#me too

#me too

FYI –  the following post may be more than some feel able to read/know at this time about sexual abuse. If that is you, please be kind to yourself and don’t read on.

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In ministry, in employment, and in volunteer settings I have worked with women of all ages who have experienced and endured sexual assault and long-term sexual abuse. It has been my privilege to hear their stories, to believe their truths, and to be present in their suffering. It has been my honor to be a part of their healing and to speak about life and hope as they continue to figure out how to make peace with their deep and sacred wounds.

In my private life, I have my own story of being a victim of sexual abuse, sexual assault, inappropriate touch in the workplace, and of being stalked. I am grateful for all my sisters and brothers who have heard my story, made space for my sacred wounds, and have participated in my healing. I am particularly grateful for the men in my life who have been safe, who have loved and protected me as a woman. I am grateful for their trustworthiness, and for the many ways they continue to strive to make safe spaces for the women in their lives: their wives, daughters, sisters, mothers, female friends and co-workers.

And yet, it isn’t over, is it? Sex-trafficking, ongoing sexual abuse of women and girls, of children, sexual abuse of boys and men (which we speak about even less), abuse of and hatred of the LGBTQ community, and so much more, continues on. It feels like too much to hold in our hearts – the wounds we carry and the wounds of our world. I find the #me too movement to be a beautiful, poignant, awful, necessary, grieving, crucial opportunity to say out loud – me, too. You, too. We, too.

Friend, if abuse is part of your story, know you are not alone, you are not alone. If you can’t tell your story yet, draw strength from those of us who have made it far enough to tell our own. We have all had our times of hiding out, of curling up in a fetal position, of whispering – help – and hoping that someone would hear us. Someday, you, too, might be able to tell your story; just don’t do it until it is safe to say the words out loud with someone you trust.

And, if you, like me, have made the mistake of not believing the story someone told you of their experience of abuse, or you didn’t have room in your own beat-up soul to receive their pain, please don’t get stuck there. If you can, seek that person out and say, I’m sorry. Forgive me. What can I do now to make it right?

Above all, be gentle with everyone around you. Survivors of sexual abuse typically aren’t obvious about their abuse. Though we’ve been there, experienced it and survived it, we don’t want the t-shirt. We don’t advertise our devastation, yet we are often right next to you: on the bus, in the grocery store, in the next office cubicle, or sitting next to you in church. We work hard at leading normal lives while what we’ve known is not normal, not the way it should have been, not the way we would have scripted our lives. Let’s work together to honor each other, to be careful with each other, to be patient and kind. Let’s not shrink back from the truth of our world; instead, let’s make sacred spaces for ourselves and those around us as we find our unique paths to healing and peace.

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To all the moms…

To all the moms who wanted to be moms
and are moms in their hearts
but to whom no babies have come,
peace, be still.

To all the moms whose babies began
and then slipped away
before they held them warm and wet with sweet-smelling newness,
peace, be still.

To all the moms who birthed their babies
and briefly held them
as they left too soon for heaven,
peace, be still.

To all the moms who lost their children
to war or famine,
violence or illness,
peace, be still.

To all the moms who fostered children
born to other mothers
who were not able to stay mothers,
peace, be still.

To all the moms who were not able to remain moms,
who lost their children
through their own mistakes and sorrows,
peace, be still.

To all the moms who mothered the neighborhood children,
welcomed them into their homes for after-school treats
or sheltered them from storms at home,
peace be still.

To all the moms whose moms are gone,
who yearn to hear once again
that familiar voice of comfort and love,
peace, be still.

To all the moms who screamed or yelled,
wept or raged,
who knew they should do better but could not,
peace, be still.

To all the moms who missed the signs
that their children were struggling
and were lost in their pain,
peace be still.

To all the moms who are mothering alone,
and feeling alone,
and wondering if they will make it one more day alone,
peace, be still.

To all the moms who ache
with grief and self-condemnation,
who don’t want to celebrate Mother’s Day,
peace, be still.

To all the moms who choose to press on,
who bravely walk this day,
with wounds held sacred by the Lord,
peace, be still.

