Small Circles


I had an experience last April that I haven’t talked about yet. My friend, Moira Finley, has this amazing idea that churches should find a place to name and honor the strength of survivors of sexual abuse and assault. At first read, this would seem like a no brainer. Churches are supposed to welcome people, you know, like Jesus did. Many churches work very hard to be inclusive of everyone and make that incredibly difficult balance work. Some churches want to include everyone, but get hung up on one particular group, like welcoming offenders of sexual assault, but not making a whole lot of space for survivors. Other churches have a whole lot of talk about welcoming people, but once you look beyond their welcome mat, it is easy to see they only want people who look and love like they do, which is a nice way of saying they only want people who believe in their particular brand of hate.

Moira has this idea, revolutionary as it is, that churches can welcome and hold space for survivors of sexual assault and rape. She created this amazing liturgy which you can find at You can also read her blog and wait for the 2017 resources, which will be written soon.

My seminary, Eden Theological Seminary, held what I think was the very first Break The Silence Sunday service. It was held on a Thursday. I was fortunate enough to go. I wanted to go in part because I was so proud of the work they were doing in including survivors in this revolutionary way. I wanted to be a part of that. I also wanted to go to make sure they were handling the concerns of survivors and educating new pastors about survivors in a respectful way. They did great, if you were wondering.


At the service, I wore this button for the first, and only time. I have it on my purse every day and sometimes I think people see it, and sometimes I want them to see it. Sometimes I don’t think people see it, and sometimes I don’t want them to see it.


Whether I want people to see the button or not, and whether I want people to know I’m a survivor or not, I am. I can’t, and won’t deny it. Sometimes I tell the story and remove it from myself. I let people infer whatever details they want, or don’t want, to know. If asked, I’ll say more. Usually when I separate what I survived from my self, I am disappointed in what I’ve said. It is part of my story, not all of it of course, but it is a large part of who I am.

For myself and most of the survivors I know, this election period has been intense. It has been a soul crushing reminder of exactly why not everyone tells their stories of rape and abuse. Society as a whole does not want to know. It is too painful, too scandalous, too real, too raw, too much.

People are angry. Angry at survivors for speaking. Survivors are angry. Angry for being reminded again that we are just supposed to take it. We are supposed to let anyone who wants to abuse us and just smile and keep taking whatever shit anyone throws at us.

Well, that plan isn’t working so well. Survivors are talking. Jennifer’s last post spoke to that. It spoke of the anger and how many people are people are tired of taking the abuse. Survivors are done. We are tired. We are hoarse from silencing our screams. But we have successfully been unable to answer the question of now what. We’re done. We’re tired. But now what?

We have seen in the news some of the now what’s even if we couldn’t quite identify them. Women are sharing their stories. Twitter exploded with stories of how women are raped and abused, groped, fondled, harassed, cat called, dismissed.

Survivors are doing their part. We are speaking up. We are also doing our very best to live in a world that doesn’t want to hear us. Advocates are doing their part. They are listening and giving survivors a place to speak. They are educating young people, and old, what can be done to stop rape. Men are speaking about the toxic masculinity that crushes us all.

Conversations are being had. Some people are listening. Some are not. I don’t think that the world is worse than it used to be. I think we have access to far more information that anyone ever imagined.

I do not know what now. I do not think there will be one event we can point to and say this is the now what. Each day, we all make a choice as to what will be the now what. I hope we are on the gaining edge in which we can end rape, hate, violence, and all the other things so many of us are fighting to stop. It must change. The world just cannot take the cries of agony from so many.

So, I leave you with old words presented in a new way. It may not seem like it, but the world has already changed. Let’s keep it swinging in the direction of change, even if it is just in small circles.

In Remembrance of Tim

Tim picture

My uncle has died. Tim Lawrence, date of birth June 5, 1968; date of death January 8, 2016. Length of life: much, much too short.

This post will be honest, potentially shocking, and I hope, not harmful to any survivors who will read it. It may be triggering, as all posts on this blog have the potential to be.

Writing about someone’s death is always difficult. I have not known what to say about Tim. And there are things I know I am not supposed to say. Things confided to me by him that shattered my heart when I learned them. He knew about my blog, and he said that he wanted to read it, but it was just too hard.

“One of the horrifying things I discovered as I grew more and more comfortable sharing my history was that an unfortunately large number of people also had similar experiences. It is a brotherhood and sisterhood that no one wants to belong to but which has an uncountable number of members.” Callen Harty, Empty Playground: A Survivor’s Story.

