A Roadmap To Restoration

Two and a half weeks with a virus that wracked my body stopped all forward movement and then came the glitch on my Mac which further pushed me into a state of submission. Submitting is not generally in my character, yet the timing seems almost holy. Pausing to reflect, to take big chunks of time to merely consider and wonder and explore, without the demands of deadlines and appointments and meetings means things can fully percolate. I typically avoid spending so much time within my own mind, there are monsters lurking around most memories, threads pull me into places of pain and sorrow.  Yet just as taking the time to heal from this virus meant extra naps and bedtime extremely early, following the threads of painful thoughts, actually allowing my mind to remember and then discovering I have survived not just the initial event but the memory as well, that is where the healing happens.

As the flood of brave women bringing their stories to the world can attest, sexual abuse and harassment has been accepted within our culture. The #metoo campaign is changing everyday men as they realize the stories their sisters and mothers and aunts talked about around the kitchen table happen to their coworkers as well, that they may likely have been complicit in not seeing, not understanding the enormity of the issue. The scales have fallen and they are speaking out as well. For me though it is reinforcement that the world is scary and not to be trusted and danger lies in interaction with half of our population.  Yet this week allowed me to remember something else. I do know some safe men, some men of honor and integrity.

I pulled on a thread of a difficult memory from church from this past year, a time when I felt devalued and my worth in the eyes of God was challenged. My long established coping pattern led first to outrage but then to the process of internalizing the message, accepting his word over what I know to be true. I began to avoid church, my soul was bruised and battered and I had no where to turn, it seemed. Yet my pastor, a man with the kindest eyes and a soul so open that his hurts for all are visible, like the very wounds of Jesus, what about him? I heard the whispers, the nudges, the pushes by my sweet friends and my husband to talk with him and still it took over a month. I feared I wouldn’t be believed, I feared I didn’t have any evidence to back my story up, I feared most of all losing respect for this man I so needed to be who I thought he was.

What I discovered when I shared my story with him is what real restoration is about. He didn’t ask for witnesses, he didn’t ask me to keep it quiet for the betterment of our church. He didn’t excuse the behavior or say I was too sensitive. His heart broke before my eyes for my pain. He said it was wrong and I deserved better and our church needed me, ME! I was worthy and a child of God and he wanted my gifts and talents and love there. Then he talked about the other person, not in condemnation, but as child of God as well. That he was young and spoke before he thought sometimes and he wondered if I would partner with him in helping this young man be better. I wanted to hand him my hurt and have him fix it, he wanted to empower me to face my demons and see that they have no more power than I, that they are often just people who make mistakes as well and are committed to growing but need honest feedback to do so. This certainly wouldn’t have worked had actual abuse occurred, or maybe for some it could, but I knew in my heart the young man was filled with grace and could benefit from a strong woman sharing how his words could wound. I agreed to face this with my pastor at my side, a move I will be forever grateful for.

I found healing not just in the relationship that had splintered, but in myself. I discovered courage and my self worth again, I also followed a roadmap to restoring brokenness with my pastor’s help. I learned that there is great power in forgiveness and rebuilding trust, that grace is the greatest gift we can offer each other. I know true transformation can happen when we meet each other with honesty. The young man’s true character was obviously an important component of this, he didn’t deflect or minimize or grow defensive. His heart broke as well to know that he had hurt me. Our relationship is slowly building into something that I value and will cherish, I count him as a safer man in my life, a high honor that he is unaware of but is critical in my recovery from abuse at the hands of so many.

My virus is gone, my Mac is back, the news continues to bring more stories of men who have hurt women and been allowed to keep their power for decades. Yet on this day, I am celebrating the safe men in my life, more precious than gold. Friends, I hope you have many of the same, I hope you are someone’s safe man. I pray also that as we find our strength to tell our stories, we also find the courage to restore where we can, that we are open to transformation when possible. We can all benefit from some grace.

You Can Know the Truth

I thought I was going to write about gratitude yesterday, the anniversary of my daughter’s birth. I began the day with my usual routine: make some coffee, play some sudoku, check twitter, write. What was going to be a difficult day anyway turned into a nightmare, an additional layer of trauma added to the rehashing of emotions that all the allegations and stories over the last month of sexual harassment and rape against powerful men has brought. I have backed off of my news feed, I dip in and jump back out. It may seem crazy, given that I have been open about my molestation as a child, my rape as a young adult, that I am not more invested in the women who are coming forward now. The actual crazy thing is that I grew up thinking it was just me, that I was bad, dirty, unworthy. That creates a hyper-vigilance that never turns off, a need for control in all situations. If I am the problem, if I control myself and my environment, I won’t be hurt again. Reading each day that the abuse of women is so wide spread that it is our most shared attribute, that we almost all have grown up being aware and careful and carrying shame that isn’t ours, well, the world is even more dangerous than I thought. I am struggling to feel grateful today.

