Tag Archives: parenting

To the GC2019 Delegates who Voted for The Traditionalist Plan

Dear Dad,

We haven’t talked in a while, mostly because our last talk didn’t go very well. It ended with me crying while you were screaming at me, and I thought that maybe things would go better if I wrote you instead of trying to talk face to face.

I know that you are disappointed with the way I live my life and the way that I conduct myself. You raised me to follow the Scriptures as they are written, to add nothing to and take away nothing from God’s commandments like it says in Deuteronomy. You raised me to live in strict adherence to your interpretation of the Word, and I know that you feel that I am not living a life that reflects what I was taught; that my life doesn’t give glory to God because I am disobedient to what you think is God’s word.

I also know that you disapprove of my relationship with Jes, that you think his skin is the wrong color, and that he loves in all the wrong ways, and that he is a hippy-dippy liberal who wants to give away everything to everyone when they should have to work to earn it.

I am writing these things to you, not because I am agreeing with you, but because I want you to know that I have heard your admonishments all these years. I really have listened, Dad. I’ve listened until I can listen no more. I know what you think of me and my life. I know that you think I am a disobedient child that needs to be taken in hand and ‘schooled’ until I behave correctly.

Dad…I am 54 years old.

I am not a child. I am an adult. I pay my own bills and run my own life. I don’t ask for anything from you but love.

Sadly, for all the disapproval and lectures that you seem to be able to give, love doesn’t appear to be on the list of things that you have for me.

Love isn’t another lecture.

Love isn’t telling me just how badly I’ve screwed up my life or yelling at me about my disobedient nature.

Love isn’t telling me that you don’t want to speak to me until I’ve set aside my childish behaviors and started acting like the adult YOU taught me to be.

Finding Jes and falling in love with him was amazing for me. I never felt so alive! It took years of him loving me without judgement for me to realize that he knew I wasn’t perfect, that I wasn’t everything he wanted me to be, but that he loved me anyway. That’s called unconditional love, Dad, and it is life changing!

It took a long time of me being with Jes to understand that you never really loved me, because love doesn’t treat another human like an object to be bent to the owner’s will. Real love doesn’t seek to control and dominate. Love doesn’t oppress and demand obedience. True love invests in relationship knowing that close, loving relationships have influence, and influence brings change without demanding that one person ‘submit’ to the other. True love leaves space for individuality, and for appreciating differences of opinion and choice. True love doesn’t demand conformity, because that isn’t love for another; love that demands conformity is love for self over all others, and Jes says that love like that is diseased and broken. When he says these things to me, I cry, because I want so much more for you and I, Dad. Jes wants more for us too, and that’s why he’s stood by me all these years while I tried to make our relationship better.

Love isn’t me letting you tell me how to live my life, Dad. Real love is a set of choices based in a commitment to the best for another person, even at the cost of self-sacrifice for their good.

When it comes to love, Dad, Jes taught me that the proof is in the pudding. The pudding that Jes has for me is sweet; it feeds my soul and nourishes me in ways that I cannot even describe. The pudding that you have been shoving down my throat for my entire life tastes of domination, dehumanization, and verbal and emotional abuse, and I can’t stomach it anymore.

I’m letting you go, Dad.

This has been a long time coming, and I wish it didn’t have to be this way, but Jes keeps telling me that I deserve better than this.

Jes doesn’t always think I’m right, Dad. Jes has disagreed with my decision to keep in touch with you for a long time—for years in fact—but each time he just tells me what he thinks and then reminds me that no matter what I decide, that he will have my back and be here for me because he loves me.

I don’t remember you ever telling me that you had my back, or that the decision was mine. The only times I remember you saying that you loved me was after you yelled at me for being wrong (again). You would remind me that you only spent time correcting me because you loved me.  I get what you were trying to say, but there is more to love than correction and demands for obedience.

Jes has been telling me for years that your ‘love’ is toxic, and I think he is right.

So I’m done, Dad. I’m done trying to make our relationship work. I’m done trying to please you, to mollify your demands for obedience to your way of thinking and living. I’m done with all of it.

If you ever change your mind and decide that you are willing to accept me as I am, to love me without trying to change me, Jes(us) and I will be right here in Arizona, and you will always be welcome when you are ready to give and receive real love.

I love you, Dad.

Goodbye.

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Baby, It’s BS

The Internet has been blowing up in the last week or so because radio stations are banning the song “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” Apparently, some folks have noticed a few things about the lyrics that they hadn’t noticed before and have decided that the lyrics sound inappropriate.

The internet probably shouldn’t be blowing up over such a small thing, but you know how this goes: someone gets vocal about how inappropriate something seems, and people begin reacting, and then some people start taking action, and then the backlash begins. You get one group of people who get disgusted that everything they used to enjoy is now labeled ‘inappropriate’ or ‘offensive’, so they complain about how sick and tired they are of the whole thing and how political correctness is ruining our country. The other group applies unkind labels to anyone who complains about removing the offensive item, implying that they are insensitive and unwilling to come out of the stone age and fully respect others.

To be honest, each side has a point, but for a moment I’d like to set all that aside and discuss the issue at hand.

For instance, what do you know about the song “Baby It’s Cold Outside”?

