Don’t Worry, Be Happy Gardening

I’m so sick and tired of the hatred, the violence, and the unstoppable virus, all of which have become frighteningly pervasive in the news. My husband and I are retired, so the pandemic hasn’t affected us financially, but we can’t hug our children and grandchildren, which, for us, is huge. With all the sadness and anger surrounding all of us, I have not escaped the depression so many others have been feeling these days, and I finally had to admit to myself that this is what is going on, so I turned my attention away from the sad and angry to the beautiful: my gardens. With the quarantine, we now have more time to spend at home on the gardens instead of going other places. The plan according to Denny is”: “She points, I dig”, which is exactly right.  The soil in North Carolina is red clay. Add to that the rocks and stones turned over into the soil during the construction of new homes, and you have a dig job that I can’t do for large areas.

We have accumulated quite a few gorgeous plants and bushes in the 2 ½ years we have been in the house, preserving what was here already from the builders. The first year in our home we decided to plant above the ground and opted to buy a dozen half whiskey barrels for planting and it was quite a success. We defined the border of the barrel garden with landscaping bricks and it became a unique mixed sun/shade/part-shade garden. We have gotten so many complements on it. Several of the barrels are home to a beautiful selection of five different species of lilies.

One of my favorite plants is the Midnight Marvel Hibiscus. It produces the most magnificent show-stopping crimson blooms on leaves of deep hues of red and green. I bought one and put it in a barrel in a part-sun, part-shade location. It did well but the next spring there was nothing but dead branches. It wasn’t showing any signs of new growth in very early spring as were some others, and I assumed it didn’t make it through the winter. As guaranteed, Spring Hill Nurseries replaced it, and low and behold, now I have two! It was just a little slower starting than others.

When the bottom leaves started getting yellow and drooping frequently, I was afraid they had become pot-bound and the roots had eaten up all the soil, but they looked so nice in the barrels. Of course, it is quite warm in North Carolina to begin with and these plants require more watering than I was probably providing them last year, especially if they were becoming pot-bound. Today I decided to conduct a little experiment. I mean, they are lifetime guaranteed, so what did I have to lose? My husband hauled the heavy barrels over to two spots that get more sun, carefully laid them on their sides and removed the bottoms of the barrels, which was not hard, as they were all soft and mushy already. He loosened up some soil underneath and put the barrels on top of the loose ground, and I watered them thoroughly. All we could see was root after we removed the bottom, so now I’m hoping that they will have some room to breathe and spread. I’m going to try to work in some coffee grounds and compost to the soil, if I can, and use a little mulch on top this time to hold the water better. If this works, in a few weeks I should have a stunning display of Midnight Marvel Hibiscus. If it doesn’t work, they go in the groundIt’s the little things that make me happy.

Life Review

I think I’ll beat Facebook to the punch. It always reminds me that “your followers haven’t heard from you for awhile”, so I need to write something. That’s about all it will be: something. I don’t know why, but I’m blanking on content right now. My book is essentially done, COVID 19 masks have been made and delivered, existing gardens are weeded and looking good, and the house is “kind of “clean. Well, that might be pushing it a tad, but I’m working on it! I feel like my brain has nothing left to compose. Maybe it’s the old depression popping up because of all this nonsense going on in the world or maybe it’s COVID 19-inspired cabin fever that’s blocking out my creative thought processes. There was also a fire in my neighborhood last night that left me with a deep sadness for the owners. I can’t imagine having to start all over again like that. They lost everything. At least everyone was safe.

My husband and I just watched something on TV that my son, David, had told us about called “The Afterlife” by John Burke, who is an agnostic-turned-Christian minister after having a near death experience. He interviews four other people who have had these, one of them being an avowed atheist professor who turned to Jesus after he died, went to Heaven, and came back. It’s a fascinating watch, and I am a staunch believer, as many of you know, but one part disturbed me. They all reported that they were faced with their life story at Heaven’s gate, the whole thing. Can’t we just go in without having to relive the pain of our mistakes? I mean, He knows our hearts, and it’s all recorded on that Heavenly scroll of His, so why do we have to be reminded? I’d prefer not to do that. But, I guess it’s a small price to pay for what Jesus had to endure for us.

These current events of ours have stimulated speculation about the end times once again. Throughout history, apocolyptic believers have surfaced when things like this have happened. I won’t reiterate, but if anyone is interested, listen to David’s sermon on it. I’ve embedded it below on the Facebook link. I know he is my son, but he really pulled everything into a collective perspective about it and I was so proud of him. He’s not an ordained minister but was subbing one Sunday when his pastor was gone.

