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I remember being about 12 years old when my 16 year old sister began desperately looking for an escape from our home. She had a very high SAT score so she saw entering college early as her way out. Ironically my mother did the same thing when she was 16, and I am not sure why.

My oldest sister had always been my ally. She saw it as her place to protect and defend me. She still feels guilt and remorse because she thinks that she failed or that she abandoned me by leaving. But she didn’t. I have never felt any resentments towards her for this.  She was a child too.

I did selfishly feel relieved when she did not get into college early because I knew that she would be staying, and I would have missed her terribly if she left. As I got older I had succumbed to sleeping with her every night. It felt safer with both of us in there. It seemed we were more difficult targets that way. She, being a teenager, sometimes expressed that she would like to sleep alone occasionally, but then I would just wait for her to fall asleep and slither into her room and onto her bed without making a peep or disturbing even a blanket. I could not sleep alone.

My relief that she was not leaving was short lived though. I walked into the dining room one day and saw her sobbing. She said that she had not been accepted early into school. Then she looked at me and said, “I have to get out of here Jess or I will kill him!” Those words cut right into my soul because even at 12 years old I had seen and experienced enough to know that this was no idle threat. She was serious. I then knew that I had to let her go. She had to get out. My selfishness flew out the window, and I felt the desperation for her to find a way out.

Thanks be to God some strings were pulled, and she was accepted into college early after all. She left, and as usual I tried to ignore the loss and keep moving. I had no trouble taking over where she left off….fighting my step father, protecting the little ones, and protecting my mom which was more of my own thing.

She had taught me well by example, and I could fight that man like no one else. I rarely coward from him. I always stood strong and fought after she left. I remember many times he would say, “You are just like your sister!” He did not mean it as a compliment, but I would bark back at him, “Thank you!”

There were times when he would be having one of his violent adult tantrums, and the entire family would have scattered and gotten the heck out of dodge, but I stayed. I would plant myself on the kitchen counter and watch him. I would somehow find a strength within my self that expanded my spirit way above my tiny frame, and I would not flinch or move in spite of the craziness going on before me. Then I would coolly look at him and say, “Are you finished having your tantrum now?”

That pissed him off beyond belief, but he would end up leaving the room, and I had won in some strange way. This is the strength that my sister gave me when she left. This is the strength that I found within.

I remember finally one day getting the courage to go and look in her room after she left. It was not a room left for a child to come home to. It was totally empty. Even all of her furniture was gone. It was very final, and I finally felt the loss as the tears welled up in my eyes.

I then decided to paint her room lavender and move in there myself. Then my little sister could move into my old room next door, and my little brother moved into her old room on the other side of me. I could be mother hen really well from that vantage point.

I was still very afraid to sleep alone though. This was a huge hurdle for me, and I was terrified. But I remember drawing on that inner strength again and giving myself a pep talk saying, “I am 13 years old now. I am too old to be doing this. I have to get over this fear.” I white knuckled it night after night. I would lay in bed and frantically pray all night until I fell asleep early in the morning. Sometimes I would even grab my sleeping little sister out of her bed and put her in bed with me, but it wasn’t quite the same. Slowly though it got easier until eventually I had conquered that too. I could sleep alone in my room in the dark, and I was the one who woke everyone up for school every morning. Later my little sister would be the one begging to sleep with me.

Although my older sister feels guilty for “abandoning” me she did a good thing by finally making a choice to protect herself. She had taken enough. She had reached her limit, and staying probably would have lead to a horrible end. When she found the strength inside of her to do what she had to do to care for herself  she also allowed me to find a God given strength within myself. She passed on the fighting spirit that I would need to make it for the next 6 or 7 years in that home and on into the future, and I became a woman during that time.

By making one choice for her own health and safety my sister actually helped me too. It was hard without her, but I learned to dig deep, to exercise my faith in God, and that when needed there is a spirit in my tiny self that is stronger than even an angry big man!

I have been able to use these lessons through out my life, and I have even been able to use them to fight for my sister’s life in our adulthood when it seemed that no one else could do it.

