“Follow Your Heart,” column for Oct. 8, 2013

It was an offer I couldn’t refuse: an invitation to speak to the Four Arts Club of Elkhart, Ind., on my all-time favorite topic: “The Art of Life.”

I like life. I like talking about it and writing about it and, most of all, I like living it, all of which I’ve been doing for a pretty long time. Never mind how long.

That does not, of course, make me an authority on the subject. You can earn a lot of frequent-flier miles and never have a clue about how to fly a plane.

Most of what I know about life I learned from people I’ve loved. Love is an excellent teacher.

I could talk about that until the cows come home. So I flew to Indiana, checked into a hotel and fell asleep, looking forward to the luncheon the next day.

Whenever I go places where my column has appeared for a good while (I’m told the Elkhart Truth has carried it for about 20 years), it’s like a family reunion. Without the fistfights, of course. People I’ve never met treat me like a long-lost cousin.

“How’s your brother?” they say, and “Did you bring pictures of your grandchildren?”

They do this because they are good, caring people, who have read my stories for years and feel as if they know me, even though we just met. I get a lot more hugs than handshakes.

That is the power of story. Words matter. Stories can turn strangers into family.

Imagine my surprise the next morning when I opened my suitcase to get dressed for the luncheon and discovered I had packed two shoes that didn’t match.

To my credit, both were black. But one was pointy-toed and the other was round with a slightly higher heel that made me list to the left and walk with a limp.

I also had the ugly sneakers I’d worn on the flight, but decided I would rather list and limp.

Some people might have trouble taking seriously a talk on “The Art of Life” by a woman wearing shoes of different styles.

But the audience was gracious and didn’t seem to mind. What is family, if not forgiving?

So I told them a few of the things I’ve learned about life from people who lived well.

From my grandmothers, for example, I learned the meaning of unconditional love, and to avoid dipping snuff around people who make you laugh.

Important things like that.

Mostly I talked about my brother, Joe, who despite being blind since birth and severely handicapped by cerebral palsy, has stubbornly insisted on living his life on his own terms.

Finally, I told them a story I was told as a child and hope to teach to my grandchildren someday. It goes like this:

Before you were born, when God knit you together in your mother’s womb, he reached down and took your tiny heart in his hand and breathed on it in such a way to inscribe on it your calling — the reason for which you were being sent into the world to love and to be loved and to be God’s love in the flesh to everyone you meet.

Since that day, amid all the noise and endless distractions, your heart with every beat has kept whispering that calling. Sometimes it’s hard to hear it. You have to listen closely.

There are other voices, too, that you’ve collected over the years — voices of guilt and fear and shame and negativity. They say “You can’t do that” and “You ought to do this” and “What on Earth will people say?”

(Mine, for some reason, all speak with a Southern accent.)

But they come from your head, not your heart, and they never whisper, they shout, forever trying to drown out the one, true thing you need to hear.

Don’t listen to the bad voices.

Listen to your heart.

Follow your calling.

Do what you want.

If there is any art to living, I believe that it is that.

But you might also want to try to wear matching shoes.


  1. Cheryl Knight says

    Sharon, so much of your writings seem to be just what I would like to say about my life. Your “Feeding of the soul together and alone” hit home with me. I am 66 yr old grandmother, with 2 children, 4 grandchildren, had good mother, father and mother in law – big family. We love to get together and eat like all southern families. My grandmothers were a big influence in my life. One grandmother was widowed with 5 small children which she reared on a farm. She never had television and seldom left home. Family members would do her shopping for her. It was a big deal when someone would bring her to visit in our home. She taught me the beauty of enjoying silence and good company. People flocked to her house – she was a good story teller. In summer months we waited for the Book Mobile to arrive with new books to read – she taught me to love reading. My other grandmother lived on a farm, but loved to shop. She taught that “you most often get what you pay for”. She liked to dress and go – I also like to go. Being retired the “dress” is not so important. Thank you for your writings – you touch my heart!

