Monday, December 16, 2019

Tis the Season for Joy (and Sorrow)

A few days ago, my son was regaling his daughters with stories of Christmases past, particularly in the last home his father and I shared.  It was a splendid home, large, warm and welcoming in an upper middle-class neighborhood in the Midwest.  It was a consummate “holiday” house because it lent itself so well to wonderful holiday decorations and large parties.  But it was also the house whose front door was broken down one cold morning as police executed a search warrant. The memories I have of the house brings joy but also sorrow—bitter and sweet.

Temple Mount, Jerusalem
I was recently reminded of a story from the Old Testament that is kind of strange to read during this season of the year but maybe not so strange.  The temple in Jerusalem—that center of worship—had been destroyed by the Babylonians and many of the land’s residents had been carried into exile.  Seventy years later, the new king of the land decreed that the exiles could return to their native country and commissioned them to rebuild the temple.  When the builders laid the foundation of the temple, the people threw a party to celebrate but not everyone felt joyful—those who remembered the glory of the old temple were sorrowful because they knew that the rebuilt temple would not equal the majesty of the destroyed one.  There were shouts of joy and sounds of weeping that were so loud that one could not distinguish the sounds of the joy from those of the weeping.

Ancient Judean ruins
Those of us who have experienced the trauma of relationship betrayal probably understand better than most the season of joy and sorrow.  Like the exiles, we may have been kicked out of our lives or sat in the ash heap or ruins of what once was trying to find a remnant of the joy we once knew.  We may long for the life we once had while also being greatly relieved and joyful in this new normal of a life we have built.  While we are so grateful to have survived, like those exiles, we still bear the scars of the traumas we have experienced.  We still feel the pain of wounds that are healing but still hurt enough to remind us that something went very wrong in our lives and in our relationships.

There is an odd sentence in the Biblical narrative of the exiles returning home. It describes the returning exiles as being in dread of the neighboring peoples.  Not all of the Judean inhabitants had been carried into captivity.  The elite of the community were taken first but many “commoners” were allowed to remain in the land.  The elite were religious and civic leaders who were probably the wealthier inhabitants.  Their land and possessions were taken by those who remained.  So, there was a loss of status and economic security for the exiles.  In their former lives, they were esteemed as leaders and upstanding citizens; their captivity ended that identity and their return threatened the new lives the remaining inhabitants had created.

How many of us can fully identify with the fear and trauma these returning exiles experienced?  We too once had an identity, reputation and status that was ripped from us by the actions of our betrayer.  We still feel the sting of that loss and maybe still feel the fear that we will be judged guilty simply by our relationship with a perpetrator.  We sometimes fear the dread of our neighbors—not because of our actions or behavior but because of what the addict, pedophile or abuser in our lives has done.

Western Wall--Wailing Wall
Joy and sorrow—two ends of a spectrum of emotion that we are capable of experiencing as humans created in the image of God.  The holiday season presents so many opportunities to experience both, and that is ok.  Life is not black and white nor is it a Hallmark movie.  Stuff happens, we break and we hurt.  Sitting with both emotions is a healthy and appropriate response to the season, particularly in light of loss.  

My hope and prayer for you is that you experience the gift of presence as you navigate these days of joy and sorrow—that you embrace the paradox of both emotions and celebrate the gift that you are.  You are who you are today precisely because of all that you have experienced and you have so much to offer a hurting world.  Relish the joy and welcome the tears—they both are a reflection of the journey that has brought you to this day.  Merry Christmas and may the New Year bring more joy than sorrow!

Monday, May 27, 2019

Repercussions

Today is Memorial Day--a day to honor the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of our freedoms.  War and conflict serve as a sober reminder that actions have consequences--some of them fatal.  Tensions and disagreements between countries are escalated by their leaders' war of words and violence erupts.  Words and actions have consequences and it is often the innocent who pay the price.

Six years ago this weekend, a woman walked into three banks with checks she had counterfeited and with my forged signature and cleaned out my bank account.  A month later, in spite of my having changed the accounts and taken all the necessary precautions, she did it again.  In order to protect myself, I purchased a credit monitoring service and placed a fraud alert on my credit with all three credit-reporting bureaus.  She was never prosecuted, even though the bank had her picture and thumb print but the consequences of her actions continue to reverberate through my life.

