Monday, June 16, 2014

It is finished

Dear and lovely people who read this blog:

It is finished. Barring some unfortunate, unforeseen circumstance, this is the last walk I will take on this path.

I started Wilderness Journey to help myself and others heal from the pains of domestic and sexual violence. I have been contacted by lots of people over the four years since this blog has been in existence, and I have heard multiple stories of healing, hurts, and heart-ache. I have been verbally attacked for posting honestly and openly about what violence does to women. I've been called names and have even had people "unfriend" me over this blog. None of that has anything to do with my decision to stop making entries here.

No - it's just life, really. I have spent a lot of years becoming self-aware, learning about who I am and what I want from my time here on earth. I have done a lot of hard work to heal. I have battled with PTSD and all the accompanying horrors that follow sexual violence. Last night, I came to an apex with that journey. I wrote down the names of the people who harmed me. I wrote down what they had done. And then I consciously forgave each one. 

Bear with me. No, it isn't just that easy, but you have to realize that I've spent thirty years working on most of this stuff. I have experienced the anger, acknowledged it, talked openly about the wrongs that were done. I have refused to enable this kind of behavior from anyone. I have learned how to expect respectful treatment from men, and how to walk away if I don't receive it. I have learned how to let go. And that's what this is.

I am letting go. 

After I forgave each person who had harmed me, including those who could have helped me but refused, I tore up those sheets of paper. Then I burned the scraps. I have more important journeys ahead of me now. I will still be an advocate for women. I will still accept speaking engagements. I will still share my story and help anyone who needs it. But this chapter of my life-book is closed. I am moving on to write new stories, tell new truths. Forgiving these wrongs does not condone them, it just relieves me of the burden of carrying them with me. I have put them down for the last time. I am thankful for that, and for each of you who walked this road with me.

Take gentle care,
Amy


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Deep waters

On a cold day in December, almost five years ago, the man I was dating decided that if I wouldn't stay with him, I didn't deserve to live. We were together in his car, and it was snowing. The road was icy. He was driving - and he was screaming - he was pounding on the window, the dash, the wheel. He started hitting me, shouting that I needed to die, that we both should die, and that he would never let me go. He swerved across two lanes of traffic, in front of a loaded log-truck and onto the shoulder. He was aiming the car for the guard rail. There was a steep bank on the other side of it and who knows what at the bottom.

Time went crazy about then. I still remember it as though I was floating outside my own body, watching myself grab for the wheel and struggle to hold the car on the shoulder. Everything was too slow and too bright even though the air was grey and snow was wild on either side - the snow was outside the car and the snow was inside the car and everything was frozen; our bodies, the car, the blood running from my lip, even the sound of his scream. I was frozen - and that moment lasted forever. It was forever. It is still happening, right now, somewhere deep inside my mind. Somehow, somewhere, I am still struggling for the wheel as we speed into the snowstorm and all the sound is dead, my ears are full of cotton, and I don't want to die.

Everything snapped back into place. The car jolted over the rumble strip and back into the lane. The log-truck blasted past us and he started to yell again, calling me names, saying he wouldn't let me go. He would never let me go. He gripped my left arm at the wrist and I could feel the bones grinding together under the pressure. I asked him to please just take us home, just let us get home safe and then we could talk. Several times during the drive he threatened to kill me, to kill us both. He swerved into the paths of other vehicles, swerved onto the shoulder, and ran two red-lights. But he got us home. He jerked me out of the car and pulled me into the house. That was around three pm. It would be almost twelve hours before I was able to get away. Those twelve hours were a nightmare in themselves, but I did escape. I didn't die, even though I thought I would.

I am here, I am mostly whole. I made it through that awful time and I have worked hard to heal and to move on. For the most part, I have moved on. But every now and then, something happens to trigger those memories. This weekend, it was being in the passenger seat of a car moving through grey, blowing snow. The road was white and the air was alive with motion and for just a moment time stopped - everything was silent and cold and I was frozen in the midst of a struggle for my life. The flashback was so strong that I could taste blood and feel the stinging cuts where my lips had been crushed against my teeth. I could feel the iron grip of his hand on my wrist. And then a phone rang, and the person I was with was talking to his cousin about every-day things, and I was back. Warm air filtered in from the heater and the snow was just snow. There was no danger, no reason to be afraid.

