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.

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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.
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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.

Wine in the Woods: Back-Packing with three kids, and Jackson Hole, WY

Imagine the following:

You are sitting by a beautiful mountain lake out in the middle of nowhere, high up in the  mountains.  You’re in the middle of a good book, sipping wine, while your kids happily play (screen-free) somewhere in the distance (somewhere FAR in the distance, because you found a rock very far from camp, over-looking the lake).  You hear a splash in the water and look up — the juvenile-sized trout that inhabit the lake are just beginning to “rise.”  You gaze at the ripples descending across the water.  Your eyes glaze over.  You reach for your phone to take a picture (or more just out of habit, really) but realize you don’t have it with you….for why should you?  There is no Internet availability out here — six miles into the middle of the woods.

You think about what could be going on in the world or who could’ve passed away while you’ve been disconnected from society for the last three days.  You say a quick prayer for someone in your family.  You start back into the book but those darned trout are rising again.  You wonder if you should go grab your pole and drop a line.  Suddenly, the wine hits you and you find yourself getting a wee bit sleepy.  Time for a little nappy-poo?  Of course!!

You quietly sneak into your tent (without your family knowing) and lay on your very comfortable blow-up mattress pad and…

TAKE A NICE, LONG NAP.

Welcome to my version back-country camping.  

It’s a lot more fun (and fun for moms and ladies) than you may think.

Before I get deep into the woods (I mean weeds) about our back-packing trip, let me back up for a moment.  I wrote this blog post for two simple reasons. First, to chronicle our family trip.  Secondly, so you, My Dear Reader, can copy our trip out West to Jackson Hole, WY, down to a tee if you would like. Because it’s so much easier to copy someone else and steal their ideas than to do all the research and endless Internet searching on your own, right?

Of course!

I will start with Jackson Hole, WY: what we did, what we recommend, what to skip, and where we stayed.

First, if you have never been to Jackson Hole, please, if you can somehow make it there (and afford it), GO!

So without further delay, here is the summary of our trip out West starting with…

Our trip to Jackson Hole:

We flew into Salt Lake City as it’s cost prohibitive to fly directly into Jackson Hole (it’s a five hour drive to Jackson Hole from Salt Lake City).  We stayed at the Rustic Inn at Jackson Hole (www.rusticinnatjh.com) which we highly recommend for many reasons which I will put in the P.S. section below.  As soon as we arrived at the Rustic Inn, we promptly swam in the cool and clean mountain creek that runs directly behind the establishment.  Such a blast!  People actually brought tubes and did tubing down the creek.  That night we made smores at the fire pits that they have on the side of the mountain there.

 

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The next day, Erik (husband) organized our hiking gear, we walked around town and ate at the Merry Piglets for lunch (Mexican, highly recommend), and then that afternoon we visited the Teton Village and took a gondola up to a restaurant overlooking a beautiful view!  (Quick tip: taking the Gondola is much cheaper than the Aerial Tram but the Tram takes you higher up.)

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We rode the gondola up to the top of a mountain at the Teton Village.

Later that evening, we went to the Jackson Hole Rodeo (www.jhrodeo.com).  The rodeo was so much fun for adults and kids alike.  The cowboys had some trouble staying up for eight seconds on the bulls.  Do not spend the extra money to purchase the expensive, covered seats.  We paid about $15 per person (after a 5$ discount if you order tickets on line) and had great seats in the general seating area.

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The rodeo was a lot of fun!  Only one cowboy made it 8 seconds on the mighty bull!

The next day we went back-packing!!!!  Which I will get to in a moment.

After we came back from back-packing, we promptly went on a river float tour followed by a whitewater rafting trip! (Dave Hansen Whitewater and Scenic River Trips.)  It was super fun.  Honestly, to save money, you could probably skip the scenic river float tour (which occurs first thing in the morning, before the white water rafting trip).  First, it’s very cold.  Secondly, you see just a wee bit of bird wildlife. Put it this way: if you are dying to see a bald eagle and an osprey, do the river float.  We saw both!  But, you can just skip that and just get to all the action of whitewater rafting.

By far, whitewater rafting was the favorite activity of the kids the entire vacation.  It was not overly scary (only class 1 and 2 rapids, with perhaps one class 3) but the kids got to sit right up front and got a ton of action (and water) up there.  Erik and Claire got out of the raft and went “swimming” in the Snake River.

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The kids LOVED whitewater rafting on the Snake River!

The next day, we woke up early and watched the sunrise over the Grand Teton Mountains — breathtaking — and then continued on to Yellowstone National Park.  It’s only 55 miles from Jackson but takes about an hour and a half or so to get there.  Beware, the traffic can be very bad once you are inside the park.  You must go see Old Faithful, visit some of the super-piping-hot lava pits, and be on the lookout for wildlife, including bison and bears! (Quick Tip: we watched Old Faithful go off from the raised outside porch located on the second floor of Old Faithful Inn — highly recommend.  Very easy.  You can purchase food and drinks while you wait for Old Faithful to erupt.)

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The beautiful Grand Teton Mountain range.  THIS is why you do all of the work to get here.
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Why…hello Mr. Bison.  Please stay clear of my car.  I would appreciate it.  Yellowstone was awesome; we saw Bison up close.  We also saw a wolf through a high powered lens that a nice man let us look through.
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Old Faithful, at Yellowstone National Park, 55 miles from Jackson Hole.
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Please don’t attempt to enjoy this “natural hot tub.”  You will die.  Plus, they smell like sulphur.  But they’re super cool.  But keep your small children close-by.

The next day we did the ‘Walk Around Town Day’ (shops, restaurants, beautiful artwork, photography, and souvenirs for the kids).  And then at night (6 pm) they have a “shoot out” in the middle of the town square!  Super fun “play” put on by real actors with some real cowboy “shootings” (with blanks, of course) and old-time Western drama.

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Every night at 6 pm in the middle of the town square there is a “shoot out” along with a short, Western, dramatic production.

That night for dinner we ate at the Lift Restaurant.  Great view of the side of the mountain where everyone goes skiing in the winter.

On our final day, we drove back to Salt Lake city but not before I spotted some wild moose by a small creek.  We promptly pulled over and took some pictures.

Back-Packing with three kids:

For those who cannot imagine ever doing this with your kids and plan to skip this part,  please give me two minutes of your time.  Back-packing is hard and wonderful and fun and a pain all at the same time.

Let me first address some of the top fears of non-back-packers: bugs and bears.  Yes, there are a few bugs, mostly mosquitos in August, and you can deal with those quite easily with various bug sprays and products.  Wildlife: in all the years Erik and I have been hiking, we have rarely seen wildlife in any kind of a dangerous manner, or up close.  That being said, we have seen bear and moose from a distance, as well as elk, deer, and bird-life.   As for bears: we always bring Bear Spray with us wherever we go. If you hang your food properly you should not have any issues.

On to back-packing:

We drove about 1.5 hours up to the Bridger Natural Forest and hiked 4.5 miles to Middle Sweeney Lake.  We camped one night.  The next day we hiked only 1.5 miles to our destination: Eckland Lake.  It was beautiful!  The kids helped Erik pitch both tents, and then Erik promptly made dinner.  So what was on the menu for dinner, you may ask?  Erik made each of us a personal pan pizza!  It was the best pizza I’ve ever had!  (I will put some info on camping food in the P.S.S.S. section.)

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The lake where we went fishing.

Before dinner however, while it was still relatively warm (it gets chilly that high up), my daughter Claire and I found a large rock that was located on the side of the lake and jumped into a deeper part of the lake (it was cold!). We were just about to jump in a second time when I saw a leech swimming in the water right near the large rock.  The leech was about five inches long and looked like a small snake or eel.  I must admit that after I saw the leech I had visions of that small creature slithering up to a certain area of my body, where it does not belong, so I did not jump in the lake after that.  🙂

Over the next few days we we went fishing (Logan caught a rainbow trout and learned how to fly fish!), roasted marshmallows/smores, played charades by the camp fire, hiked a few miles here and there to get a beautiful view, (quickly) bathed in the lake water, kids were silly running around the camp, played UNO in the tent while it rained, waited for Erik to cook us the next meal, and just spent some awesome time together as a family.

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This is why we go back-packing.  Just good old-fashioned screen-free time in the woods, connecting as a family.
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Little boy.  Big lake.
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Logan caught a fish! Don’t worry; we threw it back.

Just a quick note to all you ladies and moms reading this blog thinking: “no way!! I could never do back-packing and camping.”

Ladies, things have changed.  Camping is different than you may think.

First, you can bring COFFEE and DARK CHOCOLATE into the woods.  You can also bring WINE into the woods.  You can bring a GOOD BOOK into woods.  You can bring a light-weight AIR MATTRESS into the woods. You can bring portable, light-weight CAMP CHAIRS into the woods.  You can unplug, relax, read, and spent time with family and friends.  And yes, there is hiking and activity involved, but it is often rewarded with excellent views.  Bottom line: back-packing is great for relationships, and it’s great for you, too….to unwind and see the beauty of nature, and to unplug.

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My survival items: first and foremost, my Bible.  I always appreciate God as Creator out on these trips. Secondly, my coffee.  Thirdly, a good book.  Finally, a small bottle of wine.

On the fourth day we hiked out of the woods (about six miles) while the kids asked “when will we be at the parking lot?” about 100 times, got caught in a hail storm, met some people (vegetarians) who drive around the country in their RV looking for wild mushrooms to pick off of logs, and got ready to eat the famous “post-hike cheeseburger!”

We stopped at the The Bird restaurant on our drive down the mountains, which has one of the best mountain views in the area.  And then spent the next four days in Jackson Hole, as mentioned above.

In closing, I am happy to say that in the midst of all the activity, hiking, Yellowstone, white water rafting, doing various activities, and driving for hours at a time, we grew closer as a family and had some great conversations and a lot of fun.  We also appreciated God as the Creator of all the beauty that we saw…from the mountains, to the beautiful birds, to the clear and cold lakes and streams, to the sunrises and sunsets.

I highly recommend both Jackson Hole and back-packing.  Put it on your bucket list, because it was our:

best.vacation.ever. 🙂

Thanks for reading!

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Khloe, dropping a line.

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P.S. We stayed at The Rustic Inn, which we highly recommend for many reasons but mostly because of the unique cabins (try to get Creekside if you can), free breakfasts, and most importantly, it backs up to the most lovely mountain creek I’ve ever seen — and you can swim and fish in the creek to boot (there’s abundant wildlife around the creek as well).  Also, there is a hillside area above the creek that they’ve recently developed into an area with a nighttime Tex Mex bar as well as a fire-pits to roast marshmallows at night from 7-10:30.  Several nights in a row we roasted marshmallows at the fire pits.  Great for memories with your kids!  Below: sunset on the creek and the view right outside of our room.

P.S.S.  Other things to do in Jackson: I highly recommend Jenny Lake. There is a short hike you can do that gives you a wonderful view.  You can also take a tram up the side of the one of the mountains.  Gorgeous!  Also, we heard from fellow whitewater rafters that horseback riding up in the mountains was also really fun and that their 13 year old thought it was the best part of their vacation.