This past month, I have been denied a credit card twice and turned down for a loan, in spite of a very high credit score.  I have spent hours of my time trying to contact the very insulated credit bureaus to remedy the situation but all of my efforts have been in vain.  The level of sadness that I feel, while understandable, points to something deeper so I'm taking a deep dive this morning.  Care to join me?

Because my identity theft occurred in such close proximity to my ex-husband's arrest, the sense of vulnerability I felt was incredibly exacerbated by having my bank account broken into and cleaned out. It was a triggering event that I was powerless to prevent or contain.  My efforts at self-protection also failed and the remedy I wisely chose (fraud alert) continues to have repercussions in my life.  These are the primary players in this ongoing saga:

The perpetrator:  Her initial actions were in secret, much like the pedophile secretly seeking out sexual gratification through the exploitation of children.  She secretly stole a check I wrote to her employer and creatively counterfeited it and mastered my signature.  She waited for an opportune time to attempt to steal from my account and chose the Saturday before the Memorial Day weekend, when bank employees were most vulnerable.  Pedophiles begin in secret and then seek out vulnerable children to groom and molest.  They are incredibly good at reading people and identifying those who are most likely to either not see or to look away.  Both the identity thief and the pedophile see people as targets, not as humans.  They care not for the pain they cause and believe that they are entitled to their elicit gain.

The credit bureaus:  These agencies are huge, non-personal and have incredible control and power.  I was happy to learn that there is now a governmental oversight bureau and spent time this weekend filing complaints against all three bureaus.  The service they provide is protective when you are a victim of identity theft but they seem to operate with impunity and are a formidable "enemy."  I appreciate law enforcement as a citizen and am grateful for the protection they provide. But when my ex-husband was under investigation and then arrested, law enforcement became frightening.  The power they held over our lives was horrifying and we were powerless against it.

The bystanders:  Bystanders are the ancillary individuals who intersect with the repercussions of the crime you have experienced.  Each time I have been told that my application for a loan/credit card was denied I have experienced intense shame and humiliation.  Even though I know the shame does not belong to me and that I did nothing wrong, it is still huge.  Does the loan officer believe me or does she think I am making up a story to cover some sinister aspect of my credit history?  When my ex-husband was arrested I felt shame as well.  I know, all too well, that many do not believe the wife of a pedophile does not know what her husband is doing!  I've read the articles from "experts" who allege that the wife always knows.  The bystanders are either supportive or cynical and the truth of the matter often does not matter or change their opinion or actions.

Actions have consequences and it is often the innocent who pay the most.  The repercussions of one person's choice(s) continue for a very long time and there are no "do-overs."  The word that has often come to mind while writing/processing today is "powerlessness."  Innocent civilians are powerless to prevent war coming to their land; family members of the fallen were powerless to prevent the death of their loved one; victims of identity theft are powerless against the aggressor or the "protectors" and partners of perpetrating pedophiles are powerless against the urges that drive the addiction.  We did not cause it, cannot contain it nor cure it.  What can we do?

We can begin to take back some of the power we lost--small steps to assert our independence and autonomy.  For me, it was filing a complaint--using whatever tool I can find to begin to fight and to take back what was stolen from me. We fight back against paralyzing power of powerlessness!  We speak the truth to power and stand in that truth.  Sometimes that means we walk away (divorce or ending the relationship) and sometimes that means we take a defensive stand but we cannot and must not wallow in powerlessness!


Friday, December 28, 2018

Refocus for 2019

It has been seven years since my life shattered through an event that seems both very far away and as memorable as today's lunch.  A lot has happened since that cold February morning but this seventh year invites a special season of reflection and expressions of gratitude.  And as is my custom, I've been contemplating my name for the year.

