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Cry First, and Water the Flowers

I just heard my friend Casey is getting a divorce.

Casey is 29, and this is her second marriage. She has four children, one with her current husband, two with her previous and one from a brief relationship when she was just 15. She’s been in prison, is a recovering alcoholic and lost her three oldest children for a time because of those issues.

Here’s the thing: she is honest, hard-working, attractive and kind. She puts other people first but doesn’t get pushed around, and no one is more important to her than her kids. We worked together last spring, and I would recommend her to any employer.

My heart is breaking for her.

Her time in prison was the result of a drunken argument she had with her mother. She admits to trashing her mom’s apartment after the fight, breaking a few dishes and possibly a chair. Her mom, however, called the police and said Casey had tried to kill her and had been trying to poison her for months.

Original abstract acrylic color painting on artistic canvas. Han

When mom sobered up, she recanted her statement, but the prosecuting attorney refused to drop the case. Casey told me her biggest problem in all of this was she ended up being “too honest,” and the judge flat out stated she didn’t believe her when she admitted to all her crimes in court, but believed she was guilty of much more.

She threw out the plea agreement and sentenced Casey to 20 years in prison, which in my state means with the right programs and proper behavior you’ll serve less than four. Casey served 3 ½ years, came out sober, educated and prepared to move forward.

She worked hard to make things right with her children, met the man she later married and took any job she could to make ends meet. Eventually potential employers saw past the background checks and hired her, and she proved herself invaluable. Her children were doing well, although her teenage son was driving her batty. As fourteen-year-old boys do.

But Jim, her husband, started treating her in the same demeaning manner the prison guards had, and with a broken heart, she left him. She wasn’t going to let anyone, especially the man who vowed to love her more than all others, consider her with such indignity and shame.

I know she will be okay. I believe she will rise above this as she has risen above the rest of the detritus in her life. Still, in this moment, she is crying herself to sleep and struggling to keep her emotions in check at work and in front of her children. She smiles a little and says, “at least I don’t want to drink.”

She has been through the fire and knows it will end, something she shouldn’t have to understand so well before turning 30. It’s hard enough to get through your 20s, but two divorces, a prison sentence and all that goes hand-in-hand with those events makes it a little…harrowing. I told her 30 was the best year of my life, and she has wondrous times ahead.

Then I let her cry.

abstract watercolor painting color colorful background illustrat

Image Credits: (Three Women) © BenRoman — stock.adobe.com; (Chaos) © Gordan — Bigstock.com; (Abstract Rainbow) © Benjavisa Ruangvaree — stock.adobe.com

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The Value of Things

“They’re just things. We’re all okay. Things can be replaced, people can’t. I’m just grateful everyone is alive.”

How many times after a fire, tornado or hurricane have we heard those brave words, sincerely spoken in the moment? Yet we know, sitting in our chairs in the comfort of our safe and secure homes, that sooner or later the woman on the screen will realize some things can’t be replaced.

The stone your daughter brought you because she thought it was so pretty and would bring you good luck. The books you’ve had since childhood, worn a bit, but beautiful. The Christmas decorations your mother and your children made.

The pictures, taken before digital cameras and cloud storage.

Yes, any of us would rather have our children, spouses, siblings, parents, friends and neighbors alive and hugging us close than a household of “things”…but the loss of the material is real, and eventually will hit the people struggling to find a change of clothing and water the day after their home is destroyed.

We say “you can’t take it with you” and as true as that is, you have it here on earth. While often that expression refers to money, here I’m talking about things, objects, what you know is in your house and makes it home for you. You treasure it, at times it sustains you. There’s nothing wrong with valuing those things.

A tragic loss does put all that in perspective, of course, and you can always find new objects to hold close to your heart. But they can’t fully replace what’s been lost.

To those who’ve lost everything, my heart is with you. I know your loss is real. I pray you have the support in your life to get through whatever has brought this loss into your life, all that it represents, and that you will soon find joy again.


Photo Credit : © marima-design – Fotolia

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Pages of the World Book

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
― Augustine of Hippo

Travel, or otherwise explore the world.

It is easy to dismiss the decisions of others, particularly those of people in other cultures, if one has never traveled more than 100 miles from their place of birth. Brief trips to a large city for business travel are often sheltered, and the annual visit to the family cabin, albeit more than 100 miles away, isn’t truly traveling in the sense I’m speaking of here.