As I snuck a quick peek at my twitter feed only to see that Roy Moore was the latest in the long list of men who have abused their power and the young women around them, I waited for his statement saying he was stepping aside, that he didn’t want these allegations to detract from the important work of the state, etc. Instead, he denied and attacked, using my God to back him up, he showed himself to be every powerless woman’s idea of a monster. The Republicans around him had an immediate choice, to support this man who was facing a stronger case than many folks who are actually behind bars or stand up for all women and say he has to go. The silence was sickening, was traumatizing, was crystal clear. This is the age of a president who admitted to sexual assault and was still elected. This is why so many women are angry and active and out of sorts and out of hiding. It is also why we are often shaken and skittish, why we are emotional and edgy. We understand the danger, we are living in a time that supports our abuser. We have to rely only on ourselves and our instincts, on each other now, when we can come out with our stories.

I mistakenly read the Sean Hannity comment, never a smart move as it tends to infuriate me or disgust me or cause me to twitter rant. This comment though, shut me down. Score one for Sean. He said it was consensual, between Roy Moore, 32, district attorney and this 14 year old girl that he picked up on a dark road and took to his cabin in the woods. He followed up by saying, “We can’t know the truth.” This is perhaps the ugliest response possible. It implies that unless you were actually a witness, you cannot be sure. These things happen without witnesses though so the victim will never be believed with this line of thinking. Never. Never able to prove her case, never able to explain why it took decades to tell, when any DNA is long gone, why it took hours of therapy to speak up. These are not recovered memories, these are our lives that have been destroyed because we as children and young women were used as objects for the gratification of powerful men. Until that stops, we are reducing half of our population to quivering, frightened half-people. My God, what we accomplish even with all of these wounds. What could we truly contribute if we grew up strong and unafraid? If we believed we mattered and were capable?

When I first told my mother about my father’s abuse, I was a young adult, he was long dead. She listened to my story and then stated, “He is gone so I can’t ask him.” That statement was almost as damaging as the actual abuse, it certainly set the stage for the next phase of my life when I would be raped and didn’t tell, again. To understand that my voice did not count, that my story and recounting with specific details and absolutely nothing to gain still did not provide enough “evidence” to be believed, the results have scarred me to this day. Enough that Sean Hannity’s comment sent me back 30 years and left me in the filth and the devastation of my emotional life as I sat in the kitchen with my mother. You can know the truth, we are telling you.

I hid under blankets yesterday and avoided the world, I found little to be thankful for, I was aching with my wounds exposed. Today is a new day though, a gift I understand, to wake up and find some joy before I look at any news or attempt to solve any number puzzles. Today I am going to rake some leaves and maybe burn some, the smell of a bonfire will bring release. Another day I might be strong enough to join the battle, to stand up for those women who have spoken so loudly and bravely. I have to keep the oxygen mask on me first, I cannot take care of the other injuries until I regain my strength. Unfortunately in these shameful times, that may take a while.

A Different Thanksgiving

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Philippians 4:6

 

Aside from the years when I was incarcerated, I have made Thanksgiving dinner my entire adult life. My favorite holiday of all, I appreciate that there are no gifts, no no one person who is being honored, just a gathering of people to participate in an exercise of gratitude. The recipes for each dish are mostly stored in my mind, muscle memory meal making at its best. I know how many potatoes to peel, how much dressing to make. Every year, I add another pie, too many pies, because, well, dessert with coffee or wine after the big mess is cleaned and we have taken a walk is just delightful. I adore feeding people. That is when my heart is singing, when my soul feels closest to free. But this year, I am not cooking. Facing the fact that our nest has emptied and we are at a crossroads with others who have taken too much, I know I cannot make this meal with the same generous heart. Instead, I will spend the day presenting my requests to God.

More and more I am realizing that shedding is necessary for new growth, that allowing some things to fall away so that others may find room, this preparation time is as critical to success as all the lists I make for shopping for the big meal. I am being prepared, I cannot see what is coming, yet I know, I can feel, that God is pleased with my growing ability to accept today. To stop living in hopes for tomorrow, in memories of yesterday, to see that with each step forward, I am traveling onto His path. For that I am thankful, that I am able to release the biggest events and worries and wishes to the One who understands, the One who knows each grain of sand, the One who knows what is coming.

Thanksgiving is coming, I am not making shopping lists or gathering napkins and tablecloths. I am instead remembering each day how God is blessing me with new beginnings, second chances, deep friendships, opportunities to serve. Even without piles of food on the table, I remain as grateful as ever.

