Tuesday, October 17, 2017

It happened to #metoo.

“Women, especially those of us with a media platform, will have to figure out over the next few months how to have this conversation. If we do strip off our Band-Aids and tell our stories in their own gruesome detail, we may need to build a new culture of personal journalism.” Kate Maltby, CNN

This week, I am closing out another semester of Mending the Soul; a 3 month support group & study for women who are survivors of abuse.  While the time spent with each group of women covers every spectrum and type of abuse, sexual abuse/assault/harassment is always part of the stories I hear.  In every single group, every single time, without question.  One of the activities that comes from this 3 month period is to create a timeline of significant life events.  Good experiences are listed above the line, bad ones are listed below.  My own timeline first reflects sexual abuse in 1976 when I was 4 years old.  The impact from this time period in my life and what I experienced has created residual damage that has lasted decades.  As a result, I have sat with groups of women, time and time again during Mending the Soul and have effectively been able to share with them #metoo.

Add to that an incident from my adolescence from a time when I briefly lived in a suburb outside of Austin, TX. My group of neighborhood friends and I would spend hours at the park down the street just hanging out.  There were probably 8-10 of us at any given time.  One weekend, after a heated tennis tournament, I was called into the house of our best tennis player. Unsuspecting, I went inside and suddenly found myself trapped in a bedroom.  What ensued next was a group of 5 boys holding me down flat on my back.  It happened so quickly, I was momentarily stunned.  When their intentions became clear, I maniacally fought them like a crazed lunatic and screamed with every primal instinct I had within me. I was determined this would not happen without brutal, bloody fight and then just as suddenly I was released.  One of the boys reported the incident to the school counselor, it seemed this event disturbed him too.  The counselor called me into their office to ask me if I was okay and outside of that time, I have never talked about this incident nor have I added it to my time-line.  I don’t know whether it goes below the line because it happened or above because of how I fought back.  What I am certain of though, is for every other girl who has been in a similar situation, #metoo.

Much later when I was 21 and I worked for a small lighting company, one of my co-workers, Paul A., began a much subtler approach of sexual harassment.  Paul was approximately 25-30 years older and he began sharing details of a relationship he had had with someone from his past.  Gradually, the details began to include distinct tastes in clothing, to entertainment and eventually erotica.  Soon it became clear Paul wanted me to mirror the fetishes of his former fling and when it became increasingly uncomfortable, my primal instincts took over again.  This time I confronted, I accused, I challenged. I used words, logic and reason as my defense. It was loud and abrasive but it was also effective. I have never talked about this nor have I added it to my timeline but perhaps its time because #metoo.

Today the headlines of sexual abuse, sexual assault, and sexual harassment are becoming to normalized.  All too often people in positions of privilege use their power to abuse.  All too often, we the people read the headlines, rise up, cry out and then we forget.  The cycle repeats with the next headline.   Perhaps it is because of my own personal experiences but I don't actually forget.  Those headlines and that knowledge sits heavy and uncomfortable on my heart.  Can I tell you that I am still, unequivocally, deeply disturbed and haunted by Jerry Sandusky?  His face, his name and his abuse of position and power.  Speaking of abusing privilege and power, when I think about Donald Trump’s recorded comments saying “When you’re a star, you can do anything… Grab them by the p*ssy. You can do anything.”  Actually. Sir. No. You. Can NOT.  The current name of the hour is Harvey Weinstein, who has also abused his position of privilege for years.  As a result, women are now speaking publicly, in masses, about sexual assault.  Today, women are sharing how prevalent sexual abuse and sexual harassment is in our culture.  Most importantly women are speaking out about the deeply damaging effects of sexual abuse.  So right now,  I can continue to let my silence prevail or I can add my voice to those who have already said #metoo. *PUBLISH.*

About Mending the Soul: https://mendingthesoul.org/

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Common Ground Between Me and Steve Gleason

Verbal communication is not one of my core strengths. I physically need time to think, analyze and process my feelings or thoughts.  As it happens I am very often at a loss for words when trying to verbalize or convey my thoughts around a certain subject.

Occasionally someone will explain something in a way I couldn’t and suddenly I have the words I’ve needed. This happened when my husband and I watched Gleason over the weekend.  This is a film about former NFL player Steve Gleason’s journey from a diagnosis of ALS (Lou Gherig’s Disease) to a life totally altered because of its debilitating affects. It is a tough watch. Very gritty and raw. It is also very poignant and reflective.

