Discussion Questions

When writing the books in the Lightheart Kids series, certain themes and life lessons influenced the stories and their overall message.  I hope the following dialogue “suggestions” are helpful for kids and for caregivers reading the stories with them.  I am always open to your thoughts, so please feel free to share your comments and questions for additional feedback.



While The Stars Are At Play

1.      What do you think the stars in the book represent?

When I was a child, my Dad and I would sit in our backyard gazing up at the sky in silence together.  It was an act of reverence and a time of sacred bonding, though I did not recognize those afternoons as such at the time. We would stare at the open blue sky for so long that our eyes would relax and adjust to something we couldn’t otherwise see in normal, quick glances.  We could see the faintest hint of motion (much like when you see heat rising from hot asphalt or pavement), though these particular “air-squigglies” were tiny and everywhere.

Perhaps it was our imagination and the many tricks eyes can play, but as a child, it was the first time I remember knowing (consciously) that the smallest and most invisible of things are also the biggest and the most mysterious things in our Universe.  I did not yet have a deliberate or defined relationship with God, but it was my first realization that God is real and present in all things around me, and it sparked a life-long hunger and passion to seek out what I don’t understand – to be drawn to it and to invite it in – and to let the stars in their glory, whether by day or night, warm my heart when nothing else in my human world seemed to make any sense.  The unknown became my place of refuge in painful experiences because I could always count on the stars to provide safe and loving company when I needed them as a child to be an entire cast of friends who accepted me for who I was.  They both transported me and grounded me, and in those moments, God was very real to a little girl who needed grace.

For other kids, the stars can, and do, represent anything and everything – we can see them, but we don’t completely understand them.  In that sense, they are miracles of the imagination to connect us with those greatest gifts in the Universe – we are the stars when we welcome the gift of their light and their mystery as God’s fellow creations, and we are invited to know gratitude and joy in the safety of that bond.

2.     What do they teach us about themselves in the book?

That they transcend what limits us on earth, the shackles we perceive as pain or suffering.  Their existence is pure, and free of anything that holds them back in their authentic shining selves.  The star characters in the book show us what unfiltered, uninhibited, no-holds-barred JOY looks like when we let go…when we let go of the perception that we are trapped by our environments and our human struggles.  No doubt the human condition can be difficult and painful, but like those invisible “squigglies” dancing in the air no matter the circumstances, we also have the choice to dance and to be free, to sing like there’s no tomorrow, to dance like no one is watching, and to LOVE like we’ve never been disappointed or hurt.  Because the hurt isn’t what holds us back; what holds us back is believing that the hurt is the only thing possible.

3.     What do the stars teach us about us?

That we always have company when we need it, and we are never alone.  We always have grace around us with an entire host of divine creatures to comfort us no matter our religion, and all we need is the courage to open ourselves to that clarity.  For me, it was seeing crazy little squigglies in the air as a young child; for you it might be something else entirely, but embrace whatever inspires you to see that you are not alone in this big ole’ Universe and that God is always thoroughly in each moment as we breathe grace in, and out, with every rise and fall of our small and humble chest.  There is nothing we cannot accomplish when we awaken to that level of benevolent company on earth and when we say “yes” to the light within us.

4.  Do you think we share anything with the stars?

We share everything with the stars!  At the literal level, we are both composed of elements from the periodic table!  We are all creations of this Universe and the Higher Power that bonds us together in one cosmic dance.  But at the symbolic level, we also share a paradox with the stars – there is more to us (and the stars) than meets the eye!  The adage “you can’t judge a book by its cover” is true for the stars and for us.  Anyone who makes you feel like you’re “nothing” isn’t seeing the real you – they only see the “million mile distance” version of you (as we only see the stars from earth); but also like the stars, when you appreciate the real you on the inside, you know you hold more strength and more resilience and more power than anything anyone has ever seen before.  Shine your light like no one else can, and it doesn’t matter which “version” of you others choose to see – it’s their loss if they don’t see the magnificent-you who lives inside!

5.     Is a sense of calm (inner peace) passive or active in the book?

Inner peace is thought of us as passive in many circles because it connotes sitting quietly with little noise or distraction (as in yoga or periods of meditation, for example), but inner peace is not real or sustaining if it cannot also be manifested in the active states of our lives.  Finding quiet time to reflect and simply to “be” is indeed critical in any pursuit of inner peace, but the reflection does not end there – a state of grace  is an ever-present gift when we plug into its presence in all things around us, including those difficult experiences or challenges that bring conflict or suffering.

