Christian College Student by Day, Southern Cocktail Waitress by Night – Part I

My best friend and I share what we learned by waitressing our way through college

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Sandie and me (Heather) working one of our many, many shifts at the Ground Round in Lynchburg, VA in the early 90s.

I’ll never forget waitressing at the Ground Round restaurant in Lynchburg, VA where I worked my way through college at Liberty University in the early 90’s.  

The Ground Round (we called it the Dirt Circle) served two personalities.  The clientele of the Dining Room tended to be a combination of families, college students, church folks (Lynchburg has a plethora of evangelical churches in addition to Liberty) and other “regular” folks from town who would come in for the free popcorn and the famous Ground Round Platter, which was their signature dish consisting of a juicy burger, french fries, and a side salad. 

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For whatever reason, I kept a menu from the early 90s.  Here it is!  You should see the prices inside!

The clientele who were attracted to the Lounge side were the usual range of adults of drinking age: businessmen, groups of friends who came in for happy hour, and what I would respectfully call “very Southern folks.”  Others, being less respectful, might refer to them as Rednecks. But that was not for me to judge.  I just wanted to make a good tip at every table. 

I will always remember the free popcorn (and at some Ground Round restaurants, the free peanuts) that the Dirt Circle was known for.  The popcorn maker would run day and night and popcorn was usually scattered all over the floor.  I usually worked the Dining Room side and tried to avoid the Lounge as much as possible, as the Lounge had somewhat of a Biker Bar feel.  There was this pervading “let’s all order a lot of alcohol and sit around and get drunk” party atmosphere, which frankly intimidated me, especially because from time to time I would peek in at some of the clientele and honestly, some of them looked like they were… 

…running from the law.  

Especially the loner men in dark sunglasses who were very quiet, serious, and would sit drinking their own pitcher of Bud light, always facing the front of the restaurant and checking everyone who walked through the front door. 

Or sometimes, when passing through the Lounge, perverted men would look at me like I was a piece of meat (one guy even asked me if I wouldn’t mind dancing on the table for him!!), and then they would flag me down and start flirting with me.  However, as soon as I opened up my mouth and they heard my Northern accent, that was usually enough to turn them off, especially when I forgot to use “ya’ll” when addressing them (whoops) and instead used “you guys.”  (That’s a cardinal sin for a server in a Southern family-style restaurant, FYI.) 

The bottom line is that I avoided the Biker Bar Lounge and told the management that I would prefer to work in the Dining Room.  

But one day they must have been short staffed in the Lounge because that’s exactly where I found myself.  I remember confronting Stan, my favorite manager, about this.  He kindly said to me:  “Sorry Heather.  We need strong waitresses in the Lounge. Just give it it a try.”  

A few moments later I got my first table.

“Hello!  Welcome to the Ground Round!  How are you guys doing today?” I said to the older couple with my very best Northern accent.

They looked at me curiously and said something with a very strong southern drawl, which I had trouble understanding.  I then asked them if I could take their drink order.

“Yeah,” the petite woman said.  “I’ll have a Maaaaaaahhhh Taaaaaaaaahh.”  She drawled.  

Each word lasted about five complete seconds.

The guy ordered a drink that sounded very sexual (something about “sax” and “bay-ch”) but I didn’t recognize the drink itself.  

After I took their order, I ran to the back room to look at the infamous Drink Menu on the Wall.  

You need to understand that the Drink Menu On the Wall was a huge construction paper board with every alcoholic concoction on it you can think of written with a black sharpie.  It was an 90’s mixologists’ dream come true because it was so incredibly thorough.  Parts of it were seriously pornographic in nature and went from bad to worse.  Here are the names of just a few of the drinks I can still remember to this day:

  • Sex on the Beach
  • Slow comfortable F#@%$
  • Slow comfortable F%$#@ up against the wall 
  • Slippery Nipple
  • Blow J*&^%b
  • Orgas&^%$m

After I figured out that the guy wanted a Sex on the Beach, I still had no idea what the heck a Maaaa Taaa was so I went strait to the bartender, Shiela.  Shiela was great!!  Very nice and very good with the Biker Bar crowd, and also good with Northern Christian waitresses.  

“Sheila,” I said with stress in my voice.  “The woman ordered a ‘Maaaaaaaaaa Taaaaaaaaaaaa’, and I don’t know what that is!” I cried out.

Not missing a beat, she chortled: “Oh Heather, it’s a Mai Tai, honey!” She went on to say: “Now remember, sweetie, the lady can only have up to three Mai Tai’s before you have to cut her off, as it’ a five shot drink.”  

Yeeks.  Let’s hope petite Southern woman is not hoping to drink more than 15 shots today (she actually ended up having three drinks that night but thankfully did not request a fourth!).  And that’s probably the first lesson I learned working in the Lounge – that many of my clientele seriously wanted to get drunk.  It was my job to skillfully manage their alcohol consumption in such a way so that I would not have to cut them off, thus killing my tip, and yet still have them perceive that they were having a good time and receiving an adequate amount of beverage.  

And that’s how I officially became the following (drum roll please)….

Good Christian Northern College Student by day, and Wild Southern Cocktail Waitress by night.  

Because from then on, for whatever reason, I got stuck in the Lounge, usually section 1 (the worst section) about half of the time!  The Lounge could definitely be a wild place to work: a drunk man once fell through the full-length plate glass window, shattering it into a million pieces; there was also a shooting in the back parking lot, due to a sordid love-triage; and finally, a woman would come in with a see through white dress on, and there was literally nothing left to anyone’s imagination.

I tried to make the best of my time in the lounge: I perfected my Southern accent, learned how to relate to the Biker Bar crowd (most of them were very nice but you needed to be fun but firm with them) and tried to make the best tips I could.

And when I say Wild Southern Cocktail Waitress by Night, I mean NIGHT!  Last Call was at 12:30 am and Light’s Up (when the bar officially closed) was at 1 am.  I remember many nights working until 1:20 am, driving back to campus, parking WAY far away from my dorm, walking through the dark, all the while wondering if I was going to get snatched by a Serial Killer.  It always took me at least an hour to “settle down” enough to fall asleep, only to wake up at 7:15 am for my 8:00 class the next morning.

Honestly, working so much (sometimes 32 hours per week) and so late, on top of taking so many classes (usually 18 credits every semester) was very challenging and exhausting, and looking back, I regret working so much and taking so many classes during that time.  I joked to my friends that my experience at the Ground Round (as well as other restaurants) put “hair on my chest” and made me into a stronger person.  I often struggled with jealousy when my college friends would come in to visit me, as they had much more of a “normal” college experience.  I loved seeing them, but I struggled with having to work so hard just to afford college.  It didn’t seem fair.

The Ground Round was just one of the restaurants I was employed by through high school, college, and post-college.  In high school I worked at Friendly’s and Ponderosa (we called it Ponder-gross-a).  In college I worked for the Wharf and Appleby’s in addition to the Ground Round (I also worked at a Ground Round in Fayetteville, NY during the summer and college breaks).  After college I raked in my best tips ever at Uncle Julio’s Rio Grande Cafe in Reston, VA.  

All in all, the Ground Round was a great place to work through college.  I made decent tips, learned some valuable lessons, and made some lifelong friends to boot (more on that in a moment). 

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That’s me (above) with some of my male server buddies.  And yes, there was a lot of shenanigans that went on behind the scenes in the restaurant business. Try not to be offended at the guy who is pretending to squeeze my booty.  This was before the #me-too movement. 😵 Below, Stan, my favorite manager (and me) inside the actual bar of the Lounge, with a TON of booze behind us! Cuz it was the Lounge.

Before I get into lessons learned, here are a few phrases from the restaurant business that I still remember to this day:

  • “I have Campers!” (customers who sit and and sit in your booth and never leave – preventing any turnover and thus preventing any tips) 
  • “Oh no! They did the Dine and dash!” (customers that order, eat, and sneak out without paying) 
  • “86 that!” (when the restaurant was out of something)
  • “Behind you!” (what we all said to each other so as to not cause a tray/food/dish collision)
  • “If you can’t afford to tip, then don’t go out to eat!” (what all the servers said to each other after we had gotten stiffed by a table)

and finally….

  • “I’ve been quadruple-sat!” (when a hostess seats our entire section all at once!)

In addition to the phrases that are still with me, the many lessons are as well. I can honestly say that I learned a lot about people, life, and myself while waitressing and was able to pay for almost my entire undergrad and graduate degrees throughout my nine years in the business.  

Below is a list of the top 5 things I learned as a waitress that I still remember to this day…

1. Never judge a table.

I honestly think this was my very first lesson.  I must admit that I did judge certain tables in the beginning, but quickly learned that some of my best tippers didn’t look like they would tip me well, and sometimes the nicest, most well-dressed, most put together people completely stiffed me or left me a cheap tip!  On a similar vein, a good waitress has to learn how to read a table.  There is a delicate dance with every table.  Sometimes customers are chatty and engaging, other times they are more serious and private.  If you don’t have good people skills when you start your serving career, you will surely develop them as time goes by. 

Sometimes people were strange or rude though, and it made it hard for me to not judge them.  One time a couple came in and the guy ordered a T-bone steak medium well, and happily consumed the whole entire thing. However, at the end of the meal he flagged me down to show me a patch of bright red blood on his empty plate.  Huh? He demanded that I comp his meal (give it to him for free) because he said his steak was rare, and pointed to the blood on his plate.  I went and got my manager Lisa and she went to investigate.  She thought something was fishy so she refused to comply with his request.  He was pissed and left the restaurant without tipping me.  Later, Lisa found several wadded up kleenexes shoved into the side of the booth with bright red blood on them!  We both surmised that this guy actually cut himself open and dripped his own blood onto the plate, just to try to get a free meal.  What a weirdo!  I definitely had several customers over the years that did some strange, creepy, rude, or disrespectful things to me.  I had to learn to deal with some seriously abnormal human behavior, all with a smile on my face!

2. Be generous and respectful.

I am almost embarrassed to admit this but I used to be very, very cheap.  I mean, so cheap that, as a teen and out with my friends, I wouldn’t order any food but would instead pick leftovers off of my friends’ plates.  I also wouldn’t leave a tip. Waitressing adjusted that for me big-time.  Why?  Because, once I became a waitress, it felt awesome to get a great tip, and it felt terrible to get a cheap one.  

I will always tip waiters and waitresses at least 20 percent or more because I know how it feels to be in their shoes.  Sometimes my husband and I receive bad service at a restaurant and our conversation goes something like this.  Erik: “hon, the service is slow.”  Me: “yes, I know.  Maybe the kitchen is slow tonight.  Maybe they are short-staffed.  It’s probably not the waiters’ fault.”  Then later, Erik: “Babe, our waiter is not very friendly and he sucks. I am not going to leave him 20%.”  Me: “Hon, you can’t do that!  Maybe he’s a single father, or maybe he’s had a bad day.  C’mon, cut him some slack.”  Erik generally relents and still gives a generous tip because he’s a good guy and because he married a former waitress. God has blessed us generously and I want to give back.  To read my earlier post about my childhood, money and generosity, click here: Blue Collar Girl Trapped in a White Collar Marriage.

One day I was working at Uncle Julio’s Rio Grande Cafe when I walked past a table of three men with a water pitcher in my hand.  One of the three men (nicely dressed, wealthy looking)  waved at me frantically, calling over to me: “Water girl!  Oh, water girl!  Give me some more water!”  I looked at the two younger men next to him and they both looked very embarrassed.  I stopped at his table and said politely but firmly: “Sir, I am much more than a water girl, but I would be happy to refill your water.”  

Since having been treated like a mere water girl with nothing to offer the world (not to mention a dumb blond and a piece of meat), I have always tried to respect everyone regardless of their station in life.  I try to never look down on anyone, ever, because we are all in this thing called life together.  We should try to get along and be kind and respectful to each other, no matter what.

3. Organize your life as if you are triple-sat.  

This is probably one of the coolest lessons I learned.  From time to time I was triple or quadruple sat.  I had to figure out a way to meet the needs of the entire group of people but not take too long doing it.  I didn’t have the luxury of going up to one table, doing a perfect job, and then getting another table a few minutes later. I had to learn to prioritize and meet the needs of my entire section.  Honestly, that meant some people had to wait longer to get their drinks or their check, etc.  I learned to handle the big rocks first, and put them into my jar (so to speak), and then after that I could get the smaller rocks in, too.  This caused me to be a more efficient and productive waitress and then later, an efficient and productive career woman.  I had to learn how to achieve my main priorities while not losing focus, and still have time for the smaller ones. Here is a slightly cheesy YouTube video that explains this concept in detail: here.  Bottom line?  I still approach my to-do list with the larger picture in mind, put my top priorities first, and not get distracted by the little things until my top priorities are met.

4. Be steady, but not slammed.

There were times I was extremely busy (we called it being “slammed”), which consisted of me running around like a chicken with my head cut off, trying to frantically keep up with my tables.  I don’t think I did a very good job for my customers when I was slammed.  There were other times when I was what we called “steady,” where I was busy enough but still had time to do a good job with each table. I usually made much better tips when I was steady vs. being slammed.  To this day, I work very hard to remain steady with my obligations and priorities, while trying hard to not take on too much on, thus becoming slammed. Why?  Because my peace and joy go away when I’m slammed and it’s not like I’m doing that great of a job with juggling so many different priorities anyway.  One quick qualifier: sometimes you are just very busy and that’s the way life goes. I just try not to stay in that place forever.

One last comment on this point: you are also capable to do more than you realize sometimes.  A waiter named Whit challenged me to stop writing down all of my orders but instead memorize them in my head.  I thought “no way!” but I started with a two top, then went up to three top, then four, etc.  And then I never wrote down another order in my remaining years of serving.  My record was a party of 15 – Whit’s was about 30!  I couldn’t believe watching him do this, but I saw it with my own eyes.  Lesson: I was capable of more than I realized.  And I am glad I stopped writing down my orders. Honestly, once you get into a rhythm of it, it’s not all that difficult.  (I promise.)

5. If you pray before you eat, you had better leave a good tip.

As a waitress, I would always try to Never Judge a Table (see point number one) but on Sunday during the lunch shift – I admit – I judged.  Why?  Because that’s when the Church Crowd came in.  They were all very nice, of course.  The trouble was that they were usually really cheap! They often left me a Christian tract (a tract is a little pamphlet which explains the gospel message) and a ONE dollar tip.  I wasn’t the only one they did this to – all of the servers complained about it as well.  What a horrible testimony of what it means to be a true Christian! So, I decided to do something about it. I wrote a note to Jerry Falwell (The Chancellor of Liberty) and left it on his car windshield (a lot of students back in the day would do this) and told him all about this strange phenomena called Christians Who Are Crap Tippers.’ Jerry was a super cool guy (don’t believe what you may have heard about him in the press) and I had waited on him and his wife a few times before.  He was always very nice and always left a 20 percent or more tip.  Anyway, he actually read my letter to his huge church and told them that if they didn’t leave “at least 20 percent tip, then don’t bother to leave a tract.” (He may have even said “oh, and if you can’t afford to leave a tip, then don’t bother to go out to eat,” as well, but I can’t be sure… 😂 )  He went on to tell them that they needed to be a better witness to the town of Lynchburg and to stop being so cheap!  Go Jerry!

The bottom line is that if you are a person of religious faith, my suggestion to you is that you be a good example and leave a good tip.  ‘Nuff said.

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Sharing the gospel with someone in an appropriate way: good.  Giving a server a super cheap tip with a tract: not good.

Before I close, I want to give a shout out to Uncle Julio’s in Reston, VA.  We called it “The Rio” and it was a very busy restaurant that served some really good Tex Mex food.  The clientele tended to be young professionals and young-ish families and they generally tipped very well.  Although it was the most strictest restaurant I ever worked for (they used to line us up and inspect our uniforms, making sure our shirts were professionally dry-cleaned with extra starch), I ended my waitressing career on a high note as I truly made the very best tips of my life in that restaurant.  I also made some great friends and made some great memories to boot.

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I have a ton of photos from my years at Uncle Julio’s (that I can’t find right now) but here is just one of them – we are doing an event at the Reston Town Center. Sandie’s post will have more!

This leads me to the last life lesson I learned through serving.  One of the best things about being in the restaurant industry is the relationships you develop with other servers and managers.  We partied, went to bars after work (and left huge tips – the best tippers are servers!) went on ski trips together, dated each other, did Bible studies and went to church together, and opened up our lives to each other. We became like family.  We got into each others’ business and supported each others’ dreams.  We joked around together, ate free food together, and had deep talks together. I’m still Facebook (and real life!) friends with a number of server friends many years later.  I met Sandie, my best friend since college, at the Dirt Circle and we are still “together” to this day!!

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The staff had a great time on Halloween night!

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There are still things I miss about serving.  I miss the camaraderie and friendships.  I miss the movement and life of a busy restaurant.  I miss the free food.  I especially miss the huge wad of cash in my apron pocket at the end of my shift.  I tell Erik that if he ever loses his job, I might go back to serving.

In the very next post, Sandie will share her perspective on waitressing and what she learned over her eight years of serving and bartending. Sandie and I shared MANY great times together at the Dirt Circle and later at the Rio Grande cafe. She’s also a true Southerner, so be sure to read her story, too.

In closing, as Sandie and I brainstormed topics for this post, we realized that waitressing bonded our friendship together almost more than anything else.  In fact, between the lessons learned, money made, relationships formed, and the fact that Sandie are still  best friends to this day, those were the best and longest-lasting tips that the business ever gave to us!  

And for that, we are forever grateful.  

Be sure to check out Sandie’s story, coming shortly!

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Sandie and I worked our butts off so we could achieve this bottom line: we both graduated from college!

PS: feel free to comment about lessons learned or anything I missed about working as a server!

 

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Missing Cats, Dogs, People (and Socks). Where do they go? Do they ever come home?

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This is the flyer that went into 100 mail boxes in our neighborhood. Lila is still missing. I learned that most missing cats stay close to home, while dogs can roam farther away.
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Our family went to San Diego on vacation in August.  We saw this missing person sign.  So sad what happened to Mollie.  Most missing person stories have a happy ending, but Mollie did not.

Recently, my beautiful calico cat Lila went missing from my home, and I think it’s all my fault. You see, we had just moved into our new home in Illinois and we were in the process unpacking all of our boxes, which meant a house strewn with lots of boxes and packaging paper that needed to be put out for recycling.

Thursday, August 2 was recycling day, and I remember that fateful moment when my hands were too full with broken down boxes and debris to shut the front door. I had a brief thought that I needed to hurry back and shut the door lest one of my kitties slip out. So right after I put out the boxes I hurried back to my house and shut the door.

It was either in that moment, or another moment when one of the painters may have left a door ajar, but that day Lila decided that she wanted to have an adventure.

And as of the time of this writing, she is still missing!

I quickly set out to do all of the things you are supposed to do in order to find a missing pet. There is a fairly long part-time job list of things you need to do, mostly focused on getting the word out (we distributed about 200 flyers and email blasted our new neighbors) calling all of the appropriate people (like animal shelters, local police non-emergency numbers, etc.), and looking for them in certain places and at certain times.  I personally knocked on about 30 doors in my new hood and asked if I could poke around their back yards or look under their decks.  Still no Lila.

One night at 1am I woke up and something told me to go look on my front porch where we had left food and water for Lila. I crept up to the window and slowly peered around it, only to see a cat that looked very similar to Lila, eating the dry cat food!! Her back was to me so I didn’t have a good look. When I slowly opened up the front door the cat ran into my super thick bushes. About a week later we actually humanely trapped a kitty who looked similar to Lila.

So was it Lila I saw that one night, or this other stray cat? I’m not sure, but this story has a happy ending: after we trapped this other cat, it was quickly adopted by another family in our neighborhood. 🙂 I’m glad I could help out this other stray kitty and give her a loving home.

God works in mysterious ways sometimes.

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This is the stray kitty we humanely trapped.  She was adopted by a family in my neighborhood!

On an interesting note, as I’ve been leaving cat food and water out at night, we’ve also attracted some other interesting creatures.  For several night in a row we saw an Opossum on our porch, happily eating dry cat food.  And then another night we saw the biggest raccoon I had ever seen eating Lila’s cat food with both paws.  Erik (husband) says it’s time to stop feeding the marsupials and small mammals in our neighborhood.  🙂

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This Opossum visited us several times, looking for the cat food we left out for Lila.

All of this got me thinking….where do cats that go missing actually go? And what percentage of them actually come back? And because I am a very curious person, I expanded my list to dogs too. And while I was on the topic of dogs, I thought it was only fair to figure out what the deal is with missing people. And I threw in missing socks for good measure because that affects every person on the entire planet and drives us all to drink!

Below is an Internet-based search as to all things that go missing.  I must confess that I thought that tons of people go missing every year (they do, but wait…) and tons of cats and dogs disappear and never return.  What I found in my research surprised the heck out of me, and I hope it surprises you as well.  So let’s get going.

Let me start with those darn missing socks, since that’s much more simple, short and sweet.

