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.


break-the-silence-sunday

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.

rape-survivor

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.

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.

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.

http://www.learninghope.org/story-wall/story-wall/pams-story-on-forgiveness-and-childhood-sex-abuse-not-what-youd-expect-a-pastor-to-say/

Soar

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.

Moving Toward The Wrong Goal

Last fall, I took a part time, or what I thought would be a part time, job. I was told that the job would be ten to twenty hours a week. Starting a few weeks before Black Friday made this far from true. The job required that I go into stores and assemble new displays, count types of software present in the store, audit displays, talk to employees about specific types of software, and sometimes updating demos on computers on display in certain stores.

My house is basically in the middle of the territory I was supposed to cover. My drive from my house to the first store in which I was to work for the day and my drive from the last store to my house was considered my commute and not time for which I was paid. Sometimes that was reasonable, but sometimes it did not work out in my favor. I was putting huge amounts of miles on my car, sometimes working for a few hours a day, sometimes working for twelve hours a day.

Shortly after starting the job, I put in my two weeks notice. It was too much. Too much driving, too much sitting at the computer printing off instructions, running to the store to buy ink, not having all the pieces I needed to complete the job, just too much. My manager called me and said he hoped he could convince me to stay. He said I was doing a good job and that no one had complained about the work that I had done. I’m still not sure why anyone would have complained, but I guess that’s beside the point. I agreed to stay on and try to manage the work differently. I thought the problem was me.

I am extremely privileged to have a supportive husband who makes enough money that I really do not have to work outside of our home. Jeff is so loving and supportive and he really just wants me to follow my dreams. His support is more than I ever dreamed.

I wasn’t writing here anymore. I wasn’t working as hard on the facebook page that Jennifer and I maintain. I was putting all my energy into driving hundreds of miles, for a small amount of money. Money isn’t the most important thing in life, and while most people could always use more, I wasn’t able to focus on what really matters in my life. I would think of ideas to write about during my drives, but would not write them down, and didn’t have the energy to write about them even if I remembered by the time I got home.

I continued to work and sometimes was assigned more territory because other people quit. I have worked for another company to help set displays and redo aisles of product. In this job, I don’t work as much, I usually get more mileage, and I get to chose which jobs I take. I didn’t have a choice in this second position I was working. I think part of that was that my manager was trying to give me more work, but also other people quit and he didn’t have a choice.

The last job I did was supposed to take two hours and ten minutes. It took me five hours. I wasn’t moving slowly. I cannot say what took so much extra time, except that I spent a lot of time looking for pieces of the display I needed, finding shelves, getting labels printed, and trying to make pieces fit on a display that were not really the right size.

The day before, I had done a similar job. Part of the job required me to assemble a stand for a vacuum. The display required six stands. Each box I opened contained a screwdriver. That may sound like a normal thing, but I think I was struck by the amount of waste. I was required to carry a screwdriver with1 me as part of my work tool kit. But I acquired six new screw drivers in one setting. The screwdrivers smelled so strongly of chemicals that my hands still had the chemical smell on them hours later, even though I had washed my hands several times.

In our lives at home, Jeff and I try to use minimal chemicals. Even in the garden, we use as little as possible and try to search out natural ways so we don’t have to spray heavy chemicals on what we’re going to eat and share with others. I struggled to get my mind around the absurdity of the waste and whatever chemicals were on the screwdriver handle.

I was missing the point. I was spending so much time and energy working for this company that I didn’t have any energy to write, or read, or make dinner, or do the things that are important to me. I quit after the five our job. I’ve never just quit on the spot, but I knew it was not going to get any better. It would be a few weeks of not much work, then I would be slammed. I’m sure for some people this job is totally fine, but it was not fine for me. It was not fine at all.

I need to get back to writing. I need to get back to putting energy in advocating for survivors of sexual abuse. I may never make much money doing this, but it is my passion to help survivors find their voices. I was working toward the wrong goal, and I am truly grateful for Jeff’s support and help to get me refocused on what matters in our lives.

Have you ever worked toward something that took you further and further away from your real goal? It may have seemed like it would help you reach a goal at the beginning, but took you in a completely different direction. I’d love to hear your stories about what took you away from your goal and how you get back on track.

Self-Parenting?