The whole thing in a nutshell is that, whether these are the beginning of the end times or not, Matthew 24:36 says it all. “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of Heaven nor the Son, but the Father only”. We have to be ready every day of our lives for Jesus’s return and live according to His word, but not just for the end times. No one knows what we will confront minute by minute in life that might cause us to come face to face with an action video of our lives.

Will the good things I’ve done in my life outweigh the pain I’ve caused others? I guess my life review will tell me, whether I want to hear it or not. I only hope I am deemed worthy to enter the holy gates when it’s my time. We must always be ready.

Below is a link to the show we watched, The Afterlife.

New Life

Little did I know, when our Realtor gave us a bluebird house in 2001 as a house-warming gift, that it would bring us such joy. We get 2-3 families every year who grow up and fly away to spread their beauty and happiness in the world. I did some research on bluebirds and was totally enamored with them. When we moved to our new home two years ago, we brought the little house along, and the locals wasted no time in finding it.

During breeding season, I lift the door of the house to check on the eggs and babies, sometimes pulling out the insert that holds the nest to check on them. Contrary to what you might think, you can touch a nest and the parents will come back. They may not be happy about it, and they are never far away, but they will come back. I can see Mom and Dad watching me from a rooftop, from the basketball pole, or from my arbor with its graceful honeysuckle vine. I’ve read that you can even remove the babies and check them for insects. Nope, nope. That’s Momma’s job. The scariest time I ever experienced with my bluebirds was when I removed the nest to look at them and the babies flew out. Wow, was Momma mad! She flitted all over the place trying to round up her babies, dive-bombing me and yelling at me all the while. They were all fine, so I retreated into the sanctity of my home. I never took that nest out again when they started getting big!

These babies are different for me than the others. They were born on Easter Sunday, Jesus’s day of resurrection. I had looked at them on Saturday and Momma was sitting on the eggs, totally oblivious to the dangers lurking in the hands of this human being peering in at her. Animal instincts never cease to amaze me. On Sunday when I checked, there were the five babies, looking less like baby birds than tiny alien creatures. I slid my phone in above the brood and snapped the picture, never expecting to capture the wonder of life that I did. I had taken many photographs before, both inside and outside of the house, but I don’t think I ever caught them on the day of their birth.

These new lives came in the midst of chaos. COVID 19 has wreaked havoc on our nation and our world, without providing us with any information about when its destruction will stop or where to go from there. Just as a mother experiencing the birth of her child, we are living with fear, uncertainty, and pain, but just as a woman’s labor ends and bluebird eggs hatch, so will this pass. We will heal and we will prevail. My bluebirds convinced me of that. We, also, will experience new life, a rebirth. It likely won’t be as it was before, but we will get our lives back and we will survive. I don’t know the story of how bluebirds became associated with happiness, but I know that every time I see them, I smile. Find your “bluebirds” and smile. We have this.

The Prettiest Home on the Block

For today’s blog, I will offer the introduction to my upcoming book, The Prettiest Home on the Block, being published by Blue Heron Book Works in Allentown, Pennsylvania. We are planning on a September release date, which couldn’t be more perfect, since Domestic Violence Awareness Month is October. If you wish to be placed on my notification list for when it comes out, send me a PM. I will take pre-orders, but you won’t be obligated to buy if you change your mind until then. I hope you will find this enticing.

Despite our age of enlightenment and the empowerment of women it showcases, domestic violence (DV), or intimate partner violence (IPV), as it is known today, remains a tenacious problem in our country and in the world at large. In the United States, one in 4 women and one in ten men will experience IPV in a lifetime, and these are just the cases that have been reported. We never hear from the silent sufferers. Whether overtly expressed or not, prevailing attitudes still seem to dictate that men are stronger and should be in control of women. The idea that women are supposed to be the weaker sex and subservient to men dates to biblical times and somehow has persisted through the ages. Although I believe that men of this generation are more sensitive to the place of women in society and in the home than past generations, some of these patterns of behavior refuse to die, and until they do, we must be vigilant in our communication and education to both men and women.

For the purposes of this book only, women will be referred to as victims and men as abusers because this is true in more cases than not and because my subject is a woman. I do not mean to minimize men as victims because they can be, and are. In fact, there are likely more cases than we know about because men do not always report their abuse. It is also written in this way for simplicity and ease of expression. Make no mistake, though, men are at risk for abuse, also.