P.S.S.S.  Food for back-packing: this will be the hardest part of your entire back-packing trip (mostly the planning, careful packing, carrying it around, and execution of the meal).  My husband is an expert at it, and if you want to contact me directly, that might be the best way to go about this.  But in a nutshell, you need to order some yummy back-packing meals that need to be re-hydrated with boiling water.   A few ideas for meal planning starting with breakfast: instant coffee, bring powdered cream and sugar, instant oatmeal, just-add-water-pancake mix (we put m & m’s in them), and there are some really good egg-wrap meals you can make with rehydrated eggs.  You can also add cheese to the eggs.  Lunch: individual peanut butter packets with individual jellies with mini-bagels, dried salami, cheese, protein bars, trail mix.  Dinners: check out http://www.packitgourmet.com for excellent ideas.  We love the cheeseburger wraps.  Erik made personal pan pizzas using a heat diffuser.  You will need plenty of propane (about two small canisters), a pot for boiling water, a small frying pan, olive oil, small fold-up spatula, camping cups, camping bowls, and camping soap.  Don’t forget a water filter and a fire starter, or camping matches.  You will also need light-weight sleeping bags and a light-weight tent.  There’s more you will need but this will get you started.  Have fun!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Confessions of an Exorcist

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I remember being scared out of my mind when watching the 1973 horror classic, The Exorcist.  So I decided to interview Dr. David Appleby, who performs exorcisms.  Most exorcisms (or deliverances) are not like the movie.  Read his story below.

I interview Dr. David Appleby, founder and president of Spiritual Interventions, Inc., which is based in Lynchburg, VA.  Dave is also a graduate counseling professor and pastoral counselor.  He has been involved in the deliverance ministry for more than 35 years.

Heather’s note: Dave doesn’t see like a demon-slayer: he has warm and kind brown eyes and has a very fatherly way about him.  He’s also very soft-spoken.  But don’t let that fool you.  In addition to being super smart, well-educated, and possessing an impressive professional pedigree, he gets rid of things that literally go bump in the night.  People come from around the world to see him, after they’ve tried just about everything.  He then performs an exorcism (or deliverance, in evangelical Christian terms) on them, and their whole life changes for the better.  Below is his story:

Do you consider yourself an exorcist?

By definition an exorcist is one who is able to cast out demons or spirits.  It is usually a word associated with the Catholic tradition.  Protestants often use  the word deliverance, or deliverance ministry.   That would be me.

How in the world did you end up in this line of work?

When I was an associate pastor I was responsible for providing counseling services for my church.  I kept running into good solid Christian people who apparently weren’t able to overcome their problems when I used the standard psychological or spiritual protocols.  I knew that I was missing something so I went back into the Scriptures to look for indications of supernatural change.  I saw that change occur when demonic spirits were cast out.  Back in the 1980s there were no books explaining how to do deliverance available (though there were several who made a case for it) so I just started experimenting.  After 35+ years I’ve developed a methodology that seems to work consistently.  I got into the field because nothing else was helping my clients.

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Dr. David Appleby has developed a model he has been using for 35 years to help people with demonic oppression.

Please describe your typical client?

Our clients are all Christians.  We won’t work with anyone who is not. Deliverance is for believers.  Why would one who has refused to be submitted to the Lord want, or hope to be set free from things when their whole attitude is in rebellion against the one who can provide their freedom?  Plus, if you remember the story from the Scriptures about the strong man and the stronger man.  When the house was cleaned out but not filled, the stronger man could come back with others that were seven times worse than the ones that were there to begin with.  Why would we do that to anyone?  Please see my book, It’s Only a Demon, for a more detailed explanation.

We see men and women, children and adults, professional people and not so professional people, the wealthy and the poor.  We see the physically and emotionally well and those who are not.  We see a huge range of clients.  The consistent factor is often that they have been damaged in some way, which in turn, opened the door to demonization.

What are some symptoms of spiritual oppression?

There are many.  First, feelings of shame or guilt that don’t resolve, accusatory voices in the mind that won’t stop, ungodly coping mechanisms (such as cutting, binge drinking, drug use) that just make the situation worse, difficulty making connections with people and with God, recurring nightmares or thoughts that disrupt sleep, and sins that don’t yield to traditional spiritual disciplines like meditation, prayer, fasting.

Some of this will be psychologically based, some physiologically based, and some spiritually based.

Here are a few more: a feeling that your life is not your own and that something else is working against you, personal or family problems that don’t respond to therapy, physical or psychological problems that don’t respond to medication, and finally, an inability to really, truly change.

How do you specifically make the demons leave the person? 

I don’t have the authority to make anything leave anyone.  As believers, however, we have all been given the authority by our Savior to command these things to leave in the name of Jesus.  When we do that in faith, and stand firm, they go, not because they want to, but because they have to.  Sometimes, however, we have to address the situations where these things gained access to the client before we can move forward.  It is only through the name of Jesus Christ (and his power) that a client can be set free.  While he is fully human, he is also the Son of God.  He created everything that is, including Satan and his demonic kingdom.  He defeated death when he died on the cross and rose from the dead.  In him we find life and supernatural authority over demonic spirits.

So you’re telling me that some Christians are under the influence of demons.  How does this happen?

Oppression is a non-biblical term that believers have decided to us to describe some level of demonic involvement that keeps the demon outside of the believer.  If you don’t believe that a believer can be demonized you have to have some explanation of what is taking place in the person.  Saying that the person is oppressed keeps the demon on the outside so you don’t have to deal with the theological issues.  The common doorways are generational (coming down through family lines), occult involvement (such as Ouiji boards, divination, witchcraft, sorcery, false religions, Masonic involvement in the family, drug use), trauma and victimization (physical, emotional, sexual, and verbal abuse, abandonment or betrayal by parents or loved ones, etc.), and long-term sin (a commitment to disobedience).

So there are four doorways for demonic oppression.  What is the most common one you’ve seen?

Trauma and victimization is the most common.  We are constantly astonished how many children are traumatized by their families and sexually assaulted by friends and family members.  When a person finds himself/herself traumatized, victimized, and isolated, with no support from the people who are supposed to care for them, they can become prey for the Enemy.

What are some of the strangest things that you’ve ever seen during your sessions?

Physically I have seen people act like spiders and try to climb up a wall, writhing on the ground, screaming, changes in voice and mannerism, etc.  Just a variety of weird stuff.

Can you elaborate on this a bit more?  I know there was a young man you mentioned in your book where it took you several men to pin him down.  Can you give at least one more example of odd/crazy behavior?

One time I was speaking at a conference where I normally do a public deliverance at the end of the training.  Actually seeing what takes place during a deliverance helps to normalize the experience for those observing.  It also normally makes people more comfortable with the thought of them joining a team and participating in the ministry.

In any case, in preparation for the conference, I asked the host to find someone who was willing to have a public deliverance.   The host was such a believer and had such confidence in God’s ability to deliver people that he went out and found the worst client that he could find.  What I did not realize at the time was that my client was about 6’ 4”, weighed about 300 lbs., and had a long history of mental illness.  He had also just been released from a mental hospital that morning.  He had also not attended the conference, nor was he a Christian.  I had no idea about any of this.  I try not to work with openly mentally-ill people in public settings as it often leads to a whole other level of complexity that is not helpful in a teaching setting.

In any case, all the attendees were sitting in rows behind me while I was sitting in a chair facing him.  He was an enormous, powerful man.  The first part of the deliverance went well.  When I addressed the demon, however, things deteriorated rapidly.  Suddenly he stood up, put his face about four inches from mine and began roaring, I mean screaming with a power and volume that was new to me.  I could feel his breath and spittle on my face.  After he got finished roaring at me he stood up, still screaming, and moved to the back of the room, where he started picking up and tossing chairs and tables around.  I sat in my chair without moving silently praying, “Lord, big angels, big angels.  Lord, big angels.”   Eventually he calmed down and told the host that he had to leave as he had to go to work.  He walked out the door.

The observers, who were sitting behind me, didn’t say a word the whole time as they sat there in total shock.  Needless to say, there were not many people who were interested in joining me in the deliverance ministry after that.  🙂

Another time, my team and I were working with a young woman who was suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder (Sometimes what appear to be alters are actually demonic spirits.  Other times they are legitimate alters; parts of a fragmented personality.)  In the midst of this deliverance I excused myself to go to the bathroom while a colleague continued working with her.  When I came back into the room I recognized that something unexpected had happened.  In the midst of the deliverance the main personality, with whom we were working, disappeared and a pure demonic spirit took its place. It was not fettered by the presence of a human personality.  As soon as I walked into the room it recognized me and began to speak to me.  As it spoke every hair on my body stood up as an overwhelming sense of evil and terror filled the room.  It then went on to suggest all kinds of sexual things that I could do to myself.  It was a little unsettling.  In any case, we went ahead and removed this spirit and several others.  When we finished, our client was completely healed and never again had any episodes of dissociation.  In this case, what appeared to be alters were actually demonic spirits.  That is not always the case.

I hesitate to mention these extreme examples, as they tend to reinforce the Hollywood stereotype of what deliverance looks like.  Events such as mentioned above almost never occur.  I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times such incidences occur out of literally thousands of deliverances.  When these manifestations begin to occur I just tell them to shut up and sit down and they do.  We have authority.

Have you ever been afraid during or after a deliverance session?

Rarely, mainly startled, because sometimes the unexpected can happen pretty quickly.   Plus, I do have big angels (I am told).

Have you ever encountered a demon you could not cast out?

I have discovered that I cannot cast a demon out of someone who wants to keep it or who refuses to submit themselves to the Lord.  I can’t help that person.  I have encountered situations where I was unable to figure out what needed to be done in order to cast the demonic spirit out so we were not successful.  Over the years we have, by God’s grace, become more discerning and have seen more success.  We now just assume that the demonic spirits will be gone by the time we get finished working.  That regularly proves to be true.

Can you tell me, briefly, about principalities?

These creatures, along with powers, thrones, and rulers, are mentioned in only a few places in the Scriptures ( Rom. 8:38; Eph. 3:10, 6:12; Col. 1:16, 2:15, and Tit. 3:1).  Not much is said about them.  I believe (and this is just my opinion) is that they are the same creatures that are referred to as Celestial Beings in 2 Peter 2:10 and Jude 8.  They appear to be demons or angels of a higher order that are often responsible for overseeing specific territories or have specific responsibilities.  Sometimes they find their way into people.  We are able to help people remove them.

Does your ministry do anything else such as clearing out peoples houses of ghosts, or other paranormal activities?

Sure.  I do that on occasion, as people request.  When I do, the manifestations stop.

What are ghosts, and do you believe in them?

The Bible is really unclear about it so I leave the question open.  When the Witch of Endor called up Samuel at Saul’s request it was apparently really Samuel.  Would he have been a ghost? Probably.  That is the only place in the whole Scripture where such activity is recorded.  I suspect that most of what people encounter aren’t ghosts, but familiar spirits acting like ghosts.

We’ve all seen movies with Catholic priests reading from the Bible, using holy water, and symbols like the crucifix. How is what you do similar or different compared to this? 

Sometimes we will read the Scriptures, sometimes anoint with oil, sometimes lay hands on the person.  I’ve not used holy water or the crucifix, but others have with some success.  Bless them.  We try to do nothing unless we are directed to do so by the Holy Spirit.