Missing socks: apparently, there is a secret trap door in certain washers and tumble dryers where missing socks actually end up. The other best places to look are different drawers other than the sock drawer, under the bed, and in between (or under or behind) the washer and dryer. Missing socks can also end up mingled in other clean laundry (like fitted bed sheets).

If missing socks rankle you, try having a “missing sock bin” and put stray socks in there. I have done this myself for several years with about a 50 percent success rate, but it does build up over time and you have to determine to make time to go through it. I have found that most of my missing socks are just separated socks…and I have to look in my kids’ drawers thoroughly.  If you are a missing sock geek, I will put two helpful posts in my P.S. for additional googling.

The first thing that surprised me in researching missing things is that, at least in my humble estimation, socks have the lowest successful return rate of all the other categories!

Now let’s move on to missing cats, which the whole reason I started this post.

Missing cats: for starters, missing cats generally stay relatively close to home. That’s great news for me!! From a helpful post:

“If he (or she) is not used to being out, or doesn’t know the area, he will likely be within 300 to 500 feet of where he was lost, if he can find a place to hide. Most lost cats who have always lived indoors will not go far from home. Many are discovered hiding just a few doors away or even a few feet from the front door. Start by looking under nearby porches, in basements and garages, in bushes, and even under cars.” Source: here.

Even outdoor cats have a relatively smallish area where they hunt and roam around.  Lila is hopefully hiding somewhere in my hood, under a deck, under a porch, in a shed, or in a little crevice. She may come out at night to look for food and water. I have looked high and low and have been very un-shy about knocking on neighbors’ doors to ask for help. The one cool thing about having a missing cat is that I have really gotten to know my neighbors faster and better than I otherwise would have.

Bottom line of missing cats: with persistence, they can (usually) be found (unless they are hit by a car or attacked by a predator or taken in by a new family), but get the word out right away. They are usually somewhere relatively close to home (though some stray farther, you must put up flyers in other neighborhoods and feel free to call local farms…) and come out at night. Get a flashlight, rattle some food, call his or her name, set a humane trap on your front porch, put out their litter box or favorite blanket (the scent travels far), and hope for the best.

Quick note on the humane trap: You have to know what you are doing with one of these, and keep an eye on them, as you could trap another animal like a raccoon, which you most certainly do not want to do. But humane traps can work like a charm when trying to pin down a skittish cat (and most even sweet cats become skittish if they are lost).

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Logan with my other cat, Quinny-Chi.

Missing dogs: dogs actually travel much farther than cats from home (from one to five miles away in some cases, depending on age, health, and breed), and while some are hit by cars, and some are hiding somewhere in survival mode, and some are just hanging out waiting to be helped out, many of them are picked up by good samaritans and kept as a “new pet” for their family. While semi-understandable, this practice is not good on many levels and is illegal in all states. Some people think that might be killed by a wolf or coyote. However, that scenario usually does not happen nation-wide but could happen in certain areas (for example, I live near a forest preserve where coyotes are commonly seen).

Sadly, many dogs (and some purebred cats) are actually STOLEN. I couldn’t believe it until I was perusing a lost cat and dog Facebook page (yes, you start really taking an interest in something when it happens to you) and I actually saw a dude, on a surveillance camera, actually steal a puppy from someone’s front yard! Apparently, there is a market for stolen dogs, and two million pets are stolen each year, mostly for re-sale purposes, breeding for dog mills, and dog-fighting. A great article is found here: stolen pets.

Bottom line of missing dogs: many are picked up by a good Samaritan, some are hiding, some are hanging out, and some are stolen. Most come home eventually but it takes time and effort to get them back with the aid of flyers, social media, calling shelters, uploading your dogs’ photo to social media sites and shelters, and persistence (do all of this with cats, too). You can’t be lazy and just hope your dog will just show up because they tend to travel a bit farther than cats. They might show up naturally, but they might not. Get off the couch and do something. (more info here.)

And now for my second surprise.  My question was this: do lost cats and dogs eventually come home? The answer is usually yes!

The ASPCA conducted a study in 2012 on missing pets: 93 percent of dogs and 75 percent of cats reported lost were returned safely to their homes.

Another surprise: only 6 percent of dog owners and 2 percent of cat owners found their lost pets at shelters. (more info here,)

Last point on missing pets: get them chipped at your local vets’ office before they go missing!

Missing People: why and how people go missing and if they are found could easily be a whole series of blog posts and this post will only be a skim and a summary.  And there are lots of variables which make it hard to pin down a neat and clean answer, two prominent variables being that it completely depends on if the person go missing voluntary or involuntarily, as well as whether they are an adult or a child/teen. But what I found on this topic actually surprised the heck out of me. I hope you find it interesting as well. And of course I will use bullets, as I love them and they help me.

  • Missing people big picture: on average, approximately 750,000 missing person cases are filed each year (stat from the NCIC database). (Source here.)
  • Missing people in general: On average, 90,000 people are missing in the USA at any given time, according to Todd Matthews from the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs, a national database for missing people. And more than 600,000 missing persons were reported in 2013. (Source: here.)
  • Missing kids/teens in general: Missing Children can be missing for a wide variety of reasons (e.g., runaway, throwaway, lost, injured, etc.) other than abduction and can be abducted for a wide variety of motivations (profit, ransom, custodial disputes, crazy sicko, etc.)  (Source: here.)
  • Missing juvies in general: half of the 800,000 missing juvenile cases reported each year are runaways. One quarter of missing children cases are abductions committed by family members (think custody issues). Approximately 100 are kidnapping by strangers (but wait, there is another stat on this coming up). In the case of family abductions, 46% are returned within a week and 21% are returned within a month.
  • Watch out for this: many kids are being lured away from home via technology, so parents be mindful! 
  • One other stat on kids/teens: Of the children under age 18, a total of 4,883 reports were classified as “missing under circumstances indicating that the disappearance may not have been voluntary, i.e., abduction or kidnapping” (9,572 under age 21) (Source: wikipedia.)
  • Bottom line on why adults go missing: those with alcohol/drug addiction, psychiatric issues, and the elderly suffering from degenerative brain disorders, make up the bulk of missing adult cases (but as I’ve said, some just choose to disappear for other reasons). (Source: here.)

I would add that a person’s chances of going missing increase if that person becomes homeless and they are not doing well psychologically and do not get intervention. I would also add that if you need help finding a missing person you should consider hiring a private investigator.

Here is another stat that surprised me: according to an interview with Todd Mathews with the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System:

“You know, the missing touches everybody, I think. In 2012, we had 661,000 cases of missing persons; and that’s just from that one year. Very quickly, 659,000 of those were canceled. So that means those persons either come back; in some cases, located as deceased persons, maybe never an unidentified person; or just a total misunderstanding. So at the end of 2012, of those 661,000 minus the canceled, we had 2,079 cases that remained at the end of the year as unresolved….In my personal experience, I’ve seen the missing numbers recorded nationally drop. There’s not as many as were listed before.  (Source: here.)

Did you catch that?

A majority of missing persons cases each year are resolved. And the numbers are actually down. I had no idea.

The bottom line of missing people: hard to pin down but here’s my best guess and I am way over-generalizing here: if it’s a runaway teen, they usually return (unless something bad happens to them – drugs, trafficking, wrong crowd, murdered, or if they just choose to remain a runaway). The best way to prevent your teen from running away is to have a good relationship with him or her, and a good line of communication as well.  If it’s a family abduction, the kids are usually returned. Adults go missing due to foul play, accidents, health issues, age issues, suicide, or by choice. If an adult or teen does not want to be found, they may never be found. But the bottom line is that most cases of missing persons do resolve over time, or the family in waiting receives some type of closure.

It is very hard to pin down where missing people who leave voluntarily actually end up going to (physically – location wise).  I googled this and here is what I found (mixed in with my own thoughts): some missing people go where they will not be noticed or can received government services (such as big cities) or to find a job, if they are a teen or adult.  They might run away to warmer climates, or to a friend’s or family’s house in another location.  We recently went to San Diego, CA and, to be honest, it seemed to be a perfect place for someone to blend in and disappear, especially a young person.  Unfortunately, many kids end up being lured away from home by a sveeky 40 year old in his pajamas, where they end up at his house: article on this.

In addition to loving bullet points, I also love qualifiers, so here is a big one:

With everything that goes missing, there exists a huge element of mystery. Not everyone receives any type of closure, and not everything wraps up with a neat bow.  

Case in point: two kids went missing back in the fall of 2014 from the D.C. area where I used to live. I am good friends with their aunt Raelane and we searched high and low for Sarah and Jacob.  Sadly, this case has not yet resolved either way for the family and Sarah and Jacob are still missing. I interviewed Raelane who gives some very interesting inside scoop here: What happened to Sarah and Jacob? A conversation with their aunt – Raelane Turner.

Sometimes missing person situations wrap up neatly and quickly.  I actually have a missing person story (of sorts, more a paragraph rather than a story) involving my grandfather who was visiting me while we lived in D.C. One day I drove my two young kids and my grandfather down to D.C. to visit a museum, where we promptly were separated. I looked for over an hour for my grandpa Art and was stressed to the max. I suddenly remembered that I had forgotten to pray, so I did. I asked God to help me find my grandpa. God immediately sent an Angel from Heaven (I’m not kidding) to help me find him. Here’s the really cool story: here.

I believe prevention is the best way to avoid being kidnapped by a stranger who wishes to do you harm, and I wrote a whole series about how to avoid and deal with serial killers and other bad guys, with a whole list of things you can do to prevent bad guys from taking you or your kids, found here: The Top Ten Ways we can protect our kids from serial killers and other bad guys — Part II.

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Another missing person sign we saw while were in San Diego.  This city was filled with young, free spirited people and lots of homeless people.  It would be easy to disappear in a city like this.  I am praying that Wesley makes it safely back home to his family who obviously love him very much or they wouldn’t have bothered to put up this sign or offer this reward. I can’t even imagine having one of my children, even as a young adult, go missing.

Quick deep thoughts about all things missing: does God even care about my missing cat? The answer is, in my mind, a resounding yes! The Bible is replete with references to God’s care and concern for animals. God knows when a “sparrow falls to the ground” and Jesus himself gave three riveting parables in row about missing items. The first one is the “parable of the lost sheep” and it describes how God the Father will actually leave the 99 sheep and go after the one lost sheep, and rejoices when it is safely back home. Jesus went on to say that “there is more rejoicing in heaven when one sinner repents than there is with the 99 who feel that they don’t actually need to repent.”

I have been fervently praying for Lila’s safe return, and actively looking and doing things for her to come home. I have called her name all over the place, rattled food, looked all over for her, left food out at night, set up a humane trap, gotten the word out, etc. But, besides that one sighting that could have been her, we haven’t heard a peep. The way I have been pursuing Lila, who is very much lost, is very similar to the way that God pursues people. God wants them to come into this family and will stop at nothing to seek them out, constantly showing his protection, love and care for them, even if they have no idea He is doing that.

I need to let you in on a little secret: Lila is a reclusive and difficult cat. She has a history of urine spraying and sometimes acts aggressively. She and my other kitty don’t get along that well. However, as with all things difficult, there is always a bright spot: Lila can be very sweet, loves to cuddle me and my husband in our bed at night, and has beautiful green eyes! What I have discovered is that, even though she is a difficult fur baby at times, she is still a part of our family. I love her and I won’t give up on her!

The bottom line of this post is this: missing cats, dogs and people are usually found; they usually come home. This gives me great hope for Lila and for other missing people, too.

I will close with a super short story that drives home this last point.  A friend of mine had a beloved cat that went missing for over a month and not a peep, not a sighting, nothing!  Sadly, my friend had to move to a different home and was in the process of doing that.  However, one day she felt the Lord prompt her to go back to her old home (where her cat went missing) one last time and just “check and see” if her cat was there.  My friend Ragan pulled up to the front porch and lo and behold, there was her missing cat, just sitting on her front porch!!

Sometimes you need a little help from above to have that missing loved-one return home to you.

Sometimes you need God to give you closure, even if it’s hard.

And other times you just have to give up on finding all those darn missing socks. 🙂

And finally, while I have you, would you mind saying a quick prayer for my cat Lila?

Thanks, and with all thing that go missing – keep the faith!

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I’m still praying that Lila will come home safely!

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For further googling:

Missing socks: The best article I found on missing socks is here: https://www.wisebread.com/where-to-find-missing-socks. And this is the secret trap door in the dryer: https://www.countryliving.com/uk/homes-interiors/interiors/news/a3508/lost-socks-secret-tumble-dryer-compartment/.

Missing pets: According to that same ASPCA study, only 15 percent of pet guardians reported a lost dog or cat in the past five years, percentages of lost dogs versus lost cats were nearly identical: 14 percent for dogs and 15 percent for cats, 15 percent of dogs were found because they were sporting identification tags or microchips. (Source:The ASPCA conducted a survey of 1,015 pet households, and the findings of its five-year effort are published in the June 2012 issue of the journal Animals.)“They (lost dogs) will defer to a larger predator.  Lost dogs simply want to survive – so they need to do three things – they will hide from predators (including man) and they will spend their time sleeping and travelling between their food sources and hiding places.   If a dog is killed by a larger predator – the body will usually be found. Predators do not tend to eat other predators and all members of the canine family are predators.”

 

One last sobering stat: there are 40,000 unidentified human remains in this nation.

 

 

Time – flowing like a river, to the sea…(timely thoughts about life, regret, eternity, and Benjamin Button)

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The famous words of the incredibly depressing (yet very pretty) 1980’s hit song “Time” by the Alan Parson’s Project flows melodically over the easy listening channels, while you busily go about your life, doing your same routine day after day, year after year.  All the while, time goes faster, your kids become tweenagers, and you attend funerals for grandparents and great uncles.

Your babysitter grows up, graduates college, and gets married!

All too soon, your kids are off to college.

Your once good looks begin to fade and you are left with your personality (if you have one).  You put on a little weight.

More time goes by, and then (gasp!) your parents begin to pass away.  Your beloved pets pass away, too.

Before you know it, you are approaching retirement, slowing down, and becoming bald, wrinkled and gray.

You are devastated when your beloved spouse passes away. You attend many funerals for close friends. All of you who remain in your social circle exchange knowing looks, secretly wondering who will be next.

And to make it even more depressing, you lose physical and mental abilities you once took for granted as you begin the long, slow, slide towards death.

Every night you lay awake in bed and think about what should have been.  You struggle with deep regret.  Maybe you do something about it.  Maybe you don’t.

More time goes by.  It passes very slowly as you stare out your tiny apartment window at the Senior Living Facility.  A visitor is a ray of sunshine in your otherwise lonely days.

Seasons pass.  One day, you’re not feeling that well.  A diagnosis comes. Time slows down.  You begin to sleep.  A lot. Your body begins to shut down.

As you lay on your deathbed, your entire life passes before your eyes.

Your final thought registers like a blip on a radar screen:

“It went by so quickly!!”

And just like that – everything, everything goes dark as you close your eyes one last time and exhale your final breath.

Time…flowing like a river…to the sea…where it’s gone forever.

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Ah!  If that’s not a depressing way to start a blog post about our journey through time, I’m not sure what is.  I promise you some good news on this topic, however, so hang with me.

I have been feeling very melancholy lately for one huge reason: we are about to uproot our whole entire lives and move half-way across the country.  My husband Erik received an amazing new job in the Chicago suburbs and we will be moving there this summer.

With the move looming before me, I have become very introspective and have been pondering the passage of time, and why it seems to have gone much slower when I was a young girl and how it seems so incredibly fast now.  I feel like Erik and I just moved into our current home and neighborhood which we absolutely love – even though it’s been almost five years ago.  And now we are moving again!

This blog post is the result of much internal wrestling and melancholy moments as well as researching the concept of the passage of time (and how to manage it well).

In this post, I hope to answer the following three questions:

  • Why does time seem to fly? 
  • How can we make it slow down a little bit?  
  • And finally, how should we approach the concept of the passage of time in a way that we can find rewarding, fulfilling, and peaceful (with little end of life regret)?

So without further delay, here is my best guess as to all things related to the passage of time and how we can approach it with peace.

Why Does Time Seem to Fly?

There are a few reasons, but I will focus on two:

  • First, our brain encodes new experiences only (not boring, routine ones), and over-represents new experiences, making them seem longer.
  • Secondly, our brains are built for efficiency, so once your brain figures out how to do something, and neuro – pathways are established, the brain runs more quickly and efficiently, making time seem to speed up (and most of what we do every day your brain has pretty much figured out).

Here is a bit more detail on the first reason: (skip to the bold if you don’t like research mumbo-jumbo)

Our brain encodes new experiences, but not familiar ones, into memory, and our retrospective judgment of time is based on how many new memories we create over a certain period. In other words, the more new memories we build on a weekend getaway, the longer that trip will seem in hindsight. This phenomenon, which Hammond has dubbed the holiday paradox, seems to present one of the best clues as to why, in retrospect, time seems to pass more quickly the older we get. From childhood to early adulthood, we have many fresh experiences and learn countless new skills. As adults, though, our lives become more routine, and we experience fewer unfamiliar moments. As a result, our early years tend to be relatively overrepresented in our autobiographical memory and, on reflection, seem to have lasted longer. (Source: here.)

The second reason time seems to be flying (as touched on above) is because your brain is built for efficiency, and once your brain figures out how to do something, time seems to go faster. Two articles on this topic are found here and here.  I will go into this point a bit more in a moment (See Three, do new and hard things.)

The bottom line on why time seems to fly has something to do with the way our brains processes information. If something is novel, time seems to slow down.  If something is routine, time seems to speed up.

The only problem is that most of us have relatively routine lives, which leads my to my second point…

What can we do to make time go slower?

I have three ideas that can make time go slower take the edge off of how rapidly time is flying.

First, pay attention.

From another article: “Eagleman’s research supports the idea that taking time to be mindful and focusing fully on the present moment — in other words, actively noticing new things — can actually slow down our brain’s perception of time.” (Source: here.)

The way I approach “living in the present moment,” (which is much harder than it sounds), is:

  • I take very small steps throughout my day to really focus on the details around me, including people, and try to find something pleasant about that one moment in time.
  • I take walks and look (and listen) for birds. There are SO many out there and each of their songs are distinct. I focus on the beauty of nature all around me such as blooming flowers, mature trees, sunsets, mountains, and beaches.
  • I try to notice the color of people’s eyes (the eyes are the window of the soul).  For example my son Logan has beautiful bright blue eyes with a really cool yellow ring around his pupils.  I often will just stare and stare into them and just soak up routine moments with him (and my other kiddos).

Second, spend more time with people that are important than you.

Consider the quote from recently-passed First Lady Barbara Bush: “At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child, or a parent.”

I am extremely proactive about spending time with my immediate and extended family.  Here are a few tips that I have done over the years:

  • I’ve pushed my kids on the on the baby swing for several minutes longer than I planned to, all the while relishing their giggles and the joy on their faces!
  • Giving each of my kids extra long and meaningful tuck-ins every night before bed. I must confess that this has adjusted since two of my kids are now young teenagers, but in their cases I often just sit in their room and hang with them, talking about their day.  Would I prefer to be plopped in front of the TV, just vegetating?  Probably.  But I try to steal several minutes more, just savoring the time with them.
  • I try to get back to my hometown, (Syracuse, NY) about twice a year, and sometimes more if there are events (like graduations, weddings, and funerals).  I try to be as intentional as I can be with my extended family, even planning multiple visits on the same day in an effort to fit everyone in.
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Spending quality time with my family. Definitely the way I want to spend my time.

 

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I love my family from Syracuse! I always try to fit everyone in while I’m there!

Third, do new and hard things.

For me, the greatest example of this is our upcoming move to Chicago.  Strangely, I look forward to not knowing my way around town, and discovering new things.  This is hard work for my brain and will break up my routine, slowing down my perception of time.  

According to one article: “all you need to do is regularly inject a little novelty into it (your day to day routine). Think about the last time you went on a great, action-packed vacation. Dimes to donuts, at the end of the trip, you said something like, “We were only here a week, but I feel like we’ve been gone forever.” All that new adventure slowed down your perception of time. Even as we get older, we can still seek out new horizons and new “firsts.”

And in a similar vein: “this means we can also slow time down later in life. We can alter our perceptions by keeping our brain active, continually learning skills and ideas, and exploring new places.” (source: here.)

Here are a few ideas for doing new and hard things:

  • Start a new hobby.  I started blogging two years ago and time did seem to go a tad bit slower in the beginning when I was trying to figure things out (I am still trying to figure things out…)
  • Do something you are afraid of (within reason).  For example, do you fear public speaking?  Take a Toast-Masters class.
  • Take a class at a Community college in a subject that interests you.  Or, if that is too much, read a book that is hard for your brain.  I recently read a book about the history of Europe and predictions for that region in the years to come.  I had to read it very slowly and re-read several sections because it was above my mental pay-grade.  (The book was Flashpoints by George Friedman. Another hard book I read was Durable Peace by Benjamin Netanyahu.)

For more on ideas on how to slow down time: good article.