And to the Lord who loved his mom,
knowing the sword would pierce her soul,
knowing she would watch him suffer and die,
knowing our sorrows and being intimately familiar with our ways,
we ask of you, O Lord, grant us your peace.

Mother’s Day

I miss my mom. My graduation announcements arrived in the mail yesterday, and all I could think about was that I couldn’t mail one to her. I had dreamed of celebrating my doctorate with her, and now – that dream is gone. I picture walking across the stage to receive my diploma and my heart catches. No phone call to celebrate, no card in the mail, no mom to rejoice with.

I miss you, Mom.

In my dissertation dedication, I wrote:

In memory of my mother, Nancy Bibb Ring Vreugde, who unexpectedly passed away at the beginning of the last year of my doctoral studies. Never wavering in her support of me, in our final conversation she told me how much she loved me and how proud she was of me. Thank you for loving me and believing in me. I love you, Mom.

Sixteen months have passed since she died. In that time, I have come to realize that I did not know my mother well. Reading through my parents’ letters to eachIMG_1608 other as they courted, I discovered a woman who was happy, beautiful, fun and funny. A woman with the world ahead of her, standing at the threshold of a myriad of possibilities of a full and joyful life. I did not know this woman and I grieve that now.

In my adult life, I always lived across the country from my mom. Visits were infrequent due to circumstances, fears, responsibilities and side relationships that were tricky to navigate. We struggled at times to understand each other, as do most mothers and daughters. Mitigating factors included my father’s alcoholism and my need to find my own way out of a very difficult childhood. I blamed my mom for not protecting me, for staying with my dad, for not being what I wanted and thought I needed her to be.

And yet, she was the one to whom I ran when my marriage fell apart. She was the one I called when, as a single mom, I couldn’t pay for house repairs. She grieved for my loss and she encouraged me to keep going. She became a vital rock in my storm.

I saw my mom for the last time two years before she died. My father was gone by then, and she was living in Houston near my brother and his family. I can say that it was because I was working full-time, going to school full-time, and had several children still at home – that was why I didn’t visit more often. Mom didn’t fly and didn’t want to make the long train trip – and that is why she visited me even less often. No matter – I regret that we were so far apart and that I didn’t take the time to make her a bigger priority.

Underneath, there is a complexity of relationship that remains a mystery to me. It circles in a room in my heart that I have not yet wanted to examine. The swirl of failure, heartache, grief, anger, disappointment and deep mother love. Unanswered questions and loss, vast and murky, as yet unplumbed. I plan to go there, but not yet.

For now, another Mother’s Day is here. I will miss calling my mom and telling her how much I love her. I will enjoy talking with most of my children and spending time with those nearby. I will blend my joy and celebration with my sorrow, knowing that this is part of my story in God’s bigger story. I know there is more to follow in this journey with my now-in-heaven mom, more to follow on my own mom-path. I am grateful for the lessons God is teaching me about being a mom, about growing older, about being joyful and anticipatory as the future unfolds.

All my graduation announcements will go out this week, with one exception. Addressed to my mom, tear-stained, stamped and put into my box of little treasures, that one will stay with me. I love you, Mom. Wish you were here for this one moment in time. Thank you for loving me and believing in me. Happy Mothers-in-Heaven-Day.

Homeless

Today my brother becomes homeless. By choice.

I don’t know what to do with this truth.

Our mother died one year ago. Living in her home, supported by her, enabled by her to continue his addictions, my brother was slowly destroying her home with his clutter, dog shit on the rugs, cat pee on the furniture and floor, dirt everywhere, trash everywhere.

My beautiful mom in her beautiful home, elderly and in pain, enabling my brother and suffering deeply in her choice. Unable to stop the madness of codependency, afraid of his anger as she was afraid of my father’s. The cycle of alcoholism and codependency continuing through generations.

And then, she died.

I think, sometimes, that she took the only way out she knew. Or that God, in God’s mercy, took her out of the mess of her codependency and loneliness.

