“Why are you still single?” (re-visited)


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A while back, I wrote a scathing rant about why I was still single. So scathing that some men actually stopped talking to me for awhile.

I was okay with that.

I didn’t feel like I needed to apologize for breaking bad in a blog about things that at the time I felt really needed to be said. But I was harsh.

Let’s just say I wrote the blog on a day when I was really pissed off about how  men sometimes treat women.

At the time, it had been assumed by a guy with an unrequited crush (and some major personality issues) that I was a lesbian because 1. He hadn’t gotten anywhere with me and 2). I had suggested that humanity should be kinder and less judgmental to all–including non-heterosexuals.

I knew I was fighting a losing cause, at least with this guy. So much of our population, male and female, are unbelievably messed up about their sexuality. But his assumptions made me mad enough to speak my piece.

It isn’t easy to be  ’50-something’ and single. Especially if you’re reasonably attractive and have certain expectations about what you consider to be reasonable and fair.

Yet, when I went back and re-read my blog, I found that in that year, I’d made quite a journey away from the frustrated single person who wrote it. Yet, some things were still the same.

I have lived, for the most part, for almost 10 years in a very conservative small town. This town, which proclaims itself ‘the Holy City’ has shown me some of the most unholy people I’ve ever met. I sometimes wonder why the cross that some get so worked up about doesn’t fall off the water tower in celestial disgust.

In that small town, I’ve had women treat me badly while clinging to their unattractive, creepy and sometimes leering husbands  as if I, by my very single status, must want them. I’ve even been told by a church secretary that if a woman is single, other women assume that she must be ‘on the make.’

I had one woman accuse me, because I met and began a relationship with a male of a small devotional group, of treating that group like ‘a singles bar.’

I don’t have anything to do with these individuals anymore. At some point, something in me rose up and cried “Nonsense” to such silly women and equally silly men. If a marriage is so fragile that a woman has to stare down every single woman they meet as possible competition, I suggest they go ahead and call a lawyer. They really don’t have a marriage.

These days, if I encounter women who act like that, I immediately distance myself and don’t give such foolishness dignity. I don’t need to. While I am not a fan of marriage, I honor it. If a couple has gone to that trouble, there is no way that I’m going to do anything to rock their boat–not even if the guy really wants me to do so.

And yes, there are those men–often in the church or religious community. I’ve had ministers and other respected church members leer, make suggestive comments, even feel way too compelled to stare at my chest during conversations. I’ve had fellow church members contact me for what I thought was going to be a date, when it turned out that all they wanted was quick, easy sex.

Or, when some men get caught flirting by their mates, they have blamed me, saying that I had the wrong idea about their intent (when you really couldn’t get another idea about their behavior.) Their wives believed them because it was easier to blame me than to address with their husbands why they lacked self control or respect for their marriage or their wife.

I have certain expectations about how I think men and women should act. When such ham-handed attempts at getting their desires met are not successful, I am shocked about how nasty and childish such men can be. It makes me angry.  And it reminds me of why I choose to be single, even when I’m often judged for doing so.

I’ve been engaged twice, but I never really wanted to get married. I’ve only recently realized that. The two engagements took place in my twenties when I was still buying into what I thought society expected me to do–get married, settle down, have a few kiddos and then start pressuring others to follow suit.

For years, I found myself in one go-nowhere relationship after another. Some were really painful, because I really loved the men involved. Some of them said they loved me, and I believed them. At least, until their consistent actions showed me that their words could not be trusted. Or worse, once they realized that the relationship might take some work, they jumped ship and acted like there’d never been a relationship.

This can be especially hurtful in the church, where men I’ve known break up by saying “God” told them to do it. You know, sometimes, that is valid. But I think that is  often an immature excuse by someone who really needs to man up. If God is going to end a relationship, I really think he’s going to tell both parties.

Or, you find the super spiritual guy (or thinks he is) who confesses all his sins in the relationship, usually on social media or at a church service. Of course, the ex-girlfriend is made out to be some unstable Jezebel type. He gets the forgiveness of his fans in church, and goes on to create relational havoc elsewhere.

Lastly, you find the couple who have, in their pasts, been up to everything immoral under the sun. Things that would make Hugh Hefner blush. Some of it while in church leadership positions. Yet, they are the first to lecture the single person struggling with very real temptation to sexual immorality. They are the first to pretend they are  something they are not.

In my journey as a single woman, I was once treated as a sexual ‘hit and run.’ I got pregnant during that brief relationship. The man in question had married a former girlfriend by this time and never knew he was a father. I had a miscarriage, alone and without medical care. It took years to forgive myself for going from a college ‘good girl’ set to go to seminary that Autumn to whatever it was that becoming sexually active (with the wrong guy) had made me.

At a later point in that journey, I  tried to turn my sexuality over to God. So much so that I gave him permission to even decide who gave me the next romantic kiss. Now some would say it would be foolish to think God would be that much of a micromanager. However, I didn’t. And time went by.

Lots of time. Decades even.

During that time I was in relationships with men who couldn’t commit, were abusive, who hid behind the church and did very inappropriate things. I was determined, that when I next had sex, that it wouldn’t be a booty-call or a one night stand. It would be making love on both sides, something that God could look at while it was happening and smile, knowing that two of his kids had finally gotten it right.

Recently, I was talking to a male friend, discussing my most recent ‘go nowhere’ relationship attempt. He’d been there for all of it, from its exciting beginning to its sputtering end. He’d seen me cry about the guy involved. He’d held back his opinion for the most part. But finally he didn’t.

He just called it as he saw it. He told me that I purposely chose men who were not appropriate relationship choices. The narcissists, the users, the spoiled brats, the men who see women in full color stereotype–with no room for adjustment. He said, “Laura, if you wanted to be married, you would have been by now. You just don’t want to commit.”

I was almost ready to admit this. Almost. But my friend’s revelation shocked me. I wanted, at least a little, to blame someone else. The men who treated me badly. The women who tried to make me fit their stereotypes of a old maid. The churches who made me feel as if I were a leper because of the absence of that little band of gold. But not me!

But you know, my friend was right.

It’s just not possible, unless we’re living in a really ugly world, that there could be that many men who are that relationally inappropriate. And yes, I’d had some great platonic guys for pals. But had ‘friend-zoned’ them like crazy. Like a person who was….terrified.

I just was not willing to believe that there was a man who would treat me right. I told myself I had never seen it. And maybe I hadn’t–because I was too busy looking for the cheaters, players, Peter-Pans, and abusers.

Having said all that, I remembered recently joining a dating site. I put up what I thought was a honest profile, and by the next morning got 5 hits. I took that profile down in an emotion that I can only, in retrospect describe as terror.

I don’t like some parts of being single. Having better boundaries now that when I first came to my town, I can stare down the weirdos and the wanna be wandering husbands. I can choose to avoid the men who stare at my breasts as if they’ve never been weaned. I can choose not to be in friendships with insecure women who want to act like they are in some petty 50’s sitcom.

Yet, I still meet the types that drove me to write my earlier, angry blog. That day, I announced to the interested world why I was growing old with my cat instead of the latest dream-guy.  I described the guys who use inappropriate behavior to try to pencil women into a certain box, but instead just proclaim to the world why they don’t have healthy relationships.

I guess I will always meet them.

However, now, I’m willing to believe that there are also nice guys out there too. I’ve met them. I work with them. If they are eligible, and the interest is mutually there, well, I guess we’ll see. I’ll ask God about it. And believe that He, being the loving Father (not micro-manager) that he is, will take as much interest (if not more) in arranging a match for one of his daughters.

Till then, I remain single. Not because I hate, or am frustrated, or even because I match some stereotype of some equally hating and frustrated male. Because I choose.

