I stand with you

I got the sweetest texts from my nieces this week. It’s been a tough week. The Kavanaugh hearings have been hard. As a survivor of sexual abuse (yes I said survivor, not victim) I definitely struggle with the questions, interrogation and doubt that overshadow a woman when she tries to come forward and explain what happened to her.

I didn’t tell until 13 years after I was first abused. I put more than 2500 miles between me and my abuser before I told. I didn’t have the opportunity to press charges. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. It doesn’t lessen the impact of what happened to me. And it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t get a voice.

It is impossibly hard for anyone who hasn’t been through it to really understand the trauma it causes to stand up and speak up for yourself. Anyone who has actually been through abuse would never make a false accusation. When coming forward to tell what happened, the woman is often made to feel as if she is the one who has done something wrong in the reporting, rather than the abuser in the heinous act itself.

My abuser has never admitted to what happened.

My abuser has never apologized to me, or the others he abused.

My abuser has never served a day in jail.

 

But does that mean it didn’t happen?

Does that mean I don’t deserve justice?

Does that make it right?

It’s easy for the people who know me to look at me and say it doesn’t make any of that right. They can feel heartbroken and sad for me, but what about all of the other women who have been through this, and continue to go through this.

What about them? What about their stories? When do survivors get the benefit of the doubt first? When do we get support and love first? When do we get our voices heard, acknowledged and championed instead of doubted, questioned and dismissed? When do the tides begin to turn and people stand up with us instead of standing up against us?

Luckily for me I have some amazing people in my life who have stood up with me. And who continue to stand up with me. I have also had the opportunity to stand up with people who have come forward and told what has happened to them. I have been able to understand, empathize, and support other survivors.

Throughout these hearings I have received simple texts from people stating that they are thinking of me. Texts from people acknowledging how hard this must be for me, and all survivors, to have this brought up again. Texts from people asking my opinion on the subject because I have personal experience and they want to talk about it. Texts that have made me laugh, cry, smile, think, reason, share, and remind me how much I am loved.

Hopefully every survivor of abuse out there has the same kind of amazing support system that I have built – but I know that isn’t the case, yet.

For all of you out there who don’t have that, I stand up with you. I stand up for you. I believe you. I know the fear, the anguish, and the horrors of telling. But I also know the freedom, the power and the release that comes from no longer holding it in.

I hope that someday everyone who experiences abuse will have the courage to stand up and know they are supported. Even better, I pray that someday no one will need to stand up because we value human life enough to value each other not to perpetrate such heinous acts against each other.

But until that day comes, I want every survivor to know: You are not alone. I stand with you, along with way too many other survivors. We stand together.

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It’s not distracting to me…

“Moses instructed the People of Israel in all that God commanded him. (Numbers 29:40 MSG)

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I will admit reading Numbers is hard for me, not numbers themselves, but the biblical book of Numbers. All the rules and regulations. The strict guidelines for food. The endless descriptions of the rituals for purification and sacrifice. The day, the time, the trumpet blasts for the festivals. The details are endless.

I don’t follow kosher food guidelines and I’m not very familiar with the various celebrations or the rituals. I’m slightly uncomfortable reading about the animal and blood sacrifices. And to be perfectly honest, I don’t know very much about the culture of the people who were surrounding the Israelites during biblical times. I don’t always know why all of these details are important or how the Israelites could relate to them. But, nonetheless, the book of Numbers is still in the bible and I believe that God still wants us to read it and to get something from it.

I was visiting with one of my best friends recently. We both work at a school and in conversation with him and his husband we starting talking about schools, strange things that happen in schools, and the unique rules that we sometimes have. I was retelling them a story that I heard on the news about a female student at a school in Florida being sent to the office because she was not wearing a bra. The teacher deemed that her not wearing a bra was in violation of dress code because it was “distracting” to other students. In the office, the dean asked her to put on a second shirt under her sweat shirt and “move around.” At which point it was determined that her not wearing a bra did in fact violate dress code. She was sent to the nurse’s office to put bandaids over her nipples because they were found to be “distracting to others.” 1

Almost simultaneously, they looked at each other and both commented, “It’s not distracting to me.” We all giggled.

