Gratitude. It’s what’s for dinner.

19 years ago this summer, my life was saved by gratitude.  Sound dramatic?  It’s not.  I was suicidal.  Years of trying to please everybody came to a head when the important people in my life created an impasse they couldn’t resolve, forcing me to take a side.  Have an opinion. Oh, help.  (Why can’t we all just get along?)  Of course, I’m oversimplifying.  This blog isn’t about other people’s problems, but they were big and they were real.  It would take me years to realize that the problem was mine.  Living to please others isn’t just unhealthy; it’s actually impossible.

But I was young, sincere and ignorant.  Gratitude stepped in when knowledge and sophistication weren’t available.  In the depths of a very dark depression, I found that I could choose sanity.  One day at a time.  Find one thing to be grateful for.  Like, “I can breathe today.”  Sometimes that’s all there was.

“I have shoes.”

“Look at the sky.”

“My kids are healthy.”  (Or, “my kids are alive.”)

It saved my life.  One step at a time I walked out of depression, and I haven’t been suicidal almost 17 years now.

My life is dramatically different these days, but gratitude is such a simple thing.  It can nourish a soul.  Protect a mind.

Just thought I would share.  Blessings to you all.


Teach Them To Be….Sane

Reprinted from a message to the class of 1983, by yours truly.

Valedictorian’s Update:  “What we didn’t know”


You may remember that thirty years and a few months ago, on the HHS football field, I was privileged to give a short speech. (Maybe you remember it; maybe you don’t.  You may have had other things on your mind that night.  But I remember it, because, well, I had to do it.)


I said it was the end of an era for us.  And it was.  I thanked our parents, our teachers, and the community.  And that was right.


But what you may not know is that it was not the speech I had planned to give.  The school and district censored that one.   It was too offensive.


You may remember me, if you knew me, as a girl who did extremely well in school.  After all, that was why I got to give that little speech.  What you may not know is why I did it.  Living just around the corner from the Atascosita Country Club, I grew up in a beautiful home ravaged by poverty and abuse.  I knew, quite simply, that a free ride to college was my only way out of a very bad situation.  Straight A’s weren’t a matter of pride; they were a matter of survival.


I have since learned that abuse affects 1 in 4 American women.  Every social class; every income level.  Many of you have also experienced it, in varying ways, if the statistics are correct.


You may also remember me, if you knew me, as a religious person.  You would be right.  Through faith, and by the grace of God, we saw God move during our high school days.  The Christian Student Union and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes banded together.  We busted through high school cliques on purpose, making friends where barriers had been before.  We saw hardened hearts melt; unbelievers we never thought would want to know God soften towards Him.


What you may not know, is that in 1999, at the age of 35, I became an atheist.  I spent 7 long years questioning God, reality, everything.  If that seems out of character, you need to know that the patterns of my childhood led me to an abusive church my junior year in college.  By the time I figured out what was going on, I had dropped out of college and had 5 children—in 7 years.  I was exhausted, depressed, and…yeah, abused.  It can be embarrassing to admit.  How does a smart girl end up as a doormat for a controlling pastor?


Depression doesn’t do it justice; in 1995 I began fighting for my sanity.  Maybe you haven’t been there yet, but life can unbalance you.  Especially if your early programming isn’t completely healthy.


The road back was complicated.  I had to find out who I was, while my husband did the same.  Miraculously, we stayed together.  We had to undo the first 5 years of parenting our children, and find ways to empower them, to help them be healthier young adults than we had been.  Had to find out why God lets bad things happen to sincere people.


And, on top of it all, I realized that my identity included finishing my dream of becoming a physician.  My amazing spouse and kids put me through medical school, after a 5-year fight for sanity, which, by the grace of God, I achieved.  (At least, I think so.)


So I’ve missed a few reunions.  I was sort of busy; what with being a cult member, then depressed, and then a medical student….  It is so good to be here now.  So wonderful to see everybody.  I am grateful to be alive, to be with other people, to be sane.


Maybe your life hasn’t turned out exactly like you planned, either.  If not, you are not alone.  But there is hope.  Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned.”  Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death.”  But Romans 10:13 says that, “anybody who calls on the Lord will be saved.”  I like that word.  Anybody.  Anybody can pray: Father, we do believe that Jesus died on the cross for us, that he rose again.  We give you our lives, all over again.  And we ask for your help.