In those experiences in particular, it is all the more important to connect with inner peace when the external world is painful or chaotic around us!  So in those experiences, we have to dig deep to find the “calm” in the eye of the storm, to let the external circumstances swirl around us without costing us our sense of grounded-ness and inner peace.   Laughing, dancing, playing, singing, praying, sleeping, loving, doing something to embrace and embody that inner joy – in the face of conflict or despair, and in defiance of those forces – can liberate us from the suffering we often feel when idle.  For most of us, we are more prone to moping and feeling sorry for ourselves when we are idle or when we are bored, dwelling on our painful experiences as a distraction from the real us.  We lose sight of the inner-connection between us and our higher-selves — that potential for our best and highest manifestation — as part of a very active universe!

6.     Is a sense of calm a goal or a moment?  (What is the difference between a goal and a moment?)

A sense of calm is both a goal and a moment.  To clarify, a goal is something we mentally establish in the present that we hope to accomplish in the future, and a moment is the present, the right now.  Both are time-related in nature, but the aim is to understand them both as timeless, too.  If our goal is to live with more self-esteem, for example, that is not likely a goal that will ever come to any completion because everyone on this planet struggles with self-esteem at one point or another in some specific area of their life’s journey (and for most of us, that is every day!).  So while some goals lend themselves to completion (the goal to pass a test at school, for example, or to make the team), the reality is they always seem to morph into the next goal to make a better grade next time rather than just passing, or making varsity squad after junior varsity — so goals can transcend time when we let them grow and develop organically.

But we cannot live in the future – no matter how bad or painful the present is, and no matter how desperate it may feel, the truth is the present moment is our vehicle for wherever we want to go.  It is up to us to make certain choices and to make certain commitments to ourselves, and to live those choices and commitments in the present moment – not starting tomorrow or next week, but to live those choices today and right now!  In those dark moments, we have to get up and sing, dance, write, draw, pray, SHOUT, play, whatever-the-case-may-be in order to bring our light to the surface to help us overcome the external illusion that we are helpless because the truth is we are not – that sense of inner peace is always there, always within us, always in the Universe, and always available to us when we connect with that part of ourselves that knows no limits.  It is there, as a goal and in each moment, that we know our strength and that we are inspired by what challenges us.

So a goal is something we want to do or have, or want to become, in the future, and each moment is the vehicle for the choices we make now in order to get there.  Inner peace is both, and it starts with deliberately choosing to see our personal challenges as an opportunity to learn something about how strong we are, how compassionate we are, how intuitive we are, etc.  Different challenges bring different kinds of struggle, of course, but in all of them, we learn who we really are, and we learn to take the struggle and to formulate goals that can be manifested one choice and one moment at a time.

7.     Exercise — if possible where you live, watch the stars outside under a night sky, and imagine their “twinkling” to be them chattering excitedly as they tell their secrets!  What are the secrets they share with you?!

As I mentioned earlier, this exercise started for me with daytime skies with my Dad – later I would watch night skies looking for the same “squigglies.”  I never saw them after dark, but the brighter, more luminescent nighttime stars had their own beauty to reveal.  What do they share with you?  Do they make you feel small and humble, or do they make you feel like you’re 10-feet tall in your connection to them as cosmic neighbors?   (Or do they make you feel both?!)   Spend time to appreciate the stars’ magnificence and their divine mystery, and then ponder the possibility that they are sparkling mirrors through which you can reflect on your own sacred magnificence, too!


Chasing Grace

1.      What do you think Chase might have been escaping when he left home?

For many children, the loss of a family member or significant relationship can lead to their first instances of at-risk behavior, whether drug use, alcohol, truancy, or withdrawal from family and friends.  But the truth is all children probably can relate to Chase in some capacity at some point in their lives, whether because of experiences with being bullied at school, suffering from abuse at home, dealing with poverty, or merely the experience of being any normal teenager who assumes life will never be fair and that no one will ever understand him or her.  (Who didn’t feel that way at some point as a teenager?)  Chase could have been running from any number of things in his life, so try to read the story from the perspective of whatever might be difficult in your own life right now.

2.     What do you think happened to him when he fell out of the boat and sank to the bottom?

Children will have different opinions of what happened to Chase depending on their own life-experiences.  Some children may assume Chase died; some may assume he lived; regardless of what each child initially assumes, the story is meant to provide a metaphor for what we all experience when faced with difficult or painful experiences.

