Footnote to Yesterday’s Disclosure

As a footnote to yesterday’s disclosure, I would like to address an elephant in the room. It had actually been ASKED of me way back during my original court proceedings, in several different ways, why I chose my first husband; and that, in essence, what did I expect to get for marrying a black guy from the ghetto? This whole racist shame blame was one of the reasons I stayed married, and tried to make our relationship work, for so long. I didn’t want people to judge my experience as a blanket statement that all black men were a certain way….which I learned, was how many white people quietly felt.

And once I did leave my first husband, and I was asked to start telling my story to help others, I didn’t want my experience as a domestic violence victim to be founded on the premise of the color of skin of the man I married; that would be an evil betrayal of victims of all “skin colors”, including white, that domestic violence can only happen in certain demographics. It happens across, and up and down, the demographic board.

That being said, while I know that there are real men in every racial and ethnic group, I know from experience that there are losers too. Grown males being boys crosses all barriers too. I grew up with an uncle, a white guy, who ended up in prison for years for murder, but not before he first pulled a knife on, and threatened to kill, my aunt. My first husband was African-American and Caribbean. My second husband was Filipino and white. And my third husband was Mexican, Spanish, and white.

So please, when you read my story, throw all notions of racism out the door. The issues I’ve dealt with in relating to the men in my life are defined by the heart and character of the men I’ve chosen, not the color of their skin, ethnic heritage, or even religion. It’s about power and sexism and patriarchy, and a crippling misunderstanding of what it means to love and respect women, no matter the cultural background.

My parents raised me to always look at the heart and soul of a person, not how they look or where they were from, to determine their value in your life. And I ask you to still do the same. The brokenness of the men in my life was not because they weren’t white, or were white, or rich, or poor, or from a dysfunctional family, or spoiled. Their brokenness was caused by choices they made that, as an adult, they still chose to define themselves as victims, boys, and in need of being babied at all costs, all the time, instead of being the men that they had the potential, and were intended, to be.

I saw that potential, and loved that possibility and often times promise, rather than who each of them very clearly lived their actual lives being. My mistakes were in misjudging character, not culture. Please don’t do the same. There are amazing men out there that never get the chance TO be judged by their character, because they are too quickly judged and written off by their culture and color.

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.

Barren Tree Tattoo

IMG_9782

The first time I ever recall “remembering” the leaves falling from trees,

their  autumn colors catching the glint of the early fall sun,

was the day my grandpa died.

For some reason his death reminded me of a tree.

Not the tree that is in full spring bloom, with aromatic flower petals perfuming the newness of the Spring air.

And not the tree, fully swollen, offering much needed shade on a hot summer day.

No. It was the dying tree, it’s leaves crisp and crackly, colored blood red, fire orange, and burnt yellow, that cocooned me that day, much like the flannel shirts he would often wear, me beckoning him to stay.

And seeing that I was cold, he would envelop me in one of them, a thousand sizes larger than what I wore….. surrounding me also with a warm, musky scent, the remnants of the aftershave he bore.

The tree reminded me of the colors of my favorite flannel of his, with it’s warm hues of late Indian summer…

The shirt that I then wore to bed each night, until months later, the worn raggedness of it, finally, was less of a covering, than no covering at all.

….And maybe that remembrance of the autumn tree, at so early a young age, was actually preparing me for winter trees, and the unprepared  deaths that lay ahead.

Trees, stripped of their fall explosions, standing stark and silent against harsh winter skies…..

Trees that once gave so much life, but now seem to have been shuttered, would become to me,  the strongest of them all.

It’s with THESE trees that I have felt the most companionship with, the most closeness with, in my life.

Many times in my  years I’ve found myself on dark, shadowless paths; journeys that most closely resemble the depth of the darkest days, and the months that stand silent, like timeless winter trees, even amongst the gales that scream.

These are the months, where seemingly nothing lives, nothing whispers, life seems to have been snuffed out before the night.

The days where there is no rustle, no ragged breeze, not one voice to be found  in life’s audience.

The haunting beauty of a leafless tree, seemingly barren of all life, standing silent in the raging storm….it draws me in, and holds me tight, and whispers it’s ok.

The beauty of a stripped tree, standing still , is that what you see is what you get.

There are no games, no hidden cues, no foilage demanding to help hide.

There are no lies. No cover-ups. No place for shame-blamed bruises to collectively reside.

So the winter tree, so plainly seen, helps me to breathe in, and just be.

It reminds me that, when all else fades, the root is what we see.

And the roots are made, not in the blaze of summer’s inviting gaze.

But insteaed they’re made, dug deeply down, through the piercing  of the winter’s glaze.

And it was in that season, one winter, or ten, that the tree gently whispered to me.

