Sep 29, 2016

My Story - Part 3

For Part 1 of My Story, click here.

And for Part 2, here.

I'm guessing the big question on everyone's mind, but they're afraid to ask is, "What is it really like?  Prison, that is?  Is it anything like what we see in the movies or on TV?" 

There are some similarities, yes, but with one, huge, monumental difference.  Watching it unfold on on the big screen is world's away from living after agonizing day.

As I hesitantly exited from the secured caravan in handcuffs and shackles, the outside world ceased to exist from that moment forward; I had entered into a completely and totally different realm, ominous and foreboding. 

I will tell you this for sure.  The officers, the other inmates, the steel doors...they're all very, very real.  

I quickly discovered that if there was anyone remaining in my life who trusted me, they weren't to be found inside those concrete walls.  Let's face it - I was sent there for a reason, and therefore, treated as such.  There would be no special treatment, no favors, no fuzzy blankets, or fleece pajamas.   

Upon arrival, I was stripped of everything I came with.  Whatever sense of humility I thought I still had in tact went directly out the window when I was instructed to remove every piece of clothing I had on to prove that I had not smuggled anything through the prison doors.  I was handed my new clothes and a set of white, starched sheets and shown to my room.  I had three other roommates; one of which was charged with theft, one with manufacturing meth, and the other was charged as being a sex offender.  As I stood there making up my bed, I felt panicked and shaky, as if my heart might jump directly out of my chest at any moment.  I struggled to hold back the tears that would surely come, day after day, night after night.  

Each and every morning began with a correctional officer walking down the cold, linoleum hallway and announcing, "6:30", which was our indication that the day was about to begin.  We had approximately 15 minutes to get up and out of bed to pick up our breakfast.  I can remember waiting until the very last moment to throw back the covers, because to me, waking up was a harsh and brutal reminder that I had to live yet another day in this nightmare. 

With the exception of two days off a week, we all had a specific job to do.  That job ranged anywhere from mopping the hallway or the common areas, to serving lunch or dinner, to cleaning the showers and bathrooms.  There were no doors on the stalls of the bathroom and showers were kept at a minimum.  The heat barely worked; in fact, most nights, I slept fully-clothed and still struggled to get warm.  The food was basically void of any taste and nutritional value; never once were we served a piece of fruit or a vegetable that didn't come out of a can.  The beds we slept on were glorified blow up mattresses and often in the morning or at night, I would hunch my body forward and listen as my spine cracked from top to bottom from a lack of stability and support.  There were often heated fights between women, with one or both usually being sent to solitary confinement for days on end.  On one weekend in particular, a water pipe burst so we were without clean, running water for over 48 hours.  You were to wear your inmate tag at all times and stepping outside of your doorway before being given the go-ahead was not allowed.    

Considering all of the above, I was very lucky in the sense that my family back home continuously provided me with money for my phone account, which allowed me at least one call a day to my husband and around once a week, a call to my parents and sister as well.  Without a doubt, these calls were my lifeline, and I clung to those 20 minutes like a child clinging to their beloved security blanket.  I was desperate to hear a familiar and loving voice.  I would sit in the corner with my back to everyone else as I called home, with tears streaming down my face.

I was also priviledged to have my family visit me each weekend.  I could sit by my little window which faced the parking lot and watch as they walked up to the front door.  It took every ounce of willpower not to run outside and greet them, and when they left to go home, I can remember saying over and over again through my tears, I just want to come home.  Unfortunately, there were so many inmates that weren't as lucky as I was.  They would go months without a visit and some never had a visit at all.  I often felt guilty for this privilege, but knew deep down I was blessed beyond measure.