It is so hard to explain to people what PTSD is like - how it can take control of your body and take you back to the worst moments of your life whether you want to dwell on them or not. After an episode it is hard to concentrate, hard to feel anything except those stupid, old, intrusive feelings that you thought you'd already dealt with years ago. You think it is over. But it isn't over, with PTSD it's never over. It's right there, lurking in the dark, in the snow, in the careless actions or words of people who don't understand what triggers are.

Last night I dreamed that I had moved into a nice new home, and I was walking through the rooms, marveling at the space and light, all the little touches that were so welcoming and lovely. I turned a corner and saw the back door, and realized it wasn't locked. It was cracked open. A cold draft poured in through the gap and I knew with dreadful certainty that he was there, in my house, even though I couldn't see him. He was there, waiting for me.

I don't believe that my abuser will come back and try to hurt me again, at least, not most of the time. And when I do believe it, I believe that I am capable of defending myself, of saving myself. I do not live in fear. But there are times when I feel as though I am standing on the edge of deep waters, and at any minute the ground might give way beneath my feet. I might find myself fighting for control of the car, standing in the kitchen with a knife pressed against my throat, or being pinned on the couch while hard fists impact my skull with jarring white-hot pain. PTSD is like deep waters. Deep, dark waters, waiting for you to fall in, waiting to pull you down. But I am learning to tread water, learning to swim. I won't give up, and I refuse to drown.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Connection

Love creates a conduit between two people; a pathway that keeps them connected, a route of communication that they share whether or not anything is being said. How many times have you been thinking of someone you care about when your phone rings, and the loved-one is on the other end? I often find myself pulling my cell out of my pocket only to have it ring in my hand with a text or call from my man. The link is there and can always be felt.

In grieving for my father, I've learned that one of the things that hurts most is that the connection between us is broken. Before his death, I could pause in my day and know that somewhere, my dad was there, available if I needed him, and that he loved me. I lay awake in bed a few nights ago wishing that I could talk to him and feeling the emptiness on his end of our conduit. Then it occurred to me that I was trying to connect with him in a place he no longer inhabits.

I tried redirecting my thoughts to a higher, better place. In my deepest times of doubt, I still believe that there is a loving power that links us all; I call this power God. I have friends who call it the Universe, the Multiverse, the collective soul, or Spirit. Whatever we call it, I believe that the power I call God is real, that God is loving, and that my father is with God in some place that is infinitely far and yet ultimately close. When I tried routing my communication with my dad through God, it suddenly seemed that my father was there, right with me, just as loving and available as ever.

I guess the purpose of this post is to say that I am not without hope - hope for connection, for renewal, and for a reunion with him someday. I don't know that I believe in heaven in the traditional sense, but I do believe in God, and Christ, and the incredible nature of sacrificial love. I believe that there is something beyond our comprehension, unimaginably distant but all around us, near enough to sense, almost to touch. I miss my father so much - his absence is almost palpable. But I also feel his presence every time I pray, and there is great comfort in that small, continued connection.


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Take it Back

Recently, someone asked a group I was with what was memorable about 2013. We took turns answering, and I struggled for a while to try and think of anything positive in 2013's offerings. Of course, there were good things about this year. Probably the best parts have been the great relationship I'm currently enjoying with a kind, dedicated man who treats me wonderfully, the way my daughters have blossomed into young women, and the completion of my degree - 20 years later than I originally planned, but hey! I graduated!

But even with all those good things, 2013 has put some serious pitfalls in my path. I've enumerated those here on this blog and there is no need to go through them again. Suffice it to say that as I count down toward midnight tonight, I am glad to unpack and use up the final day of this year. It can't pass fast enough. I know that there is no guarantee that 2014 will be better, but I am ready to move on.

There have been moments of great happiness, times of meaningful learning, and I have experienced deep love. I know much more about who I am, why I do what I do, and what I want from life. These things have been worthwhile. It is human nature, I guess, to question why the best lessons have to come from the deepest hurts, but maybe that's just the way things are.

