Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Giving Thanks

My Aunt has leukemia.  They found it two years ago this Christmas.  With treatment, they said, her prognosis was great, and this is a very treatable strain.  We were fortunate to find a matching donor in the family, and she had a stem cell transplant last fall.  Only a couple of weeks after my Dad died, we learned that her transplant had failed.  They were still hopeful that they could at least keep beating it back with the chemo stick, which they restarted in the summer.  And then this fall, she started developing some internal bleeding that they've been unable to get under control.  Last week, we got the call we've been dreading, she's back in the hospital, and they're stopping the blood transfusion treatments that have been keeping her alive.

So, after much prayer and discussion and ugly crying and consulting my pastor, Chris and I jumped in the car last Wednesday and drove from Seattle to San Jose in about 24 hours with a nap in Oregon.  I got to see her Thursday evening for a few minutes, and I was allowed to lay hands on her and pray for healing.  The next morning, I got to go back and spend about 20 minutes of uninterrupted time with her, and it was worth every minute of being crammed in the car, exhausted, sick with a terrible cold, anxious over all the family relationships run amok that I was walking into...

So, Friday morning, we slept through my alarm, but managed to get to the hospital before the rest of the crowd of my relatives.  My uncle Zia was there, and he was very good about letting Jacquie and I just talk.

Jacquie has always had an "ethereal" demeanor, she has a very soft voice, chooses gentle words, and really would have probably been very well suited to her first calling as a nun, had she pursued it.  So conversations with her have always been slow and easy and about feelings and real stuff, and they're rarely difficult.  We got to talk for about 20 minutes uninterrupted, and it was really good to be able to talk properly.  

At one point she offered to have me go out to her house and go through her clothes, since I've lost so much weight, but really, not only is it an hour-long trip one way that requires her husband to play sherpa, but she's a lot shorter than I am and we're opposite proportions... and we didn't have that kind of time anyway, and her husband really needed to be there with her.  But it was a good opportunity to encourage Zia to have some help from their community to come and pack up the general stuff for donation after he'd been through to reserve special things for their kids and grandkids, and then it was good to tell her that I already got all the "best stuff" that I'll never outgrow or won't ever go out of style... like sleepovers and birthday parties and grilled cheese with tomato soup, and having a safe person who loved me no matter what.  

So, as is typical with people on morphine, she'd kinda drift off into some thought bubble and then come back with this laser intensity. She said she did love me no matter what, and sometimes you can't do anything for someone you love except love them anyway and pray.  And I absolutely agree.  So then she said: "So what do you think about this whole "faith thing" anyway?" with her head cocked to one side.  I took a deep breath and said: "I'm just crazy mad in love with Jesus."  She brightened up like a little kid again and practically shouted "ME TOO!"

We talked about how she'd wanted to be a nun, and she said how "It took a long time to even consider letting Baha'u'llah in."  I said, I know, I remember talking about it.  She got quiet again and then said very quietly: "The Baha'i writings say that at the time of death, that all the veils are lifted.  Do you think that's true?" Yes, I do. I think that when we die, all is revealed.  And God exists outside of time, so He's not bound by it. "Well, then maybe if I got it wrong, I'll get another chance to get it right."  And I said that I felt confident that she has it right already, because she loves Jesus.  Ultimately, it's not my job to know, much less decide who goes where and what God's plan is.  It's my job to answer "Jesus" when I'm asked what I know to be true.

And it just rained poured drowned us all in GRACE in that room. And to say that I am thankful would be to cheapen the whole experience.

So we wrapped up our goodbyes and I love yous and I left her to rest, since the crowd was due any minute.  And later, Zia gave me a huge hug and thanked me for coming and giving her comfort.

Mom had sat in with us when I prayed for Jacquie's healing the night before, and she thanked me for it, and when I told them about my delivery from fibromyalgia, they didn't know what to say, but mom said later that they talked about it and were moved.  So when mom showed up Friday morning, I told her how our conversation went, because I wanted to avoid any misunderstanding so there was no room for the enemy to play with some story about having pressured her or something goofy.

And then we left, because we were very concerned about getting any of them sick, as well as the other patients on the oncology ward.  And we had many miles to go to come home by Saturday evening.  So we'll see what there is to see when this all boils down, but I'm confident that I'll see her in Heaven eventually.  And that feels good.

Yesterday, my mom said that she asked her doctor why she is feeling so well. He said that when it comes down to this stage. She is in God’s hands not his. I just received word that she is clearly declining today, and for her sake we all hope the Lord takes her sooner than later, as she sleeps most of the time, but has a headache and is nauseous when she is awake.

So this Thanksgiving, I am grateful that I got to receive the comfort of knowing that I'm going to get to see her again.  And I'm grateful that I got the opportunity to offer her comfort when she sought it.  

Love each other well, people.  Say what needs to be said.  Share the life that truth and appreciation deliver.  Give each other the comfort of knowing they are known, and they are LOVED.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Cracked Pots Theology

Maybe it's the cold medication, maybe I'm on a roll, maybe it's the wonderful feedback I've been getting, maybe it's just three days off in a row with nothing to do but sleep and think... (Well, I could always unpack from the move, because my dining room and garage and sewing room are all still DEEP with boxes, but I'm SICK, so my JOB is to flop on the sofa and REST, right?!) but I'm finding that the more I write, and read, and wait and watch and listen, the more there is to share with you, and that's EXCITING TO ME.

