I can still see her in my mind’s eye, a young woman…perhaps even still a teenager…holding a newborn wrapped in a blanket. She was wearing sandals and a sun dress. Her chin was pointed slightly downward, and her long golden hair hid part of her face as she walked out on stage
Humility. Brokenness. Maybe even shame.
I could feel it all over her. My heart immediately shattered in pieces for her.
Surrounded by a few family members and church staff, she began to gently weep as Pastor Danny began to pray. With the hands of those close by on she and the baby, and the hands of those of us in the congregation stretched outward towards them, we entered all into a holy moment together. A moment when this young mother, having been forsaken by the man who fathered the child, was there to offer herself up as she dedicated her baby and herself to Christ.
If ever there was a singular moment over the last 8 months that made me glad we joined this little community church, it was this one. Not a shred of judgement was anywhere to be found. None. And I know for a fact others there, like my husband and I, didn’t know jack about this girl or her family. We didn’t need to know anything except what was happening in that present moment. Compassion compelled us, all over that room, to join as One to seek the face of God on behalf of this young person. We were with her.
And with tears streaming down our faces, we asked God for strength and courage for this new little mama, and His hand of protection on the child. Men committed themselves to step up and offer to be fathers to this fatherless child. The women offered themselves as well. We would be additional mothers, grandmothers, aunts and sisters to this family, there with our love and support whenever and however they needed it.
By the end of the dedication, as everyone left the stage glowing with peace, I felt connected to “the church” and everyone there in a new way. A deeper way. It’s been since 2002 since we’ve been members of a church, and I had forgotten how good it felt when it’s done “right”. Having a spiritual community, even as new as it is, provides us a level of comfort, connection and commonality that’s been missing. I, particularly, feel ‘safer’. A feeling that is hard to come by in a world that feels exceedingly unsafe. The Pastor, 42 years old, is down to earth, funny and wise. The congregation, made up of every age group and every color, displays the diverse nature of God.
I am so happy….so grateful…that we found Bridge. That’s what it’s called. Bridge Community Church. Even the name rings deep within me. Bridges have always held special meaning to me….sacred symbols of joining, connection, and a way to get from one place to another.
Not everyone likes going to church, and I understand that. We didn’t go for a very long time. We don’t do denominations or religion. But we do love Jesus. Having a place to go where we can worship God with other like-minded folk is a huge blessing that has brought tremendous healing with it. Not only a “spiritual” healing, but positive changes in other areas of our lives as well, from our marriage to our finances.
I think that is what happens when you are where you are supposed to be.
This morning we’ll be celebrating the (re)opening of the main sanctuary. It’s been undergoing renovations since last year while we met elsewhere on property. The “new” interior us lovely with an understated, peaceful and intimate feeling. I think the pews will hold about 500 – not too big, not too small. A large rustic wooden cross, against whitewashed brick, is the only adornment on the stage, but the worship team has all sorts of great lighting and technology to use now. Most importantly about this space, I literally feel God as I walk in.
I navigate life through my feelings, and this building is filled with positive intention and good vibes. It radiates a warm welcome to all who enter. A place where faith is strengthened, hope is rekindled and love is made manifest. A place to belong.
How lovely is your dwelling place,
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.
You’d have to have been living deep in the Amazonian rain forest not to have heard about the meltdowns currently taking place in Hollyweird and Washington, D.C…..two of the most corrupt, degenerate geographical locations in all of America, in my opinion.
Harvey Weinstein. Anthony Weiner. Kevin Spacey. Roy Moore. George Takei. George H. W. Bush. Mark Halperin. Louis C.K. Andrew Kreisberg.
The list of the accused is, literally, endless.
There’s nothing new about sexual abuse. What is “new” is the current climate that is facilitating the “outings” of the abusers themselves. Long over do, the drama we’re seeing represents only the tip of the iceberg. Continue scratching beneath the glamorous surface of the entertainment industry, for example, and one will find a literal hell of pedophilia, sex trafficking, and every form of depravity possible.
My own journey as a sexual abuse victim started when I was about 12. Oh, the awkward days of newly forming breasts! I remember how painful my baby boobs were, and how embarrassed I was that these not-quite-bra-worthy buds showed under my t-shirts. The end of my innocence came at one holiday gathering when my Uncle Jim, deep in his cups, decided to impart some of his vast wisdom to me. Leaning over, he tweak one swollen nipple and said, “This is all the boys are going to be interested in.”
I was shocked, embarrassed and ashamed. No one else noticed his impropriety, being greatly in their cups as well, and turning, I ran from him. I never told my mother.
As I grew older, sexual predators grew bolder. At 16, I was explicitly propositioned by the fathers of two of my closest girlfriends (emphasis on the word “explicitly”). One groping me as well. Then there was the guy who ran the hamburger joint I worked at. He was an ugly SOB with one milky eye, a body like Jabba the Hutt, and a connection with the towns’ mobster – Freddie The Leg Breaker. When his propositions didn’t work, he tried insults and shame: “You’ll never be good for ANYTHING but sex.”