What is the actual deliverance process like, and who is typically on your team?

Not generally dramatic.  Quiet.  Intense.  Fun.  Lasting about three to four hours.  Successful.  My team consists of men and women, some in their 20s and some in their 70s, all of whom love the Lord and are delighted to have found a place where their unique spiritual gifts can be respected and utilized.  Each one blesses the other.  It’s wonderful.  Please see the book for more detail.

Is the devil real? 

I think so.  It is hard to look around the world and not see the fruit of evil surrounding us.  If you believe in good, it is hard not to believe in evil.  Whether or not that good is personalized as God or the evil as Satan is a matter of opinion.  Since the Holy Spirit is the one who convicts of sin, I don’t spend much time trying to convince others one way or the other.  I am too busy seeing people be set free.  🙂

What does it mean to be possessed?

Bad word, as it springs from a bad translation of the Greek in the KJV of the Bible.  Better translation would be demonized (which says nothing about ownership), which means being under the control or influence of a demonic spirit.

Do you believe in angels? Have you ever seen any of them?

Yes, I believe in them. I’ve never seen an angel, but I have been aware when they have been around. Sometimes I can feel their presence. Those who can see them tell me that they are often around me.  I need all the “air” support that I can get.  🙂

How does someone know that they may be spiritually oppressed and in need of deliverance?  In other words, advice for someone out there reading this who thinks they may need some extra help in this area?

Lots of times these folks wrestle with guilt, blame, and shame that will not go away, in spite of the fact that they know that they have been forgiven by God.  They find themselves tormented with no relief even though they are doing all the normal things that most churches teach should help to relieve such things such as more Bible reading, more prayer, more fasting, more worship, more church attendance, more small group participation or even, in the most desperate situation, working in the church nursery.  Most churches believe that the remedy to such torment is simply more.  The trouble is that that doesn’t fix the problem because these disciplines aren’t designed to address the issue of demonic spirits.  Only deliverance can do that.

Can you tell me about the gift of the seer? How does that gift manifest? Have your seers seen angels and/or demons?  

Sure.  Seers are people who are wired to see spiritual things, as did many people mentioned in the Scriptures.  Most of them have this gift from childhood but find it repressed by parents and churches who have no category for one who can see into the spiritual.  Parents will keep telling the child that they didn’t really see anything; it was just their imagination.  Those who are so gifted rarely tell others about this for fear of being seen as strange.

When such people join me in my work it is often like God suddenly opens a door and they find themselves seeing all kinds of things that they’ve never seen before.  Some have impressions.  Some see things in their mind’s eye.  Others see things as clearly outside of themselves as clearly as you and I see people.  We value these gifted people, affirm them, and train them to use their gift, particularly in deliverance settings.  They bring a very unique flavor to deliverance sessions.  Some can see demons.  Some see angels.  Some see both.

What are some of the positive changes the clients tell you about post deliverance?

A man with whom we worked a few weeks ago sent me an email.  This is what he said happened to him:

  • I must say that there is much that is different since we met. It has taken a couple of weeks to come to clarity and take shape. Let me describe what I feel is different.
  • I don’t hear the noise of condemnation constantly in my head. And when I feel something threatening it is much easier to redirect.
  • I feel at peace more often than not. I routinely sleep in when I want to instead of waking up to anxiety way earlier than I should be.
  • I don’t feel powerless. Even when I don’t do something I want to do I don’t relentlessly beat myself up. I am much better able to create and implement a plan than I have in years without feelings of pressure and hopelessness to perform. I have developed several plans and have actually followed through. Who knew 😊.
  • I do not feel a profound sense of incompetence.  I feel much more like other people.
  • When people ask how I am doing I more often spontaneously say ‘great’ – I never used to say that – ever.
  • I do not feel a profound weight of hopelessness around my spouse like I have for these few years, though this is still a matter of prayer.
  • I experience myself as uniquely gifted by God. Several have told me recently that I am anointed and I am actually experiencing that in a humble way.

Other common experiences include the removal of voices, fear disappears, there is more peace.  Even if nothing overtly can be reported, everyone will say that they feel more peace than they have ever had.  It’s all good.

Can you tell me an example of a client where the deliverance was not successful?  Why was it not successful?

Sorry, but I can’t.  I can think of people who have walked away from deliverance because they decided that they wanted to keep their demons because it gave them a sense of power that they didn’t want to lose.  I can think of people who stopped the process because they had, in infancy, been so traumatized that the demonic spirit had so closely identified with the human personality that they didn’t know where they ended and the demon began.  As we removed the demonic spirits the person became more and more fearful as they felt like they were losing themselves.  The demon that they knew was less threatening to them than the freedom that they had never experienced.

Have demons ever come after you personally because of your line of work?

Sure.  I am a target.  After 35+ years of doing this I suspect that somebody from the other side knows my name.  I’ve been impacted personally and professionally.  Of course, the Lord has always used if for the good.  Sometimes I’ve found myself demonized as a result of trauma, or personal sin.  Sometimes the Lord has delivered me spontaneously. Sometimes I’ve had to call my team to help me. Fortunately that doesn’t happen a lot.  I’ve always viewed what I do as like being in a boat.  As the water gets deeper the boat floats. As  long as you stay in the boat it doesn’t matter how deep the water is.

What is the biggest misconception about the devil?

That if you leave him alone, he will leave you alone.

In your view, what is the Devil’s primary role in someone’s life?  

His desire is to destroy everything that God loves because he hates God so much.  God loves you and he loves me.

What is the biggest misconception about God?

That he isn’t good.  That he doesn’t love us.  That he wants to punish us.  That we can’t trust him.

What have you learned about God through your participation in this ministry?

He is more loving, forgiving, accepting, and powerful than anything that I can conceive.  The Enemy has already been defeated.  God has chosen to use his children to set other children free.  That is so cool.

Second to last question.  What would you say to readers who would not yet consider themselves a Christian? What evidence can you give to them that points to a loving God?

You don’t know what you are missing.  The fact that all of creation has been created for our pleasure and that we are surrounded by a God who loves us and gave his Son over to death that we might experience all these good things.  After all, he is love.

Finally — If you could sum up your entire ministry in one sentence — What would it be? 

My six year old granddaughter was trying to explain to a friend on the school bus what it is that her grandfather does.  She said, “My grandpa is a doctor who takes bad dreams out of people’s lives.”  Love it.  🙂

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P.S. from Heather, in bullet format, because bullets are fun:

  • I have been fascinated with the Dark Side since high school and used to read a lot of books about the occult and watch a lot of horror movies. I’ve always wanted to interview someone who has direct contact with the spirit world — so here you go peeps!  I hope you enjoyed it.
  • I have my own demon story to share, and will do so in a later post.
  • I am always hyper sensitive to people’s reactions when I post a blog.  First of all, not everything that people experience is demonic oppression.  Problems and issues can be physical, psychological, mental-health, emotional,  chemical, or spiritual (demonic) in nature.  Or, more likely, a combination thereof.
  • I also don’t want people to think that only Christians can be oppressed by demons.  That is far from the truth.  Everyone certainly can, from every walk of life.  Christians are able to be set free from Satan and demons, however.
  • Deliverance is a ministry that can help some people.  If you think you need help, or have further questions, please contact Dave directly at: dappleby@spiritualinterventions.org.  His website is www.spiritualinterventions.org.  His book is “It’s Only A Demon.”  You can find it on Amazon for $16 bucks — however there are only a few left, as it’s being replaced by his new book.  Fair warning, the cover of his book is creepy and weird.  The book itself is super interesting.  He also just released a new book called “Transformative Encounters” which will be available shortly.
  • Thanks for reading!!

The Choice That Saved My Life — (my birthday story)

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My mom — pregnant with me. She wasn’t allowed/invited to graduate with the rest of her Senior class because of her ‘situation.’

It was the winter of 1972, and my mother Linda, a beautiful girl with long black hair and green eyes, was set to graduate Salutatorian of her senior class in just a few short months. Because she had already completed her credits necessary to graduate, she was able to finish her senior year in January, but was still planning to officially graduate with her fellow classmates and even give her Salutatory speech in the spring.

Linda had the whole world at her feet: a great family, a handsome and great boyfriend (Mark) whom she’d been with for nearly three years, college in the fall, and great friends.

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My young parents.  My mom had everything going for her.

It’s funny how things can change almost overnight.

That day came when her period, which she was expecting for some time, never came.  She had heard that  Planned Parenthood, located downtown, offered free pregnancy tests, so she nervously drove to their facility.   Once there, she took the pregnancy test, which confirmed her fears:

She was pregnant.

Not only did Planned Parenthood offer free pregnancy tests, they also offered counseling.  She met with the counselor who told my mom that, due to her young age (17, almost 18), and because she was still in high school, that she should get an abortion.  The counselor also explained that although abortion was illegal in most of the U.S., it was legal in New York state, and that my mom should consider this option.  My mom left the clinic that day with her head buzzing with questions and her heart pounding with anxiety.

What to do?

Back in early 1972, getting pregnant in high school was very rare.  And there was certainly an element of shame and embarrassment that went with it. After telling her boyfriend Mark about her pregnancy, they both decided that they would like to keep the baby and possibly get married.  But first, they had to work out an opportunity to confess to her parents that she was pregnant. She knew that her parents would be distressed by the news, as their family was a moral, church-going family.  Although they were clearly taken aback by this disclosure, the only comment was made by Linda’s father was this:

“Nothing like this has ever happened in my family!”

After Linda revealed the news, her parents decided to go to their Presbyterian Minister for counsel and support.  Linda’s mother, Inge, was also this Pastor’s secretary, so it was easy to set up an appointment with him.  A few days later they met with their pastor and told him of their daughter’s pregnancy.  They asked him what they thought her daughter should do, and what advice they (as her parents) should give to their daughter.

After hearing their story, their pastor told them: “Linda is young, and she is very smart.  She should go to college.”

He paused for effect:

“In my opinion, she should get an abortion.”

My grandparents were shocked at his advice, coming from someone they considered a religious leader. Abortion was something that was only heard about in whispers, and no one they knew had ever had one.  My grandparents strongly disagreed with his advice, and went home confused and frustrated.  After my mom talked further with her parents, they all decided that it would be best that she should not seek an abortion, but rather that she would get married to Mark, set her college education on hold, and have that baby, even though her whole future lay ahead of her.

The spring rolled around and my mom was not even invited to her own high school graduation, or to give her speech.

Then one hot summer day my 18 year old mom, her new husband, and her parents, all checked into the local hospital in Syracuse, New York, and eventually delivered a healthy, blond-haired baby girl weighing 9 pounds and 4 ounces.   They named her Heather Lee.

That baby girl was me.

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Me, as a baby.  There is a rumor that this photo was displayed on the wall of Olan Mills (a photography company, back in the day) for a period of time.  But I can neither confirm or deny this rumor.  🙂

I can’t say it was easy for my mom to have a baby at 18. She proceeded to have another baby (my sister) two years later, but it was a difficult marriage, and my parents divorced a few years later.  She was able to squeeze in a one year degree to be a Medical Secretary, and she indeed pursued that career for many years as a single working mom.  It was very hard during some portions of my childhood for each of us.  Years later, my mom remarried and had two more kids, and now she is working as a nurse.  Things all eventually turned out really well, and through it all she never regretted her choice to have me, and neither have I.  🙂 To read more about some of the struggles my mom (and I) went through, click here.

