July Featured Guest: Steven F Gray II (USA)

1.) Before you became a Christian, you had an unquenchable rage which led you to the nightmare of drug and alcohol addiction and multiple times imprisonment. How did you deal with the dynamic of years in confinement?

That’s a really good question Tannia. In total, I spend about four and a half years locked up. It definitely was not fun. Like you said in your question, though, most of the time I spent locked up was before I came to know The LORD. Yes, I was filled with rage and hatred, and honestly just looked at being locked up as a part of life. Looking back though, I can see that it was the loving arms of God that brought me to confinement. I was a loose cannon and a hard-core drug addict. There is no doubt in my mind that I would have died, either by being murdered or a drug overdose. I was so deep into drugs that it consumed my life. I never cared about who I stole from, including drug dealers, just so I could satisfy the craving for mind-altering substances. When I was 19, I was arrested for grand-theft auto and possession of a firearm as I was on my way to kill my mother. It was this exact situation that God used to keep me from doing something in which I would still be in prison today. In fact, it was this charge where The LORD used one of the guards, Officer Michael Dancer, to introduce me to Jesus Christ.

2.) What were the most valuable lessons you learned from that journey?

The most valuable lesson I learned from that journey Tannia, came from Officer Michael Dancer. That lesson was never being afraid to tell someone about Jesus Christ, no matter how hopeless I think they are and no matter what the situation may be. Other valuable lessons were that being locked up is not a normal part of life, and that every action, whether good or bad, has consequences.

3.) How did you become a disciple of Christ?

It took me a very long time to get to the point of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. I fought God almost every step of the way in my conversion to Him. For me, The LORD had to set certain things in my life to the point where I had nowhere else to turn to, no other place than to look up at Him. For me, my issue was living in the ‘yesterdays’. Yesterday just felt comfortable, Tannia. It was something I was used to and felt comfortable in, no matter how harmful it was. I was scared of the new tomorrow with Jesus. Eventually, though, I would fall to my knees. If I hadn’t, The LORD would have continued with various storms and trials until I did.

4.) Now we will talk about the author. What prompted you to write your story?

I love this question Tannia. I was in rehab at the Las Vegas Rescue Mission in 2007, and while walking through the parking-lot one day, I heard the words, CRAWLING TO GOD, as if someone spoke them while standing right next to me. As I began to pray and meditate on what I had just heard, God told me, “Steven, you are going to write a book about your life.” I was like, “Um, no I’m not.” I am not a writer, but something inside me knew that God was right. I fought with Him over this for more than two years before I began writing my life’s story in 2009. As I began to write, I just knew without a shadow of a doubt, that God was going to use my life to inspire others to give their lives to Him. It was a very hard thing for me to realize that most of what I went through in my life wasn’t even for my benefit. There are so many people out there who refuse to deal with their pasts because they feel they are the only ones with that story. This is why I decided to be as open, blunt and have no limitations on how I wrote about my life.

5.) What was the most challenging aspect of publishing your book, “Crawling To God… (…and my toxic relationship with myself!)”?

The most challenging part of publishing my book Tannia, was the not so much the writing process, but reliving my past as I wrote it. That’s why it took me more than ten years from when I began writing until it was published. Twelve years if you add the two years I fought God over even writing my book. Reliving my childhood was hard. Very hard. Many emotions came to the surface I didn’t know were even still there, I had blocked so much of my life out that reliving it was a very difficult process for me. Then it was reliving all the vile things I had done as an adult, and the countless times I purposefully tried to hurt people. To see it written down made me feel so unbelievably ashamed of myself. When I finally did succeed in publishing my book, it didn’t sell. It was a hard thing to process that I just poured my life out for everyone to see, yet no one had any interest in reading it. I felt I had failed. I was brutally honest with the things I had done and how I wrote about my life. I felt it was all for nothing. But then The LORD told me something: “It’s not about you Steven!” Believe it or not, this actually made me feel better and brought me peace.

6.) How do you come up with such a rough and very descriptive title?

Well, I explained the CRAWLING TO GOD… title, but it needed more. God gave me the sub-title (…and my toxic relationship with myself!) when I was almost done with the book. That’s what I had most of my life, a very toxic relationship with myself. I wanted readers who experienced the same kind of thing as far as having a toxic relationship with themselves, to this and go, “Hmmm, yes, I’ve had that same thing.”

