Sunday, December 25, 2016

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

It was hot in the kitchen both Thursday and Friday nights as my grandkids and I had scurried around, preparing holiday goodies for the festivities that were to take place on Saturday. As I stirred this and floured that, my granddaughter asked, “Grandma, how do you know how to do this?”

Her innocent question touched a sensitive place in my heart as my thoughts traveled down roads of long ago Christmases in my own grandmother’s kitchen. My granddaughter is eight years old, about the same age as I, when I wondered at the skills of my grandparents in their kitchen. It was a sight to behold, indeed. Every available surface of their kitchen, and even some in the living room, had been covered with delicacies from the world cultures that made up our family. Sandbakkelse were my favorite, though I never really learned to make those – not well anyway. Rosettes, divinity, fudge, lefse and things I can’t even remember their true names were strewn about, filling the whole house with the scents of an old fashioned bakery.

“I learned from my mom and my grandparents,” was my response. How could I put into words the years of family gatherings that had been such an important part of my life as a child? Aunts and uncles with their children in tow would gather at the home of my grandparents for every important holiday. Cousins and second cousins would play outside in the snow at Christmas time, sometimes with a few playful aunts and uncles. It was a simpler time in life, where families didn’t live states or even countries apart.

As we worked, it occurred to me that these are the times my grandchildren will remember with me. They won’t recall the gifts I had carefully chosen for each of them. They won’t remember the wrapping paper, ribbons or bows. They will remember slopping chocolate covered pretzels from the bowl to the wax paper. They will remember the time Grandma had been covered with flour from head to toe. They will remember the sounds of the laughter and the warmth of love that had filled Grandma’s kitchen, those cold winter nights before Christmas. They’ll remember driving past the ‘Second Street Angel’ in Fargo, when Grandma remarked in a breathless, whispered tone, “She’s absolutely gorgeous!” Whenever they hear God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, or I’ll Be Home for Christmas, their hearts will long for those days in the kitchen with Grandma; a simpler time when the world stopped for a moment in time to delight in the true meaning of Christmas – a time when we have love for one another and hope for the future.

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Bullying is Everyone's Business

Last week, we discussed Gaslighting and how it is an entrenched part of school bullying. But, what can we realistically do about it? How do we stop it? The truth of the matter is bullying will be around as long as two human beings exist on the Earth. It will never go away entirely.

Let’s look at some things that we can do, individually and as groups, to stem the growth of bullying:

Live Authentically:  Be the person you want children to grow up to be. We have to live as examples of how people should treat each other. Behave the same way in private as you do in public. No one is perfect, but when effort is applied it can make a world of difference.

Actively Listen:  When a child/tween/teen is telling you they are being bullied, whether you are a parent or a trusted adult, actively listen to what they are saying. Many times, we listen only to respond. We need to turn off our phones, computers, or other distractions and take part in the conversation. We need to allow children the space to express their fears and their feelings.

Make Bullying Your Business:  We’ve all heard that domestic violence is everyone’s business. On the same token, so is bullying. Regardless of whether the victim is your child or just some random kid on the street, make it your business. If you see something, say something. When I say make it your business that does not include giving the bully a beat down. It means be the adult on the scene. When you take action, it allows the victim to internalize that they are not alone and people do care. Even if you only suspect a kid is being bullied, take the initiative to ask them; and then actively listen to what is being said. You could save a life, just by asking.

Put Bite in Your Policy:  How many times have we heard the policy statement, “Zero Tolerance”, only to find that it doesn’t really mean anything? How many kids have experienced bullying, and brought it to the attention of the school only to have the administration poo-poo it away, or claim their hands are tied and they can’t do anything? Or, worse yet, blame the victim? If we’re going to claim Zero Tolerance then it has to mean something. There has to be consequences for bullying that are applied continually and consistently across the board. No exceptions.

We Are Not Their Friends:  When we GenXers became parents, we made a huge mistake. You might think I’m speaking to the “helicopter parent” issue, but no. Our mistake was trying to be our kids’ friends instead of being their parents. We tossed our authority as parents out the window. If you are doing this now, stop it. Your kids have friends. They need you to be Mom or Dad, the people who are in charge. If everyone is behaving like juveniles, we have created nothing more than an environment akin to Lord of the Flies. It’s hard being a parent. Your kids are not always going to like you, but they will always love you.

There are those who kowtow to teaching kids how to be resilient, which although it is important, it is just as important to teach kids not be bullies in the first place. Yes, it is human nature to bully, but at the same time, there’s a fine line between bullying and criminal behavior.