We all know what it feels like to withdraw from our world, to feel depressed, and to feel sucked into a dark underground place without any escape and without any hope.  Spiritual teachers and mystics have long acknowledged this chapter in our human journey, some referring to it as the Dark Night of the Soul (originally from Saint John of the Cross), and for children this experience is no less real. Their understanding of it and their expressions of it may be different, whether withdrawal from family and friends, trouble in school, or turning to substance abuse to numb the suffering — but to minimize their spiritual suffering as any less “real” or important on the sole basis of their young age is to miss a critical opportunity to help them through their personal version of the Dark Night so that rock-bottom isn’t where they stay.

3.     Why were the sea creatures eager to help Chase?

Many kids, especially kids who have learned they have to be tough and self-sufficient in order to survive, believe that self-esteem is mostly about having confidence that they can take care of themselves, or confidence in who they are.  What they often fail to see is the other half of the equation, which is that self-esteem also means having the confidence to ask for help when needed.  No one got where they are entirely on their own, and anyone who has tasted success in their lives will acknowledge there was always someone who helped them along the way, whether a teacher, a parent, a friend, even a complete stranger who chose to be kind – whatever the case, it is important that children understand that while self-sufficiency is indeed a critical skill, it is also important to speak up and to ask for help when we’re drowning!  The sea creatures are eager to help Chase because they want him to start learning that it’s OK to not always have the answers on our own, and that it’s OK to rely on other people when we need a new perspective or a helping hand.

4.     What did they teach him?

Being deliberately vulnerable is not easy for kids, or for most adults for that matter!   As human beings, we are generally terrified of being humiliated or rejected, so who in their right mind would welcome being deliberately vulnerable and deliberately exposed to the risk of being embarrassed or rejected?!   I know it sounds crazy to most kids, but the truth is the more we put ourselves “out there,” the more open we are to experiencing all of the wonders of this world – open to love, compassion, joy, and fellowship.  We cannot experience those things in their most full and whole manifestation if we are holding back our full capacity to give and receive them behind a hardened wall of protective armor.    Granted, we are also open to being more hurt or wounded if we let our guard down, but even the perception of that is a choice whether to let the “mean girl” with her nasty comments (as one example) into our state of being – honestly, who made her opinion so important??

I do not mean to minimize the very-real torment that some children suffer; what I’m suggesting is that we beat the suffering by not letting it shut down our capacity to love and to experience joy, that we experience those things in spite of the pain, and that we allow ourselves to push through the suffering to maintain our true selves at our core being, which is an open vessel for grace — deliberately vulnerable, yes, but also deliberately receptive to so many more blessings and wonder.

5.     Who, or what, was Grace?

The character Grace in the story is meant to represent hope and faith for Chase – she is grace personified, and she liberates him from his prison of self-limitations and doubt so that he understands he is never alone in the Universe and that God is always with him.

6.      What did Grace teach Chase?

That he is whole and good, whether he knows it or not, and that she (as grace and hope personified) is always with him.   When we feel broken and lonely, and when we let our pain tempt us to do things that could hurt ourselves or other people, we are forgetting that we are here for a reason – to learn from each other, to teach each other, to take care of one another in compassion and genuine humanity.  Sometimes those lessons come in difficult experiences, but the lesson is no less powerful – turning our lives around, even in the smallest of choices in one difficult moment, is a decision to say yes to hope.  Grace taught Chase to remember his time with the sea creatures (his “Dark Night” experience) to let it, and the love and grace he experienced in that different realm, inspire him when he feels sad or lonely again.  Because he will – we all do – after all, grace does not mean escaping human experiences or being totally free from hurt, but it does mean a different perspective and not feeling alone along the way.

7.     What is the difference between “time” in Chase’s old world and “time” in his new world?

If you imagine a clock on the shore of the beach, and you imagine another clock at the bottom of the ocean (one that is water-proof and can withstand the elements at that depth), the two clocks would keep the same time.  In other words, if you stand on the shore, and if your friend swims at the bottom of the ocean in a dive-suit, both of you will experience the same physical measure of fifteen seconds, right?

Time itself isn’t what is different in the two realms — so what is?  For purposes of this particular discussion, I want to focus on the sensation of time that is different.  When we swim in the beach current, we experience waves and tidal surges and the crashing chaos that comes from constantly-moving water, water that is never at rest.  When we move to deeper water, far below the surface, we start to experience a slower sensation of movement, and eventually, the deeper we go, a sensation that is so much slower that the chaotic, fast-moving whirlwind of distractions at the surface seem like another world.  Because it is.  The deeper we go, whether in water, or within ourselves, the less chaotic distraction we experience or perceive.  And the more we can s-l-o-w down and appreciate what is truly REAL around and within us, stripped of the blur of things we ordinarily pay too much attention to in our daily lives because we think they are important.

