The Little Engine… That Did



When Little Miss was born, we signed her up for the Imagination Library. The first book we received, as is their standard to send first and foremost, was The Little Engine That Could.

I’m writing under the assumption you’ve read, or at least heard, the story over the course of your life. It’s a powerful little tale, giving us all the push to be self-confident not only in our abilities, but in our possibilities and potential. If we maintain a positive attitude and think we can, we just might surprise ourselves and actually do.

This morning, Little Man brought me book after book to read to him. It’s become part of our morning routine, and one of my favorite parts at that. He grabs a book from the shelf, says, “Dis one, Mama.” and brings it over to our little reading corner on the sofa. He climbs into my lap, settles in against me, and we read. Sometimes he wants me to take his finger and point to each word, other times, he’s very inquisitive about the pictures. Most of the time, however, he’s content to sit and listen while Mama turns the pages in whatever story he’s brought me. When we finish, pipes up, “Anudder one!” and the cycle continues.

One of the books he brought me today was The Little Engine That Could.

Confession time: I don’t like reading this book. I know, I know… it’s a classic. It has such a great message. Every child needs to know the story.

But it’s so. long. And the copy we have breaks the sentences up across turning pages, and I simply don’t like reading it.

It doesn’t matter, though, because my kids’ desire to hear the story always trumps my disdain for reading it. He handed it to me, climbed up in my lap, and we began.

I’ve read the book dozens of times. I heard it as many or more times when I was a child. This time, however, I heard the story through a different perspective. As I was reading, a little voice in my head noted, “You never know the whole story.”

Train after train was denying the toys and dolls assistance, because of their own situations. I’m not saying this is bad – sometimes you simply cannot, no matter how much you think you can. But none of the trains denying their service stopped to inquire as to the backstory of the situation. None of them asked – or cared? – why the toys and dolls were asking for assistance in the first place.

Once upon a time, I was extremely jaded against helping others after a burly man in a WalMart parking lot hit me up for cash. You can read about it here, but it soured me for many years. Any time I saw anyone asking for help (especially in the form of money), I scoffed.

What if the other trains assumed the toys and dolls were boozers, looking for a handout? What if the other trains had never been helped themselves, and therefore didn’t know how to give help to others?

What if the other trains had taken the time to stop and listen to the entire situation before passing judgment?

Finally, a little blue engine – a friendly one at that – approaches the characters in need. She sees their distress, and stops. She listens to their story. She doubts her ability to help, but does it anyway. She affirms herself and makes the possible a reality. She’s a hero!

It doesn’t stop with having a can-do attitude, though. A little compassion goes a long way.

The problem wasn’t the first engine breaking down. The problem was no one stopped to hear the whole story. The toys and dolls weren’t simply looking to meet a deadline. They were looking to fulfill a purpose.

Little boys and girls got their toys and dolls. They got their good food to eat. Their future was preserved – and who knows, even progressed – because of the willingness of the little engine.

The little engine’s actions caused a ripple-effect we don’t read about. Often times we don’t realize how big a ripple one act of kindness makes. One simple determination could change the course of an entire generation.

But you won’t know unless you do it.

I think you can.

Let’s take a lesson from a book that hasn’t been my favorite (until right now). Don’t just think you can. Be the little engine who DOES. Be the little engine who DID. And watch how you can change the world.

Turning Pages: Why Moving Forward Is Our Only Choice

Turning Pages-

It was another typical weekday with Little Man. After a diaper change, we walked out of his room and down the hallway. He pointed to the picture in the middle of the wall.

We have three frames in our hallway. One is a collage of family pictures from 2013, after Harlynn had died and when I was barely pregnant with Little Man. The opposite end is a large matte print of our favorite family portrait from 2015. The middle frame houses four wrapped canvas of Harlynn. It was a gift from my sister-in-law on Christmas in 2013, and one of the most meaningful we’ve ever received.

Little Man pointed as we walked by and said, “Hah-winn”.

I stopped.

Wide-eyed, I turned my gaze from his sweet little face, to his pointing finger, to the center frame.

“Yes,” I affirmed, “That’s Harlynn. Your sister in heaven.”

“Yeah.” he quipped knowingly.

As you might expect, my eyes filled with tears and as we continued our walk to the living room, I pressed his forehead against my lips in a grateful kiss. It was the first time he had ever spoken her name. It was the first time he had acknowledged he knew who she was.

He knows. He knows who she is.

We went on about our day, playing with cars and trucks on the living room floor. But oh, how my heart was filled.

