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Chapter 3 – Ghost in the Mirror
“We are not human beings on a spiritual journey.  We are spiritual beings on a human journey.” – Stephen R. Covey

Days and nights transposed themselves and faded one into the other. There was no distinction between dream and reality and only a thin curtain separated unconsciousness from awareness. A figure in a long, blue robe drifted across my field of vision. Were my eyes open? Was I seeing this phantasm or experiencing a fragment of some reverie?

As the fog of sleep lifted, I became acutely aware of the stranger walking silently through the room, seemingly unaware of my presence. Who are you? I arose and followed the figure down the hall and into the bathroom, but as soon as I stepped inside she vanished. Confused and frightened, I pushed aside the shower curtain. I was half expecting to hear the eerie, slashing violin notes from the Psycho shower scene and genuinely fearful of finding a maniac lurking there with a butcher knife.

The tub and shower were vacant. I was alone in the small room. Where did she go? Previously skeptical about all things paranormal, I didn’t relish the possibility that I had seen a ghost; yet there seemed no other logical explanation.

While washing my hands I glanced up and caught my reflection in the mirror. I examined the cold and seemingly lifeless entity whose dull gray-green eyes stared back at me without a hint of recognition. Who are you?

Chris DiGiuseppi, guest blogger and co-author of The Light Bringer, shares with us an interview he did recently with the Tom Hill. Tom is an author and life coach, and a generally amazing person.  I am very excited to be among the 10,000 people in The Movement you’ll read about in the interview. I encourage you to visit The Tom Hill Institute website and join us in making 2013 an incredibly successful year.

Following is Chris DiGisueppi’s interview:

Tell us about yourself and your background?

I was born and raised on a turkey farm in Kirksville MO.  I spent 26 years in education where I ultimately worked for the University of Missouri as the Director of Missouri 4H Youth Program where I oversaw 100,000 young people, 20,000 volunteers and 37 staff members.  I left the secure life of academia to take a chance on a career in real estate at the request of a good friend which caused me to relocated to Georgia.  From 1986 to 1994 I went from being a franchise sales person to owning the real estate sales rights of three entire states that brought in approximately $3 billion in sales annually.  I sold my company in 1999 and devoted my life to coaching others on the techniques I used to bring me success.  I am now moving forward on my newest endeavor to start a movement where 10,000 people push toward their life goals – starting in January 2013.    

You’ve been very successful in life, who or what was one of the greatest influences that pushed you toward that success?

Two people inspired my success – Jim Rohn and my wife, Betty Hill.  Jim Rohn laid the foundation for creating the life I really wanted.  His value centered motivational principals gave me a firm and practical base to foster the confidence I needed to believe that anything is achievable.  My wife, Betty Hill’s unconditional confidence and love reinforced the drive that I needed to reach the goals I set – she believed in me before I did.

In your opinion, what separates truly successful people from those who fall short of their goals?

In 1994 I studied people who were truly successful and I found 6 characteristics that separated those who excelled at success and those who fell short.  Those characteristics are:

1.     Committed to personal development

2.     They are committed to learning – readers and listeners

3.     They are networkers – they connect to other people

4.     They have studied principles of other successful people

5.     They had the discipline to carry out those principles

6.     They get the odds in their favor throughout every aspect of their life.

 

How do you attribute spirituality to reaching goals?

Spirituality is our true inner self and until we get in touch with it we will always have a void.  True happiness is not achievable until you connect spiritually.  In my lessons for success one of the primary basics is spirituality.

You’ve talked about professional growth being an 18 month cycle.  Can you elaborate on that theory and what it means?

In 1965 Gordon Moore was quoted as saying “The speed of a computer chip will double every 18 months.” Based on this principle I discovered that it applied to successful people whereas peaks of success seem to come about every 18 months. 

You are 76 years old and still run marathons.  Is that something you also achieve through the same principals you utilize to mentor and coach others?

Absolutely, the discipline, persistence and resilience needed to train and execute the plan to achieve the goal is the same as what I apply to every endeavor, as they are universal principals.  These are the aspects that I aspire to pass to as many people as possible – it is my purpose and ministry. 

 

You seem to be a person who has a strong faith and also believes in the “everything happens for a reason” theory.  Have you ever had a traumatic or life threatening experience which you endured that affirms this belief?