Bullying has one objective: Abusing another to gain a sense of power and control. Today, we have an epidemic of violence and suicide, the direct result of bullying.

Unfortunately, we can’t stop it entirely, but together we can make a difference. We just have to want to.

If you are being bullied in school or online, please, please seek out a trusted adult in your life. Maybe a favorite teacher, or a coach, or a friend’s parent, or your own parents and tell them. Tell someone. Talk to someone. You are not alone in the world, and people do care. You matter in the world and you are loved.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Kids on Fire: How Gaslighting is Fueling Bullying

In 1940, and again in 1944, playwright Patrick Hamilton’s masterpiece Gas Light (1938) was adapted into a whirlwind film, first by British director, Thorold Dickinson (1940), and then in America by MGM (1944). The plot is filled with the psychological abuses propagated against Paul’s wife, Bella; and thus today, we have the psychological term gaslighting which means: the psychological abuse of another which causes them to doubt their own sanity.

Over the next couple of weeks, we’re going to talk about the growing phenomenon of gaslighting in all its nefarious forms. We’re going to start today with a subject that is dear to my heart: bullying in school.

One of the first recorded cases of school violence was in Bethel, Alaska in 1997, where sixteen year old Evan Ramsey entered the school with a loaded Mossberg 500 12 gauge shotgun. But, how did that happen? What led to the tragic day of February 19, 1997?

Evan was a frequent target of bullying. That’s what all the newspapers said, but what did that even mean? Kids can be mean; right? It should have been fine. He should have grown out of it. He should have been able to handle it and move on with his life.

The key phrase is “frequent target of bullying”. Prolonged exposure to abuse leads to toxic stress, and toxic stress leads to fight or flight – otherwise known as violence or suicide.

Gaslighting itself is mostly associated with domestic abuse. However, it applies to any relationship – including friends and schoolmates. It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s something that grows so subtly it’s hard to pinpoint just when it began in any individual situation.

Signs (adapted from the National Domestic Abuse Hotline):

Withholding: The bully pretends not to understand or refuses to listen. For example: Holding the relationship hostage. This is a form of negative peer pressure. The bully baits the victim into believing they are their friend and wants them in their circle, but in reality is attempting to control the victim by forcing them to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do; except for a deep-seated desire to be included. The bully feeds on the victim’s desire to be cool or included. The bully pretends they don’t understand, or refuses to listen to the victim’s rational thoughts behind not wanting to do the things the bully wants them to.

Countering: The bully questions the victim’s memory of events, even when the victim remembers them accurately. For example: Countering is blaming or scapegoating. When things get hot, the bully is one step ahead of the victim. The bully will twist the words of the victim in an attempt to make the victim (and others) believe it was the victim's fault. In the bully’s telling of the events, the bully becomes the victim.

Blocking/Diverting: The bully changes the subject and/or questions the victim’s thoughts. For example: The victim questions the bully’s story of events, and the bully either changes the subject – nullifying the victim’s point of view, or engages in belittling the victim – most often in front of others. The bully oftentimes in blocking or diverting will tell the victim they are paranoid or imagining things. This is often related to the victim’s questioning of the relationship between the bully and themselves, when the victim realizes that something is wrong.

Trivializing: The bully makes the victim’s needs or feelings seem unimportant. For example: When the victim questions the bully, the bully retaliates with name calling and shaming – again, usually in front of others. When trivializing starts, this is where it becomes dangerous for the victim in respect to toxic stress. They are already questioning what is happening, and second-guessing their thoughts and feelings.

Forgetting/Denial: The bully pretends to have forgotten what actually occurred or denies things like promises made to the victim. For example: The bully promised to hang-out with the victim at a specified place and time, and then pretends to have forgotten, or denies ever making the promise.

In gaslighting, the narratives above are not isolated incidents. They go on every day, sometimes for months or years. The prolonged exposure to them causes the victim to become confused, anxious, isolated and depressed. At the point of no-return, the victim will lose all sense of what is really happening to them.

Contrary to adult victims of gaslighting, kids generally won’t reach out for help until the ambulance shows up – either at the school after an act of violence, or to take them to the hospital after a failed suicide attempt.

As parents, grandparents, teachers and other trusted adults in the world, it is our responsibility to understand what gaslighting is and how it plays a role in school bullying; to recognize the signs and then to do something constructive about it. Our kids are involved in a game of psychological warfare that they have no idea how high the stakes really are – until it’s too late.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

In the Heat of the Moment

I am concerned as all people in the State of North Dakota should be at this moment in time. We have more than a situation at hand; it is a full-blown incident that has exploded out of control.

