Will your anchor hold?

Is your life crashing like billows on rocks? Did you get a bad diagnosis? Lose your spouse? Are your children safe? Are you lashed and torn, buffeted and blown? Or is your anchor set, your bowline secure? Are you safe and secure when storms howl and crush your helm? 

What would you do if, on top of all that, a man in black burst into your school office firing an AK47, shouting, “This is no joke, this is real?” 

Antoinette Tuff is the tough woman who prevented a school shooting in Atlanta, and she’s now out with her memoir, Prepared for a Purpose

Her life was falling apart when the school shooter appeared. Her husband of 33 years had left her for another woman, ruining her finances. Her son was profoundly disabled, and she had just received a call from the bank that she would lose her car unless she paid $15,000. She practiced anchoring, reminding herself who she belonged to. But she was in tears, screaming inside, when the gunman burst into her school. He was white and threatening all in black. But she didn’t see color. She saw a person needing anchoring. 

“Baby, you’re ours and we don’t want you to die today.”

She called 911 and kept talking to him, channeling the power of life-and-death words, she felt the Lord was giving her. “You gonna be alright, Babe. Just know that I love you.” She knew he was in pain and needed someone to show him love and not judge him. “It’s gonna be okay. I tried to commit suicide after my husband left me. My life is crashing right now, and if I can handle it, you can too.” She talked him down, averting a school shooting that day.

“When God calls your number,” she says, “make sure that your heart is open to receive what directions he gives you,”

Do you know whose you are? 

For years growing up in Congo, I knew that I was a writer with a keen eye and ear for storytelling. I’d write my cousins in Canada, about the 12-foot python on our front yard, a lump the size of a hen in its belly. 

We were wide-eyed and shaken. How many other snakes like this one? What if they crawled into our beds? Bit us, swallowed our little sister? But terror can change in an instant. Be ready. Right before our eyes, the neighbor came with his machete and cut that snake in half–two pieces of blood filled log–pulling out the chicken for his own pot. “It’s mine,” he said, “I counted.” In an instant, the grey day turned to mirth.

As a linguist, my father loved story-telling, languages and music–all learned at his mother’s knee. For years, he encouraged our love of listening and learning. Our village friends in Congo taught us story games and clapping rhymes. We played in many languages, and excelled in school. I returned to Canada for college and continued on in the U.S., becoming an English professor.

This week I received an email from my “big brother” Ron Goertsen at Dayspring, a development initiative in my natal southwestern Congo. He described how my village friends now lead the literacy programs from our village to the regional capital. They’re teaching hard-working girls and women who couldn’t afford school fees to read and write.

My village friends too, have discovered their calling. They are giving hundreds of women the opportunity to learn to read. They have few texts in their heart language. But they do have the Bible my father’s team translated in modern, dynamic Chokwe. They’ve also received printed material on nutrition and agricultural development, their areas of interest. 

My friends have lifted their families with their knowledge, learning and teaching. And their mothers and sisters are their students, fulfilling a lifelong wish. They have practiced anchoring. God called their number, and their hearts were open to hear his direction.

Are you looking for more inspiration, a way to write your story? Join us this weekend and next for more from local authors:

March 16 – Capital City Craft Fair, Tallahassee Automobile Museum, 6800 North Monroe, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Visit us at Booth 53, Tallahassee Writers Association.

March 23 –Midtown Reader, 1123 Thomasville Road, Tallahassee. I’ll be presenting slideshows from Voices of the Apalachicola and Healing Falls.

Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters

Waters roll down relentlessly in wet seasons, from hilltops to valleys to deep rivers. Restorative Justice is like that, a process that seeks to keep justice rolling down from victims to offenders to communities. It seeks to meet everyone’s needs, permitting victims to tell their stories of impact and loss. If possible or appropriate, it gathers families and communities face-to-face with offenders.

It helps offenders hear and understand impacts of their actions, acknowledge their obligations and seek to set things right. Either literally or symbolically. If a life was lost, it cannot be restored, yet a deep apology and rebuilding broken relationships may be possible in the restorative justice process. (Little Book of Restorative Justice, Howard Zehr).

Justice rolling down also tugs at the roots of crime. It seeks to understand the offender. What unresolved traumas are they reenacting? If these were not adequately dealt with at the time, how is that being worked out and experienced in their communities and generations?

By contrast the state’s criminal justice seeks to protect the community; it delivers guilty verdicts and punishment, which can worsen the experience of trauma. Surrogates stand in for offenders and wronged parties, often erecting barriers and fracturing relationships further.