And also because I think I am worthy of someone who will treat me as the gift God  has been making me into all these years.

I choose health in how I deal with others, and how others deal with me. It’s not negotiable. And I will wait, even if that wait takes years or a lifetime, because finally, thankfully, I know my worth.

Finally, I expect others to recognize it as well.

And that, my friends, is, one healing year later, why I’m still single.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Funeral for a Friend (new short story)


It was dreary in the bar, a real dive.

An experienced connoisseur of places that stank of fear and desperation, I found this place dismal even by my admittedly low standards. Every stereotype was being played out here; the unfaithful husband on business but also on the make, the wayward wife supposedly out at ‘girl’s night’ but really looking to hook up with the stranger.

The place smelled of sweat, perfume of varying costs, spilled liquor and cigarettes. You saw the long-time alcoholic who had given up hope and drank alone in the corner. You saw the barman eying him, knowing exactly when to cut him off and send him on his way–likely to another bar. You saw the hooker who was sizing up who might pay her the most with the least effort on her part.

I was in a great place to view it all without being disturbed.

Mostly, because I was invisible.

At least to those in the temporal state.

What I am and what I represent is hard to explain. I don’t remember ever NOT being around. I don’t remember ever NOT being busy. Tonight, there was a lull in business, so I decided to take a well-deserved rest.

I had about an hour. An old lady with lung problems at 11:20. She would be found in the morning by her landlady, who had come to collect the rent. A young kid who wandered into a area with a non-fenced swimming pool would be at midnight. The parents would wonder how he got out of the house, which of them should have watched him more closely, and later would divorce over it. It was an old, sad tale.

Because of the nature of my busy trade, I had numerous staff who worked for me. They handle the usual sad, but inevitable things, the heart attacks, the car wrecks, the suicides and murders. These days, I picked only those that had some element of interest for me. Whether it was something about the person being dispatched or something about their lives, or impending deaths.

I suppose you’ve guessed by now, who I am. Over time I’ve been called a number of things. Anubis, Yama, Thanatos, or just plain Death. My favorite is the Grim Reaper. That one really cracks me up. For there is nothing grim about me. I’m the guy you’d gravitate towards at a really good party. Rod Serling had it right. If a human actor were to portray me, I’d more likely resemble Robert Redford than Billy Bob Thornton.

Tonight, I was just soaking up the atmosphere. I never expected to have company.

Here she came, though. Beautiful, sexy, the kind you would hate to see take their last breath. Long, raven hair, ruby lips with the perfect bow curve. Emerald eyes. The kind of woman who would be beautiful without makeup first thing in the morning. A full, womanly body, plump in all the right places. I’m not a man, never have been, but for a moment, this goddess made me wish that I were.

I decided to be casual as she approached me. Perhaps an applicant for a job? If so, she was hired. Who wouldn’t want to follow her to the grave–or anywhere else for that matter?

She sat by me, watched the scene as I did for a time, commenting on nothing. Then, slowly, almost as if thinking about every half inch she turned, she faced me. She drew out a graceful, slender hand. “Irkalla” She said, her voice sultry and appealing, just deep enough to make a man think of all sorts of delights. But then again, I’m not a man.

I thought quickly. No need to play games. “I suspect you know who I am,” I said, meeting her smoldering eyes directly.

“Yes.” She turned back to watch the predictable, sad antics of the mortals around us. “I have been one of them. Or, at least when it amused me to do so.”

“Really?”

“Oh yes. I’m very well traveled. Athens, Milan. Constantinople. London, most of Europe.” She drawled out the itinerary as if talking about a not particularly exciting grocery list. As if it had all become boring for her. I heard that bit of world weariness in her voice that made her seem for a moment….vulnerable?

With a momentary surge of a lust I’d never before felt, I leaned toward her, feeling greedy to savor this lush morsel, and not just in the earthly sense. Would she be an unexpected addition to my list tonight? It seemed odd that I didn’t know in advance. I didn’t keep track of all deaths, there were far too many, but as I said, I did stay informed of the impending interesting ones.

“Easy now,” She said calmly, reaching a hand to push at my chest. Gently, gently, she pushed, but the pressure felt like fire. I had never breathed, but I felt like I needed to catch a breath. I’d never had a heart beat, but something inside me was making a frightful noise. I felt the sensation of a new emotion….fear?

“I feel like we’ve met before.” I said, pulling back, hoping that these previously unknown sensations would go away. She smiled impishly, her green eyes seeming to reach out and grab at my own. Or what passed as my eyes. I had the outward appearance of a body so that I wouldn’t frighten those who I came to dispatch.

“We have.” She said, “In all the places I mentioned.”

Her hints were maddening. Yes, I’d been in all those places. Sometimes for prolonged periods of time, but not in centuries.

I again had the perception of having bodily sensations. I could feel blood pumping in veins where there should not be veins. A shiver in skin that had never responded to cold, heat or anything else. I’d been on ships–the Titanic, and guided hundreds out of life. I never felt the icy cold of those waters. Now, I felt a positive chill.

“Are you ready to go?” She asked gently.

“I’m not sure what you mean.” I said, fear now a true part of what I feeling. Who was this woman? What did she want with me?

She pursed her lush lips. “I’m disappointed.  After all, I’ve told you my name.”

I thought  hard, conscious of a headache, something that had never happened before. Those places she’d visited, places I too had once visited, long ago. They had a common thread, I was certain of it, something to do with my job…..

Milan. Constantinople. Europe. London.

Plague.

I saw her smile. But she worked for me if that was what she was. She must. Why did she want me to come along with her?

“You don’t quite get it, do you?” She asked. I shook my head.

“Well, its nothing like a hostile takeover. I hate confrontation.” She held up a mirror. I looked, now completely horrified. The face looking back at me was not immortal. The hair was straw white, lusterless. The eyes cloudy with age. The face, lined as if it had survived multiple eons. The mouth, toothless. I was old beyond belief. I felt the ache of every joint in a body I now realized was my own.

I had become a man.

“Yes, I am plague.” She said, gently, putting the mirror down. “I’m also earthquake, I was there at Pompeii. I have been here forever. Long before you. You thought you were in charge of things. I merely let you work for me. But as with everyhing, there is a time to end things. You were getting too jaded. I need to promote someone else, who will take the job seriously. I am Irkala. Do you know me now?”

And suddenly, I did. Irkala was the goddess of the dead. I hadn’t heard much about her in a few millennia. Hadn’t known that while I was unaware of her, she was very much aware of me. She was in fact, if you wanted to call it thus, my supervisor, my boss.

“You may think I am unkind. I’m not. I fear that you might be at times. You were looking only for enjoyment from this job, not seeing it as a necessary part of life. Part of the order of the universe.”

She waved her hand, and I saw several heads drop on tables as if falling naturally to sleep. However, I knew that they were not asleep.

She touched my arm, and I stood up, following her towards the door. I took a last look at my bar-mates who were no more.

Soon, I knew, I would understand what it was like.

 

 

 

 

 

Tom Petty–Why we didn’t want it to be the last dance


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I know where I was when Elvis died.

Well, sorta.

But only because we were on vacation, where I had access to a beach and all the fun stuff that goes along with that. Instead of that, or organizing food drives for the army park’s homeless (but extremely well fed) cats, I had to sit by my mother, as she held a personal wake for the King.

We listened to all of his songs, because that was all there was on the radio. Then we listened again. I was in 8th grade with an attention span to rival a snails, and I suffered through the day long experience.

To hear my mother, it would have seemed that everything good in life died with Mr. Presley. Once home, she then went out and bought all his records. I really didn’t get what all the fuss was about.

Which brings me to Tom Petty.