The number "7" has great significance in a number of cultural and religious contexts.  It typically signals that something is finished, completed, released or fulfilled.  Old Testament Law required that all debts be cancelled every seven years and that the land be given a rest from agricultural cultivation.  I can imagine that for the one whose financial debt was forgiven, the year was one of great joy and freedom, but maybe not so much for the one who was required to forgive the debt.  In an agrarian society, a cessation of cultivating the land meant that there was little food to eat but God promised that if the Israelites would observe this principal, he would increase their harvest.

The seventh year was an invitation to take a break and refocus.  It offered a challenge to trust God to provide rather than one's own efforts and to concentrate on spirituality rather than material pursuits.  It was a reset button, of sorts.  So, in the spirit of the number "7," I have chosen to name 2019 "A Year to Refocus."  As is often the case, I have no idea how this will work out throughout the year, but look forward to exploring it as the year progresses.

2018 was a transition year for me in that I experienced a milestone birthday, which was ushered in with discontent, impatience and malaise.  It took a while for me to identify the source as similar to something that I experienced 30 years ago with another milestone birthday.  My husband and I took a cross-country trip in the latter months of 2018 which further solidified some things for me that I hope to share in future posts.

In many ways, 2018 has mirrored 2011, when it was clear my marriage was over.  I knew that one major part of my life was ending but had no clue to what lie ahead, which is probably a very good thing!  I'm looking at my final push towards retirement and there are potentially big changes coming that offer a new and different perspective and way of living.  It is an exciting time and there is much to look forward to and to anticipate.

The past seven years have been full of changes--some imposed and some chosen.  So it is entirely appropriate to pause and reflect but also to hit a reset button--to refocus on what is most important to me during this season of life.  Life is no longer driven by the urgent challenges of life explosions, criminal cases and survival.  It has settled down into "normal," which offers a wonderful opportunity for contemplation.

My word for 2018 was "Enough," and several pivotal personal decisions have come as a result of choosing that declarative word.  What will "Refocus" mean for 2019?

Specifically:

  • How can I further release the pain and trauma of relationship betrayal?  What would that look like?  What would it mean?
  • What further work in the area of forgiveness do I need to do so that I can walk into this new season of life without baggage?
  • Is it possible to complete or finish a recovery process from relationship betrayal or is it a lifelong journey?  What would it mean to take the good (?) from the experience of having married a pedophile and leave the rest behind?  Is that possible?
  • What do I need to do to cultivate a deeper spiritual connection to God?  How am I doing with trust?
Thanks for journeying with me through the past six years of blogging.  I'd love to hear about where you are in your own journey towards wholeness and healing.  One of the best things to come from my personal devastation is this blog and the relationships with so many wonderful women who have contacted me through this venue.  My prayer is that you enjoy a wonderful and full year free from pedophilia and relationship betrayal!  Happy New Year.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

A Cross-Country Trip

I've moved across the country three times and made numerous road trips between Southern states and the Midwest but this fall was a first.  My husband and I set out on a three-week cross-country camping trip.  We planned the details of the trip for well over a year, packed and repacked and made a lot of campsite reservations.  Our trip of a lifetime included scenery too stunning to describe or take in, precious reconnections with friends and family, fun museums and attractions and learning more about two ministries to women.

My husband and I share several common traits, one of them being a propensity to obsess on detailed planing when undertaking a project or a trip.  But unlike me, when he gets behind the wheel on a road trip, he becomes the best traveling companion!  It is all an adventure and he relishes it to the maximum. We had maps, cell phones and our car GPS systems but still made several wrong turns.  We discovered, however that wrong turns may not be wrong after all.

Two memorable "wrong turns" come to mind.  The first was on our trip from Georgia to Nashville, TN.  We made a wrong turn and ended up in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park on a rainy day.  As we climbed and climbed into the clouds on the mountain, we saw wild turkeys and elk and beauty beyond description.  Another "GPS glitch" occurred in Utah when we were driving to Bryce Canyon National Park.  At the last minute our GPS instructed us to take a road we had not planned on taking, so we obeyed.  We climbed to 10,000 feet above sea level and were surprised to see the ground covered in snow.  The aspen trees dotting the landscape were in their full golden glory and their color against the deep green of the pine was astounding.  My eyes well with tears as I exclaimed, "I don't think I can stand any more beauty today!"