Never Read Junie B. Jones at Bedtime

Let us come before him with thanksgiving
    and extol him with music and song.

For the Lord is the great God,
    the great King above all gods.

Psalm 95:2-3

Do you know the Junie B. Jones books? The Barbara Park series of silly books for children? Plum and I have been reading these and his laughter is the music I crave. I will read all night, I tell ya (a little Junie B. humor there) just to feel him collapse on my lap, unable to contain his delight. He, like thousands of children before him, find Junie to be outrageous and hysterical. Her sass, her thought process, her choices, all combine to create chaos for about 5 chapters until she gets sorted out, usually with a hug from her parents and a snuggle with her favorite stuffed animal.  He begs for one more chapter, one more please, more music to my ears. I remember his father doing the same as we read Harry Potter. Able to read by themselves but wanting that time together, to be close and experience the story with someone. I am grateful for the opportunity to read to this child as I read to his father so many years ago, to hear his giggles and his pleas to continue.

We are blessed to have a home filed with books, to have those favorites that we return to time and again, board books that I read to him as a toddler that he now flips through quickly, “Too easy, gran, too easy,” yet when the comfort of the familiar is what he desires, I notice that is what he has selected. We have children’s books in his room and figuring prominently in the living room, a bookcase exclusively for his growing collection. His subscription to the National Wildlife series of Ranger Rick magazines once took up a spot on the shelf, now the stack reside next to his bed, a favorite pre-bedtime pick. It is my indulgence like others buy purses or shoes or new make up or fancy watches, I buy this boy books. I am investing in his future, in his thoughts, in his development. I know what we do now will reverberate long into the future, in ways we cannot predict. I feel the pressure even more to get this right.

If I worship any thing beyond my God, it is education. I trust that my God is supportive of teaching this child His ways through silliness that causes great belly laughs even before bedtime, as we prepare this special boy to drift off to sleep and hand him over to the angels. I know I am blessed by every book we share, by every time he still crawls onto my lap, by the sweet sound of his voice as he begs for one more. We are blessed by children’s authors who understand that kids need an alter ego who gives voice to their desires while maintaining a sweet heart and a basic goodness. Junie B gets many chances to get it right, I think that is called grace. I am thankful we have her to remind us to offer that to each other.

 

 

Day Three Praise, Already Struggling

I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors:
    You have given me wisdom and power,
you have made known to me what we asked of you,
    you have made known to us the dream of the king.”

Daniel 2:23

Day three of looking for things to be thankful about, focusing on my gratitude list and this scripture pops up. Pretty sure you all know how I feel about my ancestors, even my thoughts on my own power, and getting what I ask for, so what does this have to offer me today? In truth, I considered skipping this one and looking for something that felt more like me, something that didn’t push so many buttons. What could this bit of the bible speak that I might need or want to hear? As I looked at who Daniel was, how he came to be with the king in the first place, it only got worse. “Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility—young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace.” Daniel 1:3-4.  Okay, so the guy was rich, attractive, educated.  He had everything going for him.  Ugh. Nothing for me here, folks. 

On a morning when I feel old, decrepit, broken down, how can I relate to God using this young man to further the Kingdom? Aside from him refusing the royal food and sticking to vegetables, which I completely approve of, I can’t find much in common with this guy who is supposed to inspire me to praise God. I like my teachers to be a bit dinged up, scuffed around the edges, showing some signs of having lived, those are the folks that I can relate to, let my guard down with, show my soul to. The bible is full of those people, I gain confidence from their trials and their triumphs. But Daniel, seriously? Anyone can praise God when you have it all. Then I recalled my friend challenging some thinking lately, reminding me that even the affluent need Jesus, that even those who are middle class and not struggling to get food on the table have concerns that the church can address. It was startling to realize how judgmental I had become, how I had forgotten that even the pretty had problems, the wealthy were weakened by worries, the highly educated hide hurts as well. The church absolutely needs to feed the poor, tend the widow, visit the prisoner. We must expand our understanding to include more though, to remember that the poor can be not determined solely on finances, as evidenced by the teachings of the Beatitudes. When the church ministers to those who need differently, we create more who are able to serve the Kingdom, the real King. A Daniel, for example. Maybe there is something for me here today after all.

I am praising God for bringing into my life friends who shine light into my blindspots, who open my heart to the ways in which I have built walls to enclose others and who bring me further and further onto the path that God desires for me. I have friends who do have the wisdom and discernment of Daniel, who have the desire to follow the one real King. I am blessed.

Name Dropping

  Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name. 