One of the prevalent responses I've gotten to some of the content of my life that I've shared so far has been both "Wow!" and "Why?" at the same time.  There's a fair bit of "Me too!" going on offline, at least to some of the questions I've raised or emotions I've shared, and that is what this whole thing is about... I would love to hear that resounding "ME TOO!" reverberate around the internet when it comes to sharing pain and our response to it and God's response to it... and if I need to be one of the standard bearers to get the ball rolling, then so be it, because so many of us sit in the dark and think we're alone with our pain, our experiences, and so we're quiet about it, because life is messy enough and tough enough to handle when we THINK we're alone in our mess, but what if EVERYONE KNEW who we REALLY ARE and we REALLY BECOME ALONE?!  WHAT IF BECOMING KNOWN RESULTS IN ABANDONMENT?!

This has not been my experience, though I'm not going to lie and say that EVERYONE eats authenticity and transparency up with a spoon and asks for more.  Some people just blink at me like big owls and you can tell that they're trying to process something that SOUNDS like English, but the bouncing ball is just not doing it for them...  Some people ask for more and never share themselves, and I'm okay with that for awhile, but there's a difference between learning if I'm safe and consistent and predictable by living life alongside me until you're ready to share yourself, and just picking away at my soft dark underbelly for more gory details.  I'm sure there will be some of that along the way, there already is, but I hope that the cries of "ME TOO!" drown it out.

So, in the Bible, we are referred to as "clay pots" and God as the "Potter".  And I've had this imagery explained to me in a very beautiful way by Pastors Micheal Ward and Wayne Lewry of Central United Church in Calgary, Alberta, where we were married and attended for several years before moving to Seattle.  If you're ever in town on a Sunday, go check them out, they're right downtown and the lineup for hugs on the way out is worth the wait.

Here's some cool things about clay pots:

They're made with a purpose.  Nobody in Biblical times made clay pots just for looking at.  Everything had a purpose.

The purpose of the pot determined it's shape.  Sometimes it was tall and slender with a handle and a spout for carrying and serving water.  Clay keeps water cooler than room temperature, which, in Israel, was a big deal before refrigeration.  Spouts are shaped differently for oil and water because they have different surface tensions and density.  Each detail served a purpose.

They take on the properties of what they're filled with.  Before glazing became all the rage, if you had a pot for vinegar, you would never want to put milk in it unless you wanted sour milk.  Because clay pots are porous and the contents seep into the clay over time.  Osmosis works.

They're crafted carefully.  Clay pots need to have handles that comfortably fit the hand, lids that keep bugs and dirt out of the contents, walls of even thickness so they cook food evenly, spouts that pour water properly or oil without dribbling.

They're decorated deliberately to distinguish them from one another.  Who wants to pick up a jug for a nice cool drink and pour themselves a big cup of vinegar?!  You've got to be able to tell them apart when dinner's burning and you're looking for the yogurt...

They're fragile.  They break.  They crack, and they're not meant to last forever.

And here's where God steps in and shows off... Even though we are fragile, we're not disposable.  And clay pots, once broken, can often be re-purposed for something else, like the way we use broken pot shards inside planters to keep all the soil from running out when we water the plant.  In God's economy, NOTHING is ever wasted.  So if we, as clay pots, get banged up in our day to day use, and develop a crack here and a chip there, and in some cases get busted wide open and pieces fall out, He's capable of piecing us back together ever so carefully, but in His wisdom, He leaves some cracks just ever so slightly out of whack, or He's been waiting for you to experience something that changes how you're shaped so that your TRUE purpose is revealed, and most often, I've found, He turns us into lanterns for His light.  Lanterns that keep all the light contained don't shed much for others to see.  They're hard to follow in the darkness.  And it is in our cracked and broken places that become filled with His light that we truly begin to shine.

I bear some really significant battle scars.  Some of them are even self-inflicted.  I'm sure you'll get to hear about those too.  Brokenness is a state I have spent some real quality time in.  There's a purpose for that too.  It's said in the Talmud, that when we are made in the secret place, God writes His name on our hearts of clay.  But He provides for brokenness because it is ONLY when our hearts are broken that His name can penetrate and reside WITHIN our hearts.

So I am choosing to be a lantern.  I could just choose to sit here and be a crappy container that water leaks out of all the time, but I'd rather see His work through my broken places light the way for someone else to find their way out of the darkness.  At least then the pain has purpose.  Today that's good enough.  Sometimes it's not, there have been days where He and I have had some shouting matches about it not feeling good enough, but today, it'll do.

And WHAT IF... WHAT IF BECOMING FULLY KNOWN RESULTS IN LOVE ANYWAY?!  Wow.  I love the security of knowing I am loved, warts and all. That's love.  That's connection.  That's DIVINE.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

I Will Lie Down and Sleep

Standing at my kitchen sink, up to my elbows in hot soapy water and washing three of the only four plates we owned, I remember my lower back hurt from standing there twice a day, wishing we could just afford two more plates so I'd only have to do this once a day, trying to be quiet so I didn't wake the baby with the dishes clanking against each other in the single sink as I scrubbed and rinsed, and drained, and let a little water out, and started over with the next piece... I don't hate doing dishes, I LOATHE doing dishes.  I'll load and unload the dishwasher all day if that's what I need to do, but standing at the sink (especially a single sink!), the front of my clothes getting soaked, my hands getting pruny (when you can't afford PLATES, rubber gloves are a luxury beyond reach), my back getting sore, and it takes so long because the off-brand cheap dish soap doesn't really work well, and his mother managed just fine with rags and elbow grease, and he was SO particular about cleanliness and order and I was SUCH a disappointment in every way already, and we weren't even married yet...

And from behind, hands reached to grab my breasts, not painfully, but the feel of hot breath on the back of my neck and the hands and the surprise and the sensation of being trapped, and all-of-a-sudden-I'm-12-years-old-and-trapped with Mister S. again.  NO!!! NONONONONO!!! NO MORE!

