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.

When Holy Thaws

I felt this today. This week. These last couple of months. This overwhelming darkness, sense of unraveling. This cry of anguish and angst over moments that have been seared into my mind, of haunting “why me’s” that I have heard inaudibly whispered from those I love. I have been doubled-over, stumbling, from carrying the chiseled burdens of those who I watch struggle to stay afloat, drowning in the chain of shattered dreams. I know God, that You are the closest to those who are stripped of all that comforts, that You are the balm that heals from the fractured slivers of hope. But now, in this empty space, this barren land, please come to us like rain. Even if the darkness doesn’t fade, let justice flow over and around us like a river, flooding our land with all good things. Strengthen this weary soul so that those who look to her for strength see that she is their rock because of He who steadies her. Use this long night that has exposed us raw become the dawn through which Your greatest purpose and presence can be born in and through us. Amen

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.

 

The tribe that created my village

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My daughter graduates from high school next week. Her ceremony will be small, as she is graduating from a charter/home school institution….We were discussing who would be invited to her graduation. She’s not a talker, or a “feeler” in particular, or even a social person much; rather an extreme introvert. She likes relatively few people around her, and MUCH time in solitude.

 So her text late at night, words that tore into my heart, surprised me as much as they made me acutely aware of MY feelings, of love, and inadequacy, and heartache. She shared that, in her dreams for her graduation day, there would be a huge family, making lots of noise, cheering her on, and christening her with LOTS of leis…..that this is what she had always imagined the perfect ceremony to be. And she knew hers wouldn’t be like that, and she was really grateful for all that I WAS doing, but she wanted me to understand why sometimes she was sad.

See…we have a small family. My parents, and her brother, and I, are pretty much it. Her father isn’t allowed to see her, the rest of his family lives back East, and we have no extended family that we are in contact with. And in this life, we have known a lot of tragedy. We have suffered a lot of loss. We’ve had a lot of unexpected endings, and seemingly rock-solid alliances, that have been torn away. We’ve had family that we have held dear, repeatedly violate our love and trust, and do unheard of things that “family” doesn’t do, necessitating us to build walls around our castle, keeping all but the most tried and true, out.

And her shared thoughts made me sad, filling me with grief for what I couldn’t offer her, for where I had let her down, for needs that I couldn’t fill with the resources I had….

And then I was thinking about the friends that have become our family over the years. Those that have been there when we needed a safe place to go to escape a violent home; or those that have picked us up when we were a million broken pieces lying on the floor, telling us that we would one day be whole again; those that have walked every weary, back-breaking path with us… understanding our silence, holding space for our pain, and slowly encouraging us to breathe joy once again; those that have stood as stoic, unmoving soldiers, fiercely defending and protecting us when we couldn’t protect ourselves; and those rejoicing with us over the simplest of pleasures, encouraging us to laugh, and to sing, and to dance…. and to reassure us that we were safe, finally, to do so.

And it was then that I realized that we may not have much of a blood family, but we have a tribe surrounding us. This tribe has both kept our village safe from the outside, and kept us celebrated from the inside. It is this tribe that has been there all along, and it is this tribe that will surround us this coming week.

So no, dear daughter, it may not be much blood family that will be standing with you as you embark on this next moment of your life. But the tribe that WILL be surrounding  you will be thicker than blood; with respect deeper than our strongest fears; and pride wider than our greatest worries; and most importantly, with love that is chosen rather than expected. YOU my child, are a warrior that is invaluable to it’s pack. So confidently take your place, stand tall with your shoulders back, and roar.

A Battle Won, with a Few Swear Words Added for Spice

When I became pregnant 19 years ago, I decided that parenting would be my first priority in life. What happened in the four walls of my home would be where I did my most important labor. Little did I know then, just how hard that job would be. But even aside from all the the abuse and trauma we endured, those topics are for other posts, raising children not only demands much, but it often demands ALL that you have and are. I am less of a teacher than I could be. I am less of a friend than I could be. I am less of a “seeker of individual fulfillment” person than I could be….All because I believe that if you are going to bring a child into this world, you make growing them into contributing members of society a trait that you place much value in. And while one may think that the hardest years are the Twilight Zone years of sleepness infanthood, I have come to realize that every stage brings it’s own trappings and unexpected wonderings.

My daugther has just turned 18. Wow. I was unprepared for all of the in-between balancing act of expectations, responsibilities, rules, consequences, power struggles, independence-creating scenarios, and groundwork laying, for pushing my little chick off the branch, so that she can fly with her own wings.

One thing I’ve learned from this step in the parenting process….A parents’ perch to have their voice heard at THIS stage of the game is solely dependent on the foundation that’s been laid in the formative stages. If I didn’t have my daughter’s respect, and her value for me now, when my voice ISN’T quite as loud, or final, the dissonance and sparring would reach a dangerous precedence….the slippery slope of reality would quickly slide out of control. And my “direction, rather than discipline”, and constructive criticism, rather than consequences”, are a source of constant creativity and wisdom seeking on my part.

