Saturday, November 21, 2015

They missed the miracle

For some reason, this is the hardest post I've written to date. I think it's because I fear my words will not do it justice; there is simply no way I can walk you through this time in my life without glossing over much of it. Even still, it is a Thanksgiving story, so here goes.

I am the mother of four sons. That makes me blessed. At times it made me crazy. But I am, and have been for a very long time, convinced that God knew what he was doing when he gave me boys.

And he knew what he was doing when he took my daughter away.

By the time I was 22 I had been married, divorced, had two kids, two abortions, and was pregnant again.

I was a hot mess. Living in my mother's basement with my tiny sons, I would party every chance I got. I was going to church again, playing piano on the praise team even, sometimes hungover. I was making friends with a few believers, and I was pretty sure the guitar player liked me. But I still had this other life, other friends, other influences and addictions guiding my behavior.

There was a night at work that set a change in motion. It was right after my second abortion, and I was sick as a dog. The second abortion was not "normal." Things went wrong, I woke up. I became very, very ill. In a casual conversation  with a coworker I said "I will never have another abortion. If I get pregnant again, I will give it up for adoption."

Months, maybe weeks later, I'm not really sure, I'm in the basement, pregnancy test in one hand, bible in the other, and my own words rattling around in my head. Here I am, unable to support my sons and me alone, and this child would have no father. If I abort again, no one would have to know. I could just "change" my life afterwards. If I adopt, everyone would know, but few would be happy about it. I knew my mother would not support the idea of adoption. I doubted anyone in my family would. The only place I knew I could garner support would be the church and the few friends I had there.

There never was a doubt about what I was supposed to do. I was supposed to place this child for adoption. It was never a decision I had to make; it was an answer placed in my heart before the question had been asked. And it came with peace. I knew it would be hard, but I also knew that it would work out for my good. Emily would save my life.

The months that followed were more down than up. I was absolutely correct about how my family would react. The church proper, aka board of elders, was supportive in the academic sense, but bless their hearts, they were dealing with something bigger than they'd ever expected, and frankly hurt me more than they helped me heal. People I worked with were confused and often attempted to talk me out of my decision. I was put in touch with an attorney who helped me choose an adoptive family. Unfortunately, she failed to get my medical expenses covered, and had left the country by the time I delivered. My mother evicted me in my 8th month. "You could have at least aborted," she said.

Ultrasounds were in their infancy at this time, but I insisted on finding out the baby's gender. I had desperately wanted my two boys to be girls, and I needed to know. I invited a friend to come with me to the ultrasound but at the last minute she had to back out. It was a beautiful, sunny, summer day. I can still feel the devastation when the tech announced "It's a girl." I walked to the car numb, unable to appreciate the warm sun on my shoulders. I sat in my car and sobbed.

Although I felt scared and alone, God was working. Church friends became my family. They stepped up and loved me in ways I could not have imagined before. They taught me how they lived the bible out every day; how the Word and prayer changed their lives. One friend, a single young woman, would have lunch with me and teach me how she overcame relationship issues. Another friend was also a single mom with addictions in her past. One elder in particular made a point to talk with me, counsel me, and pray with me every Wednesday night. The guitar player and I became good friends. He introduced me to Christian music, and we would have bible study by phone.

Emily's adoptive parents were also very supportive of me. They would call me weekly and we would talk for hours. I went across the country to visit them for a weekend in my 6th month of pregnancy. They hosted a BBQ and I met all the family and friends who would be in Emily's life. I received handwritten prayers and notes of encouragement from them. When I went to their church, the Sunday School class laid hands on me and prayed over me. I was invited to sing for worship. It was a stark contrast to what I experienced at home, and it was such a comfort.

It was Thanksgiving Day 1992. The adoptive parents and their moms had decided to fly to Louisville because they just "knew" that Emily, due the first week of December, was coming early. Another friend from church had procured a Thanksgiving food basket for me, and I hosted dinner for the adoptive family and a few friends. One of the menu requests was cornbread stuffing, simply because my new west coast family had never heard of it. Early in the morning I put the bird in the oven, and felt the first twinge. Labor had begun.

I said nothing. I cooked and served dinner as planned. Twelve of us piled into my tiny apartment and feasted on food I don't remember cooking. After we ate, as the men were cleaning up, one of the adoptive grandmas looked at me and asked, "So how long have you been in labor?"

There was a collective gasp as everyone stopped. Literally, the other 11 folks in the room stopped dead in their tracks and looked at me waiting for me to answer. "Oh, about 7 hours I guess." They all got excited, cleaned up, and insisted we go to the hospital.

This is the part I had been dreading. I didn't want to be in labor and have to explain to everyone, over and over again, that this child was being adopted. To my surprise, I didn't. I told one person, the assistant who helped me into bed, and from there everyone was on the same page. I think that was the only aspect of this whole experience that went according to plan.

I had delivered my first two naturally (36 hours and 20 hours), but I knew I needed an epidural for Emily. She came quickly, so quickly she beat the doctor and the nurse ended up delivering her.The adoptive parents stayed with me and helped me deliver, the dad even got to cut Emily's cord. They followed Emily to the nursery, and my friends came in to stay with me afterwards. One of them, a divorced dad himself, rubbed my feet as I laid in the bed shaking from the epidural. It was such a simple gesture, but spoke volumes to me. Here was a man who wanted nothing from me, doing something nice for me just because he cared for me. That is just one of the micro-lessons I learned about Jesus from my Christian friends.

Since my bills hadn't been paid, the hospital only kept me 12 hours. Just before I was discharged I asked to hold Emily. Her parents and grandparents were there, as was my friend the guitar player. They brought her into the room in a bassinet. Her name tag was purple; indicating she was to be adopted. I picked her up. I don't remember if I said anything, or just looked at her. She was so tiny; I only remember thinking, "You are not mine. You have never been mine. You were in my body, I love you. I was only the means for your arrival because God has something planned for you, but you do not belong to me." And I handed her to her mother.

The guitar player sat in the floor, head down. He took me home later and I asked him what was wrong. "They missed the miracle," he said. "All the people who didn't understand, who insulted you, who hurt you, they completely missed the miracle that I witnessed in that hospital room."

He was so right, but not for the reasons he thinks. I was out of control, on a downward spiral that was leading straight to death. With Emily, God stopped me dead in my tracks. It was an intervention. During the (almost) year I spent in turmoil with an unplanned pregnancy, God was healing me. The pregnancy became a hedge of protection to me, a physical boundary preventing me from engaging in my routine of self-destruction.