I honestly don't even know WHAT the hell happened in my kitchen.  But one minute I was washing the dishes, and the next, the baby is screaming in her crib and the man I'm about to marry is on his ass five feet away with his hands over his head and this look of SHOCK on his face and the sound of his panicked voice repeating "Okay! Okayokayokay! Sorry! Okay!" over and over and I was dripping soapy water everywhere and shaking and sweating and I had a sharp knife in my hand.  I was clearly about to use it.  On the man I was about to marry, who had NO IDEA what was going on.  Neither did I.

It was November 1991, I was 21 years old, I'd just had my first flashback to the two years of molestation at the hands of Mister S.  I think I asked him to go settle the baby back down, and I just went back to washing the dishes and zoning out.  We were already masters of compartmentalization and denial.  It's still got this totally bizarre haze over it unless I allow myself to go back inside my skin in those moments in my head, but then all I see and respond to from there is the original assault.  Also I think I literally scared the CRAP out of Mister Air Force, and he chose to ignore it rather than deal with the fact that he was scared of his helpless "little woman".

Over the next 6 weeks, bits and pieces of the original abuse came back to me.  Certain smells or words or particular touch would just throw me into this fugue state where I would just mentally be elsewhere for what was in real-time, no more than a minute, but in my head was very extended periods of time.  I often found myself standing up in the middle of whatever room it was, fists clenched, sweating and shaking and FURIOUS and TERRIFIED, and apparently SHOUTING.

I can't imagine what possessed him to marry me anyway, but by the time we were at his parents house in the week before the wedding, I had managed to get enough pieces together that I knew what had happened and what was happening now and at least get some kind of handle on what those triggers were until we could figure something else out to defuse the ticking bomb that had become my psyche.  And so I told him everything I knew.  And he married me anyway.  I'll never understand why, because we turned out to be a TERRIBLE match.  It's possible he was really more in love with my daughter than he was with me, and with the idea of being her daddy, because the appearance of her father on the scene shortly before our fifth wedding anniversary was the beginning of the end, and it certainly didn't take much effort to thoroughly smash what was already fragile with baggage when it was made, damaged by manipulation and control and lies, undermined with affairs and betrayal, and devastated by financial ruin and finally ended when I grew a spine.

We were in counselling already when we got the letter from her father.  This one was our third.  The first counselor was on the military base where we lived, and Guy hated him.  When it became clear that he was expected to participate in helping to work things out (by, for instance, choosing to NOT approach me from behind or wake me in the middle of the night to initiate sex, which he did over and over and over once he realized I was in control enough to avoid gutting him like a fish!) then he refused to go.  Called it all bullshit, because they were MY problems, MY dissociative fugue states, MY nightmares, his only problem was that he married a crazy woman; and it was another 18 months before we found someone else to see that we repeated the process with.

That third counselor was a pastor at our new church.  Guy had gotten out of the Air Force, we'd moved to Port Hardy, BC to follow some friends, got saved and became Christians up there, enjoyed a brief honeymoon period until I got a really good government job that paid more than he earned, his ego couldn't handle it and we moved back to Victoria so he could work with his best friend.  So we attended the Pentecostal church across the street from our new house, because the church in Port Hardy had been Pentecostal, and we figured it was all the same... oh how true that turned out to be, if only I'd known that our original pastor at that Port Hardy church was the exception to the rule of hellfire and brimstone and legalism and showy emptiness, I could have saved myself so much pain and confusion.  And once we'd been there long enough to have "our seats" figured out, it was time to get back to the business of getting our marriage on track.

So it was a little disappointing when the pastor didn't want to dig any deeper than asking us to make lists of little things we could do for each other every day to express our love for each other.  He didn't want to talk about the affair Guy had had with my best friend and how they'd lied to me and she'd tried to make me think I was insane because she wanted Guy to have me committed so she could step in to be wife to my husband and mother to my daughter.  And that he still didn't speak up when she moved into our house.  Or about how we got this letter from my daughter's father, basically BEGGING for the chance to do ANYTHING we asked him to so that he could just visit her.  And Guy's response was that he refused to even talk about it.  The daughter in question was six and a half years old, and old enough to understand that we were fighting about his refusal to even consider talking about what it might look like to have her father come for coffee.

So our wedding anniversary was coming up, and it was FIVE YEARS! A veritable MILESTONE.  And we needed to CELEBRATE, budget bedamned!  Just say the word!  Whatever shall we do?! What do you want? He pestered me for three weeks, and I finally had to admit that the only thing I could think of that I was at all willing to do with him is pack his crap and get a divorce.  And that was it.  Two days later he moved out to his friend's apartment, and six weeks after that he'd moved to Alberta.  And we were basically DONE.  I think we saw him three times after that.

So imagine my surprise and my daughter's confusion when we showed up for church on Sunday (the one across the street from our house, and since Guy took the car until he moved away, it was the only one we could get to) and we were greeted VERY DIFFERENTLY at the front door.  An elder from the church was waiting for my six year old and I, and we were scooted down a hall toward the back stairs to the balcony, and it was explained to me that UNTIL I CHOSE TO TAKE THE ADULTEROUS ABUSIVE ASSHOLE BACK, (sorry, "restore my marriage to its righteous state") that I was expected to sit in the balcony only, that I was BARRED from communion(!) and that MY DAUGHTER WAS NOT ALLOWED TO PARTICIPATE IN SUNDAY SCHOOL.

Yeah, we left.  We waited until the magical quiet time before the riot of the "shouldaboughtahonda" show started up with the tambourines and the shaking hallelujah fits, and I made sure that door SLAMMED on their "peaceful communion" time on our way out.  Hypocritical idiots had the women's ministries dropping off casseroles to his apartment, but my baby was banned. FU-UCKAKAKAKA!