My sister gave me many gifts. She gave me comfort when I was a child, and then as I began the transition into womanhood she gave me the gift of inner strength, and it has served us both well. I thank her and God for that.

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As a very small child I had horrible nightmares. I remember a few vivid nightmares even as far back as my babyhood. As long as I can remember I was flooded with intense fear that escalated as night fell. I never slept. I would stay up all night and keep watch because I always had this feeling that someone was coming at any moment to brutally murder me in some gruesome way.

I am not talking about being afraid of the dark. I was afraid of something heinous happening, and I would not let myself sleep because I wanted to be ready to run or fight when this horrible event occurred. I always had an instinct inside me that said, “I will not be an easy target!” I was a little girl when this began….as young as four or five or younger.

I did not know why I had such horrible fear and such gory obsessive thoughts. When asked what I was afraid of  I would always say, “I don’t know.” But I was terrified, and my sleeplessness began in early childhood. I remember telling my mom when I was around nine years old that I just could not take it anymore….that the fear and the sleeplessness was too much for me to handle….that it was ruining my life. It seemed as if no one could or would help me though.

I still have a sleep disorder. My body is well-trained to be awake at night. I no longer have the graphic thoughts that scare me, but I just do not sleep well or sometimes at all.

I have no idea where a tiny girl would get such graphic thoughts of being  violently brutalized. I never watched horror movies. I still do not watch them. They are not good for my soul, and I do not get any joy from being frightened in that way. I do not need a horror movie to add excitement or suspense to my life. I have had enough of that.

Somehow in my subconscious I just had a horrible feeling that there was a predator in my midst and that my life was going to end in some gruesome way.

And I have a waking memory that haunts me sometimes.

I was probably about 5 years old and my sister was about 9. We were sitting at the breakfast table in the kitchen, and my step-father was cooking omelets before school. I don’t think that my mother was home because we had just moved to another town when she married my step father, and she was still working an hour and a half away in our previous town. She was not there in the mornings, and she came home at night.

My older sister was sitting at the table across from me sobbing hysterically. She was yelling, “I want my dad!” through her sobs and her attempts to catch her breath. She was inconsolable, but actually no one was trying to console her at all.

I was very little, and I just remember staring helplessly at her across the table. My step father was banging around at the stove.

I just remember being frozen, staring, feeling helpless and hopeless. And I remember my sister not having a child’s tantrum but sobbing desperately, uncontrollably, helplessly…..hopelessly. And no one was there to comfort either of us.

My step father was getting more and more annoyed as the banging around the stove became more intense.

He walked up and dropped an omelet on my plate. I looked at it. I picked around at it with one hand while my head rested on my other hand. I listened to my sister’s cries and screams. My stomach turned. I got up and threw my food in the trash.

Suddenly to my dismay my step father stomped up to my sister and yelled, “Now look what you have done! You have ruined your sister’s breakfast!.”

I remember being shocked. I remember thinking, “No!”

I remember thinking, “How did I just get roped into being on his side. She did not ruin my breakfast. That is not what I was saying. Something ruined my breakfast, but it was not her!”

As a tiny five-year old girl I never said a word. I remained silent. I guess I went to kindergarten shortly after that.

I still do not know exactly what happened with my sister. I do not know what  happened to trigger her desperate cries although I have some good ideas. I cannot remember if this was an isolated incident or a regular occurrence. I know that this is a piece of a puzzle for me though because in spite of all that I blocked out for some reason this dark memory has remained with me and comes to my mind sometimes. It is like a dark shadow coming up behind me and tapping me on the shoulder and whispering in my ear, “remember.”

I believe that deep inside a part of me knew that something heinous was going on and that there was a predator in my midst. I never felt totally safe. I just cannot remember details often, and in my baby mind there was a horror movie constantly playing. I could not understand or make sense of or accept what was happening. All I knew was that there was something nightmarish going on, and I was terrified for my life.