Then this morning, in my Instagram feed, this amazing painting showed up. I immediately liked the painting, but then I read the caption. The caption said, “Ladies and gentlemen: My new friend Tim. This one is mine and named Tim in honor of a friend gone from this earth too soon.” (Quote and painting used with permission.)

Tim Painting

I knew it was time to write about Tim. The painting was done by my friend, Stacey Oldfield. I have known Stacey for as long as I can remember. When we were little, there was almost an alarming resemblance between us. Tim lived in my grandparents’ house two doors down from my house and Stacey lived across the street from my grandparents. So, she too, probably has known my uncle for as long as she can remember.

When I was first born, apparently, we did not live down the street from my grandparents. Tim used to love to tell the story of being able to ride his bike to my parents’ house to see me after I was born He was so proud of that. He was proud that he got to see me, his first niece, and he was proud of the independence he had riding his bike all that way. It was probably no more than 10 blocks, but it was a big deal for him in many ways.

Tim grew up in a house filled with pain. It was a house of smoke and mirrors. What people on the outside saw was either a trick or something disproportionate to the reality hidden behind the front door.

And that is exactly what the ringleaders, my father and grandparents, wanted people to see. Everyone in those two houses were conditioned to be quiet, to hide pain, and to make everything look like it was okay. I do not know for certain that my grandparents were child molesters. I do know that they encouraged silence and always stood with my father.

All of the kids raised between those two houses are talented. We are smart, we are funny, we are creative, and we can keep secrets. We were a child molester’s dream.

Until we were unable to keep the secrets anymore. Then we became the child molester’s nightmare.

Tim suffered from depression, anxiety, drug addiction, alcohol addiction, and unresolved trauma. And yet, he always tried so hard to be positive. He tried to let the people he loved know that he loved them. He wasn’t perfect, but he was kind and thoughtful, even if he sometimes lacked follow through.

He struggled so hard to overcome the messages of worthlessness he received from far too many people. I don’t know the kind of things my father might have said to him in person, but I know what my father said behind Tim’s back. Since my father didn’t shy away from telling people what he thought of them, I can only begin to imagine the types of hurtful, horrible things my father said to Tim’s face.

Tim tried to outlive the pain and shame that were laid at his feet. Those things never belonged to him, but were put on him by someone else. He couldn’t shake the terror, the fear, the desperation of trying to keep someone else’s secret.

And he wasn’t alone in that, but the isolation was too much. It is hard to name our darkest shame because we fear no one will believe us. We struggle to name the unthinkable, and all the while, we’re struggling against the voices in our head that tell us we’re just a piece of shit no one cares about and won’t listen to anyway. It is an astronomically hard battle.

And some of us never win it.

Tim fought as hard as he could to overcome all that held him back, but it was too much for him. I hope in death he is released from the hell he lived through on earth. I hope he is calm and at peace. Even more than that, though, I hope he is free.

If You Want To Go Far, Go Together

I am concerned about our world. More so than normal. It feels like everyone is living in fear. We have a constant stream in the news of shootings, attacks, rapes of 3 year old children in church bathrooms (wtf?), terrorism, domestic violence killings, victim blaming, racist slurs, poor bashing, woman bashing, man bashing. You name it in the fear category, we’ve got it.

And fear is this tricky thing. It doesn’t unite people. It divides them. It gnaws at our psyches. It makes us look at each person we see and wonder, “Is he a terrorist?” “Is he a rapist”? “Is she going to steal my money in a Ponzi scheme?”

Fear makes us feel powerless. It strikes a chord of anger in us we can’t quite dismiss. Anger is one of those emotions that women especially have been taught to swallow. It isn’t thought to be ladylike to be angry. Anger is often an explosive, unpredictable emotion. And quite honestly, it scares me.

So here we sit at the intersection of fear and anger. We are scared of each other. We are scared of ourselves. We are scared if we say anything, it will be misinterpreted as being against all the voices clamoring to be heard. We are scared if we don’t say anything, it will be taken as acceptance.

I believe all voices, even the ones I disagree with, have a place. If we aren’t allowed to voice even our most crazy ideas, how can we learn that maybe we are thinking incorrectly? In that same vane, though, if one voice or group of voices continually silences another, how can we learn from the voices we are silencing?

