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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.

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.

 

response based therapy: a new way to help

When you care for someone who has been a victim of abuse, whether in childhood, adulthood or both, there may be certain behaviors that this person does that confuse you.   Why would a sexual abuse victim cut herself?   Why would someone who was beaten as a child use physical force as an adult?  Surely he doesn’t want to victimize others?

My Australian friend, Barbara Roberts, who wrote “Not Under Bondage,” send me this terrific article by Allan Wade, a Canadian psychologist who developed “Response Based Therapy.”  It’s one that will be helpful to ALL of us who care – friends, family, counselors, pastors …..   read it and learn.

Allan Wade Ph.D. lives on Vancouver Island where he works in private practice as a family therapist and researcher. Allan is primarily concerned with addressing the problem of violence in all its forms and in promoting socially just legal and human services work. With Linda Coates and Nick Todd, Allan has developed a response-based approach to working with victims and perpetrators of violence. Allan is senior faculty with the Master of Counseling Program, City University of Seattle and Adjunct Associate Professor of Social Work at the University of Victoria.

Despair, Hope, Resistance, by Allan Wade

We are never responsible for the abuses done to us as children but we are responsible for the way we respond to them as adults. Thought this was a great article to share:

Broken Until Spoken

I have given a lot of thought to blame.  Coming from a wildly abusive home it would be easy to assign blame for my life.  It would be easy for any survivor of such things to give up.  After all, this terrible thing happened.

I find blame to be a slippery slope. At some point I decided to let go of blame and see the past as an experience that colored me.  Understanding the why allowed me to change.  My three brothers have not fared as well.  Violent, abusive, substance abuse and denial.  Why indeed can one child have the will to go on and thrive, while others flounder.

At what point are we in charge of our own lives? At what point do we tell ourselves “Yesterday is on them, today and tomorrow is on me.”  I think this is an important decision.  Don’t let  blame  cripple you.

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