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On Not Being a Mother on Mother’s Day

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A reprise from Mother’s Day, 2016:

On Not Being a Mother on Mother’s Day:

I miss my mom. I hated Mother’s Day for a couple of years after she passed in 2008 — all the advertising and cards and balloons felt like salt in a wound. “Some of us don’t have mothers!” I felt like screaming.

Eight years later, I’m mostly rational again. My grief is gentler now, so I don’t mind being reminded of how blessed I was to have Lorna B. Griffin as my mom. I appreciate the special recognition for the role of mother, and I admire the dedication of my friends and family who are mothers and step-mothers and grandmothers. 

Think Before You Speak

I don’t like it, though, when people wish me “Happy Mother’s Day” without thinking. I want to make up index cards of statistics for these well-intentioned folks, reminding them that nearly one in five women end their childbearing years never having had children. One in five.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I am child-free by choice. Others, not so much — for many, their childless state feels  like a tragedy.

Personally, I’m not too bent out of shape by these misdirected greetings. I know people mean well, and life is too short to make up grievances where none are intended. It’s just a slight annoyance. Still, I know that for some, hearing “Happy Mother’s Day” directed at them is like a knife in the heart. Especially rote, impersonal regards from a stranger.

Try This Instead

I recommend that if you do not know someone’s maternal state, say something like, “Enjoy your day!” If they are a mom, they will hear, “Happy Mother’s Day.” If not, they will just enjoy their day.

Here’s another idea. While everyone is different, I love it when someone intentionally wishes *me* a Happy Mother’s Day, followed by a comment like, “You are a mother to so many people,” or “You are a mother to our church family,” or even (what an honor!) “You are a second mother to me.”

This recognizes and honors me as an individual. There’s no assumption that since I’m female, I must have given birth. There’s no awkward silence or imagined shame that I am somehow deprived because I did not give birth or adopt. There’s no sense of being “less than.” I just feel appreciated.

My Girls

My Kids, Eliza Bean and Mayasika

So: to all my loved ones who are mothers or step-mothers, Happy Mother’s Day! To all the females I love who are not mothers, I honor the woman in you. Thank you for being who you are, for nurturing the people who God brings into your orbit, and for spreading love in the world in ways that are uniquely yours.  Enjoy your day, everyone!

Happy Day, Mom!

Happy Day, Mom!

Ancestral Voices in My Head

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ANCESTRAL VOICES IN MY HEAD

I have these voices in my head. You know the ones I mean. Right?

(Please tell me that you do.)

Mine mostly entail shoulds and oughts and shames. Judgement. I’ve spent years in therapy, meditation, and prayer, and many hours in recovery programs for dysfunctional families, trying to rid myself of these voices.

Girl shouting with fingers in ears

Before that, I just drank and did drugs and overworked, trying to quiet the unacknowledged chattering. As long as I had a romantic partner, I could throw myself into the drama of trying to fix them and “us” instead of noticing the voices in my head. As long as I was an environmental lobbyist, I had a whole planet to save. Who has time for self-awareness?

I was oblivious to the submerged script that directed my life, causing me to make unwise choices and judge others and numb in any way I could.

I coped. I was OK. I didn’t always feel good about myself, but I was OK.

When I began my journey of spiritual and emotional healing, I finally started to hear the voices. I did not hear them in an auditory sense, but their words were clear and loud: “What is wrong with you?” “Why are you are so stupid?” “I can’t believe you did that!”

They were regular and insistent and alarming. Who talks to someone like that?

Well, as it turns out, everyone in my family did.

Digital Mouth

Family Voices

“Whose voice is that?” my therapist would ask. And I’d close my eyes and try to pinpoint it. It was often my mother, my sister, or my brother. They weren’t unloving people, they were just responding to the harsh and commanding voices in their own heads, I guess. It pains me now when I hear families talk to each other like this because I know it’s being internalized, especially by the youngest ones.

These are ancestral voices, passed on through generations. When I trace mine back as far as I’m able, they belong to my grandmother, born Zillah but called Beedie. Her judgmental voice haunted my mother, who passed it on to my older sister and brother.

It’s not Beedie’s fault. Someone talked to her that way. She grew up highly privileged, the daughter of a wealthy diamond mine magnate in South Africa, surrounded by servants and governesses and nannies. Of course she had a strong sense of the way things ought to be and the way people ought to act. They ought to act like wealthy British imperialists, better than everyone else.