I was listening to late night talk radio Friday night, and they were talking about soldiers with PTSD and how that happens, and what happens to them in their moments of despair after coming home. What they think about and how they are unable to talk about all the things their minds can never un-see.

My mind drifted toward the shores of the Cannon Ball River in North Dakota and all the things that have happened there over the last 3 months and counting. It occurred to me that these officers are going through a heat of the moment situation, where they do what they do, because that’s what they do. I wonder what they think about when they are in the quiet moments. I wonder what they think about when they get home. Do they see the faces of the elderly, the women, or the children screaming out for mercy? Or, do they see nothing at all? Do they see the blood of the people as it seeps into the ground after being shot with “non-lethal” weapons? Do they see the horses as they jerk in pain from being shot with the same said “non-lethal” weapons? Do they hear the voices of the people rising over the plateaus, drifting on the prairie wind, crying out for love and compassion? Or, do they hear nothing at all?

I wonder about the children who have borne witness to all of this hate. Will they grow up to hate, because that is what they learned? Will they grow up to be violent, because that is what they learned? Will they suffer from traumatic stress to the point of being unable to function as an adult, because their hearts and trust were broken as children?

As a grandmother, I wonder about the elderly and what their last days will be consumed with? Will they let their minds wander to better days that were far and away, or will they be consumed with terror and mistrust of those who were supposed to protect them? Those who were supposed to respect them?

We, the people of the world of 2016, are witness to a tragedy in human history. It’s not about pipelines. It’s about humanity and loving one another, applying the rule of law as it is written, upholding the constitutions of the United States of America and the State of North Dakota. It’s about the inherent rights we all treasure as citizens of America. It’s about the right to be free from brutality and the right to the common needs of life giving water, air, and tillable soil.  It’s about the right to be seen and heard as individuals and collective peoples as appropriate to the citizenry of the world.

The events over the last 90 days will haunt us all for many years to come. We the people of North Dakota bear responsibility for what is happening and how it is happening, because we idly stood by and watched it happen. Both sides of the issue. We allowed human beings to be treated like so much cattle to slaughter. Not just the Water Defenders, but law enforcement as well. All of them will suffer for many years on a level much deeper than any of those of us who stood on the side lines in the heat of the moment and did nothing to stop it.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Soldiers in Petticoats

Since days of old, women have had to grovel and beg for every bit of freedom that we in America enjoy today. I wonder as I look around the country if our young women have any idea of the pain and suffering it took for them to have the right to vote; for them to have a voice in the ways of the world.

From 1908 to 1917, women in both the United States and Britain suffered unconscionable brutality at the hands of those in power. It was an ugly, beautiful poetic time in history.  These women were known as suffragettes.

Suffrage Definition:

“A vote given in deciding a controverted question or electing a person for an office or trust.” ~ Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Lucy Burns and Alice Paul, the founders of the Silent Sentinels and National Women’s Party were key players in our right to vote, and they stand in the hallowed halls of history as Giants Among Women. They earned that title without reproach. While protesting their rights outside the gates of the White House (Woodrow Wilson), they were subsequently arrested on charges of:

Obstructing traffic

Inciting unlawful assemblage

It’s estimated 1,000 women were thrown into jails in America and Great Britain, from 1900 to the beginning of World War I (1917). While in the jails, old women were beaten and put into rat-infested cells. One was shackled with her arms above her head all night long. They demanded to be held as political prisoners. When their demands were not met, they staged hunger strikes, where Lucy Burns was force fed through a tube in her nose; many others were force fed raw eggs and milk. And still, they fought on with courage and perseverance.

In 1918, a federal judge overturned the convictions of the Silent Sentinels, ruling that their peaceful picketing outside the White House was political speech protected under the First Amendment.

One woman changed the course of history in America:

Phoebe Ensminger Burn, Miss Febb, as she was known to her family, was the mother of Representative Harry Burn of Tennessee. He was a young man of 24 years. The vote for ratification of the 19th Amendment of the United States Constitution was in his hands. His mother, simply wrote him a note:

“Hurrah, and vote for suffrage! Don’t keep them in doubt. I notice some of the speeches against. They were bitter. I have been watching to see how you stood, but have not noticed anything yet. Be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the ‘rat’ in ratification.”

