Full Disclosure of My Greatest Shame

This is a full disclosure post on the part of my life that I’m most ashamed of, even though those who know my story well find no fault for me in my journey, only a well-advised directive that my choice in men has to reflect my worth, not their potential.

And while this has been a developing thought process over the last several years, it was brought to a head, for some reason, through the wedding of Harry and Meghan. Weird, because I’m not a Royal family watcher or fan, I’m certainly not a person for power and position, and I am the last person to be formal and fabled. But I’ve learned a powerful lesson from watching these two and learning their story, and it has helped to heal mine.

To set the stage, all I ever wanted to be growing up was a wife and mom. I come from a long line of long marriages, and my soul desire in life was to carry on that legacy. However, the men in my life who loved the best were not men in positions of wealth or power or influence, and then men who were, were often drunk, violent, and unpredictable. I learned to trust the underdog and reject the seemingly accomplished.

Those who know my story know that I was married the first time to my children’s father, my first supposed love, for 12 years, before barely escaping via a full restraining order and police escort, weighing under 100 pounds. I say “supposed” first love because you can’t truly let anyone in who has abused you and controls you, even if you THINK it’s love initially.

And those who know my story know that I was married for eight months, about three years ago, after being a single parent for a long time….having worked hard, hard, to get myself healthy and whole, thinking that I had finally chosen a healthy, whole person, only to find out that he had been serially cheating me with multiple women, the entire time I’d known him, dating, engaged, or married to him, including the solicitation of sex on Craigslist.

Both of these marriages I’ve documented well. But where my shame lies is with a second, rarely mentioned marriage, that occurred about three years after my first divorce. And I’m not sure why I feel such shame, because I chose not to sleep around, I chose not to just live with someone, I chose not to party and drink my blues away, but I was in such a broken, battered, and bruised spot at the time that I feel like I had no business entertaining a relationship at all, let alone a marriage.

We met on MySpace, dated long distance for a few months, married in Reno, and then, 8 months later, after calling me a nympho the first 8 months of our marriage for WANTING sex, he came home one day and told me that he was bisexual, currently having an affair with both another woman AND a man, at the same time, and wanted a divorce. He’d suffered a TBI a few years before from a motorcycle accident, it had completely changed his personality, and he was just figuring out who he was again, is what I was told. All I DO know was that the TBI really did happen.

So that little girl whose only wish was to be a wife of one husband, for a lifetime, was a three time divorcee; a shame that, for me, I’ve been haunted by for the last decade.

And in that process, one has to then acknowledge that their picker is broken, and try to fix it. And in that process, I’ve learned some things about myself. I’ve always played small, wanting to shrink my talents and personality as to not draw attention to myself and to remain in the background. I have a deep anxiety about my worth, or lack of it, and have felt my whole life that I have had to earn the love I’m given. Which has led me to men that “need” me, and need “fixing”, and have great “potential” and that maybe I can prove my worth by helping them find it.

And conversely, men who are confident and who are powerful, or in positions of authority have intimidated me, made me feel more broken than I already was, and I felt like either they wouldn’t truly love me, and only want to control me, using me as their trophy wife; or I wasn’t worth their genuine love and protection because there was nothing to earn, and I wasn’t worth being valued, respected, and loved, simply for being myself, and my imperfect self, at that. I’ve spent years trying to be perfect because then my weaknesses would be strengthened and my armor fortified.

Needless to say, my own hang-ups, and then my life experiences, have done a huge number on me, and my view of men in my life. And it would be really easy just to succumb and wallow in cheap one night stands, or write relationships off completely, but deep inside me I’m still a believer in the love of the likes of Ruth and Boaz, and furthermore, I’m raising a son, and what kind of a man do I want to raise in him?

And then I see Harry and Meghan, a man of power, position, privilege, wealth, and yet when I see him look at her, I see a man who deeply loves and honors his wife, and everything else fades to the background; who, in all his strength, in his wholeness, he chooses her, not because she was the seemingly perfect choice, but because she was HIS choice, and he is made better still by the compliment of her. And her “being” and value to him is based simply on who she is, not what she can offer, make whole, fix, or make small so that he can shine brighter.

So may I raise my son to value himself enough not to remain a victim, but to step into his sacred masculinity like a boss, and love the women he will with an empowering presence. May I model for my daughter to never use her beauty to lord or power over a man, but to also never shrink in their presence to make any man feel more “manly” and in control, at her expense.

And to myself, may I learn to own my story, never play small again, choose not to make equal with me men who can’t even stand on their own two feet; relish my imperfections and scars because they have been forged by me at a great price; not shy away from men who have their s*** together because I’ve worked my a** off to get mine together, and iron sharpens iron, but rocks, papers, and scissors only destroy each other; and to entertain and choose a partner that looks at me the way Harry looks at Meghan, learning to rest and trust in the fact that I am worthy of a man who needs me for nothing other than me simply being myself.