But it got me thinking about all the rules we have in schools. We have policies for everything. We have policies about dress code. We have policies about cell phones. We have policies about homework. We have policies about locker usage. We have policies about attendance. The list goes on and on. We have lots of policies. Being a middle school principal I feel like I battle the dress code policy all the time. I long for cold winter days when students are mostly bundled up, and I cringe at the first signs of spring, which inevitably bring shorter shorts and smaller tops.

We have a semi-formal dance most years and it makes me a little crazy because that is definitely a time when I am fighting dress code. There really aren’t that many dresses out there for young girls that are appropriate for that type of event. There are many different styles and what might look acceptable on one student would definitely not look the same on another student. So I fall back on the rules and say, “It must be in junior high dress code.”

A student at my school also attends my church. She had she on a beautiful dress at our confirmation ceremony a few weeks prior to the semi-formal. When I told her how pretty she looked in it she laughed a little and said she was planning to wear it to the semi-formal but needed a shawl because her shoulders were exposed. “You know how boys get with naked shoulders.” We laughed.

Our dress code rules state that straps must be three fingers wide.

Yes, I do know how crazy that sounds. Honestly, it’s even more crazy to police. I wish my dress code simply stated: dress modestly and appropriately for school. But then we get into the wild and crazy world of interpretation of what modest and appropriate are. So we fall back to straps being three fingers wide and shorts and skirts must be at or below the tip of their thumb when hands are resting by their sides. We actually even had to add to the dress code that rips in jeans must be covered if they are above the thumbs by your side rule.

It does sound crazy, even to me who has made many of these policies and has to police them as well.  But the flip side of it is that we have to make or clarify these policies because they are challenged or tested. If you think about it, why on earth would you want a hole in your jeans (I know, I could stop right there, but for some reason we pay lots of money for someone to pre-rip our jeans – nope, I just don’t get it) that is higher up on your jeans than where you thumb is when your hands are resting by your side. It does get to the point of craziness, but these policies are created for a reason. And then additionally clarified because someone challenged them.

One of the silliest rules we have at our school is that we put up a sign on doors that says: Doors open out. Yup, we actually have signs on our doors that say they open. I mean I thought that was the difference between a wall and a door, one opens, one doesn’t. But the reality is one student wasn’t paying attention to where she was going and another student was also not paying attention and rushing out a door and pushed it hard, hit the first student, and gave her a concussion. It really was bad. So the response was that we put up signs on all the doors.

Some of the crazy rules have a crazy beginning. But the fact remains that rules are there for some reason.

In the New Testament Jesus told his disciples to forgive others. Then he was asked how many times should we forgive? (Matthew 18). Jesus told the his disciples to love their neighbor. Then he was challenged, who is our neighbor? (Luke 10). When given rules we tend to push the limits and challenge the boundaries.

As I read through all of these detailed food restrictions and rituals and purifications and cleanliness and pages and pages of instructions God gives to his people through Moses, it makes me think: Why? What was happening at that time? What were the other cultures doing? What were the challenges that the people of the time were faced with? What was God trying to regulate? What rules were put in place that later had to be clarified? What challenges had to be explained?

All the details – What? When? Where? How? How long? What kind of animal? What kind of flour? Etc. – seem excessive to me in my current time and place. But then I think about the Israelites and their time and place, with the cultures and rituals surrounding them. God must have wanted to give them clear guidelines for what to do and how to do it.

Then it makes me think… what would the book of Numbers look like if it was written today?

 

1-http://www.newsweek.com/florida-student-forced-cover-distracting-nipples-band-aids-organising-882638

Lest we forget

Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of my dad’s death. Last fall was a crazy mix of emotions. It was somehow a whirlwind and yet a slowing down of time all at the same time. Seeing as we are coming up on the anniversary, I feel like I have been doing a lot of remembering, reminiscing, and rethinking. As I think back to this time last year, I smile because the day before he died, we were given an incredible gift – a living celebration of his with, with him.