About 1957 I was riding a Harley Davidson 54 down an old two lane asphalt road which had a 90 degree turn to the left leading to a bridge that ran over a deep ravine.  The bridge was narrow and only one vehicle to pass over at a time.  I made the turn then noticed a large plumbing truck entering from the other side.  There was absolutely no way for me and that truck to traverse the bridge together.  I slammed on my brakes and went into a skid and knew that I could either go off into the ravine or aim for the truck and close my eyes.  Closing my eyes, I waited for the impact but nothing happened.  When I opened my eyes I found myself on the other side of the bridge and the truck was gone.  To this day I cannot tell you how I made it across or where the truck went.  I have no idea how I survived unscathed but I guess God had other plans for me.

 

You have this new endeavor to start a movement where you are going to help 10,000 people achieve their life goals.  Can you tell us about this about this?

In the summer of 2011 I woke up with a message in my mind which told me that I was going to touch 1 million lives within the next 6 years.  I had no idea what it meant or how I was going to do it.  This wasn’t something that I wanted to do or had set as a goal but it was imbedded in my conscious thoughts that morning and seemed to be a distinct clarity of purpose.  About 3 months went by and I had forgotten about this vision until a friend of mine named Gary Baker called me and offered to be my manager.  I had never had a manager nor ever thought that I needed one, but Gary began to articulate this grand plan for me to move toward impacting lives on a large scale.  The vision came back to me as I began to put the pieces together from that morning three months prior.  Today that endeavor has evolved past my wildest imagination into a life changing project that will touch the hearts of many people.  I have witnessed the personal growth and development of many amazing people which has led me to believe that we can now move the masses toward incredible accomplishments.  This January I will be launching this movement to motivate 10,000 people to reach their life goals based on those things that I’ve used to be successful in my experiences and join this incredible network.  The resources that we’ve accumulated are vast and diverse which yields unlimited success. 

 

If people are interested in partaking in this movement, how do they join?

Visit my website at www.tomhillinstitute.com.  This will truly be a life-changing experience.

 

You are a published author who participated in writing on one of the Chicken Soup books.  How will this endeavor help other authors

One of the aspects in writing is building initial confidence.  I remember two friends of mine who came to me back in 2009 with a manuscript that they were skeptical to show anyone.  Through coaching, mentoring and utilizing the amazing people I have come to know in my network they surpassed their goals.  Today they have two published books and an agreement with a production company for a T.V. series.  As I’ve said to many people, one person who’s attracted to you because of who you’ve become can change your life forever – it really works!

 

You have had a great deal of experiences in your life and seem to have acquired wisdom from those experiences.  In closing what advice would you give to people who want to live a fulfilled and purpose driven life?

Determine your priorities.  This was the first things I did after studying Jim Rohn which pushed me into a billion dollar business.  After much truthful reflection I found that my successful order of priorities are as follows:

1.     Spirituality

2.     Health

3.     Relationship

4.     Emotional

5.     Intellectual

6.     Financial

 

Then set your goals based on your priorities!!

After my encounter with Death, there was a ghost in my house. I knew she was there because her reflection in my mirror terrified me. Pale and lifeless with dark rings encircling her eyes like the black sky surrounds a full moon this specter was as ghastly as any horror movie leviathan.  The phantom resembled Frankenstein’s monster with staples in her half-bald head and angry black sutures closing a blood-red slash across her throat. Although I didn’t recognize her at first, I eventually came to understand that she was the new me. This fiendish atrocity was the person who had survived a ruptured cerebral aneurysm and was now embarking on a quest to return to the mythical land of Normal.

That ghoul no longer haunts me.  From outward appearances, most people would not take me for a brain-damaged aneurysm survivor. The dent in my forehead and the C-shaped scar just above my hairline are disguised by a stylish twist on the old comb-over camouflage. My thoughtful neurosurgeon strategically placed the incision giving him access to my jugular in a pre-existing wrinkle in my neck, so it really isn’t all that noticeable.

Certainly I am one of the most fortunate patients. I am still able to speak and did not suffer any paralysis resulting from the blood that rushed like a raging river into the space between my skull and my brain.  Functioning at a relatively high level, I continue to work as an author, freelance writer and editor.

