Thursday, November 8, 2012

Step Ninety-Six: Passing Storms

Dear Readers,

First, an apology. I could easily excuse my lack of activity on this blog as a mere sacrifice of busy-ness. It even wouldn't be a total lie. When there are only 168 hours in a week sacrifices must indeed be made. Yet the truth was that I stopped writing in here long before the busy came. I'm not even particularly sure why... I just burnt out. Not even on writing. Just on the emotional work that came along with the truly deep and introspective nature of writing. Writing can hurt, you know. Truly. At times the pain we bear for our pieces may create a beautiful and captivating work, but that is another tale. I was burnt out on pain, even the written kind.

Now, as I sit alone in my dimly lit apartment, rain dribbling on the roof and slipping down the icy cold window panes I find myself magnetically drawn to write again. I'm still not entirely certain I want to engage with the pain this summer brought. Yet I am comforted by the words I type as the world moves on around me.

I think this is the beauty of a rainy day. When the heavens open up, rain falls equally. Nothing may avoid it's torrents, though we may try. And for just this moment, in the silence, I recognize that I am a small part of a big, big world that is always moving forward. In time this storm will pass, in time the sun will shine, all in time. And so in the smallness of the moment I partake in the eternal. Storms have raged long before me and they will continue on long after I am gone. I recognize that I mean nothing to this storm. It will not look back and remember this day. It will not reflect fondly on it's interactions with me. Instead, it will progress, like always, simply as a storm.

I write this not in great comfort. Indeed, the room from which I draw breath seems cold with my musings. Yet I find them oddly... reassuring. As though, with storms passing, I remember that though it may rage all around me, this is just life and it too is passing. Rather than trying to control it, I believe I will simply enjoy it.

Already, the pounding on our roof is lessening. The wind is moving the clouds further East. In time, not even the ground will betray the presence of the storm that was. Life moves on and so will we, for we are time bound creatures with only forwards as a direction to travel.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Step Ninety-Five: The Value of Anger

Dear Readers,

I have spent a significant portion of my time on this journey of healing pushing my anger away, denying it, minimizing it  – whatever it took to pretend that it didn't matter. Anger, I argued, had never served me well in the past and would not, therefore, serve me well now. I truly believed that a mark of "true healing" was to not feel anger. Until one day when the absurdity of it all hit me.

I have EVERY right to be angry. More over, feeling anger when someone has violated your rights IS a healthy response. Anger, as an emotion, is not wrong. Its a signal that something is wrong, something is not meeting our expectations.It is a call to action - a push forward. Now the actions when take in anger are not always right or justified. I know better than most how horrific the actions of anger can be but I am getting ahead of myself. I want to break down my false anger beliefs one by one for you.

Belief One: Anger is bad and/or meaningless.

This is, of course, at the core of my beliefs about anger. It stands to reason that having seen anger used so poorly for so many years that I would want to embody the opposite of anger. I would want to be anything but anger. I came to this conclusion after years of watching my dad boil over in anger... watching him fume, scream, hit... rage. So many times, as my Father towered above me, I made the promise that so many little kids naive-ly make: "I will not be like you." I thought, as a child, that meant "I will not be angry like you." In recent times I have come to question my child-like resolution. I agree with the young me – I will not act as my Father has. However, I do not think it wise or even possible to swear off anger entirely. I believe a better conclusion is "I will not use my anger as you use it."

There is a danger in swearing off anger, a danger beyond the impending explosion that stuffing ultimately leads to. The danger of swearing off anger is that you may miss your life's call. I believe that anger is one of the few inherently passionate feelings we have. If I were to ascribe an element to anger it would be fire. It burns intensely. Abused, fire can destroy homes, lives, futures. Used appropriately, they can renew life, growth, and create lasting fruit. We should be aware of what makes us angry, not only to protect ourselves from the hazards of fire, but because when you find that fire it could mean the Lord is preparing you for something more. Our passions were God-given. Our emotions were God-given. They play into a grander design. I believe feelings were meant to be guides.

Consider this: Mother Theresa first found her calling to love the "untouchables" after feeling indignation because a man died alone on the street. What if that young nun had ignored her anger? Or worse, she had gone to confession and repented her "sin"? How much worse off would the kingdom of the Lord be if not for one young woman's anger? Anger is not bad. It is a very loud reminder that something is not right. So the next time you feel anger, don't ignore it! Do something about it! Sometimes it means changing yourself – if my father had open ears he may indeed find that his anger is born of a desperate desire to be a better man, a better father. Sometimes it means changing your attitude – when I get angry with my siblings for annoying me it is frequently me and not them that needs to change. And sometimes is means changing what's going on around you like Mother Theresa loving the poor. Like an abuse victim fleeing the home.

