16th century painting of Arthrogryposis

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Today, my friend sent me a painting through a text message and said, “Have you seen this before?” Indeed, I had seen it once many years ago but I was never able to find it again. I want all of you to look at it because it’s a shocking miracle that this man was even born. It was painted in the 16th century and it’s Austrian, which is why I was never able to find it. I was looking through English searches. The painting has been housed in the art collection of Ambras Castle near Innsbruck since 1977 (my German isn’t so good anymore but I think that’s what it said). It’s listed in the catalogued under the entry “Portrait of a Cripple”. Nothing is known about the man that I could decipher. They didn’t even know what his disability was until another woman with Arthrogryposis recognized the signs.

Take a good long look at the painting and then I’ll write more below.

16th century Arthrogryposis

I know, it’s a little uncomfortable to look at if you’re not used to untreated Arthrogryposis deformities. I have a hard time looking at it myself because it’s a glaring reminder of what I used to be. I’m stunned that this man even survived childbirth. My birth in 1982 was very difficult because, as you can see, the body was extremely deformed. I was not only breach but I was coming out knees first if I was going to be born the traditional way. They performed a C-section instead.

This man’s body is a replica of how my body looked when I was a baby. I have endured nearly 20 surgeries in 30 years to have my body’s deformities corrected as much as possible. In the 16th century, this man never had those opportunities. The fact that he survived into adulthood is absolutely shocking to me. The deformities can often be life-threatening in Arthrogryposis if the case is as severe as his back then and mine today. Spine curvatures can cause the ribcage to grow into the organs, for example. Doctors told my family that I would die before reaching adulthood if they didn’t do a full spinal fusion in 1989, which is why I’m so small. When a spinal fusion is done, it prevents the body from growing much more, so they generally prefer to wait until after puberty. My surgery was done before puberty and that meant spending my life as a petite little flower, as my uncle says. Ribs can be deformed and compress lungs – another manner of dying young. Heart disease and neurological problems seem to develop at higher rates with Arthrogryposis as well. And then I think of the chronic pain in my life. I have had osteoarthritis since I was 6. Tight ligaments and tendons also cause chronic pain. Fighting muscular atrophy is painful as well. I take narcotic painkillers on a regular basis. What did this man do in the 16th century for his chronic pain?

I can’t wrap my mind around living with Arthrogryposis in the 16th century. I wish I could have known this man. Let it be a lesson to all of you that surviving anything is possible.

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Swiss cheese

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Swiss cheeseThis blog title came to me several weeks ago when I began thinking about leaving 2012 behind and moving into 2013. You see, sometimes I encounter a person who has an energy field or an impression of their spirit that comes across to me as having holes. These holes represent the person being weakened by loss, emotional or physical ailments, or terrible difficulties in leaving trauma in the past. I can see other people in this manner but I cannot see or read myself at all, which is a common block with all spiritually sensitive people. We are not allowed to look into ourselves the way we look into other people because having that ability would be the same as having the answers before the test.

It occurred to me, however, that I’m probably one of those souls full of holes. I’m banged up and scarred no more than any other soul, but the burden of knowing a big chunk of my past life history makes it all the more present for me. I’m aware of the Swiss cheese quality of my soul and I wonder if it might ever be repaired. If I am to follow my own teachings, then it must be so that happiness must be found within myself and not some outside source. Other people cannot complete you. Praise and glory are only temporary. These things must be the decoration on the cake but not the cake or even the icing themselves. I’ve noticed over the years that this is the most difficult life lesson we all must walk through, often over the course of hundreds of years of life. True happiness is only achieved by wrestling every other demon to the ground.

I’m rather critical of myself, and that is a big demon that refuses to be wrestled. Whenever I make a mistake, I tend to berate myself for days or weeks as if the mistake was a sign of my lack of intelligence or ability. The voice that berates me often becomes the voice of a male abuser in my past. That voice tends to get louder when I go through cycles every few years of putting myself more out there in search of romantic companionship. How dare you think you’re good enough for anyone, who could possibly want a creature in a wheelchair, etc. No matter what the critical words are, they basically come down to the same idea that I’m not good enough. I don’t try hard enough. I don’t work hard enough. It goes on and on, especially when I’m trying something new, yet logic dictates that none of these things are true. Of course I know they’re not true, but the demon is there lurking in shapes of people who spent years berating me in those ways to keep me under their control. Anyone who has survived abusive relationships knows what I mean.

