“Tumbling Rocks”

Some friends recently blessed me with a rock tumbler. Although it seems strange, it was quite thoughtful. I wander around in the wilderness often these days. You do not need a full wallet to enjoy the forest. You do not need a credit card to walk on stone covered beaches. Living in a space with gorges and wilderness means there are plenty of places to search for rocks.

Today the first stage of tumbling came to an end: rocks gathered on New Year’s have spent a week tumbling together through the new possibilities. I have checked on them as they tumbled through the days: rotating over and over, first visible but then swallowed in the slurry of grit and water. In time, even bits of themselves joined in the chaotic tumbling. Washed, dried, and looked over, each rock is the same yet different. With reluctance, they are tumbling again with finer grit. There is a lot of tumbling in their future.

I sympathize with a rock for the first time in my life. I journey in shoes that have walked down long roads. My feet have grown calloused only through painful blisters and my legs have known spasming muscles waking me from the deepest slumber. My heart and soul have wounds to match as the days have not been nearly as beautiful as I once imagined. There are pieces of me that I will never have back and there are edges rounded off of my heart through night after night of tumbling through life’s grit-filled wasteland. Aye, there is beauty, but that beauty has come at a great cost.

Tumbled and jostled
through the dark days and cold nights
as life grinds it all

An Aside about Alcoholism and Zoom Bombing

You know, I don’t talk a lot about what happens in my program of recovery. I put in work daily and that’s really all I want to say. If you want to know more, I ordinarily invite people to go to an open meeting of a twelve step recovery program and learn more for themselves.

That being said, I get tired of people thinking they’re funny or cool and Zoom Bombing meetings. A lot of people in the rooms are in a lot of pain. Some have lost everything, others are in grief, and others are just doing their best to fulfill their twelfth step obligation to pass along what they’ve learned to others. There are tons of people in a lot of different vulnerable positions.

It isn’t okay to come into the rooms and tell people to kill themselves. It just isn’t acceptable to do your best to knock down people who are already hurting. It is awful and if you think it is funny, it really isn’t. You could kill someone by putting your hatred into the head of someone who is suffering from a disease which is related to choice but is not wholly a condition of volition.

As an aside to an aside, be nice to people in recovery if you’re a “normie.” You wouldn’t believe the stuff people throw at alcoholics for trying to recover.

Remembering a rough year

What is freedom when life begins again?
How does one measure the ways one lives life
after all you have loved is burned in strife?
Where are the sprouted seeds in the ashes?
Is life renewed when one walks down the path
through sleet, snow, rain, thunder, and burning sun?
Is it renewed when you start to have fun?
If so, perhaps the pain was a herald.
Does the heart revive as one strikes the bag
as thuds echo and skin begins to break
while blood, sweat, and tears fall as shoulders quake?
Was it life throbbing beneath the blisters?
Is it in awe from looking at one's work
and seeing hundreds of moments you cared
writing letters from the good heart you've bared
even as it mended from shattering?
Does life grow as the shutter shares moments
where eyes opened to see good in the world?
Even as the bad news whooshed, howled, and swirled
visions of goodness just kept giving life.
Is it in sermons, poems, or rambles?
Is life found in meetings, coffee, or work?
Is it where I laughed and shared a small smirk?
Is life found in all of these good places?
Okay, it was a hard year, but not bad.
I bent and swayed: my good soul did not break
through all of the storms I stretched out to take
a bit of my soul back from the abyss.
Now a new year is about to break forth
over a good land where I will survive
and at times even slowly start to thrive
as this phoenix rises on hopeful wings

Icy Poem

Treading over these icy paths 
I feel these steps are familiar
and none strike me as peculiar
as I balance my weight.

Life itself requires close watching
as one connects as through the ice
to ground oneself in world less nice
requires careful balance.

Still, the path waits for bold and brave:
Neither under the summer sun
nor after Jack Frost's cruel fun
are things ever perfect.

One foot, one step, one day, move on.
Keep moving through the winter's cold
and face the heat with a heart bold
as you keep your balance

Dedicated to the two people riding bikes past me. Now that’s dedication and bravery. Also, one of them apparently thought it was just as ludicrous as I did by the panic and joy in her eyes.

Different Holidays

One of the strangest things about the holidays is dealing with the expectations of other people. I say that it is a strange thing, because it can be quite surreal and odd at times. People have expectations about what it means to celebrate holidays that are often reinforced by the culture at large. Holidays are meant to be “happy.” There are expectations that people will be spending time with loved ones and friends.

Everyone has an image of what the holidays are meant to be, but on occasion they come across someone like me: a person-shaped stumbling block between them and their ideal vision of the world. People are meant to be with people they love at the holidays, but that person over there has no great plans. People are supposed to see their loved ones and families, but my only close family in state is traveling to see the rest of my family while I remain behind to work. People are going out of the way to see kids and grandkids while I am waiting for a court order to take effect that hasn’t even been filed at this point. If everything works out, I just may see some of my kids for the New Year weekend, but I’m not even bothering to assume that will happen at this point.

Some people try to fix the problem by inviting me to come and join their holidays, which is lovely, but I want to see my family for the holidays. Some people try to fix the problem by suggesting a new legal strategy or by urging me to somehow force other people to do things they are not willing to do. Some people get quite frenetic about fixing things.

They can’t fix things though. To use recovery language, there are things I can change and things I cannot change. For the people trying to help, there are things they can change and things they cannot change. I would love it if they had a solution based on the things that they can do, but the reality is that there is no solution that falls under the category of “feasible.”