Belief Two: Not feeling is the healthy way.

I like to think that numbness is the picture perfect image of health. What a pitiful lie I believe. Let me make it perfectly clear: the absence of emotion is not the presence of health. Some part of me actually believes that not feeling (or repenting for feeling) a certain way is "stronger". This is like saying the best way to live is to stop your own heart beat. Ridiculous. Emotions pour out across the fabric of our lives - they are the flavors of life. We numb ourselves believing the lies told to us that this is how we protect ourselves, this how we stay strong. We believe it, some out of ignorance, others out of cowardice, for to feel deeply requires a kind of courage that few possess. When we find someone who lives deeply in the feelings of life, we are entranced by them. If you have ever been lucky enough to have met someone like this, you know the power I speak of. If fortune has not been as kind to you, you could not imagine the pure beauty of someone laughing and crying completely unashamed. It unnerves and astounds you, not unlike watching the sheer power of lightening streaking across the sky.

I said earlier that our emotions are guides to us in this world – to take it a step further, I believe they are not only guides but the instruments the Lord uses within us to perfect us. We need to know, feel, and appreciate our emotions if only because they Lord dwells in them.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Step Ninety-Four: Its Not My Secret Anymore.

Dear Readers, 

I've kept these words to myself. I've kept this secret for a really long time. Through a very long process I've finally realized - this is not my secret anymore! I proclaim freedom! 

And as a warning, it's very graphic.


It started when I was six. Quiet, tempting words. Words that reached into the depths of my heart and asked me the question I was begging to be asked, “Will you dance for me sweetheart?” How long had I waited for someone to ask! 

I danced frequently. Turning to and fro, twirling around in socked feet, dancing like a princess. Music wasn’t necessary. Dance simply bubbled out of me, soft and flowing. It became my flavor, my essence of life. I loved it. 

And finally someone saw me! Someone appreciated my dance! I was so eager to perform for him! I wanted to dance before the world, to show them all the beauty that I simply could not contain inside of me! 

I would dance for him, proudly, hopping back and forth from foot to foot. I’d twirl whimsically and flap my arms. He’d laugh and gasp, just like a perfect audience member, in all my climatic moments. In the end, he would clap. The sound of his applause would fill my ears. I would beam up at him with adoring eyes. My heart was so fond of this man who asked me to dance. 

My entire six years had been spent waiting to hear affirmation from someone. My father had been disappointed that I had not been a son. He had  not encouraged my participation in “girly” activities. Dancing, especially. I often wonder what could have been if my father had simply whispered “good job” in my ears, even once. 

It began as just dancing. Nothing more. I danced, he watched. It was a dream come true. He told me that dancing was our secret. I loved sharing a secret with him. I was special. I had something neither of my siblings did. In time, I wanted to always be near him. I would sit by him at dinner. He would tickle my toes. When we watched TV together, he would pull me onto his lap. When I brushed my hair, he would massage my back. I loved being wanted, being special, being... loved. 

I didn’t know then that he would be the one to end my dancing. 

Friendliness grew into trust, fondness blossomed into love. This is the way the grooming process works. It is slow. It is manipulative. It is intentional. It is aimed for the heart of the child. Dance encapsulated my heart and so dance was his weapon. 

I was wearing a night gown the first time he touched me. He asked me to dance for him... he said he wanted to see me twirl. The gown flowed out around my feet, raising in the air as I spun. It rippled around me, beautifully free. 

Suddenly, mid-routine, he moaned. I stopped to look at him. 

“What’s wrong?” I asked him, afraid I’d done something wrong.

“Come here sweetie,” he murmured, “you’ve got something on your leg.” 

I walked over to him. He lifted my dress slowly. His hands began touching my knees, moving up towards my inner thighs. My cheeks reddened as his fingers pulled at my underwear. I closed my eyes as his fingers began caressing me, trying to fight off the tears. 
At long last, he stopped. He let my dress fall. Then he whispered, “This is our secret, right?” How could I tell anyone what I had done? Looking at my feet, I nodded. This was our secret. 

Soon, the poison of his groping fingers spread its toxic tendrils into the depths of my dancing. No longer did it bubble out of me, in fact, I began to hate dancing. I hated being near him. I hated when he touched me. I hated my body for responding to him. I hated the attention he gave me. But most of all, I hated our secret. I had no defense, no way of stopping him. I could only stop my dancing. 

