Back ~ Again

Those of you who have kept ‘following’ me even though nothing has been forthcoming, thank you!  While I had good intentions over the summer, I was not able to keep up with posting or, even, my research and writing.  My Renewal Leave last summer was a gift for so many reasons.  I was able to rest, rejuvenate, write and, perhaps most importantly, reconnect with my call to pastoral ministry.

Last October, despite my insistent denial, I had to face the fact that I was suffering from depression.  Work was very stressful at the time and factors converged so that I was not able to ignore it any longer.  My mother came out to stay with us for two weeks.  I found a new counselor (my previous counselor having moved away last April).  I saw my family physician.  And I began learning about depression.

Past struggles with my mental health had always focused around anxiety ~ hyper-vigilance, insomnia, panic attacks.  The depression manifested itself in a completely different way, so I was not able to identify it for quite some time.  Looking back I can see that the symptoms of the depression were coming on, slowly building, for about a year before I recognized it.  With the benefit of hindsight I want to say, “Duh!” but depression is an insidious thing.

Bady helped me greatly in dealing with anxiety so it was painful to realize that he didn’t offer a magical cure for depression.  Certainly he was with me, but he was not able to lift my depression ~ as he had my anxiety ~ so I had to seek out alternative help.  I am so glad that I did.

I am happy to report that today I am much better.  I’m still figuring out this sneaky thing called depression, but for now the cloud has lifted.  It is as if I see colors again for the first time in a long time.  In my recovery I came to the realization that my work with domestic violence and sexual assault survivors was taking an emotional toll.  I’ve had to make some changes in my outreach work in the community and in the church.  Now, instead of working directly with survivors I am taking a more administrative role on my conference Response and Intervention Team.  I am continuing my work in the community, but focusing more on the policy level and advocating legislation on the State level.  I’m finding this transition to be rewarding and healing.

So I am pleased to be back at The Bady Partnership keyboard again.  As you can see, I adjusted the name back to it’s old form and took off “for Peace” from the title.  It feels more authentic to me to just be “The Bady Partnership” because my partnership with Bady has been a life changing one for me.  And, in that spirit, I hope we can continue to talk about healing, relationships, wholeness and peace in this space.  I am not going to make any promises about how often I will write, but I do hope it will be more frequently.  Thank you for your presence here and may you live fully today!

“Being broken isn’t the worst thing. We can be mended and put together again. We don’t have to be ashamed of our past. We can embrace the history that gives us value, and see our cracks as beautiful.” ~ Anna White, Mended:  Thoughts on Life, Love and Leaps of Faith

Community Cares: Who’s Responsible?

I recently signed up to receive The Breathe Network’s e-newsletter.  In it I found a wonderful article by Molly Boeder Harris, founder of The Breathe Network.

The article is profound on many levels and I encourage you to check it out in it’s entirety:  When The Rape Myth Is Your Reality

Below I’ve excerpted one paragraph that I found particularly meaningful.

“In the prevention education and awareness raising work I do on the topic of sexual violence, I critique these aforementioned “safety tips” as they are geared towards stranger attacks and over 80% of assaults are committed by someone known to the victim. They support rape myths that keep the majority of our communities ignorant about the nature of sexual violence and prevent us from having survivor-centered responses when someone discloses to us. I also critique them because I refuse to ask certain populations (women and girls, people of color, LGBTQ identified folks, and more) to conform to a bigoted society constructed around fear and power inequity. Not to forget the many male survivors whose abuses have been insidiously flipped by the patriarchy into glorious and strange conquests of their supposed insatiable sexuality, while the preciousness of their own right to decide how and when and with whom is stolen, and replaced by the mandatory guise of a sexually aggressive masculinity. Instead, I believe that we can demand nothing less than a total transformation of these accepted standards for how to increase safety by focusing on those who make all of us unsafe. Let’s ask them to change, let’s give them the education and teach them the compassion so that they can in fact change. We must create wider, more inclusive, spaces where people can recognize and remember their own humanity (as well as grieve their own losses) if they are ever going to witness the humanity of another, and make a different choice.”

