanks Jon. You have become special to me too.”
   Jon chuckles and says, “Well you are special to me as well, but I meant that you are a special person compared to everyone else.”
   “Oh,” is all I can say. Jon is the kind of guy that I should fall in love with. He is smart, responsible, funny and sweet, in addition to being so sexy and gorgeous. He probably thinks of me as a little sister anyway, but the last thing that I need is to get into a relationship before I even break up with Dan. This relationship with Dan has been so fast and intense that I need to spend time alone discovering who I am and what I want before I spend more time thinking of what a boyfriend needs and wants. Emma is also my best friend, and I do not want to lose her like I lost Ashley. I wonder if Ashley and I can become friends again once I am no longer dating her brother.
    “Hey. You guys ready to go?” Emma says as she gets back to the table.
    “Yep,” I say as I look at my phone. My mom sent me a text that she is too anxious to see me to sleep, so she is on her way.
   “Can we drop you back at your dorm?”
   “Since we didn’t leave earlier, we could give you a ride home,” Jon offers as we all get our coats on and put money on the table for the bill.
   “That’s okay. My mom is on her way, plus I am bringing a lot home since we will be there for five weeks.”
   Emma and I hug goodbye when we get to my dorm even though we will be in the same city tonight.
   “Call me after you talk to Dan.”
   “Okay. Maybe a movie next week after Thanksgiving?”
   Jon doesn’t get out so I just say, “Thanks for the ride. See you in South Haven.”
   “Okay and good luck with Dan. You have my cell number if you need me for anything, Angel.”
   “Okay. Thanks,” I smile as he calls me Angel.
     My mom comes up to my room to help me carry everything. I give her a big hug. We talk about all of my classes and Emma and Jon as we drive back home. Dan tells me that he is working when I get home, so we make plans to see each other tomorrow morning even though it will be Thanksgiving. After unpacking a little and eating dinner, I spend the rest of the evening watching TV with Ava and Sara. I didn’t realize just how much I missed them until I got home. They ask me about college and mention that Dan has not been over as much now that Jake has Kristy. I want to tell them and my family that I am breaking up with him, but I think that I should tell Dan first; that only seems fair. Since we are going to my Grandparent’s this year instead of having everyone at our house, I ask my mom if I can borrow her car in the morning.
   “Sure. Is Dan coming to your grandparent’s house for Thanksgiving tomorrow?” she asks.
   “No,” is all I say.

  She doesn’t ask why not, so I think that she suspects that I am breaking up with him. I never talked to her about what I told my dad, but I am sure that he told her about our conversation.