When all is said and done, it is good to be alive, despite the pain and loss. My message to the universe for 2013 is: take it back. Two-thousand-thirteen was a broken, rotten, defective year, so you can have it. When the last glass is raised and the final bits of confetti are swept up, there is nothing about 2013 that I will miss. The self-awareness and healing I've accomplished will travel forward with me into the future. The rest can stay behind.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Real Life Horror Stories

WARNING: This post is wholly negative with few to no redeeming qualities. It contains loads of whining and complaining, about which I feel entirely guilty. However, I have been assured by my therapist that repressing emotions leads to great stress and increased health problems. So be warned. Read at your own risk.

Halloween has come and gone, but life doesn't only visit horrors upon us at the end of October. Life has plenty of awful things to go around and it isn't shy about handing them out all year. 2013 has been generous. In January, my heat-pump failed, necessitating purchase of a new system at a cost of more than $4000. In March, I began having health issues which started with chronic exhaustion and deep pain in my bones and joints. My doctor started performing tests and determined that I had a severe vitamin D deficiency, and she began treatment for it. In April, it appeared that my place of work might close down or have to move to a new location. Then, in May, my father went in for surgery to remove a blood clot from his carotid artery, and suffered a severe stroke during the process. He died four days later. The month of June was a blur, trying to catch up with work I'd missed after my father's passing. The situation at my place of employment improved but that in itself created an enormous amount of extra work and pressure. The exhaustion became worse, and so did the pain and stiffness. I chalked it up to overwork and pushed past it, like I always have.

In July, I started having deep pain localized to my right side. This was a kidney stone, and after eleven days, I finally went in for surgery to remove it, only to find that the stone itself had passed earlier that morning. I had a week to recover, then another stone started to move. After over a month of pain, medications, and medical visits, I was unable to get through a day without medication and several hours of rest. My doctor decided that I needed to have more tests run, and after countless needle sticks, IVs, and procedures, it was determined that I have rheumatoid arthritis.

Some days, it hurts to move. I am tired but sleep isn't restful and only lasts about four hours at a stretch. My body doesn't recuperate the way it once did; it takes days to bounce back from exertion, where it once took hours. I am on strong anti-inflammatories, and they make my stomach uncomfortable. Sometimes they help, and other times they don't. I limp and hobble like someone twice my age. I am forty-two years old but I might as well be eighty. My thought-processes have slowed because I am preoccupied with pain and weariness. I lack motivation to complete even the things I enjoy, and tasks that used to be easy now present significant difficulty. For example, the laundry room is in the basement. It is hard to carry baskets of clothes, and it is also hard to go up and down stairs. Hot water feels good on my hands, but I sometimes have trouble gripping dishes in order to get them washed. Driving is necessary to get to work and get the kids to school, but it causes my elbows, hands, wrists, and back to throb.

This week has been particularly hard. After a late meeting on Monday night, I haven't been able to catch up on my rest. Each day has gotten progressively more difficult and the cold I thought I had shaken off last week is back, full-force, complete with sneezing, coughing, and even asthma attacks. I've run a low-grade fever on and off for the last three days. Today, at around 11 am, I walked from one end of the building to the other and back - and collapsed into my chair afterward like I'd just finished a 5K. I was freezing, exhausted, and achy all over - it felt like I had the flu. I'm sure I don't - this is simply what an RA flare feels like.

So where's the horror-story in all this? Try being forty-two, active, and relatively healthy one year, and then lethargic, in pain, and weak the next.  Try thinking about your future and the plans you've made and then integrating the realization that most of them will probably never happen because your body won't be able to sustain them. Try thinking about affording a $2000 a month medication regimen on a single parent's already low income while feeding, clothing, and educating two kids.

Yeah, I'm whining. But it's more than whining. It's grieving. My life is fundamentally changed by this diagnosis. The most I can hope for is a period of remission, or that once the doctors agree on what kind of medication I need and the insurance company stops fighting and provides it, I will experience increased mobility and a better quality of life. I have enrolled in a Master's program beginning in January, but I am facing the likelihood of never being able to use what I learn because the plain fact is that I'll likely be disabled within the next year.