It is important that we understand that women once had the respect and admiration of men, especially sons to their mothers, and husbands to their wives. Many times in the course of American history, women whispered in the ears of their sons or husbands and changed everything:  Eleonore Roosevelt, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, and Phoebe Ensminger Burn.  The power of women goes far beyond the picket line. It is held in the household, the places of worship, the home and even in politics. However, it takes a very strong woman to wield this type of power.

The election of 2016 in the United States is an important one. It doesn’t matter which side you take, however you must not let the Giants Among Women’s fight be in vain. We as the Women of America, the Birthers of a Nation, must stand up and cast our vote this election. To do anything less would be a travesty against humanity.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Not all Writers are Journalists, but all Journalists are Writers

I’d like to start off this week’s Butterfly Phoenix blog with a deep and heartfelt apology from the bottom of my soul to Amy Goodman, Reporter – DemocracyNow! I am so very sorry for the less than hospitable treatment you received in North Dakota. Charging you with a crime at all, misdemeanor or not, is not something that should have happened in our State, and I apologize as a citizen of North Dakota.

On September 3, 2016, award winning journalist Amy Goodman covered an unfolding story in North Dakota that went viral on the internet. Although, Ms. Goodman identified herself as a reporter from New York on the scene, she was later, 2 or 3 days later, charged with misdemeanor trespassing charges in Morton County, North Dakota. Ms. Goodman agreed to travel back to North Dakota and face the music. Well, the music she came back to seemed to be the drums of war. In the midst of her travel, State’s Attorney, Ladd R. Erickson filed new charges -  under the Riot law of North Dakota Century Code 12.1-25-01 (inciting a riot); 02 (arming rioters); 03 (engaging in a riot); or 04 (disobedience of public safety orders under riot conditions). The charge(s) she will face is not yet clear to the general public.

Amy Goodman was clearly reporting a story as can be seen here:  Dakota Access Pipeline Company Attacks Native American Protesters with Dogs and Pepper Spray

Contrary to mainstream media reports, the Dakota Access Pipeline workers were bulldozing a burial ground and sacred site of the Great Sioux Nation, on unceded land in South Central North Dakota. (see the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 for more information on unceded land.) Amy Goodman was reporting on this event as a fully recognized journalist in the journalist community; to include national mainstream media. She faces jail time and/or fines for doing her job. There has been no instance in American history where a journalist has been charged while doing their job. This sets precedence as stated in Vogue magazine:

"If hundreds of Native tribes and nations can join together in solidarity to resist a dangerous threat to their identity, to their existence, to their freedom, so must members of the press everywhere in condemning attacks on a fellow journalist. This is no time for silence. One standoff leads to another."

Why is this important to all writers everywhere, even if you aren’t a journalist? Charging Amy Goodman is a direct violation of the First Amendment of the United States – Freedom of the Press, Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion. What you write can become censored in America. The topics you choose, the very words you choose to express your thoughts, stories, and books can come under the scrutiny of those who would move to strike your words from American history.

Also arrested in North Dakota for covering the Dakota Access Pipeline:

Deia Schlosberg (documentary filmmaker and journalist) was arrested and charged with felonies carrying a whopping maximum sentence of up to 45 years in prison—simply for reporting on the ongoing Indigenous protests against fossil fuel infrastructure.  Arrested in Walhalla, ND and held in the Pembina County jail for 48 hours without the right to an attorney.

Four reporters from Unicorn Riot Independent Media and live streaming. Their arrests were video documented.

Shailene Woodley – Star of Divergent and Fault in Our Stars. She and her mother livestreamed her arrest on Facebook.

We, as writers of America, must come together and stand in support of journalists, because not all writers are journalists; but all journalists are writers.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Finding Myself as Grandma

I never anticipated being a grandmother at 38 years old. It’s been nine years since my grandson was born, followed by his sister and my newest granddaughter, who’s one.

I don’t feel like a grandma. I’m footloose and fancy free these days. I can come and go as I please, without having to concern myself with finding a babysitter. I can be gone for days at a time if the whim hits me.

Although I am only 48 years old, all my children are adults, making their way in life - the same as children of other older grandparents. However, many of the people who are my age are still raising their kids, some of them with toddlers. I think to myself they have a long haul ahead of them, which brings me to the conundrum of being a young grandparent.

To put this into perspective, it’s like being in your twenties again, when people are falling in love and getting married, and suddenly you find yourself to be the last one to get married, and /or to have children. Your friends’ lives become filled with all the things that involve their little family – and not you.