At the age of 19, my brother loaded his backpack and headed for Europe, Australia and New Zealand, hiking and taking odd jobs for about a year, as I recall. I believe that trip shaped him, helped him focus his priorities and exposed him to thinking different from that which he heard while growing up. He has always been a kind and thoughtful person, but traveling alone gave him a perspective he couldn’t get any other way.

He shared with me some of the conversations he had with complete strangers during his trip, and those words have changed me, so I know they changed him. I wouldn’t have survived the last few years without him, and I believe that foundational, transformational experience is part of the reason he has so much to offer me.

Over the years I’ve talked to parents who are agonizing over their son’s or daughter’s choice to travel for a time, giving up their dreams of a college education (or so it seems to mom and dad) for a hobo lifestyle. I tell them not to worry, and inevitably those children have gone on to greater things, some back to school, some not, but they knew that that time away from all that comforted them would be healthy.

The Whole World Kids

Even Prince William took off for ten weeks to volunteer in Chile, where he faced ribbing by other volunteers, such as less-than-complimentary nicknames, among other things, I’m sure. At the time he said, “I’m with a group of people I wouldn’t normally be with and getting along with them is great fun and educational. There are some real characters in the group who don’t hold back any words at all.”1

I imagine.

Several friends of mine graduated with honors from high school, went to a nearby college and moved on to career success in the same city they were raised in. Their standards and norms are measured by the world immediately around them, and they mock others whose lifestyle and thinking is foreign to them, even if those people vote for the same president they do. They are experts in their own world with no grasp of what motivates people outside the walls of their great city.

Not everyone can backpack through foreign countries, or even distant parts of their own country. It isn’t suitable for some to travel extensively. But the world we live in today gives us exposure through traditional and modern methods to pages of the World Book. It’s not the same as travel, but it still is an opportunity to grow.

Take the time to grow.


1 The Telegraph, December 10, 2000, “Hard work and high adventure for William in Chile.”

Image Credits: (World Map) © asantosg — Bigstock; (World Kids) © lenm — Bigstock

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no cat in hat, nor cat in cap, has sat in my lap

First published more than two years ago, most of you probably haven’t seen this post. Paco is no longer with us, but the story still resonates with cat lovers everywhere.

My World With Words

One day at work, I was grumpily recounting the tale of a tug-of-war with my cat Paco from the night before over a rather expensive skein of yarn (he had good taste).

Two black cats

He wanted to play with it in a big tangled mess, I wanted to make a sweater out of it. We both won our battle but lost the war. It was a big tangled mess by the time I rescued it, and after a few futile hours trying to wind it back, it remained the same. Frustrated, I stashed the yarn away with plans to finish later.

No sympathy from my co-worker. “You took yarn away from a cat?” he asked incredulously.

“It makes a pretty expensive toy!” I shot back.

“You don’t take yarn away from a cat,” he replied, shaking his head.

Cats in HatsYes you do, only now it appears there is a way to appease your…

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Image, Reality and Sexuality

What dangers lurk for girls and young women, and how do we help them, help all women, avoid them?

Aren’t we (to use a modern term) empowering girls when we teach them “private parts are private”? What greater gift can we give young women than to teach them the world holds dangers, and how to protect themselves? We talk about being “sexually empowered” and young women dress provocatively to demonstrate their “power,” yet they often are endangering themselves. But you tell them this, and they take on an attitude of righteous indignation, and accuse you of being out of touch, prim or sexist.

“Owning your sexuality” is a popular concept with a vast variance in definition from one woman to another. Owning it doesn’t necessarily mean dressing in the most provocative manner possible. Yes, you can dress like a woman, a sexy woman, without showing your nipples.

Female performers for decades have pushed the limits with their wardrobes, but remember, they’re performers. I don’t know what Beyoncé dresses like when she goes grocery shopping (as if she does that herself, but you get my point). She’s selling something on stage, and her sexuality is part of the package.

If, when going out on Saturday night, your average young woman dresses in the same manner as Beyoncé, she needs to be aware she, too, is promoting her sexuality, and there are those who are going to want a part of it. If you get unwanted attention or worse, I’m not saying “you asked for it” as in you deserve it; nobody deserves degrading or violent treatment. But it will happen.