Oh, it is what it is. It's life, we all get through it. Nobody asks for the awful things that happen but we are all responsible for doing everything we can to bring light out of the darkness we experience. If we can find ways to make our suffering redemptive, then at least it will have meaning. I keep telling myself these things. I have struggled for years with pain from various sources; relationships, sexual assault, abuse, and domestic violence. I have sifted through the ruins looking for treasure more times than I can count. I will likely get to that point again, but right now, I can't even type more than a few sentences without needing to rest my hands and arms. I am hard pressed to find anything good in any of this. It is probably best to go ahead and grieve, to cry and scream and shout at God, to ask why the hell, after every other shitty thing I've been through, life had to add this, too. It isn't fair. It sucks.

But it's life. We all get through it. Even with all this negativity, I am still blessed beyond measure. In comparison with that of many others, my life has been ridiculously easy, though comparisons of this type are odious, invidious, and completely without meaning. I know these things to be true. I just can't feel that truth, I can't find the light in this darkness. Right now, I'm too tired to even try.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Feels Like Forever

It has been over three months since I've written here - and a lot can happen in three months. Since I wrote about women's empowerment in March, I have completed my degree, gained my certification as a professional in human resources, and lived through a life-altering loss. That's what I want to talk about today, though a large portion of my mind is insisting that it is still too soon, that the wound is still too fresh. But my therapist tells me that it is never too soon to feel what I feel, and that in order to honor the grieving process, I need to be true to myself and my emotions.

My father died of a massive stroke on Friday, May 31st. I could go on and on about a lot of the things that happened around his death, but I really only need to say one thing about it: Daddy never wanted to live in a body that was compromised and could not do the work he loved, and I am thankful to God for the merciful swiftness with which his life ended.

This post isn't about how or even why my dad died; it is about how he lived.

He was the oldest of nine children, eight of whom survived into adulthood. His own father suffered a stroke and lived on for a time in poor health; my dad witnessed that and it instilled in him a life-long dread of the same fate. Because of his father's illness, my dad was like a father to some of his younger siblings. He was a man of music and great talent - he played the banjo and the guitar and he sang. One of my first, best memories is wrapped around his music. I remember sitting on the front porch in the warm darkness of a summer night, watching fireflies rise like glowing spirits from the grass. Outside the dim halo of light cast through the screen door, Daddy was obscured by the night - only the notes of his guitar and the red glowing circle of his cigarette testified to his presence. The music was fluid and beautiful - it followed his mind's wandering over western plains with the cowboy dreams that he loved. I swung my feet over the porch step and slapped at mosquitoes, breathed in the scents of hay, smoke, and recent rain, and stared up at the stars that were mirrored in the firefly-light of the evening. I felt secure in that moment. Happiness and harmony were as certain and present as the music; suffering, pain, and fear had not yet entered my world in any significant way. It was a moment of perfect peace. It was 1975; I was four years old, and everything in my world was right.

He was a farmer, and he loved the land. He knew how to treat his farm and his animals so that they stayed healthy and productive. He was kind to both. He knew just about everything a farmer needs to know - how to give medical care, how to cultivate, rotate crops, and conserve his soil. He could build any tool or machine he needed and could repair the parts that were old or broken. He was the only person I knew who understood my desire to take things apart to see how they worked, to see if I could rebuild them from memory, and he never got angry if the experiment failed and he had to step in and rescue the project.

People would come to our house late in the evenings to ask for help with electrical problems, sick animals, or appliances that wouldn't work. Even though he'd spent a hard day in the fields, he never failed to go directly to those who were in need and would work all night until the problem was resolved. He knew his neighbors' fields and animals almost as well as his own - could tell when there were problems - and would leave his own work to take on that of another.

I remember waking up to a horrible storm when I was eight years old and ghosting through the house to find him sitting in darkness in the living room. The power was out but he hadn't yet gone to bed. He heard me and called me to him - I climbed on his lap and he held me against his chest and he told me that I didn't need to be afraid of storms. He said if I was afraid, I should just close my eyes and imagine a field full of green grass and flowers. He said to think of all the things that made me feel happy - little foxes and raccoons and rabbits playing together in the grass. He painted a picture with his words that made the storm seem far away and taught me how to visualize a better place and find a calm oasis within myself.