The song is a duet, sung by a man and a woman. The song was written in 1944 by Frank Loesser for his wife Lynn Garland; Loesser write the song intending that they would sing it at holiday parties they attended.  The Wikipedia entry for this song states:

The lyrics in this duet are designed to be heard as a conversation between two people, identified as “Mouse” (usually female) and “Wolf” (usually male) on the printed score; they are at the wolf’s home and the mouse decides it is time to go home, but the wolf flirtatiously invites the mouse to stay as it is late and “it’s cold outside.” The mouse states that he/she has enjoyed the time and agrees at one point to another drink, but the mouse also says “I ought to say no, no, no, sir” and tries to return home, worried what family and neighbors will think. Every line in the song features a statement from the mouse followed by a response from the wolf, which is musically known as a call and response song.

I find it fascinating that Mr. Loesser wrote a song for he and his wife to sing and yet he openly identifies the characters in the song as “Wolf” and “Mouse”.  I find that very telling, and also a reflection of American culture in 1944, a time when women were expected to be chaste and coquettish when it came to the issue of sex, and men to expected to pursue and win a woman’s affections, and to consider their female companion as their ‘conquest’. The whole things smacks of women as an object, and I understand how feminists of all genders see the reflection of this attitude in the lyrics of the song and find the whole thing a bit disturbing.

Of course, you should judge things for yourself, so I thought I should include the lyrics of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” (the ‘Wolf’s’ lyrics are in italics)

I really can’t stay – Baby it’s cold outside
I’ve got to go away – Baby it’s cold outside
This evening has been – Been hoping that you’d drop in
So very nice – I’ll hold your hands, they’re just like ice

My mother will start to worry – Beautiful, what’s your hurry?
Father will be pacing the floor – Listen to the fireplace roar
So really I’d better scurry – Beautiful, please don’t hurry
Maybe just a half a drink more – Put some records on while I pour

The neighbors might think – Baby, it’s bad out there
Say, what’s in this drink? – No cabs to be had out there
I wish I knew how – Your eyes are like starlight now
To break this spell – I’ll take your hat, your hair looks swell

I ought to say no, no, no – Mind if I move in closer?
At least I’m gonna say that I tried – What’s the sense in hurting my pride?
I really can’t stay – Baby don’t hold out
Ah, but it’s cold outside

I’ve got to get home – Oh, baby, you’ll freeze out there
Say, lend me your coat – It’s up to your knees out there
You’ve really been grand – Thrill when you touch my hand
Why don’t you see – How can you do this thing to me?

There’s bound to be talk tomorrow – Think of my life long sorrow
At least there will be plenty implied – If you caught pneumonia and died
I really can’t stay – Get over that hold out
Ah, but it’s cold outside
Oh, baby, it’s cold outside
Oh, baby, it’s cold outside   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baby,_It%27s_Cold_Outside

At first read, you can see what people are upset about, especially with lines like “Say, what’s in this drink?”

And I think that’s what the folks who complain about political correctness just don’t get. You can’t look at these lyrics in light of Bill Cosby’s actions and the number of sexual harassment and assault scandals in the last two or three years and not feel just a little disturbed with lyrics that suggest that a woman’s decision to say ‘no’ injures a man’s pride, or that perhaps the drink has a little more than liquor in it.

Too many women have been experienced unwelcome advances, extreme pressure to be sexual, and outright coercion to have sex when they don’t really want to, and lyrics like these start feeling a bit ‘rape-ish’ when you view them through that lens.

The problem is that we cannot evaluate art created decades and decades ago through the lens of where society is now. It is very unwise and unhealthy to declare huge chunks of old American culture and art “inappropriate” just because they don’t meet current standards of behavior, speech, and thought.  And no, I’m not campaigning for free speech at the cost of human decency and respect; there is no tiki torch in my hand as I write this.

Let me make myself clear: I have no problem respecting our diverse and multi-cultural society. Using preferred pronouns when interacting with people who identify as a gender other than the one immediately obvious is a matter of respect. Calling others by their names and not by nicknames like “Sweetie” or “Honey” avoids diminishing their personhood and is a matter of respect. Acknowledging cultural differences and encouraging others to express their diversity without fear is not only a matter of respect and human decency, it is a tacit acknowledgement that every culture, race, and ethnicity has an innate value that should be treasured and protected.

My issue is that censoring art quickly leads to censorship of other kinds.

What makes me think that? Because editing history (including historic art) and declaring it ‘inappropriate’ or ‘undesirable’ is how politicians and the dominant culture have historically erased other cultures, ideas, and modes of expression, that’s why.

Take a look at the history of any country that has come under the rule of a dictator and you will discover that along with suppressing free speech, they also chose to redact and suppress art. Suddenly, historic cultural icons and artists fell out of favor and their art was exempted from what was labeled ‘acceptable’. Redacting the past is an effective way of controlling the narrative in the now.  Erasing history is a fantastic way of convincing people that there never has been any other way to think or to be than what the people in power tell you think and be now.

When my eldest daughter was getting her Bachelor’s degree in graphic design, her history classes examined the systematic oppression of art by political leaders as a means of controlling the current narrative of their people. It made total sense to me…and I refuse to contribute to that kind of oppression, even in small ways by taking a Christmas song off the airways.