But not only was I forced to stop killing myself, I was taught love. Love that I hadn't seen at home, love that I truly did not understand at first. Individual people stood up and befriended me, intentionally, and they worked hard to make me feel valuable and worthy. They even defended me in a few situations, which had never happened before. They did for me what no preacher from a pulpit could do. They were Jesus in skin.

A few weeks before I delivered, I told a friend that a part of me didn't want the pregnancy to end. I was safe behind my belly, I didn't have to make choices or decisions because I was not faced with any temptations. I was afraid of what would happen once that barrier was gone. I was afraid of dating.

And the guitar player? Well, that is probably the most profound part of this testimony. I was right, he liked me. Had I not gotten pregnant when I did, we probably would have gone down the same path I had been down with every man I had ever dated. But fortunately Emily happened, and we were forced to become friends. Real friends. Friends who are transparent. Friends who love each other and want only good things for the other. Even though I was disappointed, I accepted that we were friends. I didn't know that he was waiting for me to heal. We began dating after the adoption was final and married in 1994. John has been the greatest (earthly) gift I have ever received, but left to my own devices, I am sure I would have destroyed any relationship we would have had.

Many missed the miracle, but the miracle wasn't giving a child to a childless couple. The miracle was the work done in my heart. The miracle was the life-saving love I found. I silently celebrate this every Thanksgiving.

There is so much left out of this story, and there is no way you will ever feel what I feel by simply reading text on a computer screen. But know, if you have ever been blessed by me, it is a direct result of what God did in me through Emily.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

My daddy's shelves

My dad made a set of shelves way back in the 70's that I have lugged around since my parents divorced in 1982. They are big and bulky, and they possess many imperfections. They are not shaped the same; one shelf is cut differently from the other two. He obviously lost control of the router on the front of one of them. The boards are not true, although I'm sure some of that is weather related warping over time. For three decades these shelves have been in an attic, closet, or basement; neither displayed nor discarded. Just sitting there. Waiting. Until last week.

About two weeks ago I decided I wanted to hang them in my kitchen, not in the way dad had designed and built them, but with a more modern look. John and I bought brackets and put them up last Saturday. Well, we put up two of them. The third, larger shelf will have to wait for the remainder of the kitchen remodel, but it too will have a home eventually.

I've written a great deal about my mom, not so much about my dad. There are a couple of reasons for that, none of them seem very important to me now. You see, when my husband and I came home from the grocery Friday afternoon there was a strange envelope waiting for me in the mailbox. It was life insurance paperwork on my father.

Shelves my father made
when I was a child. 

Just to review: my mother was dead a week before anyone missed her. My dad was dead for a month and I was notified by the mailman.

It's hard for me to explain to people that I was estranged from both of my parents. It's embarrassing. It brings all sorts of awkwardness on both sides of the conversation, especially if the other person knew either of them, but especially if they knew my dad. This post is a smattering of thoughts, memories, emotions, reactions; all of which are difficult for me to put into words.

Dad was brilliant, vivacious, funny, and loved to laugh. He loved music and singing. He played guitar.  He could fix or build anything. In fact, I grew up thinking that the ability to fix cars, washing machines, windows, or build a porch were inherent man-traits because of the men in my family. I didn't know that there were professional plumbers or electricians until my parents divorced and my mother had to call someone other than my dad.

Dad was also generous to a fault. Money meant nothing to him, and if he could buy you something to make you happy he would. He died a pauper for this reason. Many people received financial support from my dad over the years. I'm a lot like him in that regard, which is why I believe my husband to be a gift from God. IN my best Forest Gump voice, "That's about all I have to say about that."

Dad was quirky. He had a way of speaking to you, a way that would at times make you question your own sanity. His method was one part flirt and two parts cocky with a twist of humor. He could appear to be a genius or a simpleton with equal flair, and he had a way of insulting service workers that went right over most of their heads. He generally got his way in stores or restaurants, but when he didn't things would go south quickly. If my dad's charming method failed to achieve his perception of success he would devolve into an obnoxious, unreasonable, threatening figure, and occasionally the poor soul on the receiving end would call security or the police just to get my dad to leave. My father has been escorted against his will out of more than one establishment.

Most of the people who know my dad thought he was a lot of fun to be around. And he was. He loved to play games. My dad always had big ideas of making life fun for everyone. Whether it was badminton in front yard or hearts at the kitchen table, bowling on Sunday or one-on-one basketball, dad liked to have fun. He expected everyone to have fun as well, and if we didn't, well it was no fun for anyone.

At home my dad was volatile, moody, explosive, and at times, physically abusive. I learned at a very early age how to read his mood and walk on egg shells. My mother thought it was quite funny when I, at the age of 5, came into the kitchen from the backyard, calmly  announcing that "dad is having one of his fits" and had just thrown the lawnmower into the concrete ditch behind the house. I wasn't as amused when he did the same thing to my bike. Or my dog Rufus.

There were many times I wasn't able to get away from his abuse, and it was always two-fold. He always held me by the arm and either shook or hit me, and he always screamed and yelled about how stupid I was for doing whatever I had done to cause his outburst. What did I do, you ask?

Once I fell down. That's right. We were walking along the rocky banks of the Nolin River and I tripped over a rock. When I got up he pushed me back down for being so stupid and clumsy. Another time I was pushing my friends around in a wheel barrow. There was the time I was 16 and talking to a group of friends outside of the building where we were square dancing. That one was especially fun, as he made a scene, cussed me out and slapped me in the car, and then forced me to behave normally at the restaurant with them a half-hour later. Then there was the time I twisted my ankle playing soccer in PE. Oh, and there is the time when I was around  five and I couldn't understand his explanation of the multiplication tables. Everyone of these times I was shaken and/or smacked, and verbally accosted.

There are times I don't remember that others insist happened. My childhood friend shared a memory with me that scared her and her little brother so badly they hid from my dad. My sister told me once he had me behind the barn beating me with a stick so badly she intervened. My mother had also told me of times I ran away from him- but I must have blocked all of these memories. If others hadn't shared them with me, I wouldn't know they existed.

And then there is the third side of my dad, the crying. Frankly, this was worse than the physical abuse. My father, tall and lean, blubbering unintelligibly while sobbing crocodile tears. He would go on and on about how worthless he was. As good as he was at insulting others, he was a master at self-denigration. No amount of logic would work at this point. Well logic didn't work at any point. But when dad was in one of these moods, you just hoped it would end well. More than once someone was worried that dad was suicidal.