One day, about fifteen years ago, he and I were riding together in my car and he told me a great secret that I've always kept close to my heart - I've tried to remember it when I was in doubt and while that process has been horribly imperfect, I have come back to his words time after time. He said that God put us here on earth intending for us to be good to each other and help each other; he said that the best thing we could do for God was to lighten someone else's load. I reached a deep place of darkness on my faith-journey about four years ago, and even in the awful desert of unbelief, Daddy's words rang true and helped me find my way back to the right path.

On the night of his wake, we stood in the church for four hours and greeted an endless parade of friends, neighbors, and family. Each person had something important to say about my father and his place in their life. It was an incredible testimony to the life of the most generous, loving, and Godly person I've known. I have no doubt about where my father is now. I know that the reunion in heaven must have been incredible. It has brought me a lot of peace and joy to know that he is with his parents and his beloved grandfather. I lie awake when the lights are out and I imagine the music and the laughter and the stories they must be telling each other. I smile when I think about it, even though tears are falling. I am not sad for Daddy - I am sad for me. We will be together again someday, but no one knows when that will be.

It seems so surreal. I can hardly believe that he's gone. At least a dozen times in the last two weeks I've caught myself wondering what my dad would think about this or that; thinking about what I'd tell him on our next phone call. Needing his advice or just craving his company. I'm no stranger to those feelings, but always before I knew there would be another time to be together or another phone call. There won't be a next phone call or another visit this side of heaven. I have accepted that - but sometimes I forget and reality hits like a ton of bricks; the grief is fresh and new each time, and the pain leaves me breathless. That's when someday feels like forever, and it is so hard to wait.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Celebrating Women

I grew up disliking, disrespecting, and disempowering myself. I frequently put myself down, thought of myself as less-than, as unworthy. I looked at everything I was and I hated what I saw, what I felt, what I experienced. I was ashamed to be me. I lived underneath, lower, in the shadows. I slouched so I would not be seen, I tarnished my accomplishments so I would not shine. If I did something good or worthwhile, I made it seem like a fluke. I worked hard to undervalue everything I was. When I was thirteen years old, I took a series of IQ tests and scored higher than anyone expected me to - I left the testing area with my score of 155 thinking that I must have cheated somehow; there was no way my IQ could be that high. I was ashamed of that score, ashamed to have anyone know it. I believed that it must have been a mistake, I just got lucky.

I struggled with self-esteem that was non-existent. My life was a series of lows with flat plateaus between where things weren't quite as bad. I expected awful things to happen. I expected poverty. I expected difficulty. I expected poor health. I expected violence and mistreatment. And of course, because I expected those things, I received them - I was issuing the Universe an engraved invitation to join me in my self-hatred, and I got exactly what I believed I deserved.

You might be asking yourself why I felt this way. The answer is simple but profound. Because I am female.

I was born in the early 1970's, during a time when the second wave of the women's movement was beginning to take shape. I grew up in a very conservative, rural area, where women's roles were sharply defined and bordered by the walls of the kitchen, the bedroom, the nursery, and the edges of the garden. My own family was extremely traditional, and there was no questioning the predetermined paths we walked. I am the last of four children; one boy, three girls. It was a funny family joke that when I was born, my father said with disappointment, "oh, another girl" and often opined that until we reached puberty, girls were just as good as boys. Don't misunderstand me - I love and respect my father. He means the world to me. But his worldview colored my own and without any true mistreatment on his part, I came to know that I was second-class because of my gender.

Even though I accepted them without question, I struggled with the inherent restrictions my sex placed on me. Elsewhere in America, girls were dreaming great dreams - they would be doctors, or attorneys, or journalists. I remember talking about a future career with my mother, who told me that "the women's libbers ruined it for girls" by changing the cultural norms so that girls thought they needed to go to college and have careers. I was in the first grade then; later on, things had changed enough that she believed it was good for girls to be educated, but that the only careers they could - or should - aspire to were those of teacher, nurse, or secretary. My ability to see something greater for myself was greatly constricted by the narrow view my mother took; so much so that I have been or attempted to be all three.