I was driving down the road to my apartment. I heard a DJ say, as if everyone knew what he was talking about (and I think most everyone did, I’d just not been on social media that day) how the world was better ‘just because Tom Petty had been in it.

WHAT?

That was my immediate reaction, then a heartfelt ‘Oh, no!” Surely it could not be true.

And, actually, it wasn’t–yet. At the time I heard that, news sources were jumping the gun, reporting the singer’s demise, when he had been taken off life support, but was still, as the papers later put it, ‘clinging to life.’

I had a pessimistic feeling about it though, as being taken off life support is rarely a move towards recovery for many of my clients. I woke up, early that morning, and it was confirmed. Tom Petty had truly died.

I was tearful, shocked, and felt that it could not be happening. How could someone as young and full of life as Tom Petty be dead? In the weeks since, I still fight a sense of it being surreal to me. I sort of know (or think I know) how my mother felt when her idol, Elvis Presley, died.

Maybe.

I wouldn’t go so far to say that Tom Petty was my idol, but he was definitely one of my top three favorite singers for many years, along with such heavy hitters as Paul McCartney and Paul Simon. In company with Jimmy Hendrix and Neil Young who sometimes jockeyed for position.

It really wasn’t for the work with the Heartbreakers. I got into Tom Petty for his solo work, and stayed into him because of that. “Mary Jane’s last dance,’ and “You don’t know how it feels” especially.

The latter was my theme song while in Wilmore. I liked to blast that one from car windows as I passed near the seminary in hopes that one of the judgmental souls who named me unworthy of being a student there were listening, and might have an “Aha” moment about themselves–and perhaps about me.

Honestly, I laugh about that now. A little more maturity and common sense down the road, I know that a song that encourages folks to ‘roll another joint’ is not likely to make a person more redeemable.

However, it spoke for my defiance, and anger, as well as my hurt at being rejected. Tom Petty sang perfectly, with just enough attitude, for my generation and others, the soundtrack of angst. Made it sound universal. Relatable. And his words gave hope that ‘this too, shall pass.’ It would eventually get better.

He was the face of everyone who has ever been unfairly treated, underestimated, or screwed by the Establishment. He was out there, living, doing his best, because even if others didn’t understand him, he knew that he really was okay–perhaps even more okay than those who judged him.

One of my first reactions was that he was ‘too young’ to be gone. Then I found by reading various accounts, that he was in his late sixties. Listening to his music, I always thought he had to be my age. He seemed to really get what it was like to be in my shoes, in my life, what it was like to ‘be me.’

Weeks past, I have wondered why I haven’t seen more coverage about his demise. It was all over the internet of course, but you didn’t see it taking front cover of major magazines, or even sleazy tabloids.

Now, the later would have pissed me off, because in death, Tom Petty had become saint like to me, not to be spoken of with any sort of slur. But Tom would have been the first to tell you that he was no saint.

He drank and partied hard in the early years, he-chain-smoked, and he considered himself ‘a reefer guy.’ He’d seen a long time marriage end in divorce. He’d experienced deep depression after his friend, George Harrison died. He could be, ‘cantankerous.’ He freely used the ‘f’ bomb, and didn’t care if it offended those around him. He was an admitted recovering Heroin addict. He didn’t like those whose politics he didn’t favor using his music for propaganda, but loved it when Barrack Obama used one of his songs.

In short, he was real.

And truly, I think the media, even the tabloids, have treated Tom Petty’s death with respect because the man demanded respect. Even if you didn’t like or get his music, you had to respect the man himself for the stands that he took in a world where he could have chosen to back down and take an easier road.

And, I’m not saying that we should all run to the nearest head shop and light up, folks. I wasn’t really thrilled about the ‘let’s roll another joint’ part of the song that I loved, not if it led one young person to think drug use was cool. However, Petty, an adult, was talking about HIS life. He was the rebel who didn’t compromise, who didn’t back down.

As with the true greats, once he became financially comfortable, his music, in my opinion, got immeasurably better. Full Moon Fever and Wildflowers proved that. It took me longer to appreciate the Traveling Wilburys. I have a knee jerk tendency at times to reject anything ‘weird’ and the team of Wilburys seemed that way. Later, I listened and learned not to judge so quickly.

With his death, I thought you’d hear, as when Elvis died, a day of his music on radio stations. Didn’t happen, at least in my neck of the woods. A Rolling Stone Commemorative Magazine came out, and I snapped it up. While waiting for an oil change, I bought his greatest hits including most of those with the Heartbreakers.

I had pretty much worn out Wildflowers, but wanted to listen, post Petty’s life, with a different ear. And, as I listened, I found that music that I had largely ignored such as “American Girl,” “Refugee,” and “Stop Dragging My Heart Around” took on a new life to me.

From reading, I found that Tom Petty had penned most of the lyrics. And when it wasn’t sandwiched in between music that meant more to me in the late seventies, or stuck in the backwash that was the eighties, I realized, with a bit of shame, that this stuff was original…..and worth listening to again. Then, again after that.

Tom Petty and his band didn’t go into the cheesy prom song mode like Journey and Foreigner after their original success. They didn’t repeat the same song over and over as did some of the Hair bands of the 80’s. Each song was different. Each song had something that made it special. A chord, a turn of a phrase, or maybe a totally crazy (but unforgettable) video.

It’s been three weeks now since the world got the news. The guy that everyone (at least his fans) thought would live forever, didn’t. And if you look at his final pictures, he looked exhausted. Ready for a long rest.

The family have been the epitome of class throughout in how they have privately mourned, and laid the legend to rest. Wherever Tom is, I’m sure he would likely approve–and possibly be humbled.

His career was 40 years of original, ass-kicking rock and roll that will be remembered after all the bubble gum and ear-rot of the 80’s and 90’s and the ‘dull’enium are forgotten.

He showed us that some things were worth taking a stand for. He reminded us to be, as he learned to be, grateful for the good stuff.

He was a man who made mistakes, but one of those mistakes was definitely not a tendency to compromise. That was what made him and his music great.

Rest in Peace, Tom. We didn’t want the dance to end.

However, we’re glad that it went on as long as it did.

 

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ON HONORING


About two years ago, I started blogging about my take on the ten commandments.

I got off to a good start.

Then, I came to “Honor Thy Father and Mother.” I came to a screeching halt. I didn’t want to sound hypocritical. How could I talk about what I no longer do?

You see, I’ve not seen nor spoken to either of my parents since 1993-4. For years, if anyone challenged me on this, I trotted out my dog and pony show of parental horrors visited on me from a young age. Sexual, physical, emotional and psychological abuse. Neglect. Total unwillingness, years later to take responsibility for it. Insistence on shifting the blame towards me, saying, in my father’s words, that I was ‘delusional.’

This former Youth Director/Sunday School teacher and vestry member didn’t want the light to fall on him that way. Never mind that he had molested two younger sisters and a cousin by a young age. Never mind that his work history was littered with problems with people because he expected everyone to do things his way or they were bad people.

Never mind the neighbor who saw the marks on me from my mother and said, “I don’t want to get involved.” Then wondered why I wanted nothing more to do with her.

If I think much about it, I can still touch some anger. Despite a lot of counseling, prayer, healing, and let’s face it, a lot of learning from some lengthy bad choices, I can still feel like that abused (and not believed) little girl. Sometimes, with authority figures who act angry and impatient, I inwardly curl up, anticipating a frenzied, out of control beating.

There’s a lot I chose not to do out of fear of my parents passing on trauma to the next generation after me. Not having children being a big decision. I didn’t want another person, especially someone I had conceived, nurtured and loved having to go through the type of junk that was my life for 28 years. Or to have to spend the next 24 years after that struggling just to be a semi-functioning adult.

What was there to honor about these two individuals? That they did what was necessary to bring me into the world? That they fed, clothed and housed me until a certain age? Were those privileges worth the price? There came a time when I decided not.

