Author Archives: tinamarierees

Are You Cooking?

I don’t know about you, but the shooting at Margaret Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL has been the main topic of conversation between myself and my friends for over a week now. We are horrified that our children are still being mowed down by mentally disturbed gunmen who have obtained their assault rifles legally. We argue between ourselves as to what is the bigger problem: access to assault rifles or untreated mental health issues.

I tend to fall on the side of banning assault rifles. I’m not really that fond of guns in general, and I really don’t like automatic weapons.

However, when I expressed my opinions about guns, my friends who live in disadvantaged communities pulled me aside and asked me if I had any idea what it was like raising children in an environment rife with gun violence, gangs, and drug dealing.  They were adamant that they needed their second amendment rights if they were going to protect their families and keep themselves safe.

I had to be honest with them: I have never experienced challenges like that. I raised my children in a middle-class suburb of a large urban city. I sent my children to schools where the tax base was secure and the somewhat diverse but still largely white populace was unafraid to vote for additional city taxes to fund schools because we all had the income to support the additional taxes.

I had to admit to my friends that I had no idea what it was like to buy a gun out of desperation and fear that my family was in danger. After listening to them detail their struggles, I promised that I would support them by voting for additional funds from the state for police support in their neighborhoods. I also pledged to support additional state funds for their schools because their children deserve an education that is equal in quality to the education my children receive in the suburbs.  Finally, I pledged to support their second amendment rights because no one should have to fear who will come through their front door or their windows while they sleep.

I refuse to let my privilege make me unwilling to see the plight of my urban brothers and sisters who struggle with the drug activity and gang violence that is so common in the poorer urban neighborhoods.

I have to admit, though, that all this has made me wonder what is it that drives my brothers and sisters in rural areas to fear that the government will take their guns. What are they afraid of?  What challenges exist in their communities that make them feel a need to arm themselves to protect their families?

Are they the victims of gang intimidation and gang violence?

Have organized crime syndicates moved into their area, controlling local businesses and harassing local citizens?

Are they experiencing repeated home invasions?

People who live in urban areas are always aware that burglary is a major risk. The black market is alive and well. Stolen goods are an easy source of money for drug addicts and petty criminals.  But those of us who live in cities need to remember that guns are far more lucrative than any electronics or jewelry that can be stolen from our homes.  Stolen TVs only sell for about a quarter of what they are worth brand new, and stolen computer equipment must first be hacked to eliminate password and fingerprint protection before it can be sold, otherwise it is useless.  That just isn’t cost efficient. Jewelry doesn’t pawn for as much as you think it will, either.  Guns, on the other hand, are worth big bucks. The more guns you own, the more attractive your home is for burglars, and of course, burglars are aware that rural homes are far more likely to have guns than urban or suburban homes (that are more likely protected by a security company.)  It turns out that quality firearms sell on the US and Mexican black market for between 150-500% of their retail worth when bought legally.*** The percent of increase in the price reflects how far the gun has to travel before it’s sold. Firearms have a much better rate of return than stolen TVs, computers, and jewelry…so owning these weapons actually increases the chance of a home invasion or a burglary. Obviously, there must be a very good reason for increasing their risk of home invasion or these gun enthusiasts wouldn’t be willing to stockpile such attractive items for theft in their homes, especially since the entire reason for stockpiling weaponry is to protect yourself and your family.  So…

What is the terrifying threat that consumes them?

Invasion by urban liberal snowflakes?

Are farm animals rising up to prevent their wholesale slaughter for food?

Have crops animated and started attacking the farmers?

Are these folks cooking meth? 

Seriously, are they cooking?  Because if they are, let’s be honest: you need major firepower if you are cooking meth. Walter White understood this implicitly. You cannot defend your cooking operation if you don’t have sufficient firepower; other dealers will kill you and take your stockpile of ingredients and steal your customers. You have to have a couple of high powered guns to protect yourself if you are going to cook.

What I’m trying to say here is that I cannot help my rural friends defend their second amendment rights if I don’t know what it is that they are trying to protect themselves from.  I can’t know how to vote and what to vote for if I don’t know what the problem is, and I just can’t seem to perceive the problem, you know?  All I’m doing is trying to help; I’m trying to be sensitive to their needs, trying to be supportive and aware that as a liberal snowflake. I’m trying to remember that I can make a difference if I’ll just use my white privilege and my liberal agenda to protect others.

So tell me, rural brothers and sisters…what is it that you are so afraid of that you need an AR-15 to keep your family safe?

I have to be honest, I’m betting that they need all those guns because they are cooking.




Demented Perfection


That word strikes fear into the heart of anyone who hears it spoken either in reference to themselves or to their loved ones.  Dementia is a strange death sentence in that it steals your life but leaves you alive; you or your loved one becomes a shell of themselves, unable to think clearly, unable to remember their loved ones, unable to be and do the very things that make them who they are.