Compounding the restrictions placed on me by my upbringing was the fact that my feminine self was attacked multiple times - I was barely pubescent when I was sexually assaulted. The ongoing molestation culminating in rape left me hating the sexual parts of my body. I spent over twenty years trying to bury myself alive, denying anything in me that was feminine, disrespecting other women to the point of having almost no female friends, and expressing disgust at any ideology that could have been interpreted as promoting equality or femininity. Then I became pregnant, and slowly, things began to change.

Pregnancy is an undeniably feminine condition. For years, I had managed to submerge my femininity, but pregnancy exposed it. My body metamorphosized into something new that was all about being female. Compounding these changes was the discovery that I was carrying a girl. I was shocked - I could not imagine myself raising a daughter. The very idea was frightening for reasons I could not - or would not - imagine. I reacted by becoming the quintessential stereotype of mother; June Cleaver had nothing on me. I immersed myself into a 1950's pre-liberation lifestyle. I stayed home, I cooked elaborate meals, cleaned house, played with my daughter. There is nothing wrong with any of these things. There is, however, something very wrong with forcing yourself into a role that no longer fits, losing everything that makes you who you are. I gave up everything I had formerly enjoyed; writing, gaming, even thinking. Thinking was dangerous - it made me want what I felt I could not have. I was more caged than I had ever been. I gave birth to another girl four years later. I felt that the tomb was sealed.

But ultimately, it was motherhood that saved me. It was watching my daughters grow and feeling total sadness that they would be repressed by the culture and society in which we live. It was like seeing two beautiful young trees growing free and wild uprooted, placed in tiny pots, then brutally pruned and twisted and shaped into bonsai. I know that most people find bonsai beautiful, but all I can see when I look at bonsai is the unrealized potential of the tree. I knew I had to find a better way for myself, for the sake of my daughters.

The journey toward self-acceptance has been long and difficult. I have worked to overcome the disdain I felt for my own gender. I broke down the structures of misogyny that culture and upbringing had erected within me. I became free to appreciate women for their strength and ability. I cultivated friendships with other women and found in myself a deep need for these connections, which I had never enjoyed outside my family.  I learned to value my womanhood, to appreciate my femininity. I have stopped slouching, stopped tarnishing myself. I shine.

Today is International Women's Day. There was a time when I would have scoffed at the very notion, but now I celebrate it. It is a beautiful thing to be a woman; to be strong and flexible, tough as deep roots, with undeniable grace, keen discernment, and sharp intuition. To sway and bend with life's storms, but not break. To realize my own potential and know that as much as I have grown, there is more - more life to embrace, more love to share, more words to shape. More to create. More to receive. More to give. I hope that all women, everywhere, celebrate themselves today. I hope they realize their potential and see how much they can grow, what wonderful things they can give and receive. I hope they shine.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Power and Responsibility

From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded. ~ Jesus Christ (Luke 12:48, NRSV).

With great power comes great responsiblity. ~ Voltaire (Oeuvres de Voltaire, Volume 48).

I've spent much of my life feeling powerless. Now I know that I was wrong - I am not, nor have I ever been powerless; I just didn't own my personal power. I was busy giving it away, mostly because I didn't know what it was, or even that I had it. The culture I grew up in was not conducive to deep self-knowledge or belief in personal power, especially for women. I grew up believing that my most important role was one of support to any man who happened to be in my life, whether that man was my father, my brother, or - eventually - my husband. I was a secondary consideration, a second-class citizen, even to myself. I look back and see that some of the inability to access my own power came from the way I was brought up, but just as much came from the media, and from other cultural sources like teachers, preachers, and other adults in positions of responsibility. No one made it a point to teach me that I should matter to myself. Maybe no one knew I would need to be taught.

Now the point is moot; my journey has taught me that I have as much personal power as I care to claim. In learning this, I have also learned that with great power comes great responsibility. There was a time when I felt overly responsible for everything - that is a function of having codependency - but that isn't what I'm talking about today. I'm talking about real responsibility. Here are some examples.