In 2012, I think I was going through an awakening. I have begun in earnest to converse with myself when those thoughts come to mind. I remind myself that those ideas have no basis in reality. It’s sort of like reciting affirmations but without the cheese factor. Toward the end of 2012, I have begun to realize something rather important that hearkens back to something my good friend, Beth, once told me. Other people’s negativity is none of my business. This means that it’s up to me to deflect people prone to constant negativity from my life before those traits begin to have an effect on me.

It also means, to me, that 2013 needs to be a time of transition and better choices in the people with whom I associate. That’s the entire point of writing such a personal blog. Believe me, I take no pleasure in pointing out my weaknesses in public but I believe in leading by example. Sweeping out the old to make room for the new is an important task in different phases of our lives. Feeling weighed down or constantly agitated may have root causes, in part, to the friends and family members you allow to influence you. I would like to say unconditional love and the welcoming of anyone into our lives is best for promoting universal love and acceptance, but there is something to be said for allowing negative influences to carve out holes in your soul. Unconditional love has to be a two-way street, or your soul will end up being a funnel with energy spilling onto the ground and wasted. Our spiritual energy is our most precious possession. If there isn’t enough, we’re not capable of love. It must be maintained like any other aspect of health in daily life.

How do we maintain our spiritual energy to and from the people in our lives? I have been looking at every person in my life and asking a few basic questions that become quite illuminating in our relationship health.

  • Does the person make me feel good or bad about myself more often than not?
  • Does the person put effort into the relationship? In other words, if you stopped initiating contact, would the person notice?
  • Do they show as much interest in your life as you do in theirs?

These questions all amount to balance in the relationship. It doesn’t mean you must talk to each other every day or be as close as Thelma and Louise or McCartney and Lennon. The sense of balance in any relationship – even distant ones – simply means getting back the fulfillment from it that you’re trying to give. If the relationship appears severely out of balance in either direction, then it’s probably having a negative affect on your spiritual energy or that of the other person.

My advice to you in the beginning of this year is to really look at the people in your life and examine them through those basic questions. Not only examine them but examine yourself as well. Are you being a good friend? It’s the basic golden rule – treat others as you would want to be treated. Lead the life you want others to emulate.

And the most important thing I want all of you to consider in every part of your life is whether a person, belief, idea, activity, or deed makes you feel good about yourself or bad about yourself. Remember that feeling negative about a person, place, or thing is your intuition telling you that something is wrong. Ask yourself why you keep people in your life if they make you feel negative more often than not. Difficult decisions may follow but you will be liberated in the end.

Perhaps we can all slay the “not good enough” demon this year if we help each other.

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December book reviews

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booksAs most of you know, I’m an avid reader. My reading time does, of course, depend on my work load, but I find myself reading in the middle of the night just to satisfy those literary urges. I do think people become better writers by reading a lot of different books. For me, it helps to find out what I like or didn’t like about what an author did.

So, I decided that at the end of every month, I plan to start posting brief reviews of all the books I read. This will be faster and easier for all of us than me posting individual reviews of some length. I read a lot of different kinds of books, so there won’t be any rhyme or reason to it. I just read whatever strikes my fancy at the moment.

Call it Jessica’s Book Digest, if you will.

Here are the books I read in December. The first one began in November but I finished it in December. It counts!

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's StoneHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
by J.K. Rowling
5 stars

I know, I’m late to the Harry Potter thing. It can’t even be called fashionably late when your friends stage an intervention. The book, I thought, was wonderfully written with great imagination. It helped for me that I recognized Victorian literary qualities in Rowling’s style. Fantasy is a tough genre for me to enjoy because I need to believe in the possibility that the fantasy world created by the author could exist in reality. If I don’t buy it, I don’t enjoy it. However, Potter is a world that I not only believe could exist in reality, but I’m waiting for my acceptance letter to Hogwarts. Sadly, the owl hasn’t arrived yet. Harry himself reminds me of a Victorian hero, and although he sounds mature for his age, I never forgot that he was just a boy. That’s hard to do. I hate writing children, mainly because I don’t, in all honesty, remember much about being a child myself. I was an adult from birth. Even the villains have some likable qualities, and that is equally hard to do as a writer. Reading the Potter books will allow me to experience childhood in a magical way and I am looking forward to getting started on the second book. I’m going to read all of them before tackling the movies. I do recommend these books even if you’re not sure you’ll like them. I wasn’t sure but now I find they’re a wonderful escape from the daily grind.