It's safe to say that I walked away from this entire situation as a different person.  I fell in love with God all over again, thanks to the abundance of prayers from back home as well as a local church that came in each Thursday night to lead a bible study.  I had known God at one time in my life, but I had separated myself from Him in lieu of worldly things I felt were much more important.  And since I didn't have my family to lean on, I chose to lean on Him instead; this would prove to be an amazing and comforting realization.  I also realized that compassion can soften the hardest of hearts.  I spoke to inmates who were so desperate to get off the streets and off drugs or alcohol that they re-offended for that very reason.  The fact that their home life was so totally non-existent that they were better off in prison was mind-boggling to me.  Can you even imagine?  My heart literally opened up wide, and then simultaneously broke, for them.

Hearing my full story, you may want to pass judgement.  You might say to yourself or be thinking, I could never.  But as I mentioned here, we cannot step into someone else's shoes and claim that we would have done differently.  We can only live the life we've been handed; that is our only job here on this earth.  For those of us who have taken the road less traveled, God gives us the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a beautiful, grace-filled Sacrament, of which I have participated in and obtained the ultimate forgiveness.  I consider it a second chance at life and I will not squander it.  That is a promise I made to God...and to myself.

Do you have a story to share?  Are you in need of a second chance? 

It's there, just waiting for you.  Grab hold of it.

Sep 27, 2016

My Story - Part 2

Visit Part 1 of My Story here.

Moving on to Part 2...

Surrender.  This is, without a doubt, one of the most difficult things I've ever had to do.  Because in my world, surrender has always felt forced.  It's like being pushed outside into the cold, frigid, air without a coat to cover up with.  It's harsh and brutal and all you can think about is surrounding yourself with warmth and comfort; getting back to the safety of what you know.  Surrender is giving in, handing-over, often when we don't want to.  It's waiving the inevitable white flag and saying, please, Lord, take this from me

Every time I tried to pull away and return to my island of make believe, I was choosing the very opposite of surrender.  I was desperately holding on, like those cartoon characters you see hanging over a dangerous cliff, with their hands slipping and slipping until finally - release.  My surrender was similar, except it wasn't a cliff or even my make believe island anymore.  My so-called safety net no longer existed; it had been destroyed.  I now needed to live in full acceptance of who I was, for the first time in a long time.  I needed to hand over my make-believe-self to the light of truth.  It wouldn't look the same, no, but that was the whole point. 

After all, letting go always opens the old door to a new one. 

But let me tell you new door was an absolutely frightening one.  It was a door which led me directly to the Mt. Pleasant Correction Facility for Women in Mt. Pleasant, IA.  And it was at that precise moment when I stepped off the island of make-believe for the last time.  There was no looking back.  I had been spending and stealing on my secret island for six years.  I left my security because I was literally forced to surrender, by God's very own hand.  He knew it was time to intervene; He knew I had had enough.  And upon surrendering, He led me to the path I had constructed for all those years.  Along it, there were huge boulders of hurt and disappointment standing in my way, and I wanted to walk around them like I had done before, but God stopped me and said, These,'s time to give these the attention they deserve.  So I sat down beside them and I deeply mourned for the people I had dismissed and discarded, for their feelings I had tossed aside.  I looked behind me and noticed for the first time how damaged my path really looked; how the storm that was my life had destroyed virtually everything in it's path.     

When I was finally ready to move forward, I stood up on shaky legs and a with shattered heart.  God placed His loving hand on my shoulder and assured me He would be with me every step of the way. 

And I was never more terrified.

Sep 25, 2016

My Story - Part 1

"My heart is restless until it rests in thee." - St. Augustine


In every sense of the word, I consider myself a restless soul; never quite content, looking here and looking there to find whatever it might be to fill me up - emotionally and spiritually.  I am forever searching, and I often wonder why I can't seem to be still in the present moment.  

How about you?  Have you ever felt restless?  Restless to the point where your present circumstances just felt too much?  We find ourselves overwhelmed with the daily challenges and responsibilities of kids, spouses, careers, finances, to-do lists, etc. and so we choose to remove ourselves from the real world and enter into a world of make believe; a world where we wish to exist only within ourselves.  Our escape is just that; an escape, because we're so tired of doing all it takes to get from point A to point B and coming up empty.  We search for a different path and when we can't find one, we begin to forge our own.