Do you have kids? Nieces? Nephews? Neighborhood children? Have you ever felt like you had to parent someone? Most people, in some form or another, have had to act like a parent to someone. Or perhaps we felt like someone should be in a parenting roll for a child or another adult.

If the concept of being a parent doesn’t ring true for you, did you have a parent or parental figure in your life?

Many people, for many reasons, have felt like they didn’t have a parent, or needed a stronger one. I hope you found someone, a friend or older adult, who helped you and acted in a parental manner toward you.

Sometimes, however, we can’t find a suitable person to be our parenting figure, or we need more care than the person we found is able to give. What if we were each able to learn to parent ourselves in those kind of situations.

That may sound like just some lame therapeutic tool, but it can be really valuable and practical. Imagine in a situation where you are struggling that you can say to yourself, “Jackie, what do you need to feel better at this moment? What do you need to make it through, even though it seems like you are all alone and everything seems overwhelming and beyond what you can do?” “Do you need to take a few minutes outside of the situation to calm down? Do you need to take a nap? Do you need to stand up for yourself and say something? What is it you need to do to get through this or take care of yourself in this situation?

I have had these moments in my life. I have had a lot of them actually. It seems strange to many of us, and we think that someone else knows the exact solution or knows what we need. Sometimes someone else does know what we need, but that is usually because we know ourselves well enough to have expressed to that other person what we need.

We have to do the hard work of learning to parent ourselves. For so many reasons, our parents weren’t there for us, or aren’t there for us anymore. There isn’t anyone else that can fix it for us. We have to do it.

And the work is hard. It is hard to realize we need to learn how to do it. It is hard to mourn the loss of the people who were supposed to do it. It is hard to have the self confidence to do it. It is hard to keep doing it.

Many of us, did not have very good examples of parenting in the first place. Then to take skills which are not engrained in our minds and use them on ourselves can be pretty scary. So many of us know, just feel it in our bones, that the way we were raised and treated just isn’t right. We would never treat anyone else like we were treated. We have to take that knowledge and use it on ourselves.

We would never say things to others to hurt them. We know what it was like to be hurt and even though we slip and make mistakes, we must learn that we, too, are people who do not deserve to be hurt and told bad things.

Parenting is hard. It doesn’t matter if you are parenting yourself or others, it’s hard work. Some of us have skills naturally to do it. Others of us have to learn as we go.

Regardless of the models you had, everyone makes mistakes. As you learn to parent yourself and treat yourself well and in a way you would like to be treated, be kind and know that even if you make a mistake, you have the opportunity to make a better choice and treat yourself better the next time.

We would love to know who your parenting role model was and how you have learned, or are learning, to parent yourself.

Soaring Soul

Friday night, Jeff and I got to see The Chieftains. If you do not know The Chieftains, first let me say that I’m sorry you do not and you should immediately go and find them on Google or Youtube. In reality, I know they do not suit everyone and that’s okay. You are entitled to your opinion.

I do not know when I first heard The Chieftains’ music. It must have been in college because I wasn’t allowed to listen to anything but country at home. When my sister and I lived in California in 2001, we had the opportunity to go and see this amazing group. I said at the time that I would see them again if I ever had the opportunity and I would pay whatever amount of money necessary to do so. That is a bit of an overstatement, but they fill me with a delight I am not sure I can describe.

As with all music, the sound is often what greets you first. If I were an audiologist, or some specialist in sound, I could walk you through the complex interactions of notes, music, nerves, brain processes and other feelings that make the experience of music so amazing. All I can describe for you is my experience of music, and particularly, music from The Chieftains.

The stage was small, and we were not far from the stage. The group of musicians enter, there were seven to eight of them on stage at once. The music starts. It enters my ears, as one would expect, but after that, it becomes an experience that differs greatly from most other musical experiences I have ever had. After my ears, the music goes right to my heart. It causes it to swell and float. I suddenly know how the Grinch felt when his heart grew three sizes. My heart expands and in the process, pulls open the rest of my senses. The music plays around in my brain, and tickles my sinuses, pushing me to the brink of tears. Then it moves again and flutters at the back of my eyes. This time, it pushes out the tears that have already formed. Then it jumps back to my heart and snags the attention of my soul, which then does its own little dance.