With divorce rates hovering at 50% for the last decade, there are a lot of single-grandparents out there, both men and women. But, most of them are in their late 50s or early 60s. This societal shift is due to married couple’s staying together for the sake of the children, and divorcing when the last kid moves out. I suspect this trend will continue far into the future with a decline in the age of single-grandparents, because of the belief staying together only hurts the kids, and not helps them.

Instead of resolving myself to sensible shoes and dresses, I choose to redefine myself. I am the author of my life, and this but a new chapter in it. I delight in the moments when people seem shocked that indeed I am a grandma. “But, you don’t look old enough to be a grandma.” I concede that I don’t look the part.

I dress for my age, or what I feel comfortable in for my age. I never tried to be my daughters’ best friend. I never shopped in the same stores where they shopped, trying to fit a body that has birthed three children into clothes that are designed for, well, bodies that haven’t. I have middle-age wrinkles for which I refuse to indulge in Botox for the sake of clinging to youth, a ship that sailed twenty years ago.

It didn’t really occur to me until a couple of years ago that I am free to do whatever pleases me. Now, that in itself was a bombshell. I have never lived to please me. I was flustered by the very idea of it. I was asked, “What do you need,” and “What do you like?” I had no clue what the answers were to those questions.

My entire adult life has been about living for everyone else. I lived for my boyfriend and what he needed and liked. I lived for my daughters and what they needed and liked. I lived for my bosses and my friends, for what they needed and liked, and found that in the end, I had somehow become lost in the mix. In fact, I no longer existed at all. I was a shell of a person that only existed before the age of eighteen. I was a ghost haunting my own life.

I like canary yellow, burnt orange, sea foam green, coral and violet, because they are not black, gray or sad.
I like the smell of the ocean on a spring morning, and the sound of the waves as they tumble with playfulness on the shore, laughing their way back out to sea. I prefer the Atlantic in the morning as the sun casts a river of orange in the midst of the waters, creating new hope for a journey less troubled; and the Pacific at the close of day as the sun sinks into the water at twilight, beaming accomplishment at the river’s end.
I like the sound of thunder on a summer’s afternoon as it rumbles across the prairie. It shakes the very core of me, letting me know that I am alive. When the rain ceases to drench the earth all around, the sun never fails to break the clouds. Its rays wrap a blanket of warmth around me and I know all is well in the world.
I like the feel of the horse beneath me, while it bolts across the grasslands, carrying me far and away. The hooves collide with the earth beneath them, the dust exploding into the air. At the canyons edge there is all the world that lies below and all the heavens cast above.
I like the taste of Turkish coffee intermingled with the laughter of friends on a cold winter’s afternoon. It is rich, warm and robust; full of life.
I like the sound of the violin as it mourns the notes it casts into the world, the vibrations of all that was, is and ever will be; or, when it sings joyously the songs of the universe as they race to the stars and moon from the amphitheater that once was.

Today, I still enjoy these things. Sometimes, in spite of ourselves, we must reach back to the person we were, to find the person that we are. I enjoy the laughter of my grandchildren as they cling to me with arms wrapping me in love. I like to rock my infant granddaughter in the still of the evening, when she drifts off to sleep into a world of peace.

Today, I like who I am, recognizing that the only thing that I need is love.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Age of Women

Women are the first environment. We are privileged to be the doorway to life. At the breast of women, the generations are nourished and sustained. From the bodies of women flow the relationship of those generations to both society and to the natural world. In this way is the Earth our mother, the old people said. In this way, we as women are Earth.” ~ Katsi Cook

I came across this very profound statement by midwife, Katsi Cook, and it started the wheels of thought turning in my head. There’s a lot of wisdom held in those sixty-four words, however, I’m only going to focus on a very small part of it.

Katsi Cook’s statement speaks volumes about self-care, when it comes to women. From the day we come into this world as female children, we are born with a great amount of power and responsibility. You see, we have been tasked with ushering in the future generations, and teaching them the ways of the spiritual and natural world.

As women, we have a duty and responsibility to all the women who will come after us. This is especially important for new mothers, or even those who hope to become mothers one day. The world as we know it no longer recognizes the power and authority of women. Regaining power and control begins with the following mindset (popular word for internal belief):


Over my lifetime, I learned something that I am going to share with you now: women are the heart and soul of every family, community, nation, and indeed the world. Upon our creation, we were emblazoned with the ability to empathize and express compassion, even unto ourselves.  Think about that for a moment.

