Anna’s story

annaWe held our mutual breaths as we watched last night, sick to our stomachs, knowing that our beloved Anna was going to be hurt, terribly hurt, by a man to whom she had been nothing but kind and welcoming.   And she was, brutally raped and discarded.

Shamed.  Unable to speak the truth because of her need to protect her husband, fearful of what he would do to her offender, knowing he would be taken from her if he defended her honor, she was silent.

Downton Abbey is a story, a pure piece of fiction, yet this grand story carries within it the small stories of all of us.   We dream, we love, we are envious and angry, we make mistakes, we learn from those mistakes, and we have our hearts broken all too often.

There are many Annas among us.   Every two minutes, every 120 seconds, there is an act of sexual violence in the United States.  60% of those assaults are not reported, and of the ones that are, 97% of the offenders never spend a day in jail.

We need to protect our Annas, and our Alfreds, and all the ones who suffer in silence.   We must surround them and encourage them to tell their stories, to help set them free from the shame that binds them.

Don’t watch another episode and forget them.

unlikely heroes

My heart is full of gratitude this Thanksgiving morning.   Gratitude for healthy family – parents who loved me unconditionally, a devoted and caring spouse, sweet and kind adult children and delightful little honeybuns who call me “Nana.”   I have a warm home, a job and plenty of food on the table to share with friends.

Every day, however, I am privileged to walk a journey with dear ones who have experienced very little of the things I have often taken for granted.   There are so many children who have never known a safe and loving home.   Far too many little ones, in homes both poor and wealthy, have never known the safety of being tucked into bed with lullabies and bed time stories.   Their reality is the nightly terror of sexual abuse.

Into this world have come the most unlikely of heroes.   These saints come in all shapes and sizes, colors and walks of life.  Most of us, however, would be quite anxious to be in the same room with many of them, as they are usually rough, tough, tattooed, pierced, grubby, loud and on bikes – big ones, like the Harley variety.  Or at least that is the stereo-type that we may have learned to believe is true.

Yes, these are “biker saints.”   I cried when I read the following article.   What wonderful, wonderful people.   Bless each one of you this Thanksgiving morning.   I’d be honored to have you at my table.

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Bikers strike fear into the hearts of many. They’re seen as rough thugs… but there is more to a biker than you think. This gang, for instance, is happy to intimidate people. However, they only intimidate people who dare hurt children. They are the Bikers Against Child Abuse International. And they mean business.

These bikers aren’t looking for trouble. The only thing they want to do is make sure innocent children don’t feel so alone, or so powerless.

“It’s scary enough for an adult to go to court,” he says. “We’re not going to let one of our little wounded kids go alone.”

every statistic has a name and a dear, dear face

back of a woman's headThose of you who read my blog know that I counsel victims of domestic violence.   Every day, these precious women come into my office and tell me their tragic stories.   They have been beaten, throttled, raped, burned, had boiling water poured on them, had their family heirlooms broken in front of them, watched their animals tortured, and have been helpless as they knew their children were witnesses to most of these.

Unless you have walked this road, you have no right – repeat, no right – to criticize or comment negatively in any way.   You have no idea the journey these dear ones have taken, or how hard it is to get off this road.

Well, one of my dear friends has made it!   No longer is she hiding under a pseudonym.   “Ida Mae,” whom many of you have met before in much earlier posts, has come out into the sunshine.   Her divorce from the brute she married will be finalized in two weeks.   My friend’s name is CONNIE.   She is beautiful.   And one day she will show the world her face, when she feels it is time.

Well done, dearest.  So proud of you for crawling on broken glass to freedom.   I am honored to know you.

I think I’ve been given a glimpse of Heaven …

UCUMC Fall colors 011These last few months have been really hard.  There have been times that I’ve just wanted to crawl under a blanket and never go out of the door again.

Some very painful things have happened.  A very precious friend died years before her time.  Someone I trusted with my life betrayed the confidences I had shared.  I discovered that other friends were bigoted against certain people groups, and refused to even consider looking at these dear people in a different way.  Another friend cut off relationship with me completely when they found that  I chose to vote differently in the last election than they did.    I have been grieving for the different kinds of losses that these each represent … that of the loss of community.

Sometimes remaining anonymous, sitting in the back row of a new church or ignoring people at the grocery store, is the easy way to go.   And sometimes it is necessary because smiling & chatting with strangers – and even more so with people you know – can be absolutely draining when you are experiencing grief.   It takes SO MUCH ENERGY to put on a happy face and look relatively normal.   It takes everything you have to reach out to others and offer hospitality or assistance.  Sometimes it feels like you do all the giving.

So, it was with utter delight when precious new friends reached out to us and invited my husband and I on an adventure, and what a delight it was.    They took us to their favorite place of worship, a small (as these glorious works of architecture go) but beautiful cathedral in Cleveland named University Circle United Methodist Church, lovingly known as “the church of the holy oil can” because of it’s spire.   I’ve lived overseas and have seen many cathedrals, but this one was unique to any I had visited before.