We can choose to respect and honor others without erasing any history that makes it clear that we weren’t always this honorable and respectful. We can let the history of our nation’s struggles to embrace diversity of race, gender, and sexual expression be visible without continuing to oppress whole groups of people in the name of comfort and conformity.

So play the song if it makes you happy…and if it feels icky and rapey to you, turn it off. And don’t demand that everyone else in the world do what you choose to do…instead, explain your choice so that we can understand and respect you a little more. And if your child hears the song and is disturbed by its lyrics (or you simply hate the idea that your child is listening to it), let it be a teaching moment; educate them about the devaluation of women in our society as well as women’s quest for equality.

And while we’re at it, may your holiday season be blessed with family, friends, joy, and the warmth of knowing that you are loved.

How Dare You?

Every now and then, middle-class white privilege comes flying across the room and smacks me in the face, stunning me with it’s overwhelming contradictions and ignorance. Good old Dr. Phil delivered one of those slaps to me earlier this week. It was, in a single word, infuriating.

Forget for the moment the actual people involved in the show, because their stories are always so much more complicated and nuanced than what is presented in the 45 minutes of the show that their issues occupy. In the end their actual problems are scrubbed, simplified, and then painted into tropes of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, or ‘victim’ and ‘bad guy’ so that the audience can boo and catcall at all the right moments.

Can you tell that I am not a fan of Dr. Phil’s?

Anyway…the show I happened upon featured two older parents who were frantic because their unstable daughter was living on the streets with their two year-old granddaughter. Their daughter, who had a history of substance abuse, financial instability, and relationships with violent men had proven herself to be a frequent liar, which led her parents to distrust anything and everything she told them about how she was providing for their grandchild. The thrust of the show was whether or not the parents should report their daughter to CPS for her inability to care for their grandchild, as evidenced by her homelessness.

When Dr. Phil finally allowed their daughter to speak (shriek and whine, actually) on her own behalf, he questioned who was caring for her toddler while she worked as a stripper. His disdain for her choice of employment was evident in his tone. When she stated that her daughter was in a licensed daycare, Dr. Phil responded “At 10pm at night? You have your daughter at a daycare at 10pm at night?”  It was obvious that he did not believe this possible.

How does this whole episode smack of middle-class white privilege?

Let me count the ways.

  1. Being homeless is not a crime, and being homeless with children does not make you an unfit parent.

We have to stop criminalizing poverty! Not making enough money to have secure housing does not mean that you are a negligent and abusive parent, in the same way that providing a nicely appointed home in a nicely groomed neighborhood does not prevent child neglect, domestic violence, or child abuse.  While economic instability does increase parental stress levels, there is not a one-to-one relationship between poverty, homelessness, and child neglect/abuse. The idea that the parents should call CPS on their daughter just because she is homeless is evidence of the myriad ways that we pathologize poverty in this country.  We consider the impoverished and especially the homeless to be persons of low character who have failed to successfully become adults, who are incapable of achieving stability without permanent outside assistance, and who obviously have no interest in creating stability for themselves or their family.  This is an absolute lie. While I concede that there is an underclass of persons who are chronically homeless (usually due to mental illness and extreme substance abuse), chronic homelessness is a rare situation.  The truth is that the majority of homeless people are only temporarily homeless due to unexpected financial challenges. Assistance focused on giving the homeless a chance to re-establish financial stability, improve personal health (often the loss of health becomes the impetus for becoming homeless), and increase skill levels (for more lucrative and stable employment) is the key to long term stability for the entire family.

  1. We cannot continue to denigrate sex workers.

Conservatives love to complain about unemployed single mothers and the public “handouts” they receive…and yet when that same young mother gets a job as a sex worker (stripper, prostitute, webcam girl, etc) she is labeled a ‘fallen woman’ and considered to be woman of low moral quality and a bad mother.

Let me get this straight: if she can’t provide for her child, she’s a bad mom, and when provides for her child in a job that you disapprove of, she’s a bad mom.  You’ve got these women in a very tight bind.  A single mother who doesn’t have significant job skills often finds that the best paying job is in the sex industry.  That same mother often finds that the job that affords her the most time to be present to her children (while they are awake) is in the sex industry.  Jobs in the sex industry often pay far better than unskilled “respectable jobs” like grocery cashier or medical assistant. I once listened to the complaints of a young mother of two whose divorce left her working 12-hour days as a dental assistant just so that she could earn enough money to put a roof over her children’s heads. By the time she got home at 6:30pm, her children would only be awake another hour or two before she had to put them to bed. She realized that returning to her job as a stripper (her job prior to her marriage) would earn her more money while allowing her to be home during the day when her children were awake (thus saving daycare costs). She paid someone to bathe her children and put them to bed and then sleep in the house while she worked from 8pm until 2am.  The money she was able to earn was sufficient to pay for her evening childcare, pay off her student loans, and provide for her monthly bills while affording her an entire day to be at home with her children.  How amazing that the stripper would have more time to be a good mom than the dental assistant that she used to be!  Stop calling sex workers immoral and recognize that good single mothers will do almost anything—including sacrificing their self-esteem and even their bodily safety—to provide for their babies and this is virtue, not a moral failure. Shame on you for thinking otherwise!  And no, I do not believe that compromising your morals or bodily safety is preferable to getting more skills, but getting skills costs money and takes time…something single parents rarely have in abundance.  And by the way…single fathers struggle just as much as single moms, but often find that a job that risks their physical safety (i.e. traffic construction, high tension wire maintenance, etc) pays best…so they risk their physical integrity for their children as well, but at least the jobs they choose are respectable. Add ‘male’ to the list of privileges that slapped me in the face.