The Restless Nest Tattoo

When I told my tattoo artist I wanted a tattoo this last time around, I kind of mumbled and stuttered. I wanted a mandala that looked earthy, not bling-blingy; stained-glass, but not showy; colorful for once, but not too bright. Several of the color themes we discussed were no-gos for me. Finally, we settled on the colors of a sunrise. Or a sunset. I was so confused. 

And this confusion is reflective of the rest of my life right now. Because just a week ago I was so angry at my oldest that I wanted to strangle her, almost driving off a cliff in Olympic National Park,  while driving on vacation, due to words that were shared between she and I, that could’ve caused World War III, right there, in our rental car. 

But then two days ago, after dropping her off at college, I shed tears all the way home, then sobbed uncontrollably at the silence and emptiness of the house once I walked in the door. I was mourning  that a phase of my life had come to an end, while another was yet beginning. 

This was what I had raised her to do. The last 19 years of our entwined, deeply engaged lives, have been preparing her for this moment, when she would step from the nest, spread her wings, and fly. That’s what was SUPPOSED to happen.

So why is this mama bird feeling so bipolar, one minute thrilled to have the TV recording space free of the usual 100 episodes of Spongebob, REPEATEDLY recorded by her, while in the next breath, catching my breath, because this will be the first year ever that we have to watch our favorite shows separately; in one breath rejoicing that I don’t have to feed a picky eater every night, while in the next breath hoping she eats enough to keep herself alive while working two jobs and going to school full-time; and simultaneously feeling ecstatic that my oldest child can now experience adulthood for herself, rather than through her rose-colored YouTube vlogs, while always worrying incessantly about whether she’s safe driving mountain roads by herself. 

So I don’t know what this tattoo means. In some moments it’s a sunset, one chapter of life closing; while another moment it’s a sunrise, with the new, next chapter beginning. 

I’m not sure whether it’s the stained-glass seen from the outside, our experiences blending in with millions of other families with young adult children; or whether the glass is seen from inside the darkened room, the light shining through, illuminating this moment in time as our time, our moment, where the grief and joy meet, in mesmerizing patterns of sentimentality and novelty. 

And I’m not sure whether the tattoo reflects the bling-bling of my daughters “bougie mountain” style, or whether it’s  the organic, homespun natural style of me. 

But you know what? I don’t have to choose. It can be all, or in parts, and anywhere in between. Because the symmetry holds it together. The patterns deeply outlined and etched, inked into my skin, are constant reminders that in a world of hellos and goodbyes, of joy and pain, of gift and loss, that the fabric of our lives can’t be woven without both; to have only one and not the other, would be like Van Gogh only painting with one color, or Michaelangelo simply drawing doodles on binder paper, or Beethoven simply plucking  out chopsticks. 

Ecclesiastes says that there is a time for every activity under heaven; and sometimes those moments happen in cadence, together, clinging to each other, in balance. 

And so I’m learning to value the silence while I grieve the quiet, appreciating easier menus while being ok with longing for the empty seat to be filled, and resting in the fact that I’ve more than prepared her to make her mark in this world, even while I worry sick that she’s safe while doing so. 

So this tattoo represents all of this experience, from full nest, to a restless nest. His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me. And her. 

And thank God I have two more years before I have a fully EMPTY nest. I will need a whole tattoo SLEEVE to express that moment in time.

Warrior Tattoo, and thoughts on Dating as Single Parent and Woman

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My first name, Carolee, is a derivative of Carol. My nickname is Carrie. The combination together means “song of joy” and “strong woman” depending on how you look it up. My middle name is Louise. Louise is a French name meaning famous warrior or renowned fighter. “Laoich” is Gaelic for hero or warrior.

I got this tattoo around the time that I made two intriguing discoveries as an adult single parent and woman. Don’t get me wrong. I could apply this tattoo to many areas of my life where I have had to fight for justice and for self-respect. But this tattoo, and it’s placement where I would see it as a constant reminder to myself , was inked as a reminder to me that it is better to be single than to lower one’s standards. And you never, EVER, put someone you’re dating before your children. EVER.

I have seen so many parents of students I teach, children of friends of mine, and just random people around me, who believe that their right to be happy trumps their children’s rights to have a safe and secure home, and the necessary attention needed from their custodial parent in order to grow into healthy adults; a feat that is challenging for any parent, let alone parents who are already navigating divorce or single parenthood for whatever reason.

Upon discussing recently with my daughter a couple of friends we have who AREN’T putting their children first, my daughter turned to me and said, “Mom, I’ve said it before. And I will say it again. You might not have had the best luck with men to date ( true), but one thing I’m so grateful for is that you have ALWAYS put me and my brother first, no man has ever come before us, and I’m so happy you’ve always loved us,and parented, like that.”