Yesterday, for instance, she treated her brother in a way that isn’t acceptable for our household. After ranting and raving, and sharing a few timely dropped swear words, I was left with a decision. While racking my brain for how to REALLY follow through with my missile launches, a thought formed. Rather than grounding her ( possible, but not plausible), or taking electronics away ( dubious at best at her age), out of my mouth flew the following words, taken from a restorative practices/justice book I’ve been reading for a committee I’m on….

“This is what you need to do,” I said, a voice filled with frustration and focus. You need to figure out a way to make amends to your brother by 9 pm tonight. You need to figure out a way to restore the relationship between the two of you so that he feels loved and valued by you again. You need to apologize, and mean it by a show of your actions.  Period. I love you very much, but I don’t like you right now. Good-bye”.

Two hours later I stopped by her job with a coffee, having been just across the street for another reason. When I gave her the drink, she said, ” why did you bring this? You’re mad at me. I probably don’t deserve this.” My first thought was to say,” You’re d*** right you don’t deserve it, but some times I manage to bite my tongue first BEFORE my unconstructive  thoughts fly out of my mouth…..

I instead responded by saying,”I brought you the drink because I love you. Love can’t be earned. I love you no matter what. It doesn’t change that I don’t like you right now, and I’m really disappointed in you. But I want you to know that your worth and value to me never changes.”

When she got home last night, three creative acts of love and restoration were followed through by her towards her brother. Acts that spoke highly to her brother of love and appreciation.

A battle won.Wrongs made right. A few too many swear words thrown in the wind. Love spoken clearly in my little abode. At least for another 24 hours….

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Reluctant Warrior

I am not a confrontational person by nature. I don’t like arguments. I’ve never been in a fist fight. I’ve never swung a punch. I don’t like loud voices. I physically shake when I feel threatened. In fact, I’ve repeatedly been known to do the worst thing possible DURING a disagreement; rather than fight or flight, I freeze. I grew up middle-class, where you talk, or give the silent treatment, to show your disdain for something; stubbornly changing the topic rather than every raising your voice… Heck…  I didn’t even say my first swear word until well into my third decade of life.

I was raised with this unspoken assumption that, when people around you are violent, you try to become invisible. You shrink yourself so that, if even only in your own mind, you get out of the way. If the rage is directed at you, then you acquiesce, you passively defer, you make yourself little, so that the other person feels powerful, in control, so that the bully can reign unchecked. You simply say “I’m sorry”, and “You’re right”, and “I’ll do better”, and “Please forgive me”, simply to diffuse the onslaught, even when you’ve done nothing wrong. I basically believed that, if I lost myself, I would at least save myself, right?

I adopted this perspective, in part, because I believed that true peace was the absence of confrontation; that submission was the absence of a second voice (mine); that being “nice” meant that one had to justify another’s venom and wrath; and that people who hurt people, were “hurting” people, that simply needed to be loved enough, so that they would become loving too.

This personal dogma led to the series of unfortunate events wherein, for 12 years,  I was punched; pinched to broken skin; hit;  kicked; spit on;  pushed down stairs at 8 months pregnant; pushed out of a car; scratched; had glass cups thrown that shattered on my head;  arms and face bruised; and suffocated in bedsheets….just to name a few  of the ways I was physically abused alone. I put up with all of this treatment ALL in the name of “keeping the peace” and “loving my significant other”. I had forgotten my own worth, vehemently denying any foul play even when various loved ones questioned the bruising they saw,  or the riotous rages they heard. So full of shame and disbelief was I , that denial was my only form of survival.

Then the day came that my six year old came home from preschool and said to me, “Mom, we played husband and wife today. And I told the boy that if his “wife” didn’t do what he told her to do, he could slap her in the face. That was ok, right? That’s what love is, right? That’s what daddy does to you, and you guys love each other, right? ”

Time stood still. My heart momentarily ceased beating. A reality check of a mirror had just been held up to my silhouette. My life changed forever in that freeze frame of time. I realized, in that instant, that whatever I was willing to put up  with for myself, for my own life, however much I had lost my own compass to reality, and that however dangerous of a home life I had shriveled up my psyche to live in, this was NOT the life I envisioned for my children. This was NOT the legacy I intended to leave.  I was instantly drenched in a pail of ice cold water. The frog had gone from slow roasting in the meanderingly rising heat, to being scorched by the broiler.The struggle had just been jarringly brought into focus. This mama bear had finally found her fight.

That day, I made a pact with myself. I refused to raise my children to ever believe again that a war zone for a home life was normal. And I grew into the paradigm shift that day that peace is not the absence of conflict, but the snuffing out of injustice; that power is not legitimate unless it’s shared and garnered through respect; and that your voice is something that no one should ever have the where with all to silence….  That was the day that, at under 100 pounds and my hair falling out due to unchecked prolonged stress,  I became a reluctant warrior  That day, I took up my shield and my sword, and I have never been the same.

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