Small Circles

rape-survivor

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 breakthesilencesunday.org. 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.


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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.

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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.

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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Congratulations!

Jennifer and Dave

On Saturday, our very own Jennifer Carmer Phelps became Jennifer Carmer-Hall. She and her dear husband, Dave Carmer-Hall invited Jeff and I to the wedding. It was one of the most beautiful weddings I’ve ever been to. I’m a little partial because I love these two people so much, but nothing could have suited their union better. The ceremony was simple, elegant, and FUN! They danced and laughed during the ceremony. This is so fitting because I think that’s how they live their lives every day. Even through the trying times, they dance and work together. It might not always be smooth sailing, but they work together and support each other, holding each other dearly and tenderly through every event life brings. That’s about as wonderful as it gets. ūüôā

It was so great for us because Jeff and I got to spend some much needed time away together. It’s been far too long since we’ve been able to get away. It was a good reminder for us that time together is so vitally important. We go on dates and work together out in the yard and garden, but this was a great reminder that dedicated time is important to both of us. It was a long trip, but we had fun and Jeff even got new cowboy boots!

While we were at the wedding, I got to meet some of Jennifer’s amazing friends. These are people who like posts on facebook (and if you haven’t found us on facebook yet, please feel free to like us and share¬†the link if you are inclined.) It was fun, and very humbling to meet people who read what we write. They were all dear and complimentary and I’m honored to know that there really are real people out there who read our blog. There are many people who comment and like our¬†posts. I know they are real people too and I¬†thank you each of you for your support.

I cannot believe I forgot to put in one¬†more awesome thing that happened this¬†weekend! I got to meet the lady who introduced Jennifer and me! I could never figure out exactly how Jennifer found me. She told me the story, but left out the person’s name, to maintain confidentiality. I’m so glad to have met her and so glad she told Jennifer to find me! Thank you will never suffice for that!

Congratulations Jennifer and Dave! I love you both and I’m so honored to know you!

 

A New Day

It is hard to describe to someone what my job is and what I do during the day. I spend a lot of time thinking. It may look like I’m doing nothing, but there is a lot going on.

I’m doing work on my own book, and work with another survivor on a comprehensive book for use in classrooms and other settings to try and explain the complexities of abuse. We are trying to address all forms of abuse – rape, incest, date rape, stalking, child sex trafficking, ritualistic abuse, and all the other forms we can think to address. To do that kind of work, I need to keep reading and talking to people who have experienced these different horrors and survived. I need to think about those who have not survived.

I also manage our household. It is definitely a partnership, but I have a more adjustable time schedule so I can make calls about things, do the shopping, do a lot of the errands that keep our household going.

In the summer, Jeff and I do a lot of gardening. We love every minute of it and it gives me a different space in which to think up posts and ideas to help survivors tell their stories and gives me energy to keep giving others hope. It allows me to recharge and do the rewarding, though sometimes draining work that I do.

One of the most rewarding parts of my job is listening to the stories of others. It is also the hardest part sometimes because I want to just hug them and hug away their pain. It isn’t always appropriate to do that because I need to respect others’ boundaries and always try to ask if I can hug them. It certainly is not appropriate for me to try and take on the pain of others for my own sake¬†or for their healing, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to sit with them through it.

A lot of the information I deal with and receive on a daily basis is also confidential. When I am contacted by another survivor, I let Jennifer know because we are partners, but we both understand that the details of conversations I have and she has are not necessarily important to convey to each other. It’s just a boundary that we talked about when we started writing together.

It is an honor for me to sit with another, even over the computer and hear stories that sometimes have never been uttered before. Honor is a strange choice of words perhaps. I am not excited to hear their story, but I am honored to be part of the hearing of it. I do not like to hear the pain of others, but I am humbled and grateful that they are sharing and I can help hear them into speech.

I know I’ve used that phrase before and I can’t take any credit for it. It was said to me by one of my primary listeners.¬†He heard my pain and listened.¬†That is one of the best gifts I have ever been given. It is one of the greatest things I could ever hope to pass on to another who is in pain.

My job does not necessarily lend itself to pleasant conversation. People will ask me what I do and first of all it’s hard to explain, but it is also hard for others to hear. I went to the doctor over the summer for a test and the person administering the test said, “And what do you do?” I told her and she looked seriously uncomfortable – the uncomfortable that makes one contemplate turning and running from the room. It could have been part of her history and made her uncomfortable, or it could have just made her really uncomfortable.