I follow the Nicole Phillips’ Kindness is Contagious blog, Dr. Susan Mathison’s Positively Beautiful blog, and Cris Linnares like a puppy dog follows a child. Why? Because, these women got it going on, and even inspirers need a little inspiration sometimes. Each of them has traveled seemingly very different paths in life, yet has met in the Age of Women.

What has any of that to do with the Katsi Cook statement? We are the birthers of the nations. If we ourselves are sick, what will we birth, but more sickness and dysfunction? As the birthers, we need to care for ourselves and ensure that we are strong and healthy, starting from the inside.

This is the Age of Women where:

  • No longer will we stand by and watch as our daughters are over-sexualized in the media to the point of eating disorders and self-hatred.
  • No longer will we accept verbal or physical beat-downs of our daughters by other girls, to the point of suicide.
  • No longer will we accept or condone the verbal and physical abuse propagated and condoned by weak men, to the point of demoralization.
  • No longer will we self-talk ourselves into doubt and fear, to the point of subjugation.

We are the women of the world. We are the birthers of nations and the mother of men. We are the future of the world; and in that there is much power and authority.

Welcome to the Age of Women.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

In Spite of Myself

We’re going to talk about faith today, something I don’t often do, because it is a private affair between Jesus and me.

However, as women, we need to talk more about our faith. Most people would think that we are talking about faith every day, but we’re not. Women like Joyce Meyer and Beth Moore are talking about faith every day. The rest of us are talking about it on Sunday, or when we attend the large conferences sponsored by the big name women of faith. The rest of the time, we are pretty much off in our own little worlds, wrapped up in the day to day goings on in our ordinary lives.

In my last post, I mentioned that I struggled with surrender. I could not take that step from the pew to the altar. It was heart wrenching for me. There was something inside that was holding me back, keeping my behind in the pew. I could not for the life of me figure out what the problem was. I felt like a total faker taking communion.

About this time last year, something set in my heart that just said, “Stop. Don’t go any further.” It wasn’t a harsh word that came from a dark place. It was a gentle word that meant; Stop. Don’t go any further. I haven’t been to church since the baptism of my newest granddaughter last year. I heard the message loud and clear. I stopped. It was hard to not go to church. It still is.

I’ve been spending a lot of alone time with God over the last year. You might think that I have been hashing out my differences with Him, but no, God had other plans. In those quiet hours, I discovered what it was that was keeping me from the altar, un‑forgiveness. I argued my case, quite valiantly; I had forgiven everyone who had wronged me throughout my entire life. There was no one who had been forgotten, not even the kid who said I looked like a boy at the doctor’s office in Minot when I was five years old.  Yep, everyone had a clean slate with me. Imagine my frustration, when God said, nope that’s not it.

I knew it wasn’t atonement for my sins, because if that was the case it was a hopeless cause. For cripe’s sake, I had basically made a pact with the devil in my life. Trust me, there’s no atonement for that. By the grace, and only by the grace of God, there’s a coming back from that.

Sometimes, we can be pretty dense in our lives, and God just needs to tell us the answer for his own purposes, not ours. It dawned on me like a ton of bricks one day. It was definitely the un-forgiveness that lived in my heart, but it wasn’t the lack of forgiveness for others, it was not forgiving myself.

I had been the type of person that always said, “I’m sorry,” or “it was all my fault,” or “it must be me.” I blamed myself for everything that has happened to me, including being broken when I was born. Yes, I was so good at it that I was able to take the blame for not being born healthy like most other children. I held myself in my own prison for almost 40 years, believing that I was not worthy of anything – including life. With darkness overshadowing my whole life, it was pretty easy for the devil to sidle up beside me and tell me he could change everything, and boy did he ever. He changed everything for the worse, and the part that kept me behind the bars of my prison was my ability to blame myself – for everything.

I don’t do that anymore, and I won’t. Not everything is my fault. I am not responsible for the behavior of others, and I do not need to ‘do time’ on their account. It came down to God asking me, “If I can forgive you; why can’t you forgive yourself?” He also asked me another question, “If I can love you, in spite of your life; why can’t you love yourself?”

Don’t get me wrong, my life has not been all sunshine and roses since that day, and it never will be. We will all have our demons to fight until the end of days. Trials and tribulations are a part of everyone’s life, no matter how happy they appear on FaceBook. Yes, even the likes of Joyce Meyer and Beth Moore have their moments.

What I will say is this. I have never felt so free in my entire life. Things have gotten exponentially better, since I opened the gates and let myself out. It’s been a rough road, which I will share more about later, but it was so worth the traveling. Today, I am forgiven and loved. I am forgiven and loved by God and myself. It is truly the only validation that a person needs.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

When God Comes to Call

Eleven years ago, I made a decision that has changed my life in so many, many ways. Okay, I did not make the decision wholly on my own, but I am so grateful for it now.

