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  • Writer's pictureNielsen Studios Inc

Updated: Apr 29, 2022

Confession: there were tears as I wrote this American Faces story. You see American Faces #78 is my son and my soldier, Isaac . You never are really prepared for the time when your children take flight. But I guess I should have seen this coming. Isaac has forever been filled with gusto and an extraordinarily loyal heart for his people and his country. His loyal heart was on full display in late August of 2019 when at age 16 he sat at the bedside holding the hand of his 79 year old Papa as he passed away. Isaac never left my dad’s side until his last breath was breathed that day. He said, “I didn’t want Papa to feel alone.” That was one of the most powerful examples of undying loyalty I have ever seen in my 52 years on this globe, and it still takes my breath away nearly three years later. Just amazing.

Now for the soldier part: I think it is just in this young man’s DNA. When his sisters weren’t trying to get him to dress up in a TuTu, or play dolls or house, Isaac was outside slaying some dragon or fighting some battle in some imaginary place. But one of his “best days ever” was when he modeled on a photo shoot I did for J.M. Cremps and he dressed as a soldier. At the tender age of 8 I saw glimpses of someone who would wear a uniform and wear it well, with dignity and pride, for the U.S. Army National Guard. Ike (our nickname for him) may have been playing that day in 2010, but to him he was a real soldier on a real mission.

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On March 21st, 2022 we said our goodbyes to Isaac as he headed out for 9 weeks of Basic Training. After conquering Basic, he’ll move on to 20+ weeks of specialized training (MOS).

Our family is so proud of the direction that Isaac has taken and how he plans to move forward in life with this decision to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces.

I closed my photo session with Isaac by asking him to share a word for his sisters Anna, Abigail and Bethany, in case he never saw them again. He simply said, “Thanks for loving me, for growing up with me. Thank you for sharing our childhood years together. I will be forever proud to call you my sisters.”

We’re so proud of you too, Ike. Keep living, loving with your whole heart and showing us what it means to be loyal!

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  • Writer's pictureNielsen Studios Inc

I was introduced to Karen Austin Brave Crow by Dan and Sandy Adler (American Faces #73). Karen (American Faces #77) has endured more in her 58 years than most of us will see in three lifetimes. Her very difficult road started at the age of three when, inconceivably, she was forgotten outside her reservation home, suffering frostbite on her tender hands – the same hands that show the lasting effects of frozen flesh even today. Frostbite was only the beginning. She was eventually adopted by a family when she was 6, but only after she had passed through countless foster homes. The pain of her early childhood years shattered her trust in others. So when she was later adopted by the Austin family, she could not understand the love they showed her. The young Karen Brave Crow, as a deeply troubled teenager, did not know how to live within the love and the structure of her adoptive family. In her struggle she said words to her adoptive dad that unknowingly marred her innocence even more. She told him she wished he was dead. The next day her adoptive dad died. Though his death was not by her hands, his loss crushed an already broken heart.

Suffering an utterly broken heart and self blame, Karen repeatedly ran away from home, from the time she was 11 until she she left home for good at 17. She faced an even more difficult life in the days and years ahead. Cocaine, alcoholism, abduction, rape, and beatings became what defined Karen’s life in the 70's, 80’s and 90’s. In those three decades she was running away from her past, from her hurts and trying to drown it out with everything her brutal world had to offer. She often woke up in a hospital from overdoses and beatings.

But gladly, Karen’s story doesn’t end there. You can now see a certain light in her beautiful, brown eyes in this portrait – a light that says, “My story is still being written.”

The Karen you see in the 1991 photo below may carry the same name, but she is a completely new woman today. In describing her “absolute rock bottom,” Karen says she “slithered in” to a Christian bookstore, strung out on drugs and asked for prayer. People gathered around and prayed with her, they helped her find shelter and safety and a place to heal. She soon found true healing as she surrendered her life and began a journey of amazing transformation that continues today.

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Looking at Karen today, you see a woman celebrating 30 years of sobriety, a mom of two beautiful daughters and a talented singer using her gift to bless others with artistry and beauty. This woman is redeemed, restored and loved by her Savior. She has forgiven her past to heal the future.

Listen to Karen and the Heart of the City Worship Band perform a song that tells her story:

P.S. What’s not written into the lines above is a time when law enforcement helped to free her from her abductees. I include this as a footnote to encourage each of you to be watchful, and if you see something of concern, say or do something. Show love and care for a fellow human in need. You may just save someone like Karen Austin Brave Crow.

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  • Writer's pictureNielsen Studios Inc

Updated: Apr 14, 2022

I am regularly amazed by the people I meet as my American Faces series continues. Paige May #76 is another example of the kind of people I have had the privilege of meeting. Paige, the owner of Wilderness Effects, is an artisan and an avid outdoorsman who makes his home in Babbitt, a small town nestled deep in Minnesota’s Arrowhead Region. When I visited Paige in his little home in Babbitt I stepped across the threshold and into his story. Paige’s story is about a Nebraska born, young man who came to Minnesota following what you might refer to as, “The call of the wild.” He attended school in Ely, MN at Vermillion Community College, where he earned a degree in Outdoor Leadership. That degree was only the beginning for Paige. He is also an accomplished sea kayaker and guide, dog sled guide, as well as a renowned knife maker. Being a knife maker is the artisan side of Paige’s story that caught my attention.

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Paige buys blades made by a good friend and fellow craftsman; Jamiah Mahoney at Subtle Forge and then crafts handles turning them into works of art. While he explores the Superior National Forest that is his home, Paige finds natural materials he can transform into knife handles. Even his dog sled ventures are opportunities to find moose antler sheds and then incorporate that material into his knife handles. It’s like magic to see what he can do with tools and sandpaper to create the handle for a knife from compressed birch bark and burled maple. His hands are so wonderfully gifted in coaxing beauty from what might seem like common materials, even in some cases, throw-away items from wilderness creatures.

When I look at what Paige does to create amazing knives I think about the stories of each of us. Our stories are not done yet. There’s more forming and changing in each of your lives yet to come. Each of you who read this are an amazing addition to humanity. Be open to change. Be open to adventure.

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