September’s Book To Live By

The first tower was struck at 8:46 a.m. on September 11, 2001. It was a day that forever changed America.

The nation continues to deal with the widespread aftermath, and we spend each September 11 in solemn commemoration. This year marks the 20th anniversary.

In 2001, Andrea Raynor volunteered her services and became chaplain at the morgue at Ground Zero. As she expresses it, the job was “shouldering the responsibility of standing in for a wounded and grieving nation.”

We are so blessed to have Andie as a member of our Women on Fire circle. She is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School and former hospice chaplain. She continues to minister to those who survive the unthinkable as a spiritual and bereavement counselor.

Andie is also a brilliant author.

It is with pride and admiration that I share as our September Book To Live By:

Reflections of Grace: Finding Hope at Ground Zero by Andrea Raynor.


In 2009, Andie compiled a collection of essays titled The Voice That Calls You Home: Inspiration for Life’s Journeys. In it, she shares the wisdom and compassion she has gained from her experiences, including her own battle with cancer.

She reminds us that even our darkest days are a space to find beauty, courage, hope, and forgiveness.

This year, the chapters relating to September 11 are being republished as Reflections of Grace: Finding Hope at Ground Zero. The book features a gorgeous and heartfelt new introduction by Andie.

Because of the anniversary, there are an even larger number of projects this year re-examining the momentous event. Those seeking new perspectives include Spike Lee, the American film director and screenwriter. He has created a four-part series for HBO called NYC Epicenters: 9/11 —> 2021½. We see Andie in the third part with more from the interview to come in the final episode, which will be broadcast on Saturday, September 11.

Reflections of Grace and Andie’s other books — Incognito: Lost and Found at Harvard Divinity School; A Light on the Corner: Discovering the Sacred in the Everyday; The Alphabet of Grief: Words to Help in Times of Sorrow — are available on Amazon and at bookstores everywhere.

I highly recommend all these wise and beautiful books. And I congratulate our Women on Fire sister for her amazing accomplishments.

To our shared and cherished memories,

Debbie Signature

P.S. Every day at Women on Fire, we offer expert advice, useful strategies, and woman-to-woman support. If you are not yet a member, please consider joining us today!

She’s a Woman on Fire! Meet Sherrerd Hartness

Welcome back to our ongoing series to introduce you to each other.  She’s a Woman on Fire! member and we want you to know her.  Please say hello to… 

Sherrerd Hartness is a Woman on Fire-

Sherrerd Hartness

Greenville, S.C.

WOF member: #00257

Member since:  December 20, 2013

Please tell us about YOU, your family and your work. What you are “on fire” about? 

I am the mother of two fantastic sons who are now grown up and out on their own. Since 1988, I have worked for myself in interior design. Juggling children and trying to work whenever I could took a lot of time and energy. Now I am ready to grow my business, invest in myself and conquer my fears.

I am on fire about expanding my business. In addition to that, I have a coffee table book I want to create. Part of the proceeds will benefit Habitat for Humanity, so stay tuned!

Also, my friend and Woman on Fire Nancy Neal’s husband, Tom, has asked me to raise $300,000 for a documentary he is co-producing on James Jamerson, the legendary bass player who was on more recordings than the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Beach Boys combined. I bet all of you can hum the bass line to “My Girl” right now! I have never done anything like this before, but the more I learn, the more fired up I am. Bring it on!

How did you originally connect to Women on Fire?

Last summer, I had the most fantastic intern, Emily Neal, who is the daughter of Nancy Neal, and granddaughter of Marge Snyder, a co-author in Women on Fire, Volume 2. Emily had interned during the summer of 2012 for Women on Fire, and she kept talking about Debbie Phillips and Meredith Schoenberger when she was working for me.

I went on Amazon and bought Women on Fire, Volume 1, and then signed up for the newsletter. A few months later, I became a member. When I read about the retreat, I thought, “I may not know anyone, but I’m going to attend. I’m sure I will find some people I like.” And, boy did I! Now I would use the words like and love!

What’s your favorite component of the Women on Fire membership?

What do I like best about Women on Fire? My answer is EVERYTHING! The support is pretty mind-blowing!

What is your favorite part of the day?

I love to start my day early, at 6:00 to 6:30 a.m., with a cup of coffee and quiet time in my reading room. My black-and-white kitty, Mowgli, usually spends this time with me, which I think is super sweet.

I light a candle and often put on headphones and listen to a guided imagery or a meditation. Sometimes, I use a Hemi-Sync CD. The Uplift Meditation by John Selby is also a favorite of mine. I have been saying the beautiful prayer that Kristine Carlson shared during her interview with Debbie Phillips: “Divine love, play me as an instrument in your finely tuned orchestra of life.”

I also love late afternoon and dusk when the world is slowing down again.

What was the last book you read that you would recommend to other Women on Fire?