I stopped dancing completely after the first time he raped me. I stopped moving. Stopped breathing. Stopped living. I became a quiet shell in a useless body. I kept our secret for thirteen years. Hidden in the depths of my soul, there abided all the shame and fear. 
I am a grown woman now and I am breathing again. I am living again. And I am dancing again. 


Straightening I look at myself in the mirror. Some are tricked by this plain black leotard and simple pink tights, they are fooled by the softness of the fabric. They believe it to be sweet. I know better. This is my well worn and hard fought battle gear. 

We start with bar work. I can't count to save my life... and let's not even mention rhythm. I frequently apologize to the girls following me. Yet, somehow, half-way through the first set something clicks.  I'm hardly aware of the other girls. They are nothing more than feet moving in synchronous order. It is only me and the memories. My body, hard at work performing, finally allows itself to process. 
A warm hand is moving up my inner thigh. Pressure forces my legs apart. 

I sousou bringing my thighs together tightly, elevating my heels and balancing on my toes. My hands come together somewhat haphazardly into second position. Hold it. I remind myself that I am safe as slowly, deliberately, I detournee. 

The hand creeps further up, coaxing. My cheeks redden as it strokes my inner parts. I clinch my muscles tight... I try so very hard not to move. 

Swing your leg. Higher. Always higher. Always pushing. It is constant deliberate motion, shortened or extended to meet the beat. There isn't time or reason to stop. Right to left, left to right. Move. 

The hand leaves my legs. It pushes at my shirt. It wants it off. Fingers begin massaging my chest, pushing hard. It hurts. I bite my lip, refusing to cry out. Shame fills my heart. Why is this happening? Had I been a naughty girl?

Arching backwards, the curve of my body is on display for the world to see. Arms to chest, chest to hips, hips to feet. The lightness of the pose reminds me that this is grace, beauty and power. I am a ballerina. I am a woman. 

The hand is pulling my pants off. There is a sense of urgency to it now. A sense of need. There won't be hope of it stopping tonight. A mouth begins kissing my naked body, working its way down. The feeling of hair tickling my stomach makes me want to vomit. A tongue works its way between my legs. Tears slip down my pale cheeks as my body responds. How could I respond? How could I like this? 
Changemont. Changemont. Changemont. Harder, I tell myself. My feet scissor forwards and backwards, switching as I jump. Jump. Jump. Jump. My body will comply. My body is done but I am not. I negotiate with myself to find more strength. I feed every ounce of energy into my leg muscles, pushing myself. Changemont. Changemont. Changemont. 

In the dark beside me, there is a quiet zip followed by the rustle of clothes. The hands take my hands, they wrap my hands around the thing. A grunt escapes the lips as the hands begin jerking: up, down, up, down. I wait. Wait for it to be over. 

Saute. A blush rises to my cheeks as I mess up this simple jump, yet again. I am the last dancer to cross the floor. I am certain every eye is watching me. I feel completely humiliated.

Grunting, he climbs on top of me. He presses my wrists into the floor. This is my internal cue to let go. It’s time to disappear. Pain erupts in the core of my body as I slip out through my internal door. Conscious awareness of my body fades, I am no more. 

A tear slips down my cheek as I berate myself for messing up yet another sissonne. Furious I try again. My feet aren’t working. They’re large and clumsy. I feel so little control over them, as though, they are not mine. 

The sounds of him leaving bring me back. I lay alone and naked. Tenderly, I roll over and find my clothes. I pull them on, desperate to cover my body. Laying back down, I bury my face in my teddy bear. I let the tears swell over me and remind myself that it is over. 

We stretch forward. Gently and sweetly framing each pose. Relaxing muscles, releasing tension. We are embodying beauty and grace. Twisting softly, we courtesy. This is all for the night. I breath out a sigh of relief and smile. 


Dancing doesn’t bubble out of me like it did when I was six. It isn’t born of the same innocent joy. It is work now. It comes with all the memories, wanted or not. However, at the end of each courtesy, I have claimed my body back. Ballet reminds me of this truth: I am beautiful. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Step Ninety-Three: 20 Seconds of Courage

Dear Readers,

I don't see movies in theaters very often but over winter break I watched We Bought a Zoo and there was a line that stuck with me and seems to be guiding me lately. The dad tells his son, in reference to talking to a girl, that you only need 20 seconds of insane courage. This of course applies to SO much more than male/female communications. I've already confessed to you all that I am not a particularly brave person. Actually... I'm a chicken but even I can do 20 seconds of courage.