Carrie Slaughter DeLeon reminded me, a few months ago, of another speech from high school.  This one was from an election for freshman class officers.  I’d like to paraphrase.  If you give your life to Jesus, just like Scrubbing Bubbles, he’ll “do all the work, so you don’t have to!”  And when you do, you’ll be so excited that “you’ll tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends, and so on, and so on…and so on.”  But I digress.


Bruce Springsteen called high school the “Glory Days.”  I disagree.  At Humble High School, they were wonderful days.  At home not so much.  But whether your youth was good, bad, or mixed like mine, I believe with all my heart that our best days can still be ahead of us. It just keeps getting better, if we let him heal and help us, and lead us along the way.


Thank you for taking the time to read this.  Thank you for being my friends.  Thank you for not pushing, in high school, when I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my family’s problems.


And most of all, I would like to say, right here, what I wasn’t allowed to say at our graduation in 1983.  THANK YOU, JESUS, for all you have done to help and heal us.


Don’t stop believin’…


Karen VanMatre Smith, M Ed, MD

Depression/abuse survivor



Wife of 25 years

Mother of 5

Member of the HHS Class of 1983


Girls and their Dreams


(Titus, v. 4, ch. 2)

Dreams.  Visions.  Prophecies…we experience them all our Christian lives.  Some of us in deep, dreamy spiritual ways; others more practical.  But we all have goals, dreams and God-given aspirations.  Ephesians 2:10 says that God prepared good works for us to walk in, and the Holy Spirit is very interested in our fulfilling them, whatever our personal style.

So, why, in a world created and designed by God, and full of His people, do so many Christians lead lives of “quiet desperation?”  Why do so many dreams remain unfulfilled?  Last year I made a firm commitment to myself:  I don’t want to leave this earth a sweet old lady whose God-given vision was relegated to the status of daydream.  I want to go out swinging, taking chunks of Satan’s army down with me, and saving lives in the process.

Personally, I like evangelism.  Like Steve Camp, “I want to run a mission/ A yard from the gates of hell.”  I like talking to real people, and having a part in helping them connect (or re-connect) with God.  (Sometimes the reconnecting is the more challenging…)  I want to take it a step further and storm the gates of hell, rescuing all who are willing to be free.  I want to cross the lines of culture, race, age and language to make an impact for the Gospel.  Like a quote I heard at church this week, I want to be “the Bride of Christ, dressed in white…WITH ARMY BOOTS on.”

This is not something new for me.  It has been my God-given vision since I was 7.  It has been partially fulfilled through real-life witnessing at work and on the street, through ministry at my local church.  But I know there’s more out there for me.  So what’s the holdup?

Part of it is that along the way I decided to marry and have a family.  Hey, this is a Titus 2 column.  We can talk about this.  Raising 5 kids is tough if Mom is on the road all the time.  It was tough enough just to do medical school and residency while raising them.  And, while I have the most supportive husband on the planet, he needs a little care and feeding himself.

The cool thing, in my life, is that that season is drawing to a close.  Oh, my kids will always be my kids, and I will move heaven and earth to be there for them.  But my days of little league, soccer and ballet are numbered (until the grandkids start coming…) So, now I get to decide.  Is the dream real?  It is worth reaching for?  Even more radical, is it worth taking real-life, actual steps toward?

My answer is an unequivocal YES, LORD.  I will be a wife as long as we both live; I will likely be a mother all of my days.  It is also likely, with 5 kids, that I will be a grandmother one day.  But it’s time to move on my God-given dreams.  To that end, I am taking small, measurable, real-life steps.  I enrolled in online Bible classes.  I am expanding the scope of my medical practice.  I am getting out of debt; I am working on my health.  I am taking every opportunity at work and at church to develop as a leader.

My point?  It’s never too late to start fulfilling your God-given assignment.  If you’re not sure what it is, go back to the last unfulfilled thing He directed you to do.  Pick up the trail.  It’s worth it.  A plaque at our office says, “It’s never too late to live happily ever after.”  For me, that means serving God all out.  And when this sweet little old lady leaves the earth, it will be said, “Wow!  She really kicked Satan’s b___.”  Amen.