It will happen if you dress like a nun, frankly, but be aware of the image you’re presenting and the varying degrees of belief in what kind of response you’re expecting. If you dress in a highly suggestive manner, others will assume you’re looking for sex. Maybe you’re simply looking for a compliment, an admiring glance, but that isn’t what your image is saying.

There does need to be a paradigm shift in how we view and treat women, but the pendulum tends to swing wide before we hit the appropriate middle ground. There is a center area of acceptable, appropriate behavior that flaunts our femininity and sexuality.

Push the limits, sure. That’s what you do when you’re young. “Acceptable, appropriate” sounds prudish, I know, but there are plenty of ways to look sexy. Consider this: how revealing does another woman’s dress have to be before you know she has a good body? In fact, some women have to work hard to hide their sexuality; they want you looking at their eyes first, not their boobs.

If you resent the fact that dressing the way you want to makes you a target, you are not alone. It’s been a frustration for women for a very long time. It’s painful to think the message you believe you’re sending (“I’m a powerful woman in charge of my own sexuality”) is being received differently. That’s communication, however. Know your audience.

Empowerment is internal. You won’t obtain it by the way you dress, and if you try to do so, chances are you’ll miss the target. If you do genuinely feel empowered, what you’re wearing will reflect it.

Some of you will agree with me, others won’t. I don’t claim to have a handle on absolute truth, and there are plenty of women (and men) who will vehemently disagree with part or all of what I’ve said.

So be it. I know my own truth. God bless you in finding yours.


Image Credit: ©artflare – stock.adobe.com

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By any other name…

In 1966, Neil Diamond had his first big hit with “Solitary Man.” I’ve listened to the song a hundred times and more, and while the official lyrics will tell you the first line is, “Melinda was mine…” I still swear he’s singing, “Belinda…”

It makes sense. A hard consonant like “B” is easier to punch than a soft consonant like “M.” Now, Melinda is the more common name (although in 1966 “Belinda” was still in the top 2000 names for girls), but I don’t know that that should really matter.

And this is xxx, our director of consumer relations

And this is Buffy, our director of consumer relations…

Over the years I’ve watched characters with my name for the image they project, and for a very long time anyone who showed up on a television show or movie with the name “Belinda” was a nasty piece of work or a prostitute. Shelly Long played a call girl named Belinda in the 1982 comedy “Night Shift,” and in any number of television programs over the years there have been some real witches with my name.

The current sitcom “The Middle” had an overweight, shall we say athletic-looking woman named Belinda on one episode a couple of years ago, and on “Younger” we met an elderly woman named Belinda O’Shea who wrote romance novels, kind of a Danielle Steel character, earlier this summer.

When you have a less-than-common name, you notice things like this.

Several years ago, while I worked in a bookstore, I read a guide to naming your child that told me people think of girls named Belinda as overweight, overly shy and somewhat pathetic.

Well, you can just jump in a lake of fire with that thought.

Peggy, right...am I right or what

This is Peggy, right?

It’s somewhat strange to me that we have stereotypes for names, yet when I think of someone named “Veronica,” she is slender, with a sweet smile and long, straight hair, and “Giselle” is offbeat, with a sophisticated cap of hair and a throaty laugh. I’ve never known anyone with either of those names, by the way, so the image is purely from popular culture.

When you send out a resume, what image do others form of you from your name in bold letters at the top? Some of my fellow bloggers from other nations or with different ethnicities may fear (or hope) they’ll be identified by race by their name.

Curiously, according to this same book, the name “Jason” has a distinct image of a likable, happy guy, everyone’s friend, despite being the most popular name for baby boys for many years (you’d think commonness would diminish a stereotype), and a rather nasty character in a series of films some time back.

We know and can trace the origins of many stereotypes, and some even have a basis in truth that makes them more difficult to dispel. Judging someone sight-unseen by their name is a subtle prejudice, and makes me wonder what other quiet ways we judge our world, our neighbors, our co-workers without realizing it.

And if I could change my name, what would I choose?