And yet I wonder…

Does dementia strip us to our very core, eliminating everything but the nut of who we are? Or does dementia choose for us who we will be? Does dementia twist us out of our own personality and being into some caricature of ourselves, leaving our family with someone who looks just like us but acts like a total stranger?

I ask these things because I am losing my father by degrees, even though he still looks the same.

Only 30 days ago I could talk to my father over coffee and know who he was. He would complain about my mom at length, but eventually he would ask me about my daughters and my husband; he would ask me about my counseling practice and my ministry. We could laugh about the past and tell stories about his childhood and mine.  His stroke in 2009 may have stolen some of his ability to speak, but it didn’t steal his ability to communicate his love and who he was. My father still had his sense of humor and his concern for our entire family.

In late January 2018, my father fainted, fell, and broke all the bones in his face. The injury was so severe that it advanced his dementia dramatically; he lost both physical and mental abilities. The ten days he spent in the hospital made it clear that my father was so demented that my mother would never be able to bring him back home. After a short stay in a skilled nursing facility for physical therapy, we placed my father in a memory care center.***

Sadly, ever since about seven days after his hospitalization, my father has had only one thought: my mother, and why she isn’t taking him home. His anger increases by the day and so does his agitation. I tried bringing my two dogs to visit my dad at the memory care center so that he had something else to focus on, but he continued to have a one-track mind. The staff have been unable to derail his thought process; I have been unable to derail his thought process; sadly, my mom’s visits have done nothing but increase his anger and aggressiveness.

To put this in plain language, when my mom shows up he threatens to beat her severely and has even threatened to kill her several times.

The whole thing just might kill me.

I live in fear that one day dementia will take me down this path and I will suddenly become a monster that terrorizes my own family; I fear that my words will become weapons and I will become a burden they ought not to bear, not even for love.

This is why I wonder if dementia decides who we will be, or if we are simply stripped to our core.

If dementia decides for us, there is much to be afraid of but little to do, except try to remain optimally healthy with low cholesterol numbers and CRP (C Reactive Protein) counts. After all, if dementia decides who we will be then we can only hope to avoid dementia and the various diseases that cause it (strokes, other brain injuries, Parkinson’s, etc.)

On the other hand…and of course, this is the option that causes me even more pain…

I am not even going to attempt to understand how this violence and anger can be all that was at my father’s core. It is very painful to think about, and it wouldn’t change anything or make what is happening easier to bear.


If dementia strips us to the very core, to the nut of our personality, then it is time to examine what sits in the center…the sin, self-centeredness, and cruelty that we try to hide from anyone and everyone. No matter how much I love Jesus and how faithfully I serve, I am only human and there is nothing good in the center, if you know what I mean. I am constantly aware of my own failure and the unkind thoughts that rise in me with every demand to serve or to set myself aside. I am painfully aware of who I am, and the sinfulness to undergirds that. Thinking that this is what my family will face if I am stripped to my core by dementia is terrifying! I never want to be that person, not to anyone else and definitely not to the people I love the most.

This is when I become aware of how important it is to consistently submit to Christ and to the work of sanctifying grace.  I find great comfort in the thought that I can let the Holy Spirit and grace so transform me that nothing but grace will be left at the center; that in the absence of any other part of my personality, what will be left is love, kindness, and mercy. Strangely, I find comfort in the idea of sitting in a memory care unit, sweetly thanking my caregivers and my family, even when I no longer know who they are.

I suppose that I should be grateful that I had this realization while I am still relatively young and healthy, while I am still able to allow Jesus to transform me from the inside out. For that, I thank my father, because I might not have realized this otherwise.

Having said that, I am also praying for a strange dichotomy to occur in my mind. I want to consign my father’s behavior to dementia’s choice so that I can keep visiting him and love him despite his behavior and the pain it causes me. I also want to remain thoroughly convinced that I need to be transformed at the very center to avoid my father’s fate, so that I do not give up the quest for sanctifying grace and Christian perfection in this life.  And if my father’s legacy is that he causes me to seek after grace and perfection, that would be a fitting tribute to his life, don’t you think?


***  We were assisted by, an organization that helps families with a variety of housing needs for seniors who cannot live without assistance. They charge no fees to the family and are comprehensive in their services. I cannot recommend them highly enough and encourage you to take the time to acquaint yourself with them. They are sensitive to each family’s needs and do not try to fit every family into the same solution. Their help saved us weeks of trying to find our way to the right memory care facility for my father.


Oh, Poop!

I have a friend who is very near to death, and last night I had the honor of sitting at her bedside while her husband caught some needed shut-eye.  I watched over her, dispensed her medications, and cleaned up her poop.

Yep…I wiped my friend’s rear end.