If you want to learn more, please join three local authors, Agnes Furey, Sam Staley and Faith Eidse, in a Restorative Justice Round Table Discussion on Saturday, January 12, 2 p.m. at My Favorite Books, 1401 Market Street, Tallahassee.

Moving, Nobel, Timely

Did you ever wonder what you've achieved with your writing? I received this response today from a judge in the 26th Annual Writers Digest Self-Published Awards. 

"The real strength of this novel is context: the surrounding circumstances of Healing Falls are harrowing and engaging, and I think the goals being pursued by the characters within the novel (and by the author outside of it) are moving, noble, and timely."

It continues, "This sets the stage for a story that has real value and impact, and I think the author does an admirable job showing the humanity of the incarcerated, the necessity of addressing pregnancy and childcare in this context, and the real impact such efforts can have. The writing also has real voice,...and it’s interesting...to see how the historical context seems to loom over parts of the story."

Just to have achieved the goals of my novel was gratifying, although there's always room for improvement. As my son says, you learn by making mistakes and trying again. It's good to know you can pick your pen up and keep practicing.
Healing Falls was featured recently at a Barnes & Noble Bookfair
to benefit Tallahassee Writers Association

Voices More Powerful than Pain – Restorative Justice at Work

“No act of gun violence is acceptable,” said Andrew Gillum, Florida’s Democratic candidate for governor. After a mass shooting at a Tallahassee yoga studio, he rushed home from campaigning with Obama. And raised a voice for peace in a sea of pain.

“How does gun control impede your rights?” posted the grieving daughter of shooting victim, Florida State University (FSU) professor Nancy Van Vessem. “Access to guns took away my mother’s right to live.”

The heartbreak in Tallahassee is wrenching and so close to home. These are my son’s classmates and friends of friends.  What is our response to mass murder? Can we hope for truth and reconciliation? Healing? How do we achieve that?

Can we envision a circle process like the First Nations in Canada practice with everyone participating, expressing their pain, anger, grief? And the assailant asking forgiveness and help to heal his anger? For the U.S. today that would be participatory democracy at its height.

My friend Agnes Furey, author of Wilflowers in the Median, finally wrote a letter to prison, to the killer of her only daughter. “I don’t talk about forgiveness,” she told me recently. “I talk about understanding.”

As a nurse she had always practiced “patient first” care-giving. Before asking about the gall bladder, she would ask about the patient. With her daughter’s killer, she was just trying to understand how a smart English teacher could kill his own girlfriend and her son, Furey’s only grandson.

A founder of the restorative justice movement, Howard Zehr, in his bestseller Little Book of Restorative Justice asks, “Do restorative justice programs adequately address the harms that may have led those who cause harm to become who they are?”

The harms we face today are many  and fueled by conspiracy theories and powerful political rhetoric. Unhappy people attach to dehumanizing rhetoric (“invading illegals,” “lying sex abuse accusers”) and are swept up by it as a cause of grievance and violence.

“Screw the optics, I’m going in,” the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter posted, and shouted against HIAS, a Jewish agency helping asylum seekers. He had also marched with the white nationalist car attacker in Charlottesville.

Tallahassee’s yoga studio shooter had been arrested for sexual assault at FSU, a 40-year-old military veteran who grabbed coeds’ buttocks uninvited. Did he believe as Trump said, “This is a dangerous time for boys”? Did he feel justified in loading a gun at the door and firing into a group of yoga students? As they fell, he was rushed by their classmates, and shot himself, ending the rampage.

One survivor had been shot nine times, Gillum said, after visiting two stabilized wound victims in the hospital. With great concern, he added, “not all wounds are physical.”

Can one voice raised in love overcome such hatred? Can another voice raised for safer gun laws overcome such lethality? Can we create a circle of restorative justice so large that even the disaffected can admit their part, and seek forgiveness? Is that what it will take to finally bring healing to this wounded nation?

For more, please join Furey, myself and two other authors on Jan. 12 at My Favorite Books, for a round table discussion on Restorative Justice. And this month, please join ten local authors for a mega book fair on Sunday, Nov. 18, 1-5 p.m. at Barnes and Noble, Tallahassee Mall.

 

Healing Falls, International Bestseller

Thanks to family and friends, Healing Falls hit the bestseller list during its Canadian launch at McNally Robinson, Winnipeg, on Friday, Aug. 17. Sales were second only to Crazy, Rich Asians that week, which says something for crazy, rich Mennonites. It was standing room only, and everyone responded warmly to my concerns for women in prison, the way we’re punishing them and injuring their children, condemning them to repeat the cycle.