7.) You also have a YouTube channel. What type of content do you share with your followers?

I currently upload three videos a week to my YouTube Channel. Monday’s is my STILL STANDING… series. It is a short fifteen-minute devotional reading where I take an entry from my new book that I am writing, which is a devotional titled, STILL STANDING…, and I read an entry that I have written in the past seven days. Wednesday’s is my CRAWLING TO GOD… series. What I do is read five pages of my book privately, make notes and then talk about those five pages. My goal is to upload a video where I talk about every single situation in my book. I do this for few reasons. First, it is a way for me to talk to my children so there’s a record for them to view and to show them that I’ve been trying to get back into their lives for many years now. Second, I do this for those who cannot afford to purchase my book, or just do not want to. I do this so people can see someone else who has gone through some of the same pain they have, but are too scared to talk about it, or think they are the only ones. Third, I do this as way of healing for me. I wrote my book, but I have never read it in book form. One of the reasons it took me so long to write it, was the pain involved in the memories of my childhood, and how I have lived my life as an adult. These videos are never longer than thirty minutes. Then on Friday’s, I upload a small bible study. These videos are also never any longer than thirty minutes. I do this for me and my relationship with Jesus Christ. Doing these small studies keeps me in the Word of God and in prayer, something I desperately need. I also ask for prayer requests in each and every upload as this has seriously complimented my prayer life. Here is the link to my YouTube Channel if you’d like to follow me there:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCczoEV0dJCP2GYX26L1F6mg

8.) Where can our readers buy your book?

My book is available in both paperback and e-format on both Barnes & Noble and Amazon’s websites. Here are the links:

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/crawling-to-god-steven-f-gray-ii/1138683004?ean=9781666240429

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Crawling+to+GOd&ref=nb_sb_noss_2

9.) How can our readers contact you?

Readers are more than welcome to contact me by leaving a comment in the comment section on my YouTube Channel, or my other social media outlets. I also have a Facebook Page, Twitter Account and Instagram. Personally, I prefer my YouTube Channel as I do everything through that and check it more often, but I will respond to any message left on any of my accounts. People are also more than welcome to send me an e-mail at: steven.f.grayii@outlook.com

10.) A word of advice for people going through a situation similar to yours.

Don’t ever think there isn’t healing, because there is! That healing comes in the Name of Jesus Christ… For the drug addict and criminals: I’ve been there many times over and it’s a hard place to be. It is possible to give that life up, you just have to want it. I’ve had the withdrawals. I know what it feels like to want to commit crime because it seems it’s the only way. You choose to want to change. For the former addicts and convicted felons who are having a hard time moving forward and thinking about going back: It’s not worth it. Please, for the love of God, think it through! You’ll only have to start back from square one again. Keep pressing forward. DO the right things, and Jesus will always have your back. Contact me and I will pray with you, then I will continue to pray for you! For those dealing with childhood trauma: I know the feeling. I understand the memories don’t always go away. Let us talk and pray. Jesus Christ will change your life forever! It’ll be the best decision you ever made…

June Featured Guest: Giselle Roeder (Germany/Canada)

1. You are a WWII survivor, a DDR escapee, an author, and a public speaker. How do the events of WWII and living in former Eastern Germany (DDR) shaped the women you are today?

Learning from the time I was three or four years old ‘not to talk about what I hear at home…’ I feel now that I never was a worry-free child. I was always on alert for any signs of ‘danger,’ to hide or to cry. My mom teased me relentlessly with ‘crybaby, crybaby.’ As an eleven-year-old, my Russian invasion experiences, watching horrible happenings and rape sharpened my sense of anticipation of what’s coming next. Feeling and being responsible for my mother and three little sisters after the eviction from our family home with millions of others on the road to nowhere gave me the strength to do what had to be done. As a young teenager, I thought of ways to kill myself after my father came back from the hell of a Siberia prison; I felt useless, not needed anymore.