Throughout the film, Gleason makes video journals for his son, who is born just months after his ALS diagnosis.  Gleason routinely shares his heart often talking about the dynamics of a Father and Son relationship. In one of those videos, Gleason discusses his relationship with his dad and the difficult subject of Faith because the two do not see eye to eye.  

In one particular scene, Gleason pleads with his Dad through impeded speech as a result of the advancing ALS and says these words “Stop trying to understand with your mind, the relationship with my heart and God.”  Watch this:

It is a heart wrenching scene.  And yet it so adequately explains something I’ve grappled with for some time now.  I have always felt my relationship with God is almost an oddity. I happen to see connections to God in subtlest of circumstances.  But anytime I’ve tried to explain those experiences with others, my words fall flat. This happened most recently when I endeavored to share a story about a hummingbird that floated right beside my head for a few seconds before landing on a tree branch directly in front me.  I had intentionally walked outside, taking a break from my workday, just to spend a few moments being still before God.  Then this hummingbird showed up and sat still with me - for the longest time.  I marveled at this sight because I’ve only ever seen hummingbirds in flight.  I began to think of all the times Jesus used birds in his stories to teach people.  It was a profound moment but trying to explain that in person was like watching a fish out of water gasping on its side.

Whenever I fall short in this same situation over again, I am left feeling like an odd man out.  I chalk it up to my lackluster lingual skills.  I will re-read “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” and in that same chapter of Romans a verse below “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” I'll ponder that maybe God has rewired my mind in such a way that he has just given me a different measure of faith. It’s not more or less, right or wrong, it’s just different.  

When Steve Gleason said “Stop trying to understand with YOUR mind, the relationship with MY heart and GOD.”  That explained it.  How could I expect someone with their mind, slanted towards their own heart, thoughts and experiences possibly understand the relationship between my heart and God. How could I ever adequately describe with finite words a relationship between MY HEART and GOD? Impossible. It’s to great a task, to monumental.  I should expect that no one could fully understand and that words would fall short time and time again.  This totally makes sense.

I have often thought that Truth can be found anywhere, anytime, from any person because all Truth belongs to God especially because Jesus said "I AM the Truth".  Added to that, I’ve seen God dispense Truth through the most unlikely faces and places.  This time through a film about Steve Gleason. Though Gleason’s disease has robbed him of the physical life he once knew, his heart and mind are still, without question, very relevant. I have a deep gratitude to Steve Gleason for those simple words that cost him such an effort to utter. Thank you Steve,  I’ll be thinking about and praying for you and your family in the days to come.

For more information about Gleason or ALS:  

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sitting in a Different Camp on Mother's Day.

 "The journey of a Love Warrior is to rush towards her pain and allow her pain to become her power."  Glennon Doyle Melton

I am stopping on this Mother's Day to feel my feelings which are often worked out through writing some things down.

This morning, as I sipped my morning coffee, I scrolled Facebook and read one tribute after another to wonderful, loving moms.  One after another, until it hurt and I couldn't read any more.  This post is not for those people.

This post is for a group of people who sit in a very different camp.  This is for those who sit quietly observing the others from afar, painfully envious.  This post is for those who stand in front of the Mother's Day card display, lost or empty or angry because there isn't a card for us to give that tells the truth. This post is for those who wished they had sent a card so they could avoid making the obligatory phone call because that exchange with your mother will never be what you need it to be.  This post is for those who wear a phony smile and make up half truths because it's more comfortable for others than if you were totally honest.

Those are my own experiences and the reasons I sit in a different camp than others on Mother's Day.  I'm sitting in grief with a minority instead of celebration with the majority.  There were three primary messages that my mother imparted to me during the majority of my childhood.  Two of those messages saved me a seat at this table of grief and heartache. One of the messages carries the potential to change it all.

The first and most striking message that my mom imparted to me was that she didn't want to be alive for the most part of my childhood.  Life was just to great a burden to carry and she would just as soon die than live.  When I was 4 years old, she tried to kill herself twice. The first time, she jumped out of a speeding car and then was institutionalized in the California State Hospital.   The second time she overdosed on a bottle of pills and fell down a flight of stairs. At that time, she was institutionalized in the Wisconsin State Hospital. When I was 6, my mom overdosed on pills again. After finding her and getting help, I watched as paramedics tried to revive her and listened as they pumped her stomach.  She was institutionalized in the Texas State Hospital.   I was 8, when she attempted suicide again and again was back in the Texas State Hospital.  I spent more than enough time in those hospitals; waiting alone in lobbies or sitting with her while Drs diagnosed her with Schizophrenia and Manic Depression.  For the majority of my childhood, my mother did not value her life.  Therefore, she simply was not capable of valuing mine.  Which leads me to the second most predominant message she imparted to me.