My journey will, without a doubt, look different than yours.  If I decide to take a left, you might decide to take a right.  When I feel that the valley is where I belong, you might be searching for a mountaintop view.  Regardless, each path is uniquely scattered.  In the past, when I find that I've reached a point of being over it, I look for ways outside of myself to get filled up; ways that will bring me happiness and allow me to function once again.

For whatever reason, shopping has always been what I turn to in those moments of restlessness.  I fill up my life with stuff - lots and lots of stuff - until it's all put away nicely where it belongs and I can sit back and admire it from afar.  I can pat myself on the back and say, yes, I did that.  But after awhile, it's as if I can't remember what it was that made me so happy in the first place, so I go out in search of more.  This becomes a continuous and vicious cycle.  I go from feeling empty to full to back again.  And each time the emptiness sets in, it morphs into disappointment because I was certain that my last escapade, that last swipe of my credit card, would do the trick.  So why am I still empty?  Why do I fill myself up with what I think will make me happy, all the while knowing that this filling-up is just a disguise, a mask, an invisible shield? 

For many years, I created for myself a little island of make-believe, which was my preferred method of living compared to this side of reality.  It was my own little space where, for the most part, I felt safe because it was there that I could be who I really was without everyone else getting to see that secretive side of me.  I set up all sorts compartments and hidden closets where I could separate the delicate and avoidable pieces of my life and tuck them away, believing that because they were behind closed doors, they didn't really exist.  However, when the time came to leave the security of my make-believe island, I found that as much as I didn't want to, I had to open up the doors and take those fragile pieces with me.  I felt scared and lonely leaving my island and even though I was out in the fresh, cool air, my chest would constrict under the weight. 

I now realize that eventually, no matter where the island is located, the waves will come upon the shore of make believe just as they often do in the world of reality.  That regardless of how many walls or fences we build to keep the looters and strangers away, they will find the smallest of spaces to get in.  There will come a time when we will have to decide if we will allow them to take us gently by the hand and walk willingly off the island, or if they will have to drag us out by the shirttails, kicking and screaming. 

Either way, the doors will be flung open, the fresh, cool air will fill our lungs and there we will be, standing in the sunlight.   

We must choose how we will surrender. Ready or not.

Sep 22, 2016

Who Am I to Judge?

“I can imagine myself reading a story like that about someone else & disbelieving it. That’s what people do: They imagine themselves in your place, and they know that they would have done different, better. They scare themselves a little with borrowed tragedy, and then retreat to the safety of their own safe place.”  - Every Last One, Anna Quindlen

I love this quote from a book I read eons ago. I love anything that speaks the truth, regardless of whether it’s hard to accept or not. And most truth is just that, isn’t it? Hard to accept? After all, they don’t call it a bitter pill for nothing…

This truth, however, is especially accurate. It almost pains me to say it, but we (and by we, I mean you AND me) find great pleasure in slipping our dainty and pedicured feet into other people’s well-worn shoes, because from that viewpoint, from that perspective, we can criticize ‘til we’re blue in the face about all the things we would have done differently – if we were them. We stand there with our head held high, our hands on our hips and head cocked to the side, with our all-knowing attitude spilling out all around us. We claim that we would never make the same choices, the same bad decisions, because we know the consequences. Didn’t you THINK about what you were doing, we say? Maybe we aren’t bold enough to speak those words out loud, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t forming them in our minds. And then, as the quote above chides us, we retreat to the safety of our own little lives, back to our own, perfect little perch.  