And there came a time, just prior to that, that I knew that I no longer wanted to be as unkind as I had to be to make either parent, especially my birth mother, back off. Just to get her to respect a simple boundary, I had to verbally hurt her to the point that she would leave me alone. It felt like beating a cow sometimes. She never seemed to get that her need to control and manipulate weren’t okay. Just as my father never seemed to get that treating me like a girlfriend rather than a daughter wasn’t okay.

I’d started growing closer to God in a real way about that time, and my conscience got to me about the things I would have to do and say just to have them treat me with a bit of respect (fear?). Finally, I knew that backing away–for life was the only way that we could have peace between us. Their sickness just wouldn’t allow them to show me respect. They couldn’t stop trying to get their unhealthy needs met, because getting those needs met meant more to them than I did. So, I stepped away. Geographically, physically, and legally.

Years later, I have very little patience for a manipulative or controlling person. I try to get away from them if I can’t get them to treat me with respect.  I have left jobs, church congregations, friendships and love relationships where I felt dishonored.

Honoring wasn’t just a one way street.

So, what is this thing called honor? How do you honor long distance? How do you honor when a relationship is broken beyond repair?

I never thought I would forgive my parents as much as I have. There’s still more to do. But I finally learned that carrying the anger, hate and grudges was tantamount to carrying them on my backs as I walked through life. Big load. So, for the most part, I stopped.

I never thought I would ask God to forgive my parents. Or, to bless them. Help them. But, with God’s help, I have done that more and more as I’ve gotten older. I can’t honor them by being in their lives, making sure that they, as seniors, get what they need. I know that the manipulation and attempts to abuse and control would just start again. I escaped once, at 28. I’m not sure I could escape twice.

Honor, finally, to me, means what you do to be able to show respect. To not abuse or manipulate back. I’ve seen adult children ‘snap’ and abuse formerly abusive parents. I swore that I would never be that person. Forgiveness and reconciliation do not always go together, sad to say.  Honor for me, meant walking away.

And so, on a late January day in 1994, I picked up a court order that gave me a new legal name and a chance for a new life. It wasn’t easy. I had to suddenly, at 28, learn things that many teenagers take for granted. Life skills that perhaps some children have. But, again, with God’s help, I’ve done a lot of work on that. I’m still lacking in many ways. If someone angers me once too often, its far easier to end the relationship than to do the tough work of figuring out a solution.

Sometimes, to honor means to stay.

Sometimes, it means to go–so that the sickness no longer has an outlet.

Today, at 52, I honor my birth parents by accepting that we just can’t be around each other in peace. I honor them by trying very hard not be like them. I honor them, despite some near misses in my 30’s and early 40’s by having survived.

It doesn’t really matter that I can’t honor them face to face. I honor in a way that is least destructive to me.

I honor by giving  my parents to God and letting him sort it out. Ultimately, they will stand before him, as will I, and no manipulation, lies or denial will be accepted–from any of us. On that day, we all will have to account for what we have done and left undone.

I walk the earth as a woman broken in some places, healed in others. I walk this journey by knowing what is healthy for me, and what would just break me down again.

Most of all, I honor my father and mother by doing what honors God, others and, just as importantly, what honors myself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Song of Leah


We’ve all had our moments.

It seemed, back in the last decade, like I barely got up before some life event was knocking me back down.

While in South Carolina, I had the landlord from hell, a shady individual who refused to fix major things. He blamed me for what his property neglect had caused over time.

I lived in a neighborhood where I was the only person of my race, and was shunned by my neighbors.

The person who managed my rent-assisted home was very bigoted and told me flat out that my rental should have gone to someone of her race, and not of mine. She refused to do anything to force my landlord to correct problems, stating on one occasion, ‘what do you want me to do, spank him?”

The house was infested with roaches, another thing the landlord refused to fix. Before he rented the place to me, he had said the home was in a stellar neighborhood. I was renting long distance, and took his word for it.

The neighborhood turned out to be in the middle of one of the worst crack neighborhoods in the area. I quickly learned not to go out at night. Even in the daytime I was very wary.

During that time, an 18-wheeler totaled my car, leaving me without a reliable means of transportation until my case with the trucking company was settled and I could buy a dependable truck.

That summer, I offered a young man in his teens a ride in my truck because it was well over 100 degrees and I felt sorry for him. Despite the several decades’ difference in our ages, he assumed I was trying to pick him up and made an outrageous sexual pass.

When I put him out on the road after turning him down, he found my house, tried to steal my truck, and did steal my cell phone and some emergency money I kept under the driver’s seat.

When I reported it to the police, I was told that it was my own stupidity for being kind to a stranger of a different race. I was advised to make my neighbors think that I had guns, and would use them.

I had other people do outrageous things, it seemed on a daily basis. I complained to my family, who had had enough of my ongoing problems, and cut off contact. I was alone, isolated and without a friend. I had given up hope. I began to plan what I felt would be a fool proof way to take my life, and planned it to happen on my birthday.

The Lord proved that he hadn’t given up on me in a miraculous way, intervening in a way that ended all thoughts of suicide for the time being. There followed a time of growth, change and calling that eventually led me to a completely different life. By October of 2007, I was able to shake the dust off my feet, and say goodbye to South Carolina forever.

One thing I began to learn during that difficult time, was I had a choice of how I looked at things. I began, very slowly, to try to look for something good instead of dwelling on the bad. However, it would take years before I got even close to understanding that looking for the good was good FOR  me.

In the early days of living in Kentucky, in Jessamine County, I experienced some bizarre behavior from people who claimed to be Christians. When I would complain, people around me would advise me to try to give the individuals the benefit of the doubt.

I didn’t want to. I kept remembering how God had brought me away from South Carolina, and was showing me, sometimes on a daily basis, his provision for me, and proof of his calling me to Kentucky. However, I didn’t want to speak hope or gratitude.

Childish person that I still was, I wanted to moan about how bad my life was. And, yes, there were major challenges for the first five or so years in Kentucky. Many of the problems were either self-created or made worse by my attitudes and choices.

I thought in a negative way, so I LIVED in a negative way. Anyone who went around trying to see the good in things, I dismissed as being idiotic or fanatical. Pollyannas.

Who needed that?

This past week, when I was reading part of the book of Genesis, I read the account of Leah and Rachael. You have to feel a bit sorry for Leah. She wasn’t loved in the story, but was used as a sexual outlet for her husband, a brood mare to give him children, and all the while she had to watch him gush over her much prettier sister.

By the end of the story, nothing really changed. Leah had given Jacob multiple sons and at least one daughter. She’d been a faithful and good wife. He still didn’t love her, or at least nothing is said that shows evidence of it. He’s still, all the years later, drooling over Rachel.

But then, something changed.

Leah CHANGED.

Leah, upon giving birth to her last son, named him Judah.   And, she said, “This time, I will praise the Lord.”

I’d read this story before, but this time, that comment really jumped out at me. Leah stopped demanding her husband’s favors, stopped hating her sister, possibly stopped competing with her. She didn’t have any more children, so it is possible that she didn’t demand from Jacob, or beg from Rachel her conjugal rights. She just stopped, and lived her life. And—she praised the Lord.

We really don’t know if the rest of her life was happy or sad, but it seems that Leah made a great step forward on the day that she chose to find the good in what she could, and let the rest alone.

I’ve only recently obtained the gift of gratitude. Something that I just didn’t have for nearly the first 50 years of my life. But when that gift was given, and it took root, man—it took.

On my darkest days (thankfully not nearly as many as when I was younger) I find that picking things in which to praise God often lifts that dark cloud and helps me calm down.

We can choose.