That is also an issue of what I do. I never want to hurt another person by talking about what I do. It may strike their own pain and they may not be as vocal about it as me. At the same time however, I want to encourage everyone to speak and keep speaking. Silence doesn’t help anyone but the abuser; but that never makes speaking easy.

As part of my thinking, I sometimes wonder if I need to be out more, speaking, doing advocacy work, talking with people. My life does not necessarily lend itself to that at this point.It is a dream I will keep exploring, but for now, I sit and write and think. Listen and dream, and hope. Jennifer and I are working on workshop platforms. We are also continuing the Signs of Hope. We want to keep adding inspiring pictures and more languages in which to share the message “You are Not Alone” and “It is Not Your Fault.” We are also working on a page called “Abuse Facts” and one called “Abuse Myths.” There’s still a lot of work to be done, but we do it a little at a time and both of us keep thinking and hoping.

Hard to explain, but definitely not a bad job.

We would love to hear about your dream job and why it may be hard to explain. We hope you get to do it! Dream big, friends! You never know when that dream just might come true.

New Day

 

What If It Really Does Matter?

Learninghope.org is a work of love and the brainchild of Jennifer and me.  You may not have known that Jennifer and I live in different places and until this past Friday, we had never actually met.

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Jennifer found my blog through a friend of a friend in 2009.  She commented on some different things I had posted and I asked her if she would like to do a guest post.  After giving it some thought, she agreed to do it; and it was a great post.

Whenever one considers sharing his or her story, there are many factors to consider.¬† The person has to consider, first of all, whether or not to share at all. Many people chose not to tell, anyone, ever. Then how much to tell? What is the right time? What if people don’t believe me? What if they do believe me? What if I’m the only one? What if I’m not? Am I ready for this? Am I ready to be public about such a painful thing?

One good or bad thing with sharing your story on a blog, especially on the blog of someone’s blog you haven’t actually met, is privacy and anonymity.¬†There is some safety to being an anonymous person behind a computer screen. But it can also be a lonely experience.¬† There isn’t anyone there, in the room there, to hold your hand if you are in a place you can accept that kind of response.¬† You put your story out there and wait for a response, or a criticism.

You wonder what your family will think, because even though it is your story, it touches them too. Your pain and your hope touch your friends. It touches people who walk down the street past you, because even though you may not speak to them, the message you put out in the world changes the waves of the universe.

That sounds big and dreamy, and I sometimes wonder what gives me the right to think I can change the world. Then I wonder what gives me the right not to try and change the world. I cannot fix, save, or help everyone. In the moments when I think I can save the world and then I read the newspaper and see the atrocities still occurring ever day, it would be nice to give up. It would be nice to hide in the garden and be thankful that I survived and wish other survivors luck, on their own, to do the same.

But I can’t do that. I can not be silent. And last Friday, I was reaffirmed in my believe that Jennifer can not be silent either. The world may not be ready for us. I was reaffirmed in my believe of this also, as we were seated¬†at a tucked-away table in a swanky, but excellent¬†restaurant¬†on Chicago’s North Shore.¬†We sat and talked, shared stories about our lives now, our lives before, when things were pretty painful, and talked about trafficking survivors. I can’t say for certain, but I’d say these aren’t topics discussed every day in that particular setting.

I also felt myself being reaffirmed that our partners back us up 110%. It might not be their fight, but they are behind us as we fight it. I love Jeff more for that and love Jennifer’s soon-to-be spouse for it as well.

In my lifetime, I do not realistically believe that we can completely end childhood sexual abuse. In my moments when I let fear overtake hope, I do not believe I am doing a single worthwhile thing that will help end childhood sexual abuse.¬† I believe that I’m just talking to myself. On days when my head is a little more clear, I think to myself, “What if we actually are making a difference?” How completely scary and wonderful might that be?

I read an article on “The Daily Good” today. I think this paragraph may teach¬†Jennifer and I¬†much and inspire us, and I hope teach and inspire you, onward in your journey to hope, to love, to be whole.

“What if we could offer our work as a gift so lightly, and with so much love, that¬†that’sreally the source of fearlessness? We don’t need it to be accepted in any one way. We don’t need it to create any certain outcome. We don’t need it to be any one thing. It is in the way we¬†offer¬†it, that the work transforms us. It is in the way we¬†offer¬†our work as a¬†gift¬†to those we love, to those we care about, to the issues we care about. It is in the way we¬†offer¬†the work that we find fearlessness. Beyond hope and fear, I think, is the possibility of love.”