We got him home and somehow managed to get everyone around him to celebrate him. He told us stories we will never forget.

  • He talked about an obscure baseball player, Johnny Antonelli, who played with the Boston Braves in the late 1940s.
  • He said his brothers had come for him, but that Donnie was flying the helicopter and since Donnie doesn’t know how to fly, he wasn’t going to be getting in a helicopter with them.
  • He told us about French military soldiers wearing pots and pans on their heads, but needing to make sure they were rinsed out first so they did not have sausages on their heads.
  • He talked about a hot air balloon in the backyard ready to take him to heaven.

He told us tales of sorrow and regret as well as tales of celebration and joy.

He held us rapt with his poignant reminiscing. And made us fall over laughing as he told us to come back when we had more training or that he couldn’t eat too much because he didn’t want to gain too much weight in case he beat this cancer.

Recognizing that he was going to be leaving us, he talked about the things he would never get to see. I think we all hold the moment in our hearts when he held his great-grandson’s hand and, with tears rolling down his cheek, said how unfair it was that he was never going to see Nick grow up.

We laughed as we looked back with him, and cried as we looked ahead at what our lives would be without him.

It’s been a rough year, and this is going to be a rough week for sure, but for today I will celebrate the gift we got the day last year when family gathered, storied were told, tears were shed, meals were made, laughter was heard, and together – with my dad – we celebrated the life, the lessons and the love that he gave all of us.

Let’s always continue to remember and tell the stories and laugh and cry, lest we forget.

 

 

There is a time

A time for everything

There is a time for everything. It even says so in the bible. At a recent prayer service, a friend of mine used the passage from Ecclesiastes 3 (NRSV)

Everything Has Its Time

3 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

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 throw 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 throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

This is a beautiful passage and probably one that is worthy of 14 different blogs, but the one that struck me at the time was “a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together.” For me it also connected to “a time to break down, and a time to build up.”

In my life, it was always a time for gathering stones and building big giant stone walls, fortresses even, around my heart, around my inner-most feelings and around my dreams. If I didn’t let anyone in, then I couldn’t get hurt. Or so I believed. But when no one is allowed in, the fortress becomes very cold and lonely.

There have been times in my life where it was really important to build up the fortress. There were people whom I thought I could let in – like a brother, and husbands – but once inside were there to damage and destroy from within. And so I became scared. I gathered more and more rocks, and built my fortress more and more secure. And buried myself further and further inside.

But slowly I have learned that while there was a time for gathering stones and a time for building up my fortress, there is also a time to break down and throw away stones. There is a time to open up and let others in. There is a time to share the sorrows and the scary times, but also to share the joys and the celebrations because you can only really share both the tears and the joys if you let others in.

Through all of the stone gathering and building, the cornerstone that has been my strength and my constant has been my faith in God.

timeIt was that faith that led me to an amazing church family, an incredible set of friends, and a strength in myself that has helped me to tear down my walls and begin to celebrate me.

There is a time for everything in your life. What time is it for you now?

Pluck

In response to: Daily Prompt: Pluck

do what

 

Pluck. Mart. Mallet. Shake. Ring Touch.

These words had little or no real meaning to me in connection with each other up until this past year. But I now have a whole new understanding and appreciation for each of these words individually as well as collectively, because this year I began learning how to ring handbells. I just got home from a 4-day long bell festival.

It was hard.

It was exhausting.

It was overwhelming.

 

It was awesome.

Music, dance, and creativity have always been a part of my life. Whether performing or coaching, I have always had a need for musical creativity in my life. Last year, I realized that I was missing that musical outlet. It had been quite a few years since I had that type of musical outlet, so I was searching for something. I don’t sing, (which is best for everyone). But a good friend of mine performs with an amazing community handbell choir and we have a handbell choir at my church. So I was inspired to give it a try.

Handbell ringing has been a lot of fun. I have enjoyed learning how to play a new instrument, trying to work out the rhythms, learning the notes and the various techniques, as well as getting to know the people in our handbell choir. I wasn’t really sure I could handle festival, (actually I was pretty sure I couldn’t handle it, I have only been playing for nine months), but the other members of our choir assured me that I should give it a try. And I’m so glad I did.

