How the Altered Deck Swap started.

The Summer 2016 Card Deck Swap has officially kicked off, and many of you have asked how the swap actually got started, so today I thought I’d share that story. It’s a good one. It reminds me, and I hope will show you, that Synchronicity is real, that breadcrumbs are being laid out on the way for you, and if you notice them, and follow them, magical doorways open along your way. It’s also a reminder that happiness can sprout from the arid soil of grief; there is still something in the soil that wants birthing. 


Six years ago now, my father passed away from cancer.  It was a traumatic time, as Cancer always is, made harder by the speed with which he declined. He discovered he was sick in June of that year, and by July, at his only grandchild’s first birthday, he was a shell of his former, 6’6 and giantesque self, hobbling up to the doorway dozens of pounds lighter, and with a cane.  In October, the doctors at the Mayo Clinic gave him three months to live.  He asked me and my brother to visit one last time, sometime in the next few weeks. Flights were arranged immediately, but I never saw him again: he died five days later.

Stories of loved ones lost always bring sadness and outreach from readers, which always raises the question for me of how honest should I be? Honesty can make people uncomfortable. But for this story, I think it’s important. There is sadness, in his absence, but there was much more of it while he was living. Our relationship was strained, and being his child had always meant pain and confusion. The honest truth is, my life is much more peaceful since he’s passed. I’ve experienced the relief of not waiting for a change that never occurred, the peace that has come with the removal of one of the strongest causes of pain in my life. There is sadness in his absence, yes, but I almost enjoy it: the first “normal” set of emotions that I’ve been able to experience about my own father in my life. When he died, I even felt resentment, because his family relationships were always fixable, yet never fixed. At least, that’s the story I was left with at the time of his death: that he could have changed, could have been a better father, but chose not to be.

My father was, by all external accounts, an amazing man. He was mentor to many, incredible wit, and a genius mind who compiled an Encyclopedia of Poetry that was larger than a cinder block when printed. He charmed and delighted people with ease, it seems, in his external life. His death brought out stories from coworkers that made him sound like a hero, a mythically awesome man. But that’s not what I experienced.  I knew him at home, where he was terse, quick to anger, and usually absent. He was at times verbally abusive, and always irritated with our presence. My memories with him are few and far between, and all are laden with a heavy sense of grief, and fatigue at his indifference, and dislike, of our home and family life. The reality is, he carried two distinct personalities in his life, polar opposites in their extremes. At his wake, his friends and colleagues told me stories with tears in their eyes, of a man who had saved marriages, made careers and become numerous people’s role model. I responded in awe, “I never met the man you’re describing.” And when I told a few stories of my own, they responded in kind. There was an awkward silence at the table after that.

I was left with the bitter taste of jealousy in my mouth, learning that they’d gotten to enjoy the person, so fully, that I had waited my life to meet.  I was jealous, and also numbed by the discovery that who I hated waited for, hoped for, in my father, actually existed, just not for me, nor my mother or brother. My mother got to experience his charming, loving side the most, me, just a touch, and my brother, hardly at all. It seems that with each addition to the family, he retreated further into his emotional cave at home. And as far as I knew, never made a motion to rectify the effect it had on us.

Nonetheless, losing someone to cancer is difficult, and it was fraught with turbulent, and often warring emotions. And there was true grief. He’d only known my son for the first year of his life, and again, he was barely involved. We marked the year of his passing in October of the following year with real sadness. Just two months later it was Christmas, and I had just begun the first Inspirational Card Deck Swap, or the idea of it really. I had almost finished my own Inspiration Deck. I was musing on this idea of starting a swap, a word I had little familiarity with at the time. I put the project on hold for Christmas day celebrations and feasting.

thanksgiving trip_dad and liam3

At the Christmas present exchange that day, I decided that despite the “regifting” faux pas I was making, I wanted to give my brother something that my father had given to me – a book that he had owned and gifted me upon receiving his terminal sentence.  It was a topographical book of Big Bend, Texas. My brother (who incidentally now lives in Colorado and follows in my trail hiking father’s footsteps), is much more into the outdoorsy than I am. I decided that my brother would use and appreciate this book much more. than I would, and perhaps it would strengthen whatever connections my brother felt to our father, through the love of hiking and the outdoors.

I was glad that I’d decided to do so, when my brother teared up upon opening the book.  And then he said, quite suddenly, he began laughing with a twinkle in his eyes. “You’d better open this package here,” he said, handing me a package.

What I found inside the wrapping gave me goosebumps.  If this wasn’t Serendipity, I don’t know what is.

My brother had also decided that I would get more out of a possession that he had of my father’s, than he himself would, and had wrapped up a deck of cards, the ones you see in the photo above, to give to me that same day.

First, to see my father’s handwriting took my breath away for a moment. Second, when I began to flip through and realized that this was a deck of cards with inspirational adages written on them, I got CHILLS. This was just like my own deck of affirmational phrases, the one I had laid out to dry on a counter the night before. That “coincidence” (I use quotes, because there’s truly no such thing) was stirring. But then, there was something amazing. Something that shifted the soil in my heart:   evidence of his actions, his proactive step, to try and change. To become more positive. To soften.