He said, “My dear, you stood on your own, unassumingly.

And you,through blizzards and freezes quietly grew….

And the best kept truth about enduring such pain, about being so gutted and thrown askew,  is that deep inside the tree, quietly, new life hibernates anew….

And not today, and maybe not the next, for the winter season is  not yet past….

But one day, the thaw will come, and the air will be birthed warm and new.

And that tree that stands, so silently, with seemingly nothing to show…

will one day, under the weight of it’s limbs, burst with a beauty that is fresh and aglow.

So stand strong, oh leafless one, when you feel most rejected, you’re not.

For much like a cactus, who stands dry and taut, seemingly dead to the uninformed touch..

Deep in your trunk, buried beneath, far from the external swell,

your life harbors a refreshing, lifegiving, drought-quenching,  well.

 

Grief, Exhaled….. Tattoo

FullSizeRender (22)

This tattoo took me over the edge from being a person who had tattoos that were “cute”,  to a half- arm- sized tattoo on my left arm.

For a while I often wondered if it was “too” big, or “too” out there, or “too” much, quickly covering it up whenever I was around someone who maybe I  thought would judge me as having gone “too far”….

It even caught me off guard at first, startling me into thinking I had black marker on my arm from teaching…

But then…. as I’ve slowly evolved and grown as a person over this last year, this tattoo has become not only my life’s mantra, motto, but it’s the embodiment of how I’ve chosen to see life.

The impetus for me to formally verbalize my thoughts, cohesively turning them into the deeply etched phrase here, was in living through  the most recent of traumas in my life.

Without going into detail, after being a single parent for over 10 years, I remarried, only to find out that my husband of less than a year had been serial cheating on me during the entirety of my knowing him…. friendship, dating, engaged, married. To sum up one of  his mistress’s words, which he corroborated, he married me because I provided a good reputation for him, and I loved his children.

A whole different trauma. A while different betrayal. A whole different grief.

And from these ashes, these words took shape. While I created this for MY life, I choose to treat everyone who comes into my life with these life affirming beliefs as well,and pray that I can pay my pain forward, through being a vessel of transformed grace and hope.

So here is what I think….

BEAR WITNESS….Do you see injustice? Do you see abuse? Do you see oppression? Do you see evil? Don’t turn your head. Don’t shut your eyes. Don’t silence your screams. Don’t ignore the pain. Face the storm. Sound the siren. Summon the jury.

REVEAL TRUTH….The truth can’t set you free until you first unwrap it, unhide it, and uninhibit it. Truth speaks for itself. Don’t drown it out. Don’t shovel it over. Don’t bury it in and slam the door. Lay it down, and out, for all to see. Bare your naked soul. Call it for what it is. It is not YOUR burden to carry the sins of someone else. Lay blame where blame is due. And then step back, unburdened, and fret not anymore, the shadows no longer hold you captive.

HOLD SPACE…..Sometimes there is nothing to do, but sit with the grief, let the tears flow, tend to the shuddering silhouette. Grief bottled in is no mourning at all. Don’t rush. Don’t downplay. Don’t compare. Don’t rebuke. Simply……..be.   Light the candles. Rest in the refuge. Be silent in the sanctuary. Stand down.

EMBRACE PAIN……Life causes all of us pain. We either allow it to shape us, or we spend our lives fighting, as it swallows us. Before we can heal, we have to simply acknowledge it. Weakness isn’t in being betrayed, or in losing, or in being ripped apart. Weakness is in acting like it never hurt us to begin with. Let yourself feel all of the bitterness and rage. Let yourself be broken. Let yourself fall apart. Let yourself be real. It’s ok to not be ok.

CARRY GRIEF…..Never let someone tell you that you EVER heal whole again, unscarred, unblemished, unfractured, back to who you once were. You don’t. And don’t try. A part of your grief will go with you for the rest of your life. Own it. Respect it. Carry it. You are who you are because of the heartache etched on your heart. Make grief your ally so that, rather than embittering and imprisoning you, it creates a compassion for others you meet on your journey who need to know they aren’t alone. Because no one can walk this road solo. And no one is untouched by grief. And the darkness doesn’t discriminate, but it DOES fade to the corner when we light the path together.

HONOR JOY……There WILL be moments, even amidst the worst of the storms, when laughter will bubble over, the sun will beam bright, and life will kiss you with joy. Don’t downplay it. Don’t sabotage it. Don’t disgrace it. Don’t ignore it. Don’t destroy it. Don’t disown it. Honor it. No matter the cards you’ve been dealt, you’re  bound to draw an ace at some point. Hug it. Enjoy it. Grasp a hold of it. And….even if it’s just the eye of the storm, and the clouds are drawing nigh again, engrave those moments as memorial stones of what can be, what has been, and what will be again. Because the darkness and storms may rage for a night, but even the gloomiest midnight ends. And the sun comes up. And joy…..joy….. joy…. always comes in the morning.