Leah was in a culture where she didn’t have a lot of choice. She was not valued for her gender. The only thing she was valued for by her society was that she gave her husband strong and healthy sons. However, Jacob did not seem to value these children as much as he valued the children that Rachel, her sister, gave him. This had to devastate Leah. However, she finally chose to direct her longing for love to someone who would appreciate it and give it back—God.

Today, if you are drowning in problems, heartbreak, depression, feeling unloved, unvalued or lost, take a moment to thank God for what you do have. Maybe it’s just that your heart is beating correctly. Or that you took an easy breath. Some days that is all I have had. But the habit of gratitude, once encouraged even a tiny bit, might surprise you.

Once you find a few things to be glad about, you find a few more. And suddenly, because you look at the world differently, you might find you have a whole lot to be happy about.

I’m not saying that going around with a goofy smile and a extra positive attitude will make all your problems disappear. Life might hurt like hell for a long time. Tears may be all that you know as you walk through the darkest of valleys. But–find that one thing, that little piece of hope, and hang on tight. Refuse to let go.

Next time, when you feel hopeless, pick up the song of Leah. Next time, choose. Next time, praise the Lord.

Amen.

With a little help from my friends……


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This morning started out in a grand fashion

I lost my keys and my phone, and was rushing around trying to find both. Had to borrow a neighbors phone to tell my supervisor that I would be late when zero hour came and I was still looking.

My dear neighbor had just gotten off the night shift but was kind enough to invite me in and let me use her phone. My boss was great about it (after some good natured picking about how I should look in the freezer, as I have left cell phone, keys and a debit card in one before.)

So I put down the phone, go back to my apartment, rush around, then sit and think about the last time I had the keys.

I also said the ‘car-key prayer’ (Oh, Lord, please help me find my car keys!) I learned this prayer from my mother growing up. Her version had all the elements of a good prayer:

Petition: “Oh, Lord, I don’t know where those keys are, but I know that you, O God, do. And I need you to help me find them.”

Confession: “Oh Lord, I have been gossiping like crazy about (fill in the blank) and you know I can’t stand her, but you help me on this, and I won’t say another word about that nasty heifer again!”

Exhortation: “Lord, I’m going to be so late and can’t get anywhere, pulllllllllease help me find those keys!”

Dedication: “Lord, I’ll read my bible every day even if I have to miss ‘The Young and the Restless’ if you just help me find them!”

She finds them in some obvious spot.

Adoration: “Thank you Lord! You are just GREAT! Gotta go now!”

I wasn’t as specific as my mother in my prayers this morning, but soon after asking God for wisdom to find the blankety-blank things, I lifted up a towel (that I hadn’t put away) on the couch–and Ta Da! There they were! Thank you, Lord! You ARE great!

Humor aside, I am grateful to the Lord and to my new neighbor. I agree with Ringo Starr–We do get by with a little help from our friends!

 

 

Choosing SANITY


This week I had an unfortunate experience at work with someone who I was forewarned was ‘difficult.’ Despite my inner alarm bells going off, I approached the person, confident (smug?) that my social work skills would make it easy to get the verbal information I needed and be on my way.

Two hours later, I was sitting in my supervisor’s office, explaining what happened. While being supportive, he asserted that I had allowed the conflict to go too far.

That evening, I sent an email to a trusted person with whom I know I can be myself. I also know that he will be honest with me. He agreed the day had been difficult for me. He also said something that really made me think. He said, “I’m glad you were able to make it productive and recovered your sanity.”

Huh?

I quickly understood. When we are confronted, regardless of how we get there, our choices can lead us into something a lot like…insanity.

Especially, when I left the high road and started being as unprofessional as I perceived my ‘opponent’ to be.

It quickly became…insane.

Now, let’s look at that word. When one uses ‘insanity’ we think of all sorts of images. Being a bit on the dramatic side, I visualize frothing at the mouth, Bedlam, all sorts of mental health nightmares.

However, what is insanity? I’ve heard a simple, but apt definition.

Insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different outcome.

That’s what happened to me in my conflict. The moment it looked confrontational, the most wise course was to have retreated and handled things a different way.

Instead, I went straight into battle. Ultimately, I was able to prove that I was, by policy, doing things correctly. However, it took time to wage that battle. None of it served the client, or ultimately me or the professional with whom I battled.

It started with me feeling blindsided with antagonism. It worsened when the person adeptly twisted nearly everything I said to try to make herself right, and me wrong. She went back 15 or more years and quoted outdated policy. She threw out comments that sounded like she was a therapist dealing with a unreasonable client. It felt like being sucked into a whirlpool of…you guessed it, insanity.

I got angry, defensive, and became determined to prove that I was right. Maybe, in part, I ultimately succeeded. But what was gained? My sparring partner was difficult by reputation, difficult with me, and likely will continue to be that way with others.

Why? Because it works for her.

It works.

It may only work in her very distorted way of feeling okay about herself and her actions, but it nonetheless works for her. Otherwise, she would have changed it. As dysfunctional as our lives can become, when something no longer serves our needs, we change it.

When I was addicted (a lesser word does not suffice) to unhealthy relationships with men who were stubbornly unwilling to act in healthy and respectful ways with women, I went through decades of misery. I was determined that my love would show them a better way to live.

During my last unhealthy attempt at ‘relationship by being a therapist,’ I was shocked by a sudden insight into the character of my would be ‘love.’ The way he behaved, pushing love from himself and treating women as objects to use and abandon while calling himself a nice man. It was hypocritical behavior that most everyone around him saw through.

People who had known him much longer accepted him as he was. If he truly wanted to be different, he would have been. However, his self-deception worked for him. It worked. And until he got sick of the lies he told himself, he wouldn’t change. Why should he?

Going back to my recent conflict, the similarities are amazing. My community partner is about the same age as my former love interest. They have years in the professional world. Lots of education. To hear them talk, lots of insight and wisdom. Just not much evidence that any of it shows in their dealings with others.

Now, about how I responded.

For years I struggled to help my would be ‘love’ acknowledge the deep wounds that caused him to behave as he did. To grieve those wounds, and move forward. He resisted with a vengeance. The adult ‘dirty diaper’ he wore was very comfortable.

Ultimately, with regret, I moved forward. Left him ‘stuck’ as it seemed he wanted to be stuck.

I wanted to grow, and could not do so trying to weed an unproductive garden.

It wasn’t easy, and I’ll probably always be worried about him, concerned about the barren way he lives his life. However, my 12 step experience reminds me that he chooses this life.

He chooses.

Healthy love inspires both parties to grow and become. Co-dependency brings both people down.

My community partner also chooses her life, even if it regularly plunges her into conflict with others. Even if it makes most of her time likely about those conflicts and not about serving her clients. It is a waste of God-given gifts, time and talent. However, it is her choice. Whether she actively recognizes it or not—she chooses.

I had a choice, too.

That day, I chose insanity.

That day, once I blundered into the orbit of an antagonistic person, I chose to try to fight a war that I could not really win.

To ‘win’ would have meant that I helped my community partner to see my good intentions, and for her to follow existing policy. It might have even led to an apology from her for being adversarial in a way that did not serve our mutual client or agencies.

To ‘win’ (if such a win was needed) would have meant that neither of our supervisors would have had to get involved to mediate.

To truly win would have meant that the conflict didn’t need happen at all.

Could I have done it differently? I’m not sure. It was later easy to sit with a supervisor who knows me well, wants to see me succeed, and who wasn’t being adversarial, and do a situation ‘autopsy’ if you will. To calmly discuss what might have been done differently.

I want to do better should there be a future encounter with this worker. To do that, I have to be rational, and yes, sane, no matter how tempted I am to act otherwise.