So was my dad mentally ill? Yeah, surely he was. He was diagnosed as bipolar at one time. Schizophrenia came up too, but that one is a little harder for me to believe. He sought treatment a few times, both on his own free will and at the behest of a judge, but he didn't stick with treatment. He self medicated with alcohol for a while- those were probably some of the best, calmest years.

My dad was in and out of my life after I became an adult. After years of drinking and smoking, he suddenly stopped both after the birth of my first child, his oldest grandson. He became less lighthearted and more opinionated. He would be around for life events and holidays for a while, then he would disappear without explanation for months or even years at a time. I wish I could say that my fear of my father went away in my adult years, but it didn't. He still could say things to me that cut me deeply. It got to the point that I knew the first two items up for discussion would be my weight and my dirty house. He loved to poke me with political jabs, enticing me to argue with him because we did not agree on several levels. And invariably, I would end up being called stupid for my beliefs; or a failure for my lack of vision. The bottom line: I was never good enough, thin enough, or smart enough to make him happy.

My boys loved my dad, when he was around. There were times when he was very active in their lives, and then times when he just stopped communicating with them altogether. He didn't acknowledge any birthdays or Christmases, but one day he would just show up and insist that everyone go to do something fun and then get ice cream afterward. He would get very involved with the kids and then not. He attended a few of John's basketball games, but not his high school graduation. They were confused. I assured them that I could not explain their grandfather, and just encouraged them to enjoy it when he was around, and not take his absences personally.

Sadly, all four of my children had an opportunity to see my father get angry and violent. Fortunately they only saw violence toward an inanimate object, but it scared them none the less. As they told me what happened I just nodded my head and said "Yeah. I know. I grew up with that." .

I admit it. I quit. I quit trying to have a normal relationship with my father. I didn't want to be around him. I didn't want to listen to the insults, the denigration, and the accusations. I got tired of walking on egg shells, living in fear of opening a can or worms, or being called stupid. His failing health did not slow down his barrage of hurtful comments. When he went to live with my sister, I knew he would be taken care of, and in a way, I was off the hook. Yeah, I'm a quitter like that I guess. In a way I proved him right.

I had the opportunity to talk to all four children separately today and tell them of their grandfather's death. I admitted my guilt to them, but received something unexpected from each of them; encouragement. My children are angry. They feel abandoned. They do not blame me for my parents' decision to step out of their lives. Frankly that surprised me a little bit, but I'm also relieved. I also now understand that however painful it feels to be rejected by a parent, it must be exponentially more painful to feel that from a grandparent.

I will go to my grave with guilt and regret. I was a lousy daughter. And if that were the end of the story, this would be a tragedy. But it's not. If you know anything about bipolar disorder, you know it has a genetic tendency. I have a responsibility to prevent this sort of dysfunction in the upcoming generations. My father's death has only deepened my resolve to make sure I am a better mom and grandmother than my parents were. None of us can change our past, but we can allow God to redeem it. I still have a lot of daddy issues to work through, a number or demons to exorcise, and I don't expect that to happen overnight if at all. But as I hold my sweet grandbabies on my lap, may they know how much they are loved and adored. May they feel comfortable and safe in the arms and at the hands of their parents and grandparents alike.

My cousin, whom if I ever met her in real life I don't remember it, summed it up nicely in a facebook message "what a strange family we have."

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Happy Mother's Day to my other moms

I did not have a good mother and a good upbringing. You know that, I've been very vocal about my mother for years. But today is not about her. It's about the other women who influenced me.

The first other mom to impact me is Angela. Her daughter and I became friends the first day of first grade. I loved to visit their home, and wanted to live my friend's life. Angela and her husband joked around with each other. Angela laughed with us when we were being silly little girls. In fact, she would often encourage the silliness to continue. I spent many nights in this home, most of them now just a blur in my memories of childhood; but there are a chosen few memories that will remain as clear as the day they happened.

I was in third grade when my mother had surgery, and I stayed with them for a few (school) nights. Out of the blue one night I got scared that something bad was going to happen to my mom and I started crying. My friend tried everything her 9 year old mind knew to do, but in the end said "I'm going to get mom."

Angela sat in the bed with me and held me and let me cry. I remember her holding me, stroking my hair, comforting me and encouraging me that everything was going to be OK. To Angela it was a small gesture. She never knew that I felt something in her arms that I couldn't explain, that in that moment I felt love that I never felt at home. My friend had no idea how lucky I thought she was to have such an amazing mom, and how much I envied her home life.

My teen years brought two more moms into my life. Tess's mom was unlike any woman I ever met. She had a commanding appearance and an even more commanding personality. She cursed when she was angry and drank wine in front of her kids; two attributes that my own mother frowned upon greatly. Tess's mother had traveled a lot and told us often of her adventures. I liked being around her, I thought she was beautiful, intimidating, and fascinating.

Tess told me often how much she loved her mother. Sure, they fought, and I happened to be in the room a couple of times when they did. Their arguments were loud, explosive, and always on point. Neither Tess nor her mom turned an argument about a topic into an assassination of each other's character. And at the end of the heated debate, they always confirmed their love for each other.

Tess and her mom were the ones who saved my life as a 17 year old. It was the end of May and I was living with my dad (because mom had kicked me out) 50 miles away. I had come to the city to visit mom and friends, and was in a deep, deep depression. Tess knew it, and I'm sure she shared it with her mom. But neither of them knew I had a plan. A plan to end my pain.

My last stop before heading the 50 miles back home was Tess's house, and my plan was already in action. Tess and her mother recognized that I was suddenly calm in the midst of my mental storm. Tess's mom had Tess search my car, where she found the empty pill and alcohol bottles. Tess and her mom hid my keys and called EMS.

Things became blurry as the pills started taking effect, but I remember Tess's mom acting as my mom on the ER check in. And then I remember the argument she had with my mother when mom got there. My mother was indignant that Tess's mom dared step in and call EMS because this was a family matter, that she should have been notified and allowed to decide what to do. As I lay on the stretcher semi-conscious being treated for narcotic and anti-coagulant overdose, Tess's mom pointed out the flaw in my mother's logic, defended her actions, and finally leaned over to me and told me she would do it all again to save my life.