 

 

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

FullSizeRender (21)

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:

7302EB3B-E5FE-4A14-ACB0-4173ADC37BFC          551080CB-032B-4A4B-B7ED-F48A57843988           FC54A166-35D9-439D-8435-6DCCDFFDD1E4 (1)

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

IMG_8223

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

IMG_8225

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.

IMG_8066

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

FullSizeRender (18)

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.

 

 

 

Forgotten Spiral Tattoo

FullSizeRender (13)

I often forget about this tattoo. This is the most risque ink I’ve etched into my skin ; or rather, the placement of it is. It’s on my hip. It’s easily seen with a swimsuit bottom on, which is how I got it, but nonetheless, it was as much intimidating for me, as it was a personal statement for myself.

The “spiral” has longheld meaning, across generations and cultures. About the same time I got this tattoo, I found this artistic explaination,

FullSizeRender (12)

And this is the struggle that I’m confronted with daily regarding the meaning of this symbolism. I struggle with truly loving myself; or at least aspects of myself. You see, twice in my lifetime, by two different men who were supposedly in my life to love and protect me, celebrate and honor me, I was sexually assaulted. The pain wasn’t inflicted by some stranger in a dark alley; it was chosen by someone who KNEW me well, who KNEW where and how I trusted him the most, who KNEW how it would destroy the parts of me that only HE had held close. Experiencing sexual assault is a betrayal that victimizes in the deepest way possible. It is the greatest form of punishment one can inflict on someone else. The wounds slice deep; gouging the most sacred of places in a soul.

Sleeping with the enemy became more than just a movie title for me.

It’s why, at this point in my life, I struggle with ever seeing myself as sexy, or attractive, or “flirty” in any way. For years I wore clothes two sizes too big, in bland, neutral colors, that allowed me to blend into the woodwork. My whole goal was to be forgotten. I wanted no curves showing; I wanted to be flat. It’s the reason why my daughter used to believe that all dark colored clothes were signs of weakness, because that’s all I would wear until after I left their father. To this day I have to purpose to wear brighter-colored, fitted clothes, forcing myself to look like the woman that I am. Inside I’m still a tomboy, before adolescence hit, because life was far safer then.

Oh, I had a wonderful sex drive at one point. I cherished the bridal showers I had where I received lingerie; and I used to have fun shopping at Victoria’s Secret for underwear and “underlings”. I considered myself a “frisky” person who couldn’t wait to be married and be intimate. My modesty was something that I deeply prided myself in, saving myself, believing that honoring God in this area of my life would lead to a deeply rich and satifying sex life with a husband one day.

But then you are left bloody, and it’s not because of your period. And you are belittled in every way- psychologically, mentally, emotionally, and verbally. And the comparisons to porn sex that you are required to watch in order to “help” you be more of what they “need”, leave you feeling dirty.  And the desire for you to perform like a previously freakish affair, and one-night stand, awash you with the slime and scum of what it means to feel whoreish. And you become the sponge, soaking up the blatant betrayal and adultery you come to find out about, all while the fingers are pointed at you as to the problems for their sex drive, because it’s your problem they can’t perform, when in reality they’re simply worn out from performing all to well, with someone else, on the side.  And the comprehensive fractures, and tearing away of trust and safety, eventually wears you down. And then strips you of your ability to feel like a whole woman. And you shut down. And you break apart. And you forget to breathe.

And so, my spiral tattoo was a way for me to remember that I am still a woman, that I am on a journey to become whole again. And that being whole means that one day maybe I WILL feel sexy, and frisky, and attractive “in that way” again. And that loving myself DOES mean allowing myself to feel with desire, and that maybe one day that desire won’t lead to pain, but to pleasure.

Women who have been traumatized in this way usually become one of two things. They become the “whore” that they were treated as, believing that they will never amount to anything more than how they were objectified. Or they become almost asexual, boarding up, shutting down…”winterizing” the deepest parts of them that made them vulnerable to the attack in the first place .

I chose the latter. And I’m ok with that for now…. But one day, hopefully, I will look down at this spiral, and it won’t just be a beckoning to me of the sacral that needs to be reborn; instead it will be a faint reminder to me of the still before a summer storm.

 

Ecclesiastes Tattoo

FullSizeRender (11)

I come from a long lineage of very long marriages.

