Why You Should Read to Your Children

Read to ChildFew topics are as near and dear to me as reading. I absolutely love books and the power that words have to transform our lives and heal our souls.

When I was young, my dad sat down and read a bedtime story to my sister Jaimie and me. Now, he may have read to us on other occasions, but that is the one and only time that I can remember him doing so. I remember where we were, the words that he read, and even the inflection in his voice.

The story he read—and the meaning behind it—made such an impact on me that I have carried that same book with me throughout my life. (True story. It’s on the corner of my desk right now.) The story transformed my life, and it’s now the backbone of my non-fiction book that will be published in September.

Now, why am I telling you all of this? Because although it may seem like such a simple thing, taking the time to read to children can change their lives for the better. Not only can it have a positive impact on their character and future relationships, but multiple studies have highlighted the educational benefits of reading to children at an early age.

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association:

“Toddlers are like little scientists.” They explore with all their senses, learn trial and error, cause and effect, and their brain growth increases through personal interaction with parents, grandparents, caregivers, and even other children. Reading aloud, laughing, talking, and exploring books together from an early age significantly improves language development and literacy outcomes for children in the long run.”

To meet the need of these “little scientists,” one of my friends is currently running a Kickstarter campaign for a new type of book called Pictivities. The project is so innovative that it’s actually been selected by Kickstarter as a Staff Pick:

“Pictivities is a new series of board books for young children. The books are designed to generate interaction between reader and child by linking pictures to words and actions. On each page there is a picture button that shows an object, animal, or person. Each image is also linked to an action. You prompt your child to touch the button and then you both say and do the action together.”

All the words and pictures for the first Pictivities book are DONE and the funds generated from this Kickstarter campaign will help finance the first print run of the book. As they’re nearing the deadline, I would humbly ask that you check out their project and donate generously. The authors themselves have partnered with several organizations to help donate copies of their books to charity.

Reading to your children is so important and I couldn’t endorse this project more. Please click on the image below to watch their video and make a pledge to help make Pictivities a reality.

Reading to Children

7 Things That Will Make You Laugh!! :)

Life can be hard and sometimes all you need is a good laugh. If that’s what you need then you’ve come to the right place! Here are seven things that always make me laugh…


It’s up to something…


He put into words what I’ve been trying to say for years…


I enjoy an occasional Dr. Pepper, but it looks like this guy REALLY enjoys his Dr. Pepper.


Vegetables are a great source of nutrition and can make you strong. I am sure that after Godzilla ate his vegetables he destroyed the monster that forced him to eat them.


Because who doesn’t enjoy watching babies laugh?


This is just the best!



I’m Tired of Praying for Iraq

Yazidi Child

A Yazidi child.

Since 2003, Americans have been encouraged to pray for Iraq. But after another display of barbarism by the Islamic State militants I realize I’ve grown tired of praying for Iraq.

Now is the time to act.

Do you realize that the Islamic State militants (also known as ISIS) is a terrorist army with an estimated 80,000 fighters? (30,000 in Iraq and 50,000 in Syria). They were once closely affiliated with al-Qaeda but al-Qaeda has recently cut all ties with ISIS because it is too brutal.

‘Brutal’ is hardly the word for it. Savage, barbaric, and animalistic is a little bit more accurate.

Not only is ISIS responsible for the deaths of thousands upon thousands of innocent people (many of them religious and ethnic minorities), but they photograph and record these brutal murders and post them on social media.

To put it simply, what is happening in Iraq is ethnic cleansing—genocide.

The Yazidi are a group of religious minorities that have been targeted by ISIS. Unable to defend themselves, the Yazidi fled to the safety of Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq. In an attempt to defend the Yazidi, President Obama ordered humanitarian airdrops to the Yazidi, and authorized a number of airstrikes against the Islamic State. The airstrikes allowed a number of Yazidi to escape the mountain, but thousands remain—trapped on a mountain that is 130 degrees during the day, and sub-zero temperatures at night.

In spite of this, Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said “The Yazidis who remain are in better condition than previously believed and continue to have access to the food and water that we have dropped.”

But relatives of those still trapped on the mountain strongly disagree. On Monday, I had the chance to interview Lucy Usoyan, a Yazidi activist living in America. She described the situation in northern Iraq, shared a harrowing account of ISIS killing a pregnant, Yazidi woman, and tearfully asked for the U.S. to intervene and rescue her people.