To many times to count, my mother would angrily tell me she felt 'tied down'.  She made it clear that I was a responsibility and burden that greatly hindered her sense of freedom.   To cure her entrapment, she would often run off to seek out her freedom.  To date, she enjoys talking about her time in New York during the height of disco and how she loved dancing.  I was 3 years old at the time.  I'm in my forties now and it still stings when she regales me with her stories because she is seemingly unaware of who her audience is.  She traveled as far as Germany once and lived there for a while but it must not have been as fun because she doesn't talk about it as much.  As years progressed, she would tell me that she couldn't wait until I got married because she felt she would no longer be responsible for raising me.  It seemed so strange to me that she felf this way because I never felt like she alone raised me.  The truth is there was cast of characters who raised me because I lived with a lot of different people at some point or another.  While many mothers were suffocating their kids with their overbearing affection and attention, my mom couldn't wait until I was no longer her cross to carry.

With these two dominating messages as the foundation to the relationship with my mom, it stands to reason my experiences with her were far from the picture of a mother and daughter lovingly smiling at each other. My mom was never really an affectionate or warm person.  She did not hold or hug or embrace me that I can remember. She was just always troubled so her disposition was always erratic or eccentric at best. I learned to stay alert; watchful, monitoring the mood and adapting to it.  Nor was my mom a source of comfort or safety to me, rather she was a source of fear.  There was a time in my life that I slept with a switchblade under my pillow for good, solid reasons.  When I became a teenager and a little mouthy, I cussed in front of her while we were in the car, she became so enraged, I was scared and felt the need to get out of the car at a stoplight.  I'll never forget running for my life, literally, as she tried to run me over with the car.  Of course, these crazed times lessened the older I became simply because I spent less time with my mom but they never fully came to a stop.  After marriage, she instructed me to hide a painting, that was hanging in my house under the bed.  She was convinced the painting would result in a divorce.  After having my baby, she went back and forth a full year over giving me a baby blanket, that I did not ask for, but she was convinced it had a bad spirit attached to it.  I have been blessed at times with sweet seasons with my mom where things are easier and more manageable, precious moments that I hold dear to my heart.  Inevitably though, they are followed by a season of suspicion, distrust, anger or jealousy.  I grow weary of the mental and emotional energy it takes to carefully measure my words or actions so they don't become part of some twisted plot in my mom's mind.  I cannot be forthright or transparent, it becomes a liability.  It is a roller coaster relationship filled with ups and downs.  Sometimes its enjoyable but a lot of times my stomach drops when we take an unexpected turn.  My mom and I are not in one of our sweet seasons right now.  We are in a season where I have allowed my weariness to drive the car of our relationship, going on a couple of years now.  That's what I'm forced to sit in today; the relationship with my mom is not fixed, its still broken and it still hurts my heart.  Which leads me to third and last message that she imparted to me.

Despite my mom's mental or emotional challenges; she took me to church, bought me a bible and she talked about God.  All of my life. This came to me as a mixed bag of conflicting messages sandwiched between her despair and her anger but it's okay, God has been faithful in helping me sort out the mixed up beliefs I had taken from that.  Because God is close to the broken-hearted and crushed in spirit, I have always had a seat at his table and this relationship with my mom is what I continue to bring up during the conversation; help me sort this relationship out, heal the hurt, direct me with healthy boundaries, give me compassion and sympathy and understanding and acceptance.  Pour into me the love I need for my mother. 

So today, this post is for the people whose reality on Mother's Day is one of conflict instead of reassurance.  This post is for those who always feel an unfulfilled gap in their heart because the relationship with their mother is a source of anxiety not comfort. This post is for those who feel like Mother's Day is the never-ending funeral simply because it’s a grief that revisits you every year.  This post is for you sitting in a different camp than everyone else.  I just wanted you to know, I'm sitting there with you and you are not alone.     

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Dear 45.