As for me, I grew up, got my undergraduate degree, then my Masters, had a wonderful career, met an awesome man, got married, and become the mom of three great kids, with one adoption on the way.  In a strange twist of fate I ended up working for a leading pro-life Senator, working on pro-life policy.  (You can read about it here).

In another interesting twist, I actually had a chance to talk to that same pastor (who recommended my abortion) several years ago. I basically told him that my grandmother (his former secretary) had recently passed away, and then transitioned to tell him that I disagreed very strongly with his very shi*&%$#@ty advice he gave to my mom and grandparents many years ago.  (Actually, I was very kind and just told him respectfully that I disagreed with him, and that I was very happy to be alive.) We got into a weird debate/argument on the phone and he told me that “abortion is God’s will because it can naturally happen anyway,” (in other words, a miscarriage) and other things I won’t go into here. I honestly wasn’t looking for an argument, I just wanted to state my case.  I guess somewhere deep inside of me I wanted him to apologize to me.  To say something like “wow, I”m so sorry for the advice I gave to your mom’s parents, because, duh, if they had listened to me, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation right now.  I am so freaking sorry about what I said and did.  Can you ever possibly forgive me?”  But he didn’t.  I think he felt defensive, so he was somewhat curt with me.  The call didn’t give me the closure I was looking for, but I felt he needed to hear from me, as one of his Pastoral Advice Survivors.

I wonder how many kiddos are not here because lots of good Presbyterians listened to their Pastor during his 30 year tenure.

Every year around the time of my birthday, in addition to studying how much my face is changing and looking older and how hair keeps magically growing on my chin (shallow, but true), I sometimes grow introspective and wonder what this world would be like without me in it (kinda deep, but true…and I don’t mean that to sound arrogant or prideful. It’s just my own, personal introspection).  I instantly think of my immediate family.  Would Erik have even become married?  He is a super picky guy.  One of his friends said he was like an oil-change service, with an 18 point check- list of what he needed/wanted in a future girlfriend or wife.  What about Claire?  Who would’ve adopted her?  And Logan, we almost didn’t even get him in the first place.  What if he was being raised by his birth father right now? His birth-father who has a criminal record, by the way.  How would he turn out?  And what about Khloe?  I’m pretty sure she would still be stuck in a Ukrainian orphanage, just waiting to age out.  I don’t believe she would do well out on her own.  And those are just four people in my immediate circle.  (And since we are on topic, I just have to say how thankful I am for all three of my kids’ birthmothers.  It would have been so easy for them to choose a different outcome for their pregnancies.  I am so glad they chose life, because I can’t imagine not having the privilege of being their mom.)

I believe God has a purpose for each of us on the face of the earth. We are here not just for ourselves, but to help and serve and to love other people.  Every human life matters and every human life is meant to interconnect with other human lives!  We all need each other. Maybe your story is supposed to intersect with mine, and vice versa.  And what we do makes a difference, even if we can’t see it.  Please read this post for more encouragement: Small Things with Great Love.

I will close with one final story.  Many years ago, Erik and I hiked up to the top of Mount Washington in New Hampshire.  I was about to turn 30 years young and was feeling “depressed” about “getting older.”  (HA.  Foolish person.)  Anyway, I was up on top of Mount Washington in the restaurant/building on top of the mountain, and my eyes wandered over to a list of people, mounted on the wall.  This is not an ordinary list: it’s a list of all the many people who have died up on Mount Washington.  This mountain is surprisingly very dangerous and is said to be the home to the “world’s worst weather” and has winds that have been recorded up to 231 miles per hour!  As I read through the list, I noticed something specific:

I noticed the ages of all the people who died. Their ages were varied: fifteen, eighteen, ten, twenty, twenty-five.

So many young people had lost their livesSo many young people who died on the mountain who never reached their 30th birthday.

That was a reality check for me.  Ever since seeing that list, I am grateful, rather than depressed, whenever I hit another birthday milestone.

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Just a small portion of all the people who have died on top of Mount Washington.  Many had never reached their 30th birthday.

To read more about this list of folks who have died on top of Mount Washington, which is quite extensive, click here here.

In closing, I am so very glad my mom chose to have me despite the sacrifice and difficulty that choice brought into her life.  And I’m glad this story had a happy ending (as I know that not all stories like this do).  And I just have to add, as I get older and older myself, I absolutely LOVE having such a young and healthy mom.  She is a volunteer firefighter, full time nurse, and she and my step dad run a homestead.  She is a super busy and active grandma. As for my dad — he is still going strong and healthy.  He retired from full-time work but still works part-time.  It’s great to have such young parents.

So mom, if you are reading this post, thanks for bringing me into this world and giving me a chance at this thing called life. I am super happy to be here!  I love you!

Happy Birthday to me!

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P.S. from Heather : I know abortion is the most controversial issue of our day, and lots of people have strong opinions on either side, and lots of women have experienced abortion.  My intention is not to judge, cause hurt or pain in someone else, to make someone angry, for you to unfriend me on Facebook, or for you to send me a scathing text.  My intention is to share my own story as it pertains to this difficult topic.  Perhaps it can help someone out there, or plant a seed.  It is not my intention to cause division. And remember, this is only a story…my own story.  Finally, I welcome all comments!!  Even comments that have a different perspective.  But I just ask that we all respect each other as we comment.  Thank you for reading.

P.S. from my mom: Even though I was so young at the time, and I did not come to have a personal relationship with Jesus until several years later, I was still able to recognize the unfairness of depriving my baby a chance at life so that I could go on with my own life undisturbed. The choice I made did lead to hardships and difficulties that I would not have experienced otherwise, but I feel that these problems were used by God to develop my character and also to make me see my need of Him.  So I am grateful that I gave the gift of life to Heather!  As are Erik, Claire, Logan, Khloe as well as her many friends and extended family members.  It is heartbreaking to me to think of how many relationships have been lost to abortion, and that is part of the reason why I have been involved in pro-life work ever since I became a Christian.  Thank you for reading our story.

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So thankful my grandparents did not accept the advice of their Minister.
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Me, today.

 

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Happy birthday to me!


 

Blowing Stuff up with an EOD

I interviewed Paul, who was an EOD with the Air Force.  He dismantled IEDs (home-made bombs), blew stuff up, protected the President, completed top secret missions, and kept people safe.  Below is his story. 

When Claire was just a little baby, she was in foster care for three and a half months.  After we adopted Claire, we became great friends with her foster family, and still have a relationship with them to this day. One of their sons, Paul, was already in the Air Force at the time of Claire’s adoption, working as an EOD Technician. (EOD stands for Explosive Ordnance Disposal.) Claire’s foster mom Robin would often email me and request prayer for Paul, because he was often in very dangerous situations.  I am finally interviewing Paul to figure out exactly what he did for a living. Paul is now retired from the Air Force (even though he’s fairly young) and I had the opportunity to do a Skype interview with him.

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Paul (center), with Afghan soldiers.  Paul was retired as an EOD Tech after 16 years of service in the Air Force.  It’s a small miracle that he even survived. Below is his story.

 

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Paul and Claire, being silly.

First of all Paul, tell us about your job?

EOD stands for Explosive Ordnance Disposal, basically disarming anything that was ever created since the beginning of time from any country, whether chemical weapon, biological weapon, nuclear weapon, hand grenades, or IEDs.  We deal with them all.  And then, where appropriate, detonating the bomb.  We deal with anything that goes boom or zoom.  We also do range clearances and also Secret Service detail for the President.

(quick research note: according to Airforce.com, an EOD Tech is “trained to detect, disarm, detonate, and dispose of explosive threats all over the world…assigned to some of the most dangerous missions.  They do what needs to be done to keep others safe.”)

Why did you choose to go into EOD?

I wanted something more, and that was definitely it.  If you google the most dangerous job in the military across all the branches, it’s number one.  We all go to the same school — the Navy, Air Force, Marines, Army — we all attend an EOD School on an Air Force base in Florida that’s run by the Navy, but all of us are in the exact same school, even mixed in the same class.  I went in for the action, the adventure, and to blow stuff up.  What little boy doesn’t love that?

What was training like?

Training was very difficult.  We started with 100 people and we graduated with 7.  EOD has an extremely high wash-out rate.  You have to be able to do a very high-intensity job with zero errors.  And you have to be able to do it in a 90 pound bomb suit when it’s 115 degrees outside.  You have to be able to function well while you are exhausted.  All of our studying was done through books and publications.  All the studying had to be done at the classroom for up to fourteen, fifteen hours a day.  Because it’s classified, you couldn’t bring anything home.  And you do that for nine months straight, and that’s just for the basic course.  You will continue years of additional school and a lifetime of training.

Are there any women that go into EOD?

Yes, there are.  A lot of women don’t make it through the pull-up part of the test. But there are females that do it and many of them are actually really good bomb techs.

How long were your deployments?

Six months to a year for a deployment.  Some don’t deploy for awhile and some deploy back to back. I left Iraq because Bush told us we were pulling troops out of Iraq and everyone cheered, but then I got shipped straight to Afghanistan.

What do you actually do in the field?  Sounds like you dismantle bombs and then blow things up?

Yes, we try to disarm them first, where they are at. Usually, the bomb is in a bad spot, we disarm it enough to where it’s safe for transport and then we bring it out to the middle of nowhere and dispose of it.  We blow it up.  We try to get the intel part we can keep first.  We also do range clearances, which is essentially where we clean up bombs that don’t go off at military training sites, especially in Nevada.  We also dispose of things for the Military (by explosives).

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Paul, on one of his deployments.

Have you ever disarmed a bomb that you weren’t quite sure how to properly disarm?

Yeah, all of them, kinda.  A bomb that is dropped from an aircraft, all are pretty much the same and there are publications and books to deal with this, step-by-step.  With an IED (which stands for an Improvised Explosive Device), which is a home-made bomb, it’s different, as they are all slightly different.  But that’s the challenge – to figure it out.  That’s why I like it so much.  How does it function?  How does it work? And then figure out the safe way to disarm it.

Were you afraid to die?

For me — the reality of what just happened or what you just had to do never really hits me until after.  Even afterwards, when you are heading back to camp, you are still on the “mission high” and you really don’t think about all the “what ifs” and what could go wrong.  Thinking about ANYTHING else but the problem in front of you will get you killed.

Where did you serve?

Texas, Mississippi, Colorado, Florida, Europe, California, Nevada, then deployments: Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places (top secret).

Tell us about your Presidential Detail?

We are the bomb squad for the President, so wherever he goes, we go.  We get there long before he does.  We also provide service detail for Foreign dignitaries, First Ladies, Vice Presidents, U.N. Counsels, anything where there will be big people at, where there could be a threat, we work with that.  I was face to face with President Obama once; we both nodded at each other.

Tell me about a typical mission?

When you are deployed, you get a call, most of the time it’s a group, maybe a convoy somewhere, that came across an IED and they set up a safety circle and evacuate everyone out of that area. And they call us and say, “hey, we need an EOD for an IED.”  At that point, we either convoy or fly out to that location.  We also bring a whole security convoy. We go out to the location and deal with it.