So tell me - why is it easier to judge from the soles of another’s shoes than it is from our own?
{{Before I go any further, let me just say this. We will always be a judgmental people, to some extent. Why? Because not one of us is perfect or without blame as much as we might claim to be. There is only One who is perfect, and He mercifully and lovingly sent His Son to live and walk on this earth, to be ridiculed and mocked, and then to be savagely beaten and left to die on a cross. A cross that was made for us, but HE took it upon himself. There is only One who is Holy and Blameless (deserving of a capital “H” and of a capital “B”, don’t you agree?). And that One is not us.}}

Maybe we place judgment on others so as not to place judgment on our own lives. We use a magnifying glass to point out the smallest of snags in the fabric of our peers, yet choose to ignore how unraveled we really are.  Maybe it’s easier to mentally assimilate how we would solve the problems of everyone else rather than look deep-into, and give loving-attention, to our own.

Earlier this year, I was asked to give a talk on the subject of ‘Grace’ at a retreat weekend I attended and I was elated because this particular topic is one I’m most passionate about. I’ve found that it’s difficult to recognize grace in the middle of the confusion, the place where it's messiest, but if you look back in the light of God’s grace, you really can see it everywhere. And through the gift of grace, I discovered the gift of compassion; the compassion to step into someone else’s shoes and say, I understand why you might have made the choices you did, or in one of the most sincere acts of kindness, You deserve another chance.  

Compassion softens the harshest of hearts and allows others to be vulnerable to make mistakes, just as we do. Some mistakes are miniscule and some are monumental. But no matter, we should always strive to leave wearing the shoes we came with.  

After all, they’re the only ones that will ever fit. 

Sep 20, 2016


We are a “why” species, wouldn’t you agree?  Relentless and unyielding; always with the questions.  It begins almost the moment we utter those first few words out of our mouths.  Think about it - how many times have you eavesdropped on a toddler (or had one of your very own), insistent with their mommy or daddy, asking “Why?” over and over…and over again?  It seems that no matter the answer, those precious souls are never satisfied. 

As we mature and continue to grow into adults with lives of consistent change and complexity, it doesn’t seem to get any better.  In fact, we’re not only unsatisfied with the simple answers now, but we’ve become unfulfilled with more detailed explanations as well.  No answer is good enough. 

Why is that?  <--- see what I did there?

It’s become increasingly apparent to me that we tend to run ourselves ragged with all the questions, and never more evident then when standing in the face of tragedy.

Think back to that time in your life, or maybe you’re waist-deep in the depths of sorrow today, when you threw out that question of “why” in complete and total anguish, in bitter tears, or maybe even in uncomfortable silence.  You grabbed hold of that word and you ground it into your pillow at night, you held your fists up in the air in angst and exasperation, or you fell to your knees in absolute despair.  You willed it to reply, but it never did. 

When it comes to tragedy ~ We. Want. Answers. 

Can you relate?

I’ve thought about this at length because I, too, have experienced that raw, I-will-do-anything-to-avoid-this-pain, tragedy in my life many times.  And in that pit of hopelessness, we are full of questions.  We reach out to friends and family and ask for prayers, yet simultaneously demand from God to know His plan; the why's and the how’s.  We lash out in anger towards Him, all the while pleading for His mercy and grace.  We do everything we can to pull Him towards us…and then when we can't hear His voice, we turn our backs to Him.

But I can’t help but wonder…if God were truly forthcoming with all of the answers to our burning questions, would we really be able to let it go?  If the end result was the same, would any answer satisfy us?  Would we be able to accept His reasoning once and for all?  Or would we continue to question?   All of these questions are a futile attempt to control our lives; to hold strong, to mold our life into this idea of what we think it should look like; what we always imagined it would be.  And then when tragedy is hurled at us, as it usually is, we’re knocked off our feet, off the path that was OUR plan. 

Know this, friends.  We cannot manipulate God’s plan to Our plan.  Sometimes, no matter the answer, our human minds simply cannot grasp His reasoning on this side of heaven. 

Will it all make sense one day?  I believe so; at least that’s my prayer…for my pain…and for yours.  In the meantime, we must remember this:

There’s your answer.

Sep 18, 2016

Five Things About Me

Because I just know you want to know everything you can about me...