A few weeks ago I was reading my local newspaper and saw an ad for a “Rape Defense” class.  I’ve certainly seen adds like this before, but this one made me really mad.  It was advertised as a great mother / daughter activity.  Why do women and girls have to take a class to learn how not to be raped?  Why aren’t there classes to teach perpetrators not to rape?  Are there father / son classes to teach respect of women?  This gets to the whole dismantling rape culture movement and how sexism and hetero-sexism are so pervasive in our culture.

The prevailing attitude is that women need to take responsibility for not being raped.  Walking alone?  Out after dark?  Wearing revealing clothing?  These attitudes cause women not to report rapes and to feel shame when a rape occurs.  As society we need to turn this around.  Everybody needs to feel responsibility for preventing sexual ~ and all other ~ violence.  And our society (and the perpetrators) should feel shame ~ not the victims ~ when violence occurs in our cities, streets and neighborhoods.

I know intellectually that there was nothing I could have done to prevent my assault.  Still, over many years I’ve spent countless hours going over it in my head wondering if there was any little thing I could have done differently.  That is the work of shame.  Thankfully I no longer own the shame of my assault.  That is on my attacker and on all of us ~ society ~ who by action or inaction condone violence.

Thank you, Molly Boeder Harris, for raising this challenge in the course of your wonderful, courageous and in-depth article.

Peace Studies: Coming to Peace with the Past

In the Preface to Simon Wiesenthal’s The Sunflower Bonny V. Fetterman asks, “How can victims come to peace with their past, and hold on to their own humanity and morals in the process?”   As you may recall, The Sunflower is Wiesenthal’s story of life, death and survival in the Nazi concentration camps.  One day, when sent out from the camp on a work crew, Wiesenthal was summoned to the room of an SS officer who was dying.  The dying SS officer confessed his crimes to Wiesenthal and asked him, as a Jew, for forgiveness so he could die at peace.   Wiesenthal walked silently from the room, refusing to forgive.

The rest of the book is his reflection on ~ and struggle with ~ whether he should have forgiven the SS officer.  Wiesenthal subsequently spoke with friends in the camps and had nightmares about the event.  After surviving the concentration camps he even visited the dead SS officer’s mother.  Following the conclusion of Wiesenthal’s story the book gives us the reflections of several theological, philosophical and cultural thinkers of the day and their answers to the question of whether Wiesenthal should have forgiven.

I appreciate the question that Fetterman brought up in the Preface to the revised version (dated 1996), “How can victims come to peace with their past, and hold on to their own humanity and morals in the process?”  I wonder if forgiveness is necessary for peace?  Even after many years Wisenthal seemed ill-at-ease about his actions with the SS officer.  In choosing not to forgive him, did Wiesenthal turn his back on peace? Did he sacrifice his own humanity?

I don’t think so.  What the SS officer asked was something beyond Wiesenthal’s capabilities.  In fact, it was a cruelty to single out an individual Jew and ask for forgiveness on behalf of all of the Jews the SS officer had hurt and killed.  I do think that forgiveness and peace are closely related, yet cheap forgiveness does not bring peace.  Forgiveness needs time and, when possible, a show of repentance from the one who did harm.  Forgiveness, at it’s ideal,  must also acknowledge those who were hurt and try, in some way, to right the wrong.

Sometimes none of these ‘prerequisites’ to forgiveness are available and the one who was harmed must come to a place of peace on his or her own.  In this instance forgiveness is not so much for the one who did harm as it is a ‘letting go of the past’ for the one harmed.  Forgiveness, then, becomes a way of facing the past and breaking free from it so peace may be found.

As I read through The Sunflower and the subsequent reflections I experienced a variety of emotions.  I grew angry at the SS officer who asked, unfairly, for forgiveness.  Wiesenthal had already been through so much and to put an additional burden on him was cruel.  Yet I also felt some moments of sympathy for the SS officer.  No one can truly know his motives, so perhaps he had a deathbed conversion and truly repented of his sins.  Ultimately God knew.  And, for me, that is the bottom line.

We practice our imperfect versions of repentance and forgiveness while on earth.  We try to follow the ways of our faith and / or our ethics and morals.  We make our human attempts to come to peace with our past.  Hopefully these actions are met with understanding and grace, yet even when they are not, God is there.