The following weekend I presented at the Decatur Book Festival, GA, and was amazed to see classmates all the way from Congo in what turned into a mini-reunion.

The novel’s publication in 2018 coincides with thousands of children separated from parents detained at our southern border. It was inspired by six years volunteering in women’s prisons and resonating with mothers addressing their issues in rehab, but suffering the loss of their children, some permanently.

I, too, was separated from my family as a child during revolution in Congo,  not knowing if they were safe or alive.  Rebels surrounded the airport and my brain was flooded with toxic  fight-or-flight hormones. This is what we’re exposing separated children to, an effect that can lead to lasting brain development delays.

This effect was, in part, why I entered Celebrate Recovery, a Christian 12-step program, which I then took into women’s prisons. It was to address co-dependent/relationship issues, which made me both needy for, and afraid of, connection. What the women in prison taught me was the distilled 12 steps: I can’t, God can, I’m going to let him. It was a place of surrender and peace.

I found it a lot easier to talk to Canadians about the need for US prison reform, but am feeling freer with Americans, following great interviews by Tom Flannagan on WFSU/NPR, and Libby Giesbrecht, on Golden West Radio, CHVN. Also, McNally staff  did a great job of compassionate promotions with introductions, posters, flyers and ads.

I’m overwhelmed with gratitude and hope for real change in our criminal justice system. On November 18, join us in a local author festival at Barnes & Noble in Tallahassee, and on January 12 come participate in a restorative justice panel at My Favorite Books, also Tallahassee. Please join us as we envision meeting the needs of victims and perpetrators while proposing restorative justice reforms for our criminal-justice system.

 

 

 

 

Return the children

I woke last Saturday in a panic for children ripped from their parents at the border, some being flown far away. I too had been separated from my parents during the 1964 Simba Revolution in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It has had long-lasting effects. Triggered by sounds and images of terrified children at our southern border, I had a brain freeze at work just last Friday.

The familiar, recurring brain shutdown rendered me helpless, incapable of responding to multiple stressors as Senior Editor at the Florida Department of Health. I have experienced what pediatricians call toxic stress from being separated as a child from my parents, and resulting in disrupted brain development.

Dr. Colleen Kraft, president of the American Academy of Pediatricians said on CNN (in an article by Catherine E. Cholchet, June 16, 2018), “the resulting toxic stress is prolonged exposure to…fight or flight–hormones–and then inflammatory hormones. In a very young child that disrupts brain development.” This can result in developmental delays, or later in life, chronic health issues.

As an eight-year-old away at school in 1964, I heard the rescue plane and ran for the airstrip, anxious to be flown back to my parents, not knowing if they were safe or alive. In the chaos (massacred priests, terrorized nuns at a nearby mission), I was called back sharply. “There are rebels surrounding the airstrip with guns and arrows. We have to wait for a car.”

We escaped and I was reunited with my parents in a UN refugee camp. But the following year, I was again separated, sent to boarding school in Kinshasa. There, my good brain failed me again and again. I could not learn piano or do math the way I once had. I was helpless, melting down in puddles of tears. This failing brain function, an alarm response to stress, has followed me all my life.

I entered a 12-step program for co-dependence and “took the message to others.” During six years volunteering in women’s prisons in and around Tallahassee, I resonated with mothers separated from children. Some gave birth in shackles, a law struck down as inhumane in Florida in 2012. Others had to give up their babies against their wills, or attempt to retain custody while behind razor wire–an almost impossible task. And one covered recently by ABC News concerning an immigrant mom who lost her effort to regain her son given to US parents. This happens to US citizens in prisons too.

I wrote my first novel, Healing Falls (2018, available on Amazon) from that place of legalized suffering. Yet weekly, I entered the state prison and saw women training service dogs, kept in crates at the foot of their beds. Why not prison nurseries? In our detention centers, why not family facilities like the UN provides?

I have learned there already exist nine prison nurseries in the U.S., the oldest dating to 1904, Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York. In my novel, the chaplain and a creative inmate envision just such reform for a state prison in Florida.

To save innocent children long term brain damage, we must reunite US-kidnapped children with parents who’ve committed no crime in seeking asylum from brutal regimes. Let’s do the right by ending the practice of separating them from parents at the border—and in our prisons. Let’s agree, families belong together. Even if it is in community facilities, while working out their problems.