1 Chronicles 29:13

When Plum finished his after school snack, pretend play began in earnest. Our script was  a pick-up basketball game, we began to select players. I was choosing friends from his class, I could keep track of the names better. He was making up names, how he remembers these things, I don’t know. Our teams were set, I thought and then he sprung the surprise pick on me, he said he had one more and it was Michael Jordan. Seriously? Never mind that we are playing pretend basketball and he is going to win anyway, he has to bring in the biggest name, the greatest talent? I tried to forfeit but he wasn’t having it. He wanted to show his skills and let his team kill me. Actually we discovered he was much better than Michael, whom he forget to play mostly. Still, he knew throwing out that name would throw me, would intimidate me.

In this house with a grandfather who obsesses over MJ, Plum can’t help but know about him. We talk about his sportsmanship, about his perseverance. We hold him up as a role model, even if he has fallen for grace a bit in later years. We know all about imperfection. So the name means something to Plum. The reputation has held strong for all these years. Just this week many names are falling, reputations are dropping, as truth about sordid, ugly, illegal behavior by top executives and power houses in industries is being exposed. Heart breaking to hear that idols we have watched on the big and small screen have treated women as objects, have shown so little respect to their peers. Their names will never regain their luster.

On this second day of gratitude focus, I am struck that I do not have to fear the secrets of God being revealed, the bad behavior, the sordid truths. God is God is God. We can indeed praise His glorious name, knowing we are safe in our praise, that this idol will not fail us. Knowing that Plum is aware that his fantastic dunking skills and his beautiful blue eyes and his kind heart are all really from God, I worry little about whose team we end up on. We are both winning with our Maker, who knows our names as well. Following His lead, we can find grace when we are tarnished, we can offer grace to those who falter. Just as I know I will never win a pretend game of basketball with this child, I am sure that God is who HE says He is, and that is everything.

Day One of Gratitude

Psalm 107

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.

Several years ago I participated in one of those Facebook challenges, to spend the month of November posting each day about my gratitude. Having that focus can be life changing, certainly requires reflection and soul searching on many days, but is worth the effort. I decided that here in Patches of Light land, I am giving this month over to my thanksgiving again, a post a day for the month. I must say for the purpose of honesty, that I do not feel all that grateful at the moment, my list of woes is much longer. Isn’t that the point though? Time for an attitude adjustment, or at least a willingness to let God shift my eyes to what is good before me.

Today I am annoyed with the pets who want to go in and out and bark too early and the cat who insists on sitting on my keyboard as I try to write, yet aren’t they the very comfort I take on a cold evening, as they snuggle close and provide some heat? Don’t I appreciate when I am so often home alone that the beasts will sound alarms when anyone comes near? Maybe I have a smidge of thankfulness for them but it is too much of a reach to list them this early in the morning. What of hot coffee in my cup?

I do appreciate the warmth as I hold onto my mug, the very mug a friend gave to me with beautiful scripture written on the sides. Yet my office is so chilled I repeatedly have towhead to the microwave just to reheat my coffee, unable to maintain the warmth long enough to drink the full cup. No, while I appreciate having a hot cup of coffee in the morning, I don’t think this is the real push for my gratitude today. What of this house I sit in as I write?

The physical building has been home to more than I can even count anymore, certainly contains more memories than bad, and I know that most of the world, if not the actual residents of this affluent city would be over the moon to live in this dwelling. Yet it n longer feels so happy, so safe, so full of joy, it is becoming a shell that holds me in when I want to fly. If the alternative is homelessness, yes, this is amazing. Yet, I don’t think this is truly honestly what I am grateful for today. What about my life?

Yes, on day one of this exercise, I must say that I am most grateful that I am still alive, that I have the deep desire to seek out God’s love. This is a new crazy idea for me, maybe one you have settled into already, one you wrestled with and have come to terms with long ago, or even one that you grew up just knowing but this is new to me. I am feeling the seedling that was planted beginning to sprout, the knowledge that while I was told I was unworthy of love, God does indeed love me, the actual me, not the worldly one based on performance or how much I money I can make or whether or not I share my body. I am already loved and God is waiting on me to join in that love, to accept it and live within the glory of His grace, where no condemnation exists, where shame and anger and hate were expelled long ago. I am feeling a yearning to know that kind of love, to avoid death until I have fully lived. Yes, I am thankful for the bits of light that are shining into my relationship with God, a true meeting between me and my Creator that is moving slowly, as I am able to trust and become comfortable with such a crazy idea. No longer looking in at what He offers others, wishing dreaming longing for such a love, I am learning to open my hands and my heart to the One who seeks only goodness.

Today I give thanks to a patient God, who is pursuing me gently.