As my attorney put it, there is a system of order in our country, not a system of justice. The system is biased and unfortunately it would take a truly criminal act on behalf of my former partner for me to even be heard. It doesn’t matter if my former partner is, in the words of my attorney, the least cooperative and least Christian person he has seen while working in the family court system. The system does not care and that’s not going to change today. As one person put it quite clearly: “Family courts don’t separate children from their mothers. Period. Hard stop.”

In truth, without going into the religious aspects of things, there’s only one person who could truly change any of this: my former partner. If she had some kind of Christmas Carol experience things might change, but dreams of vengeance seem to be the only dreams she has carried for most of a decade. I’m no stumbling block on the path to her happy holiday, for I am the refuse tossed by the side of the road to be discarded and forgotten by her, her children, and everyone she knows.

So, yeah, there’s no amount of turkey and stuffing that will make this a happy holiday. There’s no party or gift that will suddenly make things better. There isn’t even the possibility of cupid coming on the scene with hope for the future, for even the idea of trusting someone in those ways is beyond my grasp. Every time that idea even comes to the surface it is shot down with extreme prejudice. I simply am a stumbling block between others and their ideal vision of the world.

My holidays are different and they’re not suddenly going to get better regardless of what you do. In a few weeks I’ll get another year older, another year wiser, and thanks to circumstances, I will probably be a little more of a miser who needs to pinch every penny so he can pay for his kids to have another happy year without him as he remains out of sight and out of mind. These holidays are going to be hard and there’s no getting around that reality.

I wish you could fix my holiday too, friend. Unfortunately, the only thing I want for Christmas is something nobody can provide.

Poem in need of expression

I don’t have my own “word salad”:
My thoughts often get quite jumbled
and forgetting leaves me humbled,
but my soul is quite clear.

I care for people with my heart
and my head runs away at times.
If that is the worst of my crimes
then let me live in peace

If I could clear out hateful words
and live as if my life mattered
instead of this feeling scattered 
I might come to find peace.

Instead I hear her voice shredding
any confident words I share
as I seek to just show I care
I hear: “its word salad”

Good Tears

Today I found myself driving down the road towards my home when a song started playing from deep within “My Likes” in YouTube Music. Years ago I was obsessed for a time with the movie Brave. I watched it with my kids, listened to the music as I drove around with them, and acted generally as a fanboy for team Merida. Even when Anna and Elsa came on the scene, I looked down my nose at them. I had found my favorite Disney Princess and she was a raucously independent archer who had all of the confidence and self-assurance that I wished for my children.

So today, the song “Touch the Sky” began to play and I listened to the lyrics.

When the cold wind is a-calling
And the sky is clear and bright
Misty mountains sing and beckon
Lead me out into the light

I will ride, I will fly
Chase the wind and touch the sky
I will fly
Chase the wind and touch the sky

Where dark woods hide secret
And mountains are fierce and bold
Deep waters hold reflections
Of times lost long ago
I will hear their every story
Take hold of my own dream
Be as strong as the seas are stormy
And proud as an eagle’s scream

Songwriters: Alex Mandel / Mark Andrews
Touch the Sky lyrics © Reservoir Media Management Inc, Walt Disney Music Company

The last few days I have been feeling very strange. This week I will learn if the court is going to help me see my kids before the year ends. I haven’t had the visitation the court set in place since July and I don’t have a ton of hope that suddenly the court will start to care, so I have been down in the dumps. Tack on the amount I have been working and the reality behind why I don’t feel safe conversing with my former partner even over kid issues (see any of the posts about Domestic Violence from October and they’ll paint a picture in broad strokes even if they never describe things in detail (on purpose)) and I have been really really really down in the dumps.

I have been trying desperately to get a hold of my feelings and my emotions to get them in check before any further bad news pushes me down further. I have been trying to understand what’s happening within as something kept feeling off.

I found myself crying as I drove in the car today because I had a moment and finally understood what was happening. Why haven’t I been hitting the punching bag as aggressively and why have I been taking more pictures of nature? Why did I choose to take my camera on my long walk today and why did I spend most of it texting another father in my fatherhood support group? Why?

As I had been walking earlier an angry song came on my phone and I reached within to connect with what has felt like an endless pit of anger for over a year. When everything else was lost, I could dip into that pit to find fuel to walk another mile, punch the bag for one more set, or even to just stew while driving. It has been so constant and a companion for many miles as I have walked. That deep sense of grief, anger, and sadness has been there for the 1,915 miles that I have walked this year (according to Fitbit). The anger has been as constant as hunger, thirst, and soreness as I have walked on and on.

I had reached in and nothing was there. The bucket hit the bottom and I had been worried that I was broken. What does it mean when you reach in to find the angry part of yourself and find nothing is there? Does it mean that you’re doomed to be unfeeling and lost?

I started crying as the words to the song to Brave came on because I recognized something in them: “When the cold wind is a-calling and the sky is clear and bright, misty mountains sing and beckon: lead me out into the light.” Do you know that there’s a growth on a tree on the Catharine Valley Trail that looks like a snail?

There’s also a ton of damage to the ash trees, likely from a combination of ash borers and woodpeckers. The sight is truly tragic, but also beautiful when you are walking around the woods and suddenly bleach white branches pop out of the woods that are so brown!

Do you know that there are green things that are neither evergreen nor willing to turn brown? Do you know that there are these weird bamboo looking things popping out of the ground in the middle of December? Do you know that the moon is almost full and it can look like fingers of bare branches are reaching into the sky to caress the moon as it rises? Do you know how amazing things are out there in the woods today on the edge of winter? Even as the sun continues to fade for a few more days, do you know how beautiful things are our there?