Embracing sanity is choosing rational behavior. I don’t have to like, or be best buddies with my adversary, whoever they are in life. I do need to, with knowledge of who I am and what my motives are, walk into situations with truth. Let that truth be what defines me, not my reaction to unexpected moments of push-back.

When I choose sanity, I chose to take a deep breath, step back and choose the high road. Will I do any better next time? I don’t know. As this situation retreats into memory, I may forget. But what I can’t forget is this—as others have a choice, so do I.

Today, I choose to behave sanely in an often insane world.

A Word about Grieving


He was a man in his late sixties. He had the same job for years and had always been a valued employee. But currently, he was close to being fired.

His grandfather had built the church he once attended. Now, he never went. No one questioned it or stopped by to invite him back.

He went out to the mailbox one day and got a letter that made him so angry he didn’t know what to do. He practically ran to the phone (back in those days, it was anchored to the wall) and called the letter-sender.

When the young woman answered, he curtly said, “I got your letter today. I just want to ask one thing. Why the hell do you care?”

Now, this young social worker could have done a lot of things. She could have answered with anger in return. She could have gotten self-righteous. She could have done nothing at all, saying “I’m sorry you feel that way,” professionally ended the conversation, and left this man to his bitterness.

Instead, she sensed an opportunity to do something, even though she didn’t know what to do. So, she let him talk about how everyone–family, friends, preacher, etc. had seemed to disappear from his life after the death of his beloved wife from cancer. During the phone call, this man did everything in his power to anger the social worker, bait her, encourage her to join the party who had seemingly turned their backs on him.

She didn’t. She was young, and could really get defensive at times. She had her wounds too. But that day, God was in this. Before the end of the conversation, the man agreed to meet with this worker, as part of her Hospice after-care program.

The letter which so incensed him, was something that was supposed to be standard, but had been neglected in the past, due to staff turnover. The worker and a co-worker came in determined to make that part of a busy regional hospital efficient again. To that end, they sent letters on the 3 month, 6 month, and most importantly the year anniversary of the death of the person to the next of kin. Those letters offered support in the form of counseling, telephone support, referral links, whatever the person needed.

It wasn’t flowery or preachy. It was simple and inviting. Some immediately responded. Some never called.

This fellow called.

The worker, new to grief counseling, knew that she had her work cut out for her. She knew the stages of grief. She knew that grief could come out as anger. As a Christian, she understood that this was not the time to try to make a convert, but could mention God if the door was opened. On the way to the first of many trips to her new client’s place of employment, she asked God to give her the right words. She knew that she didn’t have them on her own.

The farm equipment dealership had generously offered their conference room to the social worker when they heard she was going to be involved. They paid for as much or as little time as their employee needed instead of asking that he take leave time. It was, in their view, a last ditch effort to help a once valuable employee who was losing them business. He had been a great salesman, wonderful with people, albeit a little rough around the edges. Now, he was yelling at both vendors and would be customers. He couldn’t do his job. They didn’t want to fire him, but that was looking like it was their only answer.

The worker mostly listened for the first part of the initial session. She heard an amazing amount of grief, rage and hurt. And you know, it wasn’t just about losing his wife. That part was there–because he really loved his wife, had put her on a pedestal that decades of marriage had never caused her to fall off of. Yet, with the aftermath of her death, he lost his friends, he looked like he was about to lose his job, and most importantly, he had lost his faith in God.

He talked about how his grandfather had helped build his small country church where he was a lifelong member. How he had willingly given time, service, talent and money whenever the church had need. Yet, when his wife, a former school teacher beloved by everyone passed, a strange thing happened. No one called after the funeral. No one came by the visit, not even the preacher.

One day, walking on his farm, he had a pistol with him. And–he planned to use it. He could see no reason for staying alive. The only person who made life worthwhile was gone. And no one else seemed to give a damn about him.

The worker offered to call the preacher (was tempted to call him out on his neglect) but this man, her new client, said no. The preacher was just a man, and the client didn’t like him much anyway. But there was someone he was angry with, and he wanted some answers, pronto. That was what she could help him with. The one who took his wife away.

That being God.

The worker didn’t shame him, or tell him he was going to go to hell for being mad at the creator. You see, she had been mad at God before too. Maybe not for as good a reason, but she’d definitely yelled at the heavens, demanding answers. Answers that took years in coming, but once given, were received with more mature gratitude.

Instead, words came out of her mouth that even surprised her. She said, “God can take every bit of anger you want to throw at him. Talk to him. He wants to hear from you.”

Now, I don’t recall (because I was that young worker) much about what else we talked about. We had a few more lengthy sessions where he poured out his feeling, doubts, regrets and questions. He asked me things that I thought might be more suited to ask a priest, but I did my best, always asking God, prior to seeing my client, to give me what was needed to be said.

We talked about how he always thought he could ride his family’s coat-tails to heaven. Or those of his deeply devout and spiritual wife. He never thought about personally knowing God. Didn’t know that he needed to. With my varied experience in many denominations with many different ideas about how to be ‘saved,’ I didn’t give him a glossy pamphlet with some easy five step plan of salvation.

I’m not sure I told him anything about that at all. But I did tell him that it had to be individual relationship. No one had coat-tails big enough for us to hop on and make that trip to heaven. We had to reach out. We had to receive the grace. It wasn’t about being good enough–no one could ever be. It was about coming before God privately, knowing that our need was so great that only God could provide for it. And that there was nothing, literally nothing we could not say. No need to use our polished ‘preacher language’ around God. He already knew. He knew our hearts, our souls, our very worst and most sacrilegious moments.

And He loved us anyway.

Our counseling time ended well. His grown niece and nephew got involved again in his life. Upon meeting me, they expressed concern that I might be looking for a wealthy husband (I wasn’t.) They encouraged him to terminate counseling, and last I heard he was engaged to a woman closer to his age and worldly possessions.

It irked me that his relatives misunderstood my purpose or motives for working with him. First and foremost, to this day, there is nothing more sacred to me that maintaining professional boundaries with clients. However, they didn’t know that. What took the irritation away was knowing this man was smiling again. He was again successful in his job. He’d found love in his life with a nice lady. And best of all, and perhaps for the first time, he’d found faith–real faith in God.

These days, several decades after my youthful professional experience, I sometimes remember that client. At the time, I felt incompetent. I had the diploma, I had the job, and I had the brain pan knowledge. However, when the moment came to act–I wasn’t so sure what to do. So, I asked the one who did know–I asked God. He gave me words, and through His grace (not my competency) a life was changed.

Today, if you have grieving people in your life, its okay not to know what to say. Who does? How do we explain the departure of good, godly loving people in our lives? How do we offer comfort about that which we could likely not be comforted if it were us? All these years later, I don’t think I would change a thing about what I stumbled onto.

I stumbled onto God and some very real truths about His nature.

God is okay with all our emotions, even the most negative of them. It wasn’t his choice for us to be thrown out into this unpredictable world with its tragedy and unexplained mess. However, when life happens, as it does to all of us, in this broken world, He is there. He can take all of our anger, as well as all of our love. He’s not afraid or rejecting of either.

The best gift we can offer to a grieving soul, or anyone, is the encouragement to take everything to God. Put it in the mighty hands best able to handle it. It might not magically go away, or make sense for a long time–years. But the change will begin. God is the one who is always available, doesn’t have easy answers to hard questions, and who loves us with a love that extends beyond the grave.

Amen.

A word about Gratitude


 

I wake up most every morning feeling grateful.

For life, for a good night’s sleep, for the coming weekend to sleep in if I didn’t have a good night’s sleep, for the purring 6 pound fur-baby snoring next to me.

Gratitude has become a way of life.

It wasn’t always that way.

There was a time, mired down deep in depression, and let’s just say it, self pity, I didn’t think there was a thing to be grateful about.