  1. Why does Dr. Phil not know that there are licensed daycares open 24/7?

Stop for a minute and think about all the places that are open 24 hours a day.  Local pharmacies. Gas stations. Certain grocery stores. Police stations. Fire Departments. Every. Single. Hospital. Who do you think is staffing those places? Do you honestly think that every single parent working in those establishments has a parent/partner/friend who can care for their children while they work? What drugs are you ON?

Seriously, people, it stuns me that educated middle-class white Americans like Dr. Phil do not realize that it is normal to have certain licensed daycares be open 24 hours a day to provide for the single mothers and fathers who work the night shift so that they can benefit from the pay differential that you get when you work late night shifts. The tone of disbelief in Dr. Phil’s voice when he asked “10pm? You have your kids in daycare at 10pm?” was stunning to me. It illustrated a level of disconnect from the experience of persons who are not affluent, well educated, married, and WHITE that defies reason. Good Lord, how disconnected are we from the rest of the world when we conveniently forget that Emergency Rooms are fully staffed and open all night and that the people who work there have children, too.

This is what I mean when I say that middle-class, white privilege punched me in the face. I was horrified, not just at how Dr. Phil was treating the young woman he was addressing (because that was disturbing as well) but at the implications his words had to millions of other young parents struggling to care for their children. His caustic tone and thoughtless words condemned hundreds of thousands of women and men who choose to be sex workers so that they can provide for their children; condemned hundreds of thousands of men and women who work all night while their children sleep in day care centers just so that they can get the pay differential to afford fees for the Pop Warner football league and the gymnastics program their children desire; condemned the tens of thousands of homeless parents who struggle to keep their children safe and to provide food and clothing when housing is beyond their reach. **

It would be great if we could all live in an optimal environment, and no one is doubting that truth. It would also be great if we could stop condemning and pathologizing the folks struggling at the fringes; the folks living in the margins who are doing their best to survive every day. Let’s not make their burden any harder than it already is by heaping our scorn and disdain onto them. In fact…how about we do the opposite and offer them a hand? Not a hand-out, but just a hand…a hand of friendship, acceptance, and comaraderie so that they know that we see them and that we are willing to listen. After we’ve done that, and only after we’ve done that, can be begin to know what they really need and how best to help them find that optimal life, the optimal life that we so value. To do anything less is hypocrisy and disdain for the God that created us all.

 

 

** On a single night in January 2017:

An estimated 184,661 people in families — or 57,971 family households — were identified as homeless.

Almost 17,000 (16,938) people in families were living on the street, in a car, or in another place not meant for human habitation.

Over the course of 2016, roughly half a million people in families stayed at a homeless shelter or transitional housing program — 292,166 were children, and 144,991 were under the age of six.

Source: National Alliance to End Homelessness  https://endhomelessness.org/homelessness-in-america/who-experiences-homelessness/children-and-families/

 

The Full Catastrophe

It’s family disaster week.

Actually, there is nothing “family disaster” in what I’m about to say; in fact, what I’m about to say probably reflects the same family life most people have in their fifties. Some days are good, some days are bad, some days are both good and bad, and some days feel like Murphy moved into your house, took over your bank account, and decided that he personally has a vendetta against you.

I hate that Murphy guy.

This will serve as your one and only trigger warning: if you are already overloaded with family drama, I’ll see you next week. Otherwise feel free to read on.

So…the mom brag moment!

My oldest daughter called me and told me that wonderful things are happening at her job. Since she hasn’t told the world yet I won’t give you details, but let’s just say that the money is getting significantly better, she’s about to become very happy with her job and her commute, and she hasn’t felt this valuable to a company in a really long time.

It was so surprising that she was a little stunned and overwhelmed, but I’m here to tell you that she totally and absolutely deserves all of it.  Yes I’m her mom but dang that girl is bright and capable!

To put the icing on that cupcake, she told me that her partner (who is a professional photographer who does mostly BMX races) has been marketing himself a great deal in San Francisco because she travels there twice a month for work…so why not fly there together, you know? Well, after showing his work around town he got hired for a 3 day commercial shoot for a major fashion designer!!  Seriously, when I heard this I squealed out loud and he’s not even my kid.  Again…they haven’t told everyone yet and so I am keeping some details under my hat, but OMG a major (MAJOR) fashion designer!

After our phone call was over I was so excited that I danced all around my house as I got ready for my Zumba class, where I danced rather exuberantly and with great joy.  I had to let the energy out somewhere!

It has been a good couple of weeks for my girls. My youngest passed her certification exam and now is a certified Pharmacy Tech (hello, big raise!) and my son-in-law got a great job at an airport with benefits and everything.  Considering that he is thinking of going into aircraft maintenance, this is a good job to have.

Some days are good. Some weeks are good.

