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


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!