And my son, he sends me text messages or Instagram posts, thanking me for being the best mom AND dad he could have:

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Which leads me to the second meaning of this tattoo. I have always wanted to be a person who was respected versus loved. I don’t know why I’m driven to that, but I am. People can love you,but still walk all over you, and not value you. Which I guess some people would say isn’t love, right? And you make a good point. Obviously, as I’m writing this, I realize I’ve pinpointed a place where I still need to heal and grow. But being respected affords you some protection and voice. And if I had to choose between being someone’s muse or their battle partner, I would choose the latter. I have never wanted to be anyone’s plaything, or their trophy, or their status symbol.

Which leads me to the games men play. Women play games too, I know. But since I’m a woman, attracted to men, I will focus on the games that men play. I am 43 years old, not quite as in-shape, or wrinkle-free, or young, as I once was. I am definitely past the “I yearn to have more children,” phase of my life. I don’t party, give the illusion of being a club girl, a casual date, and maybe even a “fun” date (sad, I know).

And I get that some people can construe my tattoos as being those that belong to an easy girl, a hard girl, a “been around the block a few times girl”, and maybe part of my attraction to tattoos is because they DO give an illusion of toughness. Because my whole life I’ve had to fight to be taken seriously, to not be seen as naive, and all sweetness and light. So maybe part of my attraction TO tattoos is that they provide a form of armour, a weapon if you may, to keep idiots at bay.

I’m not looking to date right now. I’m pretty burned by what my next tattoo blog will address. But my interactions with other single men, in general, is woefully depressing, and has been, across the years. Dating sites? Anybody can say and purport to be anything. I’ve tried several, and people just aren’t who they say they are. Church socials? Some of the crudest men I’ve dated have been from these circles. Random people you meet in life? All I can say is that I’m grateful for the internet. Everybody I meet who has a potential to be a serious date? I background check them. It’s worth the money, trust me.

But the most frustrating thing to me is that most men, no matter their age, have to be told the same things that my daughter has told guys HER age:

No, I won’t send you pictures of me other than pictures that I would also post on Facebook on Instagram.

No. I don’t want ANY pictures of you other than ones that YOU would post on Facebook or Instagram.

No. I won’t sext you.

No. I don’t want you to sext me.

No. I won’t have sex with you.

No. I won’t watch porn with you.

And no, I won’t be a casual text. I don’t have time for that. Either pursue me, friends first, as a serious commitment, to friendship, at the very least. Or move on to other pastures.

I know that there are good men out there. Godly men. Feminist men. Men of honor. And yes, the pickings get slimmer and slimmer the older I get. Or maybe they don’t. I think that pickings for real men have been slim all along.

But now? Now I know my worth. It can’t be bargained for, or traded in, gambled, or taken for granted. I am FAR from perfect. But for finally in my life, I know what I bring to the table, I’m not afraid to eat alone, and the romantic in me is willing to hide beneath the warrior in me, protected, unless someone strong and heroic enough wants to fight for the right for it to be seen.

My Son’s Tattoo

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I almost didn’t get pregnant with him. Abuse and drama grew to an all-time high.I had almost left my ex.  We had gone to marital counseling at our church, where my ex had finally acknowledged that he had a problem that he needed to fix.  We decided to give our marriage, and family, one more try. We went away for the weekend to “save” our marriage. And yowzers….. I was pregnant.

The “saving” died a quick death. With a cocaine addiction of his  that began spiraling out of control, so further did our lives. During this pregnancy, I was pushed down a flight of stairs ( 7 months pregnant), and held at knife-point, arched back over our washing machine ( 8 months pregnant).

I was under so much stress during these months,  that our son was born a month early. His eyebrows were nonexistent. His eyes were still sealed shut. His tongue hadn’t detached from the bottom of his mouth yet. He was born with bronchiolitis, a condition that has major ramifications to this day, manifesting in serious sinus allergies and asthma. He was also born with a skin condition covering much of his tiny body, a mix between eczema and hives.

Even though he had been scheduled for a routine c-section, he ended up being delivered emergency c-section, without initial medicine because it was too late in the process to give me the regular labor medicine.

I had to literally pump my milk through a special attachment, and then feed him through a preemie tube, in order to breastfeed. I did this even after I returned to work at eight weeks, pumping every recess and lunch break, for the final months of school. At home feeding him took twice as long. Pump, then tube feed. Pump, then tube feed. Pump, then tube feed.

And yet, through all of that, he was my relational child. I remember the first time he laughed; the sound filled the room with joy. He enthusiastically participated in life. He gave love. He gave compassion. He gave fun, all from the moment he was able to communicate. He was full of hilarious antics and humor. His very personality screamed,” Love me! I love you!” He wanted to be held and he wanted to touch. He wanted to play and be played with. He was always on the move, rarely still, unless he was asleep.