Not able to get decent schooling and no chance to apprentice anywhere, the comment of my Godmother that I couldn’t even be a maid at a noble family set me off on a quest: “I’ll show you, me – a maid! Ha! Never!” I had to fight for my education, but after years of struggle and being a top kayaker, I succeeded in attending university and graduated as a Physical Education teacher. That drive, set off by my aunt, has never left me to make something of myself. Later, after I escaped from East Germany, considered a second-class citizen in the West, I needed to prove myself again as my education was not recognized. I had nobody to talk to openly, no family, no friends. Curled up in my bed, I spoke quietly to God, and often things happened that I cannot explain. I was often led to places or people who would help. All the hardships from early childhood under Nazi rule to experiences in a communist country and the abuse in the West shaped me into the woman I am today. Even now, I am always on alert, ready to run or get away from people who could attack me. And before you ask, no, I never had treatments for PTSD.

2. Many survivors of the Nazi Regimen and the DDR find it extremely difficult and painful to talk about it. However, you gathered your strength and courage and decided to share your memoir as a trilogy. The first book is “We Don’t Talk About That,” it tells the story of your life in Germany. What was the hardest part of the process – apart from the decision to publication? Please share with our readers the journey.

There are not many of us left, born in the late 1920s or thirty’s. The ones still alive have pushed their experiences to the back of their mind, and to this day, they don’t talk about it. When I started asking questions of my two still living aunts in 2012, both reacted with horror. “Are you crazy? We don’t talk about t h a t.” That goes for the Nazi time; it goes for the Russian rapes every woman experienced and suppressed to open talk about their thinking or feelings living in the DDR. Many said, ‘it’s not so different from the Hitler time…’

I would never have had the courage to write the book if I wouldn’t have been pushed to do it. I was like all my contemporaries and didn’t talk about it. Then a Dutch lady and I were asked by our Probus Club to speak about our experiences during those years on Memorial Day. She was a baby but had a burn mark from a Nazi soldier’s cigarette when her mother didn’t give in to his demands – but she could only tell what her mother had told her. While I spoke, the room with 116 members present fell silent, and I could hear suppressed crying. When I finished, someone shouted, “Do you have a book? No? Then write one.” Surrounded by many people hugging me, women crying openly, and men shaking my hand, I felt overwhelmed. I was afraid to write THAT book, but they kept pushing; my young son, who had never wanted to hear about my youth, told me to do it as by now his generation wanted to know. The final push came from my English partner, and, reluctantly, I started writing. During the 2 1/2 years it took me to finish the manuscript, I had many nightmares, reliving the past I had tried to forget. After publication in 2014, when I held the first printed copy in my hands, I broke down and cried for several hours.

3. When you tackle this sensitive topic with high school students, what are some of the misconceptions you hear more often from young people? What was your most memorable experience sharing your story with them?

It was a revelation. These young people from grade 11 and 12 had no clue what a war could be like; they were stunned, they were quiet, they listened and observed me showing photographs and pointing out on maps the teacher provided where it all happened and how the borders had changed after the war was over. In a shaky voice, one young male said, “We knew about Hitler, and the concentration camps and the 6 million Jews killed and history sound as if all Germans were Nazis. But nobody has ever told us how the ordinary German people had lived, survived or suffered. Thank you for coming…” A week later, the teacher sent me a 31-question list her students had prepared and asked if I would consider coming back. This time, their biggest shock was to see my photographs of the Berlin Wall and asking the question: “How would you feel waking up one morning and there is a high wall all along your street, and you can’t see your granny’s house on the other side?” Stunned silence, big eyes and open mouths, the need to get answers, again with more photos and maps resulted in a plan to form a history group with my regular attendance and invitations from other high schools. But then, COVID19 happened.

4. The second book of the trilogy, “Flight Into The Unknown,” tells the daring story of your marriage to an (unknown) Canadian penfriend with a small daughter, followed by your immigration to Canada.

Looking back at that daring moment when you decided to find a new horizon and are confronted with a new unknown, do you have any regrets? What type of story curves awaits your readers?

After “We Don’t Talk About That” went around the world and was read in 90 countries that I know of through my WordPress website, I started to receive up to 200 e-mails a day asking, “And what happened then? What did you do…” And others saying, “…you left us hanging there, is there a sequel?” I had no choice but to write another book. I had not planned it – but my life was weird and exciting enough that I did. Again, I had nightmares when I came to writing about certain happenings in Canada. My immigration started more or less as a joke born out of boredom when I answered an ad I found in a magazine. “Father with a 4-year-old daughter in beautiful Vancouver, Canada looking for love and a new Mummy.” I never expected an answer. This man’s parents, living in Germany, smartly manipulated me into starting the pen-friendship.