My right hand has been known to spontaneously throw a cocktail on the nearest unsuspecting victim without seeking my brain’s prior approval. While that tremor still bothers me sometimes when I am tired or feeling stressed, I have learned not to trust my shaky right. Since my left hand rarely spills a drink, this deficit usually goes unnoticed by others. I have come to accept the fact that no matter how hard I focus and regardless how many exercises I do to improve it, my balance is always going to be a bubble off of level. My occasional inability to speak the correct word in the appropriate context is usually overlooked by everyone but me, although it still serves as a source of amusement to certain family members. I have almost mastered the normalcy game. People who did not know me when the bleed occurred have no idea I nearly died from one of the most devastating and unpredictable of health events: a ruptured cerebral aneurysm.

Somewhere in the world an aneurysm ruptures in somebody’s brain every 18 minutes. Neuroscientists believe that approximately 6% of the U.S. population has undetected cerebral aneurysms. That’s about 18 million people! Every year roughly 30,000 Americans experience subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH) due to brain aneurysms. Between 10% and 15% of these patients die before reaching a hospital and over 50% will pass away within the first thirty days after the rupture. Of those who survive the first month, about half suffer some form of permanent neurological disability.  One can only imagine how much wore the statistics must be in third world countries where access to modern health care is severely limited.

Women are statistically more prone to having cerebral aneurysms than men. Depending on the source, the estimated ratio varies between 2 and 3.2 to 1. Aneurysms can be present and rupture at any age, but most are detected between the ages of 35 and 60 when they either become symptomatic or burst. Sometimes developing as the result of a blow to the head, aneurysms are frequently congenital, as was my case. These circulatory time bombs tick away, waiting to explode.

Early in my recovery, I was urged by fellow survivors to write and publish my story on an Internet website, but I did not do so. I was tired of telling and retelling the story and hearing how lucky I was to be alive. Aside from that, the act of putting it all into words on even virtual paper seemed far too painful. Staring into the hollow face of Death was not something I was eager to relive.

More than a decade later, I realize that relating my experience might offer hope to others. My book, Normal, might help recovering brain aneurysm survivors to better understand what is happening to them – and that they are not alone in their struggle. Hopefully my story will provide caregivers insight into the experience and help them understand why we survivors behave as we sometimes do.  Perhaps some of the coping mechanisms I have discovered will provide some slight advantage to in individual searching for ways to manage life in the aftermath of brain trauma. Maybe medical professionals reading my book, Normal, will derive a deeper appreciation of the emotional, psychological, and spiritual impact strokes have on their victims. Regardless how astute they may be on the physiology of this condition, even the best doctors cannot fully comprehend what it is like to be the patient unless they have experienced it for themselves. By setting aside my embarrassment, my fears, and my long-standing belief that if I can just act normal I will be normal, I aspire to offer hope and support to people who are facing new obstacles and trying to get their lives back in order.

Embarking on this endeavor was every bit as painful as I anticipated it would be. There is much to be said for leaving difficult times behind and focusing on the future. I’ve become adept at faking normalcy, wearing the illusion like armor that shields me from the insecurities that continue to haunt me. Even so, ignoring the scars does not negate the reality of the wounds.

If Normal brings hope and encouragement to even one person who is fighting against seemingly insurmountable odds, I will have accomplished my mission. If my words increase cerebral aneurysm awareness, encourage research, and promote patient support, I will have met my goal. If this account provides one miniscule step in the direction of early detection and treatment to save even one life, I will be elated.

My message is simple: Never give up the fight.

NORMAL is currently available as an eBook on Amazon (U.S. and U.K.), Barnes & Noble, iBookstore, eBookPie, Kobo, and Copia.

 

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine #1)Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A friend loaned me this book, announcing that she knew I would enjoy reading it because it’s weird, strange, and wonderful. She was correct on all counts.

As a writer, lover of the macabre, and a collector of old photographs, I was intrigued by the inspiration for the book. The vintage photos that illustrate it also served as catalysts for the intriguing story spun by Ransom Riggs. (This, by the way, is the best author name. Ever.)

Sixteen year-old Jacob is reeling from a terrible shock which, “…like anything that changes you forever, split my life into halves: Before and After.” Convincing his bird-watching father that it would make for a wonderful expedition, the pair travels to a remote island off the coast of Wales. Father may be in search of rare species, but Jacob is looking for Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children in an attempt to make sense of the cryptic words and images left behind by his late grandfather. Who were these children and what made them peculiar? Was his grandfather one of the peculiars? Is Jacob, himself, among their ranks?