For four days at festival, I learned to pluck, mart, mallet, shake, ring touch and so much more. I learned how to do one technique with one bell in one hand, and a different technique with another bell in the other hand. I learned to read music in 7/8 time, cut time, common time, 3/4 time and how to switch back and forth between them, all within the same piece of music. I learned how to follow different directors (although I do prefer my own director best). I watched individuals, small groups, large choirs, and a massed ringing of 400 people make beautiful music ringing handbells.

I learned that it didn’t matter if I can sight read perfectly (I can’t) or if I turn the page four measures too early (yup, I did that) or if I can’t master a piece in 3 hours and 45 minutes (nope, can’t do that) but that when we all play together and do our best, we make some incredible music.

Beyond the music, I learned more about the people I went to festival with. I learned about their life journeys, both past and present. They shared a little more with me about the challenges they have faced and continue to face, as well as those things that bring them great joy. I also learned that the journey of life is so much more fun when you have people to travel it with you.

I tend to be a perfectionist in all that I do. And I’m kind of hard on myself (ok, really hard on myself). But another thing that handbell ringing has taught me is that while it’s important for me to learn how to play my part well, handbell ringing is a team sport. My notes don’t sound as good in isolation as it does when they is played along with everyone else’s notes, and that when we play all together, we can make some beautiful and touching music.

Most importantly over the four days of festival, I shared time and space with some really great people. People I can laugh with about the flamingos, commiserate with about the long treks across campus – walking backwards down a hill, and giggle with about middle school humor and innuendo. People who have walked the incredible journeys of their lives, and have shared at least a part of that journey with me. People I call my friends.

Ringing handbells is hard work, but it’s so much fun. Being a perfectionist, I struggle with the fact that I am learning a new instrument and there are a lot of things I don’t know how to do … yet. But at the end of the day, it isn’t about perfection, but rather it’s about putting forth my best effort and having people there for me when I mess up to help me to find my way, both in the music, and in life.It’s about being blessed enough to have people in my life who are willing to offer that help. It’s about opening myself up to accept that help. And it’s about walking this journey of life with some cool people and maybe even making making joyful music along the way!

Guardian Angel

My body throbbed. My pulse was racing. The bruises on the back on my legs and arms were pounding. Even though he was in the other room, I could still feel his grip tightening around my arms, pulling me back as I strained to get away. The tears finally stopped. I think I was literally dried up. But the fear and the anxiety were real. I reached up, sliding my fingers between the slats on his crib. I peered up over his mattress, he was still sound asleep, none the wiser that I was even in his room. I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t have anywhere to go. I just had to make it through the night. We both just had to make it through the night safe. Then I could figure something out. I could find a place to keep us safe. I could call my parents if I had to. I just had to make it through the night.

I lay on the floor because the bed was too far away, I considered moving the bed, or the crib, or the baby. But I didn’t want to wake anyone. And I wasn’t sure I had the energy to move anything anyway. I reached over and grabbed a quilt and pillow from the baby’s bed, never losing sight of the crib, or the door. I heard a creaking floorboard in the kitchen. I held my breath.

What if he decided to come into the baby’s room?

What if he came looking for me?

But he didn’t. He walked right by. I heard the slamming and locking of our bedroom door, and shortly after that the locking of the bathroom door as well. there were two doors on the bathroom, one from the master bedroom and one from the hallway. He locked both doors so I couldn’t get in. It didn’t matter. I wasn’t leaving the baby, not even if I had to go to the bathroom.

I lay back down on the floor exhausted. It was uncomfortable, but at least then I knew that if he came into the baby’s room, he would have to go through me to get to the baby. I settled my head on the pillow as best I could. I pulled the quilt around myself made sure the baby was sleeping soundly. Then I tried to settle in for the night, or at least a few hours.