Tracy's mom was also there for me a great deal in my high school years. Also a single mom, she opened her home to me when I needed it. You see, I knew mom wouldn't hesitate to kick me out, even though I was a minor. So when things got tense I would leave, hoping things would calm down and I wouldn't have to leave for good. In reality, I was hoping my mom would miss me, but that never happened.

Tracy's mom made my prom dress for me. I have no idea how hard that was to do, she didn't have a pattern, only  my drawing on a piece of notebook paper. But she did it, never complained (to me at least) and I was able to go to prom with a one-of-a-kind dress for less than $50 in material.

Things have been a little bit different in my adult life. I have been blessed to watch several amazing moms in action. Pat, who has taught me how to come through trials with love. Jennifer, who exemplifies that love is a multiplying factor not a divisor. Mary, who taught me that only death is fatal.  These are just three of the amazing moms I know.

And while I wasn't actually looking for a mother figure, one found me; Barb. Although she started out as my boss, her title morphed into "mother" over time. She wasn't just mother to me, though, but to everyone in her charge. She encouraged us, pushed us to do more at times, and then put us under her wing to protect us when needed. However unprofessional it may be, she filled a void in my life. She became a confidante, she advised me on personal issues with my children, and allowed me to cry on her shoulder. And while my own mother was still alive but absent from our lives, she stepped up to be a grandmother to my sons.

It would be easy to say that my mom failed me. But here's the thing, I saw all of these other moms fail too. None of the moms I've honored here are perfect. They all fought with their children, got frustrated or angry at some point, and probably said things they regretted from time to time. But the one thing I know, they love their children, and they also loved me in some way.

The hardest part of looking back at my childhood is seeing in how many ways I have become like my mother. But thanks to the love I experienced and the lessons I learned from these other moms, I know I am better at this mother thing than my mom was. And that is her loss, because being a mom, and now a grandma, is a super awesome experience.

Happy Mother's Day to all you moms. Your circle of influence is greater than you know.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The response myth

I've heard and seen several news reports in recent days surrounding a local celebrity and allegations of rape, and the sound bytes have angered me greatly. The names are not important. The fact that the grand jury chose not to indict does not matter here. I have no opinion on whether or not a sexual assault occurred. I will not debate any potential social injustice, and I have nothing to say about whether or not the jury was biased. In short, the case is not why this post came to my mind. I am angered by the sound bytes I've heard; short quotes by learned individuals who use their positions of authority to perpetuate a myth.

[She] did not act like a victim.

So there it is. The myth. According to this extremely intelligent, highly-paid, influential individual, there is some sort of "way" a victim is supposed to act, and if those actions are absent, a victim she is not.

So, I ask you, how is one supposed to behave following a sexual assault? 

(pause here for contemplation)

There is no answer because there is no one right way to react. Rape is an assault, but it's not like being beaten up or stabbed with a knife. There is no gaping hole that requires suturing. Sometimes there are no marks, no bruises, nothing to show for the damage that was done. A rapist is a thief, taking what no insurance policy can replace. For so, so many, rape destroys the most precious of gifts, physical intimacy, because of the scars it creates on the spirit.  Preparedness is not possible; so many times these destroyers are those whom we believe are safe. All we can do is react.

I could tell you about child victims who hid the abuse because they were scared for their (or their families') lives. I could tell you about the women I know who self medicate with drugs or alcohol. I could tell you about the ones who go straight to the phone and call police. or the ones with severe depression, or even dissociate. I could tell you about the women who have become victims again, maybe once, maybe twice, or maybe for the several years. I could tell you about the women who get up and go back to the fields to work pretending nothing ever happened.

But I won't. You've heard those stories before. We all have. All I want you to remember, to know, is that there is no textbook response for a victim of sexual assault, and immediate response does not indicate whether or not a crime occurred. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Forgiving the seemingly unforgivable

This will likely be an polarizing post. Many will disagree with me, but I ask that you hear me out just the same. I am in year 39 of this journey. Forgiving is something I had to do, and I did it only for me. In this post I will tell you about forgiving two rapists- one who raped me at age 6,  the other at age 14. 

I recently read a series of unrelated tweets about forgiveness, and one in particular caught my attention. It stayed with me, echoing in my head, causing me to reflect on my own experience.
               You absolutely do not have to forgive your rapist. Don't let anyone tell you that you should forgive him.
Fascinating. I have never been given permission to not forgive before. And not only that, the writer is adamant in his point. It's said with authority. Absolute. It's command-like in its tone.

Another blogger I read this week put it this way; you don't owe it to your rapist to forgive him.

And that is when I understood the problem; why some victims believe forgiveness is not necessary or even possible. They believe that forgiveness is about the rapist. It isn't. Forgiveness is about the victim, and the victim only. For that reason I believe that the above advice is incorrect. I believe you owe it to yourself to forgive.

I'm not going to sugar coat this. If you are a believer like I am, you are commanded to forgive. The gospel does not give us a list of sins which should or should not be forgiven. The bible doesn't exempt certain groups from this mandate.  It's a heavy burden to bear, but the bottom line is this, God tells me to do it. And I know one thing about God, if He tells me to do something, it's ultimately for my own good. I don't always understand why or how I'm supposed to do what He says, but I know that when I do, blessings follow, so I try to obey.  Many times I fail, but I try.

It took me a while to work through this forgiveness thing, and my path was anything but linear. I was not given time and space early on to properly, and therapeutically, work through the wounds the rapes created. But over the last twenty years or so I have, quite by happenstance, been given opportunities to share with others in the healing process.

As a young adult I found myself working with teens and young women. I was drawn to them.  I identified with their ambitions, insecurities, and hurts. I saw patterns in these women, patterns of abuse and self-harm. 

As I listened to their stories I realized rape and sexual assault were far too common. The amount of anger in their voices resonated with me. I understood that anger. Over time I realized, though, that their anger was also the root cause of their self-destructive behaviors. I watched them enter into unhealthy relationships, engage in risky sexual behaviors, numb pain with alcohol or drugs, cut, or attempt suicide.  I realized that they continued to think of themselves as victims, that all of their relationships revolved around being a victim. In essence, they were stuck in a pattern of behavior that victimized them even more. 

Was I any different? Not really. On the outside I appeared to have overcome the trauma in my life; I was married with children and a good job. I looked  like I had it all together. I was respected by my work and church communities and often asked to take on leadership roles. 

But I continued to play the victim card with those around me. Being a victim was an easy, familiar role to play. Whenever something went wrong I defaulted to an angry outburst followed by deep depression. I forced those around me to yield to my quickly shifting moods, and it seemed to work. 