I found this beautifully written book to be so entrancing I was unable to rest until without learning what happened next. This clearly demonstrates Riggs’ talent and expertise as a storyteller. If this debut novel is any indication of what we can expect from him in the future, sign me up as Ransom Riggs’ #1 Fan.

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NORMAL Excerpt #1

Chapter 1 – Brain Attack

No one can confidently say that he will still be living tomorrow. ~Euripides

A  flaming sword slashed into my left temple. I thought, Wow! Where did that come from? If this pain doesn’t stop, I don’t know if I’ll be able to serve on a jury.  As soon as I had completed the thought there was only blackness – no more thoughts, no feelings, just nothingness. My body jerked and writhed in grand mal seizures caused by blood flowing into the space between my skull and my brain as the result of a ruptured cerebral aneurysm.

Serendipity and synchronicity were at work that morning. The lady sitting next to me was a nurse. She immediately started caring for me and yelled, “Somebody call 9-1-1!”

It wasn’t the first miracle in my life. My congenital aneurysm could have ruptured on any given day. I had twice given birth, but the strain of labor and delivery hadn’t caused it to pop. The jolting car wreck I was in years before left my neck stiff and sore, but didn’t cause my brain to bleed. It was a miracle that I was summoned for jury duty that day because it meant I had to be in downtown St. Charles early in the morning.  Afraid of being late for the court appearance I arrived quite early, so I was sitting on a bench instead of driving my car when the rupture occurred. If I’d been following my usual Monday routine, I would have been driving in traffic on Interstate 70. I might have caused a huge wreck, taking innocent lives in the process. I don’t think it was a coincidence that I was sitting at the courthouse just a few blocks away from St. Joseph’s Hospital when the rupture occurred. An invisible protector was watching over me. If I had to have a brain attack, I was certainly in a fortuitous place to have it.

There is no memory of the ambulance ride. Was it there or in the ER where I was assaulted by bright lights while medical professionals shared information about my condition in staccato bursts of medical-speak?  Most of what I heard I could not grasp. The words “…get her stabilized,” invaded my awareness, prompting me to fight harder, trying to wake up. Then it was back to the blackness. For how long, I don’t know.

Somewhere in that void my brain managed another thought. It may have been a prayer or a bargain with God; I know you did not bless me with a grandbaby just to take my life. I know you want me to stay around to help raise her. My first grandchild had been born mid-June and I wasn’t ready to leave her behind just yet. As soon as the thought processed through my brain, I experienced ultimate bliss. All was right in the world. In that nanosecond of enlightenment I knew that the human spirit survives the death of the physical body and I understood that my wandering soul needed to get back into its earthly habitat. With the force of a downed fighter plane barreling into the earth, my mind, body and spirit reconnected with a startling and violent crash and I returned to the serene void that had become my safe haven.

My next encounter with lucidity was when I awoke and found myself looking up at the drained, terrified face of my husband, Mike. “Jan,” he ventured, his brow wrinkled in worry and his face pale with poorly-masked fear, “this is Dr. Martin. He’s been taking care of you.”

Dr. Martin’s face displayed a mixture of concern, confidence and compassion. It was the demeanor of a man bearing bad news that he was reluctant to deliver. I knew immediately that the situation was dire. He cleared his throat. “We need to talk about what happened to you and where we go from here,” he said. “You’ve had an aneurysm burst in your brain, causing you to have a stroke. We have you stabilized for now, but without further treatment you will die.” His voice cracked as he delivered the last three words.

“What kind of treatment?” I mumbled.

“What I propose is a surgical procedure to clip the aneurysm,” Dr. Martin continued, his professional demeanor softening the harshly clinical nature of his words. “We will remove a small section of your skull and set it aside. Then we will isolate the aneurysm and place a clip at its base to stop the bleeding and seal off the aneurysm from the artery. Over time, the aneurysm will wither. Once the clip is in place, we will replace the skull section and close the incision.”

I recall asking, “How do you put my skull back together?” Although I remember him answering, my brain must have stored that bit of information in a bad sector. I can’t retrieve it.

“I must warn you there is no guarantee that the surgery will be successful.” He paused a moment before adding the grim conclusion. “In fact, there is a possibility you could die during the procedure or that the operation could cause additional damage and result in severe disability.”

“What kind of odds do I have?”

“With the surgery, you have about a 20% chance of making a full recovery.” His calm voice made the number sound quite optimistic.