We can know the statistics and shake our heads in pity, and we can give someone all the resources at our fingertips to help them, but unless a victim understands why she enters into these relationships, it may be difficult for her to change and she may find herself repeatedly being drawn to abusive men. In reading over my work, Donna mentioned to me that she wishes she would have had the insights I talk about a long time ago. It was hard for her to see her life typed out on a Dell. The questions are, then, how does a woman become a victim of abuse, and how does an abuser become who he is? More importantly, how could Donna have shed the mindset of abuse that plagued her? Men are not born abusers and women are not born victims. We are all born with our own unique palette of DNA, but nature alone does not create a person. Nurture picks up where nature leaves off. From the day we are born, we are exposed to a multitude of influences collectively called nurture. Nature and nurture work together to form the kind of people we become as adults; they are not exclusive. This book will wade into the nature vs nurture debate, and, hopefully, give you some tools to work with to overcome negative influences that may be subconsciously sabatoging your life.

For full disclosure, I am not a medical doctor, psychiatrist, or mental health worker; I am a Registered Nurse. None of the information in this book should be construed as professional advice. It is provided only as information relative to one person’s story and to suggest ways for you to find help should you need it.

I have had a keen interest in mental health since my nursing school days, although I never worked in the field itself. I retired from full time nursing in 2015 after having spent 46 years practicing in several different disciplines in several cities. While working at Nash General Hospital in Rocky Mount, NC, my head nurse approached me one day and said “How would you like to learn how to put away bad guys?” This intrigued me, and I certainly did want to put away bad guys, so I readily agreed, without knowing exactly what I was getting myself into, but the intense course I was about to take spawned my interest in Forensic Nursing. Our class was the first of its kind in NC and we initially called ourselves FNE’s or Forensic Nurse Examiners, but we were also known as SANEs, or Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners. We learned how to collect evidence from victims for the police in cases of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, the latter of which made my heart ache and my stomach turn. In the unlikely event a case would go to trial, we would serve as expert witnesses in the courtroom.

While still practicing nursing, I began writing again. I published two children’s books and I started doing freelance writing. Writing has been a dream for me for many years. I wrote for an online newspaper in Canada, the Agora Cosmopolitan, for awhile. It’s an edgy newspaper and they liked contraversial and salacious topics. Since I was writing health articles for them, I decided to write on subjects for which I was passionate, sexual assaults and domestic violence being among those topics. One article turned into four and I had a series, which I then published on WordPress and Facebook. After I wrote the series and saw the responses it garnered, I decided to write a book, an anthology of personal stories about abused women and men. I wasn’t getting any takers – secrecy and shame are hallmarks of abuse -but one day I got a message from “Donna” asking “Will you tell my story?” I recognized her name right away from a nursing case I had more than a decade earlier, but not an abuse case. She didn’t immediately recognize my name until I told her who I was. You will learn what the relationship was later on in the book. We knew immediately that this partnership was meant to be. Obviously, I agreed, and after meeting with her the first time, I decided to use her story as the basis for a book to help her and others who may feel trapped in an unhealthy or dangerous relationship.

The information on “Donna” and her experiences has been gleaned from personal interviews with her, sometimes at a trendy little coffee shop, where we enjoyed our cold mocha lattes, and sometimes at her home; from entries from her journal; and from entries in “Max’s” journal. She has given me access to these resources and permission to use any or all the intimate information it contains, providing the names would be changed, which they were.

I used my wealth of experience in the medical field and much research to write this book. A physician and friend, Robert Hill, MD, reviewed my book for medical accuracy, and my daughter-in-law, Kelly Schoch, a genetic counselor at Duke University in Durham, NC, reviewed my material on the genetic aspects for accuracy. Thank you so much, Rob and Kelly. I also feel honored and grateful to “Donna” for opening up her life to me, thus giving me the opportunity to combine my love of nursing, my love of writing, and my desire to help people to provide awareness and education for this ongoing blight on society.

Not every victim will live to tell their tale, but fortunately, “Donna Miflin” did, and she wants to tell hers. No matter how many stories there are about abused women, they are like snowflakes, none are exactly alike. There are commonalities, though, and these are the things I want to emphasize in this book. I aim to offer solice to those who are in dangerous situations and encouragement to those who are trying to escape but find it difficult, which it is. I want to offer hope to my readers that there are ways out for some women. I’m hoping that the information in this book gives you the knowledge and the courage to make the changes that you need to gain the happiness you deserve.

Donna’s story is different in a way that can’t be divulged here, or the resolution will be ruined for you, but this book highlights the events of her life and a look into the whys and wherefores of the behaviors that led to her situations, because she is not alone in them. If you see yourself, then this book is about you, too. It’s a woman’s personal story; it’s about creating awareness of a troubling problem in society; it teaches about the factors that contribute to unhealthy patterns of behavior; and it contains information about medical issues that some of the characters in the book have suffered, which are part of the total portrait.