My parents have been married 47 years, and counting. They haven’t killed each other yet    (although they’ve had some doozies over the car AC, especially).  At the height of my parents marital stress level, right after my mom went back to work after being a stay at home mom for nearly a decade, I heard them arguing one night. This was the only time I have EVER  heard a SINGLE uttered swear word in my home growing up. It stressed me out. I asked my mom if she and my dad were going to get divorced. She looked at me increduloulsy and said, ” No. I made a commitment to God to love your father until the day I die. I might KILL him so that day comes sooner, but I will never divorce him.”………ah….my life was rebalanced again….

My dad’s  parents were married 41 years before my grandma died.

My mom’s parents were married a month shy of 70 years before my nana died. 70 years!!! I asked my Boppo one day, if he had to do it over again, would he still have married my nana? He looked at me, ever earthy and blunt in nature, and said, laughing gruffly, “Yes I would; it’s been hell WITH her, but it would be hell WITHOUT her too.”

And even though none of these marriages were perfect, they were what I aspired to. I wanted to be a wife and a mom. Period. I saw life as something less than the ideal if I had to walk it alone. And THAT was coming from an only child who loved solitude and being alone.

My parents were a cross-classism couple, my dad being from a working class, “Oakland flatlands” family, and my mom being from a white collar “Kensington/El Cerrito hills” family. Progressive and all-inclusive was how I was raised. Color and class didn’t matter. All that mattered was whether someone loved God, and respected himself and his family, or not. So to marry someone outside of my given social status was irrelevant to me. Love conquered all. I saw itplay out  repeatedly within the four walls of my childhood home.

When I got married to my children’s father, it was for a lifetime. Come hell or high water. Come interracial couple backlash. Come class conflict. Come parenting challenges. Come financial issues. Come drug addiction……..come domestic violence…….come child abuse………

Slowly my ideal dream of being married for a lifetime, and being a couple like my parents and grandparents, slowly slipped through my fingers like sands in an hourglass. I fought it. Boy did I fight it. Probably 11 years too long. I gave up everything to keep my marriage in tact. Because I believe that marriage is worth fighting for; that the person I pledged my life to, to love in good times and bad, sickness and health, deserved my loyalty, because, if you aren’t supported in your own home, nothing else makes much sense.

Until the day I realized that the refuge I had created for him, had conversely become a war zone, battleground for me and our children. And then I had a huge decision to make. Did I leave my marriage, and quite possibly save myself and my children, literally? Or did I hang out, and go down with the sinking ship, keeping the candle lit until the fierce winds engulfed it’s light?

I went to church that Sunday. The weekend where everything had come to a head. By myself, as usual, at that time. A white woman, in a predominantly black church, carrying a burden about my black husband, where I felt like years of racism and oppression and institutionalized “everything”, had fallen on my shoulders. So many things went through my head. Was his brokenness my fault? Was the fact that I was white push him over the edge? How did I reconcile what I know was a very traumatic past on his part, with how he was traumatizing everyone in his present? How did I extricate myself from an abusive marriage without the expected and judgemental mindsets whispering, “See, you should never have married a black guy anyway,” or, ” What did you do to him, you oppressive white chick?”, or ” He just needs to be understood, he’s  a black man in America. That should say it all.”

I struggled and struggled with this, until MLK’s words came to my mind. To me, how my then husband acted in the four walls of our home wasn’t based on the color of his skin, but the content of his character. And his own demons, black, or brown, or yellow, or white…. were winning, at the cost of all of us involved. It was a pastor at this church who said to me, “Marriage is a very personal thing; and while everything that happens outside of that home does effect the inside, each adult is responsible for what they allow of themselves, and each other, inside those four walls. God did not create marriage to be a punching bag of any kind, for anyone. And the second that you are afraid to be home, is when you need to forget everything that you think should hold you there, and fight for the things that should make you leave.Your children need to have a man in their life who handles himself as a true man, with honor and protection of those he loves, rather than abusing them. And rather than feeling like you are letting a black guy down, look at it as though if this is the only black guy your children will know, what will they think of them? The stereotyping can go both ways.”

The sermon that day was on detours that God puts in our lives. We are going one direction, and all of a sudden, the road verges sharply in another direction. And  those detours are God’s way of recalibrating our lives, refocusing our priorities, and rebalancing the status quo. The passage the pastor preached  from was Ecclesiastes 3, there is a time for everything.

A time to be born, and a time to die; 

A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal;

A time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh;

A time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to seek, and a time to lose;

A time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to sew, and a time to tear;

A time to keep silent, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate;

and a time for war, and a time for peace. 

And just like that, I knew it was time to let go; to release what I had so tightly held; to embrace the unknown of a detoured road; to trust a God who loved me enough to disrupt the status quo, who embraces His people more than His expectations for His people.

And this tattoo was born. Changing Autumn leaves to represent the changing of our lives, and to celebrate the idea that sometimes certain dreams have to die before they can be reborn, that the Phoenix must burn before it can rise again.