My siblings and I told my brother that he had to move out of our mom’s house. We gave him a month. Angry, grieving, trying to cope with the devastation of losing our mother and with the shit hole her beautiful home had become, we gave him a month. And he complied.

Alcoholic, bankrupt, on the lam for DUI’s, our brother took his pets and his car and moved to another state. Back to the ocean, back to the beach. Back to his girlfriend. Took his inheritance and abandoned all the rest.

Left us with all his possession and all his mess. And we dealt with it.

One year later, he is out of money, no car and no job, still on the lam. Drinking every day. Moving from hotel to hotel. His inheritance gone. This is my brother’s first day of homelessness, truly without shelter, money or resources.

Everything that my mother feared and tried to prevent has come to pass.

I want to believe that there is still hope for him. As he puts on his backpack and starts walking, I want to believe that he will finally acknowledge he needs help. But I don’t have hope for this. Not yet. I don’t think he’s hit bottom, even today.

Will he have seizures again when he can’t buy booze? Will he end up in a ditch on the side of the road, or in the bushes where no one finds him for a few days? Will he get picked up and taken to the hospital, like he has before? Out of his mind and not remembering what happened or where he is? Will someone rob him of his phone or wallet? Will we never know what happened to him?

This is my brother. My smart, funny, engineer brother. Caught in addiction and homelessness. Giving his life over to his mistress, the bottle. Sold out to lies and dysfunction.

The story won’t end here, it never does. My story, my family’s, my brother’s – it will continue on. How I live it, my part in all of it, how I tell it – that is up to me. I pray that I face it all honestly, clearly, without codependency and lies. I pray that I keep faith, that I keep looking into God’s eyes and trusting God with me.

My brother may die. He may disappear. He may slip into mental illness. He may recover. He may find his way back to health. He may not. It is all up to him.

Today my brother becomes homeless.

I accept this truth.

Today my brother is homeless.

 

 

Peace, be still

This memory from one year ago today was on my Facebook page this morning:

“Grief is so strange. Last night at the viewing, I held my mom’s hand and didn’t ever want to let go. If I held it long enough would become warm again? I touched her hair, and felt the softness of it, and I wanted to keep that tactile sense of her presence, her life, her humor, and her loving spirit.

It is the last time I will see her on this earth.

And yet, I am so grateful she passed quickly, without suffering. In a recent conversation with my mom, she had cried while telling me she could no longer hear the music of Chopin, which she knew by heart and had played on the piano for much of her life. I know she’s where she’s supposed to be, and that she is whole and free to hear amazing music in Heaven.

And so, there is peace.

And humor – reading funny stories that she wrote with her college friends, and journals of a trip to Mexico City in her oldest brother’s car in 1946 to see their sister. Her passing is too soon, and yet, if I trust God, it’s right on time. And so, I grieve and laugh and find my peace in who God is and that He loves without measure. I am grateful for everyone’s prayers and words of consolation.”

This past week my grief has surfaced again, fresh and raw. I close my eyes and feel again the softness of her fabulous white hair, see the beautiful blue and silver outfit my sister-in-law, Amy and I chose for her to wear in her coffin. I remember saying out loud to Amy – make sure we bring a bra. We wanted Mom to look her best – no side slippage for her! Humor and sadness, tears and smiles.

Everything from those days seems so fresh, as if it were today or yesterday that we sorted through her things, found her favorite hair clip and comfy shoes. My heart aches. I miss her so. The tall, narrow dresser where she kept her jewelry now sits in my room. Her pearls are in there, her brooch and her rings. Sometimes, when I open the top drawer, I catch the scent of her perfume – Chanel #5. And I lean in and remember.

I know that I am tired. I have been given an opportunity to slow down and I want to make the most of it. I know that spring is coming to my heart as I take time to walk this path. I love that my mom loved me. Even in death she continues to share her love for me through my memories and the means to take this sabbatical year. I know it will take awhile for the edges to soften around her death and all that I felt I missed out on by living so far away from her.

For today I say, “Peace – be still.” It is enough to mark this day and to remember all the love that surrounded my brothers, sister in law and me on that last day of seeing Mom.