As a result I felt stuck. My relationships were superficial, built around walls I put up myself. My marriage was OK, even good at times, but definitely not great. I was not the mother I wanted to be. I was distrusting of people. I would get hurt or angered by others very quickly. I still felt, just as I had felt in my teen years, invisible, disposable, unimportant. I refused to be vulnerable because I thought being vulnerable is what caused me to get hurt.

I was angry, and I was righteous about my anger. I did, after all, have very good reasons to be angry. I was raped. That makes people angry. But there was more to my anger; I allowed that anger to seep into every relationship I had for years after the rapes. When something happened in a relationship that made me mad, I believed that in order to be right, I had to stay angry. I did not want to forgive anyone because I didn't want to have to admit that I had done anything wrong. 

I didn't learn about forgiveness all at once. It was definitely something I had to learn in chunks over time.  I've researched the etymology of the word, its definition, and how it has been used in the bible. I've listened to scores of sermons on the topic. You see, forgives is a hot topic in the church world because so many of us have such a hard time with it. The definition of forgiveness is actually quite simple- it means to let go of anger. That's all, but I think we tend to think it means more than that. 

Here are some things forgiveness isn't:

Forgiveness is not forgetting.

No one, God included, thinks for a second that you will ever forget being raped. Memories of trauma are seared into our subconscious whether we actively think on them or not. Memories are a receipt of sorts; a mental proof of something that occurred. There are repressed memories; I know two events happened to me because someone else witnessed them, yet I do not remember them at all. I have had dreams of events in my past. I can not control them any more than I can being triggered by a smell wafting in the air. Forgetting isn't a reliable measure of healing or forgiving. (See more at this post about forgetting)

Forgiveness is not condoning. 

Forgiving someone does not equal approving of their actions. And it also doesn't mean accepting excuses for the behavior. While I recognize and accept that there are certain circumstances surrounding and leading up to the fact that I was raped, the fact remains that I was raped. If rapist #1 was abused prior to assaulting me, he needs to deal with it. If rapist #2 misunderstood me and the way I communicated my crush on him, he needs to learn some things about relationships. Neither of these circumstances are about me, nor do they excuse the crimes committed to me. I do not condone the actions of either rapist. Both of them took something away from me that didn't belong to them, and that can never be repaid.

Forgiveness is not letting him off the hook. 

Your character drives your actions, all actions have consequences, and consequences can affect your character.  The character of the rapists, not mine, led to me getting raped. And since all actions have consequences, what consequences are possible?

Well, obviously there is legal justice. I wanted to pursue legal action as a tween, but was not afforded the opportunity. I had thought that the statute of limitations ran out long ago, but it hadn't. (you can check your state's statute here.) I have been criticized by some for seeking criminal charges 36 years after the fact, but the framer's of my state's laws obviously felt that the crime heinous enough to allow me to do so. In three years the case has gone nowhere. We've been in court a dozen times, but I have not yet gotten to testify. And while his attorney is confident that this will all just go away, I know it is a heavy mental and financial burden for him. He's has to be in court, he has to pay his attorney, he has to explain to his wife what is going on. He took twenty years of my life. I have taken three of his so far.

But what if legal justice is not an option? I know how that feels too.  I have to trust that first statement: Your character drives your actions, all actions have consequences, and consequences can affect your character. If rapist #2 still has the same character, then his actions have not changed. Yes, that means there are other victims out there, but I hope that if there are, one of them has taken legal action. If there aren't, and his character has changed, then I accept that as well. This is the hard part, accepting something that is beyond your control. BUT- know in your mind that forgiving him is not releasing him from the responsibility of owning up to his actions, should the opportunity become available.

Forgiveness does not minimize the pain. 

I did not ignore the pain when I forgave. If anything, the process of forgiving made the pain all the more real. I think the worst part of the pain of rape is the way it affects how you interact with others. Essentially two decades of my life went in the direction set by the rapist. Hurt people hurt people, I was no exception.  I had long lasting emotional baggage from the first rape. The pain he inflicted on me reached way beyond me. My husband, my children, my friends; those closest to me have been affected in one way or another by my pain.

Forgiving them meant I had to repair relationships with those I love. I had to own my own pain as well as own the pain I caused others. Once I had done that, I could move on to rebuilding trust with those people, and eventually get to the point where I could allow myself to feel vulnerable with them.

Forgiving is not confronting.

Here is my absolute- you absolutely do not need to involve a person while forgiving him or her. Forgiving in absentia is necessary for a number of reasons. Maybe the person is already dead, or you don't know where he is; or maybe seeing the person is just plain too painful. That's ok. You can still forgive, because forgiveness is all about you, not him.  It is an action you take, in your head space, to redefine you. 

Forgiveness is not trusting. 

Let me make this perfectly clear; I am commanded to forgive. I am not commanded to trust. In fact, Jesus himself advises us to be wise in gentleness, to be shrewd even. Astute. Discerning. I am to acknowledge evil and recognize people who intend me harm, but I don't have to let them hurt me again. 

On the other hand, forgiveness is:

Forgiveness is agreeing that he acted in a way to hurt you. 

Agree? Agree with whom? Start with yourself. This is when you get rid of the coulda, shoulda, wouldas; the self-doubt, the self blame. Even though I was a child of 6 when I was raped the first time, I still asked myself "why did I let him do those things to me?" This is the voice with which I needed to agree. 

When you forgive someone you bring to light hurt and harm done to you, and you admit it to yourself. This is hurt that you did not invite, you did not ask for. You accept that someone did something to you which was beyond your control. That can be very difficult to do. Control is something most of us like, it makes us feel safe, it lessens the pain. But let me repeat: something happened to you that was beyond your control. You assign blame to the perpetrator of the action and recognize that you are a victim of his actions.

Forgiveness is choosing not to get even. 

This is my personal favorite. I was listening to Charles Stanley on the radio preach about forgiveness. He said "You know you have forgiven someone when you no longer wish that person would be run over by a truck." Oh how I wished for bad things to happen to the monster living next door. I daydreamed of him being trampled by the herd of cows his father raised, or falling off the tractor while setting tobacco, or me telling his fiance of the things he did to me and ruin his wedding plans. I hoped his ship would sink while he was stationed in Sicily. And later I had similar daydreams about a basketball player in my high school. I was consumed with getting even. This obsession led to a series of incidents of self-harm, including attempts at suicide, the ultimate revenge. I planned for everyone to blame him for my death.