As you might expect, Donna Miflin is not her real name, nor are any of the other names in the book the same as the real people in her life. The story takes place in cities in New Jersey and North Carolina between the years 1953 and 2007. All the situations in the book are real, but dialogue has been added and details embellished for literary purposes. Embellishment aside, each of these things did happen to “Donna” and scenarios have been created around events as they were told to me.

Hopefully, you will be reading this book cover to cover, but if you don’t get past the introduction, please know that there is help for you, whether you are a victim or an abuser. You can change your life to find happiness, but you cannot do it alone; no one can. To be truthful, not all women are able to break free of these chains, but my hope is that you will find a way, and that this book will help you in your quest for freedom.

Usually, situations such as Donna’s start out well and deteriorate over time, but if you or someone you love has had a sudden change in behavior, becoming aggressive when he or she was not before, please schedule a medical evaluation to rule out a physical reason for the change. It may just be due to a change in a person’s feelings or to other life stressors, but please rule out illness first, for everyone’s sake.

https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/index.html

Mask Not What Your Country Can Do For you

CALLING ALL SEWERS

What will this country do if we run out of masks? I think we are all getting a little antsy at home so maybe we can use this time to do some good. As a retired nurse, I feel helpless at home. I thought about going back to work, but as a senior citizen I’m in a high risk group, and I have a large local family to think about, so I’ll be taking a break from my book and opening up my sewing room for a bit. If you are like me, you have tons of extra fabric sitting around. If not, you can order supplies online and have them delivered. There are multiple sites that show you how to do it. The first one is on the Joann Fabric website and they provide a video on how to make them. They’re simple but you need to make your own (easy) pattern. If you are looking to sew en masse, these would be OK. Just be aware they won’t be much protection against COVID 19 because they don’t have a filter. https://www.joann.com/ . The next one is the one I think I will use. They look a bit more time consuming but still easy. They have a pocket to put a filter in, a bendy tie for across the nose, and the mask goes under the chin. I haven’t tried to buy filters yet so I’m not sure if they will be available, but if not, a heavier fabric is, again, better than nothing, I think. For all of them, the recommendation is a heavier, non-stretch fabric like denim, duck cloth, burlap, etc. https://www.properfitclothing.com/product-page/flu-mask-pattern-download. This next one is fashioned like the N 95 respirators. I did not watch the entire video yet, truth be told, but you can check it out. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FSeDlVxQx1k.

There are other sites, too; this is just a sampling. Surf and see which one you like best. The CDC goes back and forth on what is acceptable, but if nothing else, they might at least protect the nose and mouth from the juicier coughs and sneezes.

And here is my next brainstorm for non-sewers. You can start laughing right now. I don’t see why we couldn’t fashion masks out of panty liners. They are made of thick, waterproof material and are soft. We could attach elastic or fabric ties to them with a couple of stitches. It certainly wouldn’t provide the coverage or protection that an N 95 or surgical mask would, but it would be better than nothing if we run out. And that’s all I’m going to say about that!

Ladies and gentlemen, use this time at home to help your community and your country and please, stay safe.

A Cutting Edge of Education in China and Beyond!

Perfect timing! My book is on track to be finished very soon and I have just heard from my “boss” in China. I’m not sure if I have shared this on WordPress or not, but I have been working with an educator in China, Dr. John Walsh, writing books for Kindergarten children who are learning English. The books have been on hold for various reasons but we are now back on track! Right now John is stuck in Uganda and may not be able to get back into China until April because of the coronavirus, but thanks to technology, that shouldn’t stop us!

Dr. John Walsh and John Heavey are partners in a business, Reload Academy, in Ireland. John Walsh came to China to work in the school teaching children English. He met his soon-to-be wife Deborah, who is from Uganda, in China and they will be married in her country in May. Separate from his job in the school, John has had a dream of creating books from kindergarten on up to help children learn words in English. His very long term goal is to extend this process to other languages as well. My job is to create stories using these 100 words you see the kids reciting. The books are set in a Magic Kindergarten so it’s really been fun! It will increase in difficulty, of course, as we move up to higher levels. I’m sure I will wear out long before his dream is completed, but I’ll keep working with him as long as he will have me and I still have all my mental faculties!

This endeavor sounds awesome and fearsome at the same time. I love challenges and this is so very exciting to be a part of such an innovative project. Wish us luck!

What is This Lent Thing That’s Coming Up?