And then…

I have written previous posts about the challenges of aging and how important it is admit and accept that you are going to require someone else to take care of you. I have written about the importance of working through the emotions of becoming more and more disabled before you come to that point, and understanding that aging doesn’t have to be about loss.

Yeah, my parents don’t read this blog.

My dad is 76 years old and has dementia; my mom is 70 years old and chronically ill.  Both of them are slowly losing their ability to be independent, although neither of them wants to admit it.

My dad is unwilling to admit that his dementia has reduced him to the point where he cannot live independently and needs a caregiver. My mom has been filling the caregiver role for eight years, with increasingly less and less physical ability to do so, and more and more emotional and mental stress related to my dad’s decline.

I feel like we are at the breaking point.

I talk to my dad and he unloads about his frustration and overwhelming confusion in combination with his anger with my mom.  You see, he still believes that he is capable of independence, and he keeps trying to live his life the way that he used to. He thinks that it’s my mom’s anxiety that causes her to stop him from doing maintenance around the house or driving. Sadly, my dad’s dementia has made it impossible for him to evaluate his own functioning, or lack of it. And he does keep trying to function, despite the fact that the results are consistently bad.  Over and over he’ll try to “be of use” and do the things he used to do around the house, but since he no longer remembers details or how things function he ends up breaking or destroying clothes, appliances, fixtures, you name it. He has lost or destroyed so many things that my mom is at her wits end, so she tries to stop him or she ends up criticizing him because he is doing it wrong and refusing to receive instructions on how to do it right. This causes him to become belligerent and angry and then he becomes aggressive and things just keep escalating until there is a huge confrontation.

That’s when I get frantic, emotional phone calls from my mom telling me just how bad it is, how agitated and aggressive my father is becoming, how exhausted and overwhelmed she is…and I gather resources and try to offer help to her…which she refuses most of the time.  Recently she revealed to me just how aggressive my father becomes when he gets agitated, and the last time I was at their home she had me take pictures of the bruises. It broke my heart to think that my father has become that guy and that my mother feels trapped in the situation.

Disaster.

Believe me, I have tried all sorts of things, and I have gathered all sorts of resources including an elder law attorney. Nothing is getting either of them to realize how explosive this situation is becoming.

I was up until almost 2am last night running it over and over in my mind, furious with both of them for the choices they have made and are making. I have a huge list of fears, with each one more terrifying than the other until the final one involves such a horrible occurrence that I would lose both my parents at once: one to death, and the other to the criminal justice system.

All morning I have been trying to interject more logic and less fear and anger into the discourse in my head, and I have realized that no matter how much I want to, I cannot make their choices for them. As much as I love and want to protect them, every attempt to help them make a decision that would admit that they need help because of their increasing debility seems to create a backlash of resistance and petulance out of my dad, which only serves to increase my mother’s anger with him.  I don’t want my desire to “fix things” to become the reason they end up in the next screaming, violent confrontation.

I fear that the best course of action is to sit back and let their choices drive what comes next and hope that none of my fears comes true. But I’m telling you, I’m going to get a hold of that elder law attorney and get papers that would allow me to file for conservatorship and get them filled out in advance. I’m also going to ask her for a referral to an attorney that deals with criminal charges against compromised adults. I can’t save them from themselves, but I can arm myself with information, prepared paperwork, and referrals.

And then I am going to sit back, close my eyes and meditate on raises, promotions, new jobs, photo shoots, and the incredible joy I feel when I think of what amazing women my daughters have become and what amazing men they have chosen as their partners.

In the movie Zorba the Greek, one of the characters gets asked if he is married and he says “I have a wife, children, house, everything…the full catastrophe.”

Life is a catastrophe, indeed. A wonderful, excruciatingly painful and beautiful catastrophe. I would complain, but then I think of Jesus’ life and all that He went through and I realize that even my Savior lived the full catastrophe, even if he never had a house and may not have had a wife and children.  It turns out that this is the nature of incarnate life, and I don’t know that I would honestly want it to be any other way.

 

In the beginning was the Word…

The last few weeks I have been working with a woman who is struggling with chronic and complex PTSD.

To put that in laymen’s terms, my client experienced a boatload of trauma, starting when she was just a child and ending only recently when she kicked out her latest abusive partner.  The litany of abuse is unbelievably long, including emotional, physical, and sexual abuse when she was a child, abandonment by her parents, and domestic violence with her romantic partners as an adult.

You might imagine that it is difficult listening to someone graphically describe the violence they have lived through, and you would be right. Sometimes I get a little sick to my stomach because the violence is so extreme; it stuns me to realize just how much violence can be done to a human being without killing them.  It’s even worse when the violence happened to my client when they were a child because of how helpless they were to escape their abuser and how reliant they were on their abuser for their daily needs.

And of course, my clients cry when they talk about the abuse. They weep, hug themselves, and rock back and forth, trying to comfort the invisible child within that just cannot stop screaming in anguish.

For all the pain that the violence causes, the violence is far easier to fix than the verbal abuse. Punches, kicks, and belts will never have anything on the spoken word when it comes to inflicting damage.

I know that you’ve heard that stupid childhood meme “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me!”

What a load of crap!!