Dear 45,
In just a short week, we will meet face to face.  I was hoping we could have a heart to heart before then.  Until now, I feel like I've been in a cafĂ© stealing glances at you wondering if we are going to get along when we finally meet.  Here's the thing; I want to get along with you, honestly I do.

When I look back at other birthday milestones, I see a lot of toil and strife.  This year, I am hoping to take a deep breath and relax.  I also want to team up with you and I have a proposal.  I'll be good to you - and you be good to me.  If you go easy on me with all the classic insecurities that crop up with aging, I'll do my part to make it a good year.  I'll eat right and exercise, I'll get at least 6 1/2 hours of sleep.  Maybe 7 hours if good fortune shines upon my pillow.  I won't complain about aging - as much.  I will embrace the process.

When we meet, I don't want to suddenly be plagued by self-doubt or crippling self-consciousness.  I don't want to chase down the best anti-aging-wrinkle-fighting creams or get sucked into infomercial products that will fight or erase signs of aging.  I don't want to continue coloring my grays every 4 weeks, perhaps you could extend this cycle by a week?  If you could you work with me on little things like that, I feel like we'll be a great team and accomplish good things in the year to come.

While we are talking about positive change.  Can we talk about a special monthly time?  I mean, the last 5 years have been; R O U G H.  I mean if you could just lighten up.  Literally, lighten up, for the Love of.  Which leads me to the menopause symptoms. I understand this is the natural order of an aging woman, I accept that. All I'm asking for is a hot-flash-flip from night to day.  That's it.  The night cycle wakes me up out of a dead sleep and keeps me awake for at least an hour.  This interruption in a 6 1/2 hr sleep cycle costs me much during the day.  Just a little flip. Night to day.  Is that really a lot to ask?

What I am hoping you bring to the table is prolonging growing comfortable in my own skin.  Even if it is wrinkled with age spots. I want to sustain owning who I am and apologizing less for who I am not. I want to continue the practice of more grace and less judgement towards myself with the ability to recognize I'm doing my very best.   I want to really uphold being okay with making mistakes and not being ashamed when I inevitably do.  I want to face the days with much less fear and so much more courage.  I forge ahead growing and learning all the things that are important in this short life.  And I'm cautiously looking at you to usher that in for the upcoming year.

45, let's work together this year.  Let's make some great memories.  Let's have some fantastic laughs.  Let's do fun and spontaneous things-before 9:00 p.m. Let's pursue matters of the heart and love fiercely.  Let's focus on things that matter, like people and less on things that don't, like debates.   Let's practice self-care that encompasses mind, body and spirit.  Let's take care of each other and be friends, okay?


Monday, January 16, 2017

Two Faces of Racism & I've been One of Them.

 "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." As I listened to this recording of Martin Luther King Jr. this morning, I was saddened because we are still not there yet 54 years later. 

I've seen two faces of racism that I'm hesitant to talk about for reasons that will become clear.   I'm doing it anyway though because I can't talk about the subject of Racism without being honest about the two faces of Racism that I've seen.  At one time, that face was my parent but later, that face was my own. 

In 1982, I lived in rural Elgin, Texas .  Elgin was a small agriculture town so there were  a lot of homes on acreage lots including ours.  We lived in an area where there were neighbors spread out around us occupying their own acreage but there were no other kids in the area.  In fact, when I walked down the dirt road to the school bus stop, I was the only kid the bus was stopping to pick up.  I was pretty isolated  but I passed time outside doing what country kids do and or inside reading.

Elgin, Texas
While at home one sweltering Summer day, I looked out the window to see a black boy walking down the dirt path passing my house.  I was so excited to see another kid my age, I ran outside to meet him.  He was 10 years old like me and we talked outside for about 20 minutes or so.  I was disappointed when he had to leave and get back to his Aunt's house.  When I walked back inside my house, I was completely taken by surprise and immediately assaulted by my parent.  I was picked up off the ground by the throat and while my head was repeatedly beat into the wall behind me, I received the message why this was happening.  It was because I had been outside talking to a black boy.  It wasn't the first time I looked into the face of Racism, it was just the first time I felt the consequences of it.  It's a memory from my childhood that I can't erase but here's the good thing that came out of  it.  At the tender age of 10, I knew in the deepest corner of my heart that Racism was WRONG.  I knew it was wrong and I promised myself to never discredit, disqualify, or dismiss someone because of skin color. Still, seeds were planted, the soil was fertile and the heart is more malleable than we know.