Why not? I did it with my children, and it wasn’t pleasant to clean their bottoms just because they were my children, believe me.  That was some rank stuff…stinky, sticky, and nasty.  But I love my children, and their childhood needs were okay with me, so I did what it took to take care of them no matter what their needs were or how unpleasant those needs were for me to deal with.

I love my friend, too…and her needs are okay with me, no matter what they are. I am, however, really aware that some people are freaked out by the idea of dealing with another person’s waste.

I understand that feeling. I wouldn’t want to do something that private for just anybody, but I would do it for anybody who really needed it.

I guess I’m just weird.

No, seriously, I’m weird, because lately I have been reading a book called The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters by Rose George.  ***

We are blessed in this country with things that we take for granted—life saving things that have changed our society, like clean water and waste management/sanitation. So often we forget these two things are tied together and that without them both, our children and our elderly stand to die of simple water-born diseases like cholera and dysentery. Diseases like these are quickly fatal and yet easily cured with oral re-hydration salts. In the past, developed nations like the US have compassionately focused on providing inexpensive packets of oral re-hydration salts to countries without adequate sanitation and clean water.  After all, no one should have to die for the want of a small packet of salts that costs mere pennies to provide.

But what is it to save a life, if you do nothing to stop that person from risking their life by taking another drink of water? What is it to save a life, if you leave the person you saved in the same horrific conditions that made them sick in the first place?

“If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food and one of you says to them ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?”  James 2:15-16

That’s a good question, isn’t it?

While I have no hard and fast solutions to offer, The Big Necessity has educated me on the connection between sanitation and clean water, and the following video offers a chance to do something about providing clean water.

Clean water will not solve all the problems of these developing countries, but I cannot continue saying ‘Go in peace, drink your fill of water and be well!’ and do nothing.

Please, watch the following video and join me in trying to make a difference.  If any of you have other charities or organizations that you know are addressing sanitation and clean water, feel free to post links here in the comments. Finally, buy The Big Necessity and educate yourself about the thing that no one likes to talk about.  Flush toilets are not the only answer. If fact, they are not the best answer to our sanitation needs and they are unwisely using our scare water supply, a resource that we can ill afford to waste.

And that, for this week, is the whole poop, so to speak.





It Takes a Village For What?

I remember that when I was a young mother, that I used to look at my mom who seemed to be constantly handling one crisis after another and wonder why she couldn’t seem to get things settled into calmness. My teenage brother was out of control, emotionally and behaviorally. Her mother needed back surgery, but her heart was too weak to allow it. Her father had colon cancer. Her friend was dying of breast cancer. My mother’s overall health was a problem. My dad’s job involved so much overtime that he didn’t have time for doctor appointments, even though the stress of his job was so great that he needed a doctor’s care. My grandmother had to be flown to Mayo Clinic in Rochester so that she could have her back surgery. My grandfather had to be put into hospice. My dad ended up with major medical issues due to stress and overwork. My mom’s health continued to degrade. My brother continued to be a problem at school and at home.

I remember thinking ‘Wow…you can’t get a handle on your life, can you? What exactly is the issue?”

I remember thinking then that I would never be like she was, desperately trying to maintain control of the many things that defied any attempt to bring them under control. I swore to myself that I would not allow myself to fall into that fate.

Would you like to know how I fared in avoiding my mother’s fate?

Let me tell you: I am 53.

My parents are aged.

My children are adults, and not always in my control.

My parents don’t always make the wisest decisions, at least not according to my thinking.

My husband works too many hours trying to take care of everyone he needs to take care of.

I work too many hours trying to take care of everyone that I need to take care of.

My dad has dementia.

My mother is chronically ill.

I am a minister and a licensed mental health counselor. Everyone wants my attention and my time, and I am doling myself out in little pieces to pretty much anyone who asks me for time or attention.

Brace yourself, because here it comes.

I have turned into my mother!!!!!

No woman of my age wants to say those words, not ever. I’m not really sure we want to say that we have turned into our father or our grandmother, either.

In the end, we all wish that we could escape this crazy, drama-laden portion of life known as the SANDWICH GENERATION…and we cannot avoid this mess because there is no way to avoid the middle portion of life and all the implications of aging parents, growing children, and an aging body.

I find myself reaching out for support, sometimes directly to friends on the phone, sometimes via email, and at other times via social media on Facebook.

“Pray for my parents. My father fell and broke all the bones in his face…”

“Pray for my friend’s family. Teri and Andy have three autistic children and Teri is dying of stage 4 breast cancer…”

“Pray for my neighbors Sheri and Mike. They discovered a number of aneurysms in Mike’s major arteries after his TIA earlier today. Never thought I’d praise God for a stroke…”

“Pray for…pray for….pray for…”

Those posts always receive a flood of reactions and comments, each one offering support.  Some people take the time to offer you a prayer right then and there, on Facebook. Others promise personal prayer; still others offer to meet for coffee and give you a chance to unburden your heart.