The handwritten messages written on the cards carried such vulnerability. Though he had already passed, knowing that he had taken this step, to change his attitude, changed a lot for me. It meant a new sadness that he’d passed before I’d ever experienced this change in him personally, but it also meant that I had been wrong. And that I could release the hold I’d had on resentment for so long. I was simply in awe. In awe of the effort he’d made, and in awe of the format in which the evidence was delivered into my hands.

From the day I opened the deck, I hung them on the wall, open to the words that held the most power for me (and still do):  “You are not common. Don’t do common things.” I felt as if he was speaking directly to me. He wrote these for himself at the time, and I believe that to be so true of him – the genius mind – and my heart softened to see him affirming this in himself. And it also felt warmed by the words he was now giving me, a message from beyond. A deeply powerful reminder. One that might change everything about how I operated in my life.


In every place I have moved and lived since his death, I hang this deck of cards on the wall with that one message facing me. When I’m feeling doubt about my path, and my creative business, and the decisions I’m making in my path, I turn to it, and I’m instantly relieved: There is my truth, just waiting to be remembered.

And as it turns out, reading someone else’s words gave me an energy that writing the words myself didn’t always do. And this is how I came around to the idea of turning “my deck” of affirmations and quotes, into a swap. I simply ran with the idea that maybe others would be moved by the messages they received, in someone else’s handwriting, because I believed, and still do, that the message that someone needed right then, at that time, would come to them on a card.

It’s a joy to facilitate the process of art going into the world, but secretly I’m always waiting, in the wings, to hear what perfect message arrives for someone. I envision them with a package in their lap, just like me that day, uncovering the message they most needed to hear. And I’m always in awe of how the right Truth, once found, can begin to change everything.



  1. Jacque brogan says:

    Miracles do happen. I have been missing him badly the last three days too. Thanks for the story. I witnessed it–knew this happened for you. But what a pleasure to read it, written with such power and grace. ???. Love to you. Mom

  2. Jacque brogan says:

    I meant heart emojis above. Not question marks. Got changed in the sending. Read HEARTS! Love, Mom

  3. Tracy Reddekopp says:

    Jessica–that is a beautiful tribute to a relationship that is so complicated–what could have been a muddled mess, you turned it into a masterpiece. Congratulations on your new family. Continued blessings on your journey! xo, Tracy Reddekopp

  4. Linda Thomas says:


    This is so powerful.

    Simply Beautiful.

    You are a most generous soul for sharing your story.


  5. Majella says:

    Beautifully written, Jessica.
    I had a tumultuous relationship with my grandmother. She lived to be one hundred. I had stopped speaking to her for over 12 years. In her last months of life, I tried again. She told me she didn’t know why she said and did mean things. I decided that was her apology. That was the best she had and I accepted it. I wrote and delivered her eulogy. I shared the positive things about her that I had previously chosen to forget. Forgiveness is powerful. When I forgave her, I released me.

  6. Diva Kreszl says:

    Your post brought me to tears, thank you for sharing such an intimate story. I lost my Dad to cancer at fifteen. He was a quiet man, hard working, the provider but not demonstrative in showing love and affection. Looking back I can see how I spent my teens and twenties searching for a man to fill the spaces he never did. He was not a bad man, just a product of his generation. This shaped my parenting, as a mother to three sons I was determined to raise men who could and would share their emotions, demonstrate love openly and to be great dads and husbands. I can see that I have succeeded as I watch my boys with their wives and children. At sixty the little girl in me still wishes I had a closer relationship with my father, I still wish my memories were of cuddles and kisses, I wish I knew more about him and his own upbringing. Your story tells me that I can and will leave my own family with a greater knowledge of who I am.

  7. Irene Dekker says:

    Now this is beauty full, thank you for sharing this personal story about your father. I am touched by your honesty.
    And it is a wonderful account of a profound connecting to your truth.
    And to the parts of beauty in your father accessible only after his death for you.

    On a personal level this had a message for me right at the very end with a photo of your last card ‘Expect miracles’. This month I have been hearing the word ‘Miracle’ and was not sure how to go about this. Now the word ‘Expect’ is added to it and that makes me feel blessed. ?
    With much aroha to you and your family.

  8. Esther Rupp says:

    Dear One,
    I knew your dad from several different angles. He was the husband of my great friend, the father to you and your brother, and he was my funny, sometimes downright charming friend who was so very smart academically and so often woefully unsmart emotionally.
    Like my dad who immigrated at age twelve, your dad had not sufficiently been given by his parents the particular nourishment that feeds happiness and comfort to growing souls. I truly believe both of our dads were truly unable—for lots of reasons—to extend themselves and reach out in. ways we wish they had.
    You loved seeing your dad’s handwriting. Think how much each of us readers appreciates reading your eloquent tribute. As Ms. Dekker says so appropriately above, “Beauty full.”

  9. Thank you, Jessica – for digging deep and bravely sharing your story. I have a strained relationship with my mother and the pain of her living absence is incredibly debilitating at times. I am in search of my own healing. It is helpful to know that healing can happen. Thank you for shining a light on how you moved through your pain and for using the power of your story.

    • Healing with parents seems like such a complicated thing, but yes, it actually is possible, at least on some levels. I also have a strained at times relationship with my mom, or it was, from the past …but certain adult experiences have helped to heal that in really surprising ways. If it’s something you WANT, I think it is possible, although a lot of the healing is on our own, forgiving and letting go of the past.

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