“a small nuisance like rape”

Most of the educated world has been aghast at the latest (published, at least) atrocity to a female in India.  A lovely young woman died on Saturday.  She was just 23.

After years of sacrifice by her family so she & her brother could be educated, this still nameless young woman had come to the big city of New Delhi to follow her dream of studying to be a doctor.   She was engaged to be married, and her fiance & she had gone out for the evening and were heading home by public transport, as thousands do every day in India.

But this bus was different.  Several drunken men were already on board and decided to have a little fun.  They came prepared, it seems, having brought with them an iron rod.  They beat the young woman’s fiance and then, for several hours on the still moving bus (one has to wonder about the driver in all of this) they took turns raping her, including the use of the iron rod, severely damaging most of her internal organs.   At the end of their fun evening, the men stripped both the young woman and her fiance of their clothing and dumped them at the side of the road, probably laughing as the bus drove away.

For two longs weeks this 23 year old beloved daughter/sister/fiancee battled for life, her injuries being so severe that she was air-flighted to a hospital in Singapore that specializes in the transplanting of multiple organs, but she was too brutally injured to recover.  A lovely young woman, whose dream it was to be a good doctor and help the women and children in her country, was dead.

Because of, and only because of, the enormous public outcry from within India and around the world, the Indian government has decided to outlaw rape.   Yup, you heard that right.  Up until this point, rape has not been considered a crime.  In fact, India’s Law & Justice minister was quoted as saying:

“It’s such a terrible tragedy when a small nuisance like rape turns into to something tragic like murder,” Kumar says. “Yes, the government has known that rape is a problem in society. But we always thought of it as akin to smoking: something to be frowned upon, but not criminalized or prosecuted.

“Now we have this horrible event which reminds us that sometimes rape can have negative consequences.”

If the atrocity of rape is only now being considered a crime, it will be light years before domestic abuse will ever be taken seriously in India.   I can only imagine being Kumar’s wife, after he was quoted as further saying:

“We’ve neglected the issue of sexual violence in our society because frankly I think who someone is sleeping with should be a private affair. If the government goes around telling rapists who they can and can’t have sex with, what is next? Are they going to tell me which of my wife’s orifices I should use?

And then, to finish off his eloquent speech, he says: “It”s a slippery slope and one I wish I didn’t have to face. But if rapists can’t behave responsibly we’re left with no choice but to ban rape altogether.”

Remember our sisters in India today, and pray for a family as they grieve the loss of their precious daughter.   No word to date on her still nameless fiance, as his body & mind begin their long journey of healing.

Photo courtesy of the Heifer Project International, a wonderful organization that supports the education and safety of Indian women.  They welcome your donations.

don’t let your words of comfort cause more pain

Yesterday found me rummaging around in a musty basement of an old antique store when I got the phone call from my weeping son about the massacre in a kindergarten in Connecticut.   I almost fell to my knees with the news, as we have a precious little 5 year old kindergartener in our family.   I could not imagine the horror facing those dear families, the long journey of pain awaiting them, for their sorrow will never be done.

Little beds that will never be slept in again.  Presents already wrapped and under the tree.  Barrettes found under the sofa next time the floor is swept.  A little car discovered in dad’s tool box next Spring.  Drawings scotch taped to the fridge, now and for always.  Little arms that will never again be wrapped around your neck.   No more whispers of “I love you, Mama.”

Grief.  Inexpressible grief.

Most of us want to help, we long to make it better for our friends who have been crushed by their own personal tragedy.  Sadly, however, too many of us add to the sorrow by saying the wrong thing …. “Heaven needed another little angel.”  Noooo!

I read an excellent article by Rev. Emily C. Heath in the Huffington Post this morning, and am including it here for everyone to read and pass along.  We mean well, but we have to speak well too.  Don’t let your words contribute to the grief, but let them be words of comfort.


Dealing With Grief: Five Things NOT to Say and Five Things to Say In a Trauma Involving Children

Rev Emily C Heathby Rev. Emily C. Heath, Clergy United Church of Christ

We often have no idea what to say in the face of senseless loss. That is especially true when children are the victims of tragedy. Today’s shooting in Connecticut is heartbreaking in so many ways, not the least of which is the staggering loss of children.