Already? It feels like I just finished putting Christmas things away. Well, that’s probably because I just kind of did. Lent is only a week away and once again time to think about what I will be “giving up”. Unlike the advent season, which, for Christians, is a joyous and preparatory time for the birth of the Christ Child, Lent is a somber time because these days lead up to a day of memoriam for the crucifixion of the adult Christ. It represents Jesus’ 40 days of fasting, praying, and contemplating his fate in the wilderness prior to his murder at the hands of those who feared him. Although He was the holy son of God, He was also the son of humans and shared the same fears of pain and suffering as we do. He knew what was about to happen and he was sad and frightened, but willing to fulfill God’s plan, which had long-before been prophesied.

Lent is a time for reflecting on our lives and our faith. We believe that God gave us the ultimate sacrificial lamb to atone for our sins, His son, Jesus Christ; and Jesus, in turn, suffered and died so that we may live; not that we may live on this earth, since we all have that opportunity as soon as we take our first breath, but that we may have the promise of everlasting life in Heaven with God upon our physical deaths. So, if we are all promised life after death because of God’s sacrifice, the forgiveness of all our sins through Jesus, then why do we even have to bother being good? Because God is our Father and He said so, and because we should honor His sacrifice every day of our lives by living according to the instructions that He gave us through his son, Jesus Christ, and His disciples, in scripture.

Why is giving something up for Lent so important? It’s not a ticket to Heaven if you do, or the fast train to Hell if you don’t, but Lent gives us an opportunity to contemplate Christ’s sacrifice and, in so doing, determine how we can speak to that sacrifice in our own lives. By giving up something important to us in honor and in memory of Him, we are acknowledging the significant place His gift holds in our hearts and our minds. We are feeling, in some unimaginably minuscule fashion, the discomfort Jesus felt hanging on that cross. Although it would be utterly impossible to even begin to fathom His pain and suffering, our own small “sacrifices” can at least make us aware of the unselfishness shown in our names and of His omnipotent presence in our lives. It can remind us that we, ourselves, need to be unselfish and give out of love, just as He did. If you think you can’t be that “good”, just remember that you “can do all things through Christ who strengthens you”. (Philippians 4:13).

What will you give up? Sweets? For most of us, this is the time-honored sacrifice of Lent. When I do this, though, I always feel like there is a part of me that has something to gain, or shall I say lose, which is a gain for me, from this choice. This year I’m going to give up something that deprives me of pleasure but whose withdrawal doesn’t benefit me in some way. I may do the sweets thing, too, though, because at least it makes me think about Jesus’ sacrifice.  

What will your sacrifice be? Whatever it is, put yourself in our Savior’s place and consider what your feelings might be, knowing that in 40 days you would be scorned, whipped, denied by a trusted and beloved friend, betrayed by another for 30 pieces of silver, and made to carry the heavy wooden cross that would be the vehicle of your death on your shoulders. You would carry this cross on a long road and up the hill that would be the place of your suffering and death. You would be secured to this cross by nails hammered harshly through your hands and feet. You would be hung between two criminals, a crown of thorns piercing your head, and given vinegar to drink instead of water. All this would be in the presence of hateful revelers, mocking you until you breathed your last. Choose your sacrifice but remember His.

Chapter 14: ‘Til Death Do Us Part (tentative title)

If you have been following me, you may know that I am writing a true memoir for a survivor of Domestic Abuse. I’m hoping to have it completed by the end of February. This is one chapter of my book. It is more than just a story. It is unique in it’s ending, and it is also much more than the words of someone’s life. It’s a deep dive into victims and abusers and the “whys and wherefores” of their respective roles in this convoluted plague on society. You may think it’s a worn-out topic, but as long as this problem continues, there will continue to be a need for awareness and help for victims, and for abusers. Names have been changed and some true situations embellished for effect, but the story did take place in New Jersey, in the Wake Forest, NC area , and at Duke University Hospital in Durham, NC. Stay tuned. More to come. Please feel free to share this post!

“Max needed a heart transplant to live. The reality was being absorbed slowly, one scene at a time. Donna and Max had lived in New Jersey all their lives, and now they faced the possibility they would have to pick up and transplant themselves, too, but they wanted to give Max a shot at living. She tried to look at the situation from a positive stance. Maybe this is what they needed. They would be moving away from all the friends and negative influences that Max had in his life. Maybe they really could start over. New home, new heart, new social circle. For the first time in a long time, Donna could see some hope in a seemingly hopeless situation. It would be good for everyone. They decided together that this was the right move for them. They went through all the red tape that was required of potential organ recipients at Duke University Hospital and put their home in New Jersey on the market. Max was sternly warned that there would be no second chances. Only one strike, not three, and he was out. He had to stay clean. They sold their home and found a beautiful new home in Wake Forest, NC, a nice community that was away from the busy streets and neighborhoods of Durham but close enough to Duke that Max could get there quickly if a call would come in that a donor was available. Donna enrolled Alex in school, set up the house, located the shopping areas, and waited for the bittersweet phone call from the transplant team that a donor was available. She knew what that meant: that another family, somewhere, had just lost a loved one to tragedy, and she prayed that Max would appreciate their sacrifice and protect the gift he would be receiving.