Yes, let's DO make the child even more of a victim of the decisions of the trusted adults in her life than she already was.  Yes, by all means, PLEASE let's make it so that the martyr/sinner/adulterer wearing the hair shirt of unforgiven infidelity stays comfy and fed and supported because his TERRIBLY SCANDALOUS WIFE is too PROUD to accept his "repentance".  


This is what launched me into the next three years of wandering away from the Lord, or at least away from church, managing to barely scrape myself together enough to keep a roof over our heads and keep her fed and clothed with ZERO help from Guy.  He literally VANISHED except by phone, where he would talk to her every Tuesday evening for an hour and he would promise to send her $20 for Pound Puppies, because he'd missed Christmas, and week after week the money never came, and I watched my beautiful, secure, friendly, cheerful six year old turn into an angry, abandoned cynic.  She started rolling her eyes in front of me, and he started accusing me of turning her against him... 

We just struggled.  We moved EIGHT times in three years.  I got SO depressed.  I felt SO alone, SO messed up, SO damaged and RUINED.  I was still in my 20's!  I worked my can off, but opportunities were limited.  I'd never graduated from high school, but eventually I qualified for a student loan, so I went and got a Business Admin Diploma from CompuCollege and hoped that people would settle for that as an answer to the education question.  Some did, most didn't.

Three years is a long time to take the bus in the rain in Victoria when you own a car but can't afford to put gas in it much less pay the insurance.  And yet, in the rain, in the depression, in the endless out of control sleeping, God met me there.  It wasn't happy, it wasn't "praising Him in the storm" but it was real, and it was a lifeline.  It was morbid, beautiful poetry, it was dark paintings over and over and over each other on the same cardboard canvas until I ran out of paint, it was spending the night on the floor of my kitchen singing and rocking my seven year old daughter to sleep while I quietly wept because the side effects from the medications they gave me for depression made me paranoid (the kitchen had only one exit to monitor).  If I managed to stay awake long enough, my alarm clock would tell me it was morning, so I'd wake her up, feed her breakfast, get her in the tub and dressed and take her to school before coming home to sleep all day until it was time to pick her up after school and take my dreaded medication.  REPEAT FOR SIX MONTHS.

I finally got some real help to deal with the flashbacks and the PTSD, if you have it, there's nothing like it, and nothing treats it like a therapy called EMDR, which stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, which sounds like mumbo-jumbo, but works.  It really really works.  Even on the new scars from the asshole who thought it was funny to watch me freak out when he triggered me for five more years.

And when you TELL, when you finally FINALLY are HEARD, you get to start taking back those pieces of your soul that were being consumed by that toxic waste that was left behind by abuse.  I can't stress this enough:



THE RIGHT PEOPLE WILL HELP YOU RECOVER AND HEAL.  They are often professional therapists.  

This type of abuse, this removal of your power, no matter who did what to whom for how long; it doesn't matter if it's a one-time event or stretches over years; it doesn't matter if you're still in a relationship with your abuser or not; YOU CANNOT HEAL ALONE IN THE DARK.

That anger that you feel is a righteous response to pain.  That shame that you feel is the enemy trying to keep you quiet about the terrible things that were done to you that WERE NOT YOUR FAULT.  Because if he can keep you tied up in the lie that you are somehow responsible for any of it, then it keeps you from receiving the healing and the grace that is rightfully yours.

This was not the end of the abuse I've suffered at the hands of others.  But it was the end of me being a victim. You can't stop other people's choices, but you CAN choose how to deal with the consequences of their actions.  You CAN learn to recognize what is true and what is right and what is yours and what is NOT.  It gets easier.  But get help.  Find a net, build a net.  Find a friend, a family member, a coworker, a pastor (they're not all idiots, I know some awesome ones!), a doctor, a therapist, a hotline, SOMEBODY and ask for help getting help.

Reach out to God.  He's there in the middle of your mess.  He met me in the middle of mine, and He continued to pursue me even when I'd turned my back on Him, because He is a Perfect Parent, He knows my rising and my lying down, even on the kitchen floor.  He has all the hairs on my head counted, even all the cat hair on my pants.  It doesn't have to be pretty, it doesn't have to be in church, it doesn't have to be wrapped up in stained-glass words, but it DOES have to be real.  Surrender to God, it's the only way through.  The "bad news" is that He will only settle for your EVERYTHING, but the "good news" is that your everything is ENOUGH.

The nightmares DO go away.    It's that simple and that hard.  

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The One I was Always So Worried About

I became re-acquainted with a man (we'll call him Gene) from my childhood and teen years this spring at my Step-dad's funeral. The first words out of his mouth before he even got out of the parking lot as I greeted him and his wife were in this title, and he was referring to me.  I'd been close to his wife when I was younger, but I hadn't seen most of the people at this funeral since the mid-to-late 80's.  As his wife and I hugged the breath out of each other, Gene beamed like he'd been somehow responsible for my survival himself and said those words: "Wow, Nickie. The one I was always so worried about. You look great."

Well, I was at my Dad's funeral, and the wheels were about to come off in a rather spectacular way for me emotionally and spiritually in a few minutes from this point (different post!), so it's taken me awhile to really fully process that phrase and what it really means, but my response at the time was "Thanks, good to see you too."

When reviewing that particular time in my life to which Gene was referring, I can certainly see why ANYONE would be "so worried" about me.  I was a train wreck looking for somewhere to derail.  My life at home was TERRIBLE, full of anger and emotional abuse and physical abuse and this awful spectre of potential sexual abuse.  When I was about 13 or 14, Mom and I returned early unexpectedly from a weekend conference.  In my usual style, I dashed for the bathroom as soon as I got in the door and there was this STACK of porn magazines on the laundry hamper.  All I really remember is thinking that the girls looked like me, my age, build, general looks... and Dad was just a little too insistent on my "state of dress" to the monastic side of things, which just made everything more tense and weird.  He never crossed that line with me, but it hung in the air like a bad smell for years until I moved out of the house.  (I'm happy to say that he and I worked out many of these old issues long before he died, and of course, THIS scene is set at his funeral.  Dad = Step-Dad, interchangeable for the purposes of my story.  My Father, Rod, was someone else altogether, and that's a whole other story.)