The first difference was that in every single entrance stood a young person, probably around college age, welcoming us.  There was life here!  Within seconds of entering the beautiful building, it was pretty obvious that this was a colorful venue … every single hue of the human race was represented, and it was glorious.   Different ethic groups were wearing gorgeous garments, there were babies & children, lots of white heads & loads of young people, well dressed individuals and many people from the other end of the social scale, all equally represented.  I saw people in wheelchairs, or with walkers, and some who had mental disorders, and caring people around them, making sure that every one of their needs was met.

And I was welcomed, perhaps like I have never felt welcomed as a stranger in a church for a long, long time.  There may have been one or two people who didn’t give me eye contact, or reach out and take my hand and give me a glorious smile, but I didn’t see them.   It didn’t matter my color, my age, my social standing, how I was dressed, my sexual orientation … I was welcome.   In fact, the sign outside the church said it all:  “where all are welcome, all the time.” They weren’t kidding.

There was the bit at the beginning of the service where I normally cringe.   You know, the bit where you are asked to greet your neighbor … oh joy … but this time was different.   These people really meant it.  They came from all over the church to welcome us, not just from the surrounding pews.  Even a lady in a wheelchair made an effort to give me eye contact and beckoned me over to offer welcome.

There was glorious singing by the choir & the people.   Some of it was in foreign languages with translation provided, some was relatively new to me, some was of the dear old hymn variety.   There were liturgical dancers, and both women & men took part in the service.

The pastor modeled sensitivity and grace from the get go.   As the men and women who were to serve communion gathered around the table to receive their communion first, the pastor went to each one, calling them by name and offering blessing.   A young woman, obviously new to the church and a little confused, walked to the front and joined the others around the table, oblivious to the fact that she had gone up with the servers.   She stood next to them and the pastor, without blinking, moved to her and blessed her, calling her “my sister.”   She wasn’t known by him, but she was welcome at the table.

There was a very elderly couple in one of the pews ahead of us, and the woman was struggling with getting up and participating in communion.  There was a strong sense that she had Alzheimer’s and her doting, loving & distraught spouse couldn’t get her to move.   No matter … the pastor brought communion to her, and to all the others who were unable to walk to the table.  And.there.was.gluten.free.communion for Celiac types like me.   Wow.  I FELT WELCOME!

The sermon was on Luke 17:5-10, having faith “like a mustard seed,” which I had heard a hundred or more times before.   But this interpretation was different.  On too many occasions, believers have been erroneously told by perhaps well meaning people that their faith “wasn’t strong enough” or their cancer would be cured, that they wouldn’t be in financial crisis, that their child wouldn’t use drugs, or whatever.   If they just believed it would all magically go away!  This passage isn’t about magic, it’s about the promise of God’s presence when we are in the pain.  God can transform our attitude, our view of life, if we just have a tiny bit of faith to trust him, not that the cancer will go away but that he will be with us when we or cured of it or if it takes us.  The pastor said, “No matter how small you evaluate yourself, in God’s eyes, you are enough.”

When the service was eventually done, and the people were slowly leaving, I noticed that the two enormous flower arrangements up front were being taken apart, little by little, and the flowers shared with children, the elderly and, perhaps, the ones who don’t have loved ones to give them flowers.

I whispered to my friend sitting next to me, “I think I have been given a glimpse of Heaven today.”   Surely that is what it will be like when we get there …. people of every shape & size, color & hue, sexuality & political persuasion – because NONE of it will matter any more!  All running to greet one another, give eye contact and glorious smiles and making everyone feel welcome as we gather together to worship our LORD.   Praise be to God.

“Good morning, moon”

Image  Beginnings.  For all of us, every new day is an opportunity to start again, to look at things with fresh eyes and, hopefully, a good night’s sleep.  My favorite place to get a healthy perspective is at the beach, where all of life is refreshed & restored.   There has been a long stretch of silence on this blog that needs to be formed into words and shared with others,  but for today this space returns to life at the ocean’s edge.

I awoke this morning before daybreak, made coffee, grabbed a beach chair, and walked down to the water.  Not another soul was in sight.  Just me, the moon and an incredible ocean.  What a way to begin the day. 

As I sat in gratitude, blessing our friends who had gifted us with the use of this beautiful place, I realized I was far from alone.  A heron made his flight my way and landed, literally at my feet.  We stared at each other for the longest time, checking out the marvel of another life species.  Soon four strikingly white egrets flew in formation over the water, followed by the “three amigos,” a trio of pelicans in search of breakfast.   A mass of seagulls chased them, hoping for leftovers.

As I watched the sun come up, I didn’t think it could get any better, but I caught a glimpse of a little head in the water straight in front of me.  As I held my breath, I was joined by a dolphin, cresting the waves, and teasing me with his presence.