As a therapist I have tools to tear away the memories of physical and sexual violence; I have special techniques that help the brain reprocess and ‘de-fang’ disturbing and painful memories of violence and terror.  Don’t get me wrong: it’s not like I have a magic wand that I wave at my client that makes the bad memories fade away.  On the other hand, the methods currently used for treating trauma are effective and there are enough different methods to be able to find at least one that works well for the client’s specific needs.  If we work hard and the client is brave, we can usually eliminate most, if not all, of the symptoms of PTSD and free them the abuse of their past.

What is much harder is freeing them from the voices inside their head that repeat demeaning, hateful words that were spoken by their abuser in anger and disdain.  I cannot silence the demanding father that could never be pleased, no matter how high the grade or how many goals you made once he takes up residence in my client’s mind. I cannot pry off the negative label when my client’s mother labeled her a whore when she finally told her mom about the years of sexual abuse by her stepfather.  I cannot stop the horrifying, negative, self-abusive messages that play in my client’s head as their mind repeats endlessly the abusive words spoken to them every time they made a mistake or angered their parents. I cannot re-establish my client’s confidence after years of being told by their partner that they are the entire reason the marriage is miserable, and that they perceive everything incorrectly and do everything wrong.

Why am I telling you this?

Because we carry deadly weapons in our mouths: weapons that we can quickly deploy that produce deadly results without leaving any bodies behind as evidence.

Words are weapons, and our weapons are far more fatal than we like to realize.

It is so easy to succumb to irritation and strike out at our children or our spouse or our coworkers. It is so easy to blame our constant, low-lying agitation on the demands of our jobs and daily life. And it is so easy to forgive ourselves for the many ‘minor’ moments when we let our tone and our message get sharp and jagged, when we say a host of the wrong words. It is so much easier to ask forgiveness for our ‘momentary’ lapse of kindness than to actually try to control our tongue.

Have you ever tried to control your tongue?

It didn’t work for me either.

It won’t ever work.

It doesn’t work because it isn’t our tongue that we need to control.  It’s our mind. Our tongue has no will of its own. It can only repeat the words that play silently in our minds, waiting for our anger to give them greater purchase so they can be spoken out loud.

And why? Why would we house weapons in our minds, letting them silently fill our heads with words that can only do damage?

It’s because my clients aren’t the only ones who have been tortured with venomous words.

It’s you, too. It’s me.  I’m afraid that no one escapes unscathed.

Every single one of us, in some way, have been stabbed and beaten and shot with words that tore us apart.  Maybe our parents spoke them, or maybe it was a schoolyard bully. For some of us it was our partner that spoke the words that ripped us apart. The problem is that the damage never stops with us. As long as we let these wounds remain unhealed, they bleed sick, self-punishing thoughts that wound us even more until finally the words demand release and they turn their venom outward, begging to pour out of our mouth so they can go on damaging other people.

So now what? What do we do?

First, if you find your mind full of self-critical thoughts that tear up your self-esteem, it is important that you seek counseling. I know it sounds like your own voice in your own head saying those things, but those words didn’t come from you, and they don’t belong in your head. More importantly, if words are weapons, essentially you are beating and abusing and terrorizing yourself…and if you did that to anyone else you’d be arrested!  Believe it or not, you can spit those words out of your mind and never have to hear them again. If the counselor you find doesn’t help you, get a hold of me and I’ll share a few techniques that will help you evict the cruel inner critic in your mind.  Remember, those hateful words in your head have a habit of leaking out of your mouth and attacking others. If you want to tame your tongue, tame your inner critic.  Trust me, it works much better than you think. Also, it’s much nicer living inside your head when there isn’t any voice in there destroying your self-esteem and your confidence. Az-plc.com

Second, remember that your words have great power: power to wound, power to bind, power to heal, and power to set free. Lest you think this is a bunch of new age hokum, let me remind you that John 1 begins with the sentence In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  If everything that exists began with the Word and if the Word is God, then our words, spoken by someone who is made in the image of God, are no small thing!  God spoke the entire universe into existence; likewise when we speak we create. Do our words create love? Do they create wounds? Do they seek to carry God’s grace, or do they convey judgement and condemnation?

What you live inside your head becomes the reality you create around you. Please…let your life (and that of those you love) become a garden of life and love, not a pit of despair.

Have a blessed week! I’m on hiatus for the next week, and when I come back I hope to have all sorts of tales of new adventures.

Blessings!

 

I Promise

For all the parents out there…hang in there. It gets better. I promise.

Parenting is a thankless job that requires you to act wisely and lovingly even when you don’t feel very wise and you’re starting to wonder why you chose to breed at all.

Parenting requires you to do the right thing no matter how inconvenient, exhausting, or expensive doing the right thing is going to be.

Parenting requires you to hold firm to boundaries and rules even as your children scream that you are ruining their life.

And of course, you are ruining their life…at least the life they think they should have.

The problem with parenting is that there is nothing to give you that smug sense of assurance that you have made the right choices, held firm at the right times, and bent the rules in the right ways. There is no way to be sure that the parenting choices you have made will lead to a happy, healthy child.

In so many ways, parenting is a crapshoot.

Maybe you throw a 7, and maybe you crap out. ***

And the big fear that hangs over every parent is that your child will grow up, look back at their childhood, and declare you a bad parent.  The fear is that they’ll remember the discipline and not the lessons, the punishments and not the good times, the fights and not the nights spent at their bedside when they were sick.

