A Burning Heart

A Burning Heart

By: Susan Schiller

The neon green spiral-bound notebook was nearly full of tiny hand-printed text and cartoon pictures. On the pale green pages spilled out the courageous story of an orphan girl escaping the clutches of a tryannical orphanage director. After many laborious days of penning chapters and illustrations, the final page gratefully appeared and I wrote: THE END. It was electrifying!

I was eleven years old and to this day I remember the exhilaration of fanning the pages of "my very own book". I was an author! And all authors needed readers, so after many days of scribbling away in my secret notebook, I excitedly announced to my family that my book was finished. Eagerly, I anticipated their reaction for what I considered to be a harrowing story of high adventure, heroic courage, and a happy ending.

Their rejection puzzled me. Not because the story was awful, but because not a single family member would read the first page. A few days later, my notebook was lying on the coffee table (just in case someone might want to read it), flipped to the back cover. In ink that could never be erased, someone had written in BIG, bold letters: "Susan – goody-two-shoes Susan!"

It's normal family growing pains, and I know I've made my share of mistakes in every relationship I've had. Why is it important to tell these stories? Because they are turning points in our lives. They are times when we made decisions that wrote our future. In returning to those stories, we can "edit" them in order to break the cycles and to create our world, by taking personal responsibility for our choices today. It keeps the fire burning in our hearts.

It never occurred to me the cost of a burning heart, of letting that inner light glow. Did the world have to be so competitive? I wasn't trying to be better than anyone else; there was just something burning hot in me that would explode like lava boiling up out of a volcano if I didn't write!

Maybe that was why my dad quit drawing? My father was a busy private pilot, but I often accompanied him to the airport and flew with him. A quiet man, my dad read a lot of books. Like most little girls I idolized my dad and with good reason – he was brilliant!

When I was a teenager, my dad died, and my mom shared more of his story with me. I discovered that my dad had multiple creative urges, including being a ballet dancer. She also pulled out a box and showed me his drawings. He had amazing talent! It was my dad who taught me how to play his gleaming cherry wood Hammond Organ. He could make the pedals and keys dance and the whole house vibrated with the swelling beats and rhythms! I tried my best to play just like him.

My dad and I were close, because we shared the same passions. He treated me like a little adult, instead of a child, and I liked that. I was given mature books for a young child to read: "The Grapes of Wrath", "The Brothers Karamazov", etc. and I loved the challenge! We had a library upstairs filled with Shakespeare and other classical literature. I hungrily devoured everything, but my absolute favorite was the the New Yorker Magazine, bound into a large hardcover volume. My dad had a whole series and I had carefully studied every cartoon. Pencil in hand, I meticulously copied the cartoons, dozens of them. Soon I was creating exact replicas of the cartoons and my collection grew, all penciled on cheap children's art paper.

There was a door in our house where all the "good" school papers were displayed. My younger sister and brothers and I each had our work taped to that door. So I began taping my best cartoon drawings to the door.

Every child wants to shine. "Look at me!" is the call of every child's heart. "Look what I can do!"  Identity is formed in those early years. As a child explores her world she discovers her passions and what she wants to spend the rest of her life being and doing. Her self-esteem grows or shrinks in correlation to her parents' response to her efforts.

My family rejected my cartoon drawings, even though I had won a prize when I entered one of my drawings in a newspaper contest. The prize was art lessons. My parents forbade me to accept the prize. So I quit writing and I quit drawing. It was like the shutters closed on the windows of my heart, one subtle rejection at a time, and I began to shrink from challenges and to aim for "acceptable".

Band class was acceptable. I transferred my passion to music, playing flute and piccolo. My band director took me aside one day and told me, "Sue, you're a natural and have enough talent for a career as a flautist in a symphony, if you want to. You'll need to begin taking private lessons right away." By then, my parents had both agreed to ignore any of my achievements, so it was no use to bother them with my band director's suggestion.