I was a churched kid, from Sunday school to Confirmation. I liked going to Sunday school and singing in the Junior Choir, going to Sunday service and even Confirmation. I learned the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostle’s Creed, all about the Holy Sacraments and this guy named Jesus who could do some pretty amazing things. Yet, it wasn’t enough, at least not then anyway.

I don’t recall exactly when I took an interest in witchcraft, but I did, somewhere around fifteen or sixteen years old. There was no movie or book or any real outside influence that caused me to stray that way. It was something that was inside of me, a longing or need to know more about the how-comes of the bizarre things that would happen to myself or others – dreams that would come to pass, or déjà vu and we mustn’t forget ghosts.

Once, when I was about five and half, and I was having open-heart surgery, I had a vision of what I knew was an angel. She just sort of hung out with me in the “other-world” until it was over, and then sent me home. By the time I was sixteen, she was long forgotten – sort of.

The more I started to investigate the ideology behind witches and all their “powerfulness”, the more I was pulled into the life of a witch. I decided in all my youthful wisdom that the witches were right and everyone else was wrong. Each day the knowledge I had gained as a youth became buried further and further in my brain, overtaken by the idea that I could control not only my own life, but the lives of others in a sense. It was a rocky, unbelievably weird time in my life. Lies became truth and truth was just not. At the end, I was a 2nd degree High Priestess.

Fast-forward to fifteen years ago. The Holy Mother Mary kept appearing in my life, not as a ghost or even a person, just her image. She was everywhere and it seemed like all the time. Beings that I was already in the mindset that there were higher beings than myself, I concluded that Mary was someone who could fit that logic, and perhaps she wanted to tell me something. So, I asked. I got crickets. Not a single peep from her. Yet, everywhere I went, there she was in a painting or a book, or on-line. I kid you not; this went on for an entire year. Interestingly enough, every time I would try to do something “witchy”, there she was intervening. I wasn’t all that thrilled about it either. I’m not going to lie.

When the year was coming to a close, I just knew that something was up, and shortly after the New Year, I lost my job. Five months later, I lost my home. Three months later, everything – well most everything – I owned was stolen from the storage unit where I had moved our belongings. (Interestingly enough, all my important stuff was left untouched.) One month later, I sent my kids to live with my mother. They lived with her for four months, while I was getting my behind kicked some more by the Almighty. It was not a fun year. The Good Lord had stripped me of everything. I was as homeless as a person could get.

Here’s where the story gets interesting, I had to choose. I was beaten to a bloody pulp by God himself, and he did it on purpose. You see, I was at the point in my witchdom, where I was less than a year away of having my own coven, leading others down the same treacherous road. Now, don’t think for a second that I gave up so easily, no, I had to do things the hard way. I was going to “fix” my life, using all the tricks of the trade. The more I tried, the worse it got.

One night, I got in my car, and I screamed at God at the top of my lungs, “What the hell do you want from me!?” Then I cried for a long time. I knew what He wanted. I’d known all along what He wanted. I was just being too stubborn to give it to Him. I still didn’t surrender.

I was not going to be anything either way – a witch or a Christian. I was mad at God for dragging me to my knees, and honestly, to this day I couldn’t say that I knew why, although I do now.

The next couple of years were years lived in limbo. Things didn’t get worse, but they didn’t get much better. As I said, my kids came back from my mother’s within four months. I had an apartment and a job. We just sort of coasted for a couple of years. Then one day, I started to talk to Mary. I don’t know exactly why, but I did. I remember saying to her, if God is real and God hears me and even knows I exist then prove it. Give me an unmistakable sign. I was nice about it, and had asked with sincerity. I got in my car to go to work, and the song on the radio was (dun dun dun) Willie Nelson singing, You Were Always on My Mind. It was at that moment, I knew that I had made my choice, and I haven’t looked back since. I struggled with surrendering, but that’s a whole different story. However, since that day, my life has become so amazing I can’t even begin to tell you. Most of the friends that I had when I was practicing are either dead or dying. But, not me; I’m living – in every sense of the word.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

A Moment of Truth

The story I am about to tell you is not a story. It’s my life. I haven’t told anyone outside of my family, with the exception of a few very close friends. In December of 2011, I stood on the ledge of life and death, contemplating the pros of cons of each choice. I was never the person who suffered from mental health issues, and I’m still not. However, there I was just the same, standing on the ledge ready to free-fall out of this world.