I have been totally sucked in to the Casey Anthony trial this week. I have had emotional reactions that are different from most people that I hear talking about it. I have learned that when I have a strong emotional pull to some drama that really has nothing to do with my own life that it is because it is pointing me to something emotional about my own life that needs dealing with.

Of course the loss of a two year old girl is too much for me to imagine because my daughter is two, but strangely my heart is broken for the young mother accused of murder, Casey, also. Most people seem to want to see her as the heartless cold blooded murderer of her own precious child, but because of my own experiences I can see it differently.

So far every single witness from her ex-boyfriends to her friends and family have stated that they saw her being a very good and loving mother to her child. They said that her daughter was always with her when she spent the night out. They said that she did not spend the night out often or drink much before this because she did not want to leave the child with her parents. Was she protecting her from something? They said that she taught her a lot and interacted with her in sincere and loving ways. They said that the love between the mother and child was obvious and genuine. So why do many think that she is the murderer?

It is because of her inappropriate behavior after the child’s death. It is because she says that the child died by accidental drowning in the pool and that she hid the death and pretended as if everything was normal, along with her dad, out of fear and desperation……basically an insane response to a tragedy.

She says that she learned this kind of extreme behavior from being a victim of sexual abuse by her father. Her defense is that she was raised in extreme trauma and dysfunction and so when a tragedy occurred with her own baby she and her father made horrible decisions and continued the cycle of hiding things and moving on as if nothing happened because she was afraid of the consequences. This snowballed out of control because she had to keep lying to hide it and to remain in the extreme denial that she was living in.

Now I have no idea what really happened in this case, but unlike many my heart tells me that there is something very wrong with this family and that it does not make sense for her as a loving mother to suddenly decide to murder her daughter so that she can go party. Even a very troubled lying young woman who likes to party and has learned to live life in denial and to hide crisis behind the mask of  a happy social butterfly does not a cold-blooded murderer make.

Why is my heart so stirred for this young woman’s story?

Because it takes a person who has come from a dysfunctional background filled with family members in deep denial….filled with smiling happy faces hiding trauma….filled with inappropriate responses to crisis to understand that this really could happen to a very young woman who is hardly even an adult.

When I was growing up I was known by my friends as a social butterfly. I was the life of the party. I was the captain of the cheerleaders and full of life and energy. I even heard one of my classmates describe me as “always happy.” And not one friend ever knew what I was really dealing with at home. I was not purposely trying to be this way. I was not putting on a show. That is just the way that I was. Somehow that is just how I learned to be.

I hid things very very well. And I had a strong drive to create happiness wherever I could.

When I became a very young adult of 20, 21 years old my life started going off the rails on a crazy train. I made some very bad decisions that had traumatic consequences and once again I hid them not only from the outside world but even from my own family and kept going as if nothing happened. It was not until years and years later that I ever even began grieving over those things. And I still have the tendency to stay weirdly okay during trauma as I have written about before. I can also still keep a secret and carry it to my grave if need be. If you want someone to confide in….I’m your woman!

I have seen all of my family members engaged in some strange coping behaviors. I have seen a family member acting like a clepto from the time of his/her toddler hood. I have seen family members become compulsive liars so that they were lying about things for no reason, and so when it came to telling the truth about the abuse they had genuinely suffered people did not believe them. I have seen family members behaving violently and being committed or just having it brushed under the rug. I have seen severe addictions in many. I have seen most of  us hiding something major in our lives, and it was either kept in the family or hidden from even the family. I have seen two family members involved in cover ups together….sometimes siblings….sometimes involving a parent or even a grandparent.

So this is the reason that her defense seems possibly believable to me when others who are not used to this type of dysfunction cannot possibly believe that life could be this way.

This is the reason that my heart hurts for the young mother who acted insanely “just fine” after her little girl died.  This is the reason that instead of  strongly desiring to burn her at the stake… my heart longs to see redemption for her life.

I know from experience that a child does not grow up to be as messed up as Casey Anthony for no reason. A young woman’s life does not snowball into this horrible situation where her child is dead and she is in prison facing the death penalty just out of the blue. This kind of nightmare is exactly what it looks like when an extremely dysfunctional family just continues riding down the wrong side of the road at 100 miles an hour, and no one knows how to put on the brakes. This young girl did not happen in a vacuum. She is the product of something horrible, and that is obvious to me.