Max tried. He knew his actions were wrong, and he knew his anger was fueled by his substance abuse, but like most addicts, he found it difficult to change.

“I’m Max, and I am an addict. I’m addicted to alcohol and drugs, and I’m here because I’m on the heart transplant list and it’s a requirement”.

“Hello, Max”, came the collective reply from the room.

The leader let his qualifying statement pass, for the time being. There would be time enough for exploration into those feelings later. One by one, the members of the group introduced themselves. Max looked around and felt he didn’t belong there with these people, he was better than them, but he knew he had to stay. They said a prayer and did a reading from the Big Book, the basic textbook of Alcoholics Anonymous.

The Big Book is one of the best-selling books of all time, which is a sober testament to the gravity of the addiction problem. Many AA groups also allow those addicted to other substances or behaviors as well as alcohol. Its renowned Twelve Step Program has helped innumerable people achieve and maintain sobriety since 1936, but it is not an easy process, and not everyone makes it. One basic tenet of the program is a belief in a higher power and the faith that you are not alone. Prayer is a large part of recovery from addiction and one in which Max freely took part. AA participants are also required to keep a journal to record notes from meetings, write down thoughts and feelings, and experience catharsis. Having access to Max’s AA journal has provided an insight into who he was. His sober self was unlike his impaired self in many ways. Max was like a Harlequin mask: smiling one minute, crying the next, or maybe angry. He appeared to be a tortured soul inside, knowing what he had to do but powerless to defeat the demons causing his torment. I want to believe that is true for many abusers. I like to think that they don’t want to be who they are but lack the fortitude to resist their violent urges. Good or bad, they are people, too, and, just as you and I, are a combination of both. Without wishing to be repetitive, I will call up the memory of Donna’s account of Max’s childhood from earlier in the book as a prerequisite to my next words: affluent, alcoholic and absentee parents, being left alone to his own devices, tossed out like an old dishrag as a teenager by his mother when his father left her for his secretary, etc. Common among abusers, Max had a narcissistic personality. Some of the hallmarks of narcissism are lack of empathy, a need for admiration, arrogance, self-centeredness, manipulation, and being demanding of others. Although the exact cause of these traits is not well-understood, it is felt that a combination of nature and nurture, as we have seen is true for every aspect of our beings, mix it up to form these traits. Unfortunately, the actual personality disorder of narcissism is difficult to treat because these people don’t think there is anything wrong with them; they feel everything bad that happens is someone else’s fault, not their own. It’s a well-accepted belief that you can’t help someone who doesn’t feel they need help, and that pretty much describes a narcissist. Although she was able to see the good in Max, Donna’s accounts of him spelled narcissism, and her accounts of life with him are largely disturbing. They are also, however, backed up by Max, himself. In his journal, he admits to treating his family poorly, to possessing all these characteristics, either directly or indirectly, and he even uses the word narcissistic to describe himself at one point. When he was sober, he had an incredible self-awareness of who he wanted to be, and of the person he turned into while he was impaired, like a Dr. Jekkyl and a diluted Mr. Hyde.

Not unlike the outwardly haughty Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz, beneath the layer of anger in Max was an insecure, terrified soul, who didn’t really believe that he had the courage to overcome his adversarial self. He picked on people weaker than he was to appear fierce and to prove himself as a force with which to be reckoned. Unlike the fabled lion, however, it took more than a slap across the face to make Max see the error of his ways. It took him staring into the face of death to get him to an AA meeting, which then required him to peal all the layers of the onion off until he got to the core of who he was, and he did. Sadly, once outside the secure, comfortable walls of the AA meetings, he found it impossible to hold onto the strength that had been generated within the safety of those walls, and whatever protective mechanisms he had honed at the meetings collapsed in the face of triggers for his anger, no matter how minute.

Max was also a consummate liar, such a convincing one that even his family supported his accusations that Donna was to blame for his failing emotional health and descent into addiction, even though that journey had started long before they met. Concerning his mother, that makes sense, since she could never take responsibility for her own shortcomings either, as was previously noted. She wasn’t going to blame herself for Max’s problems. She and Donna got along in the beginning, until Donna started bringing the family’s attention to Max’s problems, then she became an instant nemesis in their lives. Others in the family suffered from addiction as well, so no one wanted to look at Max because if they did, they would have had to look in their mirrors and see themselves.