I cried because I reached down within me to find anger and only found the bottom of a well that hasn’t been empty for a while. I cried because I realized that I understood the lyrics to that song at last. In the midst of the cold wind, I heard the beckoning call to open my eyes and see what God had created. Legs that have walked miles have grown strong enough, skin that has known sun and darkness is thick enough, and even my own sense of fortitude has grown elastic enough that I can take time, even in grief, and see beautifully amazing things.

The song has a second verse that goes ” Where dark woods hide secret and mountains are fierce and bold, deep waters hold reflections of times lost long ago. I will hear their every story: take hold of my own dream. Be as strong as the seas are stormy and proud as an eagle’s scream.”

I’m filled with grief and sorrow, but there’s another part of me that has grown as strong as the seas are stormy. I’m frustrated I need the court’s help to even see my children, but I know what it means to walk miles and see the beauty in the depths of the woods with the endurance to decide that 6 miles into a hike is exactly the time to go wandering down a hill to get a closer look at that bleached white tree down the hill.

Even now, I want to cry because there actually is pride in the person I am becoming. I reached down for anger and found nothing, but I opened my ears and heard a reminder that I am becoming the person I once dreamed of being. Mile by mile, step by step, I am being reforged into someone that my children and I can look upon with joy and pride. I don’t have to be sorrowful today, for I am becoming exactly the kind of person I would have been proud to be when I was young.

This isn’t the road I would have chosen, but it is the road I have, and I am walking it well.

A Strange Advent Feeling

I don’t really have a Christmas tree desire this year. I love a good Christmas tree and have a lot of fond memories over the years, but this year I am probably not going to put up a tree. There’s a wreath by my garage door and I’ve got my ugly Christmas sweater game on point. No tree though.

Trees are for presents. Trees are for gifts. Trees are for family and I’m not the kind of pet owner who will put presents under the tree for my dog or the fish. I’m getting presents for others, but there’s really no need for a tree.

Instead, this is the year of the Advent Wreath. I’ve put together a really cheesy electric wreath from an inexpensive five candle window candelabra. Three dollars of cheap paint and putting the “wreath” on a smart switch: we’re good to go!

As you can see, cheap is the name of the game, but the other side of things is that it is meaningful to me. Each time I have seen the wreath since I have put it up, I have begun singing the Advent Song from The Faith We Sing: “Candle, candle, burning bright: shining in the cold winter’s night. Candle, candle, burning bright: fill our hearts with Christmas light.”

I don’t need presents. but I do need light. I don’t need wrapping paper, but I do need to be wrapped in hope. I don’t need a continual reminder that there’s nobody here, but I do need to see the light growing week after week.

What do I want for Christmas? Hope, love, joy, and peace. Burn candles, burn.

The Stumbling Block

I wrote this poem while thinking of the passage from Matthew 18:6-9, which says that it is better to be drown in the sea than to cause someone else to stumble. I am trying to come to a place of peace with the frustration which is continuing to take root in me despite my best efforts. I am working as hard as I can to burn off the anger through diet, exercise, and even spiritual disciplines, but there are times when things are simply wrong and more than an irritation. There are times when people do real harm to you and that pain becomes a thorn in the side that will not go away.

Even if there may be divine punishment for the person who causes another person to stumble, it still hurts deeply to be the person with broken toes, scraped knees, and a noticeable limp. I don’t doubt for a second that all that is happening is noticed and noted in the Book of Life and any equivalent book with opposite purpose. It would still be nice if there could be some relief.

Broken heart longs for them
The hugs, smiles, and dumb jokes
as joy is hard to coax
when you're alone

Prayers flow as I walk
Burn the anger with fat.
I look more and more flat
but rage lives on.

Walking, praying, fasting:
I curse this stumbling block
as on the Door I knock
and ask for help.

Even so, upon further reflection, a better passage to consider might be Romans 14:12-19 which is far more balanced in perspective. What I mean by balanced is that Paul does a decent job in Romans in balancing the concerns. Yes, it is wrong when someone else causes us harm, but Paul writes in a way that invites people to look inside before looking at one’s neighbor. It is not right for your neighbor to harm you, but first consider whether or not you will be ashamed when you give your account to God about how you lived your life and what you did, which is different from what your neighbor did to you.

So, how do I live with this pain in my side and sorrow in my heart? I see wisdom in Paul’s words in 2nd Corinthians 12:7-12. I have asked time and time again for this thorn to be removed, but it hasn’t budged. I guess that God’s strength is shown in my weakness, so I’ll keep trudging down the road while remembering the simple truth from a few verses earlier in Romans 14:7-10:

“We don’t live for ourselves and we don’t die for ourselves. If we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to God. This is why Christ died and lived: so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. But why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you look down on your brother or sister? We all will stand in front of the judgment seat of God”

Romans 14:7-10, Common English Bible

This life I live with thorn-gifted pain is the life that I have to live. My “neighbor” may look at me with disdain or judgment, keep me from my children in defiance of the court order, and teach them that it is dangerous to speak with me (since I might call Child Protective Services if something goes wrong and the kids are in danger). Even with that sorrow and pain, I am called to live, so I will live. When the day of my death comes, even if I am alone I will die in the Lord with hope in my heart that:

“We have access by faith into this grace in which we stand through him, and we boast in the hope of God’s glory. But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

Romans 5:2-5, Common English Bible

Thorn in my side or not, I will live in hope and I shall not be ashamed of the Lord. I will seek hope all of my days, even with broken bones in my soul, for God loves me and will make all of this right one day. Even with broken places in my soul, I am still fearfully and wonderfully made and God loves me. I am God’s child and I trust that my Parent will hold me as close as I wish I could hold my children.

A Poem born from Lamentations

The other day I shared a blessing from the United Methodist Book of Worship “For a Victim or Survivor of Crime or Oppression.” Since that day I have been working toward raising awareness by writing poetry based on the suggested poetry found in that blessing.