My first two years in ministry were spent as a chaplain assigned to the emergency department of a children’s hospital with a level one trauma center. During that ministry I saw so many senseless tragedies. I also heard some of the worst theology of my life coming from people who thought they were bringing comfort to the parents. More often than not, they weren’t. And often, they made the situation worse.

Here are five things not to say to grieving family and friends:

1. “God just needed another angel.”

Portraying God as someone who arbitrarily kills kids to fill celestial openings is neither faithful to God, nor helpful to grieving parents.

2. “Thank goodness you have other children,” or, “You’re young. You can have more kids.”

Children are not interchangeable or replaceable. The loss of a child will always be a loss, no matter how many other children a parent has or will have.

3. He/she was just on loan to you from God.

The message is that God is so capricious that God will break parents’ hearts at will just because God can. It also communicates to parents and loved ones that they are not really entitled to their grief.

4. God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.

Actually, some people do get a lot more than any one person should ever have to handle. And it doesn’t come from God. Don’t trivialize someone’s grief with a “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” mentality.

5. We may not understand it, but this was God’s will.

Unless you are God, don’t use this line.

And here are five things to say:

1. I don’t believe God wanted this or willed it.

A grieving friend or family member is likely hearing that this is God’s will from a number of other people. Affirm the idea that it may very well not be.

2. It’s okay to be angry, and I’m a safe person for you express that anger to if you need it.

Anger is an essential part of the grieving process, but many don’t know where to talk about it because they are often silenced by others when they express their feelings. (For instance, they may be told they have no right to be angry at God.) By saying you are a safe person to share all feelings, including anger, with, you help the grieving person know where they can turn.

3. It’s not okay.

It seems so obvious, but sometimes this doesn’t get said. Sometimes the pieces don’t fit. Sometimes nothing works out right. And sometimes there is no way to fix it. Naming it can be helpful for some because it lets them know you won’t sugarcoat their grief.

4. I don’t know why this happened.

When trauma happens, the shock and emotion comes first. But not long after comes our human need to try to explain “why?” The reality is that often we cannot. The grieving person will likely have heard a lot of theories about why a trauma occurred. Sometimes it’s best not to add to the chorus, but to just acknowledge what you do not know.

5. I can’t imagine what you are going through, but I am here to support you in whatever way feels best.

Even if you have faced a similar loss, remember that each loss is different. Saying “I know how you’re feeling” is often untrue. Instead, ask how the grieving person is feeling. And then ask what you can do to help. Then, do it and respect the boundaries around what they don’t want help with at this point. You will be putting some control back into the hands of the grieving person, who often feels like they have lost so much of it.

Follow Rev. Emily C. Heath on Twitter:

the baby rescuer: making a difference in China

When our crazy country is arguing about buying a chicken sandwich, there is a small heroine in China doing amazing things.   This little grandma has saved over 30 babies from the trash, that’s right, THIRTY precious little children.

The truly inspiring story of the Chinese rubbish collector who saved and raised THIRTY babies abandoned at the roadside

By Daily Mail Reporter

PUBLISHED: 08:27 EST, 30 July 2012 | UPDATED: 17:28 EST, 30 July 2012


Lou Xiaoying has been praised in China for saving more than 30 abandoned babies over the yearsLou Xiaoying has been praised in China for saving more than 30 abandoned babies over the years

A woman has been hailed a hero after details of her astonishing work with abandoned children has emerged.

Lou Xiaoying, now 88 and suffering from kidney failure, found and raised more than 30 abandoned Chinese babies from the streets of Jinhua, in the eastern Zhejiang province where she managed to make a living by recycling rubbish.

She and her late husband Li Zin, who died 17 years ago, kept four of the children and passed the others onto friends and family to start new lives.

Her youngest son Zhang Qilin – now aged just seven – was found in a dustbin by Lou when she was 82.

‘Even though I was already getting old I could not simply ignore the baby and leave him to die in the trash. He looked so sweet and so needy. I had to take him home with me,’ she said.

‘I took him back to our home, which is a very small modest house in the countryside and nursed him to health. He is now a thriving little boy, who is happy and healthy.

‘My older children all help look after Zhang Qilin, he is very special to all of us. I named him after the Chinese word for rare and precious.

‘The whole thing started when I found the first baby, a little girl back in 1972 when I was out collecting rubbish. She was just lying amongst the junk on the street, abandoned. She would have died had we not rescued her and taken her in.