  2. sydney love says

    As I read this article this morning I sobbed. Sometimes you make me laugh and sometimes you make me cry and sometimes I do both at the same time. I have read you for many years and yes I feel like you are one of my closest friends. I did need just what you said this morning because lately I’m feeling that I don’t know where I belong or even if I do belong but when you gave that description of God taking my heart and whispering to me what He has called me to do I knew then that it is up to me to find where I belong and feeling as if I do belong. Thank you for being my friend even though we have never met and reminding me that God does have a plan for my life and it is an important plan no matter how old I may be.

  3. Roz Malone says

    Well, as always you touch my heart and inform my soul with your words–and with a laugh or two as frosting. The sermon yesterday at Mass was about giving thanks and about God sending each of us into the world as a gift to others–and they were sent as gifts to us–and we celebrate those gifts with gratitude. Your words capture that lesson so well.

  4. Pamela Thomason says

    I really enjoyed the column in today’s Anderson Independent Mail. The visual you created with your words -before you were born, when God knit you together…He took your tiny heart in His hand…inscribed on it your calling…is really beautiful. I hope I can remember this when I talk to my grown daughters, God gave them a plan before I even knew they were a part of me. I want them to hear and listen to that still small voice , so mine shouldn’t be the loud (with a southern accent) voice that covers it up.
    I look forward to Monday’s column every week. Sometimes I laugh, nod my head knowingly, and even she’d some tears.
    Obviously, you listened to that calling God whispered to your heart- thank you.
    Pamela Thomason
    Anderson, SC

  5. Marie Disselhorst says

    I think your shoes showed what you are all about. You accept whatever life hands you and God bless you for that.
    I have a little story to prove lots of people do that. I have a very good friend that is famous for wearing mismatched shoes. She went to a gathering of friends one day and she happen to notice that one of the friends there had on mismatched shoes. She looked around and they all had mismatched shoes. She was the only one that day that had matched shoes….she has lived life like you….making the best of what life hands her. Friends are priceless, aren’t they. I consider you a friend altho I’ve never met you. Love your articles.

  6. Ditto! You never fail to inspire me, dear friend. I can’t believe I’ve just had my 74th birthday, and I’m still vertical! Much slower, yes, but still moving, lol. My 5-yr-old dog Buster (a doxie-huahua, or chiweenie, take your pick) is my rock, my anchor, the light of my life, never failing to make me smile from “good morning, sweetie” all day long until “nite-nite Buster, have sweet doggie dreams, I love you.” While Buster keeps me going from day to day, you, dear Sharon, keep me going from week to week. 🙂 <3 <3 <3

  7. phyl spoon says

    I saw Alice Marie on Wed. at the meeting of an women’s group that we both belong to (oops forgive the ending a sentence with a preposition) – She looked right as Spring with her denim skirt and that fabulous head of hair! Oh, how I wish I had a 10th of it. I am hair challenged to say the least. I think I should get a discount from my hair dresser, as I only take a few minutes from shampoo, snip, snip to accomplish not very much – I’m out of the salon in 30 minutes. And, Alice always leads us in song at the beginning of the meeting- otherwise we would not make it as one voice.

    Best to Mark, Lynne and her brood.
    Phyllis and Bo

  8. Alice Marie from Tennessee / California says

    Hello, my dear. What would I do without your Tuesday letter, and the phone call I receive every Sunday at midnight from my best friend, Annemarie Ohlsson, from her desk in Jungby, Sweden. We met 25 years ago when my late husband and I went to Sweden to meet with both familie’s relatives. Considering the difference in our ages, now 62 and 92, it is unique that we still are in touch. She spent her vacation here in California again….her 16th trip! I love my own 2 daughters and their brother dearly, but Annemarie is my best friend.

    I’m doing very well but am having a difficult time accepting that old age has finally made me realize ….. what a wonderful life I have enjoyed so many years! I must admit I still want to : travel our country lanes on my bike, fix meals for a bunch of friends. As with you and the unmatched shoes, I limp and sometimes list but I have a beautiful cane that can stand alone! Came in a CARE package from my youngest daughter! I will keep going even if everything takes so much time. People are so kind to this elderly lady. You, RoseaSharon do such a wonderful favor for all who have the good fortune of hearing from you.


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