By then, though, a LOT of damage had already been done by a man (we'll call him Mr. S) in our community of faith.  He was OLD then, and was still living at the time of Dad's funeral, but he was Persian, and my parents are Baha'is, which is a religion that has come out of Iran since the mid 1800's.  The reason that's relevant is because the leader of that religion was a Persian man named Baha'u'llah, and he didn't want his "likeness" copied in drawings or paintings (or, eventually photographs, I guess) because he claimed that he didn't want to be the object of worship, but that all the glory would go to God and the focus be on his message.  Which is relevant because I had no other picture to place in my head of what that man actually looked like as I struggled with Mr. S who was molesting me weekly under the guise of teaching me to speak, read and write Pharsi while he insisted that I was "being silly" to reject him and pull away because he was "only showing me the love of God, of Baha'u'llah".  For two years, from age 12 to 14.

I learned very early on with the abuse at home that there comes a time in those situations where it's better to "go away" inside your head someplace.  I never questioned what it meant to "go to your happy place" though mine was never very happy, it was just ELSEWHERE.  It was like my mind just showed up in a train station waiting for all the roaring to stop so it would be safe to leave again.  I think the professionals call it "dissociating".

So I struggled for YEARS feeling like I wasn't firmly attached inside my skin.  I tried to pray, but his face showed up instead of God, and THAT WAS A BIG PROBLEM.  I asked for help.  I TOLD PEOPLE WHO SHOULD HAVE HELPED ME, and I was told to be quiet because he was a respected elder in the community and I was just a troublemaker, and nobody would believe me anyway.  And my home life was still terrible.

So I spent as much time as possible OUT.  Out of the house, out of sight, out of control, and from a VERY young age, out of my clothing.  I spent a lot of time babysitting other people's kids, and out with one boyfriend or another (for years and years I started stories with a phrase like: "When I was dating so and so" because those men were my entire frame of reference).  I was a dangerous young girl, who was over sexualized at a very young and impressionable age, who had MAJOR daddy issues and really had love and lust and acceptance all messed up in my head.

So it's no wonder to me that Gene was worried about me.  He's probably about 10 years older than I am, and I certainly flirted my butt off at him for years, but to his credit, he never flirted back.  However, he never asked questions either.  Not that I'd expect a 24-26 year old guy to sit down with a 14 year old girl who is behaving like an oversexed little idiot to have a heart-to-heart, but there were other people he could have asked to talk to me.

So I've recently discovered someone else's blog called and she (Glennon, the author) posted THIS the other day: NETS and I really resonated with that post, because the death of my Dad brought me back to the place I grew up, and I had some very parallel experiences that she did.  And I had already been asking myself that very question: "Where were the GODDAMN ADULTS? WHERE WERE THE GODDAMN HEALTHY PEOPLE? WHY DIDN'T THEY NOTICE ME?" And apparently, Gene had.  But what was he supposed to do?  What MORE was I supposed to do? 

And what do we do NOW?

I fully believe that God uses our brokenness as avenues for Him to heal others if we let Him use us as conduits.  I have deliberately reached out to a variety of places and people to serve, to help, to be a part of that net, because I KNOW WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN A TEENAGED GIRL IS SET TO SELF-DESTRUCT.  I've even reached out to a couple of girls that I can see are on this path, and they're SO jaded, SO damaged, that they don't believe that anyone can really care, which is why they're medicating with sex and drugs and alcohol in the first place.  One of my good friends has a 14 year old daughter who is absolutely BENT on her path to teenaged pregnancy or some other truly life-altering drama.  And they just WILL NOT LISTEN.

I'd like to think that if I'd been approached by someone willing to really get their hands dirty and get into my life and let me into theirs, that I would have eaten it up with a spoon, but by that point, every other woman was a rival and every man was a target.  Seeds planted far earlier eventually bore fruit years and years later, but during my drowning phase all I could see was women in my way and cute lifeguards.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Church Just Got a Whole LOT Less Safe

For me, specifically.  There may be a whole lotta TMI on its way to you here, but it's relevant.  And quite frankly, in the spirit of being transparent because others benefit, I benefit from being open about it all on the internet because it reveals the malicious gossips to be the miserable toothless hags they really are. There's some controversial stuff in here, but none of it is sordid, and I won't allow the enemy to control the conversation uncontested, because from the reactions of some of my “friends” so far, he'd like nothing better than to turn this whole situation into some juicy piece of nastiness.

At this stage in the blog, if you're reading along in a timely fashion and not playing catch up years from now when bigwig REAL bloggers are following ME (ROFLMAO, as IF! But hey, a girl can DREAM), then the chances are pretty good that you know me in person, IRL, as they say.  So it probably won't come as news to YOU that I've lost a LOT of weight lately.  Like about 70 lbs since June 2012, which, if I count on my fingers, was about 16 months ago.  And go figure, I look different!  I'm not even terribly close to my goal, but I'm over halfway there, and while I'm happy with my progress, and it continues, I've kinda hit a plateau recently that has slowed things down enough to give me some time to evaluate “what’s next”.

“What’s next” could (and likely will) involve returning to a regular exercise program, I'm hoping my loving sweet hubby will want to use his gym membership more often if we're going together.  ;) But the current changes in my body have been pretty drastic in some areas (my waist!), and really NOT in others, where I'd hoped there might be changes in store… like my bust.  Overall, so far I've gone from a size 22-24 or 3X-4X to about a 14 below the waist.  HUGE difference there.  The difference in my bust has been almost ALL in my ribcage.  Which means my BRA size has gone from a 44H to a 38G.