“And without the surgery?”

“Your condition is very serious,” he began. He paused to clear his throat, and then continued, “There is a very high risk for additional bleeding. Unless we clip the aneurysm you will die. The only question is how soon.”  He lowered his glance making it clear how much he disliked delivering the prognosis.

I searched my husband’s eyes and said with as much enthusiasm as I could muster, “I like 20% a lot better than 0%. I think we have to go for the surgery.” Mike nodded his concurrence, his eyes begging me to fight for my life.

Dr. Martin proved to be another of my miracles. On that particular day, he arrived early at his office in the medical building adjacent to the hospital. That was definitely my good fortune because the man is nothing less than a genius. Serendipity and synchronicity placed him exactly where I needed him to be when I needed him to be there to save my life.

Once I managed to sign the surgical consent forms, Dr. Martin explained to us that the first step would be to take me in for a four-quadrant angiogram.  This procedure involved shooting dye into one section of my brain at a time and doing a CAT scan of each area to get a better look at the bleeding aneurysm and to find out if others like it lay in wait to launch subsequent attacks.

“I can’t have an MRI,” I insisted. “There are titanium plates and screws in my left leg from a double spiral fracture.” Ever the good patient, I regurgitated the instructions my orthopedic surgeon had given nine months prior.

“That won’t be a problem.”  I heard kindness in Dr. Martin’s voice…kindness and calm reassurance. I knew I was in good hands. That dark serenity enveloped me again.

This is as good a place as any to note there is a lot I don’t remember at all. I don’t know with any certainty whether I returned to my haven of bliss because I lost consciousness, because I was receiving medications, or because I was a hairbreadth away from permanently vacating my body. It’s likely I am simply incapable of remembering. Blood in the brain will do that to a person.

*****

NORMAL is currently available in eBook on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, eBookPie, Kobo, and Copia. A paperback edition is in the works. A portion of the proceeds from sale of this book are donated to The Brain Aneurysm Foundation to help fund patient support and research focused on early detection of aneurysms and prevention of ruptures. Every 18 minutes an aneurysm ruptures in somebody’s brain. Each year approximately 30,000 people in the U.S. alone fall victim.

Lowcountry BribeLowcountry Bribe by C. Hope Clark
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Warning: Do not attempt to read a few pages of this book with your morning coffee. You will become so engrossed that it will make you late to work!

There are more twists and turns in “Lowcountry Bribe” than there are switchbacks and hairpin turns on Rocky Mountain highways. Clark lays out a gripping mystery full of Southern charm and redneck seediness as the female protagonist, Carolina Slade, sinks deeper and deeper into a quagmire of conspiracy, shady land deals, kidnapping, murder and more…all because she tried to do the right thing. Who would have expected the life of a rural agricultural agent to be so dangerous?

The descriptive writing is colorful and peppered with updated versions of down-home sayings that give the reader a sense of the Southern dialect without being cliche-riddled. This sentence from the book sums up its pace perfectly: “I shot down Savannah Highway, driving like a bootlegger with badge heat on his bumper.”

The ending tied up the critical loose ends, but left me looking for a sequel. Smart writing! I need to know where Slade’s life will go next, if Wayne, the hunky lawman protagonist, will find his endangered sister, and if the two will join forces to unravel more mysteries.

Attention: C. Hope Clark – Could I have some more, please?

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Destination Truth: Memoirs of a Monster HunterDestination Truth: Memoirs of a Monster Hunter by Josh Gates
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I picked this book up for two reasons: I am a fan of the show Destination Truth and it is this month’s selection for a reading group to which I belong. I anticipated it being nothing more than a regurgitation of the episodes I’ve seen on TV, but that assumption was way off mark.

Anyone who has ever experienced even a fleeting moment of wanderlust should read this book. Gates takes the reader along on some amazing journeys, but he also provides some important lessons about the difference between being a tourist and being a traveler and reminds us that no matter how far we wander, there’s no place like home.

Gates’ writing style is conversational, well-informed, intelligent, and witty. He doesn’t shy away from poking fun at his own insecurities, nor does he gloss over the seedier side of world travel. Still, he manages to relate the awe and amazement one experiences on seeing the wonders of the world – both great and small. His personal interactions with both ordinary and important citizens of the world are illuminating, entertaining, and often thrilling.

Buy the book. You won’t regret reading it.

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