He was also the child to see his father punch his mother in the nose.

He was the child to see his father push his mother into a bookcase, shaking loose the books.

He was the child to see his father spit in his mother’s face, block the door from her escape, and throw a glass cup at her head.

He was the one that could never live up to his father’s opinion of what it meant to be “a man”, even as a young child. He was called “sissy”, “mama’s boy”, “weak”, and every other form of derogatory  term a father could call his son.

It was this child of mine that didn’t want to be a boy, or black, when he was 4, because to him , male and dark were people who were mean, and scary, and hurtful.

It was around this time that he wrote this note to me, seen here on this tattoo. He was always writing notes, drawing pictures, leaving little gifts, reminders of his full-hearted love for me…..

It was this child, at 8, who told me that he had an anger management problem because of how mad he was at his father, and that I had better get him into counseling. Which I did.

It was this child that, unbeknownst to either of us, would establish at bond together, that would define how we each interacted with the other sex, for all future references.

It was this child that told off his father repeatedly in later years, telling him that he would never forget how he saw him treat his mom;  and, while he could forgive his father, he could never forget his actions. He would honor him, but never trust him.

He was also the great encourager, with a hero mentality far deeper and intense, than belied the youth in his years.

We would often go on walks together, and he loved to blow dandelion seedlings with me. His favorite colors were bright and strong and vivide, full of life like him, orange, red, and yellow; hence, the colors in the tattoo.

He is also my child that was diagnosed with depression, and who yet carries himself with pride, shoulders back, bringing awareness to the fact that boys can suffer from anxiety just as much as girls can.

He is my child who, now at 15, stands taller than me, his voice deepened, who calls me to always first pray when I’m upset about something; telling me that I taught him how, and I better walk it myself if I talk it.

His depth is far more complex than  his age.

He is an old soul in a young body.

He is a self-proclaimed feminist, who, having been raised by a mom and sister, fiercely guards the privilege of women to be seen as equals to men.

He’s the one who thinks I should take care of myself first,  before I can take care of anybody else, and reminds me of this when I forget.

He is my yin to his yang. And, like I always used to tuck him in at night, saying the same little phrase tattooed here…..the day he wrote it to me, this mommy heart was healed in places that I hadn’t even realized were ripped open .

The bond between a mother and a son is often a precious gift; mine has been a priceless lifeline of light in a journey darkened by shadows.

I love him, deeply, heart and soul.

 

 

Matching “Break The Silence” tattoos

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She and I have been like “Thelma and Louise” since the day I knew about her. I remember the exact day I got pregnant, it was a warm summer evening, a rare moment of peace….. Extended family arrived later the next afternoon. And with that, an onslaught of violence delivered “on the down low” in our bedroom, as was the usual case whenever family from either side was around. Only he wasn’t quiet enough that time….. afterwards, his family asked me if I was ok……. I couldn’t say “no, I wasn’t,” because that would leave me open to “asked for” retribution later that night. So I said I was fine, we all nervously laughed, and my habit of living a double life took on a new passenger.

I had always wanted to be pregnant. I couldn’t wait until the time came. But I quickly found out that, for ME, my growing bump meant yet another liability to try and protect, and detract attention from. With every, “you’re adorable”, or “how cute is that bump”, I would be splayed into the limelight, a limelight that only spotlighted yet another hurl of cutting remarks and accusations, never knowing why my pregnancy only drove his jealously and insecurities deeper into the abyss of illogic.

She arrived on a full moon night, three days after her due date. Later, she would tell me she was only being considerate, that she had been due on my 25th birthday, but wanted me to celebrate my quarter century for myself.

The L&D department was packed that night. The doctors were running around frantic.The wolves might as well have been howling in their packs, outside the waiting room door.

I was in hard labor for 18 hours. After the first doctor told me repeatedly that I “just wasn’t pushing hard enough”, a new doctor came on shift, took one look at “us”, and frantically rushed me into the OR, saying that her head was stuck in the birth canal, and that we were both about to have life-threatening issues and/or injuries.

Through an emergency c-section, she was delivered safe and sound. Everyone went home. An hour later, I was rushed into the OR again. My uterus had collapsed, and I was hemmorhaging. When all was said and done, I had to have an emergency DNC, and I was placed in ICU for a week. I had lost almost 5 pints of blood, necessitating numerous blood transfusions in hopes of saving my life….

Her father came to me the next day, threatening to take her out of the hospital away from me. I must have done something wrong, he argued,  in order to have all the trauma happen to me at birth. Oh wait, he said, he decided he knew what the trauma was. She wasn’t his child, but his brothers’. Repeatedly over our twelve years of marriage, he had pretty much accused me of having an affair with almost every person our age in our lives, including his sister, and a friend I taught with. If I had even LOOKED at someone a second too long for his liking, I was accused of being a whore. In fact, he compared himself to the Hosea of the Bible, and me as the one he “saved”.