How you can approach the passage of time that will could bring you peace and fulfillment:

Tip one: Look backward before you look forward (to minimize regret)

Think of the movie about the man who aged backwards (the Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and approach your life as though you are working backwards with the remaining time you have left, and then prioritize what it is you want to invest in and live for.  And what it is that you don’t want to regret later. Figure out what you think you will regret when you are on your deathbed.  I know that seems depressing, but at the end of the day, those regrets will be impossible to get out of your brain.  You will lie awake at night and think about them.

Did you want to get married and you never did?  You will think about that.  Did you want to have kids and never did?  You will think about that, too. (I am not talking to single women who would love to get married but for some reason are not.) Did you want to reconcile with your father before he died and then never did?  Were you true to yourself or did you live up to others’ expectations of you?  Did you not spend as much time with your kiddos because you were very focused on your career?  You had better believe you will have a lot of time to think about these regrets and many others when you are old and gray, so why not minimize those regrets right now while you still have the chance?  

Here are a few things I believe I would regret not having accomplished when I am old and gray:

  1. Not getting married or having kids
  2. Not spending enough time my husband and kids because I was too focused on myself or something else (like a time-consuming career)
  3. Not pushing myself in school or my career and/or not running for political office one day (that is still pending)
  4. Not being true to (and not working hard towards) my Christian faith
  5. Not being willing to take risks or do new and hard things
  6. Not cultivating deep friendships
  7. A bunch of other small regrets like not reconciling with someone before they passed, or having a funky or estranged relationship with someone important to me

Do you have a Benjamin Button-type list?  There’s no time like the present to make one. When I am about to make a big or small decision, I try to ask myself: “If I don’t do this now, will I regret it later?”  If I answer “yes,” I try to go and do it, even if it’s a few years later than I said I would.

At the time of this writing, House Speaker Paul Ryan just decided to step down as Speaker of the House at the peak of his career.  This is what he told Gail King in a recent interview:

“If I am here for one more term, my kids will only have ever known me as a weekend dad. I just can’t let that happen. I’ve had so many people in their 50s and 60s come up and tell me: “I wish I had spent more time with my kids when they were younger.”

Ryan lost his own dad at 16 so I’m sure that thought is in the back of his mind with this decision (and I’m sure other reasons are as well – like potentially losing the House, etc.). Ryan is looking backward before he looks forward. He is attempting, in his own way, to minimize his regrets later in life.

Tip Two: Consider the possibility of eternity

If you believe that there is more to this life than just to live and to die, you’re in good company. But maybe you think that this is all were are here for — to live one life on earth, and then we die and go into the ground.

I would just like to gently challenge you to be open to the thought that there could be an eternity, and put forth some time and effort researching that concept.  Just in case.

Consider all the top religions in the world and look into them.  Some of them have no eternal life component. Some have incremental eternity; you can achieve eternal life in an incremental fashion. Christianity offers immediate eternal life in Heaven, with God, through faith in Jesus Christ (and through repentance and forgiveness of sins).  I believe in this.  Many others do as well.  Don’t know where to start?  Start by reading the book of John in the Bible. It will take your about an hour.

(For a brief overview of what various religions believe about the afterlife, click here.)

If you spend time researching healthy recipes or which essential oils to use when your child has the sniffles, or which 401K plan is better for your retirement, then maybe consider looking into the concept of eternal life (and how to achieve it) before you time is up, just to be on the safe side.

I believe that when my time is up, I am going to heaven. I hope to live until I’m 103, but last year when my childhood best friend Hillary passed away from two forms of deadly cancer at 44, I learned that sometimes your number is called much sooner than you would like it to be.

Tip 3: There is no spoon 

In the hit movie series The Matrix, the main character Neo discovers that what he thought was real life is really fake — that all of mankind is being controlled by machines that use the energy of human life to provide energy for themselves (the machines).  Basically, the machines rule the world and they control our brains and put us into our very own, specially-formulated reality TV show.

Neo breaks free of the Matrix (the fake life) and discovers that he is the chosen one — the one to set the humans free from the grip of the machines.  In one telling scene, he meets with a woman prophet and sees a young boy attempting to move a spoon with his mind.  The boy is successful.  Neo tries to bend the spoon and is eventually successful.  But then the boy says something that resonates with my above point about eternity:

The boy: “Do not try to bend the spoon. That’s impossible.  Instead, only try to realize the truth.”

Neo: “What truth?”

Boy: “There is no spoon.  Then you will see it is not the spoon that bends, but only yourself.”

The point is that if there is an afterlife, we make a mistake if we spend all our time focusing on what we can see at the expense of the reality we do not.

As I look backward in order to look forward, I am trying to keep in mind that there is no spoon, or rather, there is a spoon, but there’s also a fork and a knife too, and this whole other world that I am heading to when I go. And then I (imperfectly) try to live my life here on earth with that other reality in mind.

Instead of bending the spoon, I hope to bend myself.

If you have one minute and 11 seconds, watch this.

A couple of other quick thoughts on this last point. I have read a few books about end of life experiences.  Trudy Harris, a hospice nurse, relayed that many of her patients who had a faith in God died very peacefully, and many described seeing angels in their room right before they passed.

Billy Graham stated the following about his own grandmother: “When my grandmother was dying she sat up in her bed, smiled, and said, ‘I see Jesus, and He has His hand outstretched to me. And there’s Ben and he has both of his eyes and both of his legs!’ (His grandfather had lost one leg and one eye in Gettysburg. Source: here.)

Similarly, years ago I read a book series about American history.  According to many accounts, slaveowners would often feel extreme guilt on their deathbeds and call their slaves to their bed-side to say they were very sorry for what they had done/how they had treated them.

One slaveowner’s own account is very chilling:

“Oh the blackness of darkness!  The dark imps! I see them all about me – take them away!” (source, From Sea to Shining Sea, Peter Marshall, page 279.)

Seems like this slaveowner had a glimpse of what was waiting for him when he crossed to the other side. Only — what he saw scared the hell out of him.

The bottom line of this entire post is this: time is flying, but there are a few things you can do to slow it down (think doing new and hard things) and there are ways to approach it that can be helpful (think end of life regret and working backwards).  And consider eternity, which really helps you to process aging and death with hope and peace.

In closing….

A few deep quotes about the passage of time and the possibility of something more:

“Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.”  (Psalm 90:12)

“Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days, let me know how fleeting my life is.  You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is nothing before you.  Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.  Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom; in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth without knowing whose it will finally be.  But now, Lord, what do I look for?  My hope is in you.” (Psalm 39)

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” –Mother Theresa

“I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But as much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking.” – Carl Sagan

And then the one day you find — ten years have got behind you. No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun. And you run and you run to catch up with the sun
but it’s sinking. Racing around to come up behind you again. The sun is the same
in a relative way but you’re older. Shorter of breath, and one day closer to death.  Every year is getting shorter; never seem to find the time. Plans that either come to naught, or half a page of scribbled lines. Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way.  The time is gone.  The song is over.  Thought I’d something more to say.  – Pink Floyd (Time)

“For what it’s worth, it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be.  There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want.  You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing.  We can make the best or the worst of it.  I hope you will make the best of it.  And I hope you see things that startle you.  I hope you feel things that you never felt before.  I hope you meet people with a different point of view.  I hope you live a life you’re proud of.  If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.” – Benjamin Button 

And finally, I believe these last two quotes sum up this post:

“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.” – Michael Altshuler

“Endings are not always bad. Most times they’re just beginnings in disguise.” -Kim Harrison

 

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What happened to Sarah and Jacob? A conversation with their aunt – Raelane Turner

Sarah and Jacob Hoggle disappeared three years ago from Montgomery County, MD.  They were last seen with their mother, Catherine. What happened to them?  Sarah and Jacob have an awesome Aunt Raelane, who is intimately connected to this story and will never stop looking for them.  Below is Raelane’s perspective of the case.

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One of the many paper announcements that were handed out in the fall of 2014 in the Montgomery County, Maryland area.  This one now sits on the dashboard of Raelane’s van.  Sarah and Jacob are still missing.
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Raelane in front her her van with a prominent sign, reminding all of us that they are still out there.

Raelane Turner and I have been close friends for almost ten years, so when she called me in a panic three years ago, telling me that her niece and nephew had gone missing and that their mother, Catherine Hoggle, was the prime suspect in their disappearance, and could I please help her search the nearby wooded areas, I jumped in to help.  Raelane and I probably went on a dozen searches together over the next few weeks and months, and she continued on with dozens more, and I did a few on my own.  To this day, Sarah and Jacob are still missing while Catherine, their mother, is being held in a mental health facility. Their story has received national media attention and was recently featured in People magazine and on Dr. Oz.  

In the following interview, I get Raelane’s perspective on the case. Raelane is Troy Turner’s sister and had a very close relationship with Sarah and Jacob.  She is intimately connected to the case.  I, myself, had the privilege of meeting Sarah and Jacob one day at the church we attend together. 

Below is Raelane’s story and her perspective on what happened to Sarah and Jacob.  

But before I get to her interview, I think it would be helpful if I summarize the events surrounding the disappearance of Sarah and Jacob.  I will put the order of events in bullet form because I find bullets to be helpful for my brain.  (Timeline provided by Raelane.)

  • Sunday evening September 7, 2014, Troy Turner took Catherine and all three of their children to Catherine’s mother’s home in Darnestown, MD. After Troy left, Catherine told her father, Randy, that she wanted to take Jacob out for pizza and be right back. Bear in mind, Catherine was not allowed to drive a vehicle and not allowed to be alone with her children because of prior unstable behavior around her kids.  For whatever reason, her father allowed Catherine to leave with Jacob, with Catherine driving his vehicle.  Three hours later, Catherine returned without Jacob.  She told her father that Jacob was now at a play date instead.
  • Later that evening, with Randy driving, the four of them (Randy, Catherine, Sarah, and Troy and Catherine’s eldest son) went back to Troy’s home in Clarksburg, MD.
  • Troy came home later that night from work and went straight to bed, although typically Troy would kiss his three kids goodnight first (on this particular night, however, he got home later than usual as Catherine had kept him late out running errands for her).
  • The next morning, Troy was awakened by his eldest son who asked him where Sarah and Jacob were.  Troy quickly did a search of their home, and sure enough, no Catherine, and no kids. Troy proceeded to get his eldest son ready for school and headed to the bus stop with him.
  • Awhile later, Catherine returns to Troy’s house (with Troy’s vehicle that she wasn’t supposed to be driving) and Troy asks her where Sarah and Jacob are.  She tells him that the kids are at a new daycare center and that she needed to be taken to her class.  Troy drove her to her class and then picked her up later.  After her class, Troy picked her up.  When Catherine got into his car, he asked to be taken to Sarah and Jacob at the daycare facility.  Over the course of that afternoon, Catherine leads him on a wild goose chase looking for this made-up daycare center.
  • Once Troy realizes that Catherine is not being forthright about the kids, he became very angry and asked Catherine repeatedly to tell him where they were.  When she refused, he told her they were going to the police station straight away.
  • There was a fast food restaurant adjacent to the police station which Catherine saw, and asked to stop there. Troy went in with her and waited for her to receive her order, and then escorted her back to his car.  At the last moment, Catherine requested to run back into the restaurant and then gave Troy the slip.  She escaped out of the back door of the restaurant.
  • She spent the next four days hiding out in the Germantown, MD area until she was finally caught and questioned by the police.  The police interrogated Catherine for many hours on the day she was apprehended. She is now being held in the Perkins Hospital Center, a psychiatric facility, in Jessup, MD and has recently been charged with two counts of murder in the disappearance of her children.
  • Three and a half years later, Sarah and Jacob are still missing and Catherine is the only one who knows where the are (at least, from what we know).  The problem is, she is not telling anyone where they are or what she did with them.

From Raelane….

Can you tell me the two prevailing theories of what happened to the children?

First, Catherine passed them off to someone else.  But then there is a fork in the road after that. The question is: did she give them to a family member or did she give them to someone she didn’t know?  Catherine’s mother (Lindsey Hoggle) brought up the theory that she thought Catherine was into Scientology.  But we just don’t know who she would’ve given them to because Catherine didn’t really talk to people. Or, did she pass them to a possible family member?

The other thing that has come up with the case has to do with Randy, her father.  Because oddly enough, the next day, while his grandkids were missing, he took a trip to PA.  So a lot of people are asking “how do you go out of town when your daughter and two grandchildren are missing?”  So that would be the other thing; if he helped out or something.

Of course, the other theory is that she murdered our Sarah and Jacob and took them away from us forever.  It’s one fact we don’t want to come across but we have always tried to consider both sides.

What do you, personally, think happened to Sarah and Jacob?

If I am stepping back and looking outside of my family, then I would say that I think she murdered them.  Just looking at the case; her actions and the things she said. We all had major concerns about how Catherine interacted with the kids, and CPS was already involved at one time, as some members of her family had seen Catherine display unstable behavior towards the kids.

But then again, I hope she gave the kids to someone and that they would be found, like other children that have gone missing, and be returned home to us and to my brother.

Tell me about the man with the tattoo on his wrist and what happened that day at the bus stop.

Here is something that gave me hope early on: there were people at the bus stop the morning that Sarah and Jacob disappeared who witnessed Catherine pacing near my brother’s van while she was waiting for (presumably) her eldest son to come to the bus stop.  Inside Troy’s van they saw a man sitting in the drivers seat with his left arm resting on the door with the window open, and he had a very prominent tattoo on or around his left wrist.  Witnesses say he had longish blond hair.  To this day, we don’t know who this man is, why he was sitting in my brother’s car, and why Catherine was pacing, as if she was nervously waiting for something to happen.  So people wonder if she was waiting to grab her eldest child before he got on the bus, as he would often walk to the bus stop on his own.  This time, however, Troy was with him.

So you believe that she wanted to take their eldest son?

I have no idea, but there are many other people who believe that yes, she wanted to take him as well but didn’t have the opportunity to do so.  For example, as I said, witnesses say she was pacing near my brother’s van while she waited for him to come to the bus stop. Why would she be pacing, up there, near his bus stop when she wasn’t even the one to bring him there herself?

What is the status of the court case as of right now?

Two murder charges have been filed against Catherine. And the last time we went to court, they declared her to still not be competent to stand trial. She will be reevaluated in a year.

Why would Catherine either pass off her children to someone else, or murder her own children?

I have no idea.  I couldn’t even think of why a mother would want to get rid of her children in any way, shape, or form.  I know she didn’t want her mother to raise the kids, she didn’t want me to raise the kids, and she didn’t want Troy to raise the kids.  Unfortunately she was not able to raise them herself.  Maybe she would want someone else to raise them so she gave them to someone else.  That theory is giving me a glimmer of hope.  Some people have said that it seems like Catherine lacks a soul and a conscience.

What would you say to Catherine if she ever read this interview?

A lot of people are saying “It’s all about Sarah and Jacob, let’s stop talking about Catherine,” but I say instead: Catherine is the key to finding Sarah and Jacob.  That’s where the answer lies.

Only she knows what really happened that Sunday and Monday.  The only thing I would say to her is I hope that she will tell the truth, and either way, if the kids are with us or they’re in heaven, that she would repent of her sins as we all should do and turn her life over to the Lord.   I would also tell her that she can always pray and ask God for help with the things she doesn’t know how to handle, and that she can contact me anytime.

Do you believe she is being treated fairly (or too fairly) by our justice system?  Is she competent to stand trial?

I believe she IS competent.  Both sides of the family believe this and even her mother has made statements to this effect.  I think the justice system needs to be revamped because a lot of things have changed and a lot of things are classified as mental illness vs. someone who is violent and uncaring; someone who knows exactly what they are doing.  There has to be a way to differentiate between that. The changes need to be made through the people and the politicians.  There is no uniform standard and you can easily hide under it.  And it depends on where you live as laws vary state to state and jurisdiction to jurisdiction.  We have talked to many police officers and attorneys and private investigators both in state and out of state who say the case would have been handled differently had it been in their jurisdiction. The criminals are protected more than the victims.

Do you think the Montgomery County police department has done a good job with this investigation?

(dead silence for several moments……)

From the beginning I think the investigators felt 100 percent that she murdered her kids and they geared the investigation toward that.  And I don’t see how they heard or saw everything that they should have, in my opinion.  To this day, I have never been interviewed by anyone and there are many other people who are close to the case who have never been interviewed.  So I don’t see how that’s really a thorough investigation, or a complete picture.  For example, I’m not sure if they ever spoke to anyone about the man with the tattoo on his wrist.  They even told Lindsey, Catherine’s mom, to “check your home for us, and check your home computer that Catherine used, and see if you find anything that can help in this case.”  They didn’t even do it themselves.  I know that if I were investigating this case, I would have sent law enforcement agents in to do that search.  Thank goodness my mother mentioned to law enforcement that they should be checking Lindsey’s home computer, and then they did.   And when Randy (Catherine’s father)  traveled to PA, it seems like they would’ve called law enforcement in PA to stop him and check his vehicle, since it crossed state lines.  They asked Randy, himself, to “please bring the vehicle to them so they could check it.”  Again, I certainly would not have done that.  Had my mom not been assertive, I wonder if they would have checked his vehicle at all.

So because they had a firm belief in the fact that the Sarah and Jacob were no longer with us, was every avenue covered?  And should Randy been charged with allowing Catherine to drive the vehicle that she wasn’t supposed to be driving and to take my little Jacob with her when she wasn’t supposed to be alone with the kids?  It makes no sense to me and it’s sickening.

What is her official mental health diagnosis?

Paranoid schitzophrenia but also severe psychosis and a plethora of other things from what I know. But from what I’ve seen from her, she is fully capable of comprehending what is going on around her.  Some people may think that she is sitting there, zoned-out and not functioning.  But that’s not true.  She can talk just like we are talking.  She is very intelligent.  She has just used everything in the wrong way.

Do you think the truth will eventually come out?

I do.  But I am hoping Catherine will tell us sooner rather than later what happened. The truth will come out if and when God decides it’s time.

Tell me about the searches?  What were they like?  How many did you participate in?

I can’t even describe what it’s like to be searching for my niece and nephew, who had already become like my own children to me because I had spent so much time with them over the years.  They were dearly loved, sweet children. It’s gut-wrenching; and that phrase doesn’t even do it justice.  In the beginning I went out there often with the hopes of finding them, and I was screaming their names, hoping I would hear a tiny peep.  I had to be out there; and even though I often felt nauseous, I also felt compelled to look until I found them. But then after several days, it just turned into looking, and looking, and I couldn’t stop looking, and I had to get everyone else to look too. And then that turned to organizing and strategizing more, and making sure we were searching in the proper areas.

Have you seen good support from the local community for your searches and other aspects of the case?

Yes.  In the beginning we had 500 people come out. But then it trickled off because these aren’t their kids, and people have their own lives to lead.  Our search leaders still call me and text me, and they still want to go out and look. We are like family.  A lot of people are still asking what they can do to help.  It warms my heart to know that many other people out there are concerned about Sarah and Jacob and want to help find them or to bring closure in some other way.

How are your brother and your family holding up?

Even though it’s been more than three years, I still feel right in the midst of this.  I still feel the need to keep up on things, that I need to keep doing things to find them.  I can’t imagine what it’s like for my brother.  Everything is hard.  Holidays are hard.  I don’t even want to shop for my own kids and not shop for Sarah and Jacob too.  It’s still hard.  I still cry.  I still have nightmares.

How has your faith in God impacted you during this difficult time? 

It’s what has gotten me through.  You can’t have anger.  I have forgiven Catherine because I realize IT is not Catherine.  God’s carried me through everything and I am in the palm of his hand, knowing that He is taking care of things.  And even if the kids are gone, God is taking care of them; they are with him in heaven.  They are not suffering or in pain.  I think that people who are not believers don’t understand that there is a purpose.  God is a God of good and of love, and whatever plan He has, I welcome that in my life.  We have to look down the road to our eternal salvation and what is to come.  We are going to go through hard things in this world.  I don’t have a right to say that I shouldn’t go through some hard things.

You have four kids yourself.  How has the disappearance of their cousins impacted them?  

All of them were like brothers and sisters.  Sometimes Sarah and Jacob and my older nephew would stay with us for weeks or a month at a time, then we would all kind of tag team to take them out.  We would go to bed together and get up together.  The kids are really hurting.  They are growing up not with one hole, but two holes in their heart.

If you were a police officer or an investigator with unlimited resources, what would you do to solve this case?

Finish with the searches; we do have maps that Klauss kids has helped us to generate.  If you don’t find anything you can at least say you cleared that.  Investigate the angle that they were alive and taken to another location.  Figure out where Catherine had family and look there, but I’m sure law enforcement has already considered doing that… or at least I would hope.

Please tell me a little about Sarah and Jacob. 

They were such sweet kids.  Sarah was our tough little football player.  Even looking at her from the back, she looked like a boy with her broad shoulders.  She was very strong-willed personality.  But she was also girly, and had a purse that she would stuff everything into.  The purse still sits on my dining room table in my home.  Jacob was my little smiley-face; he was friendly with everyone he met.  Jacob and I would stay up all night; he was my night owl and I would just sing to him all night long, carrying him around.  I would sing “You are my sunshine” to try to get him to sleep.  I still miss that and tear up when I sing that song to my grandkids.