Survivors of sexual abuse and rape have worked long and hard to find their voice. Many of us never find it, or find it in only ways we can hear. If we are able to find our voices, we struggle to feel heard. We struggle with the fear of being told never to tell. We struggle with the anger of struggling to find the voice and whether or not we are worthy to speak. Sometimes, we have found the courage to tell before. Sometimes, we are heard, but far too often, we are shut down.

I know rape survivors are not alone in this struggle. I also know that there are survivors of many varieties and some people, unfortunately, survive many things. People survive oppression, poverty, violence, abuse, physical and mental illness. We survive natural disasters, economic disasters, emotional disasters. We survive. It’s what we do. And yes, far too many people don’t, or they hold onto unhealthy patterns they learned to survive and then use those methods to hurt other people.

It takes time and endurance to find your voice. It takes courage. I commend everything you’ve done to find your voice. I want you to lift it up and share your story.

And as you lift up your voice, I ask a favor. Please remember others are struggling to find their voices as well. Once we learn how to shout, it is easy to not hear the voice next to us that is still a squeak. Please listen for the still soft voices, or those that are yet unvocalized.

There is an African Proverb I’ve seen going around. It states, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Please consider going far.

Go far, go together

There is much fear and anger in our world. It is scary. Together, though, I believe we can shine a light in the darkness. I hope you believe it, too.

To end the post, I ask you to remember Old Turtle. If you don’t know Old Turtle, this would be an excellent time to learn about her. Old Turtle lived in a lot of turmoil. She didn’t say much as the people and creatures around her tried to define what god meant to them. She stayed quiet until the defining became arguing. When all the voices became so loud they could no longer hear each other, she said, “Please, STOP!” Once Old Turtle had everyone’s attention, she reminded them that the god they sought to define was all they each described and more. A description of god could not be encompassed by one voice. “And after a long, lonesome and scary time… the people listened, and began to hear…”

There are a lot of clamoring voices now. It’s pretty scary. It’s pretty lonesome. I hope it won’t be long for us to get back to listening, hearing, speaking, crying, healing, and smiling as we work together to tell our stories and heal.

Does Sharing Your Story Really Matter Revisited

After three months of living with her story out in the public, Pam sent us this and asked us to post it. In case you’ve ever wondered if sharing your story mattered, we’d like to assure that it does.

It matters because you matter.

Does Sharing Your Story Really Matter?

I am so glad that Jackie wrote “Does Sharing Your Story Really Matter?”

It’s been three months since I shared my story. When I wrote it, I was only writing it to journal thoughts that I didn’t want to bottle up. I shared it with a friend – we share writings back and forth. I remember him saying “this needs a broader readership.” I thought, “are you kidding me?” My second thought, shortly after though was about how many people have suffered this abuse and who still live in their silence and completely undeserved shame. It almost ended up on a well-read blog that deals with lots of important topics. I’m glad now, that it didn’t end up there. The reason it didn’t end up there is because I also sent it to Jackie for “Learninghope.” It belongs on How Jackie and I know each other and became friends is a pretty amazing story in itself. That’s perhaps a story for another time.

In the first 10 days, Jackie updated me with the number of times my story had been read and shared. I was floored. As a former Wisconsin resident, my visual comparison was having Lambeau Field full of people listening to me. To Me. Since the story has come out, many people have shared their own stories with me – strangers and people I know. No more silence for us.

The story was also picked up by several organizations that are well known for helping survivors and educating people about abuse. My national church denomination (ELCA) picked up the story, edited it for length and republished it for their print and online publications. Our national denominational education for pastors about issues of abuse and boundaries will be including my story as part of their training events.

In giving permission for publication in “THE LUTHERAN,” I was given the choice by the editor whether to publish anonymously or to use my name. That was sort of a heart-stopping decision, and yet, I knew what I needed to do. The story needed to be grounded in a real person with a real name. In the weeks between making the decision to allow my full name, and the publication date of “THE LUTHERAN” I knew I needed to prepare some family members for this to be in print and nationally distributed. There were people that I didn’t want to feel guilty about not protecting me. This was a very tense time for me to say the least. I worried about crank calls and worried what would happen if my abuser found out. I had no idea what to expect. But I am in a well-supported time and place in my life, so I started contacting a few family members.

What I discovered is that among my childhood circle of family and extended family, I was by no means the only victim. I was surrounded by other children who were also being abused – by a variety of abusers. But we never talked to each other because of our shame, or because of threats. None of us knew what the others were going through. At least one of the people I didn’t want to feel guilty for not protecting me, was abusing another little girl. To think about that makes me feel ill. I think about all those little kids feeling like they were the only one in the world going through something so literally unspeakable.