Now I am not writing this to plead her case. I could be wrong about her. I am just working on understanding myself. I am figuring out why I feel so angry when I hear people say that she is definitely lying through her teeth about the abuse that she claims she suffered. I have seen this in my own family.

I am working out the reasons that instead of hating her and wanting her dead my heart bleeds with compassion for her…..I see traces of my family members in her.

Thank God nothing ever got as far for us as it has for her.

My heart longs to see a tragic story of a tragic life filled with death, lies, pain, and soul sickness…… healed, redeemed, and restored.

That it what I am working towards for myself and my loved ones. That is what I want for all of us humans who share this kind of story.

I have noticed that in life it seems that people who walk through very low valleys also get to experience very high mountain peaks. That has been my experience anyway. I have seen quite a bit of crisis and trauma…so much that crisis feels like the norm sometimes, but I have also seen more than one big miracle in my life. And I mean life and death miracles.

Just at the time when my group of best friends (my tribe that I spoke of earlier) began to change and go our separate ways something big happened. We were all feeling the change in our relationships. We were feeling the loss, and we were all fighting it a little but to no avail. My telephone rang one day, and my husband picked it up. I could tell by the way that his voice changed that something was very wrong. I was saying, “Who is it? Who is it? What happened?” It was one of “the friends” who was the husband of another one of  the friends, and her nickname was “Butterfly.” “Butterfly” was one of my closest friends in the group. Strangely I had recently followed an inner nudging to write her a letter telling her how much I loved and appreciated her. I had mailed the letter, and she had received it.

My husband told me that Butterfly was in trouble. An aneurysm had burst in her brain. I grabbed the phone from him. Her husband sounded differently than I had ever heard him. He was always strong, and he would never admit to weakness much less ask for help, but he called us. He told me that the headaches that they had thought were migraines were actually an aneurysm and that it had burst in her brain and had been bleeding  into her brain stem for 24 hours before they called an ambulance. She was in a coma in ICU, and she was going to die.

I hung up the phone and called another friend to tell her, but since I was the one who handled the heavy stuff I was the one to handle this too. She told me that she was glad that I was going to the hospital because she did not think she could handle it. She did pick up her guitar and wrote a beautiful song about Butterfly though as was her way. In a panic I grabbed my purse and ran out the door to the car with my husband to race to the hospital. I left the door of the house wide open because I was in flight mode.

When I got there I saw Butterfly, who was normally vibrant and full of life, looking like a dead person and hooked up to life support. The doctors said that after looking at her brain scans there was really no hope for her to live, and if by some small chance she did live that she would be a vegetable unable to walk, talk, or do anything. (Thank God I had written her that letter just in time.)

I went into warrior mode. I went to her bedside almost everyday and held her limp hand and prayed. I spoke blessings over her out loud in the form of scripture verses about love and life, and I talked and talked to her unresponsive body about love, God, Christ, and us. I held hands with her mother and siblings in the ICU waiting room and prayed. Many other people were praying for her too.

I put a picture of Butterfly looking alive, healthy and smiling beautifully up on my wall beside my bed so that I would see this healthy image of her everyday when I woke up. I dug through my junk and found a note that she had left at my house one day that said, “You are loved….B.”  I hung this on my wall as well. I had a dream one night that Butterfly was in my house looking as beautiful as ever and walking around completely healed. In the dream I told her that it was the power of prayer that healed her.

Two weeks went by, and Butterfly remained in a coma. During this time I decided to get baptized at my church. I had been baptized as a baby, but I had never experienced being dunked. I had entered a new stage in life and with God so I really wanted to experience this traditional kind of baptism to symbolize my new life. That day in church I was shaking with nerves and with the power of God that was overwhelming me. I stood in front of the church and told a very tiny condensed version of my story on the microphone, and then I was dunked under the water and raised up in baptism. It was an invigorating experience for me that I cannot explain.