How would you summarize the disappearance of your niece and nephew?  

A lot of people use the phrase “emotional roller-coaster”, but the only thing I can think of everyday is that a train hits you, and you are barely out of the way before another train hits you.  But even through these ongoing train wrecks, and even through all the hurt and pain, and through the tears, I can still feel the peace of the Lord.  And God still has his hands on me.  And one day, very soon, I will be reunited with Sarah and Jacob.  If not here, then in Heaven for all eternity.

For more information and to stay updated with this case, please visit this page and hit ‘like’: https://www.facebook.com/JusticeforSarahJacob/

To read a recent article of this case, click here.

Visit this website for more information: here.

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Raelane and me at a recent get together. 🙂

____________________________________

Closing note from Heather:

I will always remember searching the woods.  From my perspective as her friend, you do feel compelled to help, because you imagine it’s your own children.  And I didn’t want Raelane to have to search alone.  (What kind of friend lets her friend do that?) Searching for missing kids is a very surreal and emotional experience.  You want to find them, but you don’t.  You are afraid to find them because of exactly what you may find.  But you really want to help, and you want the family to have closure.  You want the truth to come out.  

After I was done with the searches, I would always come home and hug my kids a little tighter.  

I wrote this post for three reasons: first, to show my support for my dear friend Raelane.  Secondly, because I felt like Raelane should finally be able to share her story; she always told me such interesting information about the case and I thought other people should know about it, too.  Finally, and most importantly, my hope and prayer is that this article would be helpful in solving the mystery and bringing Sarah and Jacob home.  

After my conversation with Raelane, I still have questions about the man with the tattoo around his wrist, and the lapse in judgement (or worse?) from Catherine’s father.  And what about Catherine: will she ever be competent to stand trial?  Will she ever confess to what she did?

So what do I think happened to the kids? I go back and forth between believing that Catherine killed them and placed their bodies somewhere in two wooded areas around my local area, OR that they are still alive and well with other people (there were details shared with me privately that give me hope that they are still alive somewhere else).  So if I can have a sliver of faith and hope, then you can too!  

If you would like to help with this case — first pray!  Secondly, feel free to share this post.  Leave a comment if you think you have any information that can help!  And feel free to like the Facebook page that I linked above.  And if you have any information, feel free to contact the Montgomery County Police Department. 

In closing, I am praying that Sarah and Jacob will be found alive some day; in essence, for a miracle.  But either way, I pray for justice for Sarah and Jacob.  I pray that God will squeeze Catherine so hard that the truth will finally seep out of her.  I pray for closure for the entire family.  And I pray for healing for my dear friend Raelane, who is still deeply grieving for her niece and nephew.

Thank you for your interest in this case and for reading!

I needed this one thing to happen before I could find love

As I looked around at the thousands of students who filled the huge astro-dome during chapel at Liberty University (a Christian college) where I attended, I sighed loudly as Dr. Jerry Falwell (the Chancellor) exclaimed, once again:

“All you students, look around!  Find your husband or wife here at Liberty!  There are many opportunities to get to know other young people here!  Look around and start dating!  Young men, find your wives here! Young women, find your husbands! here!  Take advantage of this time!”

I scowled and looked around.  I was half way through my senior year, and I could feel the pressure mounting to “find my husband.”  Seated next to me were my college besties: all beautiful young women, happily dating, all well on their way to marrying their boyfriends soon after college.  I kept looking around and noticed several good-looking young men that were certainly date-able material, some of whom I knew personally. The only problem was that they were not asking me out.

I looked around some more, and spotted the guy I had my heart set on.  When our eyes met he averted my gaze, which painfully reminded me that he was still not moving past the “let’s hang out all the time and I will take all the same classes as you and be study partners and great friends with you, and come over to your house all the time and study until midnight with our knees touching under the table” phase of our relationship.

“But what if I am not meant to find my husband at college?” I whispered, probably too loudly, to one of my friends. “What if I am supposed to meet him later?”

“I don’t know Heather,” my friend said kindly. “But I know God has someone for you.”

I had asked one version or another of this question since I became teenager, and had been subconsciously asking it for several years now. The question that constantly churned deep down in the pit of my soul, was this:

Will there ever be someone for me?

Before I tell you how my time at college ended and whether or not I “found my husband at Liberty,”  (spoiler alert: I did not), I need to briefly tell you my back story as it relates to dating and men.

And trust me, it will be brief.

Did you know that the way a girl dates a boy ties directly back to the relationship she has with her father?  Yep, it does.  Unfortunately for me, I did not have a very close relationship with my dad and had also been sexually abused by two other men (one a member of my own family) which left me with the following reality:

I struggled with low-level feelings of rejection as it related to men and also distrusted them on many levels (and also had a low-level anger thing going on as well), thus creating “walls” and a “guardedness” with most men I encountered (except for older, fatherly men with kind eyes).  I was also very insecure inside (but hid it skillfully) and was hyper-vigilant about finding a boyfriend. And to top it off, I depended heavily on the approval of others to make me feel good about myself.  

Another negative contributing factor in all of this was that I was (and still am) a natural born tom-boy with a low voice (think Lauren Becall) and I have a very blunt, direct personality (that has tamed a bit since I’ve matured).  I am also very tall.

So between my internal issues of rejection/walls combined with my lovely external masculine vibe, I didn’t get asked out very much, either in high school or all through college.

Many of my girlfriends would encourage me with the following: “Heather, you’re very pretty and you have a really cool personality, but all the guys are intimidated by you! And they’re shorter than you, too.”

So that’s what I told myself through high school when I never had a flower delivered to my desk when they were passing out carnations for various holidays (like Valentine’s Day) or school fundraisers. That’s what I told myself when my date for the prom rejected me two days before the actual prom and lied and said he couldn’t attend, but then I saw him later that night with a group of friends, driving around.  That’s what I told myself and all the way up through my senior year in college as one by one, my friends all met their husbands and began planning out the rest of their lives. That’s the reason, I reassured myself, that the guy I was majorly crushing my senior year was keeping me squarely in the friend zone.

“He’s intimidated by me.  I’m too much of a woman for him,” I justified to myself many times.

But underneath the whole “will there ever be anyone for me” question was a much deeper query the sat like a hot potato on top of that one.  The question was this:

What’s wrong with me, that nobody ever chooses me?

That question stayed with me as I moved to the DC area to “start my whole career thing” after college (you can read about it here).  I was waitressing at the time, and for reasons I cannot explain, things started to shift in the atmosphere for me with the opposite sex, in a good way.

Suddenly, it was like a light turned on and all the guys began to notice me.

Many of the men I worked with (fellow waiters) started to crush me, ask me out, or just make innocent comments. One day I noticed two of them chatting and staring at me.  One them said dreamily “everyday!” while looking directly at me.  I asked him what “everyday” meant.  The other one chimed in with a goofy smile and said: “we both agreed that you get more beautiful everyday, Heather.”

Yeeks.  Male customers would even make comments and told me many times that I looked like Madonna or Sharon Stone (or a combination thereof). I found it funny when men would look at me quizzically and say “you look like someone, a movie star, but I can’t place it.”  I would say bluntly (because, remember, I’m blunt):

“I look like a younger combination of Madonna and Sharon Stone.” And they would say excitedly: “Yes!  That’s it!”

Even the men I worked with at GOPAC (as an intern) in DC started to notice me and ask me out. So while something changed and all of the sudden I began to be noticed and yes, even asked out on dates, I was not super excited about the guys who were asking me out. I would often remark to my friends: “Why can’t I meet a good, cute, nice, smart Christian guy who will ask me out?”  They didn’t understand it and neither did I.  The other challenge was that although I must have been changing on the outside because I could see the evidence of it, I was the same insecure girl on the inside who feared rejection and put up walls of distrust around men.

I was in a bind.  What to do?

How do you change a girl from deep within? How do you take a deeply insecure girl who fears rejection and turn her into a confident woman who doesn’t need the approval of anyone to feel good about herself? How do you change a girl who thinks she needs a boyfriend to complete herself or to prove that she is worthy to be loved?

And how does this same girl ever find a good guy?  Someone maybe she can marry?

These were the questions that I took into my mid twenties.  So, I took these questions to the only Person I knew who could actually answer them.  I took them to God.

God began to answer them with His gift of deep inner healing, but like all good things, it was was a process that took some time.

First, God started a healing work in my mind. I listened to a bunch of cassette tapes by Dr. Charles Stanley about rejection.  The basic gist is that many people are rejected as children (think funky family or absent/abusive father/parent) or adults (think divorce, affairs) and it changes them in bad ways. He explained that rejected people have a whole slew of issues that they need to be healed and set free from. Not only that, they have a “rejection vibe” that can negatively impact other people.

I listened with rapt attention to all of his cassette tapes.  It was like he was describing me to a freaking TEE while he lobbed one truth-bomb after another into my brain. The bottom line, he said, is that we need to get our identity (the core of who we are, the core of how we feel about ourselves) NOT from anyone else in this world, but from GOD.  And that we need to truly believe what HE says about us in this written word, the Scriptures.

So what does God have to say about me?  God says I am chosen, dearly loved, bought with a price, his beloved daughter, his creation, I have a purpose, he is with me, he loves me, and my eternity is secure in him.  He will never leave me, never forsake me, and will always love me. He loves me so much he sent his Son to die on the cross to effectively pay for my sin.  And he is in control of all aspects of my life, including whether I meet a man to marry (or not).  Once those truths started to sink in, I began to be more set free in my mind and in my way of thinking.

After my mind began to transform, God promptly set out to heal my heart.

Ironically, it started with a phone conversation with my mother.  I was telling her about an upcoming Christian weekend retreat I was about to go on.  Sadly, because of all of my issues, I often combined my spiritual growth and development with the hope of finding a boyfriend at these events.  As I was musing about the retreat, I wondered aloud to her: “I wonder if I will meet a good guy on this retreat?”

She said the following to me: “Heather, I believe you are too dependent on finding a boyfriend.  You are looking to a boyfriend to make you feel complete, and worthy to be loved.  I think you need deep inner healing.  I will pray that God heals you this weekend.”

Drop the mic.

I was stunned for a moment as her words landed like a missile in my soul.  I said goodbye to her and sat quietly on my bed.

“Fine,” I said with a bit of an attitude (I forgot to mention that I also had a snarky attitude back in those days).  “Fine.  Ok Lord.  If my mom is right, and I need to be healed, then fine, heal me.  Amen.”

I went on the retreat, and to make a long story short, there was a time when the Pastor prayed for healing and for the Lord to do a work among us.  As I sat there singing “Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me,” the weirdest thing happened.  It was like there was a HUGE tear drop hovering above my head, filled with gallons and gallons of water (from years of supressed hurt and pain) and all the sudden, it was like God took a little pin to it, POPPED it, and it completely burst all over me and spilled into the room.

I started crying, and I couldn’t stop.

I was so embarrassed. 

Now if you know me, you know that I am one strong girl.

I am like Margaret Thatcher strong.  I do not cry and I barely get misty-eyed, especially back in those days.

Well, all of my “I am so strong” b.s. was flushed down the toilet in that moment as I sat slobbering all over the ground. I hastily left the room found an empty stairwell outside and cried my guts out for about 40 minutes.  I cried for my lost relationship with my father.  That experience alone I can only describe as supernatural.  It was like my life was flashing before me as it pertained to my dad, and all of the hurt and disappointment I had suppressed over the years came out in a flood.

I cried for the abuse I’d received at the hands of two men. I cried for all the rejection I had ever felt from men (and women). I cried for never being chosen.

I cried a very, very ugly cry.  It was not attractive.

I was a hot mess.

After I settled down, I got up and went to bed.

The next day, I felt FREE.

All I can say to you, My Dear Reader, is that for whatever reason I was completely healed from all the hurt and pain I had experienced up until that point.

I felt happy, confident, set free, sure of myself, deeply loved by God, and fulfilled.

It was amazing!!  God had answered my prayer (and my mom’s prayer).  I was healed!

Well, pretty much at least.  I have come to learn that if you are born and raised in an environment where you experience ongoing feelings of rejection, it’s pretty hard to get 100% healed.  I still walk with a limp.  But I’m about 95% there.

Back to the story.

I headed into my 25th birthday still very much a single young lady. Sadly, back in those days I thought 25 was old (it’s not) and I began to feel that pressure mounting once again.

So on the night of my birthday I prayed a simple prayer, and here it is, word for word:

“Dear Lord.  Today is my birthday.  I am now 25 years old.  Honestly, Lord…from 0 to 25 has been pretty shitty.  Can you please make it better from here on out. Please, Lord? In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

(Yes, I used a bad word in my prayer. What can I say?  And hindsight is 20/20 and I had a lot of great things happen to me from 0-25, and it wasn’t all that bad, and some parts were very good.  But I was having a hard time turning 25, so that was the prayer I prayed that night.)

Well, for whatever reason unknown to mankind, God decided to say a resounding YES to that simple, eloquent prayer. Because not three weeks later I was talking to a girlfriend who told me that she had a GREAT guy she thought I should meet.

I asked her to describe him to me and everything she said clicked with the “list” I had developed in my head (and on paper too. Yes, I made a very long list of things I wanted in a husband, which I will briefly talk about later.)  She told me he already had a great job as a statistician, he was super nice, a God-fearing man, deep, and kind.

“What is a statician?” I asked her with confusion, not even knowing how to properly pronounce the title of his job.

“You know…statistics.  He is super smart and has his PhD in statistics.  And He’s cute too!  He has the most beautiful green eyes!”

She asked if I wanted to meet up with him on blind date and I found myself saying yes!

So a few days later this same guy named Erik called me up one night and we talked easily for about an hour.  I noticed right away he was a great conversationalist, was funny, and had a sexy phone voice.  But what I loved most about him was that he seemed to be a completely normal guy.  He asked me out on a date and…drum roll please…we went!

So here we are on our first official (blind) date and I found myself doing the “check list” thing.  You know the check list thing.  Is he polite to the waitress and not oogling her and does he leave her a good tip or is he a cheap bastard (cuz there ain’t no way I’m marrying a guy who isn’t a good tipper as a waitress myself)?

Thank God, Erik passed all of those “checks.”

Here’s another one: does he look directly into my eyes and do the ping pong thing with conversation or does he only talk about himself?  Thank goodness he was a great conversationalist and kept the conversation mostly on me.

And the list went on. And honestly, he was passing “my list test” with flying colors.

About mid way through the meal I began to think that, although he seemed like a great guy, and a solid Christian, and had his stuff together, that he wasn’t my “type.”  And that maybe we could be great friends.  Maybe a best friend, big-brother type of thing.

But then something weird happened.  I asked him an innocent question.  I asked:  “So, do you think you will get married one day?”

And he looked straight at me, straight into my soul actually, with his kind and beautiful green eyes, and said with such conviction and confidence:

“Absolutely.  I’m built for marriage.”

We just stared into each other’s eyes for a moment.  That’s when it happened: a tiny little spark of attraction tingled in my heart and formed a brand new synapse in my brain.

We had a great first date and went out on our second date.  But then while we were driving he said the following to me:

“Heather.  I want to tell you something.  If I ever, ever say anything that hurts your feelings or is rude or unkind, I want you to tell me,  because I want to apologize to you, and I want to make it right with you.  So please always be honest with me.”

I immediately looked out the window and mouthed “Oh My God” silently out the window.

I turned to him accusingly and said: “how did you know to say that?  Have you been listening to Focus on the Family?  Did you read a book about what to say?’

He looked at me strangely.  “Ummmmmm, no.  I don’t listen to James Dobson but I hear he’s great.  And no, I didn’t read a book.  It’s just the way I am.  Because it’s normal and the right way to be.”

So that’s how our relationship started. As I began to get to know Erik, I began to see what an overall great guy he really was.  And he kept saying and doing all the right things.  Things that were very kind, generous, and good.  Things that healed my heart some more and started to renew my confidence in the male species.

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One of our very first dates, and the first photo we ever took together.  Erik took me hiking, of course!

Case in point: I took Erik home to meet my parents for Christmas. He hit it off with everyone and was great with my entire family.  My little brother Joe (who was nine or ten at the time) asked him to please come into the basement with him to play laser tag, and sure enough, 40 minutes later, Erik was still in our unfinished musty basement playing with my little brother.  Finally they came up all sweaty and tired and plopped on the couch.  My little brother sat on his lap and hugged him with his legs opened up in a long bear hug.  Erik hugged him right back.

Joe then said something so sweet:  “Erik —  I love you!!”

My little sister was within earshot and hotly retorted: “Josiah, you have only known him for three days.”

“I know.”  Joe said simply.  “Even though it’s only been three days, it feels like love.”

And… that pretty much sums up my dating relationship with Erik.

It felt like love. 

He showed me love when he paid off the rest of my school loan after we had only been dating a short time. (I had worked my butt off through school and paid for the whole thing all by myself, but he paid off the last chunk.)

He showed me love when he bought me a car because he was sick of me driving around old “crap cars” that weren’t safe.

He showed me love by supporting my career on Capitol Hill and telling me things like: “Heather whatever you want to be later, if you ever want to run for Congress, I will support you!”

He showed me love by paying for all of the dates we ever went on and taking me fun places that I never could afford or would even consider had I not known him.

He showed me love by hearing my rejection stories and accepting me and healing all of the wounds that weren’t quite healed.  Although God laid the foundation and put up the beams of healing in the home of my heart, I felt like Erik was the drywall and paint and decor.  God used an imperfect tool, Erik, to continue the healing work that God wanted to complete through a human agent.

And then one hot and sunny Saturday in May, with all of our friends and family surrounding us, he showed me love by making a commitment to spend the rest of his life with me.

We were married on May 6, 2000 and we will celebrate 18 years together this coming year!

 

And Erik still continues to show me love.

First, he is an amazing dad. This was something I deeply wanted in a husband and had to have.  I told the Lord many times to “not bother” sending me a husband unless he was also going to be a fantastic father.  And Erik is a fantastic father!  Sometimes I actually have a feeling of relief wash over me I see him interact with our kids.

As he loves our kids, he is also loving me.

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Erik is a great dad. He spends a lot of time planning great hiking trips for our family! And…he does all the cooking on the trips, which mom loves!

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He continues to show me love by being ridiculously generous with me. Once a year he sends me away on a “mommy vacation.”  And he doesn’t send me to a Motel 6 in a random place.  He sends me to the Caribbean.  He sends me to Colorado to go skiing. He sends me to Vegas to see all of the sights.  He goes a little cray cray in the area of generosity.  Sometimes I feel like it’s God’s lavish, Kingly, outlandish love that he shows me through Erik.  It doesn’t seem fair.  I feel bad and never put that stuff on Facebook because I don’t want to seem like a braggart or make others feel bad.  But he is very generous with me and always has been.

And finally, he continues to show me love by being the same man I married years ago.  He never changed into what I feared the guy I married would change into: a psycho.  He is the same good, laid-back, kind, steady, loving, smart, God-fearing man I married 18 years ago.  He only gets better.  A bit more soft around the middle perhaps, 🙂 but he is the same great guy I met over 20 years ago.

Do you remember how I told you I had made a long list of things I wanted in a spouse? Years after marrying Erik, I was digging through old papers and came across the list.  As I read through the list my first thought was how anal and weird I was back then to have to write such an exhaustive list of “what I had to have in a husband.”

I also laughed at some of the things that were on the list.  Things such as “He can’t be cheap, or be a cheap tipper.”  And “he can’t be a perv.”

But then, as I read through the list in its entirety, I sat there in stunned silence.  Literally 95% of that list described Erik.  Erik made all of the “Top 10 Most Important Things” portion of the list, and had none of the “25 things he can’t be” portion of the list.  And he made 50 out of 55 of the other things on the list too!  (I told you I had issues back in the day.)

As I looked at the list, and then looked at Erik as he played with my daughter Claire on the floor one day, I started to cry.  I thanked the Good Lord in Heaven for providing me with a wonderful husband and father in Erik.  And yes, Erik is like a father to me too. In fact, he is a father to almost everyone he meets.  He is just built like that.

So the one thing that needed to happen before I could find love is that I had to be healed of my fear of rejection. That fear consciously and subconsciously blocked me from finding love.  The most awesome part about this story, though, is that through my journey of deep inner healing I was able to receive not one, but two kinds of love: the genuine, kind, steady, generous love of a good man.  And the rock-solid, never changing, unconditional, sacrificial, all-encompassing love of God.

I am thankful beyond words to have received both kinds of love.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

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A bit more wrinkly around the eyes, but happily married after 20 years of hanging out!

 

Closing note: one of the reasons I write, and am so open about all of my issues, is to help other people.  If you think you might struggle with feelings of rejection, here is a Youtube video which is a summary of Dr. Stanley’s series on overcoming feelings of rejection: here. Also, here is the Father’s Love Letter.  It really helped me to process through some of my feelings of rejection and to believe the truth about myself.  Thanks for reading!