Growing Up PsychicGrowing Up Psychic: My Story of Not Just Surviving but Thriving–and How Others Like Me Can, Too
by Chip Coffey
4 stars

I started this book a long time ago but set it aside when life got busy. As a child medium, I could have used help like this, so I wanted to see if anything I could still learn from it. Chip Coffey has a straightforward writing style that, while sounds like his speaking voice, lacks descriptive power and style. That’s probably the fiction writer in me reacting to a distinctly nonfiction book. I had a little trouble staying focused on it at times. However, this is a great book for parents raising child mediums. A lot of it describes Coffey’s upbrining and coming to accept himself as a psychic medium. It’s to the point and doesn’t dramatize the issue into something out of a horror movie. There is a great deal of practical advice, vocabulary lists, and so forth. I would categorize this book as more for beginners, which is to be expected, because parents with child mediums or child mediums themselves are indeed beginners in this field. If you’re looking for insider information on Coffey’s Paranormal State experiences, you will be disappointed, but there is a great deal of insider information on the children featured on Psychic Kids. Many of the children contributed written material to the book that will be very helpful for child mediums to read.

Messenger Between WorldsMessenger Between Worlds
by Kristy Robinett
4 stars

I may be a little biased about this book because Kristy is my friend, but I thought she wrote in a brave, honest style about her life as a medium. Her intent with the book, in my view, was to inspire people with recounting her difficult life and how she turned her struggles into helping other people. I touched on the fact that I’m a medium in my own book, but I wasn’t able to be as brave as her in revealing my truth. People sometimes think psychics and mediums writing books is just another facet of their money making machines, but they fail to understand how tough it can be to expose things about ourselves that many in this world mercilessly ridicule. Kristy tells her story with integrity and manages to describe even the most difficult life experiences with a positive lesson in the end. Her advice about relationships with the living and the dead often strikes the reader as basic but the truth of it cannot be denied. Sometimes we need to be reminded of the most basic ways to express love and respect. Kristy explains it without being high and mighty. Her writing style is conversational, yet literary. Like with Chip Coffey’s book, I had to deduct one star because there were some errors that should have been corrected by an editor. Otherwise, it was a wonderful book!

Noble CauseNoble Cause: A Novel of Love and War
by Jessica James
3 stars

What are the odds of finding another Civil War fiction author with a name so similar to mine? Noble Cause follows Alexander Hunt and Andrea Evans through the Civil War as they chase each other from opposite sides. Andrea is a spy and courier for the Union dressed as a boy when they first know each other, while Hunter is a Confederate cavalry commander loosely based on the Gray Ghost, John Mosby. Through many twists in the novel, Andrea and Hunter spend the war veering between trying to kill each other and falling in love. I had a few qualms with this novel, which is why I gave it three stars. James extended several scenes that didn’t require such length and I found myself wanting to skim when scenes were drawn out too long. She also wrote Andrea in such a way that got a little too close to making her very unlikable. A heroine should not drive the reader to want to skim past her scenes to get to a more likable character. That was why I stopped reading the Sookie Stackhouse series. I couldn’t stand her but liked everyone else. Hunter is written as an idealistic romantic Confederate hero, and although it could have come across as cliche with him, I found him very attractive and convincing as a man. Sometimes female authors struggle to write men accurately, but I dare say, James struggled more with female characters. The combat scenes were also very, very well written, which is incredibly difficult to do, speaking as someone who has done it. With some better editing and closer attention on some anachronisms, James has wonderful potential as a historical author.

The John Lennon LettersThe John Lennon Letters
by John Lennon, edited by Hunter Davies
5 stars

This is a stunning book and a must have for any John Lennon fan. I got it for Christmas and I have been through it a few times. When I got it, I thought it was going to be basic transcripts of his letters with some explanation by the editor, which is what most historical collections do. Davies filled the book with photographs of each letter in addition to the transcripts and context explanations, allowing the readers to feel like they’ve got pieces of John for themselves. His letters are charming, funny, witty, sometimes arrogant, and often filled with drawings and jokes. He had a way of tailoring every letter to the person meant to receive it. I enjoyed seeing a few early things he made for Cynthia, his first wife, before he was famous. This is a book that doesn’t necessarily have to be read from start to finish either. Sometimes I just open it to a random page and see what John has to say that day. I do recommend that you buy the hardback book, not any e-reader version. Some books are simply meant to be tangible objects. Highly recommended!

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