Immediately after church I drove to the hospital to see Butterfly who had been completely dead looking for several weeks. She had been through brain surgery and had her head shaved with big staples coming across her skull. I was coming to once again pray over her, talk to her, and care for her body. I had been sick for a few days so I had not seen her in a few days. When I walked into her room on the day of my baptism my jaw dropped to the floor when I heard her voice say my name, and she said “I love you, and I have missed you so much!” I literally almost passed out!

This was the girl in a coma who was brain dead! She was going to die! There was no hope for her, and she would definitely never walk or talk again!

She just recognized me! She just spoke to me in a complete sentence, and she just told me she loved me! After she said this she went right back to being vegetable like. It was just as if she had one moment of clarity when I walked in the room that day! I got goose bumps, and my hair stood up on my arms.

That day was a turning point though because each time I saw her after that she was more and more conscious. Slowly, slowly over months she began to return to us. She was moved to a rehab facility where she learned to walk very quickly because she has a very strong will. She would not let people help her much. She meant she was going to walk! Over time she began to talk more and more clearly. Her personality was in tact, and she was her crazy old self.

She has had a tough time and a long road. She still forgets words at times or blurts out the wrong word at the wrong time. She still has issues to deal with due to some brain damage, but she is still the same old Butterfly. She still has that spark in her. She is the girl that I always knew. She looks the same. She can walk and talk and even regained her ability to drive. She is my miracle girl. She is Butterfly, and we will always keep in touch.

My older sister has defied death several times. The most recent time was the most miraculous, but the first time was the most mysterious.

About 12 years ago I lived in a tin roofed four room shack that stood on cinder blocks in the “hood.” When I say “hood”  I mean that the projects were basically in my back yard. This house looked a lot like a crack house, but when I moved in I noticed that instead of the normal gang related or obscene graffiti that you might expect to see in this house there was a verse from scripture written on the wall inside. It said,

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”     James 1:17

And even though I was not at all “living for the Lord” by all religious standards, I had a deep love for God. I was definitely living a worldly life because that is just where I was at the time, but I did have a relationship with God, and He had his hand on my life in spite of my hedonism. I know that whole idea may stump some people, but all I can say is that is just the way it was. Many supernatural things happened in my life while I lived in that crazy house, and my sister’s brush with death was just one of them.

My older sister and my younger sister came over one day to hang out with me and my boyfriend. My older sister did not seem to feel quite right, and she complained of a headache that made her feel like her head would explode. My boyfriend (now husband) got up to go to the bathroom and my older sister started babbling in a way that made no sense. I tried to make light of it at first, and I said to her, “Are you talking to little green men?” She then just continued to talk completely out of her mind. My little sister and I just looked at each other in a questioning and worried way. Then before we could even say anything my older sister just literally passed out.

I immediately jumped into action and ran to her. I felt her body, and yelled, “Oh my God! She’s burning up!” I started pulling her sweatshirt off of her limp body and barked at my boyfriend to grab an ice pack. We put the ice on her head, and my boyfriend picked up her lifeless body and threw her in the back seat of my little sister’s car.  I instructed my little sister to drive, and my boyfriend to drive his car in front of us because I was too stressed to even remember how to get to the hospital. I jumped into the back seat with my still unconscious older sister. I could see that she was breathing but not regularly. She was taking a breath every now and then.

I laid my hands on her and started yelling out prayers of protection and healing over her as well as commanding her to stay with us and wake up. I did this the whole way to the emergency room. When we got to the ER I told little sis to run in and get help, and my boyfriend was still trying to park. I tried to carry big sis in myself, but a limp body is very hard to pick up.

After what seemed like an eternity some help finally arrived. When the doctors got to her they went into action mode, and they were running with her down the hall and into a room where they shut the door. My little sis and I ran behind her until the door was shut in our faces. We sat against the wall in the hallway holding hands and speechless. Doctors were running in and out of the room, and we could see that this was the most serious thing going on in the ER.

