The Many Voices and Choices of Christmas

Christmas brings up a lot of stuff for me this year.  We have three wonderful adult children, a brand new healthy grandson, and some Buddhist friends (a dad and two young daughters) who will be spending their first Christmas here in America.  What should I be trying to communicate to each of them as someone who loves them? How do I explain to our Buddhist friends that the American Christmas craziness doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the baby in the manger, but that the baby and the manger are really really important?

 Memories of Christmas past play in my head….my brother and I under a Christmas tree gleefully getting a bunch of stuff we may or may not need/want or use but that Mom was really excited about.  Christmas shopping leading to outbreaks of violence, name calling, threats and adult temper tantrums, robbing some of the joy from the gifts we received which seemed so grudgingly given. 

As a little kid, one of the best parts was always the Christmas program at our church.  Little old ladies dressing up us kids in weird nativity costumes to stand around a little manger and sing and recite poems about the little baby Jesus….That was always good.  The truth that Jesus came to a poor, seemingly unimportant family (not just important people), in a country where life was hard and that God was there even in less than ideal circumstances.  God noticed the oppression of His people and sent a deliverer ‘cause life was meant to be different and peace on earth was part of the plan, even if it wasn’t yet a daily reality in the lives of His people.

As a grownup and a mother, Christmas didn’t become magic to me until the year my husband’s mother passed on some of her Christmas ornaments to us.  I had no idea what the treasured strings of gold beads, some red velvet bows, and some ornaments that (part of a family’s rich history) could do to bring such joy to a little (really little) wood-warmed cabin in the woods and to three little kids watching the “twinkles”  in their daddy’s eyes when he looked at the tree and told stories.  He told us about his Christmases as a boy at his aunt’s huge house playing with her five sons and all the other extended family; about putting olives on all his fingers and making the grownups laugh.  It was like life on a different planet.  The “twinkles” in his eyes helped the magic spread to my hearts too. 

My friend, Mac, taught me years ago that one way to redeem (buy back)the memories of the holiday season was to do something nice for someone else that you WANTED to do things for–not just the ones you HAD TO do for.  That trick has always helped.  This year it meant giving a gift to Heal Africa and One 4 One  (folks that hang out with their non-housed friends in Nickelsville). 

The cute little grandson and his parents are going to Montana to totally surprise the other grandma and grandpa.  It should be pretty awesome.  I get to rejoice in how blessed I am that they live within a one hour drive from us, and in how excited his Grandma Norma is going to be!  I’ll miss them, but thinking of the joy they are spreading there makes me very happy too.

For our Buddhist friends, I’m letting those who have a better grip on Christmas cheer (and a more positive attitude) do most of the explaining and just taking them a couple of small gifts.  Open to conversation, but not sure how to proceed…. What I most hope to communicate is how thankful I am for the gift of their friendship, while each day I pray that the amazing love of God revealed in Jesus will become part of their life.  That they will come to know, as I have, that life is not a random accident, but that He has a plan for each of us.  May His kingdom come and His will be done.  Peace on earth.

Reasons to Swear

I stopped swearing once, for a really long time.  I thought it was the thing to do.  You know, Christians are supposed to talk nice, and not use bad words with a lot of gusto and expression?  But there are no nice ways to say the guy threatened to kill his girlfriend and then spent some time pounding her in the stomach and dragging her around the house with their toddler screaming while Mommy got beat again.  There’s no nice words!  There are also no nice words to describe the actions of a stepfather who took a heavy object to his 15 year old stepdaughter’s head and left her needing 20 staples and stitches.  Some of what people do to each other is indescribable!

I suppose there are people who have never known a victim of domestic violence.  To them, that’s just a news story, a statistic, or something that happens to some unknown little understood “other” out there somewhere.  This week, I see the faces, the arms, the stomach bruises of the friends mentioned above.  I give thanks that they are alive with minimal permanent physical damages.  I give thanks for the community that is surrounding one of them and loving her and walking with her through this stage of her life, and look for opportunities to encourage the other one to look towards faith-that she is a child of God, imperfect but of infinite value,one who deserves way different than she has accepted from this #($&^! who broke his promises yet again.

