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.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Enough for 2018

I have been struggling to write my annual post describing my word for the year for well over a month.  The word revealed itself quite early in the process; it has been the sorting out of what the word means to me or holds for the upcoming months that has been challenging.  For the first time, my word for the year has both a personal and broader intention.

In a personal sense, my word describes my intention to do more work around self-acceptance, positive affirmation and silencing my inner critic.  We are daily bombarded with messages that tell us we are not slim enough, smart enough, rich enough, talented enough. . . the list goes on and on and on.  Embracing a sense of not enoughness breeds shame and fosters all sorts of maladaptive behaviors in a futile attempt to be OK in our own skin.

According to my friend Merriam-Webster, when used as an adverb the word "enough" refers to something that occurs "in such quantity, quality or scope as to fully meet demands, needs or expectations."  I am enough; you are enough.  We are human beings created in the image and likeness of God; that makes us fully enough.

I am in a post-major birthday funk that is common during life transitions. My husband says that I
have reached an age that is considered to be the "youth of old age."  I typically do a lot of self-reflection and analysis when I make a major transition and my word for the year will be a compass to guide and correct me through the process.  The measure of my success in life is not in how much I have accumulated, the adulation of a world or in my achievements.  The true measure of success in life is how well I have loved, including myself.  This next season will bring additional losses and challenges but it seems that settling the issue of my intrinsic value and "enoughness" will give me the strength and stamina to face those losses with grace and serenity.

The broader implications of my 2018 word came this week while watching the incredibly brave women who confronted their abuser in a court of law.  It seems that every institution in our society is being forced to deal with the consequences of decades of systemic discrimination and sexual harassment and assault of women. No segment of our society has been exempt--from Hollywood to the local church, sports and news organizations and political figures.  The #MeToo campaign gave thousands of women an opportunity to finally acknowledge publicly what has been tolerated in secret.

"Enough" when used as a determiner and pronoun expresses an "impatient desire for the cessation of undesirable behavior or speech. . . [and] indicates that one is unwilling to tolerate any more."  Until we say "ENOUGH" to a culture of objectification and marginalization of women and children, we will never be able to prevent monsters like Larry Nassar from sexually molesting little girls in their mother's presence.  ENOUGH!  The laws we have passed and the protections we have put in place will never be enough until the societal and often religiously sanctioned discrimination is stopped.

It occurs to me that both the personal and broader implications of my word are intertwined.  Advocacy must begin with me.  I must embrace my intrinsic value and enoughness in order to stand and fight against the systems that are designed to keep me in an inferior or marginalized position.  If I am to fight for others, I must first fight for myself.  I must do the internal work so that I can fully engage in the external battle.  I am enough; you are enough and together we are enough to challenge and change a culture that insists we are not.  Enough and ENOUGH!


Saturday, January 6, 2018

Healing Stones

I awoke this morning after another series of dreams that seem to point to a niggling truth struggling to come to my conscious awareness.  As I prayed for discernment and understanding, I recalled the many who have been helpers along this journey of recovery and healing.  I have been blessed with wonderful professionals who have walked with me for a portion of my journey and friends and family who have made themselves available for what I needed during the critical days when life was frightening and anxiety-ridden.  For these men and women--my tribe, my healing stones--I give thanks:

  • For Bonnie, Lou, Mari and Teri--professionals who spoke truth with compassion and love and who helped me see myself through gentle and loving eyes;
  • For Sharon and that inept MFT intern who taught me that I can and must resist help that is not helpful;
  • For Sheila and Tam--old friends who reached out when I was so fragile and simply made themselves available;
  • For the women in my small group who listened and loved well;
  • For my S-ANON sisters who cried and laughed with me as we shared our journey on the healing path out of betrayal and addiction;
  • For Crystal, a sponsor and friend extraordinaire who like her name, brings clarity and insight into the muddy waters of life's situations;
  • For Wm. Paul Young, Richard Rohr, Paula D'Arcy, Glennon Mellon, Elizabeth Gilbert, Brene Brown, Stephanie Carnes, Mari Lee, Barbara Steffens, Marsha Means, Ann Voskamp, Patricia Wiklund, Terri St. Cloud, Rachel Held Evans and Scot McKnight whose words were like a healing balm to my wounded soul, like manna from heaven that satisfied my hunger for information and that shone a bright light during very dark days when I could not find my way;
  • For Julie Anne and "Anonymous" who helped me reconnect with my inner activist;
  • For all of the partners and former partners who have dared to share their stories with me; they have reinforced the truth that we are not alone;
  • For my sweet and bestest friend, Kay--a loyal, loving and faithful sister for the past three and a half decades.  She has been a secret-keeper, a sounding board and a witness to my entire journey, not just parts of it.  We have forged a friendship that has stood the test of time, disagreements and changing life transitions.  Many miles separate us but our hearts are connected in a way that transcends geography;
  • For my children who are the very best gifts I have ever received and whose love and connection continues to bring healing and purpose to my life.  Their resiliency, courage and strength amaze me and I am so very proud of the wonderful human beings they have become.  They have been severely tried and tested, crushed and challenged and still they love and live with integrity, compassion and kindness;
  • For my gifts of grace, life and peace--"The Three," the "K's," the granddaughters who have come into our family and brought hope, giggles, snuggles and joy;
  • For my husband, whose love is healing in ways that only a healthy intimate relationship can after severe betrayal, and who has brought adventure and laughter into my life again.
"Hitherto the Lord hath helped us," is an older translation of I Samuel 7:12 that was running through my mind when I awoke this morning.  The context of this verse was a particularly difficult battle between Israel and her enemies and God's amazing intervention.  After the battle, Samuel erected a standing stone and named it "Ebenezer" which is translated "the stone of help."
The Western Wall, also called "The Wailing Wall" in Jerusalem
It occurs to me that the people of my "tribe" have been God's gifts of help.  Recovery is not a solitary journey after all but rather is more like a grand orchestra.  Papa God is the conductor who arranges and directs the music (i.e. healing) but each section of the orchestra contribute out of their gifts and wisdom and are essential to the ongoing majesty and grandeur of the masterpiece.  So at this start of a brand new year, I erect my Ebenezer in recognition of all those who have been my stones of help.  I am truly grateful and blessed.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Court Transcripts & Letters from Prison