Solitary

Image Credits: © ivector — stock.adobe.com

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Fueled by Forgiveness

Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.
― Oscar Wilde

I should remember that one. There are a few people who wronged me in recent times that I haven’t even bothered to try to forgive. My faith tells me to do differently, but my hurt and anger say, “agonize over their shortcomings.”

Yet I know I’m capable of forgiving, because I’ve done it before. About fifteen years ago, I was fired from a job because of a lie a co-worker told about me, and I chose to forgive him. Over the years, I sometimes wondered if his inexcusable behavior had caught up with him.

It was only recently that I looked him up and discovered a few disturbing things: he’d ended up in federal prison for a time, and is now listed as a sex offender.

Let me go back in time a little.

I’d started this job as a temp, and it worked out so well I’d just been hired on as a permanent employee. I got along with my co-workers, including the man in question, and another woman whom I’ll call Caroline.

The company holiday party was held the night before I actually started as a “real” employee, and Caroline and I, as the only two single women there, sat together for dinner. Later, we saw this man (let’s call him Carl), also alone, and I waved him over.

Playing matchmaker for the first — and last — time in my life, as he approached us I told Caroline, “you should meet him. I really like him.”

That statement was misinterpreted, repeated, exaggerated and by the end of the party, Carl wasn’t talking to me. I don’t know what exactly was said between my somewhat drunk colleagues, and I didn’t catch on to the problem until the next day at work, when Caroline apologized to me.

“No big deal,” I said, believing that to be the case. “As long as he doesn’t still think I’m interested in him. I don’t need that kind of confusion with anyone I work with.”

By the end of the next day, however, I was fired from that job for allegedly stalking Carl. This bizarre and false accusation not only cost me that job, I couldn’t get another through the temp agency, and the unfairness and just plain mean-spirited nature of the whole thing threw me into a deep depression for more than a month. It was a dark time, and a lonely one.

beautiful landscape on stormy weather, Dobrogea, RomaniaIn addition, the day after I was fired, I began to get annoying, then increasingly troubling, phone calls. Eventually I called the phone company, who at the time worked closely with the police department* to trace and stop these calls, making arrests if necessary, but never, ever letting the victim know who had been calling them. I suppose that was out of concern for retaliation.

The calls stopped a week later.

A month or so after that,

I moved out of state and began a new chapter in my life. In December I remembered to send a letter to all my employers from that year (there were several) letting them know about my change of address for my W-2.

A week later the same pattern of troublesome phone calls started up again. Through a series of clues I won’t detail here (well, I’ll just say, caller id was big help), I’d already deduced Carl had likely made the first round of calls. Remembering his cubicle was next to the chatty woman who entered employee information in the company data base, it was fairly clear to me he could easily have seen my change of address letter.

Another call to the phone company, and again, the calls stopped. From time to time I wondered what, if anything, had happened to Carl, but didn’t imagine he’d paid too high of a price.

Caroline, it turned out, had.

The two ended up getting married not long after they met at that holiday party, a bit of a rush ceremony since Caroline was pregnant. The marriage didn’t last long. Carl was arrested before their first anniversary (for what, I need to be clear, I don’t specifically know) and things fell apart while he was waiting for his trial. By the time he went to prison, they were divorced, and Caroline was essentially a single mom with her ex-husband and the father of her daughter incarcerated for a sex offense.

concepto de suavidadWhile I found their story intriguing, I was surprised by my own lack of any sense of vindication. Yes, my claims of innocence certainly had to be more credible to the disbelieving human resources manager, but that barely mattered. I had long ago stopped caring.

I believe my choice to forgive Carl — and it was a choice, one I had to make on a daily basis for a long time — had been the right one, relieving me of an emotional burden that would have eaten at me for years. For me, forgiving Carl meant praying for him, and in that light, I’m not sure what to think of the known events in his life that followed.

Today, I need to draw on that same strength and forgive the fools who, essentially, brought me to ruins a few years ago. That emotional burden is with me daily, and the weight of it is killing me.

I need to be fueled by forgiveness. The energy is so much cleaner.


*Police departments still take this seriously, but the phone companies rarely take the lead any more in helping customers.

Image Credits: (Windmill) © saulich84 – stock.adobe.com; (Storm in the Valley) © mirceab– Bigstock; (Feather) © kesipun – stock.adobe.com

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