The Unite To End Violence Against Women Campaign of the UN (click on the link) states that the most common form of violence against women is the one inflicted by an intimate partner–that women aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, motor accidents, war and malaria, and that half of all women who die from homicide are killed by their current or former husbands or partners.  It is so widespread, we ALL probably know victims, even if we don’t know it.

I loved hearing Pastor Eugene say in last week’s sermon that a woman who is being beat doesn’t have to stand there and take it.  That SHOULD be a no brainer, but too often churches have blamed the victim (and guys can be victims too-my Dad was).

I know swearing doesn’t really help.  But, I’m not sure what other kind of words to use expressing absolute frustration, outrage, and powerlessness to God on this one.  Would rather stick to the important words–like “You don’t deserve this!” and “WHAT CAN WE DO TO HELP!!!!!?”

(Too little, but better than nothing?: Childcare while Mom goes to counseling or court, help with paperwork, drop off a meal, help find a new apartment….listen, love, listen some more, speak truth, include her and the kids in your family, pray, provide bus passes)  Ideas??

How to help?

National Domestic Violence Hotline (resources and contacts in all 50 states)

Because It Matters (resource site for those in the church experiencing domestic violence or other forms of abuse)

A tribute to my Mom (poem)

You taught me the power of words-
You made me a poet.
You taught me compassion-
To see and to love those who are in pain.
You taught me to value diversity-
Helped me understand how it felt to be different.
You taught me the value of community-
Helped me learn to notice the lonely and left out.
You taught me to love mercy-
To treat people how I wanted to be treated.
You taught me to love my children-
To value who God made them as individuals.
You taught me to listen with my heart-
To hear the wounds of others that were hard to express.
You taught me that you don’t always
Get to choose how the lessons come
But to keep my heart open to God
And try not to miss them.
You taught me to value humility-
And to seek to do justice.
You helped me learn to look for the “jewels in the ashes”
and light in the darkest of places.

Today, I am grateful you’re still with us.
Out of CCU, still on the journey.
I love you, Mom.

Domestic Violence Escape Plan

Domestic violence kills people. The following link to a  Domestic Violence Escape Plan  is frighteningly real.  The rules of logic or civilized behavior do not  apply when someone is battering and abusing the people they should be caring for.  It’s hard to decide the “rules of engagement” for this kind of domestic terrorisim.  Someonetimes retreat is the most reasonable option, but retreat to a safe place. 

Yesterday I watched friends deal with an ongoing domestic violence situation.  They had helped a woman and her  kids get to a safe place, and for that service, her husband was threatening to kill them.  I was struck by the similarities between a pastor (shepherd) and a soldier….both on watch, facing risk while protecting their people from those who come to destroy.  As a kid who grew up where violence and abuse of different kinds were commonplace, I was/am moved beyond words to see church leaders like my friends who will stand up, stand in the gap, and say, “No.  Not on my watch, ” instead of taking the easy way out, blaming the victim, or pretending it will all “work out.”    

While abuse degrades, humiliates and makes people unaware of the power and choices they have to affect the outcomes of their lives, care like this, empowers, instructs, encourages and shepherds people.  Some of the most powerful words in English are “I have a choice.”  Those being abused have a choice to get help (hard choice, but God given), abusers have a choice to stop (in that moment before they choose to hurt people they are supposed to love and care for, there is time to stop….it is always a choice)…..the only ones with no choice are the kids, if no one will stand against in the gap for them.

Pastor Deanza did a really good post on some of the statistics on domestic violence….and Dani Moss has a good site with an extensive amount of resources for those trying to find their way  through these issues from a faith perspective.

Who am I?

I don’t remember  the purpose of the meeting, but several hundred of us were gathered in the meeting hall at  Langley United Methodist Church, during the days when Tom & Claudia Walker were pastoring there.  Different now forgotten things went on during the meeting, but then Tom and Claudia got up to sing one of their songs, “Child of God.”  This was probably 15 years ago, but my life has never been the same. 

“I am a child of God-nothing can shake my confidence.

I am a child of God….no one can take my inheritance.

Never alone I’ll stand, strengthened by God’s own hand.

I am a child.  I am a child, a child of God.

My name is Marie, now I can see

What this relationship’s doing to me

Last night he hit me, I fell on the floor–

Just like he’s hit me so often before.