My plan failed. There is no way to get even for rape. There is no action that would come close to causing the pain they caused to me. At some point I realized that I had to be thinking of the rapes more than the rapists were; and the time I spent thinking about it only robbed me of positive energy. 

Forgiveness is disconnecting. 

I'm not sure if you've noticed this, but I will twist my sentences around the block in an effort to avoid using a personal possessive pronoun with the word rapist.  

Rape was an act done to me. They, the rapists, do not belong to me. When I forgave the rapists, I severed the bond I had forged with them. And yes, it was a bond I held. As long as I referred to them as mine, the trauma continued. I know it is simply semantics to some, but by being tethered to the rapists in the words I used I was unable to move forward. Letting go was crucial to me as part of healing. Using articles (a, the) instead of personal possessive pronouns depersonalizes the rape. It offers a degree of separation, it gives me freedom to leave him behind. "The rapist" assaulted "my body" which affected "my mind and spirit." My area of control is limited to what belongs to me, and the rapist certainly doesn't belong to me.

Forgiveness is loving yourself.

Let me ask you something, do you love yourself? Twenty years ago I would have answered this question differently than I do now. Like most abuse victims, I struggled to love myself. I had been demeaned and degraded so often; my cries for love and acceptance met by denial. It is hard, no, impossible to love yourself when you view yourself as worthless.

By forgiving  I have told myself that I am more important than anyone who hurt me is. I let go of the anger I harbored so that I could love myself. That is why I had to forgive, and I had to love myself enough to not allow them to hold any space in my head any longer. You see, the anger I held on to came with self-doubt, self-loathing, and fear. When I let the anger go it made room for love. It made room for the positive things people had been saying to me all along but I couldn't hear. It made room for me to be able to see myself in a different light, and as I have recently found out, a light in which others have always seen me. I've got to tell you, I look a lot better in love than I do in anger.

I will not tell you forgiving is easy. I will not try to convince you to forgive in a certain time frame. I won't even tell you that you have to forgive. But I will tell you that forgiving the rapists is what I believe took me from survivor to over-comer. There is a peace on this side that I wouldn't trade for anything. And while I am still in the struggle legally, I know that the battle is already won. They may have taken a part of me when they raped me, and they may have set my path in a direction I wouldn't have chosen on my own; but I don't have time to be angry. I have too much going for me, I have too many things to do, too many people to love.

I'm curious to hear your thoughts. What do you think forgiveness is? What is it not?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

If you have something nice to say, I don't want to hear it

I stood at my aunt's house at dusk two Aprils ago, comforting three generations of cousins as they sobbed  over my mother's death. "I can't believe it. She was just over here. She was so good to us. I'm going to miss her so much. I just loved your mother..."

I was numb. I wanted to scream at them, tell them how angry I was, how deeply their kind and thoughtful words hurt me, but I couldn't. I'll admit it. I have mommy issues. I have hated my mother for a couple of decades, but there is no way in that moment I could have made sense of my emotions to them. And the truth is, nothing good would have come of them knowing the truth about my mother. 

By all appearances, Mary was a good woman and perhaps an excellent mom. She worked hard to support me on her own. She recovered from every disaster to come out on the other side with more than she started. She was amazing with money, and no one could make yeast rolls any better than she. 

I am who I am, for better or worse, because of my mother. She is the reason I can cook, and I cook well. She is the reason I am punctual. Always leave the house 15 minutes before you need to. Better to be early than late- I must have heard that at least a thousand times.  Other pearls of wisdom that were ingrained in me include:
  • Friends are not important. 
  • People only want to be your friend because they want something from you. 
  • We have neighbors. Therefore you can not do anything outside where they can see you. 
  • Parties are stupid
  • Church is for the weak, and just something you do on Sunday. The preacher doesn't really expect you to do what he says from the pulpit 
  • Sex is just for the man, and women who enjoy sex are sluts
  • You will never be like those people (referring to anyone I admired) 
  • Don't be like your sister
  • Therapy and counseling are for the weak
As a child I thought Mary was wise. I would sit at the table with her and marvel at the ways she handled adversity in her life. Growing up with an alcoholic father she encountered situations I could not imagine. I heard about how she stole grandpa's keys to avoid riding with him drunk. She shared stories of running away from neighborhood boys. I realized that I was like her; I had my own secrets to survival. She had no idea how alike we were, but I knew how deep the bond was. 

As a teen I thought she was a tyrant. Her rules made no sense. For example, I wasn't allowed to date, but I couldn't go to homecoming dances stag, because girls who do that are sluts. I wanted to play sports, but I wasn't allowed to because I was a piano player and I might hurt my fingers. And then I was told over and over that I would be stupid to go to major in music in college. But the biggest argument always stemmed from the concept of friendship.

Mary had a simple take on friends- just don't have them. At all. Friends are leeches, hanging around with you only because you offer them something they want. No one needs friends. And truly Mary did not have any. Everyone in Mary's life fell into one of three categories. There were family who needed her, family who no longer deserved her, or the unrelated. 

Over the years I watched as Mary helped various family members. And over the years I listened as she ranted about them, how they were dumb and helpless, how they would never be able to make it on their own, how stupid they were. These were the things she said about my sister, my father, my grandmother, my cousins, even my ex-husband after she would get home from helping them in some way.

I don't have to imagine what she thought about me. I told her I was raped as a child, she told me I was making a mountain out of a mole-hill. I told her I was in a fight on the bus, and that the bruise on my cheek was from getting my face stomped.  She thought it was funny and told everyone we met, laughing about it, right in front of me. I told her I was date-raped at 14, she told me it was time to put me on the pill. I attempted suicide and she told me that was because I was weak. I told her I was placing a child for adoption, she told me I "could at least abort it." She kicked me out of the house twice; once as a junior in high school and the other as a pregnant single-mom.

By the time I reached my mid-twenties I saw Mary for who she was, a narcissistic misanthrope. She had no altruistic intentions when helping people; she had projects. Those whom Mary helped sat in awe of her kindness, which only served to validate her already low opinion of the unfortunate project. Whoever this project was, Mary would be obsessed about it. She would visit her project once or twice a week, and make sure all the the project's needs were met. This would go on for a while and then suddenly, without warning or explanation, Mary would cut off all contact. Since these were family members, my sister or I would inevitably run into one of her projects and be asked what had happened to Mary, why she wasn't around any more. We had no answers.