Me in 1982
Fast forward 19 years when  I lived in Dallas, Texas and worked at Sun Microsystems. It was Tuesday. September 11th, 2001 and the plane that was headed for the Pentagon just crashed in a field.   I remember standing in an elevator and feeling fear crawl up my spine; seeds planted long ago suddenly sprouted in the fertile soil of Racism . I spent the next decade with an intense dislike and distrust for people from the Middle East.  I stereotyped and I judged all Middle Easterners.  I gave myself permission and license to be uncaring, unkind and unloving.  Yet,  God always knows the condition of man's heart and while I didn't see it then, I can see now that God wasn't going to allow my heart to remain this way without shedding some light on my ignorance first. 

There were 3 key events that changed my heart & mind.  First, was when my husband and I relocated from Arizona  to Texas.  We found a house on-line, saw it in person once and bought it knowing very little about the area or neighborhood.  Only later, did we discover,  the majority of our neighbors were Middle Eastern.  In that brief time,  I was friendly with a neighbor who often invited me over for tea.   We would sit on floor cushions drinking tea made with spices from her home country.  We talked about the challenges of raising our babies.  We talked about our Faith, the differences between Islam and Christianity.  We shared humor and laughed together.  It was a good, good thing.  As I would come and go, I would notice the Muslim and Sikh families on my street.  The kids ran and played outside.  The mothers scolded or smiled at their children. Grandparents almost always lived with the family and the fathers worked day in/day out supporting the whole family unit.  Not that different...from us.  Very much the same...as us.

House in Murphy, Texas 2006
We moved back to Arizona after a year and a half and faithfully God kept working in my heart.  As the years progressed, I would often feel very convicted for my lack of love toward people from the Middle East which finally led to the second thing that happened.  There was no catalytic event exactly.  The only way to describe it is to use lying as an example. Similar to that 'feeling' you get immediately after you tell someone a lie.  It's a very simple feeling; you lied, it was wrong.  I think I'd been carrying that feeling  for some time and I was just ready to unload it.  In October of 2012, I wrote in my journal
 "I confess my prejudice, my hardened heart, my lack of mercy towards Middle Eastern people...While I have known about this sin in my heart I have allowed it to grow, I've joked about it but I've done nothing to change it.  I've accepted it as something that is ok before you.  But it's not. I pray I would love my neighbor from the Middle East.  I pray to treat them with kindness and respect.  I pray that I would have no issue embracing them.  Lord, I have been wrong and I've dishonored you, your message of love and forgiveness.   Please forgive me Father, I've been wrong, I'm so sorry. " 
That's all that happened.  I just came clean with God and admitted I was wrong for harboring hate towards people he created.  I don't think the final event would have happened if I had not repented of my racism.  The very next entry in my journal after coming clean with God is a moment that I still remember in detail.  I was sitting at an intersection watching traffic pass when my eyes rested on a small car with 3 Middle Eastern women dressed in their religious clothing and head coverings.  As I watched them take a turn in front of me, it was like time slowed down.  A sudden wave of understanding  came together through words and emotions.  'It takes greater strength for these women to continue their practices faithfully in a culture that does not understand or accept or welcome their differences.'  I instantly felt genuine compassion flood my heart.  I realized the courage it takes to live in a hostile culture, to learn and understand all that you need to survive in a foreign society, to adapt in ways that are surprising and unexpected, to remain true to your beliefs no matter the opposition you face.  An understanding of everything these women had to endure burst my heart wide open with sorrow and sympathy.  I've never felt the same towards people from the Middle East since that moment, it was completely overwhelming in a very good and tender way.

I have seen two faces of Racism and neither was good.  Racism is ugly and detestable no matter which side you are looking from.  Racism is never right.  It's never noble.  It's never loving.  It's never admirable.  It is not good or praiseworthy.  Racism is always wrong.  Racism will always be wrong.  Now, what I hate more - is hate.  I see hate everywhere and it saddens me how rampant it is.  Even so, I am unapologetic and unwavering in my view regarding Racism simply because of my own personal experiences. Racism is not a subject I will debate over, my position is firm.  If you want to engage in this conversation with me, please expect a short dialog because it's not one I'll debate.  Racism is Hate. Hate is wrong.  I will not participate.  

As a country we are not there yet, Dr. King.  As individuals though, some of us are making progress.