After four months, I got ‘engaged’ by telephone, and they arranged my wedding without ever even asking me. Despite a good job, financial security but lonely, I enjoyed the attention of this well-to-do lawyer’s family. I went along with everything, thinking, ‘the apple does not fall far from the tree.’ Hah! Did I ever get a surprise when joining him in Canada! He used my money to pay his debts, even the loan he had taken to come to Germany to marry me. I had no way of going back since all my earthly possessions were on a freighter on the high seas. I couldn’t leave, even if I had the money because of the little girl. She was so happy to have a new Mummy. Curves for my readers? An unwelcome move across the country, another stepdaughter to take on and a baby on the way. My husband’s bankruptcy, starting my own business, employing and training many women, becoming a media person, even having my own TV show for 9 1/2 years, getting requests for speaking at international conventions, many ups and downs. Finally, my husband’s affair, followed by a nasty divorce when I agreed to leave him everything – I moved back to Vancouver, where my Canadian life had started in 1963.

5. You conclude the trilogy with the soon to be released, “Set Sail for Life After 50” – Age is just a number. Many said life begins at 50. Is this book the conclusion of a long journey that started tragically but ended with fulfillment and inner peace?

Yes, “Set Sail…” is the conclusion of the story of my life. But there were another thirty years to talk about. My x-husband had promised to make sure I’ll end my life destitute, on the street or in the poor-house. I was determined to prove him wrong. I had to work to live, and I found many ways to do that. Serious health problems and being told by my doctor I have two months to live, I went back to Germany, where I had my training as a Kneipp – Hydrotherapist. After an intensive ‘Kur’ as the Germans call it, I came home to Canada looking like a million. The customers of my little Skin Care Studio asked, “Can we go there too?” I sold my business and started a new one: “Health Travel – Lifestyle Consulting.” I took over 200 Canadians to this Bavarian Health Resort over the next years, and many came with me every year.

I met several eligible men – but I was a burned child, and none seemed trustworthy enough to get involved. However, in the early years after 2000, I seriously started looking. I wanted a partner for dancing, cruises or other world travel and companionship. I answered ads, enlisted in a partner-agency, and finally, a friend told me about her experience with the internet. I was on Match.com for a year, had more fun and enough material to write a book about it – and when I wanted to cancel, there was the last photo of a man that kind of intrigued me. I remember saying to myself, ‘where were you all my life…’ I was now seventy years old, he two years younger. I twinkled him, and he wrote back through the Match page, “Are you the lady who wrote the book “Sauna, the Hottest Way to Good Health?” I wrote back, “How the h… would you know that?” He suggested e-mail contact, and, after meeting, we both cancelled our ‘Match accounts.’ The rest is history. To know what happened during the next 15 years, you’d have to read the book.

6. What is your source of strength that cultivates your spirit of endurance?

For one thing, I always had to provide for myself after I left the DDR in 1955. The ‘I MUST’ was still there, even in my darkest hour. I never relied on anyone. I remember two instances distinctly: Visiting the DDR with my three children in the early seventies, my old kayak friends invited us to go camping with them. They had a ‘friendship regatta’ and asked me to participate. I had not paddled or kayaked for 20 years, so I was reluctant. I finally gave in. The waves were relatively high, I was in a single boat, I fought the waves, and with each stroke, I said aloud, ‘with God, with God .’ I won that race. I could hardly believe it. Another instance when I was at the end of the proverbial rope and had absolutely nothing to eat for the next three days over the Christmas holidays 1955, a knock on my rented room door brought me face to face with a Lutheran sister, similar to a Catholic nun. She carried a basket with bread, butter, cheese, sausage and even chocolate. With a shiver down my back, I believed she was a Christmas angel. Without being a regular churchgoer, I was deeply spiritual and learned to trust in a higher being throughout my life. I remember tearing up when I saw a framed poem about ‘Footsteps in the Sand.’ I bought it for a dying friend with incurable cancer. He was an atheist but told me that that poem helped him to believe. After seeing only one set of footprints and asking God why – “Yes, my child, when there was only one set of footprints, that’s when I carried you.” So it was for me. Without this deep feeling that there will be help when I come to the end of my rope, and I did several times, I’ll be saved. I was.