I feel like a drama queen at moments like these, crying out to those who have ears to “PAY ATTENTION TO MY DISTRESS!”  And good Lord, don’t they listen?  Most of the people you reach towards pay attention to your distress at moments like those usually using 140 characters (or less).  At the very least they press the right version of the ‘Like’ button, and at the very most they comment.

Do you want to hear a funny thing?

It helps.

It really does.

I read those comments and reactions and I don’t feel so alone. Occasionally someone offers their own experience in a comment, reminding me that I am not the only person walking this difficult path. Sometimes close friends express their love in a post, and others call directly, asking how they can help.

I feel like a drama queen when I post, begging for love and attention.

By the time I’m done, I realize that God provides a mountain of people to lean on.

Some of them are virtual, responding only on social media.

Some reach out farther, emailing to ask how they can be most present to your distress.

Others call, giving you a chance to shed a few tears and relieve the stress just a little.

Some offer to accompany you to the hospital, offering support while dealing with the cold hard facts of all that has gone wrong.

And others do all they can to make room for your stress, offering to take on tasks, eliminate your workload, and do any small thing possible just to get something off your plate.

It’s at moments like these that I realize just how wrong Hillary Clinton was when she said “It takes a village to raise a child.”

The truth is that it takes a village to deal with every single stage of life. It takes a village to lean on. It takes a village to handle all the tasks that support a family. It takes a village to hear the pain of a single person. It takes a village to lift up a family in distress and let them know that they are not alone, no matter how bad things get.

It takes a village…no matter what the issue is.

If you ever wanted an answer to the question “Why does it matter if I go to church?” THIS would be it.

It takes a VILLAGE…and often the only village that you live in consistently is the one created by the people sitting in the pew next to you.  All the other villages you take part in are far more transient and disconnected than you realize.

My village is mostly made up of other pastors and other counselors (my two professions) and the few folks I know well in my neighborhood.  In the end, the majority of my ‘village’ is dispersed all over the state (although they are mostly in the East Valley) because I met them through my church.

Thank God for the village that is lifting me up while I make like a drama queen. I know that most of you don’t feel like I’m being a drama queen, but I do…and I love you all the more for not getting tired of my requests for prayer and emotional support.

I love you all and want you to know that my family could not survive without you. You are our hope and our greatest support, and God puts skin on and takes care of us through your hands.

It takes a village…to put skin on just one God and give Him feet and hands to get things done.

Praise God for the village.




Not Sure What I’m Here For

The other day a friend called me a ‘do-gooder’. She was quite angry with me at the time and it seemed that she meant it in a negative way. I can think of a million words far more hurtful for her to say, and while I am grateful that she didn’t use any of those other words, I have to admit that ‘do-gooder’ hurt quite a bit.

I have to laugh when I admit that, because the idea of being called a do-gooder isn’t something I would normally avoid. Honestly, if a non-Christian said that to me I’d actually feel complimented, even if they didn’t mean it that way.

Doing good is what I aim for, you know?

My friend Teri is dying, and it has been a rough time since November.  Every day she is a little closer, and recently her family had to have a hospital bed put in the house, along with her IV pole and pain pump and all the hospital supplies that come with caring for the dying. I have been a small part of that care and have been honored to be allowed to be that close to her family at a time when family is all that matters.

The stress of all of this has had me listening to Christian music; something I don’t normally do on a daily basis.  I’m too busy dancing in my car to ‘Despacito’, trying to remember all the choreography I learned in my Zumba class. I try to get to Zumba once a week so I can get some of these urges out of me. It’s better to act them out on the dance floor than in my car, where the drivers around me fear that I have lost my mind or have some sort of severe movement disorder. Anyway, in times I stress I find myself turning to my Christian music to sustain and strengthen my soul, and Teri’s imminent passing has had me soaking in Christian music for a good week now.

Of course, the Christian music on my iPod is almost all from the time of my call. It was what I was listening to when God was breathing down my neck, trying to get me to let go of the safe path He had placed me on when I graduated college in 1986. Since I wouldn’t listen to God back when He originally called me (I was 17 and didn’t think that a female minister was a thing that existed), God graciously gave me an eleven year-long career in computer programming. It was fun and I Ioved it, but God was only willing to let me hang out there for a while until finally He wouldn’t take NO for an answer anymore.  It was at that point that I found myself listening to Christian music 24/7.

I have spent the last several days wrestling with term ‘do-gooder’. Yes, I truly do want to do good things, but WHY? What am I hoping for?

Of course, I could easily say that I am following where God leads me and that I do it for Christ alone. Man, that would be good press, but it would also be a lie.

When you ‘do good’, you get lots and lots of accolades. People say nice things about you. People think nice things about you. People are glad to see you because they know that you are here to help.  In the end, doing good gets you a reputation, and it’s definitely the kind of reputation that you want. It’s impressive!  The problem is that getting a good reputation is a quick way to inflate your ego and start doing the ‘right’ things for all the ‘wrong’ reasons.  After all, you can’t let people start thinking you don’t care or that you no longer want to help them, right?  Do-gooder to the rescue!!  Stand back, I’m about to do some GOOD!