‘Watching her grow and become stronger gave us such happiness and I realised I had a real love of caring for children.

‘I realised if we had strength enough to collect garbage how could we not recycle something as important as human lives,’ she explained.

‘These children need love and care. They are all precious human lives. I do not understand how people can leave such a vulnerable baby on the streets.

She is now dying from kidney failure and her husband died 17-years-ago. Lou said she loved watching the babies grow into healthy childrenLou is now dying from kidney failure. She is pictured here with two of the children she helped rescued


Lou, left, caring her the babies with her husband Li Zin. She would give them to friends and family after she rescued themLou, left, caring her the babies with her husband Li Zin. She would give them to friends and family after she rescued them

Lou, who has one biological daughter, Zhang Caiying and now aged 49, devoted her life to looking after the abandoned babies.

Word of her kind-hearted gestures has now spread in China, where thousands of babies are abandoned on the streets by their poverty stricken parents.

One fan explained: ‘She is shaming to governments, schools and people who stand by and do nothing. She has no money or power but she saved children from death or worse.’

‘In the local community she is well known and well respected for her work with the abandoned babies. She does her best. She is a local hero. But unfortunately there are far too many abandoned babies in China who have no hope of survival.

Only last week there was news of a baby lucky to be alive after having its throat cut and then put in a plastic bag and thrown in a dustbin at Anshan city, in northeast China’s Liaoning province.

The baby – a girl – was thought to be a victim of the country’s one child policy where parents restricted to only having a single child prefer boys and girls are unwanted and often discarded.

Lou, who is now in hospital, has become iconic in her village and people have said she puts the government and other officials to shameLou, who is now in hospital, has become iconic in her village and people have said she puts the government and other officials to shame

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remembering the elderly: precious moments

The photograph on this lovely post reminded me of my Nana’s hands.   I was always fascinated that I could pull up the skin on the top of her hands together with my two fingers, and it would sit ‘tented’ for a few seconds before it rested down again.  I’ve noticed that the skin on the top of my hands is just a tad looser than it used to be, so I am imagining that at least one of our little girls will be doing the same thing to me in the years to come.   I hope so.

Coming Back Early to See My Grandma and Finding a Map

by Shawn on June 12, 2012

We sat out on a covered balcony on Sunday evening. It was around 5pm, one of those summer evenings that was hot but could have been hotter. In the shade it felt nice: a sit-outside-and-drink-iced-tea kind of evening fading into night. Fading into night.

I sat as close as I could to my grandmother, all 82 pounds of her. So light, 82 pounds – the weight of a growing child. She seemed so small in the wheelchair, like a little one sitting in her daddy’s office chair. Her feet were clad in teal blue slippers with those non-slip bumps all around them, but the rest of her clothes were the clothes she had always worn: a plain skirt with a button-up sweater over some sort of blouse.

“Someone needs to water my flowers,” she said quietly, motioning towards the dying plant on the patio table, the plants that are not hers to water. “I would do it, but I’m just so tired.”

I leaned in closer, and she dropped her ear towards me, happy to receive.

“We came back early to see you,” I whisper-shouted into her ear.

“That’s okay,” she said, her weak voice coming out in a mumbling stream. “You can see me for a while yet.”

* * * * *

My dad feeds her ice cream. It is hard to speak to her, when my throat is one of those miserable lumps and my eyes keep welling up, so I let her squeeze my hand and I feel her fragile skin. She used to treat my hand when I was a sick child and she’d rub the bones so hard I eventually pulled them away with a yelp. But the power in her hands is gone, and I find myself wishing for the pain.

My voice still doesn’t want to work so I hold a cup of water up to her mouth and she drinks it like a bird. Then I move Chap-stick over her dry lips. I finally manage to speak, ask her if she would like something to eat. Some soup? Some applesauce? Some coffee? I try the coffee as a testament to its goodness. It’s sweet, I tell her, just as she always liked it.

She leans towards me.

“I don’t drink coffee anymore – they put my pills in it.”

I look questioningly at the mug. My dad laughs.

* * * * *

My dad talks to her in Pennsylvania Dutch, and she responds in brighter tones, as if something buried was coming alive. He asks her about her recent dreams, and she responds. I do not know this language. It is a strange combination of foreign and familiar to me.