My dad had already provided the explanation to me at age 12, saying, "Susie, your younger brothers and sister are having a hard time catching up to you. Your mom and I aren't going to notice your grades or your awards anymore. It's all for the best, honey."

That conversation burned a new hole in my heart, and from that day onward all creativity was poured into that hole and flushed like a toilet. As my passion for life began to shrink, so did my social life. I retreated into a shell. For all intensive purposes, I floated through high school as a ghost. Something was wrong with me, I thought, and it seemed incurable. My light had been gradually extinguished.

In the gray shadows of my ghost-life, I made vows and decisions that were to chart my life's course. I began to be and do only what was acceptable. I was desperate to be included in my family, to be needed! So I cooked, cleaned, and did twice as necessary. I knitted, crocheted, and sewed. When my dad died, at age 17, my mom went to work full-time and I became the second mom. I carried the weight of the household while she transitioned into being a single parent of four teens, paying the bills. But the hole in my heart kept widening, like a hungry monster devouring my soul.

Going to college was acceptable, so I went. The only class I remember well was a Children's Literature class. Madeleine L'Engle was a featured speaker. Our final class project was to create a hand-bound illustrated children's book. Maybe it's the only class that I remember, because it was the only class that ignited my passion!

Who are the people who have most changed the world? It's not the "acceptable" people-pleasing ones, no. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich is credited with saying, "Seldom do well-behaved women make history."

The artist's way runs an opposite course to reason and logic. I's a higher road – a harder, steeper path. It's paved with rejection and abandonment, obstacles that can be turned into steps carrying us higher and faster… or tripping us up.

Albert Einstein is an example of a creative who was bold enough to take a stand, to quit school at age 15. He was fed up with school because it stifled his imagination with all the objective assignments, which mainly included rote memorization. He had the courage to use the steps to climb. I, however, got tripped up.

The gift of fantasy has meant more to me than any talent for abstract, positive thinking. ― Albert Einstein

What would the world be like if more young men and women were released from the prison of "acceptable" into their unique destinies? If someone had read my first book or if I had been allowed to take the art or flute lessons, how would my life be different today? What gift would I have had to give to the world, I wonder…

Fast forward to 2013 with Story 101 and Elora Ramirez. I arrived in class with broken wings. I had good intentions of completing my memoir before the end of the 10-weeks, but instead I rediscovered my true identity. I am a writer. I want to write children's books that ignites the fire in their hearts!  Within the healing environment of Story 101, I encountered a company of women just like me… artists who have been broken, damaged, and wounded. And we helped to re-ignite each other's fires. We fanned the flames of creativity. We took flight.

"The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire," writes Ferdinand Foch.

I want to be on fire, do you? It's hard to write stories that we are afraid may hurt someone we love. Because of that we keep our past buried. "Just move on, there's good up ahead!" may sound like good advice, but not unless you have faced your past and reckoned with it, gleaning the golden treasure from your history to invest it into your future!

I love my family very much and I have no regrets… but I want to turn it around and make something good come of it. It simply begins by bringing it to the light, by remembering who I am. Each of us can do this, with enough grace so that we can fly.

I wonder if we will have the courage, as parents and teachers and leaders of all kinds, to give our children wings to soar. Can we set the stage for new geniuses, like Albert Einstein, to take their place in creating unique solutions to global problems?

Family is the backbone of society. What do we do with the children that don't fit in the traditional mold? I believe there are solutions, and that the very children who don't fit the molds will be the ones to discover the new ways, if we release them to soar!

What do you think? I'd love to hear about your experience!

My Full Story     What I Believe    Contact Me

With all my love,


Susan Schiller knows how it feels to lose everything: marriage and family, church and reputation, finances and businesses, and more. Susan's upcoming, interactive memoir, "On the Way Home," tells the story of how she came to be known as "the most abused woman" her counselors had yet met and how she learned to navigate to freedom and fullness.  
Today Susan helps people write their life stories, unearthing the treasures of their past and sowing them into their future, creating new family legacies.