As I looked up at the door, I suddenly knew I was safe I felt a wave of peace and protection wash over me, for as I looked at the door, I saw an angel standing guard. She was enormous. She shimmered in a golden translucent hue. Her wings reached right through the ceiling and she stood at guard with her sword of protection. She nodded to me, as if saying, “I’ve got this. You are in the arms of Jesus. Rest now.” So I closed my eyes.

 

I don’t really know how long I slept, but I remember hearing Matthew stir in his crib. He looked pleasantly surprised to find me sleeping on the floor next to his crib.

“Mama,” he giggled.

“Shhh my precious.” I whispered. “Daddy’s still sleeping.” I didn’t know for sure, but I sure hoped and prayed he was still asleep. I put my fingers up through the slats of the crib again and Matthew held on tight. He seemed to know I just needed to lay there for a minute. He laid his head down popped his thumb back into his mouth and played with my fingers.

Morning had come. We were both still alive. My body ached all over. Between the tension and worry of last night’s events, and the bruising and aching all over my body, I was worn out. I glanced at the door. The angel was gone, as was my peace. But I knew she had been there and helped us all to sleep. “Thank you, God.” I whispered.

We were safe. But I knew that safety was fleeting. I had to come up with a plan, and quickly. How had I gotten myself into this mess?

 

 

 

Graduation

Graduation yesterday was so amazing. After 7 years and a really rough last year it was amazing to have a day of celebration. It was amazing to have my family and friends there to support me. It was amazing to close that chapter of my life and look forward to what lies ahead.

That is a lot of what graduation ceremonies are all about. They are a conclusion on one chapter of your life, and an introduction to the next chapter. At the graduation ceremony we had several speakers, all who did an excellent job in their own right. As someone who speaks at a graduation ceremony for my middle school students every year, I know how challenging it is to say something that is relevant and meaningful. I always hope that with several speakers, each person there can take something from one of the speeches.

It was kind of ironic then, how after graduation yesterday a few of my friends commented to me on something they found moving about from the ceremony and each comment was from a different speaker. So, I guess the speakers did their job.

One of the constant threads of each of the speeches was how we did not make it to graduation alone. Each one of us had help. Each one of us had challenges. Each one of us had life to deal with. And each one of us persevered and graduated.

So to each graduate there yesterday and all those graduating during this graduation season, congratulations for persevering.

Perseverance is definitely something that I learned throughout the process of completing my Ph.D. I can now understand how so many people do the course work and not complete the dissertation. It is commonly called ABD – All But Dissertation.

The coursework was hard, especially going back after many years of not doing course work and having classes three nights a week, having a full time job, and raising two incredible boys, mainly on my own. But the writing of the dissertation, whoa, that’s hard work. And it requires a great deal of perseverance.

It’s about setting goals, prioritizing what gets done when, and making time for research, reading, writing and revising over and over again. I’ve heard of something called post-dissertation depression. I can understand it, don’t think I will be faced with that, but it is interesting think about what I will do differently now. My job won’t change. Many aspects of my life won’t change. But I have changed. So how do I use this chapter that I’m closing of my life, to help me write the introduction to the next part of my life.

chapter

My dad

phd planIn looking at this cartoon about Ph.D. plan vs. Ph.D. reality, I can probably label each one of those bumps along the road. One might be when I started my new job. One might be my divorce. Another one might be for the medical challenges I faced. But that last one, that big one toward the end, I know exactly what that one is. That one is from last fall, when my dad got sick.

Just before school started I took the day off to go with my parents to see my dad’s orthopedic surgeon. He was supposed to have shoulder replacement surgery, but when they did the MRI, they found something suspicious. The appointment was to determine if he could have surgery or if he had cancer.

He had cancer.

The roller coaster began. It was doctors’ appointments, biopsies, and tests, tests and more tests. I sat with my dad as he staunchly told the nurse he had a DNR. I waited for him as he struggled to breath walking down the hallway, but too proud and stubborn to accept a ride in a wheelchair. I smiled and joked with him trying to help him keep his dignity as I undressed him because he couldn’t do it himself. I listened to what the doctor said. I asked questions. I tried to help my parents understand. i tried to comprehend the incomprehensible.