Today I wrote a poem based on Lamentations 3:1-24, which can be found in the Common English Bible through this hyperlink. As I pondered the reading, it seemed pretty dark at first. I was wondering what the compilers of the Book of Worship were thinking until I came across the shift from verses 19-24, which I found startling and incredibly powerful.

Verse 19 compares the feelings of homelessness and affliction to being poisoned to the brim with bitterness. I understood those feelings as I consider my past. I remember more than the feelings that came about in the first days after I filed for divorce. I remembered tears from a broken heart behind closed doors, sodden pillowcases, and the bitter feeling of knowing that promises made at the altar meant nothing. The shame, the guilt, the uselessness, and futility still come to mind easily even after time has begun to heal my wounds.

After all of this comes to mind, does Jeremiah give up hope? No, instead the very pain in Jeremiah’s soul transforms from a place of broken doubt to a place of stubborn waiting. The grief and loss do not translate into a faithless existence but into a spirit that will steadfastly wait for God to act. This! This is a feeling I know! “Waking” after sleepless nights, pulling on my boots, and stepping into my role as a minister with all of the confidence I could despite my own sorrow. This I know!

Helping church members say goodbye to loved ones with the compassion that comes from knowing what it is like to come home to an empty home! That was an act of faithful waiting! Sharing communion with people with the understanding that comes from knowing what it means to share a “meal” with others when you eat alone the rest of the week. That was an act of faithful waiting! Listening to the troubles of others knowing what it is like to have nobody at home to listen to my struggles. That was an act of faithful waiting!

Even now, I wait. The poem I wrote is as much a prayer for God to act as it is a piece of poetry inspired by this passage. I hope it is helpful and brings to mind the reality that brokenness does not mean that healing is beyond you.

"Homeless and poisoned in my inmost soul"
I ponder the broken and sleepless nights.
Endless tears fell into fathomless hole
as I thought of all of my stolen rights.

Future empty and present in shambles,
hopeful words called out from the ancient past
before wounds left me with frothing rambles:
that place where only ashes seem to last.

I remember the hope flickering faint.
I beheld the light that would not go out.
Even shattered, the call to be a saint,
not of perfect life, but one lived through doubt.

I remember and still I sit and wait
for the Just One to come bearing our fate.

October has been Domestic Violence Awareness month since it was first introduced by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 1981. Regardless of the month, domestic violence is never okay, no matter the circumstances. If you or someone you know is in desperate need of help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.

Poem on Job’s Sorrow

This poem was written as a reflection on Job 3:1-26. In that passage Job is broken, shattered, and ready to breathe his last breath. I have felt like Job, have cried in the night, and eventually found a place where peace began to fill my heart again. This poem also references Jeremiah 31:29-30.

Perish the day that I first took a breath?
Would my heavy gaze fall on mirrored sight
and see any reason to wish for death?
Would narrowed eyes see so little this night?

Job calls out with a heavy-ladened cry
In his words there are cryptic broken dreams
bloody losses soak visions dark with dye
heart shattered, soul scarred, will torn at the seams.

There is room for new thoughts within my heart
that twirl and show that pain may be passing.
Sisyphean burden left at the start
as sour grapes are left to those harassing.

Let their teeth chatter in deserved sorrow
and may Job find new hope for tomorrow.

October has been Domestic Violence Awareness month since it was first introduced by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 1981. Regardless of the month, domestic violence is never okay, no matter the circumstances. If you or someone you know is in desperate need of help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.

“For a VIctim or Survivor of Crime or Oppression”

The following is shamelessly borrowed from the United Methodist Book of Worship. I share the content as the content was designed to be used by pastors (which I am) as a tool to share with those who need to hear the words (which I am doing here as an Ordained Elder within the United Methodist Church: (from the preface to the Book of Worship: “We believe that the United Methodist Book of Worship will strengthen our worship and empower our ministry and mission. May God’s grace be with all who use this book…”)).

I share this with the caveat that I did some altering on the pronoun options for inclusivity purposes. The following is the entry underneath the category of Blessings and is found on page 547-548 under the Heading of “For a VIctim or Survivor of Crime or Oppression”

Commentary: One of the following may be read before the blessing:
Job 3:1-26 (Lamentation of Job)
Isaiah 59:6b-8, 15b-18 (God appalled by evil and injustice)
Lamentations 3:1-24 (One who knows affliction)
Lamentations 3:49-59 (You come to my aid)
Matthew 5:1-10 (The Beatitudes)
Matthew 10:28-31 (Do not be afraid)
Luke 10:25-37

Commentary One of the following hymns from the United Methodist Hymnal may be sung before the blessing:
479, “Jesus , Lover of my Soul”
488, “Jesus Remember Me”
480, “O Love That Wilt Not Let me Go”
512, “Stand by Me”
507, “Through it all”

Lord God of liberation,
you saw your people as slaves in Egypt
and delivered them from captivity,
you see the works of violence and weep.
Relieve the suffering of (Name),
grant (him/her/them/zir) peace of mind
and a renewed faith in your protection and care.
Protect us all from the violence of others,
keep us safe from the weapons of hate,
and restore us to tranquility and peace.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

United Methodist Book of Worship, #547; (Book of Blessings, USA, 20th Century, alt.), alt.

October has been Domestic Violence Awareness month since it was first introduced by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 1981. Regardless of the month, domestic violence is never okay, no matter the circumstances. If you or someone you know is in desperate need of help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.

Learning Self-Respect

How do you teach respect to a child? I don’t mean tyrannical respect, but a general respect for other people (e.g., How do you teach them to be considerate of the needs of other people, to have gratitude for the efforts others put into their relationship, etc.).