Yes, life events need to be processed and shared, hopefully so that others will receive comfort and encouragement as they experience similar experiences, but for today I rest in the beauty of this place and heal.

 

this is why it matters

remorseful manI had the most amazing telephone call this week while at work.  Normally I would never have answered the phone at that time of day as it was during a session hour, but my client had just called in sick and I was available to respond.

The caller ID said it was from a southern state, one where I knew no one.  When I answered, a man’s voice spoke to me, something that is not part of the ‘daily’  in my practice as my counseling center is only for women.  Occasionally a male doctor or a spouse will call, but this was not a voice I recognized.

He gave his name, and his wife’s name, and shared that I had counseled them briefly, almost two decades before when I worked in another practice and saw marital couples as well.  I had a slight memory of them. He shared that, for a reason unknown to me, he had been looking at my website and had been both struck and convicted by the statistics shown there on domestic violence, because he realized that he had contributed to the statistics.  He was a batterer.

We knew that then.

Somehow they survived.   Somehow they managed to raise a family.   Somehow this man’s wife has had the strength to demonstrate healthy boundaries and yet still has patiently loved him as he has been dealing with the demons of his past, working hard not to pass them on to his children.   This man loves his family.   For all these years he has been working on changing the monster he was.

He called to thank me and, in tears, wanted to bless me for the ministry and the work that I do.

I will never forget that phone call.   This is why it matters.   One person at a time, one family at a time.  There is hope.

$1.49 day … a walk down memory lane

Out of the blue, in the middle of getting ready for church this morning, a little ditty from my childhood burst into my head.  I opened my mouth and (will spare you the music) sang, “$1.49 day, Woodwards!  $1.49 day, Tuesday!”

500px-Woodwards_Logo.svgWoodward’s department store, one of the places in childhood where adventure could always be found.  My Mum loved the place.   Dad and Mum both worked for them shortly after their arrival as new emigrants to Canada from Scotland, and my parents were loyal until the doors closed forever.

My dad was paid every other Friday night, so on those evenings, after supper, the gang piled in the car and headed down to Woodward’s to buy groceries.  We hung onto the cart as Mum or Dad pushed it, generally making a nuisance of ourselves but loving having dad home after his week of traveling for work.  We were together, and it felt safe & warm, especially in Woodward’s.

Many a treat got thrown into that grocery cart, unknown to Mum until we got to the check out counter.  “Now how did that get in there?” she’d grin, and dad would just shrug his shoulders, ally to the end.  There were cream biscuits with jam at the center, and special “sweeties” imported from Scotland.   I’d look longingly with jealousy at the older teenage female clerk, a neighbor from up our street, who checked us out and filled the brown paper bags marked with the famous logo,  wishing I was old enough to do her job.  To me, a pre-teen, there was nothing more wonderful than being a check out clerk at Woodward’s on a Friday night!

After the groceries were placed in brown bags and these were placed in plastic bins that were sent out to the pick up area near the parking lot for collection later – a marvel now reproduced by one of our local grocery stores – the clan headed up to the top floor to check out the “bargain basement” …. yup, on the top floor … where we rummaged for treasures.  I still have a terrific bread knife I bought there when a young teen for only 19 cents.   I loved that department, trying to supervise my younger siblings as they hid between the racks of clothes, driving my mother to distraction.

It was $1.49 day that got our Scots blood pumping, tho.  Hearing that little ditty on the radio made my mother & I grin.  I remember being so jealous that she could go without us, as she only once (and it was a very special morning!) allowed me to stay home from school so I could go with her.  I still remember her purchasing a large bag of oranges, a fine china tea cup, or so many loaves of bread, each for $1.49.

Woodward’s gave me one of my first jobs … in the fabric & notions department.  I measured out miles of yardage for women.  Despite my best attempts, I never could get to be a bagger in the grocery department.   Instead I learned about selvages and different weights of yarns, found great buys on knitting patterns and made my Nana’s day when I could talk “shop” with her at her little house in the evening, over a cup of tea.

Contentment and gratitude for good memories of a dear gathering place, for that’s what Woodward’s was for us.  We rarely went through the doors without seeing someone we knew.   As a child, I remember going to the luncheon area and getting sandwiches cut into four little triangles.   What a marvelous treat.   Sometimes my Nana would take me for lunch there on a Saturday, and I in turn took my siblings, one at a time, for the thrill of being made to feel special, just like Nana made me feel special.

Economic “progress” brought with it the outlying malls and the demise of our family’s favorite store.   Woodward’s closed its doors forever in the 1990′s and with it came the end of an era.  In one of my memory albums I have a little paper bag from the store, alongside one of my mum’s treasures, her Woodward’s credit card.

We all need to walk down memory lane occasionally, and journal what was dear to us.  Maybe a ditty is inside your head, waiting to be sung!