Research shows that there is a proven genetic connection to addiction, be it nicotine, alcohol, or drugs. In fact, studies have shown that even up to half of a person’s risk for addiction can be attributed to his or her genetic make-up. Tangible as genetic sequencing may be, it is essential to consider environment as a factor in the disease of addiction, and one that can be controlled, unlike your inherited DNA. Environmental influences have been proven to affect the way certain gene markers are expressed. For instance, identical twins have identical genetic make-up and most of the markers that define things such as physical features will remain prominent in both, but environmental circumstances can serve as influencers as to how a person’s character or personality unfolds. Living conditions, degree of family support, education, availability of economic and other resources, and relational influences in someone’s life are some of the things that can change genetic make-up so that that even identical twins can exhibit different characteristics when raised in different environments. In addition, it is believed that these influencers can change the DNA of a person to the extent that the altered gene can be passed on to future generations, which may explain similarities in familial traits and habits. Although eerily similar stories of twins who were separated at birth, both good and evil, have been published, environmental influences could also lend credence to the “evil twin” story lines that the cinema loves.

Could that be what happened to Max? Listening to Donna’s accounts, the question of his own mother’s mental health must be entered into the equation of additive factors that contributed to his demise. Did it start with her, or did it start back a few generations and the cycle just continued with her? By looking at all of these biological and external events that can team up to cause unhappiness, it’s clear that although we have no control over some of them, we can make conscious choices to start in motion new events that can disrupt destructive cycles, and we must.

Once you dissect the details of an abuser’s world, past and present, a picture can begin to appear that may tend to explain abhorrent behavior. There are reasons for everything we do, for who we are, all of us. We can understand, and maybe even pity, a person whose own personal black hole is tangible enough to explain away the destructive actions that are negatively impacting someone else’s life. However, we can never excuse violating the rights of others; this behavior is never, ever, acceptable. Understanding is fine and good, but never acceptance. Nothing short of self-defense should give anyone legitimate cause to intentionally hurt another person or treat them with disrespect. Conversely, no one should allow themselves to be convinced that they “bring it on themselves”, that it is somehow their “fault” that the abuser is the way he or she is, or that victims are less than who they are. Max tried that with Donna, and even if she didn’t really believe it deep inside, it was enough to knock her self-esteem down a few notches with each insult. Note to victims: The cycle of abuse must stop, and it can stop with you. I won’t lie and tell you it’s easy, but it’s worth giving it everything you have in order to win your freedom and your peace, because you deserve it.  There are plenty of success stories; maybe you can be the next one.”

Good Bones Will Last

“Daddy, I had a weird dream last night”, a son said to his father one morning.

“What did you dream about?”, asked his dad.

“I dreamed that I looked out the front door and all I could see was fog, nothing else at all. It just looked like a gray wall. I went to find you to show you and when we looked outside, it was clear. Then we look in the sky. The sky was dark but there was patch of really bright color in the sky that looked like a flat rainbow. As we watched, the rainbow made itself into the shape of a fish. There was even a black circle in it for an eye. It stayed there for a while and then started turning around. As it turned around it gradually turned itself into the skeleton of the fish but still had the black eye. What does that mean? It was really weird.”

“Well, son, dreams are hard to explain. They usually represent something and it’s tricky to figure out sometimes”, said the dad, “but this is what I think. The rainbow represents God’s promise to us never to destroy the earth by water again. The fish symbol was used by early Christians to identify themselves to each other. Some people in Jesus’s time were afraid of Him because they didn’t want to lose their power if he was truly the Son of God, the King of Israel, the expected Messiah. They didn’t want to be taken over. The people that truly believed in Him were in danger of harm from the ones that hated him, so in order for them to be able to continue spreading the Good News of Jesus without being killed, they used a fish as their identification. They would draw a fish in the sand to let other Christians know they were there. The fish became a universal symbol of Christianity, something like the cross, only not quite as important”.

“Is that why I see those metal fish on cars and that symbol on religious things?”, said the boy.

“Yes”, said his dad. “When the people who were afraid of him crucified Jesus on the cross, he died, and his followers took his body and buried it in a cave. When they came back to see him three days later, he was gone”.

“Right, because he arose from the dead”, said the son.

“Exactly”, said his dad, “but his physical death did not not keep his disciples from passing on to other people all the things He taught them about, like God’s love, salvation, right and wrong, good and evil, sin, and how to have eternal life in Heaven with God. They wrote letters to different cities with all of Jesus teachings and asked the people to make sure they passed it on to others”.