I always thought the best way to teach my children was through the example of my own actions. To this day I don’t tear down my former partner in front of our kids and even have difficulty at times expressing how bad things were when that means I have to say things that cast my former partner in a negative light.

At one level, I have done an excellent job and not tearing down my former partner. I have given an example to my children on how you can live with someone difficult without having to constantly tear them down.

It isn’t as easy when I consider how I teach them self-respect. There are times when I show respect to my former partner by being silent about terrible things that have happened to me. I have bit my tongue and allowed things to stand over the years that were not acceptable

This blog post doesn’t have the answers on how you do that, but writing it will force me to think today about how I show my self respect, how I teach my children to respect themselves, and how all of that fits into my relationship with my former partner I wish my cojourneyers luck

October has been Domestic Violence Awareness month since it was first introduced by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 1981. Regardless of the month, domestic violence is never okay, no matter the circumstances. If you or someone you know is in desperate need of help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.

A Reminder

Like many good things 
Healing may take some time
Treat yourself gently

October has been Domestic Violence Awareness month since it was first introduced by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 1981. Regardless of the month, domestic violence is never okay, no matter the circumstances. If you or someone you know is in desperate need of help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.

Keeping Perspective

This afternoon I had the joy of spending time with a former seminary classmate and his daughter over a cup of coffee. One of the largest struggles I have had to face while in recovery from both alcoholism and domestic violence has been the message that was handed to me by both my culture and my partner.

My culture taught me from an early age that alcoholics looked a certain way and were untrustworthy. I was not told that they had a disease with real physical roots. I was told that alcoholics drank out of paper bags under bridges or in book clubs depending on how much money was in their bank account. I was never given the perspective that an alcoholic was someone who could recover with support, care, and love. When I realized I had a problem with alcohol, I immediately was ashamed of who I was as a person despite the fact that I am a human being with a disease that was quite treatable and was not a one-way ticket to a lifestyle under a bridge.

My partner taught me through her actions and words that I wasn’t worthy of any better treatment than how society treated alcoholics. I was told multiple times that I was not good enough, was worthless, was inadequate, and told me, “God must love you because nobody else does.” Even though she is gone, I can still hear the exact inflection of and scorn in her voice as she cast such judgments over me and my value.

Do you know what my friend from seminary told me today? When my partner left, there was joyful cheering (along with the tears on the other end of the state). To be clear, they didn’t cheer because I was hurt. They were thankful that I was free from a sick and desperate situation that they saw coming years before I began to recognize what was happening. They believed in me, cared about me, and he went out of the way with his daughter to come and see me because I matter to them, which they did with the full and enthusiastic support of his wife (who is also my friend).

I often forget the simple truths my friend reminded me of this afternoon. I didn’t lose value because I became sick: I became a person in need of healing and support. I didn’t lose value because someone tore me to shreds: I just needed to look for value in people who believed in me, cared for me, and loved me as a friend and person. Now that the shackles are breaking, I can choose to keep investing in healthy relationships even as I continue to seek my freedom from the person who tore me down.

It is easy to forget how much we matter, especially if we are recovering from domestic abuse or an addiction. It is easy to forget that there may be people who love us and support us in spite of what others have said about us or done to us. Yes, God loves us: there may be people who love us as well.

If you’re recovering from abuse or addiction, may I invite you to believe that you have value? Although it is close to the end, may I suggest that a good thing to remember during National Suicide Prevention Week (which is also part of National Suicide Prevention Month, which is halfway to completion) is that you have value? As much as the tagline this month is about Domestic Violence, allow me to point out that in the United States you can dial 988 to reach someone who can support you if you are feeling suicidal. No matter what others may have told you, your life matters and I hope you stick around.

October has been Domestic Violence Awareness month since it was first introduced by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 1981. Regardless of the month, domestic violence is never okay, no matter the circumstances. If you or someone you know is in desperate need of help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.

Under the Weather

I received my booster shot yesterday. I’m trying my best to take it easy after feeling unwell while walking my dog last night. Today my arm aches and I feel more tired than usual.

When I was married I saw our vows as promising that I would care for her when she was unwell and she would care for me when I was unwell. I was naïve to think that we both understood that commitment to each other when we were twenty five.

Today I’m alone. My attorney called to give me an update about working towards finalizing my divorce yesterday. I’m grieving that loss today while remembering how it felt to believe I could rely on someone.

Nobody is here to help me feel better today, but nobody is here tearing me down either.

If I were to give someone advice in similar circumstances i would relay to them the truth that there are lonely days when seeking peace and safety. It is possible to get through them and even to thrive because of them. I would tell them to have patience with the process.

October has been Domestic Violence Awareness month since it was first introduced by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 1981. Regardless of the month, domestic violence is never okay, no matter the circumstances. If you or someone you know is in desperate need of help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.

Creation Narratives and Domestic Violence

Okay, so this one is going to require a stretch of one’s imagination. This morning I was working through Genesis 1:1-2:3 out of the Common English Bible as a part of today’s reading with our church’s DISCIPLE Bible Study group. In my reading of this passage from the Common English Bible today I found the text to be replete with words of plenty. We noted in our study this week that the mindset of the reader, the context where the text is read, and other variables affect the way we approach scripture. Today I must be feeling very open hearted and expansive as the words that I read were filled with expansive imagery.

As an example I would point out how in Genesis 1:14-15 God speaks expansively of the lights in the dome of the sky. These lights are signals and signposts of the passage of time, the coming of seasons, and invite creation into sacred times. Keeping in mind that I take these portions of the scriptures as sharing truth born of wisdom rather than concrete facts born of the scientific method, I was the heavens brimming with lights pouring forth after the divine word. Letters from divine words arcing out from the divine mouth before shifting into stars, moons, and the special star known as our sun. In such ways, God speaks and the world and universe are transformed from chaos into creation.