Tell me about one of your more memorable missions?

That’s a hard one.  There are so many and I don’t know how to categorize.  There are some missions that you will never forget; they leave a scar on your heart.  There are some where you get a good feeling.  For example, once we took an IED out of a school.  They try to blow up their own schools with their own kids in them.  Another time, there was a magnetic IED that was stuck to the side of a fuel tanker. In front of hundreds of other fuel tankers, all side by side.  Had that gone wrong…

Most dangerous mission?

Night missions are always some of the most challenging and dangerous missions.  But a lot of work is done under the cover of darkness, at night.  Other dangerous missions are when you are going after the bomb maker; their homes are well guarded by the products they make.  But I have to say that the most dangerous missions I did as an EOD Tech are the ones we are not allowed to talk about.

Your mom told me that she prayed constantly for you.  Was there a time where you know for sure your mom’s prayers for your safety were answered?

Yes, there were at least three times that I remember.  First, before I was an EOD I was a Firefighter in the military.  One night we got called to a building to put out a fire.  The building had ammunition in it which we had no idea about.  While I was in the building the ammunition started going off, so  I was immediately pulled out of the fire. When I got out they checked my jacket and sure enough, there was a bullet lodged in my jacket, through my clothing, but somehow, miraculously, had not penetrated my final layer of clothing — it hadn’t pierced through my chest.  However, my jacket did end up with so many holes in the front and back that I had to replace the jacket the next day. Come to find out, my mom had been up all night, unable to sleep, with a huge burden on her heart to pray for me.  Everytime she’d fall asleep, the Lord would wake her up again to pray for me.

Another time I was in Iraq and was afforded the opportunity to Skype with my mother.  During the Skype call we had a rocket attack.  One of the rockets exploded close to the area I was in.  The “wood building” I was inside (that was really more of a shack), had sustained massive damage.  I was blown to the floor and the shack was full of holes going in one side and out the other.  I got up, a bit shocked with ears ringing and a massive headache, but I was alive with no real injuries.  The moment the rocket hit, all Internet was killed.  The last thing my mother heard was the sirens warning of incoming rocket attack, and then everything went black.  A few days later I went back to that same shack; it was closed off due to damages but I went inside anyway.  I sat there scratching my head asking myself over and over again: “How did none of that hit me?”  There is no way I should’ve survived that.  Come to find out, my mom had been praying.

Lastly, one time we went out on a post-blast analysis, after there’s been an explosion somewhere.  We go out there and determine what type of explosive was used, how it was detonated, are there any more, gather intel, look for patterns, and make the area safe for other personnel to get in and do their job. The enemy knows this and will sometimes use that to lure us into a trap.  The enemy waits for us to arrive because they want to take us (the EOD) out because we are a high-value target to them.  There were a couple of times when I got to the scene that I got this weird feeling — the hair on the back of my neck stood up; it didn’t feel right.  To this day I can’t tell you what it was that was “off.”  But it’s listening to that inner voice, not just hearing it, but doing something about it, is what keeps you alive.  I had great fellow EOD team members with me whom I also trusted with my life.  When they didn’t like the way something was being done, or had a bad feeling about something, we would switch things up.  We wanted to keep the enemy constantly guessing at what we would do next.  I know my mom’s prayers were heard and answered on some of these particular missions as well.

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Aunt Robin, and Claire.  They are so cute together.

What did you love about your job?

I love traveling.  I love blowing things up.  It’s a lot of fun, like fireworks, but so much better; you are so close it just rocks your world. And then seeing the dust and everything flying up around you. I also enjoy the camaraderie.  I used to be a Firefighter in the military– EOD is similar to that but even stronger.  And you truly made a difference.  When someone steps on an IED on the ground, if there is one IED, there will be more, it’s like a land mine.  You gotta run to the front, sweep up, but that guy is screaming and you have to get to him.  To make a difference and do all of that, it’s a gratifying feeling.

I absolutely loved my job and I miss it.  I wish I could still do it.

Even though it was so much pressure, stress and danger?

Absolutely.  They only want people in this career field who absolutely love it.  If you ever decide that EOD is not the job for you, they will immediately cross train you into another position in the military.  Again, they only want people who love their job.  And you have to be of the right mind to work in this job.  If your wife just left you, they will pull you off the field, so you don’t make a mistake. Everyone you’re working with loves their job and wants to do well at their jobs. Plus you get extra money for it.

What is the mortality rate of an EOD?  It seems pretty high.

I don’t know.  I know the injury rate is really high.  I know for our class we started with 100, we graduated seven (the rest washed out).  Of those seven, three are now dead.  And two of us are out.  There are other ones that keep working longer. The EOD motto of “Initial Success or Total Failure” could not be more true.

Was the movie The Hurt Locker an accurate portrayal of the life of an EOD?

The movie is great for showing you an idea of what we do while deployed and a rough idea of what the life of an EOD Tech is like.  However, this is a lot of Hollywood added.

What did you dislike about your job?

I had some long deployments.  I was never married, so it was a lot easier for me, but that’s why I never married.  I chose not to because of that.  There was a woman I was dating, she was in the military, she said she would refuse to date me if I went EOD, because she had lost too many friends who were EOD.  She said she wasn’t going to lose a husband.  I can respect that.

Why did you stop working?

I was medically retired early from the military, due to injuries sustained while I was deployed, mostly due to TBIs (traumatic brain injuries).  Some of it was due to explosions, being too close, things that hit me in the head, anything and everything that wasn’t supposed to happen, did.  I had 19 TBI concussions and 13 knock-outs.  So I had to retire.

What is the number one piece of advice to give anyone going into EOD?

First is, you gotta know you want it.  Because when you’re sitting there in school, for hours and hours, and you’ve been studying your brains out and chugging five hour energy to stay awake, you have to know you really want it.  But it’s very rewarding.  It’s a brotherhood much like the Fire Department but stronger and tighter.  That leads to my second point, you cannot do this job without your team.  You have to work as a team — period.  And you’ll be deployed a lot which is really hard on families. EOD stands for “Every-One’s-Divorced,” — due to the amount and length of deployments.

What are you doing now?

I am converting a Mercedes Sprinter Van into a custom RV so I can travel the country.  I’ve cut out a lot of people in my life that just waste my time.  I want to spend my life with, and my time with, the people I love.  So right now that’s my girlfriend, and her son.  I’m working on getting my health back.  You only have so much time, so I want to spend it with the people I love.

Has it been an easy or hard transition?

It’s actually weird and difficult.  I joined the military right out of high school, and I was always told what to do.  So now I still feel like that kid right out of high school again.  I don’t know where I want to go or what I want to do.  I have the financial means and the time, which is even better, but at the same time I’m like “I don’t know what I want to do or where I want to go.” And also, the civilian world is different.  There is less of that sense of camaraderie and brotherhood.

Describe your EOD job in one sentence?  

It was a blast!

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A quick note from Heather:  Sadly, most EODs end up six feet under.  Maybe not most, but many.  That fact that Paul survived is a small miracle.  I credit that both to Paul being an outstanding EOD Tech, but also to Robin, Paul’s mom, who prayed for him constantly.  It really is true that when it’s your time, it’s your time.  And when it’s not, it’s not.  Grateful that Paul is still with us to share these stories! And….I hope he gets married someday because he’s a great guy!  I’m glad he’s part of our extended family and we wish him the best as he gets to have a second chance at the rest of his life!

To watch a video of Paul blowing stuff up, click here:

 

 

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I wish Paul all the best as he enjoys the first day of the rest of his life!  Thank you so much for your outstanding service!

 

 

Blue Collar Girl Trapped in a White Collar Marriage

I want to take you back to the 1970s and 80s and reminisce about what it was like to grow up somewhere on the spectrum between poor and blue-collar in Upstate, New York, where I grew up.  Back to the days when it was common to see a 1971 Plymouth Baracuda cruising down the streets of Syracuse, windows open, driven around by a guy in a dark blue uniform with a name-tag, blasting “Free Bird” or “Stairway to Heaven.” Maybe there’s a cigarette dangling from his dirty/greasy hands, hands that are hard to get completely clean.

Maybe there’s a little blonde-haired girl in the back seat with him, looking out the window, hoping the smoke will stop blowing into her face.

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Me, as a young girl.

That little girl was me, and I want to share with you my perspective of what it was like to grow up in a blue collar single-parent family — both the good and the bad— and what I have learned since then.  I will also share how I have changed (or not) since transitioning to a white collar marriage several years ago.

Here is my super quick back-story:

I grew up the child of a single working mom after my parents’ divorce at the age of four.  My dad worked at a local car manufacturing company and we didn’t see him very much because he was always working (overtime, double-time, and other terms his union negotiated for him), and did not consistently seek out a relationship with my sister and me. There were also some dysfunctional elements of my childhood in the mix as well.  My single mom was poor, and we (my sister, mom, and me) survived on her small secretary’s salary.  Child support was very low back then so I always noticed how hard she struggled.  Our small family of three drove around in a brown pinto and didn’t go out to eat much because we couldn’t “afford it.” On hot summer days, we would beg my mom to stop at Arctic Isle (the local ice cream stand) for a $1.00 soft serve ice cream cone and the answer was always “no, it’s too expensive, we have ice cream in the freezer at home.” My mom was very cheap and often said no to buying almost anything that wasn’t a necessary item.

Not having a lot of money growing up made me take a good, hard look around me and make some serious inner vows. Vows such as:

“I will work really hard, go to school, and make good money so I won’t have to struggle.”

“I will marry an awesome guy and we will NOT get a divorce.”

“And if don’t get married, fine.  I will do really well in my career.”

“I will show everyone that I am not a loser and will make something of myself.”  (Not sure exactly where that one came from, but I think it stemmed from some deep-seeded self-confidence issues.)

With those inner vows in the back of my mind, I started babysitting at 11, worked my way through high school and college (clocking in between 20 and 30 hours per week as a waitress during college), and then landed a professional job in my early 20’s.  I eventually got married and ended up in what I call a white-collar marriage. On a side note, I was also very picky about the guys I dated, making sure I wouldn’t end up with a “creep,” a “perv,” or a “loser.”  Bottom line?  I didn’t go on many dates.

Below is just a portion of the more difficult aspects of growing up in the poor/blue collar income bracket. Perhaps you can relate to some of these?