I own guns. I like my guns. I enjoy target shooting. I like having my pistols around for self-defense and just for the fun of going out to the range and sharpening my aim. Firearms are powerful, and they impart power to their users. But with such power comes responsibility. I am not at all threatened by the idea of background checks and permits. I already have a carry permit, for that matter, and I'd be happy to fill out paperwork and be checked before making a new gun purchase. I wouldn't mind a waiting period - it's not that big a deal, and there's no firearm on the planet that I need in such a hurry that I can't bear to fill out paperwork and wait for a week to obtain. I abide within the law and I have nothing to fear from such requirements. It is a responsibility that I welcome and even invite.

I have daughters. I can't raise them the way I was raised. The world has changed and is changing more swiftly now than perhaps at any other time in the history of human life. We can't afford to raise our children in the vacuum of our own childhoods. I can't let my daughters grow up unaware of their own personal power. There are two lives in my hands, characters that I will shape. If that isn't power, I don't know what is. I have the responsibility to make sure they understand their own worth and never, ever question it.

I am a survivor of violence. I am no longer a victim; I have a voice and great strength of purpose when it comes to advocacy for those who suffer. With this power comes the responsibility for speaking out, for raising awareness, for working toward a better world. If I ignored or failed in this responsibility, I'd be telling myself that there is no purpose to be found in my past, and no reason to struggle and strive to heal.

We all have the power to change what is around us. It starts within us, not without. We have the power to look at who we are, what we believe, what we live for. We have the power to ask God what wonderful things are happening, and that we might somehow be made a part of them. We have the responsibility to work toward something better. Wherever we are, whatever lives we touch, we have the ability to affect change, to light candles and push back the darkness. With great power comes great responsibility. We can't afford not to act. Look at the world we live in and begin the work of discerning how it can be made better. Speak up. Vote. Call your state and federal representatives and let them know how you feel. Treat other people the way you hope to be treated. Perform random acts of loving kindness. 

Remember that you are powerful and honor the responsibility that comes with power. It won't be easy, but it will always be worthwhile.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Mark of the Cross

Happy Ash Wednesday, everybody!

Oh, I know...Lent isn't supposed to be happy. Lent is a time for repentance, for abstinence, for fasting, for giving up. Most of us think of it as a difficult journey of sacrifice. But the truth is that I look forward to Lent the way some people look forward to Easter, or even Christmas. Do I give something up for Lent? Sure I do. Is it hard? Absolutely! But no other spiritual discipline has brought me as close to God. The sacrifices I've made for Lent have enriched my life so much that for me, Lent is something to be celebrated.

We talk about what we will give up. Some people give up meat, or dairy, or chocolate. Some give up smoking, or coffee, or sex. Some even give up Facebook. Whatever you give up, it must be meaningful. It must be something that comes between you and God. Last year, I gave up self-deception. My life was so profoundly changed that even today I am experiencing ripples from that decision. Some people take something on - a new spiritual discipline, perhaps, or a volunteer opportunity. Whether you decide to take up a new cross or lay down an old distraction, make sure that the objective is to clear the pathway between you and God. 

In 2011, I posted about the Lenten service I attended. The meat of that text is below - it is as relevant now as it was then. I hope your Lent is meaningful, and that it leads you closer to God.

Receiving the Mark
On Ash Wednesday the Christian world begins its wilderness journey with Christ in commemoration of his forty days in the desert. At my church, the Sanctuary is quiet as we come forward in long, solemn lines to receive the ashes. Before me, I hear the ministers whisper about how we are all made of dust and must therefore return to dust – exhorting us to repent and believe what the Gospels have taught us. I pray the prayer of contrition, confess my sins before God. I stand with the rest, my forehead bare, waiting. Knowing that the season of Lent begins in that moment, when the minister’s finger draws the midnight-black cross on my skin, marking me as a follower of Jesus, as one who stands in solidarity with the Son of Man in his long suffering, his work for human-kind, and his violent death on a rough piece of wood. In addition to the imposition of the ashes, we are to think and pray and choose something to give up, or some discipline to adopt to mark the forty-day journey through the wilderness.