The next thing that I remember is sitting in another room in the ER with my older sis, and she was still totally lifeless and unconscious, but she had machines breathing for her. The doctor told us that she had stopped breathing and that this was very serious, but they had no idea what was wrong. They were running many tests and spending much time looking things up on the computer. This was a mystery to everyone.

After about six hours I finally decided that it was time to call in the rest of the family. Things were not looking good at all. She looked dead honestly. The family showed up, and they moved my sister to a room in ICU. By this time my little sis, my boyfriend, and I had been there for about 12 hours. There was still no change, no movement, no responsiveness, no diagnosis, and no breathing on her own.

We (the original three) finally decided to leave the hospital and go home just for a quick break. It was around 10pm. Right when we got back to the little shack and sat down the phone rang, and it was a hospital phone number. I picked up the phone in horror, and to my astonishment I heard my big sis’s voice on the other end of the line saying “Hi, I just wanted to let you know that I am okay.”

I almost fell out of my chair, and so did little sis and my boyfriend when I told them who it was! Apparently she just suddenly woke up as quickly as she fell out, and she seemed as if nothing was wrong! To this day it is still a mystery as to what really happened to her that day.

Looking back I ask myself why we did not call an ambulance. I guess that it is just another case of me being so programmed to handle crisis on my own and not to ask for help. The doctors said that we saved her life by getting her there when we did though so….Thank God.

When it comes to family crisis or tragedy I tend to be unusually emotionless. I go into shock mode and keep it together mode. I have learned that you do not break down or if you do, make it quick and get yourself back together because you have things to take care of and a front to portray to the world. If I break down and lose it during a family crisis the world will end and everyone will get pissed off.

For example when we got the call that my sister was dying my husband came to me sobbing, but I just crawled back into the bed with my baby girl and curled up in a moment of shock. Then I immediately began getting our stuff together to go to my mom’s and directing my husband on things to pack. I broke down in a sob for about 1 minute (no exaggeration) then I sucked it up and kept going. This is a lifelong pattern for me. This is what I had to do.

I remember when I was about 12 years old and the entire family was having a knock down drag out fight in the kitchen. Everyone was there for this event (my older sister, my baby brother, my baby sister, my mother, my step father, and myself.) This was nothing new or shocking in our household. The only difference was that this time we also had an exchange student from France there with us, and she was a high school student who spoke very little English. The fact that our family had an exchange student living with us for two weeks was insane in itself. We could not keep it together for two weeks so she got to witness one of our traumatic events unfortunately.

The main players in the fight were my step father who I lived with from the time I was 4 until my senior year of high school, and my older sister who is 4 and a half years older than me. My two year old baby sister was terrified so she was clinging on to my older sister’s leg. Even though she was my step father’s pet he was in one of his self centered rages so he did not even notice her. During the fight he picked up my 16 year old sister and threw her out the door of the house onto the deck outside and slammed the door. He was holding the door shut so she could not come back in, and she was pushing the door trying to get it opened. She was screaming something that he was not computing in his rage, and baby sister was crying. He kept all of his weight on that door to keep big sister out. After a while he finally heard what she was screaming…“The baby’s finger is in the door!”

My baby sister had remained attached to my big sister’s leg in terror as my step father physically threw my big sister out, and he had slammed the baby’s finger in the door and held it shut. Once he finally realized this he did open the door. My baby sister’s finger was smashed, and everyone changed their focus to getting her to the emergency room.

I ran screaming up the stairs in horror and panic to have a melt down, but before I could even cry my mom called me back down. She told me that they were all going to the ER so I would have to come down and fix breakfast for our poor French exchange student who was probably wanting to get the hell out of our house.

So I had to pull it together and come down. I had to act as if nothing had happened. I had to be gracious and smile and scramble some eggs for our guest. We couldn’t even communicate because of the language barrier, but I could see the worry and compassion in her eyes.

This kind of thing was common for me. Hold it together. Put on a smile, and act as if everything is normal and okay. Show the world that we are a happy family, and clean up the mess without showing any real emotions….This is my job!