In seeing all of this violence, I have grown tired of praying for Iraq. It’s time for us to do something. I know that we are all war-weary, but please do not turn a blind eye to the brutal slaying of thousands. Continue to pray for Iraq, but then get up and do something about it. Share this story. Write about what’s happening. Take action! Never underestimate the force of your own voice.

Please watch my interview with Lucy and decide what you can do to help.

More Resources:

The Yazidi people are not comfortable—it is America that is comfortable. We must respond with more humanitarian aid and we must rescue the thousands of Yazidi people still trapped on Mount Sinjar.

More Resources:

Local Woman to U.S. Leaders: Don’t Abandon the Rescue of My People in Iraq

Persecution of Yazidis by ISIS

On Death Mountain

Is Suicide Selfish?

In 2006, I nearly succeeded in taking my life.

Six months later, I received a letter from a close friend. I half-expected it to be a letter of comfort. It was not. It was cutting. Of the many things which were written, I will only share two sentences: “I can’t believe you tried to take your life. How could you be so selfish?”

Loss of a Loved OneAs I held that letter with a trembling hand, I was immediately reminded of all the letters and notes I had written to my family and friends in the hour before I tried to end my life. In those notes, I tearfully expressed deep regret and remorse for what I was about to do. But the pain had become so unbearable that I believed I was toxic—that my continued existence was actually hurting my family and friends. I sincerely believed that suicide was the only way to end the pain for myself and everyone associated with me.

Is that selfish?

And what of the tens of thousands of people whose emotional agony becomes so intense that it overrides their innate, natural desire to live? Are they selfish because they’re consumed with a pain that won’t go away? What about the people who attempt suicide as a desperate cry for help? Are they selfish for needing help? Is it selfish to feel like you’re trapped in a burning building and your only escape is leaping from the window? Is it selfish to forget about how your death might hurt others?

I honestly don’t know. It took me years to make sense of my own medical condition. How on earth could I accurately judge someone else’s situation? Everyone’s struggle is unique and there is so much that we just don’t know.

But here’s something I do know:

Calling someone selfish doesn’t help.

Calling someone selfish for being depressed and having suicidal thoughts doesn’t help them recover. And calling someone selfish for committing suicide doesn’t help their families and friends recover. It only encourages bitterness, resentment, and guilt.

But do you know what does help?

Empathy. Reaching out and loving those who are in pain—suffering alongside those who suffer—that’s what matters. That is the most helpful thing that anyone can do for another person.

The person that wrote me a letter and called me selfish nearly tore me apart. Their words settled into my stomach like a razor blade. I couldn’t sleep. I was consumed with guilt and a renewed sense of self-loathing.

About a week later, I received another letter—this one from my sister Shannon. Shannon is the oldest in our family and was born with a mild form of cerebral palsy. Her condition has caused her to struggle with a severe learning disability and has made it difficult for her to walk straight. Shannon is as gentle and innocent as a child and she’s one of the most charitable and loving people I’ve ever known.

Here is part of the letter that Shannon wrote to me:

“Seth...Keep pressing forward. Your family loves you very much. Don’t give up.”
Can you feel the difference between the two letters? The first one cut me down while the second one lifted me up. I was so touched by Shannon’s letter that I’ve carried it with me wherever I’ve gone (it’s on the corner of my desk right now). And “pressing forward” and moving forward has since become my own personal motto.
I’ve seen a lot of comments and articles debating whether or not suicide is or isn’t selfish. I would humbly suggest that you bring those questions to God, the Master Physician—for He is the only one that fully understands each unique situation. And instead of calling someone selfish for being depressed or suicidal, I would ask you to reach out  to that person in love. Write them a letter and tell them that you love them and encourage them forward.
Take it from me: whatever the root of their problem is, empathy goes a long way to helping them move forward.
…and they will never, ever forget it.

Why the Suicide of Robin Williams Matters

Robin Williams

Robin Williams

Actor/comedian Robin Williams just committed suicide.

Truthfully, I’m stunned, shocked, and devastated. I had heard that he struggled with depression, and had always looked to him as an example—someone to help me move forward as I battle my own depression.

His humor brought happiness and hope to so many people. And now…

I don’t know. Part of me just wants to yell and shake my fist. Why did you do that, Robin?! You were loved by so many people. You were an inspiration to millions! You should’ve asked more people for help! Others would’ve rushed to your aid to lift you up. So many people believed in you and loved you!

But there’s another part of me—a quieter part—that tells me it is not my place to judge. Depression and suicidal thoughts are so subtle and insidious that they can take down anyone—even (perhaps especially) the happiest of people.