It’s been my dream to make sure as many people as possible know who Harlynn is. What she means to us. Why, even after her death, she’s still a very active part of our family. But to have her baby brother speak her name filled my heart with immeasurable joy.

We’re a family of 5 minus 1, but we refuse to let the “minus” carry a negative value. We hold fast to the hope we’ll all be reunited again, and every new day brings us one day closer to that reality.

In an otherwise routine weekday moment, Little Man gave me an incredible gift. I got to hear his sister’s name uttered from his sweet little mouth.


She may be in heaven, but she’s very much a present part of our family.

It’s further proof to me a relationship with Jesus is just as tangible. If Harlynn can be an active member of our family without being on earth, how much more so can Jesus be our active, living Savior, even if we can’t see Him?

He is closer than I realize at times. I lean in further than I thought I could when the weight of the world seems too much to bear. But instead of crumbling beneath it’s burdensome weight, I feel myself standing a little straighter, getting a little stronger, as He takes my suffering as His own.

The other night, I shared with a bereaved family on how it took me so long to be able to trust God heard my prayers. I kept Him at a safe distance, always hoping He heard what I was saying, but not truly believing He did. After all, He was the one person who could have changed our situation, and kept Harlynn alive.

Looking back now, I see it was Him who kept us cared for in every detail and every moment leading up to, and following her death. We were shaken, but we were not forsaken. He not only heard our cries and our pleas, but He responded to them mightily.

I don’t understand why Harlynn had to die. I don’t understand why any parent has to bury their baby. But I understand God loves us intensely through those dark and tumultuous moments. I understand – all these months and months later – He truly was the only one who could change our circumstance….and He did. Harlynn doesn’t get to be here on earth with us, but our lives have been all the more enriched by being her parents.

It will take many more years, I’m sure, before Little Man fully understands who Harlynn is and why her picture takes a prominent place in our hallway. But I’m banking on those several more years to share her story – with him, and others – many more times.

In the children’s book The Monster At The End Of This Book, the entire premise of the story is to prevent the pages from turning, in expectancy of the impending doom at the end. Come to find out – spoiler alert – Grover was the monster the whole time, and was getting in his own way of his story.

That’s how I felt for so long after April 9th, 2013. I didn’t want to turn the pages. I did everything I could to prevent the story from moving forward. There was no point, in my mind, of reading any further into our future.

Harlynn’s story reflects our story, and our story reflects His story. We’re still walking out the next chapters, but I’m finally at a place I feel secure in turning the pages.

How To Tell Your Story

How To Tell Your Story

I started blogging in 2008 as a way to get my random thoughts (or as I call them, my Mind Mumbles) in a centralized location. I journaled my prayers in a notebook on my nightstand, but the other thoughts and experiences I had during the day had no home, other than in the folds of my faulty memory.

I started blogging to keep a digital record of life’s happenings, big or small, so I could look back over the years and remind myself of everything from the seemingly insignificant to the monumental moments.

I wasn’t sure when I started blogging all those years ago, however, I had any legitmate story to tell.

That all changed in 2013 when Harlynn died.

Not only did I have a story to tell, but I had an intense desire – almost to the point of physically aching – to get my story out in front of the world. My blog happened to be the easiest way to make that happen.

As I started to write in those raw, unfiltered moments, I began to get feedback I didn’t expect.

People weren’t just reading to find out what was going on in our lives, but they were reading because they resonated with the way I wrote.

I had no clue.

I had always loved to write, but I viewed it as a personal hobby, and not anything that would matter to anyone else.

I was wrong.

Over the last few years, I’ve received response after response of how my writing spoke life into someone’s situation or circumstance. All because I made a decision to follow that ache, and tell my story.

You have the same opportunity.

I want to share with you a resource from one of my writing mentors and teachers, Jeff Goins. A year ago, I signed up for his writing courses and they were transformational for me. His mentorship led to the development of my website, my writing purpose, and was the key to my content production. He taught me the who, what, when, where, and why of my own  writing.

And he can teach you, too.

Tribe Writers is a course that will help you accomplish:

  1.   Identify your true writing voice and start using it in all your communication.
  2.   Build a platform through mastering the art of blogging.
  3.   Expand your reach and find your 1000 true fans.
  4.   Publish your work and start making your first $1000 as a writer.

Jeff not only provides invaluable teaching, but his enrollment bonuses do more than sweeten the pot. The bridge the gap that stands between you simply wanting to write your story, and actually getting it done.

I’ve read his books, seen him speak, attended his webinars, sat in on his coaching calls, and taken his courses. I can tell you Jeff knows his stuff. And you can know his stuff, too.