Incognito by Andrea Raynor and First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung (I am about halfway through). I am also wild about all of Malcolm Gladwell’s books.

What is the one thing you’re most proud of?

I am most proud of my two wonderful, kind and fun sons. I am also proud of myself.

It has taken me more than 50 years to realize and own that most people who have experienced what I have in my life — the murder of my sister; the loss of my older brother to AIDS; the dysfunctional, cruel and neglectful home life I grew up in; and an abusive marriage — would end up bitter and angry. I still believe in my fellow human beings, and even though there have been decades filled with dark days, I remain optimistic most of the time.

The counselor who encouraged me to stand up for myself during my divorce told me that I am a Miracle. A psychologist who helped me deal with the heartbreaking events in my family told me the same thing. And the staff psychiatrist at the hospital where I took my mother before she died told me, “It is amazing you are the person you are.” My friends have been telling me this for a long time. And finally, I am starting to realize the truth in these words.

Share a special Women-on-Fire moment or experience.

The retreat in Naples, Fla., as well as phone conversations with my new friends were special. I’m excited that Woman on Fire Andrea Raynor spoke at my 113-year-old book club. I’m sure this list will grow and grow!

Name another Women on Fire who has inspired you and tell why?

That’s easy—EVERYBODY! When I think about Debbie’s dream to form Women on Fire, and that it has become a reality, it really knocks my socks off!

What’s your big dream?

My big dream has two parts: On the business side, I want to expand and do more vacation homes and sell my upcoming coffee table book. Personally, I want to meet a wonderful, genuine, kind, brilliant and fun man who will see me for who I am and not be afraid of the hard things that have happened in my life.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced? How did you overcome it?

Most of my life has been extreme with challenges, and it has been very fear-based. The biggest challenges have been the murder of my little sister, the death of my brother, a household where we were scared to do anything wrong when we were growing up, and an abusive and destructive marriage.

How did I overcome all this? Believe me, there have been plenty of times when I wanted to just give up —to go to sleep and not wake up. My journey has been lots of little steps forward and sometimes many steps backward, and then finally getting stronger and learning, little by little, to stand up for myself.

Since the Women on Fire retreat, I am telling my story, a little at a time. I believe and know that things are now changing in me and for me.

If you had the opportunity to teach a child one strategy that would help to guide her life, what would that be?

I am going to quote Woman on Fire Terri Cole here because her answer resonated so much with me: “Be mindful that, most of the time, fear is just a feeling. Use fear to inform your decisions rather than to dominate them.” I sure wish I had learned this in grammar school.

If you had an unexpected free day, how would you spend it?

I would go on a long trail ride on a really nice horse. I grew up riding and still love it! Sitting outside and reading would be pretty sweet too!

What is your favorite city in the world?

New York!

What is something that we might be surprised to learn about you?

I took off my junior year of college and traveled as a cast member in the Up With People show. My cast traveled more than 90,000 miles that year and toured the western United States and Florida, Canada, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama and Mexico.

I lived with more than 80 host families and stayed in houses ranging from a shack with a dirt floor in Panama City to the home of the CEO of a large international company. I stayed in an orphanage on an Indian Reservation in British Columbia and a house on the plains of Wyoming where the wind whipped through the cracks in the exterior boards.

My cast mates were from many U.S. states and about 16 foreign countries. What an education and what an organization!

I love to throw a football, and I have a pretty good spiral! Usually, you can find a football in the trunk of my car in case one of my friends’ sons will throw with me. Once I got a porter from a hotel in Charleston to throw with me out in the street. It was a blast!

Name the women who have influenced your life and what you’ve learned from each.

My godmother, Rick Ravenel, in Charleston, S.C., and Susan Boyd, my second mother, in Columbia, S.C., have shown me unconditional love and support. They are AWESOME. I wish you all could know them.

Who cheers you on?

My Women on Fire sisters cheer me on, as well as the women I mentioned above. My wonderful counselor, Marla Libby, has been invaluable, for sure! I call counseling “Life 101,” and I think everyone should be required to take it!

What is your go-to self-care strategy?

It is a composite of various things: long walks, swimming laps, eating lots of fresh veggies and fruits, quiet time to go within, and sleep. Being with friends for something fun is important to me too, and I am working on incorporating more fun into my life.

When you reflect on your life so far, what are the first words that comes to your mind?

Fear be gone! My time is NOW!

More about Sherrerd Hartness…

Sherrerd, who has a B.A. in studio art from Converse College, established Sherrerd Hartness Interiors in Greenville, S.C., in 1988. She creates beautiful and livable spaces using inspiration from nature, and strives in every design to protect the world by focusing on both home and environment.

Sherrerd has begun to share the story of her sister’s murder in 1977, including the additional trauma of the high-profile execution of the murderers. She believes that there is more to a person’s life than the way they died and seeks to celebrate her sister’s life. She also hopes that, by sharing her experiences, she can support and encourage others who might feel lost and overcome by their circumstances.