But for this particular moment, it was one of his brothers. He was so mean, accusatory, and verbally abusive,  that the L& D nurse told him he needed to leave, that my machines were beeping abnormally, because my heartrate was skyrocketing, due to our argument.

It was there, in that moment, utterly physically and psychologically broken, that my heart broke fully in two. I had been hurt and angered and shamed at his abuse before. But this time, after just giving birth to our daughter, I was fractured in a way that would literally take almost two decades to heal from. And it was in that moment that I created a bond with her that was what propelled me six years later to be able to leave him, to protect her and her brother. Because at that point? I didn’t matter for me. I was nothing. All of my life, for MY life sake, left me that night in the hospital, the day after she was born.

But for my child, and, eventually children? With a more urgent burden than I ever imagined parenting to be, because literally our life and death lay in the balance, I decided that being a good and Godly mom would be THE driving force in my life.

So, 16 years later, when she wanted to get matching tattoos, representing all that we had had to fight through in our lives, just to get to where we were that day, how could I ever say no?

“Break the Silence” is an organization that was started to bring awareness to domestic violence, and how, unlike any other crime except for sexual assault, it’s the silent crime. No one talks about it. What happens behind closed doors stays behind closed doors. It’s family business. It’s protected by shame and denial and terror. It wreaks havoc and chaos on the one place that you’re supposed to feel safe, your home.

And she and I, we raised each other. She protected me, even getting hit once by her father when she was trying to intervene in a fight between he and I, when I couldn’t protect myself. She was my logic and backbone when I was silenced by fear. She was the fighter when I had no fight.

She was born stoic. I remember watching her as a baby. She would take in everything around her. No nonsense. No fussing. Missing nothing. Her eyes could pierce you with a simple stare. She sucked on her binky with an intensity that belied her calm exterior.

The few times she did let down her guard, and showed vulnerability of any kind, I held her dear to my heart like one would hold a fragile glass doll; the moments were rare indeed.  Little did I know just how important that strength and stoicism would be for her a few years later.

And when we did escape, and start to heal, I had to work hard, very hard, to earn her respect, and my rightful place has her authority figure and mom. We have often been more like sisters than mother and daughter.

But I know that now she can look at me, and model herself after me. If I’ve done nothing else right with my life, I have grown into a healthy, strong, woman, who fights for what she believes in, who protects her children, who speaks for them when they can’t defend themselves, and who holds them when they themselves have been broken in two.

This shared tattoo is about so much more than ink, and wrists, and letters. It repesents a bond between she and I that has been forged by the same molten iron, shaped by the same, unforgiving mallet, and cooled with the grace of the same God that has turned those ashes into phoenixes of beauty.

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And people wonder why I don’t get out as much as I could, or live my “own” life more, why I insist on being there for my kids so much. I remember when it was threatened to me  every day that they would be taken away from me. I remember what it was like for our house to be a war zone instead of a home. I remember what it was like when I had to literally fight for them, with every breath in me, some forty-five times in court.

So to say that I take parenting as my number one joy and priority, and that I’m even fanatical about it,  is to define me exactly as who I am. I will never be a hovering parent, but a warrior parent? Everyday.

Before you can break the silence, you have to have found your voice.

 

Mandala Tattoo, and How I Almost Left The Church

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I grew up in church. To say I was a “church girl” was an understatement.

I was dedicated, as a baby, in the church that I would spend 18 years at. From the time I can remember, I went to church twice on Sunday, Sunday mornings for Sunday School and “big church”, and Sunday nights for the evening service.

Then,  when I was old enough, I started attending Pioneer Girls every Wednesday night. Similar to Girl Scouts, it had a spiritual aspect to it. I earned every single badge you could earn the six years I attended.

When I was in first grade, I started singing in the kids choir, then transitioned into the junior high, senior high, and finally, the adult choir. We went on tour as a high school choir, and I was even the “top” of our Living Christmas Tree Christmas presentation for a couple of years during my time in the adult choir. I played in the church hand bell choir. I played the piano as an offertory during “offering times” repeatedly in my elementary and early adolescent years.

Starting in junior high, I was an integral part of the the youth group, even being chosen as part of the “elite” spiritual leadership group in high school. Whenever the youth group had an activity, I was there. Seven years of summer camp, winter retreats, Christian Nights at Great America, missions trips, and first attending, then helping, for years with Vacation Bible School and in Sunday School.

I was baptized as a junior higher. And rededicated my life to God in high school during a Dawson McAllister youth conference.

Pretty much, if the church doors were open, I was there. I loved Jesus. A lot.

And, as a young adult, when I finally left my home church, it was only to go to a more multicultural church in Oakland, after a friend had invited me.

At this church, I was involved in Bible study. The next church my then husband and I attended, I led a women’s Bible study.