I finally freed myself of  relying on my mother at age 23. Despite my effort to set boundaries, simply to protect myself, Mary still had a negative affect on my life. I felt obligated to maintain a relationship with her for the sake of my children, but I limited how much I would tell her. Even so she found ways to meddle, attempt to sabotage even, my relationships with my husband, children and in-laws. She called John, more than once during the first years of our marriage, and warned him that I was bi-polar, depressed, and often suicidal. She took my children to see movies I told her I didn't want them to see. She convinced my in-laws to write her into their will, leaving everything to her should John die before they did.

But my children adored her. For another decade I continued to fake it for their sake. And then things changed. She didn't show for Thanksgiving dinner. When I called her she told me she had to be at home because she was having a roof put on her house. After that, she just stopped calling. My boys would call her and talk, but she would not have any time for them. Their doting, indulgent grandmother just suddenly didn't want anything to do with them. No explanation. That was somewhere around 2007. She did not attend Jared's graduation or any of John's high school basketball games.She did not see the kids on any holiday.

Mary died in April of 2013. It had been at least 5 years since any of us had had any contact with her. But she contacted her sister and nieces regularly. When they couldn't get a hold of her, they called my sister. Mary had probably been dead a week. The coroner said it appeared that she sat in her chair and died peacefully.

I knew my mother's death would be hard for me. I knew it would bring to the surface all of the feelings I had successfully compartmentalized for so long; feelings of anger and abandonment. In a strange way I was prepared for that. I even had a counselor waiting for my call. Seriously, I had seen her a year earlier to prepare myself for talking about the rape, in detail, for the first time. She recognized on our first meeting that my mother was one of the demons I needed to exorcise.

I was not, however, prepared for others telling me what a wonderful person she was. I was not, and am still not, able to listen to people talk about their wonderful memories of her. And I don't say that to demean those people; I know that they genuinely have those positive memories. But I also know that they did not have the pleasure of seeing Mary's ugly side, which is the part I remember most. Standing there on my aunt's stoop, watching my cousins fall apart, hugging them while they cry on my shoulder, hearing about all of the interactions they had had with her in the last month; it was simply salt in a wound.

I decided long ago that the cycle ends with me. I am not my mother. My husband and children make sure that I do not become my mother. I know that I  have not yet forgiven her because I am still angry with her. I very much want to let that go, and it is getting better. Forgiving my mother has been so much harder than forgiving the men who raped me, but it is something I have to do, so I continue to work through it.

But in the meantime, please avoid telling me how great she was. I know you are being nice, and it's not you, it's me...but I just don't want to hear it.

Saturday, February 14, 2015


I used to get angry when I heard sexual assault victims talk about not pressing charges and seeking justice. "You don't know what it's like," they would tell me. "It's like being assaulted all over again." That is true. I did not know what it was like, I had no idea how violated they felt recounting the events over and over again to
For so long I was envious of those
who had an opportunity to confront
 abusers in court. 
strangers. But since we are being honest I can tell you that my anger was fueled by one thing: jealousy. I was so envious of them; they had everything I didn't have. They had support of family and friends. They had time on their side. Many had physical evidence. It seemed so simple to me, just press charges and seek justice.

And then I found out that everyone who had had an opportunity to help me seek justice 30 years ago lied to me. I had been told by my parents, educators, counselors, and even a police officer that the statute of limitations had run out in 7 years. The bastard had been protected by my silence during the only period in which I could have sought justice. I trusted them. And they lied.

Maybe they meant well, but the truth is, rape of a child under the age of 12 in my state is a class A felony. There is not a statute of limitations on class A felonies. On February 12, 2012 I gave my statement to the state police detective and started the wheels of justice moving. I knew it would be a long and difficult process. But I have only one goal: get his name published as being accused to open the door for other victims to go through. Anything else is icing on the cake.

I am up for the fight. In the last three years I have had 27 interactions with the system. I have been in court (with the bastard) 6 times for preliminary hearings. I have signed statements and read briefs. I have waited for the judge to make decisions. And I have weekly emailed to victim advocate in the prosecutor's office to help them remember my name and my case.

And 27 times I have dealt with an emotional response that I can only describe as rattling, as if my foundation has been moved, like I'm not grounded. I'm not sad or tearful, but I am a bit melancholy. It lasts for a day or two, and during this time I am strangely gentler than normal. I still can not give this feeling a name. None of the usual emotions seem to  fit. So I just call it rattled and unbalanced.

I did nothing wrong. I did not invite
being raped.  I do not hold any shame.
I do not have unresolved feelings about the rapist. I have been speaking this same truth for almost 39 years. My story has not changed. He raped me. He knew what he was doing. I did not, I did not deserve it, and I did nothing to cause it. It happened TO me, not BECAUSE of me. He holds the shame, not I. He mentally tortured me for the next 6 years that I lived next door to his parents. I have heard rumors that there was a group of older boys who bullied and sexually abused other boys in the town. If so, and if he was also a victim, that truth needs to come out as well. The bottom line is simple, the truth must come out.

I am not afraid to testify. This process is complicated, but the next forward step is to have a hearing where I tell the entire story to the judge in front of the bastard and the defense attorney. I am completely ready to do that. I dreamed about being able to do that for three decades. He no longer has any power over me, and I look forward to the day I can sit on the stand and let him hear my words.

And yet, I have this strange unsettling feeling every time I deal with this.

Finally, after encounter #26, I got it. I now understand what sexual assault victims had been trying to tell me.

I am not afraid of the rapist. 
I am afraid of being failed by the system.

Encounter #26 was a phone conversation with the detective. We had gotten a ruling in our favor, and the detective would have to file charges again. I told him I was scared; the prosecutor had told me that she and the judge were tired of the case. He encouraged me by saying "They don't have that option. It is their job to fight for justice for you. I am frustrated for you and will continue to fight as much as I have to for you."  His words were exactly what I needed to hear. I needed to know that someone else, someone with more power than I have, was willing to fight for me. 

Every brief, every motion, every hearing takes us one step closer to justice. But every brief, every motion, every hearing is because of some legal wrangling on the part of the defense. I have to believe that these maneuverings on the part of defense counsel are intentional because she knows what I believe- if this case ever gets to a grand jury he will be indicted. He admitted to abusing me to the state police. Once he is indicted, perhaps the flood gates open.

But each time I wonder- will the judge decide in my favor? Will justice reign? Will I ever get to tell my story on the record?