Hang in there, parents.  It gets better. I promise.

Today my oldest daughter called me to thank me, saying that she had recently read that children gain confidence in themselves from their interactions with their parents.  She wanted to let me know how much she appreciated her father and I and how much time and attention we gave her.

I want to make this clear: I was not a stay-at-home mom, and her father wasn’t a stay-at-home dad.

We both worked full time.

Then Phil started graduate school just before I got my call into ministry. I quit my job and went to seminary full-time while Phil worked full time and attended one class per semester at ASU in pursuit of a Master’s in Computer Science Engineering.

Five years later, we graduated within 7 days of each other, having done a ton of creative things to get through the grueling 5 years it took for both of us to graduate.

My seminary was in California, so I had fly to school every week. I was gone for two days each week while Phil had to do everything and I do mean everything: he had to deal with both kids, his job, and all of his homework. It damn near killed him and there were many semesters when he was so busy that he felt exhausted and on the edge of tears almost every day.

And the kids?  They don’t remember how tired and emotional their father was. They remember that when I was gone at school, their father would pick them up from aftercare program and take them straight to the library where they would return last week’s books, pick out new books, and then listen as their father read to them for a good hour. Then they would go the park next to the library and play on the playground, where Phil would morph into the Tickle Monster. He would chase the girls and they would run (and scream…you can be certain that they screamed enough to drive a grown man crazy) until they were tired and hungry. Then he’d take them to Taco Bell for tacos or burritos and then home for a bath, more reading, and bedtime.

Trendy parents might scoff at the quality of the food he fed them for dinner, or the repetitiousness of the playtime. Other parents might complain that dad seemed more like a babysitter doing the “good time” stuff while mom got the laundry, cleaning, and grocery shopping.

What my daughter told me was that while I was away, she and her sister soaked in their father’s undivided attention and adoration.  They became dyed in the wool “Daddy’s girls”…and both of them still idolize their father to the point that I actually apologized to my son-in-law when he married my daughter.  That might explain why he almost immediately moved her to Oregon. Hmmm…

ANYWAY…

You might wonder if my relationship with my daughters is tense and distant considering that I’m the one that kept leaving the state to go to school.

Nope.

In fact, I am very close with both my girls.

My oldest daughter said that she remembers spending summer breaks with me. I took her and her sister to swim team and dive team every day and then we’d rush home to watch I Love Lucy while we ate our lunches.  They’d spend their afternoons playing inside while I did laundry and cleaned house in between spates of doing homework.  When I had free time, we would make homemade jam or bake brownies together. Basically, I made food while they made a mess and then I got to clean it up.  My daughter said she could not imagine how I didn’t go crazy sitting there for hours in the heat and humidity (hello indoor pool) waiting for them, while they got to swim and dive and have fun.  Then she spent twenty minutes going on and on about how much fun it was when we would buy bagels from Einstein’s, and then go home and make homemade veggie cream cheese.

Listen parents: what I’m trying to tell you is that you are harder on yourself than your children will be when they look back. They won’t remember how crazy busy you were, not if you took a minute or two to braid a friendship bracelet with them, or to be the Swim Mom, or to be the library Dad. They will remember the times you danced in the Walmart aisles because a good song was playing, or the times you played nail salon, or the times you watched their favorite movie again and again.

You don’t have to be a perfect parent.

You don’t have to give them everything they want.

You don’t have to let them break the rules and get away with murder.

All you have to do is…

Be yourself.

My husband and I didn’t do these things because we are such spectacular parents. We did what we did because it made it easier for us in the midst of a very difficult time of our lives. It’s what helped us smile even as we were crushed under the load of work, kids, housework and homework.

Hang in there, parents! I have good news!

You are enough after all, and the likelihood is that your kids will one day tell you so, right to your face.

Hang in there. The good stuff is coming, I promise.

 

*** In case you’ve never heard of Craps    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Craps#Rules_of_play

Presents and Nests

It’s been a weird year for me.

My youngest daughter got married just a few weeks ago…November 17th.  She got married on a Thursday because apparently, you can save thousands of dollars if you get married on a day when no one else wants to get married.  So my baby girl decided to want to get married on a Thursday, and I think she’s a smart girl. I’m pretty fond of her new husband, too.  He’s a good guy—he just wants to change my youngest daughter’s last name…and her address, because come this January he wants to move her to Oregon.  And that’s kind of freaking me out.

My oldest daughter moved to Colorado only 8 days after the wedding, which was the day after Thanksgiving, if you’re counting.  Wow.  She moved, like, 850 miles away. Which I really shouldn’t complain about, because when I moved away from home, well, first I moved 348 miles away, and then after I married my husband I moved about 1,747 miles away from home.

I suppose that I really have nothing to complain about.

The thing is that…I feel…so…

LONELY.

I went into Target the other day and I saw all the Christmas stuff.  Dear God, I love Christmas!  At least I used to. And then I looked at all those decorations and the lights and the ornaments and the gift wrap and the baking supplies and I thought…

There is no one left at home to pamper!  No one left at home to bake for!

There is no one left to pamper!