For a few years after I was divorced, my children and I attended a small church a few towns over, where I played the keyboard/piano, and sang in the “modern” worship band, never missing a Sunday.

Finally, my kids and I landed at a church where we felt like we had found home. My daughter sang in the worship band, went on all the youth group activities, including summer camp, winter camp, and Mexico to build houses over Memorial Day weekend. My son was involved in every children’s ministry event that the church offered.

I first worked in the children’s minstry, then eventually moved on to women’s ministry, where I was one of the three leaders for all the women’s ministry events. We planned and led retreats, created outreach activities, Bible studies, repainted and redecorated the church….you name it…..once again, if the doors were open, my kids and I were there. We became very close family friends with the pastor and his family.

Then came the summer that everything changed. A girl in our youth group got pregnant. My freshman daughter came to me and said, “Mom, I want to give her a shower. I want her to feel God’s love surrounding her. I want her to know that within this group of people, she’s loved.” And since she was an at-risk child herself, and I had always taught her to take all of her pain and heartache, and turn it into compassion for those around her who were hurting too, I agreed to help her pay for it. So she started planning it. She sent out invites to all the girls and youth leaders in the youth group. Everyone RSVP’d “yes”.

We were down to the few days before the shower. Everything had been bought or ordered, everything was perfectly lined up, ready to go.

And then the pastor told me he needed to talk to me. I had no idea what about. I had no idea about anything I had done worthy of needing to meet like he informed me of.  He came over to my house, and firmly disparaged me that he didn’t agree with the shower, that my daughter was “celebrating teen pregnancy” by giving this girl the shower, and thus sinning herself…..oh, and what  kind of a mom was I? He then told me  that he had informed all of the youth leaders not to attend the shower, and to tell their “girls” not to either.

And, true to what he said, the day of the shower , five people showed up, my daughter, the two friends who helped her, one woman from the church, and the pregnant girl and her mom.

My daughter was devastated. Distraught. Disturbed. Dismayed.  I was livid. After calming down,  I respectfully and diplomatically first spoke with the pastor, then the youth pastor and leaders, explaining to them that, whether I agreed with their decision or not, how they handled their decision was completely wrong and destructive. If they had decided not to attend, for whatever reason, they should have said so from the beginning, not after they had already RSVP’d “yes”, and after they had talked to my daughter so excitedly about the plans for the shower.

From most of the people, I was hit with a wall of silence.

I then spoke with my prayer partner, who was an older Godly woman, and wife of an elder, about how to handle the situation.

I ended up having to go, by myself,  before the Board of Elders, who were all men, and explain to them that, of everything that had happened, my biggest frustration was that my daughter was devastated. She felt betrayed and devalued by how everything had been handled and communicated, by the very people that she had once felt the safest and most at home with. I asked the Board of Elders to apologize to her, and have the youth leaders apologize to her,  for how it was handled because, me? I could handle my anger and work through it. I’d been in church my whole life. People disappoint. You make amends. You move on together. It’s the circle of church life. But my daughter? She had been through way too much pain already in her short life, pain that these youth leaders had helped her work through. She needed to see modeled for her how to handle a person when you have wronged them, and how to be loved through restoration and reconciliation. She was a CHILD, not an adult.

But rather than acknowledging a SINGLE point I made, or perspective that my daughter had, I was simply told that my daughter had been WRONG for even wanting to give a shower to the pregnant girl in the first place ( the church needs to condemn, not condone, I was admonished), and that both she and I needed to stop being emotional, get over ourselves, and respect the men’s decision.

I was speechless. I left that meeting feeling like I was a two-year-old who had been dismissed with the wave of a hand. And worse, I felt like my daughter had been “left out to dry” in every way possible, disrespected, disregarded, discarded, like SHE had committed an unforgivable sin.

I was stunned into paralysis. I didn’t know what to think. What to say. What to do. So I fasted for a week, sought wise, Godly counsel ( from other churches), and prayed about what to do.

Finally, I made the incredibly hard, but not hard, decision to leave the church. I sent a letter to the Board of Elders thanking them for all of their years of ministry to my family, but that at this point, I could not place myself, or my children, under their spiritual authority anymore.

And we grieved. And we mourned. And we wept, broken wailings of all that we had lost. Of all that we had been robbed of. Of all that we felt mistreated by. And time seemed to stop.

My son, the day I told him of my decision for us to leave, who was 11 at the time, told me that he was glad we were leaving; that from his perspective as a guy, he hadn’t been able to respect the pastor, or most of the elders, for quite a while because of how he saw them parent, or treat other people, or how they represented the Bible. So he was relieved.

My daughter gave it one last effort to partially reconcile on her own. She wanted to sing the two more times she was scheduled to be in the worship band.  And I wanted her to do that since she wanted to serve like that.