  • …First, I remember all the CIGARETTE SMOKE.  Smoke in the house.  Smoke in the car.  Smoke in a tree.  (How can that be?) I have so many memories of just sitting in front of a various TVs that sat perched on the green living room carpet, watching maybe Star Trek, Evel Knievel, or Scooby Doo while someone smoked behind me in an easy chair, reading a newspaper. Growing up in a smoke cloud gave me (subconscious) permission to begin smoking myself very part-time through high school and college.  I finally quit in my early 20s.
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I am a proud survivor of years of second hand smoke.  I began smoking part-time in high school but quit in my early 20s.
  • …We MOVED a lot.  I have many fond/not so fond memories of various apartment buildings, houses we shared with other friends, and yes….I even spent some time in the coveted trailer park.  I will never, ever forget how tiny those little trailer bedrooms were, and the trailer closets were ridiculous.  On an up note, I was able to share a house (different units) with my best friend Hillary, who was also in a single-parent home, which was awesome. We also lived in the same apartment building a couple of times.
  • …We had NO MONEY.  I heard “we can’t afford that” about 1000 times.  Want to stop at McDonalds?  Nope, not gonna happen.  If you want money, you had to get your butt off the couch and go earn it, all by yourself.  So that’s exactly what I did. I have never stopped working and to be honest, it’s so strange for me to not work in a way that earns an income to this day (more on that later). I am still so grateful that my grandparents were so generous with my sister and me — they provided everything from new Trapper Keepers for back to school (remember those?), to new clothes and shoes, to very generous Christmas gifts.
  • …As mentioned above, I didn’t see much of my DAD. Early in life, I developed some father-figure issues and ended up crushing a lot of older men, and men in positions of authority over me. However, I did appreciate his hard work ethic.  He even built our house from scratch and much later, my mom moved back into it and still lives there to this day. We now have a great relationship (as adults), but again, he wasn’t around much growing up and that was hard for me.
  • ….Finally, I struggled with some TOUGH EMOTIONS.  I often felt ashamed of my clothes, house, and cars.  I felt insecure and unworthy of love.  I feared rejection.  There were some things that happened that caused some deep wounds, that I have (thankfully) since healed from.  But they were very hard to go through at the time.
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Yes, friends, that is a beer in my hand 🙂

But growing up blue-collar was also a blessing in many ways.  Here are just a few of the positive elements of growing up in a blue-collar family:

  • First and foremost, I developed an amazing WORK ETHIC.  I have no problem with doing “real work,” “physical work,” and “working with my hands.”  Because my grandfather was in the farming business (he built silos) and also we lived near a farm, I actually have helped neighborhood kids with their farm chores.  I have also actually picked the following: rocks in a huge farm pasture/field, tomato horn worms off of tomato plants,  and weeds from my mom’s garden.  I mowed the lawn consistently (when not living in apartment complexes). In fact, I still happily mow my own yard here in Suburbia while my neighbors watch me curiously from their windows.  Bottom line?  I am not lazy and I’m not afraid of real work.
  • Secondly, I KEEP IT REAL with no BS.  You will always get the real deal from me. I will always shoot 100 percent straight with you.  I don’t like to lie; it makes me uncomfortable.  The only lie I will tell you is if you ask me directly if you look fat in that dress, and if you do, I will feel bad, and I will lie and say no.  You have been warned.  But that’s about the only lie I feel okay about.  Sorry not sorry.
  • Thirdly, I will never be pretentious. I will never think I’m better than you.  I will always treat everyone THE SAME.  And I will always be generous.  I will always over-tip waiters and waitresses, and I will always say “hi” and “thank you” to all the people who make my life easier.  Why would I be snooty with waitresses and maids?  I actually did both of those jobs for many years to earn a living.  Those are my peeps.
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Having fun at one of the restaurants (the Ground Round) I worked at during college.  I sometimes clocked up to 30 hours per week waitressing during school.  Growing up blue collar gave me a kick-butt work ethic.
  • Lastly, I developed an appreciation for the CLASSICS, and no I’m not talking about classical music or classical home-schooling eduction.  I’m talking about Classic cars and classic rock, baby.  Whenever I go back to Syracuse I still see folks driving around in a classic car blasting classic rock.  I just went to one the Eagles’ final concerts last summer before their lead singer passed away.  It was a blast!  (see photo below.)

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    My dad owns five classic (muscle) cars purchased in the last ten years.  These were the cars I grew up around.  I want one.
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His Plymouth Baracuda.  My appreciation for classic cars came from my dad.

So what have I learned since “moving on up” to a different income level?

First, I actually really appreciate money and where it came from.  It is a blessing to actually have some of it.  But here’s the deal: I never want to rely too heavily on money or grow accustomed to being upper middle class.  Why?  Because I developed a deep financial insecurity early on. I know deep in my heart that you can have money one moment, but then the next moment…POOF! It’s gone.  And then you are back to square one. So I decided to not even leave square one in the first place.

Secondly, I am still cheap (especially with myself) and don’t like to spend money.  I still clip coupons (if I feel like it, because coupons are really a pain), and try to limit my children’s material possessions so they don’t become “spoiled.”

Thirdly, I still feel weird about not working outside the home in a way that generates an income. I still feel a little bit like a “moocher” even though my husband assures me he is fine with me being a stay at home parent.  I do plan to work again when my kids are older and after our next adoption, but I would prefer to work part time.

And on that note, I think that’s one of the best things money will buy you: options.  I have the option of working part-time rather than full-time down the road. Our family has the option of spending our money on nice vacations (we have created memories for our kids and have taken them to some nice places). We have the option of buying my kids sneakers exactly when they need them, rather than waiting until the next paycheck comes in.

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There is one thing money can buy: precious time with your family!  We do spend money on making memories with our kids, for sure.  Above, Claire and Erik enjoy fishing in a back-country lake in Utah.

Fourthly, I have learned that money doesn’t buy happiness or inner peace.  However, it does buy time and convenience.  It’s either time or money.  Either you spend the time on something and save the money, or spend the money on something and get back some of your time.  So in that way, it’s a lot easier to exist in a white-collar world.

Finally, the number one reason I believe God has blessed us with a little bit of extra income is a. because God is good and He just chooses to bless us in this particular way, b. we both worked very hard to get here, c. to afford to adopt our children, because adoption is expensive, and d. so we can be generous with other people, and also with ministries and other worthy causes that need financial assistance.

Bottom line?  I believe money is a gift to help support and enhance human relationships and to support worthy causes.  If you have money, chances are, God wants you to help others in need.

So why did I choose the title of this blog?  Honestly, I’m not really “trapped”in a white-collar marriage per se, but I feel as though I really don’t belong some elements of this world, deep down.  One night we spent time with another couple who are also in our income bracket.  Both the husband and wife were very cultured and came from solid families, and they had lived all over the world.  Both of them had PhDs from prestigious universities.  As they shared about their childhoods and current successful careers, I felt like I just couldn’t relate to them.  I felt like I had to impress them with something about my life, but I just couldn’t think of anything to say.  I also didn’t feel like I could be completely myself around them.  (Qualifier: most white-collar folks are super, duper nice and not pretentious at all. Maybe they’re a lot like me and didn’t grow up that way. But if they did grow up with wealth, they seem to have a certain self-confidence about them that poor kids lack.  I think I sense this subconsciously and feel I cannot relate.)

In closing, Oprah Winfrey once said that obtaining money just makes you MORE of something.  So if you are kind, you become more kind.  If you are generous, you become more generous.  If you are an arse, you become more of an arse.  I agree with her assessment.

Since transitioning income brackets I have become the following:

More cheap (with myself)

More generous with others

More unpretentious

More hard working 

More efficient with my time 

More grateful for money, but knowing it’s limitations

I am grateful to be where I am today, but I will never forget where I came from.  My childhood made me into the person I am today, and I am grateful for all the lessons it taught me.  Blue-collar workers truly do make the world go round, and I am proud to be counted among them.

So if you see a suburban woman driving around a really nice convertible, blasting the Eagles, drinking coffee from a coffee mug from home because she didn’t want to stop at Starbucks because it’s too expensive, all the while thinking about how she needs to mow her lawn when she gets home, well…that would be me.

I’m teetering between the two worlds, not really fitting into either one at this point.

But that’s ok, because that old saying is true:

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

So while I may be in a white-collar marriage, I’ll always be the same blue-collar girl, deep inside.

Peace out.

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Off to the Eagles concert with my dear friend Ragan!

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PS: Stay tuned for a future post: Raising Blue Collar Kids in a White Collar family.

Thanks for reading!!

Top Ten Decorating Tips

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We love our new rustic wood-pallet wall. We hung up an industrial-style clock to mix things up.  Don’t be afraid to mix styles as long as it all blends well together at the end.

I have been happily married for 17 years and have been decorating our home on and off ever since.  After years of flipping through magazines, going over to my friends’ homes and stealing ideas, watching HGTV like everyone else, and just plain wandering through furniture stores and cruising around on-line, I have finally figured out my own decorating style and picked up a lot of solid decorating tips over the years.  I want to share them with you today.

But first, no…I don’t think I’m the most fabulous decorator in town.  I have made many mistakes along the way and I still have a lot to learn. Secondly, there is nothing in this post that is rocket science, just things I have learned over the years.

So without further delay, here are my top ten decorating tips, in order. I will start from the beginning, in case you suck at, errr….are new to, decorating.

Tip #1 Declutter your home and get rid of your old college furniture

If you do not declutter, no matter how awesomely decorated your house looks, it will look BAD because it will look CLUTTERED.   I am not talking about “normal family clutter.”  We all have that.  I am talking about serious clutter.  Get rid of it or find a home for it.  Also, if you have old furniture from your grandma or your college days and you don’t think it’s up to snuff and it’s from around 1985, get rid of it.  (If you can’t afford new furniture, see my P.S. where I give you a couple of ideas of how to decorate inexpensively.) Once your home is relatively free of old stuff and clutter, we can move on to decorating…. woo hoo

Tip #2 Decide your decorating style 

The first question I need to ask you is: which side are you on?  Classic or Eclectic?  Let me explain. Classic decorators include traditional, transitional, country, coastal, antique, etc.  If you are eclectic, perhaps you lean towards modern, vintage, or industrial, or even something crazy like art-deco.  Or perhaps you are somewhere in between.  I visited a friend last year in California and she decorated her home in the style of mid-century modern and I loved it!!  But I have no clue how to decorate like that.  So you first need to decide your style.

Click here for ideas to get started:

www.hgtv.com/design/decorating/design-101/design-styles-defined-pictures

My suggestion?  If you are not sure what to do, choose something more traditional or classic, and add different decor elements from a different style or styles.  My personal decorating style is traditional/classic with rustic, vintage, and industrial touches.

Tip #3 Decide on, and purchase, your big ticket items first 

Choose your furniture and larger items first and foremost.  Make sure they all blend together well.  Beware of darker furniture, because in the light of a furniture store what may look a beautiful wine/brown leather color actually looks black when you bring it home (I know this from experience).  If you have have young kiddos, consider a darker leather couch, or washable fabric with a guarantee of some sort.  Bottom line: get your furniture and rugs (or wood floors) down first before you get all crazy with the smaller stuff.  Or the smaller stuff won’t blend in.

Tip #4 Choose your paint colors carefully.  And “pop color” on a ceiling or a door

I cannot tell you how many paint mistakes I have made.  We once bought what I thought was a beautiful light orange color and painted our entire living room with it.  Once the paint was up, it looked like human skin on a very pale white girl.  It was awful.  We had to repaint it immediately.  Another time I surprised Erik by painting our master bathroom really cool, light “sea foam blue” color.  The only problem?  After it was up it changed into mint green.  That did not go over very well, and he made fun of me for about a year until we changed the color.

