I am. . .

I never felt comfortable identifying as a “survivor”. The survivors whom I have had the privilege of walking with for 18 years, have endured an unimaginable kind of violence. I didn’t think mine was relevant. Mine was the silent kind, the one with no visible wounds or scars. The kind people flip their nose at because “I made a choice”…Privilege over self-respect.

I have often felt guilty for feeling like I endured something because I had access to experiences and “things” that few people ever get to have. I lived a life of profound privilege for more than a decade. On the surface, I had it all….and really, I had nothing. I convinced myself I had love. He convinced me I had love. I owned nothing. I lived in isolation in front of millions of people. I endured silently with a smile and a lot of luxurious “things”…until I couldn’t any longer. I had to choose privilege or self-respect…I finally chose self-respect. But it didn’t come from me, it came from my son. Becoming a mom brought out a fearlessness in me, a recognition that I had better be everything I claimed to be because I now had someone who relied on me to learn it all. I tried to become all of that within our relationship, but that wasn’t the person he wanted. So after 15 years I left with my child, my clothes, my rocking chair and crib. No movers came because I wasn’t allowed to take anything. Not a spoon (although I did sneak some silverware and a blender from one of our guest houses). By myself, I packed up and drove away from our home and to my apartment.

I had to be punished for leaving; I wasn’t supposed to make life altering decisions like that. He was. I bought a bed and refrigerator before my credit card was shut down. And then the fun began. We camped out in our apartment with little furniture, but we had each other…and freedom. I remember one night lying next to my toddler as he slept, taking a deep breath and thinking that if my life never gets better than this, if this is my “it” and I just ride life out from here…what do I have to complain about. I have been blessed with this beautiful human who was born out of love, and I don’t want to miss a moment of his life looking for something else. Looking for a new man, a better life, a new brass ring to chase. And at that moment, I let go of my fears and breathed in gratitude for my life, his life, our life.

I felt guilty identifying as a “single mom” because I had funds, albeit comparatively few, to put a roof over my son’s head in California, which was more than many single parents. I made decisions every step of the way, to maximize my time with my son when he was with me, honoring his relationship with his dad, and always holding out hope that his dad would be a better father than he was a partner. Our son deserved the best of both of us, and I knew in my soul that the only way for that to be possible, was for me to create space from him, to allow me to be free to be the mom I was capable of being. I made that decision out of love for all of us. I was afraid to rock the boat for fear the support for my son would disappear. The only reminder of the debilitating control I accepted for so many years, was that support. I needed it. I wanted nothing more than to never need anything from him again, but I needed that money to give my child the kind of life he deserved.

We lived month to month for a long time. There were times when I had $10 and 4 days left in the month, but we made it work. We built forts in our house and walked to the park and ate dinner at friends’ houses…I’d be damned if I was gonna break under the pressure. That was what he wanted. I had no where near that privileged lifestyle that his dad had to offer, but I had more love than anyone could ever give. I learned that growing up.

Sometimes I was irrationally determined. I had moved us from a rented apartment next door to a stripper and into a rented home. I bought a basketball hoop for the driveway. Loaded and unloaded it myself. Grabbed my toolbox and sat in the driveway with all of the pieces laid out. The beginning of the instructions read: “You will need two people to assemble”. My response to the written instructions was: “Fuck you, I don’t have two people. I have one, and I’m putting this thing together.” . . .and so I did. Until I got to the part where I had to put the 50lb. backboard on the 10 foot long pole and stand. I tried everything I could, holding the stand off the ground with one foot while leaning to pick up the backboard and trying to shimmy it onto the pole. Propping the pole up off the ground with cinder blocks and trying to lift the backboard onto it. I turned red, and frustrated and disappointed in myself. Eventually I gave up and asked a neighbor for help. Because the goal was more important than my pride.

I had great successes too. I made sure that my son knew love. I made sure that he had great men around him in all areas of his life: basketball, school and friends. My family was unquestionably my foundation throughout this time, but there was only so much they could do given the miles between us. My girlfriends and their husbands were also a critical part of our lives. I relied on both family and friends to be a strong presence in my son’s life and felt comfortable asking them for help getting a Christmas tree or cleaning out the gutters, or even talking to my son when I knew he needed a man’s ear.