Later my dad tells me what she said, that she has been dreaming a lot about her parents.

“I just get so tired of missing them,” she had said wistfully.

* * * * *

My dad had told me of their previous visit, how she took a small part of her skirt and folded it and moved it and folded it, over and over again. Finally my mom realized what she was doing: grandma was binding a quilt. She had done that practically her whole life, and in these days when her mind seems absent a fair amount of the time, it’s almost like her body goes back to what it remembers. So my mom handed her a piece of fabric, and she folded it and creased it and smoothed it, refolded it and creased it and smoothed it again. And again.

Her hands moved in a slow rhythm of life – there were years of history in those movements. She was a small girl, learning to quilt. She was a newly-wed, quilting for extra money. She was a new mom, a baby on the floor beside her. She was in her middle age, quilting for her business. She was a recent widow, quilting through her grief.

In that moment of imaginary quilting, she was not 92: she was 9 and 18 and 23 and 45 and 60. She was an entire life.

Perhaps this is why it is so important that we do not overlook the older ones among us: they are the embodiment of an entire life, and every age they have ever been is there for us to see, for us to bear witness to. They are years within years within years, layers of wisdom and experience, heartache and hope, death and life.

The veins and wrinkled skin and whispered memories form a topography, a stunning landscape, a map by which we who are so lost can hope to find our way.

two minutes to eternity – the loss of a child

We await with great anticipation that within the next few months we will be having our third little grand daughter.  What joy.   Every day, every night, and many times in between, we pray for this little girl and her two big sisters.    I was blessed to give birth to their daddy, and now the generations continue.   For us, but tragically not for many.

Most couples want to have a child.  Some never are able to conceive.   Others continue to miscarry their precious babies.  Loss upon loss upon loss.   But to long for a child, finally have the joy of pregnancy and then have that little one die within minutes of birth, is an experience too many I know have endured, and cannot imagine their grief and heart ache.

There is a wonderful article written by Marshall Shelley on his own experience of losing his wee son, Toby, and why God would allow the miracle of birth to be followed so quickly by the mystery of death.    Two Minutes to Eternity.

last concerns

Many moons ago, while I was doing my counseling training, I had the most wonderful opportunity to work, one day a week for two years, as an intern under the direction of a caring hospice chaplain in a small hospital located in one of the poorest areas of a larger city.  My assignment was the oncology wing and, as my mother had recently died of cancer, I felt a deep level of empathy for these patients and their families.

“Privileged” is not a word worthy enough to describe how I felt at the end of the day, when I had been given a gift of precious “last minutes” with ones about to leave this world.

My chaplain was clear when he stressed that, to be “present” with someone, whatever their circumstance, you had to be there for their agenda, not yours.  The Greek word for “counselor” is paraclete, “one who walks alongside.”  Not someone who pushes from behind, or who runs ahead and tells them what to do.  This was a lesson well learned.

When it was possible to visit for a few minutes alone, very few patients wanted to talk about dying.  For most it was just a matter of days or hours, and they were at peace.  They either had a belief in Heaven, or they felt they would just be falling into an eternal sleep.  Their concerns were for their family members and other loved ones they knew would struggle with their death.  At times the dying would share regrets of a broken relationship with a child, or a desire that they could see their family members reconcile.

Some wanted to tell me about loved ones already “gone ahead” and how much they longed to see them.  Others, in the very last hours of dying, would speak directly to the loved ones they could “see” by their bedsides. I sat quietly in tears one afternoon as I watched an elderly lady reach up her wrinkled and terribly thin arms as she called out “mama, mama.”

While the family members quietly waiting around the bedside had many questions for me as to whether there was life after death, or fear of life on earth without this loved one, the dying ones had only concern for their families.

Kerry Egan, a young hospice chaplain in Massachusetts, has written a good article on My Faith: What People Talk About When They Die.   She writes, “We don’t have to use words of theology to talk about God; people who are close to death almost never do. We should learn from those who are dying that the best way to teach our children about God is by loving each other wholly and forgiving each other fully – just as each of us longs to be loved and forgiven by our mothers and fathers, sons and daughters.”

 When I read her article, I saw a younger version of myself, and was angry at the way she had been treated by an ignorant professor.   This compassionate woman is doing what she has been “called” to do.   God bless her.