If you make a sacrifice, it must be meaningful. It must be something that comes between you and Christ. Something that ties you to this world and keeps you from focusing on Kingdom-business. Some give up meat. Some give up liquor. Some give up sex. Some give up coffee, or cigarettes, or chocolate. Somehow, I cannot imagine coming to God’s altar and laying down coffee or cookies. It must be meaningful. It must be something that I can hardly bear to part with, something without which I cannot imagine my life.

But honestly, there is nothing I have or want that seems good enough. I wait with the others and I remember how I stood before the church and read the words of the Fifty-first Psalm earlier in the evening. There is no acceptable sacrifice except hearts that are broken, and spirits that are crushed. God wants to make all things new. He wants to enter empty vessels and fill them. I receive the Mark of Christ, the Body and the Blood of Christ, and then I go to the altar and I pray in the words of the Psalmist from so long ago –

Create in me a clean heart, O God; renew a steadfast spirit within me… Restore me to the joy of your salvation, and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Hide your face from my sins and do not count them against me. Create in me a clean heart.

I came away feeling emptied, ready for whatever the journey brings. I am here, Lord; we can walk together.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Equality - Justice - Peace

I have been struggling to figure out what to write for a while now - since the end of December, in fact. Every time I sit down to sort out my feelings I end up furious and I slam my computer shut. If I'm alone, I cry, or yell, or kick my desk, or punch my pillow. Sometimes I meditate or pray; sometimes I just try to do something else until I calm down. I've been avoiding my own anger. Maybe it's time to stop.

Here's why I'm angry: Jyoti Singh Pandey.

Do you know her name? If you don't, you should. Maybe you know her as India's Daughter. Or maybe you know her as that girl who was gang raped on the bus in India, and who died of her injuries two weeks later. Or maybe you don't know who in the world she is, or why anyone would be angry about her.

I have a confession to make - I'm not just angry about Jyoti Singh Pandey. I am angry about Steubenville, Ohio. I am angry about Savannah Dietrich. I am angry about New Mexico's House Bill 206. I am angry about the Violence Against Women Act of 2012 which was stalled when Republicans balked at protecting Native American women, immigrants, and the LGBT community from violence.

I am angry for my friends who have been abused and harmed. I am angry for the women and men who are pressured by society not to come forward after they have been raped. I am angry for the soldiers who are shamed by their leaders and comrades after being raped or assaulted. I am angry for the children who suffer in silence because they are afraid to tell someone that they are being hurt by a family member or friend. I am angry for the LGBT people who have been viewed as prey and who are attacked simply because they have different expressions of gender or orientation. I am angry for myself, and angry at the people who decided it was fair and just for them to take what they wanted from me with no thought about the damage they did to my psyche and my soul.

For the past month, I've been trying to find a way to constructively deal with my anger. I have signed petitions, worked to raise awareness, and participated in two magazine interviews on the subject of sexual violence and the rape-friendly culture we live in. I have meditated, read books on healing, shame, and vulnerability. I have prayed endless prayers, asking God to change our world. Asking God why people are so cruel. Asking God how he can allow these things to happen. I have prayed that God would take away my anger.

I wanted peace. I wanted resolution. Instead, my rage grows. Maybe the answer is in the anger - maybe the rage itself is right. Shouldn't good people be angry when they see evil being committed? Shouldn't we be enraged when we hear about innocent women and men and children being abused? Shouldn't we be galled by inequality and injustice?

If everyone was angry, maybe things would change. If everyone felt this same anger that I feel, maybe instead of ignoring these issues or deeming them too controversial, we would all work together for justice. Maybe we would overturn a few tables in our cultural temples, and drive out those who are abusing the system for their own gain. Maybe. This is my hope - that each of us could be as incensed over injustice and inequality as every football fan is when the refs make a call in the other team's favor. That we could all spend as much time working for justice as we spend making up our fantasy football teams and talking about last night's game. This is about human rights, people! Wake up!

Equality. Justice. Peace. Aren't these things worth fighting for?

...let justice roll down like water, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. ~ Amos 5:24, NRSV