Some of the hardest times were during middle school and high school when I was working long hours and not home after school. Times when my son left his basketball bag in the trunk of my car and I had to drive 35 miles from downtown to school to get it to him in time for practice…and then back to work. I sat in the bleachers of basketball games writing work proposals on my computer while waiting for his game to start. And some days came home completely tapped out and realizing I had left no energy or patience for my own child.

I did all that. And I wouldn’t trade a single sleepless, bawling night of tears and fears and disappointment. I never took a breath to think about what I had been through or was going through, there was no time. High school graduation, college acceptance, and raising a thoughtful, happy young man…those were the goals. And we got there: my son, my village and me.

The child support is gone. I am completely free. I am a survivor.

From Parenting to Guiding: The transition into college

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The night before we caught a 4 hour flight to Indiana for the first year of college, I found myself waking up at 3am. The last 18 years played like an old reel to reel film fluttering in my mind. “Is he going to pay attention enough to his surroundings? Did I have enough conversations with him about hard work and self discipline? Did I share enough and role model well enough how to treat women with respect and kindness? Did I do enough? Did I do too much?” The memories of car ride conversations and obstacles overcome with consequences and second chances continued to cycle through my mind as I struggled to get back to sleep.

The day of culmination of 18 years of parenting dropped in on me like an anvil. As I asked myself “Is he ready?” I realized that I was really questioning whether or not I was ready. The emotions were deep and full; a cauldron brewing with excitement for his journey knowing that this next phase brings enormous personal growth and adventure (and a whole lotta fun), mixed with the sense of relief and accomplishment that together, he and I made it through all of the emotional, financial and educational struggles (#WeDidIt), topped off with a stabbing pain in my heart that the primary focus of my energy and love for the last 18 years was gone, just like that.

We both made it through that long goodbye in August 2017. We had an agreement to Face Time every Sunday and then during the week, if he wanted to talk, he would call. I would give him space. That took some self control to avoid calling at 7:45am to make sure he was on his way to 8am class, or check in on his nutritional habits and healthcare maintenance. Putting my phone ringer on and checking it throughout the night just in case he needed me, was a bad habit that admittedly took quite a while to break. By week 5 the Face Time conversations came in the middle of the week with the challenges of long hours, adjustments to a different environment and just plain homesickness…all normal first year growing pains. I had to practice acknowledging the challenges, resisting the temptation to hop on a plane and make it better, and empowering his ability to work through them on his own. I reminded him of how capable he is, when he is questioning himself. I encouraged him to take a deep breath and tackle what is most pressing, chipping away at them one problem at a time, and ask for help from the new resources surrounding him. I learned to upgrade my parenting of a teenager to guiding a young adult.

The year came and went with a wealth of new experiences, challenges and successes…for both of us. The summer was wrought with its own adjustment to a more responsibly independent young adult living under my roof requiring a new set of rules and agreements. And then as quickly as it came, we were on to year two goodbyes. This time I wasn’t concerned with whether or not he was prepared. This time I walked away with a gentle pang in my heart that I just miss him. #UnconditionalLove.

I don’t give a F—

I recently had a young, hopeful colleague come to me asking for advice. I eagerly said, “sure”, assuming it was some deep knowledge or expertise I possess. What she asked, made me laugh, and take stock of where I am in my journey.

She straight-faced said, “I need to know how to not give a fuck.” . . .

It wasn’t exactly what I’d expected, but it gave me pause for reflection.

Settling deeply into my 50s (ugh), I am learning to ignore the weight (literally) of the force of gravity and obvious changes to my body, while recognizing that those changes have no effect on my mind and spirit. It’s funny how your teenage years feel so recent, and yet are undeniably decades in the past. And all of these changes and realizations and acknowledgements have led to that one defining statement: “I Don’t Give A Fuck.”

Much to my mother’s chagrin, that “F” word has too easily flowed from my mouth for far too long. I maintain that it has always been with profound purpose and emphasis. And in my more seasoned years it has become my personal check-in. I listen to peoples’ opinions about me, politics, social justice issues, excuses for their choices or what the Kardashians did for summer fun, and I ask myself if that person’s statement holds truth, insight or weight in my life. And if not (which is more often the case) I find myself taking an internal reflective moment and determining…”IDGAF”, and then freeing myself and my life for things with value.