When God speaks of humanity, even the Common English Bible uses words of mastery, but I did not read words of domination into the creation account today. Humanity masters the world not for domineering or destructive purposes but for the cause of caretaking. Humanity takes charge of the fish, the birds, the animals, the plants, and all of the wandering and stationary lifeforms that cover the globe for the purpose of creative caretaking. God spoke into the world words of life and humanity is invested with the divine image in order to continue to work in the divine image as caretakers and agents of blessing to help keep the world from slipping back into chaos.

The story is quite beautiful when read with an expansive and generous mindset. What does any of this have to do with Domestic Violence or Domestic Violence Awareness? In the end, the connection I made in my mind is a very delicate one.

If we are called to treat creation with such care and respect, how can we live lives where we exert our will violently on each other? If we are called to be caretakers and agents of blessing, how can we decide to turn our backs on this divine call to love in order to strike out at the people in our homes? If the very core of our creation narrative revolves around humanity existing for the purpose of blessing, how can we curse the people we live with day by day in such abominable ways?

To be certain, if I were to read this text as a text inviting domination, a case could be made, but the whole of scripture is wildly biased against such views. While there are certainly stories of domination in our scripture, the whole of the Bible is thrown from such ways of thought by the person of Jesus.

In John 8, Jesus was offered an opportunity to dominate another person and to stone to death a woman who committed adultery (in the context of a society where that was legal, which was a different context than our society where such punitive behavior is illegal, immoral, and labeled as absolutely wrong by both church and state). Even though it was permissible, legal, and in accordance with the religious rules of Jesus’ day, Jesus refused to engage in such brutal acts. This is just one example of many where Christ taught love in situations that invited brutality.

I cannot see Jesus approving of domestic violence taking place in our homes. Even if we could read words of domination into scriptures  like those found in Genesis 1:28, I cannot see Jesus approving of such behavior. Passages like those in Genesis can be read with different eyes than those of a person seeking to dominate or subjugate others. If we can read such words with grace and plenty in our minds, then we can consider the idea that we were never meant to dominate, demean, or subjugate the people who share our slice of the garden in this life.

October has been Domestic Violence Awareness month since it was first introduced by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 1981. Regardless of the month, domestic violence is never okay, no matter the circumstances. If you or someone you know is in desperate need of help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.

“The Rights of Men”

“We recognize that men are also victims of domestic violence and abuse. We encourage communities to offer the same policies and protection as provided for women in similar situations. We affirm the right of men to live free from violence and abuse and urge governments to enact policies that protect men against all forms of violence and discrimination in any sector of society.

We recognize that men’s role in raising children is in equal importance to women’s and call for equal rights as women in opportunities for parental leave. When parents divorce, men often have less contact with their children. We call for equal access to child-custody, but emphasize that the best interest of the child always is the most important.”

162.III.G, The Rights of Men, The Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church, 2016

For today, I wanted to share this excerpt from the Book of Resolutions for a few reasons:

  • Men (and non-binary folks) deserve the same rights as women, including the right to be believed and protected from abusive individuals.
  • Men (and non-binary folks) have an equal role in parenting as mothers. Although fathers tend to have less contact with their children, that unfortunate reality should only occur if it is in the best interest of the child or children. It is possible for situations to arise where men have more contact than women in the parenting process (i.e., when Domestic Violence has occured, when the mother’s judgment is suspect, etc.), even if such situations happen less often and are statistically improbable at this point in our society’s maturation process.
  • The Book of Resolutions is a book of ideals from people gathered around the globe. Together, those individuals representing hundreds of thousands of United Methodists have proclaimed that men have rights and should be protected just as zealously as other victims of Domestic Abuse. If you have gone through this experience, you are not alone and people see your plight.

October has been Domestic Violence Awareness month since it was first introduced by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 1981. Regardless of the month, domestic violence is never okay, no matter the circumstances. If you or someone you know is in desperate need of help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.

What do we do with nightmares?

I woke up yesterday morning with an aching knee. The few days before Sunday were full of Annual Conference business. Annual Conference is both the name of the regional body of churches that I serve within as a United Methodist and an exact description of how often the whole of that body meets to do business. Normally Annual Conference for us in the Upper New York Annual Conference is in the late spring just before summer, but this year our session was held virtually in the fall due to COVID concerns.

My knee ached because I have been walking all over the place during the past few days. As I write this entry on Sunday night, my knee will probably hurt once again tonight as I walked into town to reach the church, stood through church,, walked across town for lunch after church, participated in the CROP Walk after lunch, and then walked back home from town. My knee will probably ache tonight, but it likely will be a far more peaceful night than last night.

Why? I am not certain if it was the change in diet, lengthy Conference activity, or stress levels over the past few days, but I honestly had a terrible nightmare coming into Sunday morning. I dreamed a horrible dream that woke me up in panic and covered with sweat.

What was the dream about last night? To be blunt for the sake of this post, the dream was a dream where everything terrible I heard over the years came true. In the dream I was called and acted pathetic, was broke and unable to care for what needed to be cared for, and was run out of my job for not being good enough for my role as a minister. Everyone I met in the dream was angry with me, frustrated with me, or full of scorn for me. It was frankly terrifying to wake up feeling awful about myself.