What the Star of Bethlehem Tells Me About Our Upcoming Adoption

It’s been over two years since my husband and I began all the hard work associated with adopting a little boy from Latvia.  The first step was obtaining Erik’s (husbands’) Latvian Citizenship as we learned that Latvian citizens who reside in the U.S. could receive a referral of a relatively healthy child of any age range (see my previous post for more details here We are adopting (again!).  After about a year of collecting/filling out paperwork, last November (of 2016) Erik and I were finally able to put our names in the hat for one boy, ages 4-7, with moderate health issues, from Latvia.  We were told by our agency that we would be presented with up to three referrals and would most likely be able to travel during the spring or the summer of this year (2017).  I was so excited with the idea of traveling as a family this summer and finally giving Logan a little brother.  And, for the most part, finally completing  our family.  This is a big deal for me as we have been in the process of building and completing our family since I turned 30. I’m now in my mid-40s.

That’s fifteen years and counting, people.

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Just a portion of all the paperwork we did (and are re-doing) for our upcoming adoption.

Spring came around, so I emailed/bugged my coordinator for an update.  Still no word.

Then early summer came, and I emailed/bugged my coordinator again.  Should I start switching bedrooms and buying clothes?  Can I be doing anything to get ready? My coordinator said to hold off, as there was still no word.

The fall came, still no word.

Late fall came and I received an email which was very discouraging.

I will get to the email in just a moment, but I want to first tell you about a documentary called The Star of Bethlehem, as it relates to our adoption situation.

Here is the gist of this Christmas documentary:

A lawyer/researcher/computer nerd named Rick Larson conducted research to figure out the mystery of the Bethlehem star, and whether it was a true, astronomical event which announced the birth of Jesus Christ, the Jewish King. From Wikipedia:

As a lawyer,[9] Larson examined the text of Matthew, finding nine pieces of evidence in the nativity passage.[10] Using astronomy software to return to the skies over Judea[17] by using Johannes Kepler’s math to calculate positions of celestial objects, Larson thinks he found all nine elements found in the book of Matthew.[10] He also believes that the Star of Bethlehem, is Jupiter, a wandering star,[18] and it stopped over Bethlehem during its retrograde motion on December 25, 2 BC.[19][20] 

But here is the coolest part of the documentary (and why people are really watching it). So apparently, a triple conjunction of planets and stars occurs not once, but twice during the time of Jesus’ conception and birth.  The first one (at his conception) occurred when three stars/planets aligned:

  • Jupiter (the King planet)
  • Regulus (the King star, connected to the Leo the Lion constellation – Jesus is from the tribe of Judah, which is associated with the Lion of Judah)
  • Virgo (the Virgin planet).

Do you see all the connections with the Christmas story?

Nine months later, at Jesus’ birth, another amazing and extremely rare triple conjunction occurred:

  • Jupiter (the King planet)
  • Regulus (the King star, connected to the Lion constellation)
  • Venus (the Mother planet)

How cool is that? No wonder the Magi, those who studied many prophecies and  predictions using the stars, came running to Bethlehem to check out the “one who is to be born King of the Jews.”

For the skeptics out there, let me fill in a bit of historical context. Back during this time in history, most people depended on the stars in the sky for navigation and predictions (and even magic: think astrology).  The whole entire shipping and nautical industry depended on the stars for direction and navigation.  Later, the Sextant was invented to help sailors to navigate using the stars. (Many years ago I read a really cool book about this called Carry On Mr. Bowdich.)

Apparently, this Bethlehem triple-conjunction-star was a HUGE deal back in the day; think of a widely noticed phenomenon, much like the solar eclipse that just occurred this summer (of 2017).

Rick Larson says:

This conjunction was so close and so bright that it is today displayed in hundreds of planetaria around the world by scientists who may know nothing of Messiah. They do it because what Jupiter did makes such a great planetarium show. Jupiter appeared to join Venus. The planets could not be distinguished with the naked eye. If our magus (Wise Men) had had a telescope, he could have seen that the planets sat one atop the other, like a figure eight. Each contributed its full brightness to what became the most brilliant star man had ever seen.

So here is the bad news we had received about our adoption:  our coordinator told us that more and more Latvians are adopting older children, and that what we are looking for seems be “more popular” with Latvian citizens (which is great; I’m so happy more kids are being adopted).  But here is where the news broke down: we are “number 13 in line” for getting one boy, ages 4-7, and that she didn’t think we would get a referral “anytime soon.” I also found out later that we can be bumped by a Latvian family at any time.  She also said that we should consider changing our home study to allow for either an older child, a sibling group, or a child or children with moderate special needs.  And here was the kicker:

“Oh, and by the way, you should start to update your home study (in other words, re-do a bunch of your paper-work) sooner than later because everything expires soon.”

I was discouraged with this news.  It put me in a foul mood about this adoption specifically and adoption in general. Erik and I talked about it and decided that we are now open to raising the age range, possibly adding a moderate special need, and here is the kicker: allowing for a sibling group of a boy and a girl.

I can’t even imagine going from three kids to five, but I’m just not sure how long we will wait for a referral if we don’t adjust our home study to reflect reality.

So how does our adoption relate to the Bethlehem star?

1. God is all about timing.  

Timing is important to God.  He had to line up two planets and one star (and not just any planets, very special planets with specific meanings) in order to announce the birth of his Son, not once, but twice.  Timing is really important to God, not just with the ‘big things’ but with the little things, too. I can safely say that it must not have been God’s timing to adopt up until this point in time.

2. God’s timing seems slow.

I have often wondered about the slowness of God’s timing and have grown impatient with it numerous times.  But think about how slowly those stars and planets seemed to move to the naked eye.  Each day they were a bit closer to each other, but only barely discernible.  However, stars and planets actually move very fast in space.  So really what seems slow to us, at the naked eye level, may actually be the speed of light in space.  This really messes with me, but the bottom line is that even if it seems slow to me, it really may not be slow.  It may just be that it seems slow to me.

3.  God’s timing is perfect.  

Everything had to line up perfectly in order to have a big miraculous splash to announce the birth of Jesus.  God had to send Gabriel at just the right time to announce to Mary that she would be the Mother of Jesus. God made Elizabeth pregnant at just the right time so that John could be the fore-runner of Jesus. Mary and Joseph left their home at just the right time to travel to Bethlehem for the census, so that Jesus could be born in a manger, in Bethlehem, in order to fulfill prophecy, as well as to the be at the precise place where the triple conjunction seemed to “stand still.” God even had to allow some “back up” time to get everything and everyone aligned perfectly, including the start-time of the Magi, the location of the Shepherds, and the alignment of the stars in the night sky.  So with all of that being true, I can safely assume….

If God is in control of the timing and events of the birth of his own Son, then surely I can trust Him to be in control of the timing of our adoption.

4. God will usually give you just enough information to help you to walk in faith and believe that His timing is perfect.

He did this to me just two nights ago with a devotional we read at dinner time.  I will put a portion of that devotional in my closing paragraph.

Before I close, just a little Christmas confession: I have found that I am more frustrated and impatient with this adoption than I was with the previous other three!  I guess I’m tired of all the B.S. that’s associated with adoption.  From the waiting, to the paperwork, to the re-doing of paperwork, to the back and forth, to the issues with the kids that you have to think about and pray through first, and then deal with secondly…I’m just kinda sick of all of it.  Deep in my heart, I’m starting to think that this may be our last adoption, at least our last “on purpose” adoption.  I am still open to orphan hosting down the road, and if that leads to another adoption…great!  But I am in my mid 40s and don’t feel like doing this over and over again. Adoption is just plain hard.  Is it worth it? Of course!  I have my three beautiful kids to show for it and I would’t trade them for the world.

But adoption is really hard.  And there is always a wait built into the process.  At least there has been for us.

And we are smack in the middle of our wait.

In closing, Khloe (our daughter) read a devotional at dinner just two nights ago that really spoke to me and reassured me that God’s timing is perfect and He is completely in control of our adoption.  Here is a portion:

December 21: (This is God speaking, by the way)

I have a perfect plan for your life.  But I don’t show it to you all at once. It is like a road that you must travel one step at a time.

Sometimes the road feels blocked, or it opens up so slowly that you feel frustrated.  But then, when the timing is right, the way before you suddenly clears.  All that you have longed for and worked for is given to you freely – as a gift.  And that is when you catch a glimpse of my power and my glory.

Just keep walking along the path I have prepared for you, depending on my strength to keep you going.  Expect to see some miracles – and you will. Not everyone can see my miracles, but those who live by faith can see them clearly.  When you walk by faith going step by step with me, you are able to see my glory.

— Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young

This adoption has been a huge step of faith, but at some point, “when the timing is right, the way before you suddenly clears. And all that you have longed for and worked for is given to you freely – as a gift.”

I can’t wait for that day to occur!  Lord, help me to wait patiently and purposefully.

Merry Christmas!

P.S. For those who believe in the power of prayer, we would appreciate your prayers that the Lord would allow us to adopt one or two children in His timing. But I pray that the timing would be sooner rather than later. :). Because it’s already been two years. Please pray that the child or children would be a wonderful fit for our family, and that Logan would especially click with his new younger brother. And, if possible, that we could all travel as a family to Latvia to adopt.  Thank you so much!!

PSS: For those who are interested: The Biblical data points of the star are as follows: it signified birth, it signified kingship, it was related to the Jewish nation, and it “rose in the East”;[11] it was not known to King Herod;[12] it appeared at a specific time;[13] it endured over time;[14] it was before the Magi as they traveled south to Bethlehem from Jerusalem,[15] and then [16] it stopped over the city of Bethlehem.[6]. (source, wikipedia)

PSS: all research for this post was used by googling “The Star of Bethlehem”, watching portions of the documentary, plus Wikipedia.  You can find Rick Larson’s website at www.thestarofbethlehem.org.

The Five Ways to Survive a Serial Killer (part III – protecting our kids)

On July 26, 2015, Neal Falls (a serial killer) responded to an online ad for an escort service and arrived at the home of a woman named Heather in Charleston, West Virginia.  When the unsuspecting woman opened up the door, he stood there with a gun pointed at her face and said these chilling words: “Live or die?” He then proceeded to start choking her to death.  The fiesty woman grabbed a rake and smashed him in the side of the head, which distracted him long enough for her to grab his gun and fire behind her, killing him instantly. The woman ran from her home and sought refuge at her neighbors’ home. When the police arrived, they found a chilling discovery: the bad guy had a ‘serial killer tool kit’ in his car (consisting of a bullet proof vest, axes, and hand-cuffs, etc.) and a list of the names and ages of 10 women in different states.  The police believe that this serial killer was potentially responsible for the deaths of nine women across three states.

This hero woman basically knocked off a serial killer in one fatal blow, thus saving many other lives. (full story here.)

Is it possible to survive a serial killer?  And what can we learn from the ones who got away and lived to tell?

The short answer is yes, it is possible to survive a serial killer, however, it’s not very likely. 

But first, two somewhat depressing statistics about serial killers: only approximately 7.5 percent of victims survive a serial killer attack, and 75 percent of the victims of serial killers simply had the bad luck of being targeted by them at random and were not able to evade or disengage from them. (source, Serial Killers, Peter Vronsky, p. 371. and also here.)

But please remember this: your best bet is to not become a victim in the first place, and there are definitely things you can do to avoid these bad guys, which I discussed in part II (here).

In this final post on protecting our kids (and ourselves) from serial killers, I will share the following:

  • Research on how the victims actually survived a serial killer (there are five ways);
  • Compelling survival stories;
  • Things we can learn from these survivors, including if my Top Ten list was applicable (or not);
  • God’s protection and the serial killer;
  • Closing (deep) thoughts to wrap up this series.

After spending several hours studying this topic and identifying over 40 serial killer survival stories (using books and the Internet), here are the Top Five Ways a person can actually survive a serial killer attack:

45% survived by using their SKILLS.  These were the heroes who fought off their attacker, were kidnapped and locked in a bedroom but escaped out a window, or they talked to the serial killer in such a way that he let them go, etc.  They used their physical and intellectual abilities and skill to escape their attacker.

20% were LEFT for DEAD but lived to tell.  The bad guy thought they were actually dead (but they were barely alive) when he left them to die.  These were the stories of victims who were stabbed, run over, strangled, shot, beaten over the head with a pipe, thrown into a well…you name it, they went through it.  But the common thread is that by some miracle, they survived their harrowing ordeal.

18% were saved by DIVINE INTERVENTION. The way these women and men survived can ONLY be described as completely miraculous, with even the victims and the serial killers themselves admitting as much (at times).

12% were saved by LUCK.  First of all, I don’t really believe in luck and was super tempted to lump this all into the “divine intervention” category.  However, I hesitated because the common thread of these men and women is that they had a random turn of events break in their favor for no apparent reason.  They didn’t use much of their own skill (sorry to say) and I’m not sure if their escape was a direct miracle of God or not (although to me the fact that they got away was God’s intervention, in my opinion), but either way, God allowed them to be super lucky.  🙂

5% were saved by the POLICE.  There were two stories where the cops burst in literally in the knick of time to save the life of the victim who was very close to death.  This category deserves a mention as I strongly support the men and women of law enforcement.

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Two more final statistics for you.  First, I wanted to see how many victims were innocently targeted and taken completely by surprise by the bad guy, and here is what I found:

The victims that were targeted at random and were subject to a sneak attack by the bad guy for which they had no control accounted for 50% of the cases.

The second group were the ones who were either a. Tricked or lured by the serial killer b. Were in a vulnerable situation (drunk and alone late at night, for example), or c. In a vulnerable demographic (for example, a prostitute) or d. Did not use the best judgment.

The ones who were tricked, lured, or became vulnerable to an attack of a bad guy accounted for, you guessed it, 50% of the cases.

  • So, by studying the survival stories, I learned that about half of the time there is nothing you can do to avoid a serial killer if you are targeted by them in the first place. 
  • However, the other half of the time there are still things you can absolutely do to reduce your chances of encountering these killers.

So without further delay, here are some Serial Killer Survival Stories.  I have to be honest with you and admit that I was able to keep my emotions pretty much in check until I read a lot of these stories.

My deepest admiration goes out to these amazing, bad-ass men and women for surviving these horrible monsters.

Skill stories:

I will start with a story involving the infamous Ted Bundy.  One day, a young woman named Rhonda innocently accepted a ride from him and he ended up taking her to a canyon, where he strangled and raped her for several hours.  She woke up in pitch blackness and noticed that he was in his car with the dome light on (that was the only light in the canyon, she said) most likely looking over his serial killer toolkit that he kept in his car. Rhonda managed to stand up and began running away from him and fell into a swiftly moving river.  She was stopped by a dam grate, crawled up out of the rive, and was able to get help.

She wrote a book about her experience here: I Survived Ted Bundy: The Attack, Escape, And PTSD That Changed My Life. Her on-line story is found here.

In 1991, Tracy Edwards (a man) made the fateful decision to accept an invitation to go home with a man he had just met at a bar named Jeffrey. When he arrived at the man’s apartment, he noticed that it smelled strange and was very cluttered, and that his date began to act strangely as well. He didn’t realize that his new friend Jeffrey was actually the serial-killer-cannible Jeffrey Dahmer.  At one point during their evening, Jeffrey put his head on Tracy’s chest and declared that he would cut his heart out.  Edwards remained calm, and kept talking to Dahmer, and essentially stalled him from carrying out his sick plan.  Edwards punched him in the nose and ran from the apartment, found the police, and they arrived to discover 17 dismembered bodies scattered throughout the apartment.

There were many other stories of survivors who used the skills the Good Lord gave them to sneak out of windows, escape out of cars, fight off their attackers, quietly call 9-11, or just plain trick them into thinking they liked the bad guy.  One lady even kissed the killer and gave him her number for later.  He left without killing her.

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Left for dead stories:

One day I received a Facebook message of a friend who told me that she just read Serial Killers part I and relayed the following true horror story (YES, this really happened to my friend):

Are you sitting down? When I was fourteen years old I had a job as a paper carrier.  One morning around 5 am, a man drove past me while I was loading my papers at the spot where the carriers met. The boys on my route hadn’t arrived yet. He parked his car down the street and came walking up to me. A few days prior a neighbor had walked over to to me to get his paper, so that’s who I thought it was. When I realized it wasn’t the neighbor I got a bad feeling, but I kept loading the papers.  A voice inside told me to run and when I turned to do it he grabbed me from behind. He told me he had a gun and a knife.  He put his hand over my mouth and put me in his car.  The first thing I noticed was there were no door handles on the doors in the back seat of his car. He then proceeded to tell me about “all the other girls” he had raped in our local area, which made me very afraid. He drove me to the desert and brutally beat me with his boot — crushing my collar bone — and raped me.  During the rape, I tried to talk to him both to make a connection with him (so that he wouldn’t kill me), but also to get details about him so I could give them to the police.  When he was done with me, he rolled me up in a sleeping bag and ran over me with his car and left me for dead.  But I didn’t die. I got up and hobbled about a quarter mile to a canal, where I was able to call for help when I heard the voices of men and women on horseback.  Later, I was able to identify this man in a line-up and, because of my testimony, he went to prison for five years. 

Yes, it’s hard to write that. It’s only been recently that I can talk about it. I was terrified. By the grace of God I lived and He has blessed me with a beautiful life.

I’m so glad my friend was able to share her story with me.  God has done so much in her life to heal her and set her free. Today she is a happily married mother and grandmother and has a very blessed life.

A waitressing friend of mine shared a similar story years ago: she was riding her bike alone one night coming home from work when she was grabbed by a man who took her to another location.  She was beaten and raped for hours.  When the man was done with my friend, he attempted to kill her by drowning her multiple times in a nearby body of water.  The only problem for him was that my friend was a lifeguard and very adept at holding her breath under water.  He kept shoving her head down – down – down, holding her under for about two minutes, and then would bring her back up to see if she was still  living.  This went on for several minutes until the bad guy just gave up.  By some miracle, he decided not to kill her and drove her back to the place where he kidnapped her by dumping her limp (but still alive) body on the side of the road, near her bike.

In 1978, Ted Bundy was near the end of his killing season so he was more crazy, more bold, more reckless, and more violent than ever.  One night he broke into a Florida State University sorority house (he let himself in the unlocked front door) and assaulted three women living inside in the most horrific ways (several of them died), but one of the victims — Kathleen Kleiner — miraculously survived.  You can read her story here.

Divine intervention stories: 

On July 5, 1986, Richard Ramirez (the Night Stalker) broke into Whitney Bennett’s home and brutally attacked her with a metal iron. He pulled out a telephone cord to strangle her to death, but sparks began flying. Ramirez took it as a sign from God that the young woman wasn’t intended to die that day, so he left her alive and fled the scene. (story here.)

David Gore would often develop a very strong “urge” to kill that would not be satisfied unless he found someone’s life to take.  One day, the urge came over him very strongly but he was unable to find a “fresh” victim, and he grew frustrated.  He remembered that he had a back-up plan— his sister’s best friend — so he drove over to her house and small talked his way inside.  After a few minutes of chatting, he was waiting for just the right moment to grab her or smash her when the phone rang.

Guess who was on the line?  His own sister, calling her friend on the phone!

In his own words: “While I was waiting for that moment (to grab her) my sister called her and she was telling my sister that I was there visiting and when that happened I had no choice but to abort because I’d of been the first prime suspect…I mean, I was just seconds away from getting her friend.” (Source, The Serial Killer Whisperer.)

He went on to write about other near misses:

“These girls don’t know how close they came to being a statistic…some of them were no more than 30 seconds away from being put down. (Source, The Serial Killer Whisperer.)

The woman who got away from serial killer Fred West explained there there were two groups of men who picked up hitchhikers back in the day when hitchhiking was more socially acceptable. The first group were the slightly perverted or flirtatious but otherwise harmless men.  The second group were the fatherly types that were concerned about her and tried to warn her to stop hitchhiking. The ones that  probably thought “if I don’t stop to pick her up, the bad guys will.”

Unfortunately, this young lady didn’t listen to those fatherly types and was instead picked up by a third group that she didn’t know existed: sadistic serial killers.  Fred West and his wife murdered at least 12 women.  One day, Fred actually picked her up and then dropped her off later safely, but they made plans that he would pick her up later on the other side of the highway.  In her own words:

“Later I started going over the details in my head and it suddenly struck me – Oh my God! – he (Fred West) promised to come back and pick me up on the other side of the motorway. The lorry driver who stopped so instantly, and as if out of nowhere, seems like my guardian angel – if he hadn’t been there I would have had to get back in West’s van.”

You can read her account here.

Finally, Margy Palm was kidnapped by one of the country’s worst and most notorious serial killers  – Stephen Morin – but talked to him for several hours non-stop about God.  Stephan ended up beaming a Christian that day, let Margy go, and then peaceably surrendered to the authorities.  He spent the rest of his life in prison sharing his story and God’s love with other prisoners.

I actually found a youtube video about her amazing experience, and I encourage you to watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZUTtUAy5E8.

To read a New York Times article on this story, click here.