It’s freeing! I spent years upon years, heartache upon heartache and failure upon failure concerned about what other people thought of me and continuously altered how I lived in the world to please someone else…mostly everyone else. During those younger years when I didn’t trust who I believed I was, I let everyone around me play a role in who I became. I believed them more than I believed myself. Even when I knew better. And every time I tried to be someone other than myself, I failed. I’m not exaggerating. I made colossal mistakes and choices. But I kept trying, because I wanted to be something/someone, other than who I really am. For some reason, she wasn’t “good” enough or pretty enough or smart enough or athletic enough or…or…or…the list goes on, and it changes over time. New failures get added to the pile. Some personal beliefs get tossed, others put in their place. But the list seems to stay…

…until wisdom wins.

As I have survived and thrived and repeated that pattern throughout the years, I’ve come to realize that none of my failures have killed me. And when I began to learn to own my failures; honestly and without shame, I learned that every failure offered me greater strength, courage. . .and wisdom. The truth, as difficult as it can be to acknowledge and address, is the only path to becoming who we are meant to be. When we own our truth, we free ourselves from someone else’s projection of blame and shame upon us. When we own our mistakes, admit that we’re doing the best we can and we want to do better, we free ourselves from the projections that we are less than, or incapable. We give ourselves permission to learn and grow and space to be human along the way.

So my response to my colleague was that her perception was a bit off. It’s not that I don’t give a “F—“. It’s that I so deeply care about truth and possibility that I don’t have room for games and manipulation and disguises in my life anymore. Wisdom has taught me that I don’t have time to figure out what someone’s agenda is or what someone wants to take from me in order to make themselves feel or look better. I don’t have room for someone trying to step on me to get something they think they deserve that I don’t. Wisdom has taught me that I am better than my worst mistake, that there is an abundance of all of the important things in life. And that I matter, no matter what.

So what IDGAF about, is anyone trying to get in the way of my living my life.

Falling Silent

 As a chaplain with children in juvenile hall, you get used to the stories of how kids get caught up with the “wrong people”. How they make poor judgment calls all in the name of figuring out who they are in the world. But you never get used to the damage, the pain, the indelible marks of a short life riddled with abuse at the hands of someone who is supposed to love them. I never ever will understand how we can incarcerate a 14-year-old girl for prostitution as if she chose that career path and that broken arm she had when she was arrested. I can never erase from my mind the countless stories of sexual and physical abuse that many of “my girls” endure before their pain turns outward in anger, just hoping someone will care they are alive.

“I feel like I’m drowning.”

“What did I do to deserve that? “

“I’m mad at myself because I ‘fell silent’.”

These are the voices of young women who should have a bright future ahead of them, but instead are stuck in the quicksand of the remnants of abusive relationships. Repeating the patterns over and over again, letting the boyfriend back into their hearts because he cried and apologized, promising to never do it again. Choosing the “same guy” with a different name who is going to treat them the same way, eventually leaving them with the guilt that they brought it on themselves. That they must deserve to be treated this way because everybody does it to them.  The words of disdain, of hatred, the punch in the face or the choke around the neck are stifling. So stifling that the next time some guy starts to go down that path toward abuse, with red flag warnings at every encounter, they fall silent. Their throat closes as if no words can come out. They just don’t know how to fight it off.

Enough years of this pattern and every man has control over them without even knowing it, or putting forth an effort to suppress them. They feel it in every job interview; that they will never be enough. They hear it in every flippant remark by a male friend who thinks he’s just joking when he calls her a bitch. They sense it in every aspect of their lives. And they fall silent.

In that silence their insides are crumbling. There is an illness that is literally eating them alive. Sometimes they can fake it with a smile, suppress it with straight As and a college scholarship, or create the demeanor of someone who has it all together. But it never goes away. Many times they learn to live with it…until someone sits across from them and invites them to say the words, “I have the right to be me”…and they fall silent. I fell silent too.

Life is Short. . .

I made a collosal error this week. I forgot how short life is.

I thought I had time. I thought I could get there this week.

The truth? I didn’t have the courage to look death in the face of a high school friend who was dying. I could write a list of ten reasons why I couldn’t make the 35 minute drive to see my friend, Sally McDonald Demers before she passed away yesterday. And all I can come up with now, is the reality that I didn’t have the courage to make it happen. I had the privilege of seeing her at our high school reunion last Fall, when she was smiling and laughing, and not letting on that her cancer had returned for a final battle. Perhaps that’s how I’m choosing to remember her.