So, what did I do after waking up with a hurting knee and a tortured spirit? I got up, took a shower, strapped on my boots, and went back to work. I walked to work, which I was able to do quite nicely despite my knee’s complaints the night before. I led Sunday School where we had a great conversation and then led worship which led to people coming up to me that were engaged in the message connecting scripture, theology, and the problem of domestic violence.. After a nice salad from the nearby deli, I then walked around town with church members raising money for world hunger and having some great conversations. When that was done I walked home, had a quick dinner, and then went out to grab a cup of coffee and milk to make my yogurt for the week ahead.

In other words, all those terrible things I heard in the dream didn’t stop me from doing what I had to do today. I stood up, laced my boots, and faced my fears, which turned out to be nothing important at all. I am thoroughly proud with myself for moving past my fears and nightmares into a healthier place tonight.

As the day draws to a close, I don’t know what’s ahead of me tonight, but I know one thing to be true: all the terrible things that I once heard from my abuser do not define who I am today. I don’t need to be ashamed of who I am as a person. I don’t need to seek the approval and love of a person who tore my spirit and soul down violently. I can choose to face today no matter what my abuser believes. I will live and I will do so in a way that makes me proud to be me.

October has been Domestic Violence Awareness month since it was first introduced by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 1981. Regardless of the month, domestic violence is never okay, no matter the circumstances. If you or someone you know is in desperate need of help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.

Healing and Sharing

How do we begin to heal after the pain of the past? How do we start to find our way forward after trust is broken, hearts are shattered, and faith falls flat? 

For me, one tool in my toolbox of healing is to care for other people. Often the things that I need on my path to a healthier place are the very things needed by people who have walked a similar path. While I need them, I don’t always recognize my needs. Being around and caring for people who have walked similar roads often helps me to see in others the things I need in my own life.

Do you know what I mean? I may need to hear a loving voice, but I don’t recognize that need until I see how much a friend needs to hear my loving voice. I may need to go easier on myself, but I will be harsh until I walk alongside someone who is just as harsh to themselves as me. 

To put this in Biblical terms, I might relate it to what is said in the Common English Bible in Luke 6:38: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good portion—packed down, firmly shaken, and overflowing—will fall into your lap. The portion you give will determine the portion you receive in return.”

There have been places in my life where I have felt completely broken, but I have found the process of healing begins when I reach out loving hands to another person suffering. Selfishly, one reason I am being so open about my woundedness this month is to help others find a compassionate voice because I understand that compassion acts like a boomerang. When I send it out and away it comes back to me. 

I hope that these posts bring encouragement to others and help them to understand that they are not alone. I hope that others find my voice to be loving, sympathetic, and inviting. I hope that others take encouragement from what I write this month and pour that love out to others. I hope that divine cycle of giving love and receiving love will keep spreading, but even if it never goes beyond the words on this page, I will reach out and invite others to reach with me.

Just as I think I am just done,
Everything switches as I hear
How another person has walked
Over roads I once might have tread.
Very slowly my closed heart creaks
As deep compassion stirs within:
Healing pours in as love flows out.

October has been Domestic Violence Awareness month since it was first introduced by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 1981. Regardless of the month, domestic violence is never okay, no matter the circumstances. If you or someone you know is in desperate need of help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.

Judgment and Domestic Violence

“Grateful for God’s forgiving love, in which we live and by which we are judged, and affirming our belief in the inestimable worth of each individual, we renew our commitment to become faithful witnesses to the gospel, not alone to the ends of earth, but also to the depths of our common life and work.”

“Preamble to the Social Principles,” The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church 2016.

What are the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church? Earlier in the preamble to the Social Principles within the Book of Resolutions, the Social Principles self-identify themselves as existing outside of church law. The principles “are a prayerful and thoughtful effort on the part of the General Conference to speak to the human issues in the contemporary world from a sound biblical and theological foundation as historically demonstrated in United Methodist traditions.”

The Social Principles are neither binding by church law nor restrictive of church member behavior. They are a work born of prophetic zeal and idealism which in the end hopefully points us towards a more holistic understanding of the world around us.

Why am I bringing this up during Domestic Violence Awareness month? I would point out at least two things about the paragraph that I originally quoted. 

First, the Social Principles point towards the value of each individual. Yesterday my post pointed out that there should be a place for redemption in the church. Today I wanted to point out that even when redemption takes place, the redemption of another person’s life does not diminish the importance of wholeness and healing in the life of the victims of domestic violence.

Each person has inestimable worth and part of our common work is to affirm that value in the lives of people who have been demeaned, denigrated, or diminished through the sinful actions of others. Victims of Domestic Violence can feel broken, worthless, or even worth less than others. The lives of people who have gone through this experience are valuable and they are worthy of both God’s love and a loving place in God’s community.

Second, I want to point out that this paragraph points out that we both live within the forgiving love of God and are subject to judgment through and by that love. I’m generally not a hellfire and damnation preacher, but I do not deny that judgment will one day come for us all. I believe that God is far more gracious and kind than us, and I also believe wholeheartedly that God’s loving kindness sees and counts every tear and wound inflicted through our broken behavior and actions. 

As a survivor of Domestic Violence myself, there are times when I honestly do not want to be forgiving. In those moments, there are times when I can only move forward by handing my pain over to my loving God. I can let go of a deathgrip on my anger, pain, and hurt because I understand that in time God will take care of things. 

I don’t need to be vengeful for any vengeance necessary is in the hands of a God who is both kinder and better equipped to bring judgment without cruelty. I don’t need to carry anger around in my heart, for the pain which would fuel my anger doesn’t need to rest within me. I can let God care for the situation and move forward with life. 

Judgment may come, but I don’t need to be the judge. Retribution may come, but I don’t need to be dealing it out. I don’t have to do a thing to harm the people who harmed me, for God will care for those who have done wrong. I am a person of inestimable value and I don’t need to cheapen my value by carrying around worthless and harmful things like rage, anger, and hatred. God has those things, so I can move forward with life without worrying about them every day.