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Luck stories:

(Heather’s note: Erik, my editor husband, when reading the Divine Intervention and Luck stories, blurted out: “hon, some of these divine intervention stories are luck stories.  And some of the luck stories are Divine Intervention stories!” Welcome to my world.  There is definitely cross over with a few of the categories.)

Probably my favorite luck stories involved the women who used conversation with the bad guy to (unknowingly to her, and without necessarily trying on purpose) get him to change his mind. A victim of Bobby Joe Long confided to him that she was abused as a child and then he let her go.  A victim of Monte Risell let her go because she confided to him that her father had cancer, because his own father had died of cancer.

Another great “luck” story occurred back in the early 1970s in Houston, TX, where a serial killer named Dean Corll (better known as the Candy Man) tricked and lured about 29 young men into his home where he proceeded to murder them.  Dean Corll and his family had owned and operated a candy factory and he had been known to give free candy to local children.  The only known survivor of Dean Corll was named Rhonda Williams.  She was good friends with one of the Candy Man’s co-conspirators named Henley.  Henley had actually helped Rhonda escape her abusive home life, so she thought he was a good guy.  When Henley brought Rhonda to Corll’s house of torture, the Candy Man became very angry. Henley assured Rhonda that he would help her escape and eventually shot the infamous serial killer to save Rhonda’s life.

In other words, the serial killer’s bad-guy-accomplice actually shot and killed the serial killer in order to protect the innocent victim.  That’s pretty darn lucky if you ask me.

Police-rescue Stories:

While walking down Sunset Boulevard one morning, Rodney Alcala approached a young girl named Tali Shapiro in his vehicle and asked her if she wanted a ride. She refused, saying that she was not allowed to talk to strangers. He assured her that he knew her family and told her that he had a beautiful picture to show her. Though hesitant, she approached his car and was kidnapped by Alcala.

Luckily, another man saw the abduction take place and called the police.

When the police arrived at his door, Alcala tried to stall them but they kicked the door in. Alcala escaped out the back door and the officers found young Tali on the floor of his apartment in a state of near death, as if Alcala had just been pinning her down when they arrived. She was rushed to the hospital and, thankfully, survived her attack.

Tali Shapiro later testified against her assailant, helping to convict him. He was sentenced to death for this and many other crimes, including the murders of four other victims. (this story is taken from: http://listverse.com/2014/05/25/10-survivors-of-serial-killers/)

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So what can we do to avoid serial killers (based on the survivors themselves)?

Since I wrote the Top Ten List before even studying the survivor stories, I was worried that perhaps I got it wrong, and none of my Top Ten would apply.  I was grateful to see that much of what I wrote was reiterated by the stories of the survivors themselves.

Here are the some ways to avoid serial killers and other bad guys that showed up in my research and also on my Top Ten list:

  1. Trust your gut and don’t get tricked
  2. Don’t get into a car with someone you don’t know
  3. Talk to the bad guy, let him see you are a human being; it could help
  4. If taken, call 9-11 (very quietly) if you can
  5. Use any amount of intelligence or skill that you can
  6. Don’t open up the front door if it’s someone you don’t know
  7. Don’t be lured by a Tricky Person
  8. Don’t go out alone at night
  9. If you see something, say something (or call the cops)
  10. Serial killers use social media just like the rest of us do, so be careful
  11. Lock your windows and doors at night
  12. I go into greater detail on all of the above in my previous post: here.

But listen up: the two common threads I saw again and again, in addition to a vulnerable situation or a risky lifestyle, were:

So many victims unknowingly got into the car of the serial killer, so don’t get into the car of someone you don’t know or trust;

So many victims were lured by a ruse or a scam, so trust your gut and don’t get scammed by a Tricky Person.

If these two points are the only points your remember of this entire series, I will have done my job.

God’s Protection and the Serial Killer:

I am a Christian who is very intellectually honest. As I read story after story of these men brutally raping and torturing and killing so many young girls and men and other victims, I started to wonder: “Where were you, God?  Why did you not protect these girls?”

But then I remembered that my husband Erik (a statistician) always tells me that in order to figure something out, you have to first ask the right questions.  So I decided that the question I was asking was wrong, and instead asked: “God, did you protect these girls or not?” And the answer I got back was yes, I did.

Once I started looking, I actually saw God’s hand of protection all over the place.  From the divine encounter stories, to the stories where something changed and within thirty seconds the girl was saved (by a random phone call, for example), from father figures picking up hitchhikers and warning them to stop, to someone being left for dead but surviving, to the guy who saw the girl get snatched and then he called the cops, to my own friend who heard a voice inside her head telling her to run…I saw God’s hand of help and protection in a variety of different ways.

I also saw God’s hand in my own stories of being watched and followed by creepy men, yet I was able to take notice and evade them.

What about the ones He didn’t seem to protect? What about the very existence of evil? I am not really sure I will have a good answer for this, but as a Christian I believe that someday God will make everything right.  There is a verse in the Bible which gives me great hope for all of those who have suffered unjustly:

“He (God) will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:4, NIV

Right now we are living in the “old order” of things where evil is allowed to prevail to some degree.  God does give boundary lines for evil, but sometimes young girls get snatched and murdered by these bad guys as they are caught up in the crosshairs of these boundary lines.  I can’t imagine what it must be like to live through an attack of a serial killer or to have someone close to you murdered by one.  The only comfort I can offer you is that God sees, God cares, and someday, God will bring justice to your situation.  And, someday, He will wipe away every tear.

And, I am so sorry.

Closing Deep Thoughts:

I will leave you with the top 8 thoughts that went through my mind as I studied serial killers on and off over the last few months.

First, I am convinced that many, if not all of them, are influenced by evil spiritual forces.  A few serial killers even admitted as much.

  • “I actually think I may be possessed with demons.” Dennis Rader. (source: here)
  • Joe Methany stated the following: “Do you demons ever tell you or make you feel like want to murder or hurt someone?  Mine does!  And I used to act on it when I was out there on those streets.”  (source: The Serial Killer Whisperer.)
  • Ted Bundy would often go into a “trance” in the middle of his murders (as would Arthur Shawcross).  Some serial killers themselves admit to being controlled by evil forces: Sean Sellers, the Son of Sam, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Daniel Rolling, for example.  And finally, David Gore admitted to slipping into a dark side and being controlled by an evil force.

The methods of serial killers seem to be changing, at least to a degree: Take the recent serial killer caught in Tampa, Florida.  His method was not to trick or to lure, but to shoot people randomly.  That exact method recently happened in Las Vegas and happens all to often in our schools.  However, the story I shared in the beginning about the woman who shot and killed her serial killer only happened two years ago, so both methods are still operational today.

There are definitely threads and connections between serial killers and other things that threaten our kids such as the use of social media, being targeted, tricked or lured, and putting yourself in a vulnerable situation or lifestyle.  I will be doing some more posts on other topics in the future including protecting our kids from sex trafficking, which will be my next post in this series.

The serial killer often had a bad childhood himself: One serial killer was raped by his own mother and that profoundly impacted him in terrible ways. Another confessed that he was a lonely little child whom “nobody cared about…who made up personalities to hide behind whenever he felt threatened or insecure.”  Many other were emotionally abused by their parents who called them “stupid” many times a day year in, and year out.  Many were psychologically and physically abused and many experienced severe head trauma.

Many serial killers later regretted their actions: From the worlds of Joe Methany: “Christmas is the one time of the year that makes me realize that I am truly alone. And I have no one to blame but myself and the bad decisions I have made in my life. If I have learned nothing else during my incarceration, I have learned to appreciate every little good thing that comes my way.  I also never forget there are a lot of people out there that will not be able to enjoy life’s little pleasures or holidays because I put them in the ground.” (The Serial Killer Whisperer, pg. 117)

(I need to be intellectually honest and admit that many researchers would disagree with me and say that serial killers are hardened criminals with no conscience and no morals (think psychopath).  I think this is partially to mostly true.  But I did read many testimonies of very lonely and very sad and remorseful serial killers who were very honest with themselves near the end of their life on earth and regretted much of what they had done to their victims.)

Some of them became Christians in prison: It is only fitting that I use the last words of David Gore before he was executed: “I would like to say to Mr. and Mrs. Elliott that I am truly sorry for my part in the death of your daughter. I wish above all else my death could bring her back. I am not the same man today that I was 28 years ago. When I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior I become a New Creature in Christ and I know God has truly forgiven me for my past sins…I just want to say I have had a tremendous amount of remorse and pray you and your family can forgive me.

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Last words of David Gore, quoted heavily in this series.  (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Alan_Gore)

They all deserve justice: What they did to these women and men is despicable, horrifying, and deserving to be severely punished.  If they are not caught and incarcerated (and put to death) here on the face of the earth, God will judge and punish them when they die and stand before Him. There is no escaping God’s judgment.

Finally, I am approaching the serial killer and other bad guys both from an educational standpoint (what can we learn? how can we avoid them? how can we survive them?) as well as from a spiritual perspective.  Since these men are being influenced by evil, you have to consider that as you consider them.  As for me?  I will continue to pray for God’s protection and wisdom so that I don’t need to come across them in the first place, and then use the authority God has given me, and all the skill I can muster up, to deal with them should something bad ever happen.

Last closing story:

The other night I picked up my daughter from basketball practice, right outside of an elementary school.  It was dark and she was standing with another young girl.  Both girls were alone.  When my daughter bounded into the car I asked about the other girl.  “Oh don’t worry mom.  She has a phone and her mom just texted her.  Her mom will be here in four minutes.  So we can go.”

As I circled around the lot, debating on whether to stay with the young girl who was standing completely alone now, I noticed a man walking his dog near the school about fifty feet away from her.

I said to Khloe: “A lot can happen in four minutes.  Let’s go hang out with her until her mom comes.”

We pulled up to the girl and chatted with her for a few minutes until her mom came so she wouldn’t have to wait alone.  She was such a cute little 13 year old girl and was super glad that we stayed with her.

In some ways it really does take a village to protect a child.

Albert Einstein said the following quote: “The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”

Although I partially disagree with this quote as there are a lot of evil men and women in this world, I do believe we all have a part to play to help keep ourselves and our kids safe.  This three part post is my way of “doing something about it.”

I will leave you with two main points.  First, trust your gut and don’t get lured or tricked by a bad guy (and don’t get into his car!).  Secondly, pray!  Pray that the God of heaven will protect you and your children from serial killers and all other forms of evil.

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  • If you missed part I, where I share my own creepy men stories and give you the bottom line of serial killers throughout the decades as well as currently, click here.
  • I talk about ways you can avoid serial killers specifically and bad guys generally, in part II, found here.
  • Finally, I am now DONE with researching serial killers.  As I started my research on this topic way back in the late summer, I found there was just too much to learn about and chew on when thinking about these twisted men and women.  I am happy to now move on to other (less depressing and scary) topics.
  • My next post in the Protecting Our Kids series will be about child and teen sex trafficking, especially combined with social media.  Stay tuned!

The Top Ten Ways we can protect our kids from serial killers and other bad guys — Part II

Many years ago my best friend Sandie, age 9, was riding her bike on a sidewalk in Salem, Virginia when she noticed a man sitting in his car on the other side of the road, motioning with his arm for her to come over. She heard him saying something about being “lost” and “needing help.” She stopped her bike and was about to cross the street to go see what this man wanted when all the sudden a huge wave of fear washed over her.  She heard something in her spirit say “do not cross the road.”  She immediately got back on her bike and pedaled away.  She took one last look behind her and noticed that the man in the parked car was now driving away as another car had pulled up behind him.  In her young heart, she had a thought that the man was a bad guy and that the other car came up behind the bad guy’s car and forced him to leave.

She felt God’s protection that day.

And she trusted her gut.

And by the way, the guy who was asking for help was a “Tricky Person.”

These are all things (and many more) I will be discussing in today’s blog post as well as in Part III.

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Sandie, at the age she was approached by a tricky person on her bike.

First a qualifier: the information I am about to share is not rocket science, and maybe you know some or all of it, but hopefully it will be useful to reduce the chances of becoming a victim of a violent crime in general or a serial killer specifically.

Serial killers in brief:

If you missed part I, please click here, but here are the cliff notes:

  • Although serial killers are less common than they once were, there are still approximately 50 of them trolling for victims at any given time.
  • They typically choose young women as their victims, but they also can choose a wide variety of victims including young men, prostitutes, and the elderly.  They tend to choose people who are in a vulnerable situation or those who won’t be missed. Sometimes the victim is what they are ‘looking for,’ other times it’s just a case of wrong place/wrong time, and finally, sometimes the serial killer sees an opportunity and decides to “go for it.”
  • Serial killers trick or lure their victims, sometimes by asking for help or pretending to be an authority figure (like a police officer).  Sometimes they target their victims.  Sometimes they act suddenly if an opportunity presents itself.
  • Serial killings have changed over the decades: first, there are statistically less of them; second, they now use social media as a tool; and finally, they are more apt to use other methods of “mass killings” such as using mass gun violence or using vehicles that plow into a greater number of people (as just happened in New York City and Texas).
  • I tell my three creepy men stories; two of the stories were about men who followed me, and if you just want to quickly read my own stories, click my three stories.
  • Ever wonder how serial killers are made?  I found this article and it supports what I have read elsewhere: here.  Ted Bundy admits that pornogrpahy played a huge role in his eventual murder of so many women; you can watch a short video clip here: Ted Bundy’s final interview right before he is executed.
  • And to be super well-researched, to read an official FBI report about serial killers, click here.

So how do we protect our kids from serial killers (although less common) and other bad guys (way more common than we realize)?  I think it first starts with an awareness, and then it moves to education.  First we educate ourselves and then pass that onto our kids in an age-appropriate way.  The awesome thing about the list below is that it applies to serial killers but you can also apply it across the board to other situations.  So without further delay, here is the Top Ten list.

1. Trust Your Gut (As mentioned in Part I):  If something feels off, it probably is, so back away, or run.  

I read Gavin De Becker’s book The Gift of Fear years ago and I still remember the bottom line of the book is to trust your gut.  When dealing with a potential bad guy, here are four tricks he might use: forced teaming, too many details, unsolicited promises, and feminine references. Let me give you a short paragraph that encompasses all four qualities at the same time (I got this idea from watching the end of the The Lovely Bones (a movie about a serial killer):

At the end of the movie, the serial killer sees a young woman out alone on a cold winter night smoking a cigarette and he says to her: “Wow, it sure is cold out here for the both of us tonight  Brrrr.  Do you need a ride? I have to go pick up my wife.  I can take you where you want to go.  It’s not good for us to be stuck out in this cold weather. Don’t worry, I’m not going to do anything. I was once out in the cold for a whole night and I almost froze to death.”  The bad guy used four deceptive tactics to reassure the girl that he is safe.  The problem is that he tried too hard and thus gave himself away.  But you would only know this if you know what to look for.

Tell your kids:  Trust your gut, and if something feels off, then run and don’t care what the other person thinks of you.  And if someone is trying too hard to convince you to trust them, they could be a bad guy, and you should leave.

2. Never get into a car with someone you do not know, and NEVER hitchhike. 

Since my blog is all about complete and utter honesty, I must confess to you that I have broken this rule a few times in my life.  One incident occurred in my early 20s. My car had broken down on the side of the highway and I started walking towards a pay phone (about a mile up the road, at a toll booth), when all of the sudden, a man in pick up truck pulled over and asked me if I needed a ride.  He was smiling and had long brown hair pulled back into a ponytail.  I hesitated a moment and then said yes.  I got in his truck.  As I entered his truck I blurted out: “I truly hope you are a good guy and not a serial killer.”  🙂

He laughed and said “nope, not a serial killer.  Where do you need to go?”  I told him “just after the toll road there are pay phones on the right, please stop there.”  After he paid the toll I held my breath, and for a moment in time I thought: “this is it — if he is bad guy — I’m toast.”

Thankfully, he pulled right over and dropped me off at the pay phones. Looking back, I should have walked the mile or five miles or whatever it was and NOT accepted a ride from a stranger.

So many serial killers hunt hitchhikers or offer people rides.  A study of serial homicides states that in 78 percent of the cases, the bad guy used a vehicle directly or indirectly in the murder, and that 50 percent of the bad guys who did use a vehicle used it to offer their prey a ride.  (source: Catching Serial Killers, James, p. 196).  Wow!!!

Here is a direct quote from David Gore, who killed up to twenty or more young women:

“Our favorite target was hitchhikers. We used to laugh and call them FREEBIES because there was basically no risk involved and they were easy to catch.”

Tell your kids: when we were growing up, a lot of people hitchhiked and a lot of bad guys would do bad things to them.  Do not get into a car with someone you do not know.  If you are stranded with no phone (we don’t allow our girls to have a phone yet, but they have an iPod with apps on it), find a store clerk or police officer and ask for help. Keep walking until you find help.  And be aware of Tricky People who may use their car to lure you over to them.

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The car that Ted Bundy used to kidnap and murder perhaps over a 100 young women (exact number was never admitted to). Never get into a car with someone you don’t know.

3. Beware of Tricky People.

Tricky People are bad adults who act like they need help from kids or teenagers, in an attempt to lure them, like in Sandie’s story above. Tricky people are also adults who are not known to your kids, who are unusually interested in them and try to communicate with them (or try to befriend them or gain their trust) for a bad agenda.

Since when do grown adults EVER need help from kids or teens or want to show them something cool inside their home?  They usually don’t.  Unless it’s a super frail elderly couple lost in your neighborhood, don’t let people lure you over to their car because they need “help with directions” or “hey, I lost my puppy.”  Nope.

Tell your kids: Adults are adults and don’t need kids to help them with ANYTHING, and most adults are not really that interested in other people’s kids, anyway. 90 percent of the adult and teen population have smart phones and can google almost anything, including directions.  Never go with an adult who “needs” you to assist them with anything.

To watch a slightly dated but still relevant two minute video of Oprah Winfrey explaining how easy it is to lure young children away, click here.

For more information on tricky people, click here.

4. Use social media very wisely.

As parents, it’s our job to help our kids wisely manage their social media interactions.  I will be doing a separate blog post on this topic later, but serial killers and other bad guys often use social media to both find/identify, “follow”, and then later meet up with a potential young victim.  Please be aware of how much information is getting out to the public about you and your kids.  Be especially on the lookout for “location services” on your phone.  Make sure it’s turned off on the pictures you (or they) post.  My girls have private Instagram and Snapchat accounts and they are only followed by people they know. Social media use on their iPods is a privilege and can be taken away any time.  We as parents need to check in on their accounts from time to time.  For example, we found out one of our daughters had 300 Instagram followers on her account, almost all of whom she did not know.  We went through and deleted 297 of them.

She was not happy, but she is safe.

Serial killers have used the internet and social media and I suspect that, for some of them, this is the new easy way of locating victims (here and here).

Tell your kids: (now this is just my opinion) please be careful about who you are following and who is following you, do not post provocative things on social media, and keep your accounts private.  Sometime gross older grown men who are overweight and in their 40s or 50s pretend to be a young teenagers on Instagram or Kik or Snapchat etc., because they want to trick you, meet up with you, and then do bad things to you.  Other times a kid you don’t know that well might be a “go between” between you and people who want to do bad things to you.  If you are not sure about someone or get a weird vibe about someone, tell mom or dad. And if someone uses social media to try to meet up with you, you freaking better tell mom and dad and absolutely don’t meet up with them.

To read an article that talks about how sex traffickers use social media to target girls, please click here.

4.  Never open the front door to a person you don’t know.  

Whenever the doorbell rings, I always hesitate to even go to the door.  But I do, because it could be a neighborhood kid asking my kids to play.  Which I love.  But I always tell my kids to NEVER open the door for a person they don’t know when mom and dad are not home.  It’s probably a person trying to sell them something or getting information or sharing information, but my kids can’t do anything about that anyway, so why have them even open the door?

I can’t tell you the number of stories I read about serial killers who, in my opinion, took the ‘easy way out’ and just went up to the front door and smooth-talked their way inside the house (Bobby Joe Long for one, as found in the book My Life Among the Serial Killers, Helen Morrison, p. 152).  One young girl was targeted after school and followed home.  Bobby Joe Long waited a few minutes, rang the front door, and the naive girl let him in. He very easily killed her a few minutes later.

Tell your kids: keep the doors and windows locked while we are gone, and don’t open up the front door.  Don’t even go to the door if someone knocks.  If it’s an emergency and police officers are at the door, tell them to call mom and dad (on our cell phones) first to get permission.  A lot of serial killers pretended to be police officers and fire fighters.  Stay in the house.

5.  Be alert to your surroundings and walk with your head up, looking around, and with confidence.  Don’t get caught just ‘sitting in the car’ and ‘looking at your phone.’

There are so many people out in public walking with their head down, looking at their phones, or just sitting in their cars, looking at their phones.

Bad guys look for people who are vulnerable and distracted and busy and won’t notice them launching a sneak attack.  If you do need a moment or two to respond to a text in your car after you are safely pulled over, always keep your door locked and windows up.

From David Gore: “I could sit in a parking lot and watch and observe women and I could tell you how alert they were.”