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Sabbatical Year

My mom passed away one year ago. Suddenly, shockingly she was gone. Within hours of her death I was on a plane to Houston, mercifully sitting in the first class front row window seat. Staring out at the snow-covered Rockies my tears fell and my heart cried out to God. Why? What the hell? What happened? O God – have mercy.

I was my mom’s executrix, responsible to ensure that her bills were paid, her home was sold, and her estate was fairly distributed. The deep weight of grief wove through all my decisions. My brothers, sister-in-law and I devoted ourselves to caring well for what my mom had loved and valued, all the while feeling that numbing disbelief that she was gone.

At the same time I was finishing my doctorate, working full-time and raising two young adult daughters. I began to feel two dimensional; externally giving and pouring into others while wasting away on the inside. Without reserves, I was struggling to keep focused.

Early this past December I got into my car after a long day at work. I sat there for a moment and heard an almost audible voice say, “It’s time to leave. It’s time to resign.” I was shocked. What? I then heard, “Go home and write your resignation letter.” And so I did.

As I waited and prayed about whether or not I had heard correctly, I remembered that I had been praying for a long time that God would give me a year off. Time to rest, to write, to recover from multiple layers of grief and loss. Was this what God was offering me? Now?

In the end, after much prayer and discernment with my community, I resigned from my job. This week, the first anniversary of my mother’s death, my 12-month sabbatical begins. I am utterly grateful to God for answering my prayer, for inviting me into a season of rest and recovery. I do not know what this year ahead will bring. I only know that God has set it aside for us to travel together.

As I write this, tears come again to my eyes. I miss my mom. I am weary to the depths of me. I struggle to hope. I am conscious that I am beginning this year trusting in God’s mercy and grace, fully aware of my utter weakness and humanity. It is enough today to recognize that the journey has begun.

“I put my trust in Your mercy; my heart is joyful because of Your saving help.” Psalm 13

Bolivia #4: Caring for Each Other

I wrote this blog post last weekend, but didn’t have time or internet access until now to post it:

Today was a beautiful day. We loaded our team and all the kids into two buses and drove into the hills to the EcoPark – about 9200 feet in elevation. There is an abundance of eucalyptus trees, streams, views of Cochabamba, and fresh air. It’s so different from my home; dry, rocky, no lakes or rivers.

The tias cooked an abundance of beef and sausage over fire pits, and the smell was delightful. Little children were everywhere, holding our hands, laughing and enjoying being outside in the sunshine and open space. I spread my blanket out and the older girls on my team sat with the older girls from the house. We made friendship bracelets, braided hair, and chattered in our broken Spanglish.

Different, yet so similar, we care for each other in making food, cuddling little ones, creating small gifts, and being present to one another.

At the end of the day, the children from Ninos gathered us together for a special presentation. The two families on our team are flying home tomorrow so it was important to do the presentation today.  Several kids gave short speeches: thank you for being here, thank you for the games and activities, thank you for playing with me, I will never forget you.

Then, they reached into a bag and brought out homemade frames with a picture of all the children, tias and staff of Ninos con Valor. Each child chose one of us to present with a frame.

I wondered who would choose me.

One of the older girls made eye contact with me. Very shy, she is one of my favorites. I cannot tell her story here, but in many ways she reminds me of the young Latinas I have worked with in the past. Beautiful, traumatized beyond belief in her past, she is now finding new life and new hope at Ninos.

Smiling, she made her way to me. She gave me the frame; we hugged, and I kissed her cheek.  My eyes filled with tears at her gentle touch and lovely spirit. I am so utterly grateful to God that He has rescued her, brought her into a safe place, where she is loved, protected, and honored.

In the bus on the way home, I quietly looked out the window.

Lord, I do not know what the future holds for this young woman, but I pray that she comes to know that she is completely and utterly loved by You. I pray her heart is healed through relationships with her Ninos family and with You. I grieve that so much was taken from her, and rejoice that You rescued her. Lord – keep her safe, protect her, show her how lovely and valuable she is to You.

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