“The Bible”, said the son.

“Yes, his father acknowledged. “I believe your fish bones represent the Bible. You can remove the flesh from a fish but if you don’t destroy the bones by picking them apart and cutting them up, they will stay good bones. The Bible is ‘good bones’ for Christians to study and live by. It is the Word of God for the people of God and we must live by what it teaches us. If we try to pick it apart and make it different than what it is just so it suits us, it’s no longer the bones of our faith, it’s whatever structure people want to make it. We can’t let that happen. The Bible is God’s law, son, and we must obey his law. The world will try to fog our view of God’s promise and His word, so when we think we can’t see His way for awhile, like through the fog in your dream, we have to take a step back and then look at it again. God will be there because He never leaves us, just like the eye never disappeared whether it was on the rainbow fish or the skeleton. He is always watching over us. We have to spread His Word and become fishers of people, just as He asked of us. Good dream, son”.

Yes, this was my real dream last night. I had to share it with you.

Half-Time Follies 2020

It’s rare that I write two WordPress posts in one day, but instead of limiting the opinions I wish to express to only my own Facebook followers, I chose to share them with you all, too. Earlier I made a joke on Facebook about the Super Bowl half time show butt wiggles, butt, all joking aside (pun intended), parents, if you taped it and will watch it later with your kids, I recommend that you preview it first. Outstanding energy and talent aside, this show would have been probably been rated “R” not too long ago. The talent required to provide this entertainment was through the roof, but the more-than-suggestive body language blared was totally inappropriate by my, and I am certain, many others’, standards, for a family sports game. Before the Big Game, my die-hard Philadelphia fan husband nostalgically watched a tape of the 2018 Super Bowl as Nick Fowls led our beloved Eagles to victory with his history-making play. Justin Timberlake, fully clothed and just as sexy, crooned his way through a wonderful half-time show that would have been appropriate for anyone to watch. (I’m not sure what the rest was, honestly, so I can’t comment. I only saw him.) What the heck happened in two years? I don’t even know if there could even have been a wardrobe malfunction at this one because it looked like all the costumes were spray painted onto their bodies with the the exception of some ruffles shaking under the bosom area, not unlike those men pay money to see in sleazy clubs.

I don’t know, perhaps I am getting to be an old fuddy-duddy but I am deeply concerned about the world in which our progeny are being raised. We had to turn off a comedy the other night because there was a continuous stream of vulgarities spewing from the actors’ mouths. They were totally non-essential to the story line, which wasn’t that great to begin with. We have stopped watching several TV shows in the past year or so because they fly in the face of our core values. Where is it going to end, when every celebrity entertains naked on prime time TV and has to learn the worst swear words and 50 shades of whatever known to man in order to compete for jobs?

Our society continues to expose us and our children to inappropriate stimuli, and, gradually, we are beginning to become desensitized to their unacceptable influences and accepting them as the new norm. This is happening in our schools, big and little cinematic entertainment, written media, and radio. I’m currently writing a true story that contains a good many quoted obscenities. I had a friend read it and she laughed at me because, in the raw script, I couldn’t write the words, resorting to substitutions such as “F— you”, instead of spelling it all out. I hate that word and several others to the point I can’t even write them. For the final product, I will write them out because it will add reality and impact to my client’s story, but it’s not something I take, or write, lightly. I realize, of course, that I will never be a best-selling author without succumbing to the insatiable thirst for sex and violence our society has developed, and that’s fine with me. I refuse to compromise my own principles to meld with those of society if they are contradictory. I’ll probably go back to wholesome kids’ books again when I finish this one.

If there are others out there who feel as I do, please stand up for your beliefs. An amoral society cannot sustain itself; we must return to simpler, more disciplined times for a healthy survival. Women want to be respected in this world, not be discriminated against, and not be objectified, and yet we allow entertainers to dress like hookers, gyrate around stages, and simulate sex acts by licking towards microphones while performing, and on sledge hammers, naked, in videos. (Thank you, Shakira, Super Bowl 2020, and Miley Cyrus, “Wrecking Ball”, for those amazing displays of talent.) I’m sorry if you don’t agree with me because we all have a right to our own opinions, but folks, it has to stop somewhere. The Bible tells us to “Train a child up in the way he (she) should go, and when he (she) is old, he (she) will not turn from it.” Proverbs 22:6. This is an undeniable truth, but you don’t need to know the Bible for you to understand what this is charging parents with. We must set our children, and ourselves, on the right path. Please help break this cycle of insanity.