We planned for the unexpected, which included purchasing a second roadside assistance plan specifically for campers.  We were fortunate in that we had no unexpected glitches in our truck or camper but we did learn that pigs can turn up in the most unexpected places.  While driving through the hills of Missouri, we decided to stop at a small barbecue place for lunch.  As we bit into our wonderful sandwiches, I heard squealing coming from the corner of the restaurant.  I was stunned to see a young piglet playing in his pen!  No explanation--just a pig in the most unexpected place--kind of a metaphor for life, I'm thinking.

As we left the plains of Kansas and began the ascent to the Rockies, my anxiety level rose with each mile.  Would our rig handle the rigors of the Rockies?  Would we find enough gas?  Really, would we be enough for the road ahead?  My husband, on the other hand, was entirely confident that we would be ok and could not understand my concern.  He has learned that embracing adventure makes life more interesting while I still struggle with the "what if's."  Our rig did fine, we did fine and it was an amazing adventure.  And it occurs to me that his approach to travel and life is probably the healthier one.  Regardless of what comes, we will be ok so I'm trying to learn to relax and enjoy the ride.

Check out Thistle Farms for your Christmas Shopping!
My family of origin is quite fractured with deep and enduring divisions.  But family is who you make it and our family of choice may be entirely different from our family of origin.  I'm fortunate to have some adopted "sisters" that I was able to spend time with on our trip.  But we also were blessed to visit with two special non-profit organizations whose missions involve reaching out to our sisters on the street and in prison, to those who struggle with addiction and trauma.  It was a special joy to sit in a meditation circle with some of the women at Thistle Farms and realize that while we may be miles apart, metaphorically and geographically, we are kindred spirits and as such are part of a great big family.

Shirley Combs opened a small store-front restaurant in Toccoa, GA a number of years ago.  Shirley's Soul Food quickly became the go-to place for a real Southern home-cooked meal.  Shirley's purpose in starting the business was bigger than simply making a living; she was on a mission to do something about a problem in her community.  After the noon lunch hour, she invited the community's homeless into her dining room and fed them.  As her business grew and prospered, she turned her sights towards providing transitional housing and has opened a shelter.  One woman with a heart as big as Texas, doing something substantial in her community--it was a joy to visit with her and to enjoy her famous cooking!

Twenty-one days, 5,583 miles through 19 states, 4 national parks, numerous museums and attractions, family and friends, amazing scenery and the companionship of a man I dearly love.  Our cross-country trip typifies what I'm learning life is all about, especially during recovery from relationship trauma.  A wrong turn may not be a wrong turn after all but create an opportunity for discovery, growth and joy.  Expect and accept the unexpected because pigs turn up in the most unusual places and embracing the adventure makes life more interesting and less stressful.  Connecting with kindred spirits, whether we are biologically related or not, is the key to living fully as a part of the human family and is a critical component of recovery.  While our journey through life and recovery is a solitary one in that no one can do it for us, we do not travel alone (or at least we shouldn't).  We join with others and it is through those connections that we find the deepest healing.


Saturday, November 17, 2018

Choosing Joy

I have a quote on my bulletin board that is worth sharing this week:

"Not every storm is in the forecast.
Trials and tribulations can always be counted on
At different times throughout our lifetime.
So why not choose joy anyway?
Take ordinary days and find the joy,
For it is not around us,
Nor in our circumstances.
It is inside of us.
It is always there.
No matter what, 
Choose Joy!"
--Author Unknown

I recall in the early days after my life explosion that I struggled with intense anxiety, and for very legitimate reasons. It seemed that every time I pillowed my head, the anxious thoughts would come unbidden!

Will I get a job?
Will I survive this?  Will my kids?
What will the next headline be?
What if I become homeless?

And I learned that simply finding things for which to be thankful chased the anxious thoughts away. I learned that fear and gratitude cannot co-exist.  It became a nightly ritual--expressing gratitude for the simple things and by doing so, I found peace from my anxiety and surprisingly, joy was its companion!