If you have been through such pain, I invite you to consider that God both loves you and will one day deal with the sinfulness of the world. There can be  healing and there can be wholeness even after everything that both you and I have gone through. It is not easy to hand over such things to God, but I invite you to consider what life might be like without carrying the baggage of pain, anger, and hatred with you everywhere you go. 

October has been Domestic Violence Awareness month since it was first introduced by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 1981. Regardless of the month, domestic violence is never okay, no matter the circumstances. If you or someone you know is in desperate need of help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.

A Place for Both

“We recognize that family violence and abuse in all its forms—verbal, psychological, physical, sexual—is detrimental to the covenant of the human community. We encourage the Church to provide a safe environment, counsel, and support for the victim and to work with the abuser to understand the root causes and forms of abuse and to overcome such behaviors. Regardless of the cause or the abuse, both the victim and the abuser need the love of the Church. While we deplore the actions of the abuser, we affirm that person to be in need of God’s redeeming love.”

¶161.II.H. “The Nurturing Community, Family Violence and Abuse” in The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church, 2016

What does it mean that the church is a place for both the abuser and the abused? This question resonates deeply with me as a survivor of Domestic Violence. Can there be space in the church for both me and the person who tore me to shreds?

Yes. The short answer is that the church absolutely must be broad enough for both the abused and the abusers. Although I have my issues with the imperfect nature of the Book of Resolutions, to the best of my ability I understand that the church must make room both for those who need redemption and for those who lives need to be redeemed from the places of desolation, sorrow, and shattering.

Why? Wouldn’t it be easier to lean into the more judgmental parts of scripture? Although I generally refer to the larger section of the scriptures as the Hebrew Scriptures, can’t God “go Old Testament” once in a while with the fire, flames, and what not? Won’t God bring damnation to those who have hurt people deeply to the point where it feels imprinted on the soul? Aren’t there places where the wicked find out that they can’t have their cake and eat it too?

Absolutely those places exist in scripture. Honestly, my soul rests better at night knowing that such places exist in the theological life of the church. That being said, we can do better as a people than rely on damnation as our first recourse to sin in the world. Who among us is without sin in their lives?

Once upon a time, most of us crawled on the earth as toddlers. Each of us grew up in the same world that was filled with imperfection and brokenness. Some of those who abuse were once the innocent ones being abused. Some of those who abuse walked down dark roads none of us would choose to walk.

Would we want to be left to our own sorrow and judgment after we went on such a journey? If there truly is a chance for redemption, would any of us truly ask for redemption to pass us by? Would we want to suffer when grace might lead us back to life and lifegiving ways? Is that what we would want if we walked down such roads in those shoes?

We are called to love one another. We are called to treat each other like we would want to be treated. We are called to live lives filled with the unmerited favor known as grace. Judgment belongs to the Lord and there may come a day when judgment falls, but between now and then we are called to lives of faith, hope, and love.

Yes, that means that my abuser may one day shelter under the wings of the God that shelters me. Yes, that means that the Holy Spirit may need to sit us both down one day or keep us under opposite wings of the divine Mothering Hen (Mt. 23:37).

Should such a day come, I will ask God to help me to make room, even if I still have moments where the tears flow and I ask for God to “go Old Testament” every now and again. I will stretch for God as I believe and ask God to help me in my unbelief.

Even after such a moment, I do have to state clearly that forgiving and making room for an abuser does not justify abusive behavior, ever. Also, let’s be absolutely clear that I don’t need to be the person to bring my abuser back into the community of life. While I may give my blessing for their restoration, I do not feel the need to do it myself. If you have been abused, it might not be your responsibility either.

October has been Domestic Violence Awareness month since it was first introduced by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 1981. Regardless of the month, domestic violence is never okay, no matter the circumstances. If you or someone you know is in desperate need of help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.

Doctor Appointments

The doctor’s appointment is over an hour away from where I live. I need to care for my eyes, especially as I have two potential eye conditions that can go awry quickly if left without care. For the past month it has felt like I have a loose stitch on the cornea I once had replaced and it is almost constantly in discomfort.

If I go to the appointment, will I still have money to buy my kids Christmas presents? If I go to the appointment, will they accept it if we end up eating peanut butter and jelly the next time I see them? Will they still love me if I spend the money I will need to spend on my eyes instead of spending that money on them?

On one level, this post has nothing to do with Domestic Violence. There’s a whole fleet of unrelated issues that I face as a person going through divorce at a distance from his children. On another level, this way of thinking is directly related to living with someone who taught me that caring for my needs was problematic and caused my family to suffer. Domestic Violence is not just about people hitting other people. Domestic Violence includes systematically tearing down others verbally until they forget how to care for their own needs.

As I look at the map, I hear those words telling me that I’m wasting money that my kids could use. At the same time, I need to take care of myself if my kids want to have a father who can see well enough to drive to see them. Sometimes I do not need to get another cup of coffee, but this particular need is not a question of whether or not I deserve a cup of coffee. There are legitimate needs in my life that need to be cared for despite being taught repeatedly that I needed to dismiss my own needs for the sake of my kids or the person who was once my wife.

It is okay to care for yourself. I have heard words that may be like those you might have heard or are hearing. Friend, it is okay to have legitimate needs and to fulfill those needs. There are times in life when it is absolutely valid to spend money to care for your needs, because those things are needs and not wants. You don’t need to be ashamed.

October has been Domestic Violence Awareness month since it was first introduced by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 1981. Regardless of the month, domestic violence is never okay, no matter the circumstances. If you or someone you know is in desperate need of help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.