Write the book that you want to read. That is the adage drilled into writers. Today marks six months since Common Threads was published and over the last few months for me, that motto shifted from write the book you want to read, to write the book you will NEED to read.

As I share in my book, I always dreamed of writing more books after my children’s book Elizabeth and Stella Meet ZOE. However, Common Threads was not the next book I had envisioned writing at all.  From the day I brought my first child home from the hospital, I began to joke about writing a book. As a new Mom, on the days when I felt like I was nailing it as a parent (which were few and far between), I vowed to write a play book on the tricky art of mothering. This book, likely fueled by insane levels of caffeine, would contain mind-blowing information on how to rock this mom thing. The main purpose of this book was not so much to inspire others, but so I could read it the next day when I felt like a complete failure at the mom gig.

While Common Threads is not a parenting book, using my own book as a survival guide, came to fruition over the last six months. Nothing will hold your manuscript to the test like seeing if you can take your own advice. Initially after the book was published, I was on a high for the first three months. Like a mother laboring to deliver her child I had nurtured and birthed my book and it was a dream come true. I continue to be blown away by the connection that so many readers have felt to my writing. To me, it just demonstrates how many experiences we share but because we have no idea how much we have in common, we suffer in solitude.

I have enjoyed hosting beautiful conversations all over the state of NC around the book and normalizing conversations on mental health. Sadly, some of the most intense fallout from COVID are the mental health impacts. Common Threads and the conversations sparked by the book fill me with hope that strides will be made both here in the US and internationally to bring more awareness and resources for mental health.

In support of this global mental health effort, I recently returned from my third trip in ten months to Guatemala with Unearth Hope. Gleaning from years of service in rural Guatemala, a vision was cast to create a mobile medical clinic that could reach the most isolated communities. The images on social media, convey feelings of joy as we served that week. These are authentic moments shared with our in-country partners celebrating a goal we had all labored to see come to life.

But just like most images on social media, they don’t tell the story behind the story. Anytime you set a goal, there will challenges, however, this trip and the months that led up to it were about to give my previous challenges shared in my book, a real run for the money. If anyone should have known to cross check, place her seat in the upright position, and buckle her seatbelt, it should have been Melissa Harrell.

One of the chapters that I had the most fun writing in Common Threads, was on my dad. I share my memories created with him growing up in the heart of NASCAR country. In addition to stock car racing, my dad and I shared another classic NC bond; college basketball. Even though neither of us ever played the sport, as the chill of winter crept in, we were ready for all things college basketball.

On many Saturday afternoons you’d find us screaming at a square metal box, with full conviction that players and referees could hear our expert suggestions and coaching. As I reflect on the days leading up to my most recent trip to Guatemala and the successful launch of the mobile clinic, I feel it can best be illustrated by a college basketball play by play announcer. Just imagine Dick Vitale in the NCAA tournament and the mood will be set. It would go something like this:

It’s going to be awesome baby! We are going to Guatemala, baby!

Harrell takes the court; she has the ball and less than 72 hours’ notice to pack for an international service trip. 

Fans, there is no doubt that Harrell is feeling the pressure today. 

She pivots and packs knowing the possibility of hurricane Julia will likely impact her area of travel. 

Harrell, a former FEMA employee, knows this is probably not a good idea, but she proceeds anyway.

Fans, I am not sure whether it is grit or sheer insanity that drives this player, but you have to give her credit for her effort. 

She dribbles down the court with only 7 hours of sleep in the last 48 hours which earns her an initial foul. 

Harrell is an aggressive player which often leads her into early foul trouble. 

With the clock running, she arrives at the airport at dark thirty (AKA 3:30am) 

Twenty team bags full of medical supplies checked, and it’s time to board the plane. Harrell cannot find her passport and is almost ejected from the game. On a wild pass, her teammate saves the day and she remains in the game. 

Oh, look out, Harrell is slammed by a defender with an oversized carryon bag, that’s an intentional foul so she gets 3 shots

Harrell steps up to the foul line for 3 shots, folks, her free throw percentage this year is barely 50%, let’s see how her luck goes today 

Shot one is good: Flight one to Atlanta, Shot two is good: Flight two to Guatemala City, Shot three is no good with a 6-hour BUMPY bus ride, as the driver skillfully works around mudslides and damaged roads 

 18 hours later, half time is called, and she crashes into bed 

Feeling rested after half time, Harrell with a full court press awakes with her team to prep supplies for the launch of the clinic on Monday

 Hurricane Julia is boxing out all offensive moves and not making it easy for Harrell and her team as hurricane Julia invited herself right into the paint for a direct hit

 Time out is called by the team and intense discussion proceeds: Should we stay? Should we go? How will we get out? Plan A,  Plan B, Plan Z anyone? 

Frustration sets in and with four fouls Harrell benches herself. Fans, I don’t know how they get a win out of this one. With only seconds left on the clock it is going to take a miracle.

We pause for a commercial break.

At this point, I wish that this was just a game, but this was literally life and death for us, and for the people we came to serve.  I am asking myself for the thousandth time, “Why do I keep doing this to myself? Why can nothing go as planned?” Feelings of defeat and sadness overcome me…I just want to go home.

These feelings of defeat and sadness were easily triggered because these weren’t the first challenges that had almost sidelined this trip over the last few months. Challenges that had sent me back to read my own book, but often finding more questions than comfort. Where was this resilient woman in these pages? How can I ever feel that level of hope again? Really, God? Why me again? Why my children? Challenges that reawakened my PTSD to some of the most crippling levels I have ever experienced. Challenges that felt unbelievable on the heels of my recent traumas. Challenges that repeatedly left me face to face with my old nemesis, death, and the calls that no mother ever wants to receive.

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Melissa Collins Harrell Author

Read more about Melissa C. Harrell and her work. She is the author of Common Threads: Why the Answers to the Present Lie in the Past.