And therein lies the problem, because it is God’s desire that we ‘do good’ to please God and only God, and not to get a good reputation, or feed our own ego, or to get people to praise us.  Except it is incredibly hard to do ministry without anyone seeing you doing it.  You know, before I became a minister I could be a little more anonymous in my ‘do-gooder’ behaviors. I could do good things for God alone.  Now it is expected that I will do good because the congregation calls me Reverend and all that…and it’s kind of hard to hide your good deeds so that God alone is aware. The praise starts rolling in and your ego starts swelling and all of a sudden you don’t know what your motivation is anymore. Do I do this so that others will appreciate me, or am I doing this so that God can be glorified?  It’s not an easy question to answer.

So there I am, in my car, headed to Teri’s house and my iPod is blasting songs by Sara Groves and Caedmon’s Call and Chris Rice and Third Day and I am feeling it!!  I can’t stop the tears from flowing, and I remember just how I felt when I received my call. I wanted to die to self. I wanted God to absorb me, to obliterate me, so that all that was left of me was my desire to serve Him and please Him and do His will. I was so in love with God at that point in my life, that it was a wonder my husband didn’t accuse me of infidelity. It was an intense experience, and anyone who knew me then would use that exact word to describe me: intense.  Let’s just say that Jesus and I talked often, and God and I were on a first name basis, and I was on board with whatever the Father wanted, no matter what the cost.

The funny thing is that here and now, in 2018, I can get in touch with that desire to die to self and be obliterated by His Spirit…but I can’t really say that’s what I want anymore.  It’s not that I don’t want that, it’s that I don’t want that in the same way. You see, back in 1996 when God was calling me into ministry,  God was calling me away from everything I thought I was going to be, so that I could become exactly what He wanted me to be. I had to let go of my career and my image of myself and my desire to earn the big bucks.  I had to lose the arrogance that had grown in me from realizing that God had given me the big brain, which made me a highly desirable employee/consultant. It was good, being in IT and being really smart. People wanted me to work for them, and I worked for the highest bidder. Life was good and I was good at programming and I knew it…but none of that was what God wanted from me anymore. God wanted me to submit to His will, to go to seminary, to lose my arrogance and my bravado. God wanted me to step out into the unknown and let Him lead me to serve His Kingdom. I had to let go of everything. It was terrifying. I begged God not to take my husband and my children from me. I was terrified of what God might ask of me…pretty much on a daily basis.  This was why I was so intense in my desire to die to self. I wanted God to obliterate my self so that I could be nothing more than His servant and stop desiring to have anything other than what God wanted me to have.

So…think for a moment.  Can you imagine God obliterating you and being glad to do it?

Yeah…me neither.

You see, I have two daughters and their individuality and their personalities are truly precious to me. I would never want them to give that up because it is the most delightful part of God’s creation in them.

Why it never occurred to me that my Father, God Almighty, would never want to obliterate me, I just don’t know. After all, He created me to be ME, to be an awful lot like an extremely faithful squirrel on crack!  And for some reason that I cannot begin to understand, God appears to think that having a squirrel on crack in ministry is a great thing.

Either God has an epic sense of humor, or…

God has an epic sense of humor.

So I sit in my car, driving to and from Teri’s house, doing my best to be present to her and to her family and to provide God’s love and care to them in the most difficult and painful time.  And all the while, God sends me songs from the very beginning of my call into ministry to remind me of my intense desire to serve him, even at the cost of my own self and everything I held dear back then.  He comforts me in my grief and then reminds me that I am doing exactly what He called me to do.  God called me into ministry to be with the suffering and the lost, to bring His love into the darkest places, to remain with those who think they have no value at all so that they can learn just how deeply He adores them and how highly He values them.

I am…I am a do-gooder. Yes, I am! I am not the best do-gooder, or the most graceful do-gooder. I am not the most knowledgeable do-gooder, either. But I do good in the name of Jesus the Christ, who did the most awesome good that could ever be done for all of us.

And that is enough and it pleases the Lord God Almighty.




I Just Couldn’t Tell You

What do you do when you find out that someone you love has done something horrible?

This isn’t a new question. In fact, many people have had to answer this question when a beloved child has committed a crime, or their spouse has done something unforgiveable, or when a close friend or colleague reveals themselves as discriminatory or as a harasser.

It’s one thing to watch all this unfold on the news and weigh in with your opinion, but what do you do when that question stops being rhetorical; what do you do when the question becomes personal?

So far it turns out that my answer is that I struggle with conflicted feelings and pretty much do…nothing.

I wish that I had a better answer than that, but I haven’t been able to move beyond emotional conflict.