And so when I don’t measure up to Beedie’s standards, the critical voices kick in. The underlying “truth” of all the negative voices is “You are not good enough.”

I imagine she felt the same way, or she would not have internalized the judgement and passed it on.

Placing the Blame

Of course when you find someone else’s voice in your head and it’s been hounding you as far back as you can recall, you get angry at them. You need to blame someone for your own brokenness. It’s my family’s fault! It’s that kindergarten teacher’s fault!

The problem with blaming someone else is that it disempowers you. You give away your power of recovery to someone else, and you get stuck. Might as well pour another Scotch, I can’t get these voices out of my head anyway.

The other day my therapist asked me what I would say to Beedie if she were here today. And I said without hesitation: “You are dead and I am still alive.”

She has lived her life with her voices. I still have a chance to heal and become more whole. In fact, that’s a good way to honor those who have come before us.

Birthday Blessing

Today is my grandmother’s birthday. She was born on February 15, 1889 in Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa. In honor of Beedie, I’ve decided to let go of the blame and negativity that I’ve held. I release her judgements and her critiques — I don’t need them. Instead, I choose to think of her with compassion and love. I want to remember her true, best self.

Happy birthday, dear Beedie. Thank you for your sense of humor and absurdity and fun. Thank you for your love of animals and flower gardens. Thank you for your small kindnesses (often involving chocolate) and for passing on your appreciation for “a proper cup of tea.” Thank you for holding to your values and always doing what you thought was right.

You were a strong woman, Beedie; you were courageous. Your best friend was murdered by Zulus when you were a child; you lost your own little boy; you lost your husband’s love to his philandering and then his young life to a ship fire; you lost your fortune and lived in poverty but kept your family together. Gangrene stole your ability to walk and dementia stole your ability to think.

Nevertheless, you persisted.

Thank you for being who you were, Beedie. Thank you for being an example. I treasure the day that you were born. I love you.

♥♥♥

Thanks for the WordPress prompt: sound

Moments from the Women’s March

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Moments from the Women’s March

I’ve been to a lot of protests, marches, and demonstrations in my time, beginning with the Vietnam War. I have never seen anything like the crowd that converged on Washington, D.C. yesterday. And to think it wasn’t even the biggest rally of the day, and was one of 670 around the world!

The D.C. Department of Homeland Security said that the crowd surpassed 500,000 and was one of the largest in the history of our nation’s capitol. I’d call that successful by any measure. (OK, in Donald’s Twitter-world, it might have looked like a small group of losers and cry-babies, but I mean in reality where most of us live.)

I am still processing the images and basking in the afterglow (while moving my heating pad from achy hip to achy hip). I don’t have many words to share. But I do have pictures! So here are a few of my faves, and also a couple of chants that echoed off the government buildings lining Independence and Constitution avenues where we marched.

RALLY ON CONSTITUTION

Marching down Constitution Avenue

“Show me what democracy looks like!”
“THIS is what democracy looks like!”

 

Lots of pink

Pink, everywhere!

And it wasn’t just women, although we made the most noise.

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Animals have opinions, too

 

Real men wear pink

Real men wear pink

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Do you think these guys could be terrorists? They have black hair.

 

“We need a leader!”

“Not a creepy tweeter!”

Pretty much sums it up

Pretty much sums it up

“Welcome to your first day!”

“We aren’t going to go away!”

“Welcome to your every day!

“We are never going away!”

After 5 hours of rallying and 90 minutes of marching, we reached the White House!

After 5 hours of rallying and 90 minutes of marching, we reached the White House!

And we left the new occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue a few mementos to ruminate on:

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So although yours truly is still cycling through all of these different reactions to our “accidental president,”

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yesterday helped remind me of the biggest truth of all in this new world of “fake news” and “alternative facts:”

me w sign at march

 

JANUARY 21, 2017:

 

 

January 21, 2017

 

 

 

 

On Voting

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I have always loved voting. I get all mushy and patriotic about it, and I even enjoy waiting in long lines with my neighbors. (Granted, I know I’m among friends here in this very blue county where I’d probably be considered a moderate, were there a ranking.)