He says he’s sorry.  He brings me flowers…

Things will go fine for a couple of hours…

He says I’m nothing.  He says I’m scum.

Then he hits me because that’s what he does.

I am a child of God-nothing can shake my confidence.

I am a child of God….no one can take my inheritance.

Never alone I’ll stand, strengthened by God’s own hand.

I am a child.  I am a child, a child of God.

My name is Manuel.  My hands can tell

The story of how you’re living so well.

I work every day but my family is poor

So you can have coffee bananas and more.

The landowners say if I don’t mind my ways

They can find substitute workers to pay.

They say my soul will only be free

In heaven some day, that’s what they say.

 I am a child of God-nothing can shake my confidence.

I am a child of God….no one can take my inheritance.

Never alone I’ll stand, strengthened by God’s own hand.

I am a child.  I am a child, a child of God.”

There were at least three of us who wept and wept, even after the song  and the beautiful, worshipful, expressive  dance Carol did during it were over.  Something had happened….in this song, by the grace of God, we saw a new reality for how God sees us, even in our brokenness.  He loves us all, even in our failures, poverty, isolation, differentness, or in other groups excluded in their society.  He sees us not as life’s incidences and conflicts had taught us to view ourselves, but with through the lens of the dignity He created us for. 

(Sorry I have lost the third verse (the story of a man being disowned by his family for admitting he was gay-very powerful! ), or the music to share with you (it was beautiful).

Thank you Tom & Claudia for sharing your gifts.  Wherever you are, hope you are well and blessed with the kind of grace you have shared with others.

The Faces of Domestic Violence

Facts and figures about violence against women are overwhelming and maddening, but, it’s the faces that give me the nightmares.  There is a new face added to the gallery of survivors I remember…a women spending the night on her friend’s couch in a new town with her three kids,  trying to sort out what kind of future is possible that will keep them safe from her husband’s rages.  I see the faces of those who ended up in a shelter a friend started, or on the couches of friends or strangers, exhausted, afraid, ashamed, looking for temporary safety for themselves and their children…those who, even though they have won in court lost everything except their futures and their children and had to figure out how to build a new life out of courage and not much else. I cannot imagine how powerless that must feel, or how much courage it takes to seek help.  I see those who have survived.  

And the Mom’s aren’t the only ones who suffer.  Dad’s can be abused too.  Kids may or may not be being hit, but they are shaping their view of themselves, of relationships, and of God based on what they see and hear.  

If you’re reading this, and you’re one of those being abused, please tell someone.  Tell a pastor, a friend, a crisis line…get help. Don’t stop trying til someone listens.   A new life is hard, but it can happen.

http://www.metrokc.gov/dias/ocre/dvresources.htm

http://www.way2hope.org/domestic_violence_facts.htm 

http://www.faithtrustinstitute.org/index.php?p=Domestic_Violence&s=28

Jesus Loves the “Other” Children
 

Jesus loves the little children?

Oh really?  Yes, I see…

He must love the other children

(This don’t look like love to me!)

 In the car, while Mom hits Dad

And I sit in the back

Afraid and sad

As we drive to the church

And park in a row

Where all those nice people

That Jesus loves go…

I think of the words 

Those nice ladies say —

“You can get what you want

From God if you pray,”

So I pray, and I pray

And I pray and I pray…

(But it never makes

The pain go away.)

 

We smile and look normal

As we walk from the car.

No one knows how bad things are.

No one can tell me

Why I feel so bad-

Like Jesus can’t love me

And neither can Dad.

 

From the Child:A Child’s Perspective on Child Abuse

(Used by permission)

Facts and Figures on Violence Against Women

Today is the “International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.” For a minute, let’s imagine a world where at least one out of three women and girls were not subject to being “beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in their lifetimes, usually by someone they know”.  Violence against women is reported by the UN’s Say No to Violence Against Women” campaign to be “perhaps the most pervasive human rights violation that we know today“.  (The following paragraphs are taken from their report)

Statistics paint a horrifying picture of the social and health consequences of violence against women. For women aged 15 to 44 years, violence is a major cause of death and disability [2]. In a 1994 study based on World Bank data about ten selected risk factors facing women in this age group, rape and domestic violence rated higher than cancer, motor vehicle accidents, war and malaria [3]…. 