So I'm feeling a little top-heavy, and I've lost touch with what I really look like.  I'm doing okay shopping for new clothes, there's a whole new selection of departments and stores that I can play in, and I'm getting pretty good at choosing the right sizes off the rack to at least be in the right neighborhood.  But I'm finding myself pulling on favorite tops out of my closet without a second thought and later on catching myself in the mirror and realizing that all that melted back and tummy fat are no longer available to fill out what now looks like a maternity top! 

And my daughter is getting married in August 2014!  Which is SUPER exciting, and we're really happy, but I'm having an issue picturing what I'm going to look like by then if the current trend continues… How does Dolly Parton pull off a Mother of the Bride look?  I really don't want to go there, she's a lovely person, but that's not a “look” that I'm comfortable with for me.  I don't especially want to look at her lovely wedding photos and see my daughter the Bride upstaged by my boobs.

So my husband and I started the conversation again about breast-reduction mammoplasty surgery.  It's been on and off the table for almost our entire relationship (14 years!), but there's always been obstacles that we couldn't overcome… my overall health, money for our portion of the surgery that wasn't covered at one time or another, my weight/BMI being too high, a 2 year waitlist in Canada (when we lived there), the list goes on and on.  Well, I consulted a surgeon here who seems to think I'd be an excellent candidate, and we submitted it to the insurance company and it got approved.  And very suddenly, we are dealing with a very different potential reality than we have been discussing in a “possibility” kind of way for years.  It's quite the adjustment.

Now if THAT part of the story is what you personally are getting hung up on, then you probably should just quit reading now, because it’s about to get FAR more controversial in here than plastic surgery.

So here's the real deal: my husband is THRILLED with the changes in my body.  He thought I was beautiful before, but NOW I am floating his boat in a very significant way.  He recently asked me to consider dying my hair red, and I started teasing him about his long standing out in the open “celebricrush” on Christina Hendricks, specifically on the appearance of her character “Joan” on Mad Men.  Let me tell you, it's both flattering and intimidating to realize that your spouse sees a significant resemblance to a celebrity like that.  There’s still PLENTY of room to shrink “into” her figure for me, about 4”-6” in any given direction if the internet is to be believed (and can I just say that it's a bit disconcerting to now possess the knowledge that there are people who obsess over the details of someone else's figure for no other reason than they are in the public eye in some capacity!? THAT part of this journey has led to some other observations about human nature… later) but still, it's there in the overall proportions, skin tone, general shape, and now the hair, which does apparently suit me, because a number of people were surprised and happy for me because now my “fiery redhead” outside “matches” my inside I guess.  Loads of compliments on the hair.  :D

So while he is absolutely supportive of the surgery we're considering, because he knows it will relieve a lot of pressure on my back and neck and shoulders, and he loves ALL of me no matter WHAT shape I have, if he's being completely truthful (which I give him much credit for) he will say that there's a part of him that will be sad to see these G's remodeled into D's, and then the thinks about that for a minute and realizes that THAT notion is ABSURD, because what guy (one who's a boob guy anyway) would be somehow DISAPPOINTED with D's anyway!?  #holyfirstworldproblemsdude. (In all seriousness, it's also MAJOR surgery that takes WEEKS to recover from and the potential complications are significant.)

But the fact that it gave him pause gave ME pause, and I decided to take some time to really think it all through and get all the facts.  And in my quest to get all the facts, I started looking online for pictures of women who more closely resemble what I think I look like.  And a LOT of those pictures are either totally unrelatable because they're fashion models that have been photoshopped to death, or kinda porny and made me uncomfortable.  And then I stumbled onto some curvy girls in boudoir photography and realized I was missing that specific keyword “boudoir”.  Which is French for “dressing room” and implies a state of undress in a somewhat (usually) classy way.  But finally I was seeing images of women that kinda looked like what I see in the mirror (if I turn just so and stick my chin out and suck my now seriously flabby tummy in or something like that).  And then I realized that I had already purchased a Groupon for a portrait session to celebrate my official crossing into One-derland (a number on the scale that starts with 1).  Further investigation into THAT revealed that the photographer involved THERE specifically was a man, and even if I EVER decided to pursue boudoir photography on my own, I wouldn't want a man other than my husband to be there.  Much less to be the one examining all my photos afterwards… you get the idea.

So it quickly became time to float this past my hubby, because Lo and Behold, there was ANOTHER Groupon being offered by a lingerie boutique that specialized in women of all shapes and sizes, for boudoir photography!  And it was different from the rest of them because a) their website had pictures of girls who look more like me than the rest of them did, and b) the Groupon price included everything, hair, makeup, a wardrobe selection from the store's inventory, retouched images, prints, a DVD of all the finished work, and c) it was all women, turns out, it was all women WHO LOOK LIKE ME.  I talked to them on the phone and got a really GREAT gut-check.  They do pictures of everyone and anyone and encourage all women to “celebrate your body” but these particular women understood on a personal level how fragile us “big girls” are.  Because we don't have enough positive, empowering role models.  Because thin is in and the “thigh gap” is the rage.

At any rate, I had NO IDEA what to expect when I broached the subject with him, but he was THRILLED.  Sure, there's an aspect to his “thrilled” that was the titillating nature of the whole thing, but I got to watch the coolest process take place all over his face as he thought about it… and what he said when he was done thinking about it will sit with me forever.  The biggest reason he was ALL CAPS THRILLED is because he was so excited that I would FINALLY GET TO SEE WHAT HE SEES when he looks at me. 

That maybe, through this, that I would BELIEVE him when he tells me that I'm beautiful.