Then one Friday morning when I was at work, my mom called. Dad had fallen down in the bathroom and they were rushing him to the hospital. I left work. Raced home. Packed a bag. And went to him. I stayed with him in the hospital. They were trying to determine the primary source of the cancer. They were trying to determine how to treat it. They were trying to determine if they could treat it.

They couldn’t.

The next month was crazy. He went from the hospital to a nursing home where we struggled as a family to decide the best course of action, or inaction.

All the while, I brought my laptop and worked on my dissertation. I spent hours at night at the hospital or the nursing home sitting with my dad and typing away. He knew that I was close to finishing my dissertation and he was so proud of me. He had done all of his course work for his Ph.D. but never did the dissertation. I was the first in my family to finish.

At first I worked hard because I thought I could finish it while he was still alive and he could see me graduate. But then I knew he wasn’t going to make it until the spring and I was doubly determined to finish it for him.

Writing was kind of a companion for me late at night. I like to think that while the beeping of the machines he was on kept me company, the clicking of the keys while I typed kept him company. He knew I was there.

At the end of October, just about two months after we found out he had cancer, we brought him home to say good-bye. As he was so fond of saying in the last weeks of his life, he wanted to die surrounded by his loving family, and he did.

I was there with him. We had all been there with him at the end. His loving wife. All six of his children and their spouses. All thirteen of his grandchildren and their significant others, and both of his great grandsons.

But his reach went far beyond his family.

He was a coach. He coached baseball and basketball right up until the month before he got sick. He coached hundreds of kids over the 40+ years he coached. But he didn’t just influence the kids he coached; he changed everyone he came in contact with. Opposing coaches and opposing teams came to his wake to tell us how he impacted their lives through the strength of his character. His entire baseball team, in their uniforms came to the funeral to stand proud for him.

Everyone was special and important to him. He always took the time to talk to anyone he met. As a kid, it drove me crazy that he talked to anyone and everyone, but now it makes me proud to realize the impact he had on people’s lives because he took the time to talk to them. I try to be more like him each day.

I miss him everyday. We all do. I will miss him even more tomorrow, when I walk across the stage and get hooded as the first doctor in my family and he isn’t there to hold me in his arms and tell me he’s proud of me. But he will be there with me in spirit. He will be there in the tears I cry, the shouts of joy, and the sense of pride and accomplishment.

I love you dad. This moment is dedicated to you.

7 years

 

Seven years, seems like a long time, and like the blink of the eye all at the same time. Think back for a moment on where you were in your life seven years ago. Think of all of the changes that have happened over the past seven years ago. For me, the past seven years represent the time it has taken me to complete my PhD in education program.

The ups and downs of the past seven years have been amazing. Career changes, personal life changes, medical issues, academic challenges, even the changes in my committee have been ever present and ever challenging. But they have also helped me grow as a person, in every aspect of my life.

The past 7 years has not been a smooth or easy road, but one that I am glad I have taken. As I begin to prepare for graduation this Saturday, I think back to everything that has happened, realizing that while none of it went the way I had envisioned it, I wouldn’t change a moment of it.

phd plan

Faith

Faith! For my daily devotional today I read Mark chapter 5. Each of the stories in today’s readings are about faith.

The possessed man knew that Jesus could heal him. Even the evil spirits in the possessed man knew the power Jesus had. The evil spirits knew that Jesus could banish them and order them out of the man. The possessed man believed in Jesus’s healing power, and was healed.

The woman suffering from hemorrhaging for 12 years knew that simply touching Jesus’s robe could heal her. “She was thinking to herself, ‘If I can put a finger on his robe, I can get well.'” (Mark 5:28). There were many people pushing and shoving and touching Jesus, but because of her faith, she was healed when she touched his robe. When she touched him, Jesus knew his power had been used to heal her. She believed, and it happened. Faith.

Jesus arrives at the home of his friends whose child had just died. Everyone was grieving, but Jesus told her to get up, and she did. Faith.

faith

Faith. Trusting. Knowing. Believing.

Are we willing to take that leap of faith that God is asking us to take?

Do we have enough faith in our lives?