I’m not crazy about sharing all of the details of my life, my mistakes, my shortcomings, my failures. But sometimes, when I find wisdom within the muddy moments, I think it’s ok to put it out there.

So, my lesson today is simple. Life is short. Seriously. That’s no joke. It’s not a “saying”. It’s not an old wives tale. It’s for real. A few years ago I wrote a personal quote/motto on my Facebook page that says, “Life is too short to take it for granted, and too long to NOT do what makes you happy”. It’s my reminder to cherish even the mundane moments of life, and to be courageous enough to make changes if I’m not happy. It’s a reminder that even on my darkest days, the toughest times, take a good deep breath and realize, it’s all ok, because I’m still breathing. Which means I can get through this, which means, I have something to learn which is why I’m still here. So yeah. . .deep breath. Laughter. Gratitude.

Thank you, Sally.

Hypocrisy

I’m considering beginning every blog post with “As I get older. . .”, because there is glaring truth in the wisdom that comes from age and life experience.

So…as I get older, I am becoming less and less tolerant of peoples’ BS. Maybe my BS is meter is just sharpening over time, but I feel smoke coming out of my ears as I watch people spew blatant lies and warped perceptions.

Perhaps what irks me the most is the hypocrisy of religion. There is nothing more hypocritical to me than a people who claim to be “Christian” but can’t seem to remember a single thing about Jesus’ life and teachings. Our beautifully humble new Pope, Pope Francis, has spent the first part of his papacy laying the ground work for how a true leader of the church models the behavior of a true Christian. He has shed the pomp and circumstance and grandeur of past Popes. His first actions have been going “to the back of the line” so-to-speak, to reach his hand to God’s most forgotten and marginalized.  And for this, he has been criticized. Huh?

Have you seen Jesus? Have you read any part of the New Testament? Do you remember the story of Jesus going into the temple and overturning tables at the hypocrisy and misuse of that sacred space for profit and personal gain? Have you heard the story of the Good Samaratin, the prostitute, the leper, the tax collector??? Any of these stories of Jesus NOT turning his back on ANYONE ring a bell? Is there somewhere in the Bible where it says that Jesus died for everyone…except….?

I struggle every day to be more like Jesus. To be more like Mother Mary. In the smallest of ways I have to say to myself, “If I am going to claim to be a Christian. And I am going to claim to love and follow Jesus then I have to step into that commitment with both feet.” The most extreme example is with the death penalty. If I claim to be a Christian, which means I believe that Jesus died for everyone’s sins, then I have to believe that I do NOT have the right to kill ANYONE. Does it mean that there are circumstances where I would WANT to kill someone? Of course. But I don’t have the right to do it. Nor do I have the right to “hire” the government to do it. I just don’t. I believe in the depth of my soul that when we inject a killer to kill him, we become the very thing we despise. Punto.

I have to believe. . .

Every day I interact with young people who are struggling to get through another obstacle life has thrown in their path. These are young men and women, some still boys and girls, whom I’ve come to call my children because they are; spiritually, emotionally and universally. I read their brilliant prose on FB where they brazenly lay out the raw, brutal reality of lost childhoods, broken promises, painful mistakes they’ve made that are cut into the story that is their life, unable to be shaken by a joint or a rum and coke or a college degree. And every day, with every story, every cry for help, I am helpless. Maybe not completely, but sometimes when my heart is breaking a little too much too often, helpless is how it feels. I help where I can with support, guidance and love, and resources where I have them. But I know the truth is that ALL of the work is theirs. It’s that way for all of us, but somehow witnessing young people experience the journey of life in such profound ways feels more difficult than anything I have personally ever had to endure. Recognizing that they have to find their own strength, their own courage, their own fight (yet again) to pick themselves up and walk out of the darkness of their surroundings and experiences, I am pained by the acknowledgement that I cannot go get them and carry them out. If I do that, I get in the way of whatever lesson it is they are trying to put behind them. Whatever healing is meant to happen. And so I sit, with all of my friends and fellow ‘parents’ who are able to see the Light in all of our children. We sit together, at the opening of that proverbial cave, with candles. Encouraging, guiding, willing them to get up and keep moving. If they could only see us. If they only knew how enormously valuable they are to us. I have to believe they can do it. I have to believe they will. My heart needs to believe it.