As many of my readers know, I grew up on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in Western North Dakota. I am not Native American. Oftentimes, my thoughts would wander back to the days of my youth. I remembered the struggles of some of the families, most of whom the children were my friends. I remembered hearing the hopes and dreams for the future. In 2009, I was elated because an opportunity to truly make a difference presented itself. It didn’t happen by magic. We worked hard for that grant. Excitement filled the air and a renewed energy infiltrated the little nonprofit. It was going to be fantastic!

Nonetheless, I found myself in a battle of ethics and humanity. I put on my battle gear of Integrity, Loyalty, Honesty and Compassion. Little did I know, I was fighting a battle I could not win, because I was fighting alone. It wasn’t until I wandered in the aftermath, that I recognized that this was the same feeling of demoralization the Native Americans I knew and loved had felt their entire lives, and throughout the history of our nation.

From 2009 to mid-2011, our lives were filled with threats and intimidation, unlike I have ever experienced in my whole life. I’ve seen some ugly things in my lifetime, but nothing that compared to the demon of hate-mongering, racism, and greed all rolled into one. The saddest part was that all this terror came from within the organization itself.

I sat in several meetings where lie after lie was told about what the grant was for and how the money was supposed to be spent. I watched as benefits that were to be afforded to the new staff of the organization were somehow swept aside and denied to those who deserved them. (Sound familiar?)

Each time, I spoke up about the untruths; my voice was harshly silenced through threats and intimidation. I had never felt so powerless in my entire life. I had tried so hard to make those who were in power listen to what I had to say, but it wasn’t enough. Everyone was scared. Everyone was trying to survive the day without getting fired or blamed for things they weren’t even aware happened – if in fact they had happened at all. Truth slowly melded into paranoia and insanity. Fear was the ruler of the day, and haunted each of us in the silence of the night. The fear grew into the bitterness of betrayal. Those tasked with the stewardship of the grant had turned their backs on us, and soon after the inevitable implosion came.

When the truth of most things did come to light, through a written complaint to the board of directors, soon after (July 2011), my position was eliminated in the nonprofit. I fought the good fight. At least that’s what I told myself. I fought the good fight and lost. Game over.

One would think that once out of the fire, the heat would be gone. That is not the case with toxic stress. I jumped at the chance to start a new job, even though I could have kept the one I had until December. It was a new job, in another city. I had been running a thousand miles an hour for almost two years, in self-protection mode. The mistake that I made was not giving myself a chance to decompress, before starting something new. Not to mention moving to a community where I knew absolutely no one.

Not-so-funny side story. In my new job, there was a strict expectation of recognizing the signs of suicide. No one recognized the signs I was exhibiting.

Only one person recognized that I was in trouble, and a lot of it. He was a pastor who didn’t even know me. He knew it right away, and had the guts to say so. He couldn’t do anything about it himself, except wield the sword of truth. He will always be a hero of sorts in my book. (No pun intended.)

In December of 2011, I took the scariest step in my life. I asked for help. I reached out to a therapist I had found on-line in the town where I lived. I faced the fear of being ridiculed or labeled as crazy, and got the help I needed at the time. Looking back, this was the greatest fear that I had – being labeled by others who didn’t know my story. Didn’t understand what I had been through.

If you are struggling today, tonight or anytime, please recognize your inner-strength and just get help. It does get better. I am happier now than I have been in years. I am not crazy. I am not weird or lesser than anyone else. I am not weak. One of the greatest signs of strength is knowing when to ask for help, and then doing it. You are not alone.

Monday, July 4, 2016

My Fellow Americans

My Fellow Americans,

Today, I wish us a happy 240th birthday. We’ve been beaten and worn for some time now, but never forget that through the rockets’ red glare and bombs bursting in air, our flag, Old Glory still waves.

In spite of all our faults and flaws, we the people of the United States of America have much to be grateful for today. We have traveled a long journey together, and face an unknown future together. Over the centuries, we have come from lands all around the world to meet here, together on this day in history – our 240th birthday.

Choose to celebrate! Choose to celebrate America the Beautiful! Choose to celebrate the Grand Old Flag! Choose to celebrate; because This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land! Choose to celebrate Stars and Stripes Forever!

Choose to celebrate you and me and us! It is the people who comprise a nation. Each of us should not forget from where it is we have come. We should be grateful for the independence we share from tyranny, dictatorships, monarchies and all the likes of that.

Happy birthday to us!