Does Sharing Your Story Really Matter? I’ve learned some very basic things about this question in these three months.

· The most basic thing is that the answer is a resounding “yes!” Tell your story and keep telling your story until you believe that you are worthy of genuine love. You were not at fault.

· The people I was trying to protect by not telling my story all those years – did not need to be protected. I did. The other children did.

· A very important thing I learned was, even though the number of people who have read my story is staggering to me, the most significant sharing has happened among my family and close friends who found their real voice because I used mine. In connecting with other survivors who are also in strong, healthy adult relationships, we celebrate our strength together and vow to break the cycle of silence, shame and abuse. We won’t participate in poisonous relationship anymore. You don’t need thousands of people to know your story. Your story matters because you matter.

· Remember the statistics. Learning hope has specific stats posted. I tend to generalize and think if there are 8-10 people in a room, there are probably several survivors. It’s an epidemic that no one has wanted to talk about. What the telling of my story accomplished was to get a whole lot of people to read and talk about “the elephant in the living room”.

· I told so I could heal. My story ended up helping others. So can yours.

Unexpected Sighting

Let me preface this by saying I’m sorry. I’m not writing this to scare you, but it is my guess it will. I shouldn’t have to write this post, and you shouldn’t have to worry about it.

But I have to write it and you now have to worry, if you weren’t already worried.

My friend recently went to a movie. It was one of those movies geared toward kids, with some humor thrown in for the adults who need to go with them. Just because the movie was geared toward kids doesn’t mean adults can’t go and enjoy it, but sometimes, there is something more sinister going on.

My friend is a survivor of sexual abuse. As she was getting her tickets, she thought she saw a man who looked like her abuser. She shook it off because she thought it was unlikely that her abuser would be at this particular movie; a kids’ movie. She and her boyfriend found their seats and a few minutes later, someone sat down behind them. She got that feeling-that creepy, something isn’t right feeling. She glanced over her shoulder, and there was her abuser. He was with his wife and step-daughter. At least he wasn’t there just by himself, but he was still there.

My friend got up and walked out of the theater. Her boyfriend, not knowing what was going on, followed. She told him who was sitting behind her and then they talked about whether or not they should stay.

She ultimately decided to stay. They watched the movie, and then on the way out, she went to the bathroom. Her abuser’s wife and step-daughter were in the bathroom. If they recognized her, they didn’t say anything.

I absolutely could not have stayed in the theater. This isn’t about judging my friend for her choice. I would like to think I would have had enough courage to announce to the crowded theater of kids and parents that there was a convicted sex offender in their midst. I’m not sure I could have done that.

I don’t want you to never take your child to a movie again. Or a park, or, church, or school, camp, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, daycare… I hope you get my point that predators are EVERYWHERE. We cannot assume that they are cowering in the shadows. They are bold and brash and looking for an opportunity to abuse kids.

The very best we can do for our kids is talk to them about staying safe. Teach them about safe touch. Teach them to say no. Tell them they can tell you anything and you will believe them and do everything you can to keep them safe. Teach them that secrets aren’t something to keep and that even if someone touches them inappropriately and threatens to hurt you, that it’s just a threat to keep them quiet. Tell them how much you love them and how important they are. Go with them to movies, and the bathroom.

You cannot keep your kids home so they never experience danger. That kind of defeats the point of having them and wanting them to be independent people.

Above all, teach them to be smart and pay attention. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Tell them it is okay to say that something doesn’t feel right and to get out of that situation.

Sex offenders are everywhere. Kids are everywhere. Even if they are never abused, and I hope beyond hope that they aren’t, they will encounter them. Give them the tools to keep themselves safe. This is the only way we can stop the epidemic of sexual abuse.

This story was used with permission of my friend. No one has been named to protect her privacy. If it weren’t for that, please know I would have named the abuser.

Does Sharing Your Story Really Matter?

As survivors, and people who try to exist in a culture that tells us to speak up and be quiet all at the same time, I often wonder if posting on facebook and writing blog posts really matters. Am I just writing into the din, with no real change in the ripple in the universe? Maybe I am. Jennifer and I decided when we started this joint project that we would not let the numbers of who looked at our posts, how many re-shares we got, how many likes or unlikes we got and all the other statistical information control our thoughts about what we do. We post because we feel it is necessary. We hope that what we write and share brings light and hope to someone in the world who is struggling.