I didn’t tell that, either.
Working in primarily male dominated industries, I literally “grew up” having to deal with inappropriate behavior at the hands of men. There were lewd photos left on my desk, suggestive “jokes”, and bold comments about my looks or specific body parts.
In my late 30s, I became the focus of a very powerful man who ran the Silicon Valley company I worked for. He was the President and I was his assistant. The previous President, a man I had also worked for, got drunk at a company dinner dance and attempted to grab and kiss me in front of everyone. That was NOTHING compared to the new guy. Because he traveled the world, he would call me at all hours of the day or night under the pretext of ‘business’. He was married but SO UNHAPPY (aren’t they all?), he explained, and just wanted to talk to me. His pursuit was relentless. Towards the end, he even tried to bribe me into leaving my job to become his mistress, offering a quarter million dollars in cash, an paid-for apartment and college funds established for both my children. As a single mother of two, making maybe $35,000 a year, the offer was tempting. For about 60 seconds.
I never told Mom OR Human Resources. I didn’t report him because (a) I knew the company would protect the Wunderkid at all costs (and would crucify me in the process) and (b) I REALLY REALLY needed my job. I had kids to support. Thinking back, would I have done it differently? Probably not.
I was too afraid. Much like the women who are just now telling their stories, 40 years later, I imagine…
And it wasn’t just the workplace. Twice in my 20s I thought I was going to be raped – once by a stranger who broke into my house and once by the roommate of a friend where I was staying the night. Then there was Bubba.
Bubba (his real name was James) was a good ol’ boy from Southeast Texas who was almost like a member of our family. He and my mom had grown up together, and I had grown up hearing wonderful stories of their childhood. Bubba was like an uncle, up until the day he attempted to stick his tongue down my throat at a wedding reception. Then he became just another jerk.
I didn’t tell Mom about that, either.
I’m not exaggerating when I say every single woman I know has an experience of sexual abuse to share…..women who have been held hostage, raped, abused, beaten. And not one of us ever went public with our stories. We confided in each other and, later, our therapists. We held our tongues, and dealt with it, each in our own way.
Now, in 2017, things seem to be changing. How brave the women (and men, like Cory Feldman and Anthony Rapp) for coming forth with their stories. What courage! When one woman stands up and speaks out, as we have seen, she emboldens others to do the same. Collectively, as women, there is tremendous vindication when even ONE sexual predator is tried and found guilty of his crimes…NOT in the court of public opinion or social media, but for real.
A sexual abuse survivor who speaks out is a harbinger of strength and justice for all. ALL of us, who number in the hundreds of millions, who kept silent for our own reasons. The thing is, I’m not sure the world is ready for the shear number of us, if we ever did ALL speak out. 1 in 5 women alive has been a victim of sexual misconduct. Which makes me I wonder….
Do 1 in 5 men have his own story to tell….. of being an abuser?
Or of being a victim?
“Yesterday, I was clever
So I wanted to change the world.
Today, I am wise,
So I am changing myself.”
There’s been lots of changing going on around here.
Even before I quit/let go at my job, I was making some changes in my home life. Not the “relationship” impacting changes with my husband, daughter and grandson (although, I supposed in a way that is ALWAYS happening, and all positive).
These changes pertain to my/our physical space. I am the “home maker’ in the family. Always have been, always will be simply because it’s who I am and I love doing it. I “home up” where ever I find myself, be it a teeny tiny one bedroom apartment in the city, a half finished cabin in the desert, or a more roomy home in the Burbs. I can’t remember ever NOT arranging my space, making do with what I had, trying to make things as nice as possible with what was at hand.
After living with me for so long, my family is no longer surprised to wake up in the morning to find the furniture rearranged, hutches done up differently, or artwork hung some other way. Don’t get me wrong. In many cases, once I’ve found the IT Spot for how I want a china cabinet to look, for example, I may not change anything about it for years!
But there’s this other thing that happens. Early in the morning, while everyone else is sleeping and I’m having my coffee/meditation time, I tend “LOOK” at stuff. If I’m in the kitchen, I look at the antique hutch that holds my vintage table and bar ware, and my big glass canisters holding baking ingredients. I might wander into the dining room and look at the corner units I have in there, and check out the way things are set up, or into the living room where I have a lighted display case full of Carnival Glass.
Something about the way one of these hutches is arranged will bug me until I reach that “OK” moment with how it looks. I’ll keep arranging and rearranging until my sensibilities tell me to stop, even if it’s just a minor adjustment. It’s unclear whether this need to find “OK” is just having a natural eye for design, a need for control, or needing to tap into a Feng Shui feel, but
And I’m ok with that. I like order, and have a natural bent towards organization. I also believe that our exterior space impacts our interior space. Having an organized life – be it at home or in business – reduces waste, stress and time. (Side note: Orderly does NOT mean dust free. Ha!)