I was failed by so many people in my past. My parents. My friends. Psychologists. A psychiatrist. Teachers. School counselors. Boyfriends and even an ex-husband. All of these people told me to get over it. Move on. There's nothing that can be done. People I trusted, people in power and with influence over me, disregarded my desire for justice as teen histrionics.

Will I get the same treatment from the legal system now? Will I be told, as matter of law, that justice is a gift I don't deserve? Will I be discarded as a case that doesn't matter, dismissed and not believed?

With the words of the detective ringing in my ears I identified the lie in which my fear is based: "You are not worthy of justice," and I have replaced it with the truth:

I am worthy of justice and worth the fight.

I find it amazing how much more support I have now. My love holds my hand during every court appearance. All of my friends offer words of encouragement whenever I give an update. None of them have ever discouraged me from continuing this process. They want to help me. They join me in spirit during the fight. They celebrate the victories and mourn the losses with me.

I don't expect that unsettled feeling to go away. I did not ask for this fight, but I will finish it. I know that defense counsel will continue to throw road blocks into my path. But I am worthy of justice, and I am worth this fight. Other victims of the bastard who raped me are worthy of justice and worth this fight. And if you are a victim of sexual assault I tell you-

You are worthy of justice and worth the fight.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

I don't try to forget. I simply remember no more.

Some word pairs just seem to go together. Cream and sugar. Laverne and Shirley. Forgive and forget. We hear them used together so often that we think they are forever inextricably linked to one another.

Forgive and forget...

We've all heard it. Someone respected by us and well-meaning has said you'll just need to forgive and forget that happened. The phrase is thrown around as if it were a magic dagger- by forgiving and forgetting our problems will be over. All will be right with the world. And if, like me, you have grown up in church we can just turn that up a notch by including the qualifier

...just as God has forgiven and forgotten your sin.

In my case, that means only one thing. God has forgotten more about me that He has ever known. 

Trying to forget trauma is like trying to forget you have on only one shoe. Or like trying to forget you can see. It does not come naturally. Anyone who has been through any kind of trauma has more than memories of the event. The basic physiological response of fear means we had a heightened sense of awareness at the time of the trauma. Our memories are more than just pictures in our minds; all of our senses are attached. Rather than seeing images with our mind's eye, we have deeply planted land mines in our heads with triggers like common smells, sounds, and touches. You don't forget the smell of moldy wood or the feel of carpet on your back; sometimes I have flashbacks. 

LIE- I must forgive and forget. 

Seriously, when did we start thinking that was a good idea? Memories serve a purpose. I burned my hand on the stove because I turned the wrong knob...I remember now to look at the knobs more carefully. (True story. My husband did/does the same thing). All of us could make lists a mile long of lessons we've learned that we will never, and should never, forget. So why do we think we should forget being assaulted in some way?

My moment of truth came while sitting in a Beth Moore bible study...
when she said something so provocative I thought surely she was going to be struck dead by a lightening bolt right there on the TV screen. She said that God does not forget our sin...

Let me stop right there for a second. What is forgetting? What does it mean? isn't it the opposite of remember? Here is a list of definitions for the word forget copied from

  1. to omit or neglect unintentionally:
  2. to leave behind unintentionally; neglect to take:
  3. to fail to think of; take no note of.
  4. to omit mentioning; leave unnoticed
  5. to neglect willfully; disregard or slight.
  6. to cease or omit to think of something..
  7. to cease or fail to remember; be unable to recall:

When I look at these definitions, I immediately see that there are basically two types of forgetting. The first is a complete inaction (#1-3). If you are guilty of this type of forgetting you are unaware that you are doing it. It is only when this forgetting becomes a forget of action (4-7)  that you even know that you've done it. In other words, you only know you have forgotten something when you remember it. 

So what does it mean to remember (according to
  1. to recall to the mind by an act or effort of memory; think of again:
  2. to retain in the memory; keep in mind; remain aware of:
  3. to have (something) come into the mind again:
  4. to bear (a person) in mind as deserving a gift, reward, or fee:
  5. to give a tip, donation, or gift to:
  6. to mention (a person) to another as sending kindly greetings:
  7. to perform (a programmed activity)at a later time according to a preset schedule
On the surface, these definitions can be divided into two categories. Mental remembrances (1-3) and physical remembrances (4-7). In all of the physical remembrance definitions, the mental memory causes an action to take place. But how accurate is that really? Looking at the first three definitions of remember, why do we keep something in memory? I remember phone numbers so I can call someone. I remember I need milk so that I will buy it. I remember a friend's birthday and I send a message to her. I remember a lovely dinner with my husband and I smile. I remember being raped......

Are remembering and forgetting truly opposites?

Back to Beth Moore's explanation. In order to understand "remember no more" we must look at how God remembers. Whenever you find the phrase "God remembered..." in the bible, you will see Him take an action. And you do not find a verse that says God forgets our sins. It says he removes them from us and remembers them no more. (There is a nice explanation of the original Hebrew words for remember and forget here, if you are interested).

So I no longer try to forget. I simply choose to not remember. 

I forgave the rapes. I still struggle with forgiving my mother (and that is because she forgot me, in that she willfully neglected me, she disregarded and slighted me. She ceased to think of me and refused to help me overcome being a two-time rape victim). But the good news is: I no longer judge my own healing on whether or not I forget any of their actions. I haven't, and I won't, forget what happened to me. But I can choose to not act upon them again; or at least I choose how I act upon them. If I act upon a memory of assault or abuse now, I choose to act in ways that do not lead to self harm. 

My memories of assault were painfully twisted with my self-image and self-esteem. In my youth I acted upon my memories by being promiscuous or getting drunk. I attempted to replace the negative feelings of being unseen (by my mother) and worthless (by the rapists) by getting lots of attention and being numbed for a time. It took a lot of time, and even more pain, for me to relearn feelings and emotions, and to properly assign a value to myself.  I had to look at not only the trauma I endured, but the pain I caused others by the ways I remembered; not only did I have to forgive others, I needed to seek forgiveness and make amends. 

I chose to not remember for many, many years. Now that my children are grown, and I've had the mental energy to go through healing and reach forgiveness, I remember again. I choose now to remember by being a voice, an advocate, a hand to hold. I choose to remember by seeking justice. I choose to remember by being active and proactive in my family and community. I choose to remember by giving attention to the young women I love, that they may not find themselves in the same pit I was in. 

Forgiving is hard. Forgetting is impossible. But the way I remember gives me control.