Let me explain.

I grew up alternately adoring and being terrified of my father. I don’t think that’s necessarily unusual or novel, because children are so small and Daddies are so tall…no matter how short they are in real life.

I adored my father for his goofy sense of humor and the myriad of silly voices he used to make me laugh. I adored my father because he loved cartoons and would frequently quote from his favorites (of course, doing his best impression of the character’s voice at the same time.) I adored my father because he would cook me waffles or pancakes on Saturday morning so that my mom could sleep in…and so I got him all to myself every Saturday. It was just me, cartoons, breakfast, and my Daddy.


There were anger issues that clouded my joy and gave me a genuine reason to fear my father. He had an abnormally loud voice that he used to great effect when he was angry with me or my brother. He also was quick to strike; far too quick and far too strong for his own good. Nowadays we call that violent, but back then we called it strict. I knew that I had to obey my father because anything less than obedience would be punished, and I greatly feared being punished. Most of the time I ended up grounded or restricted from some privilege, but there were times when my father responded before thinking and used physical punishment.  There were several times in my teen years when I immediately knew that my father was out of control and that he was beyond the border of ‘punishment’ and well into the land of physical abuse. I even reported it to the school, but no one did anything. My mother reminded me that I could be extremely difficult and suggested that I try to see things from my father’s perspective. The school counselor…I can only guess that he thought I was being overly-dramatic, and that anyone with my grades could not possibly be having problems at home.

When I became a parent, I began to understand just how frustrating parenting could be. By that time the strained relationship between my father and I had relaxed into the comfort of adulthood. My father spoke to me with respect and I sought out his and my mother’s advice on just about everything related to parenting.  I still knew that my father had been out of line with my brother and I many times and yet it no longer mattered as much. The only long-lasting effect of my childhood was that I was determined not to allow any abuse in my own household—not from me or anyone else. I still marvel that my husband married me, especially after I told him that if he ever hit me, that he better not go to sleep ever again. I told him that he better not hurt my babies, either, because there would be no escaping my wrath with.

A wiser man might have backed away from me slowly, never to return. Luckily my husband was just a little crazy in love, and so he stayed. I also imagine that he trusted himself; knowing who he was, he didn’t have to worry because he knew that he’d never raise a hand to me or to our children.

In my late 30’s I went to graduate school to study mental health counseling and learned all about Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI.)** My father sustained a TBI in the Navy when a fellow seaman dropped a submarine hatch on my father’s head.  The accident left him with a number of injuries: it ripped off half his ear (that they thankfully reattached) and caused nerve deafness in that ear, and it left him without a memory of my mother and I, despite the fact that we had both been in his life for months and months by the time of his injury. After the amnesia had subsided, the Navy gave my father the choice of continuing in his deployment or taking a medical discharge; my father took an honorable medical discharge so that he could try to rebuild his life with my mother and I. Mostly, that is exactly what he did, except…

Except that TBIs can change your personality, and my father was sporadically violent with his wife and children.

By the time I had completed graduate school for my counseling degree, I understood that my father’s TBI had impacted him negatively. I believed that it had caused him to become violent; he didn’t get to choose the effect that his injury had on him.

I looked back at my childhood—at all that had happened, good and bad—and realized that my father had no choice in how he reacted to stress.  When his stress levels became too high he became violent, and while it broke our hearts, he didn’t have any choice.

Until this Christmas, when he lost his temper.

Holidays are extremely stressful for my parents, and my father’s vascular dementia (born of his TBI and a stroke subsequent to a double bypass operation in 2009) has left him volatile and violent. As usual, prior to a major holiday, my father lost his temper and his control, and my mother was his victim.

“Get him out of here!” she screamed at me on the phone, demanding that I take my father home with me to protect her and to give her a break from being his caregiver. “I can’t force him to leave” I told my mother “and if you want to get away from him, you are welcome to stay the night at my house.”

Until approximately 18 months ago, I believed my father had only been violent with my brother and I.  I found out that my father was violent with my mother in the summer of 2016.  I went on an extended vacation to Europe with my husband and while I was gone my father became so violent that my mother had him arrested for domestic violence. At that point I thought it was an isolated incident born of his vascular dementia.

Over the remaining months of 2016, I learned that my father had been violent with my mother a number of times since his stroke in 2009. Then, in early 2017, I learned that he had been violent for 54 years, ever since his brain injury.

When he lost his temper just before Christmas 2017, I decided to ask for the truth.

I drove to my parent’s house and picked up my mother, who was obviously injured. As I drove her to my home to spend the night, I encouraged her to go to urgent care. “No…they’ll call the police.”

“I know” I said, “but you need to get a record of this.” She refused. She refused medical help and police intervention, whether at her home or mine, whether in her town or mine.

Knowing that I couldn’t get her to report the crime, I decided to ask her to share the truth with me.