If you’re in the Atlanta area Labor Day weekend, please join me as I read from and sign  my novel at the Decatur Book Festival, Emerging Writers Tent, Saturday, Sept. 1, 2:30 p.m.  Faith Eidse, Ph.D. author of Healing Falls, faithleap7@gmail.com

Like a Mighty Wind

grave00“…they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind…” (Acts 2: 1-2, KJV)

This happened at my father’s graveside. Just as we lowered his plain pine box into the ground, a strong gust nearly lifted us off our feet. My nieces on the opposite side said they thought they’d be thrown into the grave with Grandpa. My niece behind me shivered. “What does it mean?” I asked. “I want to get closer to God,” she said, and I agreed.

The power of that gust declared a sacred ground that I never want to leave. It echoed the power that propelled my parents to Congo where Mom delivered vital medicines, and emptied leprosy patients out of quarentine, while Dad and his team completed a Bible translation into Chokwe. He returned to Canada to accredit and expand Steinbach Bible College, and publish his dissertation research, The Disciple and Sorcery. The anthropological study of witchcraft, included the Christian’s effective response to the fear and temptation to use it against enemies.

These were just the peaks of my Dad’s amazing life. The Holy Spirit seemed to be empowering us to accomplish more than we could ask or imagine. What is that for you?

For me it has been self-publishing  my first novel, Healing Falls–and it’s positive reviews in the local paper and on Amazon.com. The first, by author Donna Meredith, and the second by nephew, Rev. James Rissler, call the novel transformative and thought-provoking. And how can I forget the cover blurbs from authors Michael Morris and Nina Sichel, calling it visionary?

The journey of self-publishing once looked daunting, but now I see it gradually unfolding. What is your mountain? Can you feel the gust that will lift your feet up that rocky road? Trust it, believe in it.

Faitheyes

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not see.” Hebrews 11:1

Tonight I am in the process of publishing my novel, Healing Falls, a six-year gestation of writing, editing and revising. The last two were spent sending the manuscript to friends to read, then revising and soliciting agents and publishers.

What I discovered was that publishing has changed in the intervening years. I would either self-publish or pay someone to do it for me. It left me weak-kneed at times, but at last I can see bright city lights, my finished book on a bookshelf soon. I created an imprint that reflects my hope and echoes my WordPress blog, Faitheyes.

Can you see with faitheyes the city only visible by hope? What is your dream and waking dream? Are you creating, drawing, painting it real? I often ask myself, if I’m walking by doubt or faith.

IMG_20180312_225745.jpgThe power unleashed by Jesus’s resurrection, drove his followers to spread the good news around the world, and changed history forever. Do we still have a grip on that faith? Or has doubt invaded?

The women inmates I met during six years volunteering inside, cling to the old rugged cross. It is the wounded cross that has healed so many. And their hard-won faith inspired a transformation and change in me, to live by faith and not by sight.

May hearts and minds be changed towards prisoners because of their faitheyes. All are redeemable, and their greatest joy is reuniting with children and mending broken families. It’s what the good shepherd does best–heal broken hearts.

 

 

Epiphany

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Epiphany. A sudden break-through, God revealed to wise-women—and men. It will come in the most unexpected ways. That dry desert will spring a fountain, that gnawing sorrow will be touched by an unseen presence, a healing hand.

The word becomes flesh. Or as James Joyce saw it, the flesh becomes word. As you sketch or write or sew, you change the bread of every day living into permanent art. You become an artist-priest of the eternal imagination. Your daily groaning turns into a broken hallelujah. Or, like my cousin Mary Ann Loewen and daughters Hannah and Monique, you quilt a full cantata.

It came for me on Epiphany eve eve, an email from a publisher requesting my novel manuscript, Healing Falls. I had been seeking an agent or publisher for two years, had made my writing friends read and critique it, and had started formatting my manuscript in CreateSpace, prepared to self-publish on Amazon.

The writing process had started  in 2012, after news that Florida’s inmates would no longer have to give birth in shackles. By then, I had joined friends taking a 12-step program into prisons, and knew the humiliation women experienced giving birth in chains.

It was legalized suffering the way these young women had to give up babies against their will; or try to maintain custody from behind bars; or open letters detailing how a child had been injured or even killed in another’s care. The chaplain in my forthcoming novel, observes that the state prison has a service dog program. Why not a nursery?  She finds an artist, a young inmate mother with the same vision, and together they turn art to praise, the flesh made word.

Soon, I will know when this novel will be launched. I can’t wait to share it with you.