Then came the phone call informing her that, because her mom had the issues she had with the church, the youth pastor believed that it would be best if my daughter didn’t sing anymore in the band. I could not believe that they were further “punishing” her.

She was done. Broken in half. Wanted nothing to do with church.

Neither did I.

But I knew that the God that we loved was not the imperfect people who make up the church, but He WAS the church Himself. And I knew that one day, we would need to go back, not to that church, but to some church.

So I gave us 6 months off. No churches. No services. A mourning time to grieve all that we had lost.

And then slowly, we got involved again. My daughter has now been attending a new church for three years, involved in working in the nursery, and youth ministry.  My son and I went to the same churh for two years, and now he and I attend a different one. He’s very involved in the youth group.

But for me,  it’s hard to get involved again. You can forgive and let hurt and betrayal go. But it forges something new in you. It scars you in places where the perspective will never be the same again. And what was once a sheer joy to be involved somewhere, I am still trying to rekindle that hope.

And so this tattoo came about after I had spoken my final conversations with the church leaders, and after numerous people had contacted with me, thanking me for taking the stand I did, for speaking up for those who couldn’t speak for themselves, for fighting for what I believed in…..that because of what I did, they had a little more faith in people who called themselves Christians. I was stunned at the beauty that God once again brought from the ashes of my life.

So this tattoo is a mandala. It is a symbol that has been used for generations, across numerous cultures and religions.  A mandala is a circle that represents wholeness, that represents the divine, our relation to the infinite, the world within our body and mind, and the world outside. It represents the fact that I was broken, and the very foundations of everything I had ever believed in, were shaken to the core. But I chose to heal and become whole again anyway. I chose to use the pain and betrayal, and have it grow me closer to the God who I know loves me, rather than tearing me away from Him.

Now, I am a firm believer that God created women to be a larger part of the leadership role of the church than they traditionally play in many Western churches. Had women been a part of that particular Board of Elders, to bring a balanced outlook and perspective to the situation, the outcome for everyone involved might have been a very different scenario.

I’m still a church girl at heart, but my vision for what a church should really look like? That vision has definitely changed. It’s not just when are the doors open, but who’s involved in opening them.

And I still love Jesus. A lot.

 

 

 

Solas, Mol, &Tearmann Tattoo

The voice of the Scotch-Irish, Gaelic, has always held a fascination for me. In fact, words and languages, quotes and pithy memes, even dialects, have always intrigued me. For my Bachelor’s Degree in Ethnic Studies, I wrote a final project paper on the origins of Ebonics. I came to observe that African-Americans did not talk “ghetto slang”, because amazingly , white southerners spoke the same way. No, Ebonics is actually a documented dialect of the English language, combining numerous aspects of West African language norms into the English discourse, hence rubbing off on white southerners as well.  For example, in reflecting their culturally specific holistic world view, most African languages don’t discriminate between tenses, whereas Western worldviews are linear in nature, denoting categories of time, so tenses ARE observed. For example, where as an English speaker will differentiate between whether they “already went”, or “are going”, or “will be going”, African languages simply say, ” I be going”, which could mean “they went”, “they are going”, or “they will be going,” because it doesn’t really matter WHEN one goes, as long as you go.   origins of Black English

Anyway… about a month after I had left my ex-husband, my parents helped me hire an attorney. When I first met with him, he looked at me and told me that he was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to withstand the relentless and cutthroat environment of a courtroom. He was worried that I would cave in, give up on my fight for myself and my children, and go back to my husband. And, weighing in at under 100 pounds, with my hair falling out, and sitting meekly in his office chair, I’m sure that I didn’t seem like a good candidate for him to represent. But…. I sat there and told him that I had tried everything I had known how to do to save my marriage; years of different kinds of secular counseling, pastoral/church counseling, fasting, praying, couples retreats, couples workshops, mentor couples…. and that when I had finally decided to leave him, there would be no turning back.

That conversation was the start of a decades long court journey. What would end up being 400 court filings, 45 court appearances, 6 different judges, 7 different family mediators, a Alameda County DA investigation, a Fremont PD SVU investigation, and a several thousand dollar custody evaluation, all started in that little office where my attorney told me that I reminded him of a lost puppy dog.

About a year into this court journey, I read the words “solas”, “mol”, and “tearmann” somewhere, and I fell in love with them. Solas means “to be a light”; Mol means “to be an advocate”; and tearmann means “to be a refuge”. Without even knowing the strength and voice that I would have acquired by year ten, at the one year mark, I was proud of the person I had become even in that time, in terms of learning how to fight to protect and advocate for my children.