Copyright © 2010 to 2015 Team Family Online, All rights reserved.   For reprint permission or for any private or commercial use, in any form of media, please contact Susan Schiller


{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Cyn Rogalski August 1, 2013 at 2:04 pm

I remember, in what we called Jr high, my mom told me I MUST take a typing class & steno, so “I’d have something to fall back on.” I wanted to go to VoTech for art, but my big brother told me I’d better not-he was part of our HS’s 1st graduating class & he worked hard to make our name mean something in that High School ( I still don’t know what that was about!) My art got pushed away time after time, yet here I am, using my gift for His Glory! No wonder I feel a kindred Spirit with you!


Susan Schiller August 1, 2013 at 2:10 pm

Oh Cyn…. yes, I feel we are kindred spirits! It’s never too late, really 🙂

Thanks so much for sharing – I hope to hear more and more of your story!


jeanne costello July 30, 2013 at 10:16 am

Thank you so much Susan for sharing about your dad and the fun and also the rejection time after time as you triied your wings. So sad but so real! I know you are amazingly talented and you have so much to share and give. I think because of all our painful journeys we had to draw closer to God just for survival and that's what makes us so diverse in our gifts. He increases as we decrease. I definitely know that I know that you are a writer, it's like breathing to you…so natural. Your last paragraph really has me searching my heart about my children. They are all gifted in so many ways and are not walking in their calling I think. Something needs to change. After they find the Lord, I think it might become a little easier in that way. I have one saved, the other 2 are talking a journey away from God it looks like. I have had that on my heart. My parents saw the artist in me and signed me up for art school and I'll forever be grateful.




Susan Schiller July 30, 2013 at 10:27 am

We have so much in common, Jeanne, and that makes like fun… with enough diversity to enjoy the differences, too. In my own experience, I’ve found that many “saved” people are just as lost and in the dark as the “unsaved” so it gives me so much relief to have learned to entrust everyone to a God who loves and cherishes them so much greater than I do. He held onto my hand, even when I was losing my faith. He was faithful, even when I was not. So I trust Him so much more… with everyone, especially my children.

What parents don’t make huge mistakes, you know? I believe it all boils down to Grace…. His grace alone sustains us. Apart from Him we can do nothing. My parents may have missed out on a few opportunities to encourage me, but there are a thousand other things they’ve done to help me to fly. I wish I could credit them with everything, but the first and foremonst, is that they loved me with all of their hearts, in the way and measure of love that they knew. They protected me in the ways and measures they knew. They provided for me, likewise…. they made me who I am today, and I’m grateful.

I hope your children “find themselves” sooner than I did, Jeanne… I know they have a deep treasure of Love in both you and David. I know they are prayed over and loved every day, and it shows!!! What a great and merciful God we have who brings beauty out of ashes…. who actually harnesses our weaknesses to cause us to become strong.

We can be grateful for everything, n’est pas? I hope I got that little bit of French right! 🙂


Gertraud Walters July 30, 2013 at 9:39 am

Be ye not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your own mind.

Reading this makes me realize that it is only by the grace of God that we have come to live in the present time. Susan it's never ever too late to do what God has pre ordained for your life. Every Morning we get a new chance.

Have you ever wondered why you went through such a  disempowering experience in your Life? God could easily have preventet  it by his power. We all need to dissect those Experiences  and use the findings to conquer the next battle. You surely are a Writer and you do touch Lives by what you do.

Thank you .



Susan Schiller August 20, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Wise words, Gertraud – spoken from a gracious soul – thanks!


Yetunde July 30, 2013 at 3:44 am


Of only you had been encouraged to develop those gifts, if only. I am happy that the gifts, though subdued, were not extinguished. You are such a powerful and deep writer.  The bible says everything hidden shall be exposed.( I believe that also applies to the hidden positive things also). Now we see and appreciate your gift.