“Has he always been this way, or did it start after the Navy dropped a hatch on his head?”

That’s when my mother told me about him grabbing her by the hair because she said the wrong thing while she was pregnant with me; all this happened long before the Navy injured my father’s brain and destroyed the hearing in his left ear.  All this happened long before a submarine hatch changed his ability to control his temper. She told me stories about his volatile behavior when they were dating and shortly after they married.

It had always been this way.  His accident in the Navy had nothing at all to do with his violent behavior.

Anyone who has been to seminary knows what the term “back formation” means.

After Jesus died, the disciples went back into the Old Testament and found many verses that seemed to predict the birth and death of Jesus Christ. Their recognition that these verses predicted the birth and death of Jesus, even though they were previously thought to mean something else entirely, was labeled back formation.  “Back formation” was the disciples looking at the Old Testament scriptures, realizing that these verses had greater meaning after the death of Jesus had made that meaning evident.

I am in the grip of back formation with my own childhood.

Suddenly everything that I remember has a different meaning, a different implication, a different way for me to understand it. Where I had painted all my father’s behaviors in the light of his brain injury, suddenly I have to admit that he has willfully chosen his violence, both before and after the injury, because he willfully chose violence before the injury ever happened. I can no longer excuse my father’s behavior.

The hardest part of this has been to admit to myself that I am that child. I am the child of domestic violence. I lived in the household that was under the sway of the cycle of domestic violence. I am the product of a violent home, and it was not a mistake that no one could control. My mother chose to stay with a violent man, and my father chose to be violent of his own free will.

I am that child, and it breaks my heart because I had freed myself from that burden when I believed that it was all just an injury that no one chose, that no one wanted.

If I am that child, then I have to admit that my mother choose to stay, and my father choose to beat all of us because that’s what he wanted to do.

What do you do when you realize that someone you love has done something truly horrible?

I have struggled with this every since December 20th, and I have discovered that I have no way to resolve the pain I feel with the love that I feel for my father.

My mother couldn’t let herself stay away from my father for long; she headed home only 18 hours after leaving and swearing that she was going to divorce him. I let her go because I could not allow myself to codependently try to control her behavior. As much as I wanted to keep her safe, I had to let her make her own choices.

Shortly after she left, I started myself baking my father’s favorite cookies.  I found that I couldn’t stop myself from baking his favorite cookies and doing things to make him happy, even after I realized that he willfully chose to beat us for over 50 years.

The Christian in me wants to rejoice that love is stronger than sin and violence; that love is greater than disappointment and sorrow. The Christian in me reminds me that this is exactly why God never gets sick and tired of forgiving humanity of all our failures; because love doesn’t count the wrongs, it simply loves.

The child in me just wants to know when I’ll finally be safe and not have to be afraid of what will happen to my Mommy if I’m not watching over her.

I have no way to resolve this, but I am beginning to understand why Camille Cosby hasn’t divorced Bill Cosby, or why Gayle King struggles to understand how Charlie Rose could have done something so despicable when she admires him so much.

I cannot stop loving my father no matter how hard I try, and I don’t think that’s going to change, no matter how appalled I am at the reality that he continues to beat my mother, who I love very much.

I wish love was not so powerful, but I have no way to escape its gravitational pull.

This is why I haven’t been able to write for so many weeks. I could not admit this to myself or to any of you.  Thank you to everyone who supported me in writing these words, knowing how they would reveal my family’s private struggle and pain. Thank you for giving me permission to tell the truth when the truth is so difficult to bear.

Just as love won’t let me abandon my father, love won’t let me abandon the truth, and the love of friends will bear me through the pain of speaking this truth to all of you.

Without love we would all be doomed. With love we will all be in pain and be comforted, all at the same time. It’s a strange, strange conundrum that I am deeply grateful for.

Thank you for letting me speak the truth. I can only pray that it gives someone else the freedom to speak their truth. To that end, pray for all those who live under the shadow of domestic violence, please.  We need your love, your patience, and your help.

Thank you.



A Public Service Announcement

There has been plenty of sexual harassment reported lately, and it has led to a rash of comments by certain men who think that they are under constant threat of being reported for sexual harassment for saying the smallest thing to a woman that she doesn’t like.

I understand this fear and its origin.

If you honestly think that you are in constant danger of being reported for sexual harassment, it’s probably because you are entirely unaware of how to treat other people as human beings. People who violate the boundaries of good behavior with potential sexual partners (male and female, straight and LGBTQIA) tend to violate boundaries with friends, family, and total strangers as well.  In other words, if you don’t know the difference between unwelcome sexual advances and coffee room talk, you probably don’t know the difference between general harassment / bullying and making pleasant conversation with friends and acquaintances.

