Introduction

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Inner Strength

Introduction

Perhaps I am stronger than I think.

~Thomas Merton

All the Chicken Soup for the Soul editors are talking about it. We are awed by these stories, and I think this may be one of the most powerful collections we have published in our twenty-one year history. I am thrilled to introduce you to some of the most inspiring people you’ll ever meet in these pages.

What struck me the most in these stories is the strength of the human spirit, whether our contributors are powering through health issues, disabilities, financial turmoil, the loss of a loved one, or other crises. They don’t complain about their situations — they just get up off the floor and deal with them.

And of course that impressive resilience starts with our foreword writer, the actress, comedian, producer, and activist Fran Drescher, who takes us through her battle with cancer. Fran turned pain into purpose and made sense of the senseless by founding the Cancer Schmancer Movement, the non-profit organization she founded to fight cancer and promote healthy living in three ways: early detection, prevention, and advocacy. Fran is quite a role model for all of us, and we thank her for being part of this important book that is designed to help you find your own inner strength, survive, and thrive, as she has.

I was really affected as I selected and edited these stories. It was hard not to internalize the struggles of the contributors and to feel weighed down by their problems, but on the other hand I couldn’t help but feel uplifted by their fortitude, their good humor, and their lack of self-pity. These brave contributors, who have weathered so much and come out strong on the other side, are such an inspiration to us all. And they sure put our own problems in perspective!

Most of our contributors were surprised to find that they had so much inner strength. It was just waiting inside them for the day it would be needed. If you are going through a battle of your own right now, you will undoubtedly realize that you CAN handle it after you read a few of these stories, from ordinary people just like us who found themselves becoming extraordinary people because they needed to.

In Chapter 1, you’ll read about people overcoming self-destructive behavior, such as Leigh Steinberg, the super sports agent who was the inspiration for the character Tom Cruise played in Jerry Maguire. Leigh shares his story about overcoming his alcoholism and rebuilding his career, and most importantly, his relationships with the people he cares about.

Rissa Watkins will inspire you in Chapter 2, which is about fighting health challenges, with her story about treating her acute lymphoblastic leukemia while making sure that her six-year-old son was okay. She made him feel like a hero for everything that he did for her.

In Chapter 3 you’ll read many inspiring stories about powering through the loss of a loved one. We may not all get cancer, but we all face the inevitable loss of a loved one, and these stories will help you figure out how to handle it yourself. Cheryl Hart’s story about how her father finally told her that he loved her on the day of her mother’s funeral brought tears to my eyes, and is a great example of how we can rebuild relationships even in the face of despair.

You’ll meet some truly inspiring people in Chapter 4, which is about living with disabilities, including Lorraine Cannistra, wheelchair-bound due to cerebral palsy, but living independently. She pushed herself fifteen miles in her wheelchair on a bike trail in order to raise the money for her service dog’s ACL surgery. And in Chapter 5, which is about accepting your new normal, you’ll meet many brave people living with chronic disabilities or illnesses, including Jill Davis, who manages her bipolar disorder and has a full, happy life and a devoted husband.

You’ll also read about Carol Goodman Heizer in Chapter 5, who discusses how she dealt with the early months of widowhood. Guess what Carol doesn’t tell you in her story? Shortly after her husband died, so did her son, quite unexpectedly. And then she got breast cancer too. But Carol, like many of our contributors, doesn’t share a whole laundry list of problems with us. She just wants to pass on her tips and advice to the widows coming up behind her. It reminds me of Fran Drescher. Did she mention in her foreword that besides divorce and cancer, she had previously been the victim of a brutal assault and rape? Nope. Fran focuses on the positive and on how she can help other people.

In Chapter 6, you’ll read stories from people who have learned to accept their differences, whether they are on the autism spectrum, unusually short or heavy, or encumbered by a lifelong illness. Jo Eager talks about how her little son was helped by a visit from another little boy with diabetes shortly after his diagnosis. Having another kid explain the injections to him was a big help.

Learning how to reach out and accept help from others is a big theme in Chapter 7, where you’ll meet Alaina Smith, who realized that she needed to use her friends for support after she was unexpectedly fired from her job. I also loved the fact that she used a Chicken Soup for the Soul book’s story submission deadline as her own deadline for making gratitude part of her daily routine. You’ll also meet Nick Fager in Chapter 7. He gives us an inside look at how a contestant on Survivor routinely used fair practices and faith to stay calm and centered even as he was repeatedly voted off the island.

I was struck by the maturity of teenager McKenzie Vaught, who just started college. While her single, drug-addicted mother was in prison for dealing drugs, McKenzie managed to raise herself and not only did she make it through high school, but she also took Advanced Placement courses and worked part-time. She tells her story in Chapter 8, where you will read about numerous inspiring people successfully rising to the challenges in their lives.

Shannon Francklin’s story in Chapter 9, about pursuing your dreams, will make you want to look her up on the Internet, which is exactly what I did. And there you’ll see Shannon, a quadriplegic, and her husband, a paraplegic, both wheelchair athletes, with their adorable little daughter, who Shannon carried herself when there was no other way to have the child they both wanted so much.

Chapter 10 is called “Taking Back Your Life” and it is about people overcoming divorce, disease, and disasters, and then getting on with their lives anyway. I was tickled by Sandra Sladkey’s story about evacuating her home in the face of a San Diego wildfire. She optimistically cleaned the house from top to bottom before she left, knowing full well that it might go up in flames. I know I would do that too! When her house burned to the ground, she found something amazing while she was poking around in the ashes — her hand-painted Nativity set, intact except that the figures were now pure white, the heat of the fire having removed all the paint. Sandra knew her family would be okay at that point.

It seems we are all stronger than we think . . . when we have to be. These stories give me hope that I will be able to face my own challenges some day, hopefully as well as these contributors did. They are all brave, courageous people who I admire. They are role models for all of us.

~Amy Newmark

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