And visa versa, as well. Our inner state can have a direct impact on our outer world. You know this is true if you’ve ever lived with someone with mental health challenges, be it depression, anxiety or some other mood disorder.
ANYWAY, when the mood strikes to change things up, I like to follow my inclinations and this past week I took advantage of an empty living room to make a BIG change (furniture moved so Mr. Man could clean the carpets). Seeing the empty “canvas” in front of me, I got to work right away. A couple new pieces of furniture, a new rug, and Wha Laa! I just put the finishing touches on a whole new look. The room looks more spacious, there’s plenty of seating while still being homey and welcoming, and all just in time for the holidays. And I reached OK!
I mentioned “control” as a possible motive and, in the case of my living room, there might be a little to that (although our old couch WAS getting a bit worn in places…) There is so much happening “OUT THERE” right now that I have no control over. For example, we recently got the news my grandson has ADHD, Dyslexia and CAPD, and that he’s being bullied at his new school. Other than support him emotionally and educationally here at home (and a TON of prayer), there’s little I can do to change that. I also can’t change the ever rising cost of living here in Southern California, the fact that ageism is alive and well in the job market, my aging mother’s continuing decline or what’s happening on the global political scene.
But, I am not powerless. With just a little money, a lot of elbow grease and even more imagining, our home has undergone a positive shift. Almost every room in the house has now undergone some sort of change that support and assist all of us in differing ways…AND that look really cool.
Which makes me feel good….Makes me feel like I have a purpose and that there is a PLAN for good things for all concerned . Which, in turn, makes me feel at peace.
And inner peace is where it’s at.
I suppose you know you’re a true fanatic when you find yourself outside at 5 a.m. watering and talking to the Mother of Thousands, who – quite synchronistically – has (finally) found “her” place in the garden. And because she’s home, she thrives.
Ever since I’ve been on my own (it was 1976, after hastily marrying a professional surfer with a penchant for women, waves and weed), I’ve always had something green to tend to.
In those early years, it was Pothos, Spider Plants and Wandering Jews in hand-thrown pots and beaded macrame hangers. They could be found hanging in the bathroom, kitchen or – if I was lucky – outside on the patio.
It also wasn’t unusual to find weed growing in one of those same spaces, only minus the macrame. I can still smell the buds, red haired and stinking up the air.
As I matured and my home (along with my family) became a little larger, there were simple outdoor plants to care for: A 50- year-old Camilla, rambling white roses along a fence, or a few pretty annuals. Fortunately , watering and the occasional trim is always enough to keep a low maintenance yard looking nice. And a nice looking yard makes me happy.
Finding my Happy Place out in nature isn’t something unusual. There are hundreds of thousands – millions! – of us out there. We recognize each other by the slight green tinge to our fingers and a bit of dirt under a nail we missed. People garden for all kinds of reasons and I do so for many. One of the important ones? I hear God in the Garden.
With the sun warming my back, perhaps on my knees bent over something in my hands, I often hear that Still Small Voice – the voice of the Divine.
I heard it again this morning as I was futzing in the yard. I find myself instinctively in a “Spring Cleaning Mode” these days, even though we are well into Fall. Oh, how I love this time of year. It at once energizes me and breaks my heart – in a good way. For some reason, I am particularly tender this time of year. Things move me. And with the Season of Thanksgiving almost upon us, I find myself breaking out in spontaneous bouts of gratitude…many times, with tears streaming down my cheeks. 2017 has shaped up to be an amazing year, albeit not without it’s challenges. I’ve experienced SO many answered prayers. Prayers about the important things like faith, family, connection and healing.
This is also a season of LETTING GO. And THAT is what the Voice was talking about.
I quit my job yesterday. I’ve been there 6 months and just simply couldn’t bear it a moment longer. This morning I woke up free from the pain and discomfort I’ve had in my head and neck for weeks. It’s just GONE. SO not a coincidence. And the symbology isn’t missed. That job has been a pain in my neck for months. Thankfully, through an amazing set of circumstances, it is over and I’m yet again amazed at the wisdom held in the soft animal of my body. She KNOWS, intuitively and intelligently, what is best for me. She speaks to me in pain and peace. Her wisdom is true.
Not only am I pain free, but I can’t wipe the smile off my face. PEACE flows through my veins like a river, and joy bubbles up like a spring. It’s a time for me to be (re)planted at home, tending my family and my garden, waiting for the New Great Adventure to arrive. Like my Mother of Thousands plants, all it took was a SHIFT to different location to begin to thrive.
With a sigh of relief and a heart in overflow, I can say with all certainty…..
It is well with my Soul.