Recently my husband and I were camping (some would call it glamping, I admit) and a ferocious storm rolled in.  The wind howled, lightening flashed frequently and the rain came down in buckets.  I feared we would blow away and got up frequently to check out the camper, look out the window and pace.  But then I stopped my anxious pacing and got still enough to listen to the storm.  I live in a desert--we don't get much rain, much less thunderstorms.  I found great joy in simply being in the midst of the storm and being ok.  I focused on the smell of the rain, the sound of it hitting our camper and was grateful for our refuge and for the experience.

Our world is such an anxious place these days--from political unease to wildfires to floods and vicious crime--the nightly news is something to be avoided if we want to sleep!  But we will soon pause and gather with our families to celebrate a day of giving thanks.  In spite of all that our country and world is experiencing right now, life is still grand and full of wonder and joy.  We simply must choose what we focus on--the turmoil of the storm or the beauty of the rainbow.  We are offered a choice.  I choose gratitude.  I choose joy,

Friday, August 17, 2018

Hope for My Daughter

I've had the privilege of journeying with women recovering from having been married to a pedophile for a number of years now.  Some, like I, have dared to remarry but we have all struggled mightily with the prospect of trusting again.  After all, as some are want to say, "Our pickers were broken" the first time around (a concept I don't necessarily agree with because perpetrators are so deceptive.)

Recently, however, the "pilgrim" is someone much closer to my heart.  My daughter and I have enjoyed some deep conversations about what to look for in a marriage partner and in her, I see many of the same fears and concerns that so many of us have experienced the second time around.  She too has been deeply impacted by her father's betrayal and arrest and our subsequent divorce.  She has seen up close the devastation that can occur and she wants to avoid that--and who wouldn't?

So I've been thinking about what I hope my daughter will find in a partner.  The list today is far different than it would have been ten years ago.  This is partly due to my ex-husband's betrayal but also has been impacted by the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements.  So here is my wish list for her and really for all of us.  My hope is that my daughter will find a man who will:

See her as the prize:  My current husband reminds our daughter all of the time that she is the prize and he is right.  It is so easy to discount ourselves and "settle" because we do not feel worthy of anything more.  Or, we allow someone else to define our worth and treat us accordingly.  I hope my daughter remembers her unique value and doesn't settle for anyone who sees her as anything other than the ultimate prize that she truly is.

Honor her as an individual:  Part of the give-and-take of any relationship is negotiating areas of difference.  I want my daughter's partner to honor her individuality and respect her right to be different.  I do not want her to allow anyone to try to mold her into something that she is not but rather to respect and honor who she already is and who she is becoming.

Treat her as an equal:  Unfortunately, my daughter was raised in a very conservative religious environment that taught female submission in marriage and restricted women's roles in the church.  Mutual submission, on the other hand, values and prioritizes both parties in the relationship rather than the one-sided, power-over model of female submission.  The current climate in conservative religious circles has demonstrated the huge problems an emphasis on female submission has created. It's past time to call "ENOUGH" on this ugly distortion of scripture.

Have the hots for her and only her:  One of the things I have consistently heard from former partners of pedophiles is that sexual dysfunction, perversion and weirdness presented themselves fairly early in the sexual relationship.  I want my daughter's partner to be passionate about her, to desire her and to be faithful in all aspects of their sexual union.  I want him to honor the sanctity of their sex lives together and not engage in any behavior that will jeopardize or disrupt that critical part of their relationship.

Respect her faith, even if he doesn't share it:  This is probably where my thoughts have changed most drastically.  I used to believe it was important to pray for my children's future partners--for their "purity" and spiritual growth, etc.  Back then I could not conceive of the notion that they would marry anyone other than a Christian.  With all that I have seen and learned however, I am not so certain that it is as important for my daughter's partner to share her faith.  I would definitely ask that he respect her faith and of course, if he doesn't share it to come to an agreement before marriage on how they will raise their children.