Tell your kids: keep your head up, looking around, walk with self-confidence, and stay off your phones.  And, if possible, walk with someone else. Notice what seems good and what seems “off.”

6.  If you see something, say something.

If you see a random car just hanging out at your school, like watching the kids at recess for example, get the license plate number if possible.  If there is a man you’ve never seen walking at an odd time through your neighborhood, pay attention and observe him. It could be absolutely nothing.  But it’s good to be on the lookout just in case.  Credible eye witnesses make the law enforcement world go ’round.

One time I went to my local library (lots of kids everywhere plus across the street from a school) and noticed a man sitting next to me in his car, with his pants down, doing something that men should only do in private. I called 9-11 and reported him.  Maybe doing what he did was as far as he will ever go with his sexual issue, but what if it’s not?  What if he is practicing up to be a bad guy?  Call 9-11 or your local area’s non-emergency number if you see suspicious activity.

Tell your kids: pay attention to things that seem “off.”  Stay away from men just sitting in their car, or from people watching you closely whom you do not know.  Watch out for a ruse or a scam from a bad guy (more on that in Part I).

7. Don’t go out alone at night.

This goes without saying but please, for the love of so many things, do not go out alone at night, on a nice long jog with your headphones on, all alone on a back country road.  I read a story of one lovely young 19 year old out jogging on a MARINE BASE one night who was brutally murdered.  Go jogging or walking with a friend or go during the light of day. If you are a woman who frequents bars and clubs, please find someone to walk you to where you are going.

Tell your kids: have a plan and don’t be out alone at night.  And if you are at a party, and there are things going on there that you know aren’t good, or if you get stranded somewhere, call us and we will come get you and you will not be in trouble.  If you don’t have your phone with you, try finding a store clerk, a pregnant woman, a bus driver, or someone else that seems safe and ask them for help (as a last resort).

9. Have a plan of where you will sleep.

Years ago Sandie (all grown up) took off spontaneously for a quick beach trip with a friend.  They ‘assumed’ they would find a cheap hotel on the beach. They assumed wrong as there was ‘no room for them at the Inn.’  They decided to buy some blankets and camping gear and thought it would be fun to ‘sleep on the beach’ that night. Bad idea. Sandie woke up the middle of the night with a creepy man wearing all black watching them from a distance.  She tried to stay awake but then fell back asleep.  About an hour later she felt something brush her leg and she woke up with a start.  She noticed the creepy man in black not five feet away just staring at her. Not a great thing to wake up to.  They abandoned their “beach sleepover” and got the heck out of dodge.

Tell your older kids (and tell yourself!): If you decide on a spontaneous road trip, make sure you plan ahead for where you will end up sleeping for the night and don’t try to wing it.  You may not find a hotel or they all may be full.  Make a plan before you go.

10. If the worst case scenerio happens, and you find yourself taken in a car by a bad guy:

Obviously, if you have a cell phone, use it. Call 9-11 and just let the operator pick up and don’t say anything.  I did some research and apparently there’s an app for kidnapping victims here.

If you have no phone or your phone gets taken, then let’s use the above example of how I was picked up and given a ride by a stranger.  Lets say the worst case scenario happened and instead of pulling over at the pay phone, the guy with a ponytail gunned the engine and took off a high speed, intending to take me to a secondary location.  What would I do?  I first would fasten my seatbelt.  Secondly, I would say a silent prayer for safety.  Third, I would either do the following: attempt to crash his car (when he reached a slower speed), or attempt to talk to him about God. If you want to be really inspired, listen the testimony of Margie Mayfield who was taken and later released by a serial killer, Stephan Morin.  How?  She spent several hours talking to him about God’s love. By the end of her day long captivity, they actually became friends.  He became a Christian that day and said that all the rage and hate he had inside of him his whole life was gone in that moment.  Later, he was captured and spent the remainder of his years in prison being a witness for God.

Margie’s amazing story is here.

Le’t get back to talking as a diversion tactic. Ted Bundy stated that he avoided getting into any extended conversations with his victims because that might remind him of their personal characteristics.  The FBI suggests that talking is probably the most effective and promising way to diffuse a violent situation.  (Serial Killers, Peter Vronsky, p. 376). Talking to the bad guy helped a young woman go free when her potential killer found out her father was dying of cancer.  Another bad guy let his victim go free when he learned she was sexually abused as a child. (source: ibid, p. 377.)

Tell your kids: First, of course, try to escape and do not go anywhere with him!  If taken, call 9-11, or try to talk to the bad guy to get him to see you as human. And because we are a Christian family: pray silently for God to protect you, pray aloud that God will protect you with his Angels, even pray aloud for the bad guy.  If your hands are free, try to make him take the car off the road, and if you get away, and if he has a gun, run anyway (it’s very hard to hit a moving target) and try to escape.

I know talking about these 10 things could alarm our kids.  I get that.  And talking to your kids about worst case scenarios are difficult at best, and possibly wholly inadequate in the moment.  I get that too.  My advice isn’t perfect. The way my husband and I approach our safety talks is that we tell our kids that God is their ultimate protector and, generally speaking, God protects His children.  We tell them that we pray regularly for God’s protection over them.  But we also tell them that bad things can happen to good kids, and we want to prepare them for something ‘just in case’ it happens.  We tell them that there are many things that they can do to avoid bad guys, and it’s our job as parents to equip and educate them. The culture of our family has always been complete honesty and talking about grown-up things in an age-appropriate way, so my kids are not overly surprised or scared about anything.  I don’t know what your family’s culture is, but consider telling them a few items on the Top Ten list if you think it could help them.  Just my two cents.

The other day I went over a few items on the Top Ten list with my own kids and started talking about the Tricky Person when my son interrupted me and said “yeah, yeah mom. Tricky people are bad adults who pretend to want or need something from kids.  But adult are adults and don’t need help from kids.  Can we stop at McDonalds on the way home from school?”

‘Nuff said.  The kids now roll their eyes at mom when I go over safety items with them, but I would rather them roll their eyes at me in annoyance than to be tricked our lured (or targeted) by a bad guy. I love them too much to avoid this topic.

Above all, I pray God’s protection over them, and tell them to pray, too. Because at the end of the day, my words and warnings may not be enough. I am grateful that their lives are in the hand of the Lord, and He is their ultimate protector, and He watches over them.

I wil close with two verses which bring me comfort:

Keep me safe, Lord, from the hands of the wicked; protect me from the violent, who devise ways to trip my feet. Psalm 140:4

My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.  He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber, indeed, He who watches over you will neither slumber or sleep.  Psalm 121:2-4

____________________________

Please feel free to share other safety tips with me (or any other comments) in the comment section!

If you missed Part I, here it is: Protecting our Girls from Serial Killers – Part I

And Part III, the conclusion of this series, is here: The Five Ways to Survive a Serial Killer (part III – protecting our kids)

Protecting our Girls from Serial Killers – Part I

“It places the lotion in the basket.”

These seven words immediately send a shiver down my spine as I recall the famous scene from Jodie Foster’s classic movie, “The Silence of the Lambs.”

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The Silence of the Lambs, more than any other movie, shaped my view of serial killers. So are they still around and what do we need to know about them in the year 2017?  I am writing this post from a protective mom’s perspective, so I did a bunch of research to figure this out.

I’m a child of the 70’s and 80’s, so I vividly remember what I call the “outbreak of the serial killers” that spiked in this time period.  It seemed like every other week there was another serial killer on the loose.  These creepy, deranged men were lurking behind every corner, just waiting to kidnap our kids or steal young girls from college campuses.

But here we are in 2017. Are serial killers a thing of the past or still a threat?  And why this post?

I am writing this post because I am a mom and I have two girls who are young teenagers and I want to prepare them to face many different threats.  God is their ultimate protector, but I am their mother and it’s my responsibility to educate them as much as possible so that they can make wise decisions and safely grow up to be young women whom God can use to make this world a much better place.

This post actually started two months ago in August when our family took a vacation to Jackson Hole, WY (you can read about it here), and the place where we stayed for the first two nights did not have a room available for all of us to fit in, therefore we were given two adjacent cabins.  For just those two nights, we let the kids have one cabin, while we had the other (our two cabins were five feet apart). When we tucked them in at night, we stressed the following: “do NOT, under any circumstance, open this door for anyone; keep the door locked at all times.  Call or text us if you need anything.  We will be right next door. Stay in your room. We love you.  Go to sleep.”

And because I’m a child of the 80s and watched one too many scary movies (you can read about that lovely period of my life here:  One, two….Freddy’s coming for you) I had a schizophrenic conversation with myself that went something like this: “Heather, what if there is a serial killer in this small mountain town, who noticed that you left your kids in a cabin next to yours….and what if???  You are a terrible mother, putting your kids at a huge risk like this.”  A moment later another voice would chime in: “Heather, this is a small adventure for the kids.  It’s a quiet mountain town.  The chances of a serial killer being here are slim to none. Pray for God’s protection and trust in the Lord.”

The “pray and trust in the Lord” side prevailed and all was completely well.  There was nothing to it.

But it got me thinking…what’s the deal with serial killers?

And then I thought a bit more deeply about it and a bunch of other questions surfaced as well….

Are serial killers a relic of the past or a current threat to my kids?

Haven’t serial killings gone down over the decades?

How have serial killers changed their methods over the years?

What types of victims do serial killers target?  How often do serial killers kill?

Why do they kill?

Are serial killers just waiting to kidnap our daughters from the local mall, grab them as they walk to school, or steal them from their comfortable beds?  

What about girls from suburbia with doting/loving/protective parents (umm, like me and my husband), are they at risk?

How can I prepare my girls (and my son) for serial killers?  What can I tell them to do/not do, in order to protect them?  And not freak them out?

Oh and by the way, did any girls ever get away from serial killers?  What can we learn from them?

And while I’m at it (for some future posts) what are the other top threats and dangers that this demographic (young, teenage girls and young women) might come face to face with?

Before I get into the nitty gritty of my research, I have three stories to share with you.  I call these my “perhaps/perhaps not serial killer stories.”

(Mom, I’m so sorry if you are reading these for the first time….)

The first one occurred when I was only 22 years old, on an a trip to Europe as a part of a large student tour group.  I was alone in Rome one day when I was approached by an Italian man who invited me, in broken English, to join him for a coke. I politely declined and headed for the underground subway system.  Unfortunately, the Italian dude followed me into the subway (in a very sneeky, creepy manner) but I pretended I didn’t notice him following me.  When the subway pulled to a stop, I entered one of the cars right in front of me while he (sneakily) entered into the next car attached, but hid behind people so I wouldn’t know. I pulled a fast one on him — and at the very last moment — I quickly exited my car right before the door closed.  He was trapped in his car.  When he went past me, we both stared at each other.  His was a look of surprise and frustration, almost anger; mine was a smirk and a “ha ha” — while I laughed at him.  I’m so glad I was hyper-vigilant based on all of the 80s horror movies I watched growing up, but why the heck was he following me in the first place?

Se La Vie, creepy European dude.  

Another time, Erik and I went to a mall to shop, and while Erik was in a store, I decided to do some people watching; I was on the second floor, looking down at the ground floor. That’s when I noticed a man watching me, partially hidden behind a column.  Several minutes went by where it appeared that I must be completely alone at the mall.  Occasionally I glanced over the man.  He never stopped starting at me. There was something eerie about him and the way he was watching me; almost like he was targeting me.  When Erik came over to me I immediately looked over at him to see his reaction.  His eyes grew big, he ducked completely behind the pillar, and turned and left the mall in a hurry.

I Saw You, Creepy Mall Dude.

The last story occurred in PERFECT serial killer demographic form (more on that in a second).  First of all, this story takes place in CALIFORNIA in the 1990s.  As much as I love California, it has the largest number of victims of serial killers (source here). (Hello, there was even a MOVIE, set in the 1990’s, called Kalifornia, that took place in California, that dealt with…you guessed it….serial killings that occurred in California.)

So in my mid-twenties I flew out to visit one of my friends who lived in California named Marla (I actually interviewed her here) and we decided to drive up the famous Route 1— California’s beautiful coastline — doing some tent camping along the way.  Everything was going well until we ran out of camping fuel and had to stop at a K-Mart in Monterey, right off of Route 1.  We walked into the store and went directly to the camping aisle.

So there we were, two young girls, with little make-up on so we looked extra young, both of us attractive (if I do say so), standing in the camping aisle, looking at camping fuel, alone.

We were easy targets.  

Out of nowhere a man in his 40s approached us and said “hey girls, I am new to the area and was wondering if you knew of a good camp-site or state park that I can go to.  I’m camping like you are, and I would love a recommendation.” Sensing a creeper, I told him, quite bluntly, “sir, you can go down to the Chamber of Commerce and get recommendations for state parks.”

He then proceeded to tell me that he already knew he could do that, but that he wanted to hear our opinion of where we had already gone, and where we were planning to go to, because he needed a good recommendation.

Ummm, no.

I told him of a State Park we had just visited (and had no plans of returning to) and he said thank you and left. Or so we thought.

Unfortunately, Creepy Kmart Dude did not in fact leave but followed us around the store, always staying just out of sight from us.  Marla and I furtively got into the check out line (always looking out for him), and at the last second he was right behind me in line (he came out of nowhere), so we pretended like we had to return the camping fuel, dashed all around the perimeter of the  store, and quickly left.

The last time I saw him he was standing in the middle of Kmart, turning in circles, looking for us.

We Tricked You, Creepy KMart Dude.

Were these three men serial killers?  Probably not.  But you never know. However, these three stories just confirmed to me that I always need to keep my head held high and be alert to my surrounding, and not put myself in foolish situations.

Now onto the questions I asked at the beginning of this post. I am a research nerd and love knowledge and information, so I will put a bunch of interesting research stats in the P.S. section if you are interested.

For the rest of you, I will briefly answer the above questions and then close with a couple of good stories.  After all, my blog’s theme is story-telling.

The Bottom line of Serial Killers today:

Serial killers are still a current threat, but a smaller one.  But before you relax in your easy chair and watch the new Netflix series about serial killers and think “well, that’s from the 80s,” just remember that approximately 50 of them are still out there at any given time, trolling for victims. Serial killings peaked in the 70s, 80s, and 90s.

The stat you need to remember is this: somewhere between 3,500 and 5000 persons are killed each year by a serial killer.  (Source: Serial Killers, Peter Vronsky)

But even if serial killings are less common, it seems Americans are still fascinated by them. I guess it’s because of the brutality and sadistic nature of their crimes.  Or maybe it raises up a primal fear in all of us of a worse case scenario happening to perhaps our own teen daughter as she rides her bike home after work or school one afternoon.  Americans like to be in control.  Serial killers make us all feel nervous and out of control.

As far as the victim profile of serial killers, let’s take a look at the girl in the movie the Silence of the Lambs, as she pretty much sums up both the demographic and the method serial killers use.  First, she was in a vulnerable situation (out walking alone at night), she got tricked by a scam of Buffalo Bill, and she was what he was looking for, specifically he was looking for a larger young lady, (although statistically larger-boned or bigger girls are less likely to be targeted).  So the movie got that pretty much right.

Sadly, prostitutes seem to be the number one target of serial killers. Other vulnerable demographics include runaways, hitchhikers, the homeless, and mentally ill.  Basically people that authorities won’t miss for awhile and/or that the killer feels “safe” to exterminate.

Vulnerable situations include, as mentioned, being out alone at night, kids outside with no adult around, hitchhiking (as touched on above), and just plain old super unlucky people who are in the wrong place at the wrong time.   And yes, they choose a wide variety of victims including men and boys and the elderly.  For more information on who they target and why, click here and here.

What about choosing kids?  Certainly, children can be the victims of these killers, but the reality is that the abduction and murder of children by stranger is a very rare crime (approximately 43-147 children are kidnapped by strangers every year).  Most kids who disappear are runaways and most return home. (source: Serial Killers by Peter Vronsky.)  If you teach your kids how to use their intuition and avoid tricky people (I will cover this in part II), you will help your child to be safe.

These killers will most likely not snatch your beautiful 12 year old daughter (or your freshman home from college) from their bed, as long as you lock your doors and windows (and as long as they were not targeted beforehand).  In all my research, if a serial killer broke into a home, it was usually through an unlocked door or window.  They also have preferred “hunting grounds” which are rarely private homes as the chances of being detected and engaged or killed by the residents or neighbors is exceptionally high.

As far as where they kidnap their victims, I would say mainly from public places, and yes, even the mall or just outside (like on the side of the road).  However, I would say your kids and mine are most likely fairly safe as long as they do certain things which I will outline in Part II, but most importantly not being tricked our lured by a bad guy.

Serial killers have changed over the decades in that they use social media a lot more and mass gun violence or gun killings seem to be the new “method” of serial murdering.  (here)

I can speak directly to this as years ago, in October of 2002, the Beltway Snipers paralyzed the greater DC metro area where I live (and in fact, several shootings took place just miles from our home).  I vividly recall passing FBI agents on the side of the road, toting huge assault rifles, inspecting vehicles, looking for the mysterious “white box truck,” while Erik and I nervously drove past.  These two modern day serial killers (John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo) basically paralyzed our entire area for weeks.  I was afraid to go to the store, sit on a bench, or put gas in my car. These two serial killers were later apprehended due to the quick thinking of a truck driver.

The question of why serial killers kill is a matter of much debate, but in a nutshell many believe the following factors could contribute: trauma/abuse/brain injury/social isolation as a child, mental illness, a personality disorder such as psychopathology, and I would add another: demonic possession or oppression.

And now to the one thing I hope you will remember after reading this post:

Most victims of serial killers were lured away by a ruse or a scam by the serial killer.  In fact, 65 percent of serial killers attracted their victims this way. (stat: here.) Many serial killers then took their victim away with their vehicle.

Ted Bundy was a prime example of a serial killers who lured or used a scam.  In addition to being very handsome, smart, and volunteering as a suicide hotline counselor (and a very good one at that, according to his friend Ann Rule who wrote a book about him), he was charming and friendly and caring and had “normal” relationships.  However, he had a super dark side.  If an opportunity presented itself and he saw the “right looking” young woman at the right time, he either a. pretended like he had a hurt arm and then asked these girls to help him with something or b. pretended to be a cop/security guard at a mall and lured girls that way, and then he committed the unspeakable, up to 100 plus times. (His exact victim count is unknown.)

There were at least three young women who did not become a victim of Ted Bundy.  How?   In April of 1974, when Ted Bundy was literally snatching young girls off of college campuses, there were two curious reports that came in.  One girl reported that she was approached by a young, handsome, neatly dressed man with his left arm in a cast who approached her in front of the school library.  He asked her to help him carry his books for him to his car.  She reported that as she approached his car, she noticed that that front passenger seat was missing.  For some reason that she could not explain, she felt suddenly afraid and placed the books on the hood of the car and hurried off, feeling embarrassed by her “irrational” fear.  The second young woman reported that Bundy asked her to help him start his car while he fiddled with the engine in the back (he drove a VW Bug, with the engine in the rear) but she, too, became fearful and suddenly left, saying she was in a hurry and she had to go.

Based on those two stories above, here is my first piece of advice for everyone out there:

TRUST YOUR GUT.

If something feels off, it probably is.  It often takes a minute or two (or sometimes longer) for your conscious thought to catch up to what your subconscious is trying to tell you.  If you’re not sure about something, and you get that weird feeling, run.  Who cares what the other person may think of you.  It might just save your life.

(Gavin De Becker calls trusting your guy “the gift of fear” and writes two books about this, and one is oriented to protecting children and teens: here.)

Our kids and teens can also be tricked especially through social media.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, google “To Catch a Predator” (or click herefor just one way that older men are trolling for your younger daughters.  It’s disgusting.

We all want to protect our girls from various threats and dangers, and while serial killings may be statistically less than they used to be, (and yes other threats may be more prevalent), it’s still good to know how you can avoid them.  I will also be looking for common threads between serial killers and many other dangers that face our daughters and sons today.  For example, I have already shown the connection between serial killers and sex trafficking.  Are there other connections between all of these threats?  If so, what are they? Stay tuned for future posts addressing other threats facing our daughters and sons, such as sex trafficking, gangs, bullying, etc.

In part II, I will tell you what you can do (or teach your kids) to reduce your chances of becoming a victim of a serial killer, and what we can learn from women who got away from them.  

In closing, as I was debating writing a post about this topic, I was channel surfing one night when I caught the very end of the movie called The Lovely Bones about a fourteen year old girl who is lured by a serial killer into his underground bunker and murdered (her body was never found).  The part that got to me the most is when her mom finally went into her bedroom for the first time since she vanished.  Her mom looked around her bedroom, which was untouched since the day she had disappeared, and then tears welled up in her eyes.  She felt her daughter’s presence and said to her:

“I love you, Susie.”

I cannot even imagine what it must be like to lose a child to a serial murderer.

That’s when I decided to write this post, if only to educate myself and my kids.

The movie closes with the following lines:

When my mother came into my room, I realized that all this time I had been waiting for her. I had been waiting so long. I was afraid she wouldn’t come.  Nobody notices when you leave.  I mean, really leave, when you choose to go.  At best, you might feel a whisper, or a wave of a whisper, undulating down. 