The goal is to remember the view and the perception from the deeper water where the experience is slower and more clear, when we feel most out-of-control in our “surface” lives and when we feel the waves of life crashing over us and dragging us into despair.  Because things are more clear when we slow down and connect with that deeper part of ourselves that is always waiting and ready for grace and inner calm.  Chase learned to carry that “slow” time with him when he returned to his regular life, and Grace and the starfish asked him to remember them (and what he learned from them) anytime he feels like he is losing himself in the fast-paced chaos of whatever he experienced again in his normal world.

8.    Why was Chase mad at first that the creatures had not told him about Grace sooner?

Because we are generally impatient humans!  Especially when something hurts or makes us sad!  We want to feel better as soon as possible, and we often don’t stop to later reflect on what we learned from the painful experiences after we have come through them.   If the sea creatures had told Chase about Grace the minute he arrived in their world, think about the things Chase would not have learned from them!   Also, the experience itself of meeting Grace would not have meant as much to him if he met her right away!

Life is sort of like a Christmas tree.  There are all kinds of ornaments on the tree – we put some of them on the lowest branches because maybe they aren’t our favorites, and we put some on the higher branches that maybe we like more and save the very best ornaments for the top.  Experiences are the same way – some of them aren’t a lot of fun, some of them are OK, and some are our very favorites.  But if we only had the “best” ornaments, what would we put on the bottom of the tree?   And if we had a supply of only the “best” ornaments for the entire tree, then we wouldn’t have anything to compare them to and we wouldn’t have any context for why we like some of them more!   In other words, life is complicated and it comes at us from all directions – but all of the proverbial ornaments get put on the tree because they make the tree full and complete.

If Chase had met Grace right away, the “ornament” that her lessons represented in Chase’s life (his tree) might not have meant as much to him.  So we have to learn to be patient, and to eventually appreciate the things that every ornament has taught us about our own tree.

9.     Can you think of examples in your life when something seemed “bad” at the time, but you realized later that it happened exactly the way it was supposed to (and for the better)?

I stuttered badly as a kid, so at the time, it was one of the more difficult aspects of my childhood.  But later (much later), I learned that the experience taught me to truly value the power of communication and the power of connecting with other people.  I didn’t see it that way at the time, but looking back, I can honestly say the experience shaped who I am, and it made me grateful for what I learned from it.  (It still sucked at the time – I’m not suggesting that we see the silver lining when we’re in the despair of the chaotic waves at the surface.  But with time, and with a new perspective from the depths of our true selves, we learn to see the challenges as steps along our journey that make us better, stronger, more resilient, more compassionate, more determined, and more authentic as whole human beings.)

10.What do you think Chase’s life was like when he returned to his life on shore?  Was it the same, or was it different?  Why?

I like to think Chase’s life was better.  Not necessarily easier, but that Chase was able to see his life differently and was able to engage his challenges with more clarity and more empowerment.  I hope Chase learned that he is never alone and that Grace is always in his heart.

I hope he learned that like everyone else, he is a sacred part of our world.  No matter the chaos and the turbulence of our daily lives at the surface, that Chase was able to see himself through a new and  different lens with more calm, clarity and serenity that comes from a slower (inner) pace.


Deer In the Headlights (Coming Soon!!)

  1. Can you think of events in your life that have been incredibly intimate, but that you can also see are not “personal” to you because they happen to other people, too, or because they have nothing to do with you in particular?
  2. Did you have any control over the outcome in those examples?
  3. How much grief and anxiety did you suffer from those examples, convinced at the time that they were the most awful things that had ever happened “to” you?
  4. Can you start to imagine how things do not seem quite as dramatic or hopeless when we open ourselves to the possibility that these things are not exactly happening “to us,” but are rather happening among us (still intimately in our lives, but not “to us” as something intended specifically for us personally)?
  5. What do you think happened to the deer? Can you see that whatever happened to her was also intimate but impersonal in her own deer-life? What are some things you are dealing with right now that might be a little easier to manage if you could “let go” of the outcome, like Maddie had to with the deer?
  6. If you can see the struggles in your life at the “ant level” because they are the literal and tangible things you are experiencing at the ground-level in your world, can you start to imagine what those experiences might teach you at the “cloud level?” For example, Maddie had an ant-level experience with a deer on the highway, but the cloud-level experience taught her the power of her teacher’s lesson about letting go, not needing closure in a difficult open-ended situation, and the difference between intimate and impersonal experiences in her life. What are some of the cloud-level lessons your life is teaching you in your own world?