Telling your story seems overwhelming when you don’t know where to start, but I can confidently recommend you start by signing up for Tribe Writers.

I’m frequently approached by people I’ve never met who tell me they feel like they know me, and how I’ve helped them. Simply because I wrote. I shared. I was transparent.

It’s one of my favorite things about writing. I never know who needs to hear the message, but I always know it needs to be shared. Sometimes it’s weeks, or even months, before I realize it had even the slightest impact on someone. Since implementing the concepts I’ve learned in Tribe Writers, however, that influence has grown and impacted the lives of so many people.

I can’t force you to sign up for Jeff’s course, but I can ask you to consider what you’ll miss if you don’t sign up now. Will it be another year before you get your story told? Someone needs to hear what you have to say. You may not realize it, or even believe it. But it’s true. Tell your story. Let Jeff help.

This post contains affiliate links.

Growing Pains: A Confession

I remember it like it was yesterday. Most likely because it was.

It was a rough day emotionally. Ever have days where you feel beat up, then you feel worse because you’re hard on yourself for allowing yourself to feel beat up? And the cycle spirals downward. Until you get your hands on some chocolate.

That’s what yesterday was for me.


I woke up a little earlier than normal, and got right to work on something I had forgotten to do the night before. It wasn’t a big deal, as I had plenty of time before it needed to be done. Still, I couldn’t believe I’d allowed myself to forget something so simple. Idiot.

Then I got a message a former client of mine needed a different VA who had experience in things I could barely pronounce. I’m fully supportive of a client having exactly who they need, but when it’s not ME, it’s hard not to feel second-rate. I haven’t acquired a skill-set or talent, therefore I’m pretty much a loser who has nothing to offer. Forget the fact my other clients praise my work. I missed out on one. So I must really suck.

Then there’s this whole writing thing I do. I blog. I write for our local paper. I hammered out an entertaining piece yesterday I thought would be a good submission for my next article, and sent it to my husband for review. He didn’t give me the 5-star response I was hoping for. He told me, “I’m used to there being a moral to the story. Is it acceptable to just tell a story with no deeper meaning?” I got huffy in a sarcastic-funny kind of way. But it got me thinking.

When I write, it’s because something happens or pops into my head, and I’ve got to get it down right then. I don’t plan posts – or when I do – it’s not my best stuff. I reflected on the articles I’d submitted to our paper this year – one of which I absolutely despised, but wrote it because I couldn’t think of anything else. They had no common theme. No central voice. Just me, being random, submitting things prior to a deadline.

Looking for more 5-star responses, I reached out to my editor and friend, asking her if I should reign in my voice, and stick with a theme, or if my randomness was as awesome as I hoped she would tell me it was. I asked her for honest, disciplined feedback. She’s a good friend in the sense that she gave me the honest, disciplined feedback I asked for, and frankly, needed to hear.

Folks, I’ve got some work to do. And when I hear these things about myself and realize I’ve still got such a long way to go, it tears me up. I can’t even tell you why. If you asked me if I want to grow, improve, and define myself as an employee, as an author, as a person – I’d tell you, without even a hint of hesitation, “absolutely”. Yet, when the realization presents itself (and gets all up in my face so there’s no denying it) I still have a lot of growing to do, a lot of improving to do, and it’s not going to just happen because I want it to, it stings. And the negative self-talk takes over my life.

Yesterday it all caught me at just the wrong time, in just the wrong mood, with just the wrong receptors. I sulked. I fussed. I shut down.

Remember the Verizon commercials where every four seconds the guy asked, “Can you hear me now?” and it was funny but a little bit annoying? I’m that guy. I’m constantly on the prowl for affirming feedback. “Great blog post, Val.” What about now? Is this one great? Is it great now? What about this one? What about now?

Gosh it’s annoying. It’s annoying I can’t be satisfied with a simple, genuine compliment. I have to analyze and question and wonder why they like this, but didn’t say anything about that. What about now? Am I good enough now? Am I funny? Am I intelligent? Insightful? Can we still be friends? What about now? Ugh.

Yesterday was rough. I don’t have those days often, but when I de-rail, it’s more than simply sliding off the tracks. I completely fall over and lie helplessly in the dirt of my own despair. I’m the Eeyore of this day and age.

I dunno. I dunno how to learn lessons without having the scars to prove it. Maybe scars are part of the deal. Maybe growth only comes with a little bit of being hurt, and that’s why we call it “growing pains”. Maybe I’m not as tough, and a lot more arrogant than I thought I was. Maybe it will be better today. It’s not just the scars I have to live with – it’s the story that goes with them. Here’s to making it a great story.