I remember talking to a manager at the place I worked, and asked him how he was doing. I didn’t really care to know, it was just the small talk you usually made in the break room. But that day, he surprised me.

He stopped, pondered the question, and said, “Well, Laura, I’m doing good. I’ve got breath in my lungs, I’ve got a roof over my head, I’ve got a job. I guess its a pretty good day.”

Then he went away, much to my relief. At the time, I also had all of those things. But, I wasn’t grateful.

Why?

I wanted More.

What More? At the time, I was obsessed (not too strong a word) with rescuing men who didn’t want to be saved. I am tempted to laugh now about those wasted years, and I would, if it weren’t so darn sad.

I’ve talked before about one of my mentors, Keith Wasserman, and how he likes to say things that make you think twice. One day, he answered a phone call from me that way. When I asked him how he was doing (and yes, this time I did care to know) he threw me for a loop by answering ‘I’m grateful!”

At first, I thought this was just one of his stock “Keith” comments. But in time, as the comment came back to me over and over again, it did an amazing work of not only healing, but of changing my perspective on the world. I learned slowly, in some pretty dark times, that when your world is falling apart, when hope seems scarce, and the light at the end of the tunnel seems to have been turned out until further notice, gratitude is sometimes all we have.

I learned, slowly, baby step by baby step. It calmed my anxiety. What did I have, right then to be secure about? I went down a list to consider this question.

Did I have a job? Yes. Okay…many people don’t, and would love to have one. Did I have a roof over my head? Yes. You know–there are lots of people who don’t even know the last time that they had a place to call their own–a place where they could lock the door, put up their feet and know that they were home.

Did I have breath in my lungs? Yes. And, if we could ask them, there are countless people every day who no longer have that privilege, and I am sure they would like one more minute, one more hour with those whom they love.

We all have a lot to be grateful for.

These days, its even better for me. I finally understand, deeply understand just how much God loves me. And that has changed my life.

These days, I don’t usually have to do an intellectual exercise to think of how greatly I am blessed. It seems to just bombard me. I have a job that I love, that challenges me and which often makes me feel like I’m doing something positive for humanity.

I am part of a church that really gets out there and gets their hands dirty in working with the poor and disenfranchised. They really walk their talk. And, when I move to Lexington, I will have more opportunities to be part of that. For that, I am grateful.

As I grow more healthy in how I manage myself and how I respond to others, I find that the people I am close to and am growing close to just astound me. They are a diverse people, both from real life and social media. They frequently humble me with their comments,  their wisdom, and their generosity of time, spirit and love–both for me and for others.

I find myself, in my 51st year, often speechless when I consider the people around me–such good, loving, whole-hearted people–that I finally know how to appreciate. No more  tilting at windmills for those who always seem  just out of reach. No longer do I cling to people who make me question or second guess myself.

The people in my tribe know how to love, aren’t afraid of it, and are mature enough to be responsible in how they show and act it out. For them, I am grateful.

Some mornings, I wake up, and my heart is so full, all I can say to God is how grateful I am. Because of His divinity, I know He understands, and doesn’t require more. Still, being human, I want to find the words.

Gratitude is a way of looking at the world. Not from the bitter, half-full or even empty, bottomless pit perspective. Rather than looking at what we don’t have, it is looking at what we do have. Realizing with each positive affirmation we make, we  enable our souls to take a step higher. Gratitude makes us grow. It makes us whole.

These days, as I survey the world around me, I don’t have to be gently scolded about my attitude. I don’t have to be reminded that it could be so much worse. I don’t have to really do a whole lot of anything–it has become a habit to look at what is good in my world and not what is lacking.

Does that mean that I don’t have bad days, grouchy moments? Of course not. Anyone who works with me, is friends with me, knows me, knows that my shadow side still comes out on a regular basis.

However, when tempted to pity, I am often reminded of how far God has brought me. How He turned a life that should have been just another sad child abuse statistic into a life of hope, joy and love. How it seems, especially at this time in my life, that I am walking into a place of peace and confidence, like a flower finally ready to bloom.

For that I am grateful.

What are YOU grateful for?

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How I became a ‘treasure’


I wasn’t taught to be a treasure.

Far from it.

I was told by a disgruntled father that my conception was a mistake, caused by a mother desperate to keep him in an unhappy marriage. He used this guilt for years, put on a young and very vulnerable child to later excuse his sexual abuse, emotional blackmail and other types of manipulation  of me for which he never took responsibility.

He told me the only reason he stayed in his unhappy marriage was to keep me from being driven insane by my mentally unstable mother. He told me that his expectation was that I grow up to be a psychologist, and that my mother was to be my first patient.

When I copied what he did and started writing fiction, he made a point to ridicule and find fault with everything I shared with him. I later realized, after becoming successfully published in local newspapers and a national magazine, that this might have been jealousy on his part.  I found, as an adult, that critics were generally the first to cast doubt on those who actually do things, because the critic was afraid to try.

He told me that he was the only one I could ever trust. He told me that I had a horrible singing voice and I believed him for years. It turned out he was just wanting me to be quiet that day, and thought, apparently, that was the best way to shut me up.

When I was over-spoiled materially and over-complimented as a young child by my mother’s family, he told me that instead of being pretty that I was vain. When I performed in a play and asked him for his critique—he told me the one thing (that I’m not sure even happened) that he saw that I did wrong. He then assured me that he was the only one who saw it.

As a teenager, I tried repeated overdoses (of drugs that he himself abused) that freely lay around our home. Because I was a teenager, and suicidal behavior had to be dealt with, (even with parents eager to not have attention focused on them,) I was sent to a psychiatrist. En route to the doctor, my father confessed to me that he feared that my mother was trying to poison him.

Once I got to the doctor’s office, wanting to get it over with, I charmed the doctor and made up a story that made me seem like a normal girl who was just overreacting. Of course, I didn’t want to self destruct! In the car, on the way home, my father said to me, “Now that you’ve talked to the psychiatrist, do you still feel like your mother wants to poison you and me?”

I was too shocked by the way he’d turned his comments around to respond. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d say things, then insist that I’d said them, or do things and insist that it was because it was ‘what I wanted.’ He did his level best to prevent me from having the money for college, and then tried to sabotage my financial aide by having it sent to him and not paying the bill.

When I found out, and assumed responsibility for my fees, having the school money sent to me, he was furious. However, he was starting to realize that I was no longer the child terrified of his anger and incapable of asking questions. It was last time he tried to interfere in my education.

I would later confront him about many things. His response was that the sexual abuse was because I was ‘there,’ and that I was wrong to think I was special in any way. I was simply convenient. Or, he would blame his mother for her failings as a parent, expressing desires for warped things that no mother should provide. Or, he’d blame my mother for being an inadequate sexual partner. Things a parent should never share with a child.

These were some of the many justifications he used for his behavior. When, at 28, I had had enough and permanently distanced myself from him, I got a self-pitying letter from him (also signed by my mother who was easily manipulated by him) telling me that he planned to keep all the ‘abusive’ letters I had sent to him. That all he ever wanted to do was love me, and he was tired of trying to build a relationship with a brick wall.

By that time, I was pretty strong in some good ways. Therapy and reading several good books on healing from sexual and other types of abuse had helped me call an end to his brain screwing attempts. I finally knew when to call, if you’ll excuse the phrase, ‘bullshit.’

I took the letter and highlighted every attempt that I perceived to be an attempt to manipulate me. The letter hardly had a sentence that was not highlighted. I didn’t respond, because by that time I was worn out trying to deal with his warped vision of the world. I knew the worst thing I could do to him was to do nothing at all. Silence was both my best weapon, and the best thing I could do to protect myself.