7. Once you decided to write your story, did you conceive it as a trilogy from the beginning or just happened after the book was well-received? Did you reach your goal?

Oh no, I didn’t think of a trilogy, not at all! I didn’t even want to write the sequel. But my many readers and even reviewers pushed me to do it. I had thought, “We Don’t Talk About that” would be it. After another two years, “Flight Into the Unknown” was to be the sequel – and no more. But, I had too much material – and I just had to cut it off at the appropriate time, and that was when I had come full circle and was back in Vancouver. I had to write a third book after what happened in my life after I was 50 years old.

8. How do you prepare mentally and emotionally for a talk?

Answer: I usually say, ‘I am pregnant with hundred-thousand thoughts,’ the topic going around and around in my head. I dream about it; I am thinking about it day and night. I make notes, but I can not speak from notes. I have to be ‘free.’ The notes are just crutches. My adrenals work overtime when the talk begins – and at the end, I am exhausted. I won’t be able to sleep as I go over every detail, over everything I said and remember what I forgot. So for several days, I am sleepless before the talk and after.

9. Who is your favorite audience, and why?

I have no favourite audience. I love to talk about my books, am passionate, get people involved, to make them feel they are at my side, walking in my shoes. Many have expressed that, also after reading my books. I used to speak to Rotary or Probus Clubs, and Church groups who are adults, are often older people. But my experiences with the high school, the younger people, were opening another avenue in my thinking. I FEEL that this generation is unprepared for an eventual other war, God forbid, but they are spoiled, innocent and don’t even think about a disaster.

10. Where can our readers buy your books and contact you?

The easiest way during this crazy COVID time are the online shops, i.e. Amazon, which is everywhere, Kindle, Kobo, Barnes & Nobel; you name them. All they need is my name and the title of the book for which they look. For contact, there are my social media sites like Facebook, my website www.giselleroeder.com and naturally, my e-mail address, roedergiselle@gmail.com

11. What are some of the challenges you had to overcome during the current Pandemic?

That is the most challenging question, partly covered in my previous answer. Problems with lockdown, bookshops and libraries, I find it draining, depressing and disappointing not being able to have a book launch, book signings, book talks, interaction with my readers other than online. I have come close to saying ‘what for…’ and give up. But I am not a person to give up. I learned from my parents that you finish the job you have started.

12. A word of advice to survivors of tragic situations and those of us who have the honour to get to know you.

Believe in yourself, trust God within you, and don’t give up. When you come to the end of your rope, make a knot and – hang on!

Thank you – and good wishes for your health and safety.

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Featured Guest Line Up

After a successful 2020 season, 2021 includes a wider variety of guest for your reading delight. 

Mark your calendars and let the fun begin….

January:  Karina Fabian (Science Fiction and Horror, Award-Winning Author – USA)

February: Dawn Monique Edmond (CEO, Author, Ghostwriter, Indie Publisher – USA)

March:  Roger Thomas (Computer Scientist turned into a Semi-Professional Author of both Fiction and Critical Articles.-  USA)

April:  Denise Turney  (Novelist, Public Speaker, Professional Corporate Writer, Editor of The Book Lover’s Haven Newsletter, and Host of the literary radio show, Off the Shelf Books Talk Radio.- USA)

May:  Daniel Friedmann  (Award-winning author, Public Speaker, Physics Engineer and CEO of Carbon Engineering. – Canada 

June: Giselle Roeder  (WWII Survivor, Former East Germany Escapee (DDR), Award-winning Author and Public Speaker – Canada)

July: Steven Gray II (Author and Podcaster – USA)

August: Ellen Prager (Award-winning author, Public Speaker, and Marine Biologist – USA)

September: SARS-CoV2

October:

November:

December: 

 

 

 

 

(Updated June, 2021)

Once the month is over, a PDF copy of the interview including the readers’ comments will be listed in alphabetical order at the Featured Guest Archives.