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts and feelings, please try to see your experience through the conversation now surrounding Robin Williams. Clearly, he was a funny, beloved, and inspirational man. But because of what he was going through it became difficult for him to see that. Depression and suicidal thoughts darken our world and sometimes make us feel like suicide is the only escape.

Please know that there is hope. While it’s extremely difficult to fight depression with thought power or “positive thinking,” I hope you can recognize that you are loved by so many people! You never know who you are inspiring. If you feel like you’re drowning in depression, please ask other people for help! Help will come, I promise. So many people believe in you and love you.

This is your life. It is precious and beautiful. Don’t take your life—live your life! Seize the day.

In a statement recently released by Susan Schneider, (his wife) said this: “On behalf of Robin’s family, we are asking for privacy during our time of profound grief. As he is remembered, it is our hope that the focus will not be on Robin’s death but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions.”

I couldn’t agree more. Let us honor Robin Williams by focusing on the profoundly amazing and wonderful life he lived! He had a deep struggle and he fought a good, noble fight (and made the world a better, happier place in the process). As one of my friends on Facebook put it: we should “Commend him for all the days he did win that fight.”

Thanks for all the laughter and the inspiration, Robin. And thank you for fighting for so long. You are a true hero and will be sorely missed.

**UPDATE – This article was originally titled: “Why I’m Angry at Robin Williams.” After one of my readers pointed out that this might be perceived as negative or sensationalist, I changed it. My thoughts, prayers, and heartfelt sympathies go out to anyone who is struggling to cope with suicide.

Why Ebola WON’T Make Me Sick


The Ebola Virus

There’s been a lot of talk about the deadly Ebola virus that is currently ravaging West Africa. Social media is on fire, filled with millions of comments and concerns that the disease will spread to other parts of the world.

I, for the most part, am concerned…but undeterred. I refuse to make myself sick over Ebola or any other “impending doom.” I resolved, long ago, to be hopeful instead of fearful.

This resolution stems from a campfire conversation I had with some friends. It was 2010, and we were talking about how the world might come to an end in December 2012. We talked about how it might happen, what it might look like, and how we would respond. Some of the guys even expressed anger at the thought that their lives might be cut short.

Our apocalyptic, doom-and-gloom conversation became pretty heated as we debated what we would do in our final hours. It was then that one of my friends—who had not said a word since the conversation began—finally spoke up:

“I don’t think I would mind if the world came to an end,” he said, quietly poking the fire.

We stared at him in shock. “How can you say that?” someone asked.

My friend shrugged. “We’re all going to die sometime, right? We all know that. What we don’t know is how we’ll die or when we’ll die. So many people waste what little time they have thinking about how they’ll die and when they’ll die that they never really think about why they live. If you live a good life full of service then you don’t need to be fearful about how you’ll die and when you’ll die. You’ll be ready.”

A silence fell over the campfire and gradually, the conversation shifted towards inspirational thoughts we had had while hiking—things we’d like to change and people we’d like to visit. One of the guys resolved to forgive his father while another decided he was finally going to ask his long-time girlfriend to marry him.

Does the Ebola virus concern me? Yes, it does. You know what else concerns me? America’s current conflict with Russia, violence in the Middle-East, and overwhelming political corruption.

But you know what? There will always be something to worry about. We have a limited lease on life and it’s riddled with risk. So much of what happens to us is outside of our ability to control. We don’t know when we’ll die or how we die, but we can decide how to live and when to start.

In the midst of such terrible, fearful things, decide right now to live a good life full of service. Once you decide that, then you don’t need to be fearful about how you’ll die or when you’ll die. You’ll be ready. So roll up your sleeves and get to work! Don’t burry your head in the sand. Instead, labor to understand the diseases, conflicts, and issues of the world and seek to alleviate some of the pain, suffering, and misunderstanding. Do your best to be aware and serve others.

And what’s more, your knowledge, faith, goodness and service will undoubtedly make this darkened world a better place.

(For more information about Ebola, please read “Ten Things You Really Should Know About Ebola“)

I’m Grateful For Paper Cuts

Life Is Beautiful

Some time ago, I was asked by Nate Bagley (of Loveumentary.com) to participate in a Gratitude Challenge. As part of this challenge, I was asked to share a personal experience where gratitude had an impact on me and to share how I practice gratitude in my life.

It may sound strange to you but I’m grateful for paper cuts.

Actually, I’m grateful for one particular paper cut…

It was in the spring of 2007, and I was traveling with my parents through New England. As a family, we had recently closed a very dark and wintry chapter in our lives and were eager to move forward. The surrounding countryside, positively satiated in springtime flowers, painted the promise of a new beginning.