Years after that, when I faced severe health and financial troubles, my paternal grandfather tried, in his sweet, but ineffectual way, to shame my father into helping me. My grandfather got a letter from my father that was later shared with me. The letter stated that I had made it clear that I didn’t want to be in my father or my mother’s life. My father stated that he and my mother always stood together against the world, and that they didn’t need anyone else. That they had moved past it. “It” being the defection of their only child from that world.

A family member just as selfish and unhealthy in his own way, self righteously called the letter ‘appaling.’ He then proceeded to kick me when I was down every way he could, mostly because I was getting financial help from my grandfather—money that the family member felt was rightfully his.

When asked about my allegations of abuse, my father said simply that I was ‘delusional.’ When I needed my birth certificate to get my driver’s license changed in South Carolina, he refused until my grandfather had to use threats of disinheriting him to get my father to comply.

One of the last things my grandfather said to me during our final visit together was that I was not, as I believed, a disappointment to him. That I had not, as I believed, failed him, because at the time, I could not work professionally, and struggled with severe health issues. But still, it didn’t really sink in.

When you grow up in an environment like I did, there are multiple challenges. When I really started trying to do better in life, work hard on healing and making better choices, I found that I still surrounded myself with people who, for whatever reason, re-victimized me.

It seemed that I had a very accurate radar to spot the dysfunctional souls who could use words and behavior to try to (or actually) control me. I met men who hearing my story, immediately tried to get sex or acted in other inappropriate ways with me. I met women who were basically ‘story whores’ who wanted to hear all the gory details and then gossip about them.  I met few people who actually wanted to be a healing part of my life.

After decades of this, I made a quiet decision. I had truly had enough of re-victimization. But at the same time, I had had enough of my own bad attitude as well. I had seen my parents use faulty justifications about why the healthy world recoiled from them, and at times held them accountable. Why they were not well liked and barely tolerated in our town.

With my own behavior and lack of accountability, I was well on my way to a lifetime of the same sort of broken relationsihps. But finally, I realized that I had to take some personal responsibility. If I gave bad, I most likely would get bad. If I pushed people, good people, away, they might likely, after a time, stay pushed.

As part of a 12 step program for codependency, I learned a lot. But I also found myself in a group of people who seemed to find a sort of fraternity in their brokenness. After a point, they did not move on. Instead, they shamed people trying to move on. They told them that they were trying to act superior. The message was (or seemed to be) “Move on, get better, but don’t move on too much. Don’t get too much better. If you get healthy, don’t rub it in.”

I moved on—right out of that support group. I felt that I had learned what I could, gleaned what was left and now, for my own health had to separate myself. In the years that followed, I spent a lot of time alone. There were times that I honestly felt that I couldn’t stand other people. And while that might have been an okay place to be for a while, I finally realized that mostly—I just couldn’t stand myself.

I didn’t see myself as a treasure. I had had too many people manipulate, hurt, let me down. I was tired of telling my story and then have the hearers attempt to exploit me, or judge me. I recalled a woman saying (of telling our stories) that our life experience was our ‘pearls.’ That we were not to give them to others indiscriminately. At that time, I rejected that outright. But I realized over more time, that this was wisdom of the best sort.

My life was the only pearls I had. My story was a treasure, even though at times it was a quite painful one–both to hear and to tell. But there was still more that I didn’t get. That I…..that broken, rejected, messed up girl who had tried so hard to give up and check out of life—was a treasure as well.

No one had taught me that. I had been treated as a convenient person to use and abuse. I  was expected to take it, keep those crimes secret, but never was I treated as a treasure. The few loving things I had heard in my life were attached to horrible manipulation meant to keep me close to an abusing party. Attempts to change that meant that I was ungrateful, or downright crazy. These were the messages that I received.

About 7 years ago, I had a huge ‘ah ha’ experience which led me to seek out the support group, and later other healing experiences, and things started changing. But very, very slowly. So slowly that I could only see the change from reading old journals, or even looking at old social media posts. My life improved.

I found the courage to try for and get employment as a professional again. For a long time, I second-guessed myself, asking for validation from my co-workers, bosses, etc. I would hear myself talking to clients, saying some very good things, and wonder who that person was.

I had yet to make the connection that I had good things to give. That my life experience, far from permanently breaking me into some unusable mess, had broken me in all the right places. It had put me where God could put together my broken pieces into something for His glory and to the use of His kingdom.

I experienced a renaissance, if you will, in that time, learning who I actually was. What I wanted and what I needed to shed. What I wanted to keep. Who I wanted to keep—and who no longer needed to be in my life. My need to be validated became less and less.

I embraced the fact that I was really an introvert, and that I preferred a few close people rather than the acclamation of many strangers. I began to catch the ugliness in my actions and thoughts that needed to be changed. Being a victim in the past, I didn’t want to victimize others. Simply said, very close to my mid-century point, I started to grow up.

Still, old habits die hard. This year, I decided, slowly, to stop setting myself up. I did this by firstly, doing a few things I really wanted to do, instead of waiting to do them with others. I did those things for me. Instead of saying, “Someday I will,” instead, I started putting a date on when I would do those things.

I also looked at my personal finances. I paid off some debts that I had let continue longer than they should. I learned that it was okay to say ‘no’ to something if I truly didn’t want to do it. I learned that it was okay to pull away from manipulative people who tried to keep me doing things that were good for them, but only obligation for me.

For the one or two downright hateful people in my life, I learned to stop trying. Just let go the hope of them ever being decent towards me. To simply pass them by without sticking my neck out in hope of teaching them a better way of acting. I just was tried of being slapped when I was trying to do the right thing. In short, I started to love, just a little, that battered girl within, who came so close, so many times to not making it.

This is the first time in I don’t know how many years that I’ve truly been wholeheartedly excited about Christmas. I’ve decorated and gone through the motions in years past, tried to force myself to express a happy attitude (when I didn’t feel that way–because it was expected). Was hardly aware that this was what I was doing–but the absence of feeling that way this year really points to where I’ve come from.

There was a time when I tried to make people around me do what I thought they should. In this last year, I have only looked at what I need myself. Ultimately—I am responsible only for me. If someone refuses to do something positive or good, they only let themselves down. I don’t have to jump on that train.

This year I didn’t try to get my neighbors or co-workers to be part of some Norman Rockwell Christmas complete with decorations and gift-giving. I gave to those I loved, and those I truly wanted to give to. When I gave a gift, I did it with a full heart. I made it fun. I even made a point of putting gifts under the tree for me, instead of waiting for gifts from others which likely would not come.

This year, I decorated my own office door, and enjoyed it. If others did, that was great. If they did not, well, that was on them. I took responsibility only for what was mine to take responsiblty for. My life only. How refreshing!

This year, I approach Christmas with a sense of hope. Maybe for the first time ever. In my 51st year, I’ve come a very long way from the financially spoiled but spiritually, emotionally and otherwise impoverished child I once was. Although that will always be part of my identity, it doesn’t have to be who I am today. Today, I know that I am a treasure. God has put together the broken pieces into something beautiful.

It has been a struggle to know that it is okay, not narcissistic to know that I am a treasure. My life is a patchwork quilt of experiences. Though I share my story in part here, I no longer do so indiscriminately with people one-to-one. If I do it now, I do it for the purpose of encouragement or education. If I find someone who wants to rend my ‘pearls’ under their feet or judge me, I step back. I’ve worked too hard on my life to step back into re-victimization.

This year, Christmas to me, is a celebration of hope. Celebration of those who have found their way into my tribe, who share part of my heart. Those are healthy people now, people who I am learning and who are learning me as we go. People who I don’t have to apologize to for telling the truth. People who are healthy enough to love and be loved.

I have discovered that even as I have found these human treasures that it is okay and (finally) safe to learn to be treasures for them.