My name is Salmon, like the fish. First name: Susie. I was fourteen years old when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.

I was here for a moment, and then I was gone.

I wish you all a long and happy life.

________________________________________________________

To read Part II in this series: The Top Ten Ways we can protect our kids from serial killers and other bad guys — Part II

To read Part III in this series: The Five Ways to Survive a Serial Killer (part III – protecting our kids)

P.S for all the research nerds, and those who are secretly fascinated with this subject, here are some more interesting serial killers stats:

  • A serial killer may be on the loose in New York City as we speak (click here.)  Also, the person or people responsible for the recent deaths of six women in Ohio remain at large (read the story here).
  • Concerning the number of victims: there are more than 185,000 unsolved homicides committed since 1980.  I can almost bet that a significant number of those homicides were the work of serial killers.  So between that and the fact that known serial killers do not always admit to all of their victims, and that many of them have never been caught, the stats, in my view, are off.
  • Women accounted for 70 percent of the 1,398 known victims of serial killers since 1985. By comparison, women represented only 22 percent of total homicide victims. (please see this article).
  • U.S. serial murder cases with prostitute victims accounted for 32% and/or 35% of all U.S. serial murder cases involving female victims only, 1970-2009, according to these sources: here  and here.
  • And as for the age that they target, the average age of a serial killers victims was 34 years, with the median age was 29 years and mode being 22 years. (here)
  • After peaking at age 29, the chances of being murdered by a serial killer dramatically decrease in one’s 30s, 40s, and 50s. (source here)
  • Serial killers sometimes choose a wide variety of victims.  It’s hard to completely peg the victims of serial killers, as sometimes serial killers choose unique demographics, such as a straight serial killer choosing gay men as his victims, or hospital-staff-turned-serial-killers choosing elderly patients. And yes, there are women serial killers too.
  • And yes, they sometimes target men and boys.  There were many young men that died at the hands of John Wayne Gacy and others.  Again, these boys were out walking alone at night and/or lured because Gacy pretended to be a police officer or wanted to hire them for a job.  He tricked a lot of young men in different ways. Male victims tend to be young men either hitchhiking or seeking work. (To read about this, click here for about 40 different serial killers who targeted men or boys.)
  • However, in the course of doing research I found this: the most common circumstance surrounding serial murders in the U.S., however is a home invasion. Roughly 1,500 Americans have been killed by a serial killer during a home invasion since 1900. (source here). However, in a book I read called Serial Killers – The Method and Madness of Monsters by Peter Vronsky, only 10 percent of serial killers invaded their victims homes (page 307).
  • There were cases of kids walking to school, or going to the mall, or just outside riding a bike or walking to the store, who just disappeared and were later murdered by a serial killer.  In fact, in my local area, they just closed a 40 year old case where two little girls walked to the mall in the mid 70s and were never seen again. (you can read about the Lyon sisters here).
  • There are several theories as to the decline in serial killings but it boils down to better police work, technological advances, they-can’t-get-away-with-it-as much-as-they-used-to (due to Internet and surveillance cameras), lack of the celebrity status and air time serial killers used to receive.
  • There are three theories of why serial killers kill: some type of childhood abuse or neglect, mental illness or personality disorder (such as sociopath, psychopath) and brain injury (source here.) In my research, it also seemed to extensive bed wetting, cruelty to animals, being bullied or excluded by other kids, etc. that were factors to them becoming future serial killers.
  • After the serial killer has tricked and distracted his victim, oftentimes he will quickly smash them over the head with a heavy object. Once they are unconscious, they are moved to another location.
  • Serial killers are generally thought to be very approachable and friendly and are able to mimic decent and kind human behavior.  Most of them don’t “look” or “act” like a killer.  They are charming, handsome, community leaders, and suicide hotline volunteers.  They can live next door to us and we’d never know.
  • An example of serial killers who targeted: there were serial killer cousins who would troll Florida’s coastline looking for women sunbathing on a beach all alone.  They would disable her car in some way and then patiently wait.  When the woman came back to her car and it wouldn’t start, there the sadistic cousins would be, being super nice, and offering her a ride. If the woman took their offer for a free ride, it ended up being the last ride of her life.  (To read more about David Gore and Fred Waterfield, click here.)
  • The source for the first point about serial killings being statistically less came from the FBI’s report Serial Murder: Pathways for Investigations and Radford University/FGCU Serial Killer Database. Updated 9/4/2016.
  • Some serial killers pretended to be men in authority.  David Allan Gore used his auxiliary sheriff’s badge to trick girls into obeying him. (see source above.) And finally, John Wayne Gacy and the Hillside Stranglers also used a police badge, among many others.

Interview with a Preparedness Expert/Mom

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Marla is a regular mom with a great skill set — family emergency preparedness — and one of my best friends from high school. I visited her last year at her home in Southern California.  We are standing on a picturesque hill directly above their home in the above photo.  Crazily, the entire area where we are standing caught on fire a few months after this photo was taken.  The out of control wildfire traveled downhill and almost burned down her house.  Read the full story below.

Marla is a preparedness expert/mom who lives in a major wildfire and earthquake zone: Southern California. I met Marla at the start of ninth grade when I took a two year break from public school to attend a small, Christian private school in Syracuse, NY (where I grew up).  Ironically, I was going through my rebellious/class-clown phase during those two years (not so compatible with a strict Christian school), and Marla was my very first friend; we met at my locker.  We’ve kept in touch all these years and I visited her a year and half ago at her home in California and that’s where this interview began. In this interview, Marla discusses the top three ways a family (or individual) can be prepared for a disaster, how to approach thinking about the unexpected, the number one thing you need during an emergency, social unrest and the zombie apocalypse, and how her house literally almost burned down due to an out-of-control wildfire.  I interview her from her well-stocked underground bunker in California.  (Kidding…her garage is well stocked, but no bunker.)

Heather:  Marla, last year you had a wildfire almost burn your house down.  Please tell us what happened.

There were some wildfires in my general area, but due to the wind direction, we were told that our home would probably be ok.  I was at a garage sale in town when my friend’s husband who was fighting the fire said I better get home, because he was pretty sure we’d be evacuated soon, so I drove home.   I could smell smoke and the sky turned a very dark but also a weird orange color as I drove.  I arrived home, and power was out, so no AC, but because of the smoke cover, what would have been 104 + degrees was about 80 something…we packed a few things in the car easily because I had our valuables gathered, consolidated and organized. My new neighbors on either side of my home were pretty panicky. They admittedly couldn’t think straight- so I was able to have the privilege of talking them through what they needed to do and how to prioritize. I asked if I could pray for them and prayed for God’s peace to be known to them.  That was pretty instantaneous after praying. He is a present help in a time of need 🙂  Awhile later I looked out the window and saw a huge plume of black smoke barreling down on our house.  I went out to my back yard to pack up our chickens and just as I finished, I heard a sound like rushing wind — almost like a tornado, and a loud crackling sound.  It was the wildfire coming over our hill behind our house!  My girls and I got in the car and drove out of there, and like an idiot I was almost out of gas and the roads were really backed up.  My husband and some other husbands decided to stay at the house and fight the fire with their garden hoses.  At that time there was no firefighter support. The fire was super close to my house at this point, and according to my husband, had reached a fort my kids had built and it all had to be aflame. My one neighbor came up to my husband and she prayed something like this: “God, you have power over the wind and waves, and over the fire. We ask you to push this fire back, preserve their home and land, do a miracle, and keep the hill from burning.”   And God answered.  All the things that my husband and neighbors saw, with their own eyes, as being consumed by the flames, were not even burnt.  Or near burnt.  Our house was saved.  It was a miracle.
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Above: the wildfire that was coming straight down the hill towards Marla’s house.  It was a miracle that her house and land were saved.

 

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A helicopter sprays water and chemicals over the wildfire.
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Keep your valuables (documents, keepsakes) in one place for easy grabbing.  Marla was able to quickly put those important items into her car, and leave her home, in a moment’s notice.

What did you learn from that experience?

Keep between half and a full tank of gas in your car.  Keep your keepsakes, important documents, and valuables in one place so you can quickly grab them.  Prepare your neighbors for peace (more on that in a moment). And honestly, nobody came to tell us to evacuate; there was no announcement that I was aware of.  Sometimes you have to trust your instincts and not necessarily rely on the authorities to tell you what to do.

Why did you become interested in preparing for a disaster?

Because I do live in a place with earthquakes (Southern California, near the San Andreas fault) and that terrifies me.  I didn’t think much of it and put it off, even after I had children.  Until there was actually a little earthquake one day and I had two little tiny kids in a shopping cart.  It made me realize that I would have no idea where to go or what to do or how to get ahold of my husband or how to get home if the roads were blocked.  And I was in Walmart, in the camping section, so I was very thankful for that.  So I grabbed a few things and left.  But that got me thinking that I should really think a lot more about preparedness.  So I learned a lot about it, took some classes, and started a website.  (Her website is here.)

Let’s start with the two recent devastating hurricane events.  How would you advise a family to be prepared for a hurricane and its aftermath?

First, if you live in area prone to hurricanes and if you haven’t taken the time to make sure you’ve assembled an Emergency Supply Kit, build one now! A few other things: board up your windows, fill the bathtub with water, go over the evacuation plan with the family, and know the location of the nearest hurricane shelter. If you are instructed to evacuate, do so!  You cannot be certain that help will come later if you find yourself in a deadly situation after evacuations have taken place.  Remember to do the following when you prepare to leave home: turn off lights, gas appliances, heating, air conditioning, and ventilation systems, keep refrigerator/freezer turned on (and turn it up to the coldest setting), and of course, lock your home!

(For more information on hurricane preparedness, please go directly to Marla’s website. CNN.com also had a great article on this topic; some of the information above was taken from the article: here.)

What are some questions that individuals and families should be asking about being prepared for a disaster?

What are the dangers we could have locally?  What are the natural disasters that may be prevalent in our area?  What kinds of man-made disasters could we face?  What would I like to do in those situations?  Do we want to high-tail it out of town?  Where are we going?  Is that place stocked with what you need?  Natural disasters include hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, flooding, and wildfires.   And in some locations, a tsunami. Man-made emergencies include power grid problems, terrorist attacks, EMPs, etc.

What are some simple ways a family can get prepared?

I think families are loathe to prepare for emergencies because you would rather not think about those difficult scenarios.  But I have three words of advice for you:  SKILLS TRUMP STUFF.  Knowing how to do things is better than having stuff.  The first order of business is coming up with a plan. First, come up with a fire exit plan.  In about four minutes a fire can be raging and almost impossible to escape.  If you live in an earthquake region, practice an earthquake drill.

Figure out where your family is going to meet up in case of a natural disaster or social unrest.  Maybe you work in one corner of the city/county, and your spouse works in another area; maybe your kids attend school in another area.  How are you getting them?  Where are you meeting?  What if traffic is blocked up?  Do you have good walking shoes in your car? Do your kids have extra water, sneakers, and a food bar in the car?  Even schools need to have good supplies in the event of a lock down situation, including a privacy screen.

I will bottom line it for everyone: what are the Top Three Ways to get prepared for an emergency?

First, make a family plan (see above); talk to your family about what you can do to prepare.  Learn about what you already have that can prepare you. For example, big garbage bags can line your toilet for sanitation when there is no plumbing (for sewage purposes, if it comes to that).  Learn how to get water out of your hot water heater.  What are all the water sources in your house? And trust in the Lord.  Secondly, make sure you have a 30 day minimum of WATER (one gallon, per person, per day).  And if there is a big disaster in the city, the Suburbs are the last area to be addressed.  It’s the high density populations that gets addressed first.  Where I live, about 40 minute outside of a big city, they told us it will be two to six months before anyone is able to get out here to address anything.  That’s a long time. Thirdly, have a month’s worth of food.  Start with two weeks and then incrementally increase it.

How do people get started preparing for difficult scenarios?

Start with the basics. Most houses have anywhere between one and two weeks of food.  You need to think: how am I going to cook it with no electricity?  What is my fuel source?  Do I have enough canned food?  STORE WHAT YOU USE AND USE WHAT YOU STORE.  Rotate your food. Know that children and elderly are more prone to starve in a time of distress.   Take small steps.  Be a little more prepared today than you were yesterday.  Preparing for the apocalypse is completely overwhelming and impossible.  Don’t become obsessed and fearful.  If you sense the Lord nudging you to become more prepared, that’s wisdom.  Take small steps.

What can people do to help their community prepare?  

So make your plan for fire exits, make your plan for a couple of natural disasters, then say to your neighbors, “Hey guys!  We’ve never met, we just drive into our garage, but I wanted to give you my contact information, if ever there is an emergency or something suspicious, and hey we made a fire safety plan, and one for a hurricane, if you want we can all brainstorm together and be prepared as a neighborhood.”

People don’t love it.  They are kinda slow and suspicious.  Neighbors can feed and save each other.  There are plenty of stories about the Northridge earthquake where everyone pulled their grills together and grilled all of their meat before it rotted and fed the entire community.  That’s a beautiful thing.  However, 20 percent of the neighborhood will do 80 percent of the work.

What is the number one thing people need access to during a disaster?

Water.  You need to access water.  You can live three minutes without air, three days without water, and three weeks without food.  We came home one day and our water had been off all day.  And if that had been prolonged — you realize in those moments where your water is: in your ice cube trays, in the back of your toilet tank (not the bowl!), etc., but how long is that going to last me?  You realize how badly you need water for so many things!  Watch out for those foil pack waters – they taste wretched after a short period of time, and your kids won’t drink them.

Is it important to have access to a local water source such as a lake?  Should you purchase a hiking water filter like Erik and I have for our back-packing trips?  

Here’s the challenge: everyone is going to go to that lake or stream to get water.  There are really great tools like the UV Water purifier.  Like a huge thick pen with a filter; they are battery powered.  You can stick it in your cup of water to purify it.  Have your bottles of water; have your gallons.  Don’t set them straight on concrete, though, because that leeches in.  Sometimes you can use tablets and drops.

(Heather’s note: honestly, if this is the one thing you take away from this interview — think about water.  Do you have a nearby water source?  And do you have a dependable water filter? If not, order a water filter today (google “water filter for back-packing.”) If there is no water source nearby, go buy water at the grocery store and store it in your basement or garage on a shelf.)

Can you talk a little bit about situations that can lead to social unrest?

Extended power outages, “social justice” issues, rioting political protestors, EMPs, terrorist attacks, power grid problems, terrorist attacks.  You could have localized black outs with a nuclear power plant problem or an aged electrical grid. I get paranoid about social unrest.  I have a quick story: the power went out in a grocery store one night.  The doors wouldn’t open; you had to pry the doors open because there was no power.  Everything was pitch black except a flickering green light.  In a very short time I started to hear people chant, with nervous laughter, “Loot the store!”  I left my cart of groceries and got out of there.  I got to my car in pitch blackness.  Did I have anything to light my path?  Or keep me safe? I really didn’t.  When you don’t know the time when things will resolve, people get crazy.

I had wished I had a flashlight on my keychain that didn’t need constant pressure to stay on, and maybe a whistle. Happily- I didn’t need either.

But can’t we all go to a cabin in the woods?

A really nice idea, but your biggest problem is actually getting to the cabin.  And eventually the hungry hoards are going to come looking for food.  People will say “I want an RV.”  You can’t go off-roading in an RV.  Roads are going to be clogged.  What are my back ways of getting there?  How much gas do you need?  Keep your cars half to three quarters full of gas at all times.

(Heather’s note: everyone will come after the RVs, people, just like in the movies and on TV. But I’m not going to lie, I totally want one anyway!  I have heard people say that if the roads are clogged or blocked, try driving over the railroad tracks.)

Marla, let’s talk The Walking Dead.  End of the World.  Zombie Apocalypse.  What then?

Honestly, you’re a goner.  I mean, there is nothing you can do for that stuff.  It’s going to chaos and mayhem.  And you have the Lord; like….that’s it (and really, what more do you need?).  Your days are numbered; He knows when your end is going to be.  Some, even Christian believers, are like “I will kill anyone I have to – to protect my family.”  Others are like “absolutely not. I know where I’m going; if we get taken out, we get taken out.  We are not going to wipe someone off the planet before they have a chance to repent and turn to Christ for salvation.”  I feel like in those times of crisis it’s an opportunity to lead as many to Christ as possible.  It’s our last chance to bring people into eternity.  Our life is fleeting and short; this body is temporary.  That is what I am trying to tell my girls.  If you don’t believe that, I have no help for you.

I fantasize about setting up a bunker; I’m not going to lie.  It’s nice to find like-minded people with whom you can live in community if it comes to that. But it is really going to take a lot of financial investment and a lot of educating yourself in order to prepare for that. And is that really what you’re here on earth for? Maybe. Maybe not.

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I’m not sure if an RV, a bunker, or a cabin in the woods will protect us from zombies or normal people who act like zombies during a period of social unrest. So let’s spend the little bit of margin we all have to store about a month’s worth of food and water (and a few other necessary items — including a water filter — see the list below), and pray that the above scenario never happens!!

You’ve touched on this a little bit, but should you help people that run out of food in a crisis situation?  

That’s lovely, but you only have so much.  Also, when people find out that you have food and you help, more people are going to come, most likely.  The best thing you can do is to help your community be prepared.

How do you know when it’s time to leave your home?

I always say to my husband: “what is our clue that things are getting bad and we need to high-tail it out of a situation?  What would be the catalyst?”  So we would leave and have a two week or two month vacation, and maybe we would come back and maybe we won’t.  I think that is where you have to be led by the Spirit and not led by fear.  It’s a delicate balance.  Perfect love casts out fear, but we also want to be prepared and protect our family.

Advice for how the faith community should approach preparedness and social unrest?  

Christians have an opportunity to be more prepared for PEACE.  So we help those around us more effectively, and be a light in a dark world.  Jesus is the prince of peace.  We want to be deliverers of that peace.  And ultimately knowing that your life is in His hands brings peace.

Joseph’s life is a cool example. God showed him to prepare for hard times ahead and when famine came, not only was Egypt saved but many people from far away received aid.

Closing thoughts?

You cannot avoid the inevitable and unpredictable, but you CAN plan for SOME of it.  You have to prepare yourself mentally before you are out of time. Remember two words: peaceful preparedness….anyone who is a little more prepared or has put a little bit more thought into how something might be like is going to be calm when that thing happens.  SKILLS TRUMP STUFF.  We hate thinking about it….but thinking about it is going to get you further along than buying an emergency pack at Walmart and never looking in it or figuring out what its lacking for you is practically fruitless.  Know things.

Preparedness in one sentence?

There is a quote in the book of Proverbs that I think sums up preparedness well: “A wise person sees danger ahead and prepares for it.”

A little bit of wisdom goes a long way.

Thank you Marla for sharing your tips with us!

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Marla and me on a beach, when all was well in the world and there was no emergency to think about.

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Closing thoughts from Heather:

If you are a back-packer/hiker or love to go camping, you will already have a bunch of preparedness items in your basement or garage (think camp stove, propane, water filter). The one thing I cannot stress enough is: do you have a plan to access water?  I think my biggest take away, after interviewing Marla, is that I actually don’t have much of a family plan in place in case of a disaster.  My kids go to school across town and in case something happens, and the streets are clogged or shut down, I’m not really sure how to get to them.  A couple of other takeaways:

  • It’s good to pack sneakers and water bottles (and protein bars) in the car – just in case.
  • I’m glad I already have a water filter and live near a lake.
  • I’m glad skills are more important than stuff.
  • I need to organize all of my keepsakes and important papers in one spot.
  • I need to remind the kids about the fire plan we made a long time ago.
  • I hope I can get to the grocery store before everyone else does. 🙂
  • I have a long way to go.

One last note: when you are making any sort of plan, please don’t forget your pets!!

Thanks for reading!!

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For further resources:

Click here for the Red Cross, which already has emergency kits put together for you: here.

The CDC also recommends you should have an emergency kit prepared.  Whether or not you actually do that, scan the list below to make sure you have most of these items around your house in case of an emergency.

Please go to the CDC here.

The CDC recommends the following:

At Least a 3-day Supply of Food and Water

Water – one gallon per person, per day

(Heather: I am adding in water filter right here.)

Food – foods that are easy to make and won’t spoil, like canned soup, dry pasta, and powdered milk

•Manual can opener

•Basic utensils to prepare and serve meals

•3-day supply of all medicines, at a minimum

•Medical supplies like syringes, a walking cane, or hearing aids with extra batteries

•Soap

•Toothbrush and toothpaste

•Baby wipes

•Contact lenses or glasses

•First aid kit

•Emergency blanket

•Multipurpose tool (that can act as a knife, file, pliers, and screwdriver)

•Whistle

•Flashlight

•Radio (battery-powered, solar, or hand-crank) for updates on the situation

•Cell phone with chargers

•Extra batteries and cash.  Find out where your gas, electric, and water shut-off locations are, and how to turn them off.

There is more to this list, so please visit the website.