Paint color is magical and mystical.  It changes color once it leaves the store and is up on your wall.  It changes color throughout the day.  You will love it at 9 am and hate it at 6pm.  I am not kidding you.  The point?  Try to find a color you can live with/absolutely love 24 hours a day.  If in doubt, go neutral.  Grays, creams, and beiges are still lovely. If you are not sure which color to choose, yellows and blues are good go-to’s.  Beware of super dark colors.  Few homes can actually pull them off well because they are so dependent on natural light, which varies throughout the day.  Your super cool dark red accent wall will look like deep-dried blood around 9 pm.  I would avoid that if I were you.

My suggestion?  Paint you walls warmer colors and “pop a color” on your ceiling or door.  We painted our bedroom a cream color and the ceiling a very dark orange and I think it looks pretty freaking cool.  Our living and dining rooms we painted a cream color (interactive cream – Sherwin Williams) on the walls and then a lovely brown color (canoe- Sherwin Williams) on the ceilings. But make sure the two colors blend well together.  Ask the paint store for assistance in this.

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Paint colors: always tough to figure out.  We wanted a “warm” feeling in our dining room so we used cream for our walls, but then we “popped color” (brown) on our ceiling.

Tip #5 Put up a wood pallet wall or paint a fun color on an accent wall

We put up a wood-pallet wall and we LOVE it!  If you don’t like the wood-on-the-walls look, then paint one wall a different, accent color.  And then decorate it with cool, funky picture frames or other decor items.  Get creative.

*since wood-pallet walls are all the rage, I will put more detail on what we did specifically in my P.S.S. section.

Tip #6 Add smaller items and accent pieces 

After you have purchased the furniture and have chosen your paint colors, and perhaps painted or wooded-up an accent wall, now the fun begins.  Get online or go to stores and find pictures, decor and other items that “speak to you.”  There are so many good places to find inexpensive decor items.  I love the Home Goods Store.  You can try TJ Maxx, Target, Walmart, Michaels, and even K Mart.  You can go on-line wayfair.com.  There are SO many choices now.

My suggestion?  Have fun and get pieces from different decor styles but make sure it all blends together at the end.

Tip #7 Organize all of your family photos and kids art/brag stuff in one area of the house 

We put our updated family photos on our new wood pallet wall.  And all of my kids art work and certificates of achievement are placed in another smaller area.  I think it looks cluttered if your kid stuff and family photos are all over the house (my personal opinion).  Figure out where it looks best and put it all in one spot.

Tip #8 Pop color throughout the house

With every room, the rule is two basic colors and one “pop” color.  So, for my living room, my two colors are cream and brown (kinda boring) but I “popped” yellow in the book case as well as the curtains and pillows.  It looks better with one “pop” color.

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Two basic colors (cream and light brown) with one “pop” color — yellow

Tip #9 Decorate according to your own values

Decorate with meaningful pictures and art work that represents who you are. Like birds?  Decorate with bird art.  Huge fan of music? Purchase an old guitar and mount it on your wall.  Are you religious and want to have a conversation piece?  Pop some religious art.  We hung two really cool pics of “Daniel in the Lion’s Den” in our dining room; a before and after of sorts.  It makes for some great discussion with guests.  I have fun vintage signs in my kitchen which make people laugh and it starts conversations.

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Daniel in the Lion’s Den — a great conversation piece

Tip #10 Got kids?  Create a kid space

Kids are the number reason why houses get MESSY. Try to keep it all in one room of the house.  Do the best you can.  Keep all of your board games in a place you can easily see and access.  Keep all of the art stuff in one place too.

Bonus! Tip #11 Update your lighting fixtures

This one change will greatly affect how the inside of your home looks.  Take a look at your current dining room or kitchen table chandelier.  Does it cover the time span between 1965 and 2005??  If it does, please, for the love of all things, REPLACE it.  You can find some awesome, inexpensive light fixtures online (Amazon, Home Decorators, Wayfair) or at many home stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot.  What about your kitchen?  Does it have that huge fluorescent light in the middle of it?  Get rid of that son of a gun.  Install cool, fun, practical lighting all over your home.  Buy new table lamps with style and color.  Consider small hanging lights (like indoor Christmas lights, but not) in one room of the house (perhaps your kids space). Lighting can VASTLY change the mood of your home.

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One of the best things you can do is update your lighting fixtures!!  We found this one at home decorators.com

Bonus Tip #12 Steal (I mean, get….) ideas from your friends, and decorate slowly

I love visiting new homes and getting ideas from my friends.  Of course, I don’t completely copy them exactly, but I get new ideas.  You can also feel free to steal ideas from me.  And decorate incrementally!!  Don’t stress over how long it takes to get your home together.  It has taken me three and half years to beautify my current home and it’s still not completely decorated.  Take your time and try to enjoy it.

Bonus Tip #13 Remember why you decorate

Finally, remember the ultimate goal of having a nice home is that you have a comfortable space for yourself (if you are single) or for you and your family to enjoy and live together in peace and harmony.  Try not to obsess over your home (and decorating). Love PEOPLE more than you love things.  Things get old, dirty, and broken.  People are gifts from God.  This includes friends and neighbors, too.  Welcome them into your home and feed them some tasty food.  If you love your home and the way it looks, it will make you and your family happier, and you will be much more motived to throw some par-tays.

In conclusion, I hope this post helps get you motivated to replace some old lighting fixtures, tackle a wood-pallet wall, and paint over that dried-blood-red wall with something light, fresh, and pleasing to the eye.  But make sure you like your paint color at both 9 am and 9 pm.  🙂

What about you?  What are your best decorating tips?  Let’s all share and learn from each other!

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P.S.: Here are just a couple of “cheap” decorating tips.  You can find quality, inexpensive paint at Lowe’s and Home Depot.  Choose paint colors carefully.  Paint first.  Got old couches and you can’t afford to purchase new pieces?  No worries.  Buy a couple of nice, cream, matching slipcovers that FIT WELL and then buy some really nice, colorful accent pillows to go in each corner of couches (or love seats).  Pier One has great accent pillows.  Got an 80s coffee table from your grandma?  Fine. Paint it and then distress it (google or youtube this.)  Put some books neatly on the coffee table and maybe a cool vase in the middle. You can find lots of decor items in clearance aisles in various stores and at Flea Markets.  Go to Michaels, buy some cheap frames, and then print off things you find on-line and then put the print in the frame (vintage maps, vintage birds, anything that doesn’t have a copyright).  You can even put your kids artwork in cheap frames.  Check on line deals; wayfair.com has daily deals of up to 70 percent off.  Watch that site like a hawk. Finally, google “cheap decorating tips” and you will find many ideas.

P.S.S: Our wood pallet wall: to make a long story very short, I was originally going to do “peel and stick wood.”  (Just google it.) But it was WAY too expensive and definitely a DIY project (you have to carefully, with a little saw, cut the sides off of pieces that are too long) so I hired a local guy who actually got real, reclaimed wood, stained it in about five different colors or shades of the same color, and then he put it up piece by piece, staggering the wood out in a way that looks cool.  It took him several days to get the wood ready and about two days to install it; the total was about $800.  You can totally DIY this project but it’s a pain as you have to a. Locate the wood b. Make sure the wood is the same size and very straight across the top c. Stain most of the wood in grays and browns (leave several pieces with no color however) and then d. Carefully put the wood up evenly in a staggered way with a nail gun.  That takes a lot of time.  Or you can pay someone, as we did.  If you live local, I will give you the contact information of the guy we hired if interested.  You can also do a wood wall much cheaper by using Lath strips of wood, found at Home Depot, which are about $12 per bundle.  You install them with a Brad Nailer.

Hope this helps!! Thanks for reading!

Venezuela in Crisis

18698582_10154654317252218_1194346669_oNo food, no medicine, babies left at hospitals, kidnappings, protesters dying, and complete government denial.  Maria shares her story.

A quick note from Heather:  About four months ago, I watched a news clip of a very attractive yet very skinny Venezuelan woman digging through the trash.  She explained to the news reporter that she was looking for food to feed her family.  I then contacted my friend who is from Venezuela (who now lives in the U.S.) and asked if this report was indeed true, and she said a resounding YES but that it was far worse than I could imagine.  She told me her mother in law (Maria) lives and works in Venezuela and could really fill me in.  So I sent Maria an email with several questions.  She wrote me the following letter in return:

Dear Heather,

Without a shadow of a doubt, Venezuela is in the middle of  a complete humanitarian crisis.  Please allow me a few moments to tell you what I see on a daily basis.

No food, no medicines, and even longer lines to obtain what little people can find.

People are dying on a daily basis due to lack of food and BASIC medical supplies. Hospitals and healthcare centers have collapsed due to the fact that there are no supplies in order to treat patients. Doctors have been arrested or reprimanded by the government for “smuggling” gauze, band aids, alcohol etc. in order to help treat patients. Add to these more serious cases, like cancer patients receiving chemotherapy or diabetic patients receiving dialysis treatments, and surviving deems nearly impossible.

There is also an immense  lack of staple foods and essential items (toilet paper, sanitary pads, deodorant, toothpaste, etc.).  The government has tried to subsidize these items but you must stand in very long lines (we are talking anywhere from 4 to 12 hours) in order to obtain them at a reasonable price. For those who can afford to pay prices that are 4 to 5 times their cost, they are limited to a certain quantity and you must present your identification every single time you make a purchase. It has been a way for the government to control and monitor your spending for years. And they still call this a democratic country.

The inflation rate has caused devastation throughout the nation.  A monthly minimum wage salary is 40,000 Bolivares (About 10 dollars) which can buy you practically nothing, so standing in extremely long lines is the ONLY option for most Venezuelans.

A study came out recently, that the average Venezuelan has lost 19 pounds. People call it the “Maduro diet.”  People are rummaging through the trash. Everyone is so thin. I can’t begin to imagine what it is like to raise a young family.

I need to tell you about the babies.  As a volunteer in a children’s hospital, I see how almost daily, mothers are leaving their babies because they are physically unable to feed their children (lack of proper nutrition for the mother; therefore little to no milk production) as well as financially (formula is liquid gold…too expensive). Mother’s resort to the last option, leaving them somewhere they feel can properly keep these infants and babies alive. Most are sent to nearby orphanages, which as you can imagine are already filled to capacity; with yet again very little to tend to these children. Some babies have died due to lack of nutrition.

Venezuela is very unsafe.  It’s not safe to walk the streets.  Business Insider ranked the top 50 most dangerous cities in the world; seven of them are in Venezuela. Caracas, our capital, is ranked 1st. However, the government has rarely released this data, and most know the numbers are far worse than the government claims.

Close friends of our family were kidnapped off the streets and held for ransom.  They call this the Secuestro Express.  This is where gangs target upper class citizens whose families are able to pay ransoms quickly and quietly.

Things are completely out of control.  

There is no freedom of speech, no freedom of the press, no freedom to protest peacefully as the constitution states. There is no democracy.

The people of Venezuela have been protesting out on the streets for the past 50 + days. This is a constitutional right, but from that first massive protest, the national guard has acted out violently against protesters. More than 50 deaths have been reported, mostly young students who are in the front of these marches.  These young people, the future of our nation, protest wearing white shirts on their backs with their hands raised, yet this is the threat the government chooses to silence.  These young adults who were born into this administration, but knowing that there has to be a bigger and better future for them, choose to stand up and resist this regime. These 16, 17 and 18 year old young adults are our fallen heroes.