It turns out 20 seconds really is all it takes to change your life. It is about the space of time it took me to meet a wonderful new friend. It was a rather amazing experience. Feeling dorky and awkward I invited her to join myself and a friend for dinner. Somewhere during that time she earned my respect with her authenticity. Over the following weeks, our friendship grew. I was amazed by how comfortable and trusting I was with her. More importantly, I was amazed by the tenderness with which she loved me. Especially when I felt unloveable. I respected her for her spontaneity and willingness to be bold. And then she did something truly amazing: she signed me up for Ballet.

I've been wanting to take ballet since I was a little girl. After being denied by my father and made to feel that dance was inappropriate and shameful by the abuse I endured, I stopped trying. When I confessed to my wonderful new friend my secret wish, she told me of how much she loved dance. I told her about a dance studio near by and she did what any bold friend would do: she signed us up.

I wouldn't advise this as a sure-fire way of making friends because, as it turns out, ballet is torture on your body. I do, however, thank my friend. Her boldness threw me a curve ball that left me with two options: the first was to attend one lesson and give up when it became too hard or too painful, the second option was to have 20 seconds of courage... to fully invest myself and my heart in something which I had never known before.

I chose the second option. Through dancing I have claimed back my body. In some odd way, forcing it into some painfully beautiful pose has brought redemption to it.

So my challenge to you for living bold is this: how can 20 seconds of insane courage change your day?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Step Ninety-Two: Imagine

Dear Readers,

Let me bring you to a place I go in my head. It was once a private sanctuary, a secret garden to which only I had the key. Now, I am inviting you into it because marvelous and spectacular things happen in this garden. Quiet and subtle, but spectacular none-the-less. It is, as I said, my secret garden.

Now if you're picturing any ordinary garden which is neatly contained and aptly kept between the confines of some well built wall, stop. I have little use for gardens such as those. They lack fluidity, movement... growth. In fact, such civility defiles the nature of a garden. My garden is a little more chaotic but we'll just call it... wild.

The reason I want to take you to this garden of mine is because this is where the Lord comes to me, as is. This is where I grow. Where the conditions of my garden reflect my own heart. To be honest, this is not just a garden I am showing you but my inner being.

If this were a true garden, I would have to describe the entrance gate which leads to some beautiful terrace which overlooks my beautiful flora but, as mentioned, this is no ordinary garden. To be honest, I'm not sure there is a gate or even an entrance. Instead we will go to the center. To one singular cherry tree and I will invite you to sit. A well used wooden swing hangs from one of the tree's branches, it sways slightly with the movement of the tree, lending the illusion of growth to the swing.

I have spent many years on that swing, contemplating life. In this ethereal garden, time seems to stand still, the only notion of it passing was with the seasons as I watched, too slow to gather a measurable thought. I have sat through dark and foggy days when one can hardly make out the tree in the dreary mist. I have sat through blizzards in which the world seemed to freeze around me, preserved in their crystal white tomb. I have sat staring at perfectly round clouds as they float through that clear blue sky. I have watched the cherry tree grow, bud, blossom, and die only to do it again. In some ways, it has been my traveling companion. The one safe place in a universe of uncertainty.

In this inner sanctuary, I survived. No one could reach me under that beautiful cherry tree. No one and nothing could hurt me. It was here that I could weather abuse, here that I could survive disappointment and pain. This quiet site was the dwelling place of my soul, a place where I was protected.

On one of those sullen gray days, when time seems to be halted, not even passing with the falling of heavy tear drops from the gaping wound of heaven's clouds, I met the gardener. How he found his way into my garden, I haven't even the slightest whim. His hands were gloved, ready for work and he carried with him a wooden ladder and a pair of garden shears. His overalls were stained in the knees with grass and dirt, they were fraying at the seems like any well-worn jeans should be. His soft gray hair swept tidily across his forehead, short but not entirely tame. Wrinkles, set deep, told the story of eyes of mirth and an always ready smile and yet there was great sadness too. Emanating within his countenance was a deep grief, unspoken but not unheard. From where I was sitting in my swing, he seemed of average height and build. In fact, the only un-ordinary thing about him was that he was barefoot. Grass and dirt squelched between his toes, just as it did mine. So few appreciate the sensation that upon seeing it, I gaped. All question of how he came to be in my secret sanctuary vanished at the sight of his toes furling in the dirt.

"Excuse me, dear," he murmured in a soft unperturbed voice. Walking past me, he propped his ladder against the tree's trunk and climbed to the lowest branch. I watched him as he shimmied across the branch, amazed by the flexibility of this old man. Bringing his shears to the ends of the sprouts, the man began to work quickly snipping at them. I watched in horror as my beautiful blossoms fell to the ground, one by one.