My little girls have all grown up and they are moving away!  My whole world has been reduced down to me and my husband and two Shih Tzus. That’s it. There is no one left to bake for, no one left to buy stuff for, there is no one left to decorate the house for.

I have discovered…the EMPTY NEST.

I thought the empty nest would happen when my daughters stopped living at home, but it didn’t, not really. Alex moved out 5 ½ years ago, and then Katie moved out three years ago.  I freaked out a little wondering if they were safe or if they were well fed, but in general I was fine.  I thought I had this empty nest thing mastered, and then…

They got married and moved away and I’m dang near dying of the pain of it all.

Who exactly am I here to take care of?

I mean, I have a husband and all, but realistically?  How much care does he need at 54 years old?  And I need to be careful not to smother the man, so…

What exactly am I here for?

I hate that question!

I’ve spent my whole life being the mom and the wife and the daughter and the pastor and the counselor and suddenly…there aren’t near as many people to take care of, and I don’t know how to handle it.

I find myself sitting before God with an empty bowl, wondering why I’m here and what God needs me to do, and I’m not getting any answers.

It’s the worst feeling I’ve ever had.

I wake up every day to this empty bowl, and no matter how many people I try to put in my bowl, God keeps pulling them out. I wake up with an empty bowl, and I go to sleep with an empty bowl. After a while I don’t even want to look at the dang bowl. I’m sick to death of that bowl because all it does is remind me that there is no one left who needs me, not really.

I know I’m supposed to be happy because it’s Christmas and all, but I’m not. I walk through the stores and I see all the Christmas decorations and I just feel sad.  I feel empty. I feel like I want to cry and I can’t make it go away.

I prayed about it. I did!  I asked God over and over to show me what I’m supposed to be doing now and no answer came.

I’m not used to not getting an answer from the Lord.

But not getting an answer has made me wonder about empty bowls.

You see, I grew up in farming country. I grew up where we grow the corn and the wheat and the cows and the chickens and the soybeans.  I spent my summers canning with my mom, putting up vegetables and fruit, preparing for the winter when nothing was fresh.  We knew that we could make it better at home than anyone could ever make it at the store and so we spent the summer preparing for the barren times.

That day at Target I sat in my car, crying and wondering what my mom did when there was no one left to can for.  You know, she and my dad can only eat so many jars of pickles and tomatoes, so many bags of corn and beans.  My mom used to spend the whole summer canning and putting up vegetables and fruit, so what exactly happened to all of that? And what did she do when my brother and I were gone?

I decided to call her.  I told her how I was feeling and I could hear her smiling at me when she replied.

First you cry, she said.  First you cry.

And then she said things I wasn’t expecting.

She said “Let God lead you into a time of lying fallow.”

I know what that means. Fallow. It’s what farmers do with their fields when the field has been used to produce crops for years and years. Over time the field gets worn, even though it keeps producing good crops. The field gets tired and exhausted and the soil gets thin; all the good stuff and the nutrients that made the field produce such good crops fade away and the field becomes weak.  If the farmer is smart, the farmer stops planting in that field and lets it lie fallow, and if the farmer is really smart they do that long before the field becomes so weak that its crops are worthless.  The field might lie fallow for a year, and sometimes longer!  And during that time, the field just sits there, with the stalks from its last crop sowed back into the ground. While the it rests, the field gathers up its strength.  Somehow, in the time that the field lies empty, the soil become rich again, and then after a couple of years, the farmer replants and the field bears fruit and crops and good things happen there.  But for at least a year, nothing. Most of the time it’s longer. Most of the time, a field lies fallow for several years—years where there is nothing at all.

I understood what my mom was saying to me but it was hard to accept. I don’t know about you but I feel like my personal worth is wrapped up in what I produce, what I do for my family and friends, what I do for my church and my God.  Who am I and what the heck am I worth if I’m not doing anything at all? If there is no one to take care of, who am I?

I may think that way, but The Great Farmer is wiser than that.  The farmer knows that a field left to lie fallow, no matter how long it lays there, empty—the Great Farmer knows that a field left to lie fallow is a promise.  A promise of what is to come. A promise of a greater future. A promise of purpose and meaning and value. A field that lies fallow is a field at rest; a field waiting to be all that the farmer can ever hope for.

God is like that with us.

We hate it when our bowl is empty. We hate it when we can’t see why we’re here and what we’re here for and what we’re supposed to do and who we are supposed to serve.  We want to be active and filled with purpose and meaning and God is the wise farmer that says Wait! Stop!  Rest.  God asks us to let it go and lie fallow and know that we are everything God ever meant for us to be and yet, we still aren’t done.

A field that lies fallow is a promise of what is to come.

As far as I’m concerned, a promise of what is to come is just short of a wrapped Christmas present that God is preparing just for me.

I like that idea. I like the idea that where I am in my life right now, as difficult as it feels at this moment, is actually a wrapped Christmas present from God to me—a present that will slowly open all by itself sometime in the future. And when that present opens, I’ll know it for what it is: a blessing from the Lord to me.  I also know that when my present finally opens, my bowl will be full to overflowing.

God is like that with us. God is always like that.

May God bless you to overflowing during this Advent season, and prepare you for the coming of the Christ child!

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.      Psalm 23, NRSV