When we were discussing this recently, I told my daughter that I would rather she marry a man who consistently demonstrates the fruits of the Spirit (kindness, meekness, self-control, etc.) even if he does not profess than who who professes but whose life does not validate that profession.  I guess I am a bit jaded; I've seen how sly wolves are when they don sheep's clothing.  I know from experience that one can say all of the right things and convince the world of their piety while abusing their wife or child and feeling a sense of entitlement to do so.  I've seen so many instances of churches preferring the offender rather than defending the victim and I know that domestic violence is most prevalent in religious homes.

But I also know the destructiveness of a theology that privileges the male perspective and creates an imbalance of power within the relationship.  Even if he demonstrates those "fruits of the Spirit," the underlying belief system that grants him that privilege is so damaging to a woman's sense of autonomy, freedom and negatively impacts her relationship with God.  It also seeks to restrict her choices should he behave poorly.  I don't want that for my daughter or any other woman.

So these are my thoughts and hopes for my daughter as she considers her future partner.  Of course I long for certainty, as most of us do, but I no longer trust in a formulaic approach to life.  I know, as does she, that life can change in an instant but that we are far stronger and more resilient than we ever dreamed we were.  I have full confidence in her ability to stand strong no matter what may come, of that I am certain.  I want her to trust herself, to listen to her gut and to be in a relationship that encourages her continued growth and happiness.  And I don't think God wants anything less than that for her as well.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Timeout

My second home from infancy
One of the first places my parents took me shortly after my birth was to church.  I have an old black and white picture of my infant dedication, which included the "laying on of hands" in fervent prayer for me.  Both of my grandmothers were in attendance and their faith is part of my spiritual heritage.  As the daughter of a pastor, church was my second home and we were there three times a week and every night during revival or camp meeting.

I grew up in a church where women were empowered to serve in
My grandmothers, mother and me
any capacity within the congregation, including as an ordained elder or pastor.  My exposure to churches that restricted the role of women did not begin until my adult years.  Even so, within the home, women were expected to follow the lead of their husbands and to submit to his authority.  This created quite the dilemma for a woman called to be a pastor--she could lead the congregation, which included her husband but was required to submit to him at home.  Kind of a dual role with many conflicts of interests that probably led to actual conflicts, I'm suspecting.

At two outside my father's first church
In my 30's and 40's I was part of a denomination that sent women as missionaries to engage fully in ministry but did not allow them the same freedom in the U. S.  I never understood the logic of that policy!  I became a leader in a local congregation and was actually appointed to serve on the Governing Board--I was the token female on a male-dominated and resentful Board.  When I could no longer stomach the controversy over my leadership, I resigned and spent many Sunday mornings curled up on the floor of my closet in some of the deepest grief I had experienced at that point in my life.

I have been a member of or regular attender at ten different mainline evangelical denominations as well as several independent and Charismatic churches; fifty percent of them restricted the roles of women, the rest did not.  I have been exposed to many different streams of theological thought and have taken graduate courses in theology as part of an advanced degree program.  I haven't seen or experienced it all within organized religion, but have come pretty close.

Serving as a missionary
Recently, I have found it increasingly difficult to attend a church service.  I find it nearly impossible to sit under the ministry or in a group who seek to marginalize at least 50% of the congregation. While the individual pastors or church members may disagree with the official position of their denomination or may have a more "moderate" view, it just doesn't sit well with me.  So, I have put myself in timeout.

I do not know how long this timeout will last.  I suspected it was coming but I have no clue when it will end.  I just know that the views espoused in groups willing to use the bible to justify the oppression or marginalization of any group of people no longer reflects who or what I believe God to be.  I cannot participate any longer.

I have not lost my faith, I have found it again.  I have not rejected the Bible but rather am learning to approach it with an open heart and mind--not one closed to all but one possible interpretation.  I have not walked away from God but rather am running headlong into His all-encompassing love and compassion for all of humanity, including me, a mere woman.

"Enough," my word for 2018 perfectly describes my feelings during this timeout.  Enough of tolerating marginalization and second-class status all in the name of religion.  Enough compromising and swallowing my pain and disgust; enough of my support through membership or attendance of any group that devalues women.  Enough.  I've had enough.