I have not said much lately about my "qualifier" (a kinder word for the perpetrator I was married to).  Earlier this year, he violated the conditions of his probation and now sits in prison.  As a former volunteer behind bars, I had inside information on the kind of treatment child offenders receive when incarcerated.  After I learned of his foray into the dark world of child pornography, we had many "discussions" where I painted the consequence of his continued pursuit in vivid language.   He called me "paranoid" then but is now living in some pretty horrendous conditions, as I predicted.

Anyone who has been in a relationship with an addict has experienced the blame, projection, minimization, exaggeration and denial that is common to addiction, and particularly so when dealing with a narcissist.  (One therapist that I worked with asserts that she has yet to meet an addict who is not also a narcissist).  You would think that when you are caught with your hand in the proverbial cookie jar, there would be little recourse except to acknowledge your guilt and accept your punishment.  That is not what I am experiencing and after speaking with many women who have had the same misfortune of marrying a pedophile, I find that my experience is not unique.

As I did after my ex's first trial, I purchased the court transcripts from his most recent trial and received them a few months ago.  It has been enlightening and sobering to read once again the case against him, particularly the ways he "storied" his probation violation.  One paragraph in the transcript stood out to me and the words continue to reverberate in my head and are validated by past and current experiences with my qualifier.  Quoting  a clinical psychologist who treated my ex for nearly four years, the prosecutor said, "This defendant has an inordinately difficult time accepting responsibility for his behavior.  He constantly blames his [ex]wife for his offense . . . feeling that if she had been more supportive of him, he wouldn't have had to look at child pornography."  His probation officer testified about his violation in great detail (no children were directly harmed, thank God) and the prosecutor illustrated how the defendant's story about the violation changed, depending on who he was talking to.  Court transcripts are incredibly valuable, particularly when dealing with an addict/narcissist who uses a lot of gaslighting.  They are the stake in the ground that becomes unmovable and grounding when communication becomes murky and confusing.

Letters from prison have been arriving--letters that are deeply disturbing and hurtful, far more desperate than previous ones.  The latest, addressed to one of my children, includes 20 pages of hate and blame towards me.  The specifics do not merit inclusion here but once again, those court transcripts are the anchor in the swirl of blame-shifting, denial and deception.  As my friend, "Eve" discovered, the man I thought I married does not exist and never did.  He was an illusion and I was simply a prop in his elaborate scheme to hide his secret nature.  Eve and I had a conversation recently about the difficulty in removing those rose-colored glasses and accepting the truth about our former partners, a conversation I vividly remembered when reading those letters!

My ex made it clear in his letters that he does not like the fact that this blog exists and consequently I have questioned my motives in continuing to write about my experience.  While he thinks that my writing is all about him, it is really about my recovery from betrayal and trauma; he is central to my wounding but irrelevant to my recovery.  I regularly hear from women just like me who somehow discover this space on the internet and find hope in the knowledge that they are not alone.  There is risk and vulnerability in writing of such personal experiences but there is also freedom in speaking the truth rather than continuing to hide.

So the lessons I have learned from reading and re-reading court transcripts and letters from prison can be summarized by the following:
  • Denial, minimization, blame-shifting, projecting and deception are common among addicts and until they are abandoned, recovery becomes virtually impossible;
  • Gaslighting (using tactics to try to change an individual's perception of reality) is very confusing; those who experience it need frequent reality checks with trusted individuals or court transcripts;
  • Manipulation, exaggeration and distortion of facts can be very convincing and require vigilance in holding to what we know to be objective truth;
  • Perpetrators are incredibly skilled at creating and maintaining a near-perfect illusionary life, gathering props (i.e. spouse, children, academic credentials, etc.) to support the facade that hides their true nature and behavior;
  • When a narcissist is through with you, either by your choice or his, what seemed like love becomes rabid hatred.  We can't be surprised by this.
How about you?  Has your experience been similar or different to what I have described?   As always, I would love to hear from you.