If you think about it, it makes sense. Think back to the last time you observed someone being inappropriate with a coworker, or with a server in a restaurant, or with another person in a bar/club. Wasn’t the person being inappropriate in general? Wasn’t the person spreading their bad behavior over several people (although they may have put most of their ire onto one person)?  This is because people who choose to be jerks tend to do so with just about everyone, and their friends are the type of people who have a high tolerance for hijinks, rude comments, and generally crappy behavior.

It would be easy to label these kind of folks as “gigantic jackwagons” and just move on. The thing is, folks who violate boundaries need to remain employed to pay their bills. They need jobs and housing and transportation just like the rest of us.  I can’t help but have a little sympathy for their boundary violating little selves and so I thought I would help them out a bit.

Here we go: If you are disgusted with the snowflakes who can’t take one little comment about the size of their butt, this post is for you. If you are all about telling others that you’d like to ‘tap dat ass’, this post is for you. If you have ever taken a picture of your penis and sent it to someone who you aren’t currently dating, this post is for you. If you tend to open mouth, insert foot, and end up sitting in Human Resources for ‘counseling’ about your behavior, this post is for you.

Aren’t you sick and tired of getting in trouble when all you’re trying to do is get your freak on just a little?  Of course you are!

Everyone wants a little love every now and then, and so I’m going to provide you with a few easy guidelines so that you can get all the love you want without getting fired from your next job. (This post assumes you’ve already been fired a few times for previous behaviors.)

A caveat: these guidelines are written for men, but understand, if you are a woman who has boundary issues and tends to behave badly, these guidelines apply to you as well. Just change the words to fit whatever gender and sexual attraction schema is appropriate for you, okay?

Okay! Let’s get started.

The Guidelines in Detail

#1  Keep your genitals covered at all times unless you are in the restroom or in your bedroom at home. You may reveal your genitals when visiting the doctor, but only after the nurse instructs you to remove your clothes, and only if the doctor/nurse actually needs you to reveal your genitals.  If for any reason the doctor actually needs to see your genitals, please do not be waving it around like it’s a conductor’s wand when the doctor enters the room. For God’s sake, read a magazine to pass the time like everyone else.

#2 Do not send pictures of your genitals to anyone who doesn’t directly request that you send them a picture of your genitals. No request…no send.  Better yet, stop taking pictures of your genitals. Normal people don’t do that. If they want to see their genitals to remember what they look like, they go to the restroom, remove their clothing, and look down.

#3  Keep your hands to yourself unless you are tapping someone’s shoulder to get their attention or have first asked permission to hug them. If they grant you permission to hug them, that is the only type of contact that is allowed.  Wrap your arms around their upper back and affectionally and gently squeeze. If your hands are on their breasts, that is not hugging and you need a tutorial on “back versus front.” Do not grab their buttocks because hugs are an upper back kind of thing; not even Nicki Minaj has a butt so large that it reaches her upper back.  Again: hugging is an upper back kind of thing. It is important to remember that your hands are not to grab any part of the person or their clothing, so do not touch their bra straps. Do not unhook their bra. Do not snap their bra. Leave the damn bra alone.

#4  Do not sexually proposition your coworkers unless they have already agreed to go on a date with you.  Asking someone for sex is not the same as asking them out on a date. Dates involve going to dinner or seeing a movie. Do not ask someone if they want to Netflix and Chill unless you are under 23 years old and look like a frat boy.

#5  If you sexually proposition someone on a date and they say NO, that is their final answer, do not ask again. If the person says no to sex but agrees to see you again in the future, you are allowed to ask them for sex the next time you have a date.  Again, if they say NO, that is their final answer and you have to wait until the next date before you can ask again. One date, one sexual proposition, only one answer needed. One…that’s it. If you ask over and over like a little boy pestering his momma, you’ll get about as much sex as a little boy gets from his momma, which is to say: none. Not. One. Drop.

#6 Sex toys are only appropriate as gifts when you are giving them to someone that is currently in a sexual relationship with you.  Do not give sex toys to anyone who is not currently sleeping with you. Do not give sex toys to an ex. Do not give sex toys to a neighbor. Do not give sex toys to your coworker. Do not give sex toys as a means of propositioning someone. Remember: If you are not grown up enough to use your words to ask for sex, no soup for you (so to speak.)

I know that I’ve used a lot of big words in this post, so I’m going to sum up the guidelines in a few easy to remember statements.

The Guidelines (Short Version)

  1. Keep your wiener in your pants.
  2. No really…keep your wiener IN YOUR PANTS.
  3. Keep your hands in your pockets.
  4. When it comes to coworkers and colleagues: Keep your mouth shut.
  5. Take NO for an answer, even if you’re dating her.
  6. If you aren’t in your bedroom, put the sex toy AWAY.

This has a been a public service announcement for morons and cretins. We sincerely hope you get a clue.  SOON.

P.S. If you are going to take care of things yourself, do not involve other people who are unwilling and stay away from potted plants. Harvey, this means YOU.