Jennifer and I multiplied life by the power of two on Friday. Actually, I think we multiplied it at least by the power of four, but that isn’t in the song. We have each walked our own journey and will continue to do so, but our paths have joined and together, we’ll keep on walking and fighting, not knowing where this road will lead us. And I hope, you walk this journey with us and know that you are not alone.

Power of Two

This is one of my favorite stories. I heard it almost every week when I worked with Habitat for Humanity.

A young woman was walking down the beach at sunrise. In the distance, she saw a figure. The figure, though far away, appeared to be dancing. She continued to walk, mesmerized by the motion of the figure. As she got closer, she saw another young woman picking something up from the beach and tossing it back into the water. As she went closer still, she could see that the woman was picking up starfish that had beached overnight and was tossing them back in the sea. She said to the woman, “There are millions of miles of beaches in the world and there is no way you can save all the starfish. What does it matter?” The other woman, startled by another’s presence, said, “Yes, you are right. I cannot save them all and to many it would not matter.” She picked up another starfish, considered it and said, “But it matters to this one.” And tossed it back into the sea.

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While the stories and the pain of surviving childhood sexual abuse may not seem to matter, please know, that to Jennifer and me, it matters. You, your pain, your story and your healing matter. We hope you find this a place to keep learning hope.

 

Beginnings

For about a year, I’ve been saying that I needed to move my blog. I needed a new site. I needed it to fit my need and what I see as my new mission in a different way. I absolutely needed to change the site because of my last name on my temporary one. I think I had temporary insanity for the whole three years I had it and a little while before. It was like a traffic accident that just kept piling up and I just couldn’t look away.

But I finally jerked my gaze away. By doing that, I had to change what I’d been doing. It wasn’t working so, to change was not that strange of a concept.

It is always hard, or at least the thought of it is hard.

This is my first post on this new blog. I am excited. I am also looking forward to many more posts and working with Jennifer on this project. I think we will be a good team.

Part of the reason I waited so long to start this new blog was that I didn’t know how to set it up. I was totally clueless. There was no easy place to start. Step one – a new name. Jennifer and I worked together to pick a name we both liked. So we managed to do that, and we didn’t do it alone. Step two – buy the name before someone else snapped it up. Some conversations with friends led us to a site to get the name, so we got it. Then for a web host. Again, conversations with friends and searching through new sites. It was the goal to find an actual web person, but we ended up finding was Chris, from http://www.Chris-Jenn.net, a friend from seminary, who isn’t a web person, per se, but knows useful things about the internet and started the blog journey before us. (He might not be a web person, but he is a minister and an excellent consultant on youth faith development.)

So then we got started setting up the site. That took several frustrated emails to tech support on two different sites. One was very helpful and fixed the problem for us. The other was helpful, but it took several rounds of emails to get the necessary answer.

Now we are kind of on our own. Trying things out and sometimes succeeding, sometimes not succeeding, but learning from the mistake and trying again. The current site we’re working on is under construction and I hope you can roll with us through the growing pains and changes. It will take us a little while to get a groove for this and build on this totally cool thing we’re building. It is a new adventure and no one knows where it will take us!

It is not nearly as painful, but this process reminded me of my journey to heal from sexual abuse. There were a lot of unknowns in my journey. There was a lot of really (really, really, really) scary things I encountered as I healed. Building a website is not nearly that scary, but it did cause some anxiety. It also reminded me of how resourceful survivors can be. Jennifer and I have both had to be creative and innovative to get where we are. We had to learn and make mistakes. We had to be frustrated, sometimes beyond belief, then we experienced something that we did gracefully and like we’d been doing them all our lives.

All survivors have this tenacity. I think, actually, most people have this level of tenacity. Sometimes, that tenacity and that strength gets lost and we feel broken and completely wrung out.

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So we sat down and reflected for a while, cried the tears we needed to cry, then we got up and danced in the rain.

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Life is about twists and turns, highs and lows, learning, crying, losing, gaining. All of the the things that everyone goes through in life. The abuse that we experienced altered our perspectives on life, but we kept going. Somehow, we held on and kept moving. And we found hope. It took a while and sometimes, we forget we have it, but it is a skill we are still in the process of honing.

If you have been abused, are a supporter of someone who was abused, or are part of a community rocked by abuse, you may need to learn hope as well. We look forward to walking with you on this journey.