Domestic and intimate partner violence includes physical and sexual attacks against women in the home, within the family or within an intimate relationship. Women are more at risk of experiencing violence in intimate relationships than anywhere else.

In no country in the world are women safe from this type of violence. Out of ten counties surveyed in a 2005 study by the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 50 percent of women in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Peru and Tanzania reported having been subjected to physical or sexual violence by intimate partners, with figures reaching staggering 71 percent in rural Ethiopia. Only in one country (Japan) did less than 20 percent of women report incidents of domestic violence [7]. An earlier WHO study puts the number of women physically abused by their partners or ex-partners at 30 percent in the United Kingdom, and 22 percent in the United States [8].

Based on several surveys from around the world, half of the women who die from homicides are killed by their current or former husbands or partners. Women are killed by people they know and die from gun violence, beatings and burns, among numerous other forms of abuse [10]. A study conducted in São Paulo, Brazil, reported that 13 percent of deaths of women of reproductive age were homicides, of which 60 percent were committed by the victims’ partners [11]. According to a UNIFEM report on violence against women in Afghanistan, out of 1,327 incidents of violence against women collected between January 2003 and June 2005, 36 women had been killed — in 16 cases (44.4 percent) by their intimate partners [12].

According to the Secretary-General’s In-Depth Study on All Forms of Violence against Women, by 2006 89 States had some form of legislative prohibition on domestic violence, including 60 States with specific domestic violence laws, and a growing number of countries had instituted national plans of action to end violence against women…

Limited availability of services, stigma and fear prevent women from seeking assistance and redress. This has been confirmed by a study published by the WHO in 2005: on the basis of data collected from 24,000 women in 10 countries, between 55 percent and 95 percent of women who had been physically abused by their partners had never contacted NGOs, shelters or the police for help [13].”

 

On using words (ramblings)

My mother made me a poet.  Not necessarily by inspiring me to read fine literature, but by her unique ability to string words together in ways you never forget.  I learned from her the power of words at an early age.  She had a well developed sense of meter and timing.  She taught me never to take words for granted and to carefully measure the effect of the ones I used.  I learned to be careful and sparing-that words could build up or tear down, and that even after attempting to take them back,  their impact can remain, their sound resonating in your memory like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Writing has always been my passion, at least since I was a third grader in Mrs. Bosshard’s class.  Every day that year, I’d present her a new story first thing in the morning.  Although considered quiet and much too shy at that stage, I had discovered words could express things just fine if they were put on paper.

In high school, the creative writing class was taught by an “old hippie” with a gift for bringing out the creativity in people.    At one point, after reading my rather dark poetry, she called me in for a conference; she was the only person who noticed the depression in process.  She paid attention.  Years later, two of my children were also blessed  to have also had her for a teacher.

When it comes to using words, (both in conversation and in writing), I prefer the short version.  Having to add enough detail, and box car enough thoughts to make something longer than a paragraph seems a bit of a challenge, but once the train gets rolling it’s kind of fun.

Writing things out on paper instead of letting them chase each other around in my head makes them easier to edit.  I like the “delete” button, the drag and drop technique, and the bold print of emphasis much better than arguing or screaming.  Emphasis by italics feels more civilized than clarity by decibel level and can express strong feelings just as well.  There’s nowhere left for words to hide when they are displayed in black and white on the screen, hidden in plain sight.  I can move sentences and ideas around, try new things, and reformat my opinions (both internally and externally).  Making the ideas stand still long enough to be looked at objectively and cut down to size is exhilarating.

Poems and songs are to writing what photographs are to full-length films.  They give a glimpse of a moment but they do not articulate the depth, the character development, background conflicts or the interconnectedness of events the way longer narratives do.  The fight to add detail continues.  I am drawn toward the guerilla tactics of poetry—select the target, plant the explosives, then run for cover before it detonates.  I need to learn more patience for the process of development, strategy and written dialogue.  Perhaps if I continue to work on written communication and doing the “long version,” verbal communications will become less draining and intimidating?  One can dream that being comfortable with words in one setting will make them more comfortable with words in other settings….