1.  I don’t have a bucket list.

In my opinion, bucket lists are for those people who are adventurous souls at heart, pushing the button of life to the extreme.  Pursuits like skydiving, swimming with sharks, or bungee-jumping are bullet points they’re determined to check off, one by one.  Nope.  Not this gal.

I keep lists too, but mine say things like, “get gas”, or “go to the grocery store”.  What can I say?  An adventurous soul, I am not.  I used to think that was a bad thing.  I tried to twist and conform my personality a certain way to go along with the crowd.  But that got old, and exhausting.  And so now, I don’t compare my list to anyone else’s.  If you want to run a marathon, I might join you, but I’ll most likely be standing on the sideline holding up an encouraging sign and passing you a cold refreshment.  Or maybe I’ll even be at home in the air conditioning, but you can bet I'll meet you afterwards for a fruity cocktail and some intense carb-loading. 

I might not have a bucket list, but that’s because my “to do” list is a million miles long...bucket-list be damned. 

2.  I adore Elvis Presley – but why?

Um...who doesn't?!?!  What a dreamboat!  Ooh la la!

Lots of people know about my Elvis-fetish, but they probably have all sorts of questions like how, why, when? 

I can't really tell you when it started, but I was young; in elementary school, maybe?  I remember my dad telling me that he went out to Vegas once to see him perform and during one of the breaks in the show, Elvis came up to my dad and asked him where he got his hair cut.  Is it true?  Well...he's my dad, so of course I believe everything he tells me!  Plus, there is a slight resemblance, don't you think?
I eventually came to realize that while I was born on August 19, 1977, Elvis died just 3 days before, on August 16, 1977.  From there, the obsession morphed.  I began to listen to his songs, read all I could about him and yes, I fell madly, deeply, in love.  On my 30th birthday, I walked through the doors of Graceland (more like floated), and that experience remains one of the most memorable moments of my life.  I started to tear up and my brother-in-law looked at me and said, "Are you crying?"  Uh...YES, I'M CRYING! 
Don't judge.

3.  I could eat ice cream pretty much every day – and I almost do
This is my number 1 downfall when it comes to sweets.  Candy bars are great, yes, and brownies are delightful, but I looooove me a great, big, ice cream cone.  Anything with peanut butter, please.  Or caramel.  Or Oreos.  Basically, if it doesn't have coconut in it, I'll eat it. 

4.  I cherish traditions.
Call me old-fashioned, but I thoroughly enjoy the familiarity of setting a tradition and keeping with it.  I find comfort in knowing that in this world of constant and chaotic change, there are those times in our lives when we can rest in the absolute. 

Some of my favorite traditions include Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  I must have the movie 'A Christmas Story' on at all times, even if it's just playing in the background.  I cannot get enough of that Red Rider BB gun, or poor Ralphie's pink bunny suit.

Tradition is also found and deeply rooted in the Catholic faith, which is why the Mass is so important to me.  There is beauty in knowing that no matter where you are in this world, you can walk through the doors of a Catholic church, sit down in any pew, and celebrate the mass in a familiar way.  To some, it may seem as though all we do is sit and stand and genuflect at designated times, but there is a reason for it all.  And that reason is The Cross.

5.    I’m a vegetarian – newly born.
For just about 4 months now, I have been a full-fledged vegetarian.  Actually, I started out with just eliminating meat from my diet, but about a month into it, I decided that seafood needed to go as well.  I would provide a list of reasons as to why I took this on, but to be honest, you probably still wouldn't understand.  Thankfully, this has been a seamless transition for me and one I have yet to regret.

So...let's chat!  What's something that many people might now know about you?



Sep 16, 2016

Who Am I?

I was recently in Milwaukee at an event with a good friend where we had the privilege of seeing New York Times Bestselling author, Glennon Doyle Melton, speak.  [Quick side note: if you ever have a chance to see her in person --- GO!  And if you’re not able to go, get in your car RIGHT NOW and drive to the bookstore or the library to pick up her book, “Carry On, Warrior” or her newly released memoir, “Love Warrior”.  Trust me, you won’t be sorry you did.]  Actually, here...this will be much easier.  Just order them from Amazon.  Go ahead.  I'll wait.