I also knew that I wanted to get a tattoo near the place where my family had gone to family camp for years, Mt. Hermon. So I found a little place in Felton, California, that would even let my kids come watch me get the tattoo too. The symbolism of my children being able to come with me, while we, and my parents, were at family camp, was not lost on me, and the meaning of the tattoo. In the early days, when I was not strong enough to go to court on my own, my mom would always go with me. And, before I finally started representing myself as in pro per in our court appearances, my parents pretty much gave up their entire retirement savings to pay for my attorney, so that my children and I got the best possible protection and advocacy we could get, something that will never be lost to me. So while I was busy advocating, being a light for, and providing a refuge for my children, my parents and attorney were doing that for me.

Late summer of 2005, tattoo number 3 was born.

Celtic Cross Tattoo

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I was raised lower-middle-class, think Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink (except I had two wonderful parents), sandwiched between a predominantly white, wealthy church body/youth group where I grew up and went to church, and a very-diverse, mixed-demographic student body where I went to school. My family raised me to be very proud of my WASP heritage. I can trace my family lineage back to the actual county and towns we are from:  in Ireland (Armaugh, Mullaghmore, Mountnorris), in Scotland ( West Muir, Lugger, Ayreshire),  in England (London, Bristol) and Germany (northwestern countryside, circa 1830)  where my ancestors arrived from. Growing up, I was privy to cornbeef and cabbage, spatzle, haggis, bangers, Beef Wellington, shortbread, and scones (before Starbucks popularized them). Furthermore, I know just how my family arrived in California, from Pennsylvania, via wagon train on one side, and mule-pack train through the Isthmus of Panama, then via ship, on the other. I am 5th generation Californian on both sides of my family.

I understood early on, the concept of classism and discrimination amongst white folk, and their issues amongst each other, both abroad and here on our patriotic soil. This realization came long before Trump decided to use the bait and switch technique of class and race as his platform for his candidacy.

It is this very awareness of privilege and entitlement, and class struggles, that I believe helps me to grasp the bigger dynamics, in our country, of race and class, discrimination and prejudice, and how everyone benefits from getting along, and why it’s so hard for us to do so. Institutional racism has its’  foundations built on the scaffold of institutional classism. The small group of people who have the most to lose, create the greatest havoc amongst those who have nothing to lose, so that the majority doesn’t rise up against the elite. You get the “majority” to fight amongst themselves, seeing each other as the enemy, then all of them miss the target of the real nemesis. It’s been going on for years in our country, purposely woven conflict to seemingly create “self”-fulfilling prophecy;  Native tribe against differing tribe, slaves against poor whites, brown against black, poor men against women, brown and black against yellow; black, brown, and yellow against Middle-Eastern…….the combinations could go on forever. But as long as we see each other as the culprit, the elite remain the elite, untouched.

All of that aside, it was a few months after I was newly separated ( the actual divorce took almost two years to be finalized),  that I came to the realization of the  freedom of being able to watch movies and TV… whatever I wanted to watch, whenever I wanted to watch it…. such a delicious, glorious freedom. When I had been married, sports had been on 24/7. I was never allowed to watch anything else.  I knew the call tunes for every major sporting event, readily accessible in my head, easily identifiable from how many times I’d heard them. In fact, in-utero, my daughter was calmed by the song of the Master’s so much so that, years later, the tune STILL calms her.

Anyway…. I started renting movies. I would rent five or six at a time, sit in my own, comfortingly empty apartment, and zone out, escaping for a few hours from what would turn out to be an absolutely abhorrent, lengthy custody and divorce battle ( that story being for another tatto). Two of the movies I rented were Far and Away and Braveheart. All of a sudden I had two story lines to tack onto my fervent pride in my heritage. And I further fell in love with Celtic designs; their origins, their history,and their beauty.

So, on a dark wintry night in 2005, I drove myself back to Berkeley, and had the same tattoo artist who did my first tattoo, give me my second one; an ode to my heritage… who I am,  and why I am the way I am…..a celebration of the pride I felt for being a Scotch-Irish, German, English,  American protege….. and also the “Family” I’ve been adopted into.

My faith in God started at a young age. My mom would read me Bible stories every night before I went to bed. My favorite story was the one where Jesus would tell the little children to come unto Him, Matthew 19:14  I had my mom read it over and over again. And again.  And then, at age 4, I decided that I wanted to live my life for Jesus…. that I wasn’t my own, I was His. And while that faith has been challenged drastically, and molded and shaped into many new forms, many different times, my identity remains. I am not my own, I am His. And the cross is a constant reminder that He gave His life for me, and so I now choose to life my life for Him.

In the adage of the old world hymn, the one where my grandma would sit beside me on the piano bench, melodiously testifying to her OWN faith in Jesus, the hymn that would later become my all time favorite, ever….. my tattoo is a visual reminder of the lyrics found below:

“So I’ll cherish the old rugged Cross
Till my trophies at last I lay down
I will cling to the old rugged Cross
And exchange it some day for a crown. ”

story of the Old Rugged Cross

Tattoo 2, Winter 2005.