While visiting a religious building, I fumbled with some informational brochures and accidentally gave myself a paper cut. The sting prompted a word that was—ah—shall we say…inappropriate for the location? (It was a swear word.)

As I covered my finger with a tissue, I was suddenly (and inexplicably) overwhelmed with gratitude—gratitude to be alive.

Six months earlier, I had tried to take my life. In fact, I would have succeeded had my dad not found me and taken me to the hospital. In the weeks leading up to my attempt, I remember one constant feeling: numbness. My entire world had been drained of color and energy. I felt so hollow, so void, and so dead that taking my life seemed like the only escape.

But in the months and years that have followed my suicide attempt, my family and friends rallied around me, offering me support, encouragement, and love. On one of those tedious nights immediately following my discharge from the hospital, I distinctly remember laying in my bed and being impressed with these words: “Seth, there are a lot of things in your life that have gone wrong. Yes, you’re in pain. And yes, you have a lot of problems. But there are also a lot of good things in your life—like family, friends, a warm bed, good food, and air to breath. You’ve spent the past couple of years focusing on all the bad things in your life—and look what it’s done to you. Maybe, instead of focusing so much on all of the bad things in your life, you could try to focus on some of the good things—because there are many.”

Since that time, I have tried, to the best of my ability, to focus on the positive instead of the negative. Yes, I still struggle with chronic depression—I don’t deny that. Yes, things go wrong and I still have bad days. But instead of focusing on what I lack, I focus on what I have. And that shift in focus has made all of the difference in the world. In a curious way, gratitude for life has actually expanded it. Every additional moment of my life, when coupled with gratitude, has only increased the joy and color of my life.

So as I stood there, clutching a throbbing paper cut, I was overcome with gratitude for that pain—because it meant that I was still alive. And later that day, while sitting on a couch with my parents, I reached across and put my hand on my dad’s arm.

“Dad,” I began. “I just wanted to thank you for saving my life.”

My dad gave me a somber look. “I’m grateful I did,” he said.

In our darkest moments, it’s hard to even think about gratitude. Sometimes, the difficulties of life have a tendency to pull us inward and downward. But I ask you to try and shift your focus outward and upward. Consider your blessings—they are many. Take it from a guy who once hated his life so much that he nearly ended it: life is a beautiful and precious gift.

Stop Hating Your Body: The Best Diet Ever!

I think I’ve stumbled across the greatest diet plan ever conceived…

Da Vinci

“Vitruvian Man” by Leonardo Da Vinci

In middle school, I was overweight — and several kids liked to point that out … and laugh about it. I remember coming home from school one day, going up into my room and crying on my bed.

When my mom asked me what was wrong, I told her what some of the kids had said. She did her best to comfort me, but it took me a long time to recover from that. I was painfully ashamed of my body, and resented the fact that I had to carry it around with me.

Woman MirrorSadly, my experience isn’t unique. We live in a culture that hates the body. Don’t believe me? Look around. We set unsustainable standards of physical beauty and enlist models to represent them. We then slather these models in oils and make-up, place them under “flattering” lights, and photoshop them into oblivion.

We take these deceptive images and publish them to the world, insinuating that these lies are not only desirable, but also “the norm.” Why don’t you look like this? Why aren’t you this beautiful?

Unable to attain this fictional and unrealistic level of beauty and perfection, we despise and destroy our own bodies. We do it in a number of ways. We either focus on our physical imperfections and try to starve them out, or beat them out through excessive exercise.

If that doesn’t work, then we try to numb our feelings of inadequacy through addictions that include sex, drugs, alcohol, perfectionism, gambling, gaming, overeating, working, cleaning, shopping, and sleeping.

Anyway you look at it, we are a culture that is very uncomfortable in its own skin. We value the judgement and scrutiny of others more than we value the marvelous creation that is our own body.

I recently read Learning From Leonardo, a remarkable book that takes an in-depth look at the sketches and notes of celebrated painter, Leonardo da Vinci. While reading the book, I was deeply impressed by Leonardo’s fascination with the human body. Skimming through his sketches, one can tell that Leonardo had a deep love and reverence for life. Indeed, Leonardo himself once said: “let not your rage or malice destroy a life — for indeed, he who does not value it, does not himself deserve it.”

Is the malice of our culture toward our bodies destroying our enjoyment of life? Does our rage and contempt for our own image destroy our happiness?

I’ve seen people waste their time and energy—the very essence of their lives—obsessed with body image and diet, or with weight-training and exercising, or with cankles and thigh gaps.