So, still gravely unpersuaded, I did some MORE online research, this time, specifically about that particular enterprise.  And let me just say that the human nature thing is COMPOUNDED by the anonymity of the INTERNET.  Wow.  So I went from nervous to REALLY reconsidering the whole thing.  So one day, I decided I was just going to go down there and meet them and see what there is to see and take this up with the Lord some more with more information.

And THAT sealed the deal.  Because the woman who owns that place is a warm, loving, welcoming, married, understanding, generous CHRISTIAN woman.  We had CHURCH in the lingerie store with me ugly crying all over her about not seeing a pretty picture of myself since our wedding photos in 2001, and that was at 40 lbs less than I am now, 13 years ago and seriously ¼ of the stretchmarks and ugly foldy flabby belly bits and the double chin and the backfat and rosacea and 5 cup sizes… SOBBING UGLY CRYING WAS GOING ON.

And then I got MAD.  At myself, for buying into the drug of what society thinks and at society for drugging me into thinking that I wasn't good enough.  And we started talking about THAT too, and specifically about feeling insecure talking about this stuff IN CHURCH.  And about how passionate I am about making sure young people (especially girls) are equipped with more information about sex than they are provided in church… because basically the message they get in church is “save yourselves for marriage” and “porn/masturbation/impure thoughts are all BAD” and at school the message is “these are the mechanics for everything, and there's no judgment on anything” which effectively leaves them with experimentation as a replacement for EDUCATION and then there's unnecessary DRAMA.  Or, if they actually MANAGE to navigate this minefield with some degree of success and DO enter marriage without a lot of banged up baggage from messing it up, they're often WOEFULLY UNDERPREPARED for what the heck to DO with each other once “they have a license for THAT”.  So then we had some CHURCH on THAT.

Well, two HOURS later, we'd each made a new friend, and the photoshoot was BOOKED.  And I mentioned in a totally off-hand, seriously cavalier way (that I have MASTERED when I'm actually pretty serious but prepared to laugh it off) that I was going to be looking for part-time work as of Nov 1st.  And her mouth dropped OPEN, because she's been looking for someone to work mornings!  (Those of you who know me well are now snickering because you know how I feel about mornings.) To which I replied: “Define “mornings” please.” And she pshawed me and said “We don’t even open until 11, but we can talk more about that later after the shoot.” ;)

My hubby and I were celebrating the 14th anniversary of our 1st date on Oct 26th, so we booked a hotel room in town for that night and the photo shoot was the next day.  And it was SHOCKINGLY AWESOME.  The other girls there doing my hair and makeup and sharing the photography duties were really nice and made me so comfortable! I realized about halfway through that I felt so at home there that it was weird that I didn't feel weird sitting in my cheetah bra and undies getting my hair and makeup fixed for the next set and chatting about life.

And the pictures turned out great.  They're a little more glam than I'm used to seeing on my face, and they've been tweaked a tiny bit here and there, but I've seen the originals and the tweaks side by side, and it's really nothing significant.  I'm still coming to terms with relating the girl in the pics to the girl in my skin, and there were SOME pics that were just plain awful because that's bound to happen occasionally, but it's been a good process.  Chris was there for the whole thing, and he was also really comfortable.  It's just a great place, and our heads were in the right space, and our motivations were on the same page, and I haven't lost a moment's sleep over it.

It has just occurred to me that I haven't shared the NAME of this great company that I now work for, if you're in the area, stop in, if you're not, check us out online:

Beauty N Kurves Lingerie Boutique and Photography Studio

What has been VERY interesting through this entire process has been other people's reactions to the whole idea.  I hadn't given enough credit to a couple of significant people in my life for being open-minded enough to be accepting. I'm guilty of having a conversation in my head with them before having the actual conversation with them, and I was all worked up over nothing.

Oddly enough, virtual strangers that I talked to about this (generally people involved in my preparation for the big event, like a clerk in Nordstrom's lingerie department and a gal at a spa, and a Nars girl at the mall) were all REALLY EXCITED for me and full of “You GO girl!” positive reinforcement and wanted to be helpful and do whatever it took to help me keep my nerve up while I got through the last weeks before the shoot.

I'm learning that there are some relationships that were headed in a death-spiral direction before all this for a reason and this has helped to crystallize some of that.  There are just some natural consequences of being a judgmental and manipulative bitch in one's relationships, and I'm DONE with more than one.  One of them doesn't even know about the shoot at all, she's just all weirded out because I now work in a “store DOWNTOWN that sells racy underwear and takes DIRTY PICTURES.”  Honestly, I'm not sure if that one is more scandalized by her opinion of the pictures on the website or of the shop's location in Queen Anne, which is apparently the Gateway Neighborhood to the fifth circle of Godlessness.  But she's one of the worst gossips at our church, and it wouldn't be the first time I'd heard my personal business back through her via someone else, so I figured I might as well blog about it, and let the gossips do their thing, because they will anyway.

Here's my bottom line:  God created my body, and He gave it to me to steward.  God created sex, and He created marriage so we could enjoy sex with our bodies without the consequence of sin.  My husband and I participated in an intimate experience that had service people attached to it.  To me, there's no sin in this experience.  The other people in the room were no more invited into my marriage bed than a counselor or a doctor or a therapist would be.  There are two images from this session that are being released, one on the company website which has been cropped so tight that the only people who might recognize me are people who have seen me undressed anyway, and the other is being posted here, has not been retouched, is one of my favorites from the entire shoot, and I’m revealing less than the average bathing suit.  And I've still got dancer's legs for days.  I'd honestly lost sight of that until I saw this picture.