Those who speak out against the government will be sought out and punished and for the case of many, they have been silenced.  Passports have been seized and many people (at this point, those in dissent) are not able to leave the country.  I am worried that soon it could be even worse for regular citizens who wish to leave.

Maduro is an illegitimate president. A dictator to a once fruitful nation. Alongside Chavez, he has destroyed our nation and left it in RUINS!

I have a few thoughts on what people can do to help.

First, you need to know that this a spiritual battle. There is EVIL residing in our land, no doubt about it. Only through prayer and fasting will these demons come out. To those who can, please pray, please fast, please spread the word.

There are many organizations that help.  We recommend cuatroporvenezuela.org.  This organization provides food, basic medical supplies, and much needed medicines to the people of Venezuela.  

Thank you for your interest in our story and the plight of the Venezuelan people.

May God bless you,

Maria

P.S. from Heather: This blog post is my attempt to help. If you are willing and able, please consider making a donation to the website I listed above.  No amount is too small.  And FEEL FREE to share this post.  And above all, please PRAY as Maria directed.  God bless you all, and may God save the people of Venezuela.

Below: protestors attacked by the Venezuelan military.

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Below: doctor pleads with the National Guard to stop harming the young students.  Moments later he was hosed down. (see photo at top of post).  All photo credits go to the people who posted them on Instagram.

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Small Things with Great Love

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Me (above) — working behind the scenes to impact my kids for good.  And my kids — who appreciate me one day a year.  Happy Mother’s Day!

Several years ago, a well-known Christian Pastor resigned his post as Senior Pastor of a large church, and moved to Asia in order to serve God in a more behind-the-scenes way.  Francis Chan was quoted as saying:

“I don’t believe God wants our church life to be centered on buildings and services.  Instead, God wants our churches to be focused on active discipleship, mission, and the pursuit of unity.”  He also added: “I think there has been too much emphasis on me.  Even in my own church I heard the words “Francis Chan” more than I heard the words “Holy Spirit,” he said.*

It got me thinking about why someone would give up their position in the spotlight to serve within the shadows?  In our society, there is such a distinction between the hero and the individual; those in the spotlight and those whose roles are more behind-the- scenes.  We tend to subconsciously elevate the rock star, the leader, the politician, the athlete, the movie star, or (for some of us) the well-known pastor.

I call these people the “one percenters.”  About one percent of the human population seems to influence the rest of us “99 percenters,” for better or for worse. These are the people with platforms, followers (social media and otherwise), and cheering fans.  I think it’s sometimes easy to think that those in a position of leadership are the ones who make a difference in this world.

But what about the rest of us?  Do we have a part to play?  Can we make a difference?

I am a humble “99 percenter” who has never had a platform of influence.  However, there was a time many years ago where I worked for a U.S. Senator as his Legislative Assistant.  Although he was the “important one,” I was able to play a key role on his staff and influence and support him behind-the-scenes.  Since leaving the work-force to become a stay at home parent, I have often struggled with wondering if I am making a difference in this world. A lot of what I do is unnoticed by anyone (even my kids!) and I often feel like I’m not making much of an impact.

This blog post is my attempt to figure out if those in the spot-light are more influential than those who work behind-the-scenes. Because in my mind, it’s obvious…it’s the ones who stand up in front of the rest of us who have more of an impact.  So I decided to do a little research on this topic.

In my mind, the greatest one percenter of all time is Jesus Christ.  Before you dismiss me because you may not be religious, please bear this in mind: if you google the most influential figures in human history, Jesus Christ tops almost every single list.  His birth literally split the calendar in two and his death is worn symbolically by millions around their neck in a tiny gold or silver remembrance.  His religion is followed by about one third of the human population to this day.  His religion is followed by me.

So I decided to do a simple study of the four gospels on the life of Christ.  One question I tried to answer was:  did he take the role of the Rock Star hero in front of large groups being admired by many, or did he influence in more obscure ways, working behind-the-scenes?  And which method was more effective?

Because in my mind, surely Jesus-the-Rock star must be way more influential than Jesus the behind-the-scenes.

This is what I discovered: I found that Jesus did preach to large crowds to be sure, however, he spent an extraordinary amount of time with individuals doing personal ministry, following a daily routine which was directed by his Father in Heaven, and working behind the scenes changing one life at a time incrementally.  He mostly hung out with one person or a small group of people (his 12 Apostles, for example).  He didn’t seem to prefer to be in the spotlight.

The second question I tried to answer was: what was the reaction of the large crowds?  I found that the reaction of the crowds was mixed at best and typically ranged from the crowds believing his message, to confusion, to anger, to unbelief, to curiosity, or to just plain hanging around to see if he would do another miracle.  Sometimes the crowds went to extremes: some wanted to kill him because they hated his message so much, while others wanted to immediately install him as King. The bottom line is that the crowds were all over the place and his impact on them was mixed.

On a side note, Jesus himself was often frustrated with the crowds.  He often expressed disappointment at their unbelief.  He often grew frustrated that they couldn’t see what was standing right in front of them.  In other words, being the most important and influential person in the world with a platform and a huge following wasn’t as great as you might think it would be, and Jesus’ impact on the crowds wasn’t as great as you might think it would be.

What about his work to the individual?  I discovered that Jesus seemed to do his best work in three ways: First, behind the scenes. Second, by impacting one life at a time, or one small group at a time.  And finally, incrementally.  Jesus seemed to understand that change happens one small measure at a time.

Can this model of incremental-influence-behind-the-scenes, or just working behind-the-scenes-while-still-being-vital-to-the-mission be modeled elsewhere?  I believe it can!

Let me give you a few other examples of what I am talking about.

First, the politician. This is a world I know something about after serving as a staffer (and volunteer) to four “powerful, important people” who run our country (as I touched on above).  But here’s a little secret: behind every influential politician is his/her staff, whom that Member is relying very heavily upon.  In fact, staff often advise Members on how to vote on certain bills, write speeches for them, tell them which events to attend, speak for them in meetings, and draft legislation on their behalf. Bottom line: the Member of Congress is the Rock Star, but almost equally as important is his or her staff, doing a lot of the work for them behind-the-scenes.

Secondly, this one is for all you sports junkies out there.  Here is a quick pop quiz:

Q: Who is the most important player on a football team?

A: The Quarterback, of course.  He is the captain, the one who is most centrally responsible for what happens on the field. All the players and fans look to him.

Q: How about the second most important player?

A: The second most important player on a football team is the Left Tackle.

Q: Huh?  What is a Left Tackle?

A: He is the player who spends his Sunday afternoons getting the snot beat out of him play after play to protect the quarterback from getting hit from behind. He is the quarterback’s ultimate protector.

For proof of this, just ask any quarterback or better yet look at the second highest paid player on the team. It is often the Left Tackle. Does anyone know who Tom Brady’s Left Tackle is? Can anybody name one Left Tackle at all?  This is a great example of how people who often make huge impacts often labor in relative obscurity.

Thirdly, one example from history.  Joshua Chamberlain was a schoolteacher from Maine who became a Colonel in the Union Army and was almost single-handedly responsible for winning the Battle of Gettysburg.  How?   He basically had to guard a hilltop from the Confederates, because if they captured it, the Union army would essentially lose the infamous battle. His tattered crew was out of ammo, greatly reduced, and were tired to bone, but at Chamberlain’s command, they fixed bayonets and charged downhill, causing the Confederate troops to retreat, and thus kept the Confederate army from winning the Battle of Gettysburg. Historians have determined that if Chamberlain hadn’t charged that day, the rebels would have won at Gettysburg, which would mean that the South would have won the actual war.  Historians also insist that if the South had won the war, we would live on a territorially fragmented continent much like Europe.  The United States exists as it is today because of one school teacher from Maine who worked behind the scenes and influenced a small number of troops in his charge.  Amazing!*

And finally, Mother Theresa.  She spent her entire life working behind the scenes to the very “least of these” in Calcutta, India.  Here is the list of the people she spent her time with: those suffering with HIV/AIDS, those with leprosy and tuberculosis, the orphans, the poorest of the poor, and the dying.  She even rescued 37 children in the middle of a war zone.  If you want to be inspired, google “Mother Theresa quotes.”

I will leave my favorite one at the close of this post.

I wanted to briefly address the one percenters who actually have a position of influence on the rest of us. I think your opportunities are very clear: you have a huge platform and can make a huge impact!  Use your platform for good!  But just a few thoughts from a humble 99 percenter:

To the athlete: Remember your teammates who often go unnoticed, but upon whom your success stands or falls.

The the political leader: Govern with the individual in mind rather than your reelection, and remember the late night staffer who toils on your behalf.

To the movie/TV/rock star: Use your influence for the good of mankind rather than yourself.

To the CEO: Remember that you would not have a company if it were not for all of the people who run it.  Appreciate them.

Finally, to the Pastor: Love people more than your platform.  Point others to the only One who deserves true worship.  Resist the pride that comes with leadership.  Remember your Congregant, and how his and her gifts are vital to the church and the community.  Listen to their ideas for change!  Consider the example of Francis Chan, who was willing to let go of his platform to work in obscurity.

(A quick note to the Congregant: Don’t make a hero out of your pastor, or idolize them.  They have an important role to play, but so do you.  Play your part and play it well.)

I want to circle back to Jesus before I close this post.

My final nagging question was: how did the number one most influential person in human history end his speaking career?  What did he say and what was the effect?

The last recorded speech he gave to the crowds went something like this: “you will not have the light (me) with you much longer.  Believe in the light while you still have it, or darkness will overtake you.” (John 12: 35-36 paraphrase).

How did the crowds respond?  The Scriptures give us a sobering report: even after Jesus had performed so many miracles in their presence, they still did not believe in him. (John 12:47)

Let’s take a look, then, at two individuals whom he privately influenced from when he was actually in the process of dying on the cross, and then one after he was resurrected.

To the thief on the cross, he gave witness of himself, and the thief put his faith in him as Messiah. Jesus said said these words to him: “This day you will be with me in paradise.” In essence, Jesus saved a soul right before he died.  Then John (his Apostle) brought his mother Mary over to him presumably to say goodbye to her son, when Jesus said “Woman, behold your son.”  Then he looked at John and said “Behold your mother.”  In other words, he was telling John, his number one Apostle besides Peter (and James), to take care of his mom.  As a mom, this warms my heart.  And then after he was raised from the dead he had a long conversation with Peter about feeding his sheep, which influenced Peter to go out and spread his message, which literally changed the world.

I don’t know about you, but Jesus’ example is deeply encouraging to me.   And it’s something I can handle.  We can all be in the the business of working out of the spotlight and changing one life at a time.  Even if the change is incremental, hard to see at first, and can’t be measured by the normal markers of success.  I can start with those right in front of me: my husband and three kids.

We can all have influence, even if we are not in the one percent.  We can all impact one small area of life.

We can all influence one person for good.

And by doing so, we can change the world!

In closing, my favorite Mother Theresa quote:

“Not all of us can do great things.  But we can do small things with great love.”

Amen!

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  • source: “Christian famous” pastor quits his church, moves to Asia.”  Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog 12/22/2010.  According to Wiki, Pastor Chan now works in San Francisco – working to start a church planting and discipleship movement.
  • Source: “The Butterfly Effect” book by Andy Andrews