Your body wasn’t meant to be treated like an object for others to scrutinize—it was meant to be treasured as the most incredible and most advanced instrument that you have to receive the world. Life is so much more than what we see with our eyes, but we spend so much time focused on ourselves that we might as well be asleep. John Patrick Shanley wrote that “Only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amazement.”

Do you remember when we were kids? (You know, before school and all of that nonsense.) We loved life. LOVED it! Every moment of life was an absolutely astounding adventure. Swimming? Amazing. Mixing colors? Amazing. Jumping into a pile of leaves? Amazing. Petting a dog? Amazing! Touching a bug? AMAZING!!

Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo’s “Head of a Young Woman”

At that age, kids don’t care about what others think about them, and why should they? Nature is so amazing! And if the nature is so amazing—and their bodies come from nature—then what does that say about them? In fact, most children chase life with such zeal and energy that they never need worry about diet and exercise.

I think there is a direct correlation between our love of life and our love of self. I believe that the more we respect, value, and love life all around us, the more we will respect, value, and love ourselves (and our bodies). And the more we value ourselves and the world around us, the more we will be able to achieve.

Leonardo da Vinci is a phenomenal example of this. The man loved life! His never-ending fascination with life was both childlike and genius. As a direct result of his love for life, the things he was able to accomplish with his own life are breath-taking. He was a painter, a sculptor, an inventor, an architect, a cartographer, a botanist, a mathematician, an engineer, a geologist and so much more!

Yet in his quest to understand life, he learned this fundamental truth:

“…and if this, [body], appears to thee marvelously constructed, remember that it is nothing as compared with the soul that dwells in that structure; for that indeed, be it what it may, is a thing divine.”

Please stop hating your body. Not only is it an amazing tool for receiving the world, but it’s also the host of a thing divine—you. You are a marvelously beautiful and unique creation and you were born to achieve great things. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you will wake up to the glorious life that is all around you.

Singing After TWO Double-Lung Transplants

Charity Tillemann-Dick Performing

Charity Tillemann-Dick, an opera singer and the recipient of two double-lung transplants.

I have interviewed some pretty amazing people, but Charity Tillemann-Dick is quite possibly one of the most remarkable individuals I have ever interviewed…

Charity Tillemann-Dick is an accomplished speaker, presenter, and soprano singer. She has performed in prestigious concert halls across Europe, Asia, and America in front of celebrities, presidents, and world dignitaries.

In 2004, Charity was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary hypertension, a rare condition that causes the arteries in the lungs to harden, forcing the heart to work harder and harder to pump blood throughout the body. Left untreated, Charity was not expected to live longer than five years. But since her diagnosis, Charity has received two double lung transplants and continues to speak, sing and perform across the country.

After interviewing her for about an hour, I wish that it was within my power to write and share everything that she said. Not only is she a really fast talker, but she’s also filled with incredible wisdom (seriously! I took three pages of notes)!

During the interview, I asked her about her reaction to her diagnosis, the highlights of her career, the album she just released, and her plans for the future.

I then asked her what she would say to someone who is struggling to move forward. Her response was poetic profundity:

“Loving ourselves and forgiving ourselves is so important because it allows us to love other people more effectively—love is the only way we can hear the narrative melody that is surrounded by a cacophony of noise and pain.”

Charity's album, "American Grace." Click on the picture to order a copy!

Charity’s album, “American Grace.” Click on the picture to order a copy!

In my notes, I had originally misheard her and written “the musical melody.” When I read the quote back to her she corrected me and said, “No, ‘the narrative melody.'” We then talked about the differences between the two. From our conversation, I learned that life isn’t always a happy, musical tune—it’s a narrative melody. Put another way, life isn’t trying to entertain us, it’s trying to teach us.

Although Charity’s journey forward has been extremely difficult—filled with trials, tears, and numerous near-death experiences—she’s determined to hear the narrative melody of life: “It’s hard,” she said. “But there’s exquisite beauty along the way—it’s our responsibility to open our eyes and ears to it.”

Each and every moment of our lives is a note from the divine melody. It’s up to us to be still and find the meaning in those notes—the narrative in that melody. Charity not only hears and understands the music, but she’s determined to make it: “I’m just so excited to make more music,” she said. “And I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m still here.”

Right now, Charity and her husband are working hard to make her new album a bestseller on Billboard. I strongly, strongly, strongly, strongly encourage you to visit her website and order a copy for yourself!

Now, after all I’ve said about listening to the narrative of life—listen to Charity sing!