So I was a little disappointed when I got to the early voting location yesterday and found no lines whatsoever. The parking lot was jammed, but there were so many volunteers helping out that we moved along as easily as lies spilling from Donald Trump’s lips.

Vote early if you can! Let's get this baby done.

Vote early if you can! Let’s get this baby done.

I paused to extend good wishes to the husband of a judicial candidate and then stopped to argue with another man who was loudly supporting a ballot initiative I oppose. And then before I knew it, I was signed in and walking with ballot in hand towards one of several dozen voting booths.

Has this been a long journey, or what? I am so glad that the end is in sight. One week from today.

I’ve invested too much emotion into this election for far too long, and it’s been almost exclusively negative emotion. Fear, anger, disgust, righteous indignation, even shock. When I’ve thought about the way history will record this election, I feel embarrassed and mortified. Approximately forty percent of Americans are set to vote for . . . well, you know what they’re voting for. I can’t bear to talk about it anymore. It’s venomous at best.

And so as I walked towards the voting booth, it caught me by complete surprise when my throat suddenly closed up and my vision was blurred by tears of joy and pride.

Oh. My. God. I am about to vote for a woman for President of the United States and she might very well win. Oh. My. God.

History in the making!

History in the making!

Please vote, friends. Do not sit this one out.

Sexual Assault, Anger, and Gentleness

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I may have to re-think this every-day blogging practice. I opened my journal this morning and realized that I haven’t written in six days, which is unheard of during my retreats in New Hampshire. I have a call with my therapist this afternoon, and I don’t know what to talk about, since I have no record of my musings.

In fact, I do know what I’ll talk about, and it’s probably the same thing most women are processing this week with counselors, therapists, and friends. I am bowled over by the reaction to Trump’s sexual predation tape on social media — my Facebook and Twitter feeds are crammed with women remembering and re-living predation stories from the past. Many, like me, are surprised by their anger and even rage.

I blogged on that recently and included a list of my experiences from childhood to twenty-five. Last night as I was falling asleep, I remembered another that I had completely wiped out of my mind. The closest I have ever come to being raped. My boyfriend’s best friend, and my boyfriend wouldn’t believe me. He said I must have “misunderstood” because K would never do that. No wonder I wiped out that memory!

Anyway, that’s not what I want to write about today. I am exhausted by it all.

Instead, I want to share a quote about gentleness that I came across while preparing a sermon on the topic. I think the sentiments are much needed right about now. I apologize that some of my posts about The Donald have not been very gentle. I am human, I am a woman, and I am angry. Also sad.

winter 2013 & Jesus pix 045.tear

On Gentleness

If you don’t know Henri Nouwen, you should. He was a remarkably gentle and loving man, a priest, professor, theologian, and writer. He wrote this about gentleness, which the Bible says is one of the signs of being a Jesus follower:

“Once in a while we meet a gentle person. Gentleness is a virtue hard to find in a society that admires toughness and roughness.

We are encouraged to get things done and to get them done fast, even when people get hurt in the process. Success, accomplishment, and productivity count.

But the cost is high. There is no place for gentleness in such a milieu.

Gentle is the one who does “not break the crushed reed, or snuff the faltering wick” (Matthew 12:20). Gentle is the one who is attentive to the strengths and weaknesses of the other and enjoys being together more than accomplishing something.

A gentle person treads lightly, listens carefully, looks tenderly, and touches with reverence. A gentle person knows that true growth requires nurture, not force.

Let’s dress ourselves with gentleness. In our tough and often unbending world our gentleness can be a vivid reminder of the presence of God among us.”

Amen.

Day fourteen of my daily blogging practice

 

On Being Groped

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ON BEING GROPED

I don’t think that most men believe that most women have been groped. It seems so beyond the pale, doesn’t it? Well, check out Twitter the last two days if you don’t believe it. Some women have offered space to others to share about their experiences, and the results are moving, to say the least. I encourage you to take a look at this scrolling selection on the Huffington Post page.

Trump’s vile sexual arrogance has triggered a tsunami of women’s rage-full stories, and it’s no wonder. For generations, millions of girls and women have endured groping hands and much, much worse, and they often carry guilt, shame, and secrecy about their unwanted encounters.