The songs are not always sad. They were often in a language I do not understand. Some of them, I’m sure if I understood, would be hilariously funny, just because of the tone in which they are done. And some are sad. They are songs of war and loss and home.

The original members of this group are getting physically old. The four members who have been together the longest, Paddy Moloney, Seán Keane, Kevin Conneff, and Matt Molloy have an impressive 52 year history together. Actually, the group has been around since 1962. Only Paddy Moloney is original to the group. Their spirits, however, still soar with their music.

I think this description of my experience pales in comparison to what it actually was like. I’ve written before that I’m doing some genealogical work. I think this is what I’m looking for – I’m looking for my link to a place that feels like home, where my spirit sings in the great chorus of the ages.

The Chieftains are friends with American astronaut, Catherine Coleman and she borrowed a flute and tin whistle from them and took them to the International Space Station. This video is not the same one we saw Friday night, but it is still amazing. I hope you find it interesting, if nothing else. Imagine, a small tiny whistle and a 100 year old flute going all the way to space.

I would love to hear about the music or places that make your soul soar.

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Pictoral History

Last week, I was sorting through some boxes in our guest room. A more appropriate name for the room would be “The place where we put boxes of things we think we need, but really do not need most of the stuff in them.” I sorted through a bunch of my husband’s stuff, keeping what was important and starting a box for things that should have been shredded a long time ago. I came to the bottom Rubbermaid container in the stack and pulled the lid off, expecting to find more of his paperwork. To my surprise, it was full of my photograph books and scrap books.

I paged through one book, finding pictures of many stages of life, in no particular order. There were shots from California, Missouri, Illinois, and New York. Various times, various shots of life. It was a fairly pleasant trip down memory lane.

The next book I picked up was a scrapbook I received for my ninth birthday. It had newspaper clippings, pictures of friends from elementary school, letters I received; normal things that are in a young child’s scrap book. I also found a picture and several letters from my pen pal. In my post, “A Friend And A Sister,” I wrote about finding her again after many years of separation.

Part of the words here are hers, but I feel them the same way. She was part of my foundation. She believed in me and cared about me when I was not sure many people did. She shared her life, her hopes, her dreams with me. We grew up together, even though we didn’t  meet until much later. We have known each other at least twenty-eight years, though neither of us remember exactly when we became pen pals. After some discussion, we both think it is actually thirty years. Good lord, that’s a long time.

Thirty years is a long time. I am so honored for her friendship. And I am looking forward to at least thirty more years.

After looking through the scrapbook, I picked up a FedEx envelope. As I looked at the front of the envelope, I knew where it was from. It was from 2006, when I did the interview with Jan Goodwin for O Magazine for the article, “Please Daddy No.” It was the envelope in which the photos I sent were returned to me from Oprah’s staff.

I did not remember what pictures might be in the envelope.  I opened it cautiously, a little afraid of what would be in there. There were several pictures of my family. All of them contained my father. At first, my brain went fuzzy and my heart clenched. These were not pictures I was prepared to see. But then, as I looked at them, I realized I could put them away. I could shred the pictures if I wanted to. I could burn them or tear them up and throw them away. The pictures of my father did not need to have power over me. I am not there anymore and do not need to feel fear of a picture.

Previously, the pictures filled me with dread. When the O Magazine staff requested pictures, I had to ask my mother for some because I didn’t have any. I didn’t want any. And realistically, I probably could not have had any without feeling terrified all the time.

I do not feel this way any more. I don’t particularly want the pictures, but I haven’t decided what to do with them yet. Until I decide, I can leave them in the envelope and not feel ill going into that room. He does not have that kind of power in my life anymore.

I cannot say what it would be like to see my father in real life, but I also do not feel the need. I don’t feel controlled by the place where he is anymore, nor do I feel drawn to it just to see if I feel the same way I always did. What he does now does not affect me. I have done everything possible to let other people know what and who he is. If they choose not to listen, I cannot change that. It will never keep me quiet, but I don’t see it as defeat.

I would love to hear about your experiences when you saw pictures of your abuser. It is okay to say that you tore them up and threw them away, shredded them, or burned them.

It is not easy, but I hope you are at a point, or get to a point, when the picture doesn’t have as much power over you. The shame is the abusers; not yours. You are an amazing survivor.

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.