I was not very reative as a child or so I thought. I loved writing and reading. I wrote a few plays as a child, gave them personally to a director but nothing came out of it.  Perhaps if I had asked one of my parents to give it to them, my parents might have pursued it.

Creativity for me was making things with one's hands e.g. kniiting, sewing, weaving. I did not realise until I came back to Britain that writing could be creative.  As a child I was always creating stories in my head.

Now as an adult and having had time to reflect while I was ill, I found that writng was a creative streak in me.

I believe in encouraging children to be creative but only in their own area. _ No stress, no force.


Thank you once again Susan, for such a thought provoking article. So, WRITE ON, dear one.


Susan Schiller July 30, 2013 at 6:02 am

Dear Yetunde,

It’s lovely to hear more of your story.  I believe all children have natural creativity,  made in our Creator’s image. I don’t have all of the solutions, but like Sharon said here, we all do our best. There’s so much grace in God, and hopefully we can extend that grace to others, and most of all, to ourselves. To give ourselves grace is the hardest taks of all, it seems.

I appreciate your encouraging words, and it’s a delight to see you spreading your wings and flying on the wings of words, Yetunde! I’m glad we have had this chance to fly together for a little while – blessings!


Sharon O'Day July 29, 2013 at 5:56 pm

I keep reminding myself that "parents are doing the best they know how" when I hear stories like yours.  Clipping your wings in order not to outshine the others.  Discouraging less usual skills so as to remain more "normal" and marry-able perhaps?  In short, I doubt any of them said, "Gee, let me do this because it will really mess her life up …"  But, as the old Red Cross advertisement said:  "Babies ought to come with instructions!"  Beautifully told, Sue!


Susan Schiller July 29, 2013 at 7:16 pm

When I think of how many mistakes I’ve unintentionally made with my own children, Sharon, I’m only the more impressed with how they’ve thrived, despite what could have held them back. I’m grateful to both my mom and dad – they mean the world to me! They really did do their best – an excellent job. there’s so much I could share that is positive and awesome…. but this part of my story was a definite turning point, and a key to how the future turned out, for me.

Thanks so much for sharing in my ongoing story, Sharon! 🙂


Caleigh July 27, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Susan, this is wonderful. I'm so glad you have rediscovered yourself and are boldly accepting who you are. How your parents treated you makes me mad. Even though I'm not that far out from my own parents doing that to me, I am grateful as well to have encountered all of the women in Story Sessions as well. <3


Susan Schiller July 27, 2013 at 2:51 pm

Hi there Caleigh!

These are the kind of stories that are hardest to write, because I dearly love and cherish my family. I’m grateful in so many ways for each member of my family. But I’ve buried emotions from those years so deeply inside of me that it’s like a toxic waste dump today. Fibromyalgia has claimed almost every part of my body, and I know it’s simply buried emotions. Emotions are chemicals.

You, Caleigh, have given me courage and strength to continue sharing my story. And maybe as all of us gain more freedom this fire of love will burn even wider, igniting more hearts to come out into the beautiful Light…. to live naked and unashamed, like in the Garden of Eden.

Thanks so much for reading and sharing, Caleigh!


marvia July 27, 2013 at 2:31 pm


You have a beautiful way with words, and your story reminds me of my father too – so many hidden talents gone untapped, and here I am doing the same.  The time for standin in shadows is over.  Now more than ever is a great time to be, to live, and to do.  And indeed we really do need "parents and teachers and leaders of all kinds, to give our children wings to soar."  It matters how we teacher children to live their stories.  It matters so much because it is the crux of who they are and who they choose to become based on the initial feedback we sow into their lives as they begin to grow and develop.  Thank you for this and for blowing fire on the embers of our lives.  I'll be sharing.  It's worth it!


Susan Schiller July 27, 2013 at 2:53 pm

Oh Marvia, thanks so much! I know you have such a huge, teacher’s heart to empower children to be and do all that God has put in their hearts. We need many more people like you to wake up, to rise up, to shine!

Thank you so much for reading and sharing!


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