During her presentation, she talked about identities – the way we see ourselves - and expressed how her own identity is changing and shifting after her recent decision to divorce. 

Me too...

When people stop to ask us who we are, we often start off by explaining who we are to other people.  For instance, we are wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, friends, teachers, and on and on and on.  But all of those identities are tied to someone else, correct?  And that isn’t the question, is it?  The question is actually - Who ARE we, as stand-alone, strong, and independent women?  What is it about you that sets you apart?  What makes you SHINE?  What identity can you continuously hold FIRM to?  Because being a wife or a mother or a sister or a friend is ever-changing; there are numerous variables.  One day it can look a certain way and the next day it is altogether different.  Relationships change.

As Glennon talked through this, she said she came to the realization one day that she had to accept her most real and truest identity.  She boldly and proudly proclaimed up on that stage that the One identity she can always base her foundation on is that of being a Child of God. 

Unchanging.  Firm.  Assured. 

Being a Child of God means we are beloved, holy, and dearly loved.  We are forgiven.  We are blessed.  We are loved.  Our identity belongs FIRST to Him and then second to all that remains.  Nothing else matters aside from who HE believes we are.  Will it matter what brand of clothes we wore, what kind of car we drove, or what the number on the scale says when all is said and done?  Not in the least.  Will our successes be based upon the number of “likes” we received on Facebook or whether we were invited to every single party? 

Absolutely not. 

So maybe the question shouldn’t be, “Who Am I?”, but rather, “How can I start living TODAY as a child of One, true, identity?” 

...How will you?

Sep 14, 2016

Here We Go...

There have been a multitude of days and nights up to this very post where I’ve asked myself over and over again, “What do you think you are doing?” and, "Who do you think you are?".  Blogs are an outlet for WRITERS, people who have serious talent and gumption when it comes to putting thoughts to paper.  For some of those who are uber-talented, I imagine it’s as if their fingers can barely type fast enough because the words are piling up, one on top of another.  Uh...yeah...that’s not me.  While there are times when I'm certain of what I want to say, for the most part, it takes focus and intense concentration.  It takes quiet, and stillness, and revisions - many revisions.  I often struggle to find the right word or sentiment.  I know what I want to say...I just can’t fully express it.

But aside from all of the reasons I told myself that I shouldn’t hit "publish" this morning, the reasons I should linger on. Because even though I might struggle to string words together, I have this feeling deep in my soul that THIS is part of my life’s mission.  THIS.  Where it will take me, I haven’t the slightest idea.  Maybe it will end in months or will go on for years; that’s still to be determined.  But I get the distinct sense that God is calling me to this very task, and one of my biggest fears is coming to the end of my life, facing my Maker, and having Him ask me why I didn’t walk through the doors He specifically opened for me.  Fear holds us all back at one time or another and it takes strength and vitality to push through.  I figure I've leaned on my fear for far too long; it’s time to gather up my strength now.

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream…”  C.S. Lewis

All that aside, please remember that putting our lives "out there" - for any of us - requires the vulnerability of a soft and sensitive heart.  And so, I am offering you my gentle and humble voice, but with shaky trepidation.  My hope is that this space will be sacred - a positive and respected outlet - filled with encouragement and understanding and all-encompassing love.  A place where we can find commonality in shared experiences, where we can say, yes, I've been there before.  Me Too... 

So tell me ~ have you ever been scared to take a risk?  Have you wanted to venture off the proverbial cliff, but scared you might fall? 

I can tell you this for sure.  I’ve fallen many, many times.  But wouldn’t you know it?  After each and every fall, I always manage to pick myself back up.

That’s the thing about life. 

Just when we think we can’t…we do.