Image of compassionate psychiatrist comforting her crying patient

Trump’s brazen vulgarity has blown the lid off the outrage. It brings it all back: the red sweaty faces, the bad breath, the hot hands, the heavy breathing. The entitlement. If this sounds like the voice of experience, it is.

In the belief that secrecy and shame are highly over-rated, I will share eight sexual predation stories from my first quarter century:

  1. I am ten years old when a young man pulls up to the curb, exposes himself and tries to make me get in his car. I run.
  2. I am sixteen. I say no. I say no again. I don’t want to talk about the rest.
  3. I am seventeen and volunteering at a theater. The manager of the carpentry team I work for is giving me a ride to work when he stops the car and sticks his tongue down my throat. I struggle away and remind him he’s married, and he yells that I’m enticing him.
  4. I am eighteen, sitting on a low stool taking inventory at a hardware store when the store manager comes up behind me, sticks his hands down my blouse and grabs my breasts.
  5. I have just turned nineteen and am working at the CIA headquarters. My thirty-year-old supervisor takes me to lunch, lunges across the seat of his car, kisses me, and sticks his married hand up my skirt. I ask an older woman in the secretarial pool what to do and she tells me not to get in the car with him again . . . and not to wear such short skirts.
  6. I get a new CIA supervisor. This one is thirty-five when he shoves his married tongue down my throat at the office holiday party.
  7. I don’t even bother to tell anyone when another CIA employee comes up behind me and shoves his (married) hands down my blouse. My fault, probably. I should have been wearing a turtleneck.
  8. I’m twenty-four and an older man I’ve never met is giving me a ride home from Boston where we had attended my uncle’s funeral. He runs his hand up my thigh and tries to persuade me to go to a hotel with him.

I encourage my fellow women: share your stories.

You are more than welcome to share them in the comments here. Of course you don’t have to share them publicly, but please find a close friend and bring them out into the light.

Don’t let men like Donald Trump win. Speak out.

We're mad as hell and we're not going to let a sexual predator become president!

We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to let a sexual predator become president!

Day twelve of my daily blogging practice.

Are You Faking It?

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Everyone knows that everyone else feels like a fake, right? The term Impostor Syndrome has been around almost forty years, and media outlets regularly do stories on it as if it’s just been discovered.

You would think that knowing we’re not alone would help. Yet somehow, having company doesn’t make us feel any less like a fraud. It’s as if we think we are the only genuine fake because we are comparing our insides to everyone else’s outside persona.

 When clinical psychologists described the syndrome in 1978, they thought it was unique to women. My guess is that women were just more willing to talk about it. Now researchers say that all types of people experience this phenomenon, especially if they feel different from others because of race, gender, sexual orientation, or other reasons.

I first became aware of it when a good-looking, successful, middle-aged male told me tearfully that “if people really knew me, they’d know I’m a fake. They wouldn’t like me.” I was stunned and deeply saddened that someone could feel that way.

At age eighteen, I was so out of touch with my own emotions that I didn’t know I felt the same way about myself!

Whatever you do, don't take off your mask!

Whatever you do, don’t take off your mask!

Just Say No to Condemnation

As a church leader, I hear the sentiment expressed over and over, in different words: “I am not good enough.” Always in a confessional or shame-filled tone.

Well, hell, of course you’re not good enough to please the scolding, shaming parental voice in your head! You are a human being, flawed and vulnerable and doing your best to muddle through life.

It’s a horror and a crime that many so-called Christian communities enthusiastically add to the judgmental, condemning voices in our heads. Shame! Sin! You’re going to burn in eternity!

Well, thank you.That was super helpful.

Those condemners are nothing like the God they claim to represent. I can’t know God fully, and neither can they. But I do know that if a voice in your head or a belief about yourself is not loving, it does not come from God, because God is love.

“As Yourself”

When Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was, he said to love God with everything you’ve got. And then he said to love your neighbor as yourself. (Luke 10:27). We are meant to be overflowing with love and compassion and grace towards ourselves.

We must first learn to love ourselves before we can properly love others from a place of healthy humility and self-acceptance. When we accept how beloved we are, just as we are, we won’t need to achieve or perform or prove ourselves. We won’t need to compete or manipulate. We can just be real. Now that’s freedom!

Thanks for the daily prompt of “fake,” WordPress.

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