"Stop!" I cried out. "What are you doing to my beautiful tree?" In the inner most part of my heart I felt betrayal. How could a barefoot walking man not appreciate the beauty of these blossoms? How could he snip them off so readily? I began to gather the snipped buds into my arms, tears cascading down my cheeks. I had to put them back! I could save them if I could put them back!

The treacherous man was descending on that awful ladder of his. Pivoting on his bare sole, the man knelt down before me. Looking me gently in the eyes, he whispered "It hurts me too, dear." Placing his gloves in his back pocket, he gently touched my arms which cradled the dying buds. His hands were soft and warm, his callouses adding a tender roughness to them. "Look here," he spoke softly as he plucked one of the blossoms from my arms, "if you open these buds, there is death inside." Peeling back soft pink petals, he revealed a blackened and withered anther. I stared in shock. How had he known? Were all of the blossoms sick? Smiling sympathetically, the man began to explain, "these blossoms are ill. If they aren't pruned now, they will infect the rest of the tree. It isn't a pleasant task. Each one of these blossoms had a purpose. Each had potential. But it is my job to maintain this tree. Even when it looks like I am desecrating beauty. Do you understand?"

The man looked at me, his gaze searching. He wasn't asking out of polite obligation, he truly yearned for me to understand. Unable to look any longer into his kind eyes, I looked down at the buds in my arms. I had been so desperate to re-attach them before but now they looked ill. Their pink was a pale attempt and each seem withered at the end, furling in on itself a sickly brown color. Looking back at the man, I nodded solemnly and let the blossoms slip from my arms. The man smiled softly, in an understanding way. He knew that I had given far more than my permission in that moment. I had given my inner most being over into his care. As the tears began to run, he gently brushed my cheek, catching my tears as they fell. "That's my girl," he murmured gently before embracing my small body in his strong arms.

From that day on, I was never alone in the garden. The gardener always invited me to accompany him, teaching me how to prune ill trees, to pluck nasty weeds, and to nurture gently a growing seed. We cry often, aching over the process but we laugh more, enjoying each others company. We walk together, barefooted, simply enjoying the teasing tickle of grass between our toes.

Where does the Lord meet you? He shows up for each of us. Greeting us, regardless of our culture, religion, or sexuality. He holds no bias, He knows no hatred. He comes to us full of love and compassion. Have you met Him yet?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Step Ninety-One: Meeting Compassion

Dear Readers,

This past week I met compassion, bathed in tragedy and yet robed in glory. Life giving, heart stopping, breath taking – compassion and I collided. I cannot pretend to understand compassion, to comprehend the gaze which greets my guilt with grace. I do not feign to comprehend the intense sorrow with which compassion comes nor do I purport to have full cognition of the joy with which it brings. I offer you only this: the Lord greets the desolate with tender hands.

As you all know, sometimes in the process of dealing with grief there are days when it seems almost tolerable, almost forgettable, but for every one of those light days there seem to be just as many which weigh down your soul. Memories threaten to overwhelm and consume you, if only you bend. Last week in particular seemed to be a rough ride.

As I attempted to force myself to conform to the perfect image I held in my head, as I pushed myself to go beyond my limits, I realized the depth of my own pain. It dawned on me that the Lord brings things up in His time. He is providing, constantly, opportunities for us to grow and heal. It is not my job to superficially force healing onto myself. In fact, in forcing "healing" upon myself, I am actually harming myself. As I found myself breaking down under the unrealistic expectations I placed on myself, tender hands touched my face. Feeling humiliated, the Lord lifted my tear-stained face upwards toward His. It is here that He invited me to the depths of compassion. For all of my shame, His grace was an ocean.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Step Ninety: Becoming an Artist

This sweet melody
Over flows from my beating heart.
Cascading notes rain down
Swelling and crashing in time.
I take but one single breath
Soaking in the Lord’s sweet aroma.
I rest quietly, letting worship pour through me
This moment is ours,
Tucked gently in the folds of His heart,
I am entirely His.
Perfect bliss encapsulates me,
Delight keeps me captivated.
This is the nearest Heaven dwells
The closest love may come.
This is where royal lips touch tearstained cheeks,
Where life springs forth
And contentment pours out.
This is the intersection of
The mortal and the Divine,
Here I run into waiting arms.

Twisting notes dance over sliding scales,
infusing a playful heart with one
powerful and consistent message:
This is life.