I'm FED UP with the enemy getting all the input into our minds about sex!  He didn't create it.  But it MUST BE an incredibly powerful tool for building God's kingdom through our marriage relationships and their stability for the enemy to spend so much concentrated time and energy trying to fuck it up.  So I am TAKING IT BACK WHERE IT BELONGS.  And I imagine that whoever wrote the Song of Songs was probably tempted to be embarrassed by its being shared with other people due to its incredibly intimate nature, and I'm not pretending that my photo shoot is in any way equivalent to Scripture, but we have GOT to lift the taboo on talking about sex in church.  The only way out of darkness is INTO THE LIGHT.  Sin and sickness and sordid secrets grow in the dark, but they lose all power to harm us when we pull them out into the light.  That's where healing happens.

The jury is still out on the boob job. ;)  I’m probably going to wait now that we're so close to the end of the year and we've just been informed that our insurance plan will be changing Jan 1 regardless due to the Affordable Care Act.  I'm not going to rush to surgery just because I may have to go through another approval process, IF I decide to go through with it right now.  It's major surgery.  And the potential for complications isn't minor, and the effect that any complications might have on my ability to participate in the wedding in August are pretty significant.  So it's a lot to chew on.  But I have more info now than I did before.  I just had NO IDEA how MUCH info I was going to have, and on how many fronts.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Let Your Yes Be Yes!

Even when it SUCKS!

Which, to me, also means let your NO be NO!  (Even when it sucks!)  And when shit happens, and life changes, consider how it's going to affect other people and COMMUNICATE!  I've got room for GRACE, but this is something ELSE.

I have run into this SO much, and it really makes me BANANAS.  Bat-shit crazy in fact, it's actually deal-breaker behavior for me.  "Deal-breaker behavior" means behavior that breaks the social contract where one person treats another with integrity and receives respect.  That's the deal.  Please don't break it.

I would MUCH rather hear something true (even when it's bad news!) than whatever someone thinks I want to hear.  I would rather be disappointed up front than led down the garden path to someplace that looks nice from a distance, and turns out to be VERY UNPLEASANT for everyone.  Even if the unpleasant destination remains the same no matter what, I'd rather be PREPARED for the destination than have to deal with the consequences of being there BY SURPRISE.

For instance... several years ago I attended a Women of Faith Conference, and they were launching the Revolve tour, which is a similar experience to WOF but geared towards the next generation of 12-18 year old girls.  As someone who was plugged into our youth group at the church we were attending (and as the mother of two girls of an appropriate age at the time) I called our youth pastor to see if that was something she would support.  She said it sounded like a great idea, that it coincided beautifully with the weekend they were planning to take the kids on a retreat, and they were already planning to separate the girls from the guys that year anyway, so RUN WITH IT.

So I signed up as a leader, and it seemed reasonable to expect that with 10 months to prepare and a youth group of almost 400 students to draw from, that 40 student passes and 5 leader passes (someone's gotta drive from Seattle to Portland in 15 passenger vans and chaperone!) should be pretty manageable.

At the time I signed up, I was volunteering as a World Vision sponsorship assistant, so I was unable to attend the info session, where I missed the very CRITICAL INFORMATION that the payment for these passes WAS DUE IN 30 DAYS.  So when THAT email came through from WOF, lemmetellya, there was a mad crazy phone call to WOF and our youth pastor to try to get these paid for!

Turned out that WOF had more grace than the pastor did.  The pastor led me down a garden path full of "I'll bring it up at the next staff meeting" and "The council needs to discuss it" until WOF threatened to place it with a COLLECTION AGENCY!  At which point, I got someone in management at WOF involved and they let me out of the ones I couldn't commit to myself, which left us with 2 leader passes and 10 student passes.  Which I paid for myself.

The next thing I know, I'm hearing from my daughters that they would rather go ON RETREAT with "everyone else" for the SAME WEEKEND.  Because this youth pastor has now made other plans!  And has no intention of supporting the trip to Revolve at all.  Yes, REALLY.  I had to take it up the food chain to a senior pastor at this huge church, who basically told me that it was my problem, and he's sorry if there had been any miscommunication, because he'd NEVER HEARD OF IT.  So I guess she'd never brought it up in the staff meeting or to the council or really, probably anyone at all.  And lo and behold, I wound up taking a friend and her daughter, my two girls and one of their friends and the daughter of another friend, and we just ATE 5 passes that never even got used.  And of course, the cost of the rental van (because of course, now the church vans were being used for the RETREAT!) and the cost of the hotel, but they at least let us cancel the block of rooms we had reserved for the large group we were expecting when we made the plan in the first place.

And hey, we had fun.  But I would have had WAY more fun staying home with my hubby and no kids and about $500 in our pocket to play with while they all went on the retreat with all of their friends.  No good deed goes unpunished.

There's currently a situation that has caused some really major life changes for us and has hurt us to the tune of several thousand dollars that is basically the same problem.  Someone wanted to "be nice" so they told us what I'm sure was what they HOPED would be true, or something that they were CONSIDERING, and we acted accordingly, and now that they've changed their minds, the expectation (and all the official paperwork agrees) that we're on the hook.  So we're paying it.  It SUCKS, and if they'd kept their mouths shut, it would have SUCKED even with plan A in place, but now it SUCKS in an URGENT way, because we made other plans based on their expressed change of plan, which has changed YET AGAIN, and they didn't have what it took to start the conversation with us because it was uncomfortable.  So they waited until we asked the "so what about...?" question, and then acted like we were crazy for thinking anything had changed... "it's been the plan all along, right?  We said what?! I don't remember that."  To quote one of our daughters, FUCKAKAKA.

So what is UP with that craziness?!  This is not even remotely isolated incident behavior.  I could whine for PAGES about being told one thing and having someone do another with no consideration for how that change might impact anyone else.  No apologies unless they're the lukewarm "I'm sorry you have a problem with it" variety.