We have been in that place of so alone. We have felt unheard. We have wondered if anyone else out there in the vast wide world was feeling the pain we were.

Let me remind you. You are not alone and it is not your fault.

As I have tried to state as strongly as I know how, it isn’t about the numbers. It’s about sharing our stories, our pain, and our triumphs because we want everyone to know they are not alone. We want to be a beacon of light in the darkness, and know that we will probably never know who reads our posts and if it offers hope.

Does Sharing Your Story Really Matter?

We recently posted Pam’s Story to our story wall. Whenever we post a story, I try to communicate with the person who shared it with us. It is scary to put your deepest hurts out in the world. I try to check in and see how the person is doing, but I also try to keep them apprised of the statistics we get back from wordpress about what countries have looked at the site in the last twenty-four hours. Through facebook, we are also able to boost a post and see how many people have viewed the post.

I am writing this all at Pam’s request. She took a tremendous risk to share her story, as does every survivor who shares their story here or any where.

People saw her story. There is no doubt in my mind that it brought and will continue to bring healing to people who read it.

So, since the numbers are not the driving force of this work, but they are interesting, and overwhelming, here’s a synopsis of the numbers on Pam’s story. We did pay to boost the post on facebook. That garnered 10 shares, one of which was in South Africa. At the present moment, 59,648 people saw her post through facebook. It was shared by at least two other sexual abuse survivor resource groups. This site has been seen in the last twenty-four hours by people in The United States, China, France, The European Union, Israel, Viet Nam, Thailand, India, and The Netherlands. Yes, I know. Some of those are spam hits, but some aren’t. There are real people behind those searches who found our little website.

I hope they were comforted by what they found here. I hope they found courage in the stories of people who have given us the honor of sharing their very personal pain and strength. Most of all, I hope they were reminded that they are not alone.

Just in case you’ve ever wondered if your story matters, let me assure you it does. Any time you share your story, you are helping other people. But perhaps the most important person you are helping is you. Sharing your story is important because it’s your story. You survived. And we hope, beyond anything, that you are healing, and that you know you are not alone.

Your story matters because you matter.

The Question of Forgiveness – Pam’s Story, a Pastor’s Perspective You May Not Expect

Here is the newest addition to our Story Wall. Please take a look. We would like to thank Pam so much for letting us share it here. Thank you for your courage and your strength.


This morning, while sleeping and waking, I had “Radio Flyer” playing on the television. Do you remember that movie? It came out in 1992 and I probably saw it in college.

The basic story is about two young brothers, their dog, their turtle, their mom who works nights, and their alcoholic abusive father. The boys play and explore in the neighborhood around them. They are typical kids, trying desperately to avoid their father and the beatings he constantly instills on the youngest boy.

The movie is full of a lot of pain. It is heartbreaking to watch and know that the little boy cannot protect himself. And that isn’t his job. He needs to be a child and not worry about needing protection, but that isn’t his reality. His reality is that his father brutally beats him because he can. The father is like most abusers and manipulators. He knows who he can attack and encounter the least resistance.

The other side of the movie is the plan the boys put together to get away. It is the hope of getting away that keeps them going. The escape is not one people in abusive situations usually have, but if you haven’t seen the movie, please watch it. You have permission to fast forward through the tough parts. Get enough of the story to get to the end. Watch it. Let it sink in.

And don’t give up.

Hope is a scary and tricky thing. It can mislead us and disappoint us. It can take us places we never expected to go. It can lead us into new territory, which is not always comfortable. It can make us grow. It can make us cautious. It can also set us free.

Hope is something we know, but don’t know. It is something we understand, that also perplexes us. Jennifer and I spent a lot of time trying to come up with the name for our site. Learninghope embodies this spirit. We know hope, but sometimes it eludes us. In those times, we must work to relearn it. Some circumstances have caused us to lose hope, but I hope, you keep striving to learn it. The concept of learninghope is a little peculiar, as is the journey to get to hope. Sometimes we have to learn to create hope when it seems there is none.

I hoped that the little boys in “Radio Flyer” got away. I hoped that they never had to be abused again.

I hope that for every person who feels trapped. I hope you have at least one person who listens to you and helps nurture your dreams. I hope you not only learn to fly, but I hope you learn to soar.

Child Abuse Awareness and Sexual Assault Prevention Month 2015


April is Child Abuse Awareness and Sexual Assault Prevention Month. Here are some pictures to encourage you through the month. Please feel free to share them!




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