She has spent much the last few years caring for the needs of her elderly parents. She volunteers with the Junior League of Greenville, S.C..

You are welcome to say hello to her at Visit her website,, which was designed by Woman on Fire Emily Neal.

She’s a Woman on Fire! features are compiled by senior writer Becky Adams. 

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March Book Of The Month

Welcome to Books To Live By! Our book choice for this month highlights one of our very own Women on Fire members.

Not only is this woman a beautiful writer and accomplished author, she is a dear friend and many of you know her.

In her newest book, Andrea Raynor will open up your heart and spirit to a new conversation between faith and identity that is sure to gratify your soul.

Our March selection is….

Incognito: Lost and Found at Harvard Divinity School (amazon link) by Andrea Raynor

Rev. Andrea Raynor received her Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School and was the Hospice chaplain at Ground Zero in the aftermath of September 11. She is a breast cancer survivor and also authored of one of my all-time favorite grief books— The Voice That Calls You Home: Inspiration For Life’s Journeys.

I’ve mentioned here before how Andie’s life and work has inspired my own journey, and her latest story has the power to do the same for you.

In this book, you’ll ride along with a bright young woman from Ohio as she embarks on a journey of faith that will take you back to the 80’s and behind the scenes at one of our most esteemed institutions in the country. Andie intimately shares her story of navigating the challenges, stereotypes and assumptions that follow women in the church.

With humor and penetrating awareness, she exposes the struggles she encountered with society’s beliefs, with dating, and with the religious institutions.

Incognito is a beautiful, coming-of-age story that will stay with you. Through Andie’s honest disclosures we are reminded that you don’t have to always know or have the right answers to lead your life in a deeply significant direction.

I hope reading Incognito rekindles your spirit as it did mine!

As always, I look forward to hearing about your own insights and awarenesses from exploring Incognito’s richness.

Happy reading!

Who are you the champion for?

Happy birthday, Gloria Steinem!

Today the leader of the movement for women to develop their fullest human potential turns 78.

With Gloria Steinem in her home in New York City (Photo by Avionne Adams)

In last week’s SPARK! I told you what a privilege it was to spend an evening in Gloria’s home in New York City where she’d invited women leaders to participate in a salon for

As she has since the 1960s, Gloria continues to urge us to connect with each other for support and to make change and go for better lives.

Since that evening at Gloria’s, I’ve thought a lot about what a difference we make when we champion what it is we wish to improve in the world.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world…it is the only thing that ever has. ~ Margaret Mead

Last week at the Women on Fire tea in New York, I was reminded of the amazing and powerful women in our community who epitomize Margaret Mead’s words.

Here are stories I want to share with you because they illuminate the power of each woman with an idea, an inkling, a possibility to spread enthusiasm and to be its champion to make a difference.

Woman on Fire Pier Boutin, of Housatonic, MA is a mom and an orthopedic surgeon.  In a transition period in her life a couple of years ago, she was on vacation with friends in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco when she discovered a four-year-old boy stumbling about with seriously clubbed feet pointed nearly backwards.

“I couldn’t not do something when I knew how to help him,” she said.  So she arranged for “Little Amed” to come to the United States.  For nearly a year she oversaw the direction of his multiple surgeries and cared for him in her home.

While Pier championed that one little boy, she was also mindful in connecting to his village, helping with health and education issues. (For pictures of Pier and Little Amed, see this past post.)

The friendship and knowledge Pier shared in Morocco has gone beyond just that one little boy, who today can walk, run and play!  The course of his life, in which he was destined to be uneducated, alienated and a beggar, has been righted.

And, until Pier, only a handful of boys attended school in that village. Now, that “Little Amed” is home in Morocco, the local school is filled with boys and girls getting an education.

Pier and her family have been inspired and lifted up beyond their imagination.

Gloria changed the course for millions of women.  Pier’s desire to help one child led to changes in a village and who knows what else!

Both women led movements.

You may not even realize it.  Many of you lead movements, too – whether it is to champion a local school levy as Woman on Fire Kim Dettmer did successfully in her Ohio town recently … or Tracy Stuck guiding college women at a major university to find confidence and direction in their lives … or Andrea Raynor as a Hospice chaplain to lead many through death and dying … or Susan Kruger-Woodcock in leading a movement to help high school students get better grades.

There are so many more of you leading a movement and using your talents and desires to change lives for the good.

The positive energy created by a movement of one person or a group to champion one person, one cause, one group, one program, one belief is what makes a difference in this world.

A movement is only composed of people moving. To feel its warmth and motion around us is the end as well as the means. ~ Gloria Steinem

Who and what in your world are you the champion of?  Where is it all going?  What do you need in order to take any next steps?  Let us know how we can help you by commenting below.