While my attacker never sought my forgiveness or expressed remorse, I have worked towards forgiveness for my own sake.  Some days I feel more forgiving than others, yet I do feel that I am more and more at peace with my past.  And ultimately God is present which, for me, is peace.



Partners in Peace

It’s been a while since I posted any pictures of my handsome German Shepherd boys, Bady and Niles. Here are two recent pictures of my partners in peace. As you can see, Niles is all grown up. He’s bigger than his big brother, but Bady can still keep up with him.

Yesterday was an important day for me ~ one of those anniversaries that one can’t forget. It was 13 years ago yesterday that I was assaulted at gun point and raped. My attacker intended to kill me, but I survived. Random remembrances from that night surface more frequently around July 5th. How I screamed when he pulled out the gun. How he seemed amused at my efforts to get away. How he asked, “Do we need the gun for sex?” I remember what happened and I celebrate that I am here to talk about it and I pray that, through talking about it, I may help someone else.

The assault changed my life and sent me down the path of PTSD. Yet, without reckoning with PTSD I never would have been partnered with Bady or, later, found Niles. Bady saved my life. And, today, Bady and Niles fill my life with joy. So bad things happen and good things sometimes come out of the bad. Today, on July 6th, I give thanks for the peace I experience today and my two furry partners in peace.

A Piece of my Story: Presence

Yesterday’s post was meaningful to me because it was a description of an experience of being present. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder robs you of the present moment because you are constantly living in the past or planning for the future. In the moment described in yesterday’s post I was simply and fully in the present, observing what was happening around me and feeling the emotions going on inside me. As it was happening I was aware of the gift and, later, I was pleased to be able to write about it.

I would like to call these moments ‘opportunities of present-peacefulness.’ It was not that I was necessarily happy in that moment, but I was at peace with what was happening around me and within me. I was not reliving a past event or projecting a future happening. I was simply there and, in that presence, there is peace. It is hard enough to live in the moment without PTSD in the mix. I contend that we could all benefit from paying attention to opportunities of present-peacefulness.

For me, I am going to try to pay more attention to these opportunities and write about them more. I think they are both evidence and fruit of my healing. The dogs definitely give me the opportunity to practice everyday, since they are experts at living in the present.

I am grateful to have come this far in my journey of healing. While it is hard to say that I am grateful for the traumatic event that caused my PTSD, I am grateful for the perspective it affords me to give thanks for the little things that sometimes go unnoticed.

Tuesday Training: Downpour

The gentle rain quickly turned to a downpour as I stepped from the edge of the field into the woods. The field clubhouse was a hundred feet away, but the distance seemed intractable in the pouring rain. The cloud burst had all the qualities of a brief shower that would depart as quickly as it arrived. The rain made the leaves around and above me dance. The trees took on an appearance of joy even as the water spun off them and landed on my hair, my clothes and my bare arms. My sneakers absorbed the moisture, which soon penetrated my socks. I moved further into the woods to find more dense shelter.

In the dash to avoid the rain the others had scattered in different directions. Some went to the clubhouse while others headed for their vehicles. Windows were closed and dogs tucked dryly away in their crates. I was the only one in the woods, but knew my companions were not far away and my dogs were safe in their trailer, cool and dry. At the onset of the downpour everything grew quiet except the sound of rain on grass, on roofs, on leaves. Even the ever-expressive dogs quieted to regard the sudden show of nature’s tenacity.

After a time my gaze took in the rain swept field and the clubhouse, which seemed dry and inviting. Bits of conversation filtered from the doorway to my ears through the pelting. I felt lonely for my friends, anxious as to when the storm would pass. I worried for my dogs, that they were lonely, too, or afraid. Just as I looked deeper into the woods I felt a splash on the back of my neck. The well-placed drop trickled between my shoulder blades and gave me courage. I looked again toward the clubhouse and decided to make a dash for it. As my feet fell on the spongy grass I felt my damp socks squish between my toes. In the moment before I reached the doorway the rain ceased. The storm abated as suddenly as it had appeared. We rose from our shelter and stepped into the washed world. The chorus of barks resumed as the dogs remembered their enthusiasm. The brief interlude was soon forgotten as we returned to the order of the day.